Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Farmhouse, Part 2

My miserable academic performance as a freshman prevented me from joining a fraternity until the fall of 1968, my sophomore year. When you are asked to join a fraternity, you become a pledge and are subjected to humiliating servitude at the hands of the membership for an entire semester in order to prove your worthiness to become a brother. At the end of the semester, pledges undergo “hell week,” which may or may not include sadistic torture, after which the survivors are inducted and immediately take on the role of sadistic torturers of the next pledge class.

I and two of my classmates whose academic performance was equally miserable comprised the pledge class of the fraternity known informally as the Skull House in the fall of 1968. The name came from the skull and crossbones of the fraternity’s insignia.

Previously, pledges did not live in the fraternity house until they became members, which meant that they could occasionally escape persecution in the confines of their own dormitory. But we three moved into the new fraternity house right along with our masters and were thus enslaved continuously.
For the brothers, pledges were the people who shined your shoes, ran your errands, cleaned up your messes, and amused you by doing push-ups and jumping jacks every time you ordered them to.
“Pledge!” one of the brothers would yell.
“Yes Sir?”
“When my alarm rings every morning, I want you to come to my room and tell me if the surf is up or if it is calm before I open my eyes.”
“But Sir, there is no surf in Washington, Pa.”
“That’s not my problem, pledge!”
That sort of nonsense went on all the time.

In those days at W&J, final exams for the first semester occurred after Christmas vacation, and then there was a week-long break in the end of January before the second semester began. We pledges were told that our hell week would take place during the semester break, and that we would be undergoing most of it at the farmhouse.

We had heard horror stories about hell week and dreaded its arrival. At the same time, we were anxious for our servitude as pledges to be over and done with. In our elevated state of anxiety, we made preparations for the tribulations that awaited us. We knew there were things we could do to make our hell week less grueling, but doing them would mean a daring and dangerous break-in of the Skull House’s sacred hideaway.

No comments: