Pledge Dance, 1986: Trying to take a nice Greek girl to “Mexico” for the evening…

Joining is important, especially when it comes to alliterative Border Bashes.

The other week I scribbled about how I felt a health care provider with Bob Jones University memorabilia all over his office wall might not provide me with the best care if he found out that I had the gay. Basically, I was stereotyping this poor guy; I had no way of knowing how he would react if he knew I was the gay. Of course, I had not felt comfortable telling him that fact. So, it’s pretty much a wash.

Then yesterday morning, I read about a “Bronx is Burning” themed rave thrown in some warehouse in the South Bronx that will soon be the site for luxury condos. The party featured flaming barrels and bullet-ridden cars. It featured celebrities like Naomi Campbell, Adrien Brody, and one of those Kardashians who’s actually a Jenner. And the biggest household name of all of the lot, cocaine. Needless to say, the social medias are hopping mad. And rightly so. How can people be so tone-deaf?

Which brings me to the esteemed 1986 Beta Border Bash. I went puerco entero in stereotyping the entire nation of Mexico. If I tried to pull this shit now, Gawker would be all over the story. I am certain our Charter would be pulled, and I would still be attending sensitivity seminars to this day.

In my defense, how I sort out my karma for that evening is the price I paid at the time. For a 19yr old addled in hormones, sexual orientation, and general addledness, it seemed like the entire universe was punishing me.

One of the tasks the fine pledges of Beta Theta Pi had to complete was throwing the actives a pledge dance for their enjoyment… and for them to bitch about. If you’ve ever wanted to know what pledging a fraternity is like, it’s all fun until the actives decide it’s time for FUN. Then it’s all yelling and forced, borderline homoerotic, calisthenics. In fact, we had a song for such occasions: Fun fun fun./The fun has just begun./If we’re not having fun,/It’s our own fucking fault!

We would have to sing this whilst doing push-ups. Or, in my case, bouncing up and down like a clucking chicken. (Long story involving hazing accusations and monetary fines.) The pledge dance was the last big event before Hell Week.

Hell Week involved all the above yelling and calisthenics, except done in pink jockstraps. Remember, it’s borderline homoerotic. Borderline.

We decided on the following theme:

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Nothing stereotypical to see here. Cacti are renowned for how comfortable they are to catch a nap up against. We chose to call it The Beta Border Bash because those people are always trying to sneak across the border. I wish I could remember the exact reasoning that went into choosing a party theme. Honestly, I think we wanted an excuse to drink tequila and costumes that wouldn’t require too much work.

No one set out to disparage Mexico. Or anybody. We just went with easy. I think a few of us had misgivings, but no one said anything more questioning than “Dude, awesome!” And maybe that was our greatest sin. Pledging a frat is not a time for independent thinking.

Also, I’ve always had a thing for Mexican-accented English. Yo quiero Taco Bell!

I wasn’t a practicing gay yet, but the party planning gene manifests itself much earlier than the man-lust gene. So, I was put in charge of the decor. I decided to go with Mexican border village. I knew everything about the Mexican border, having been to South of the Border on the NC/SC line on the way down to Florida once. I got a pennant.

To mimic the adobe huts in which all the Mexicans in my brain lived, I came up with a system where I strung a grid of wire back and forth across the Beta House’s party room. I then hung a maze of brown paper drop cloths from the wires. Instant tangle of adobe huts! Of course, each hut had it’s own purpose:

  • Juan’s Cantina
  • Juan’s Disco
  • Juan’s Restaurante del Munchies
  • Juan’s Casa del Foos
  • And, because the Mexicans are a devout people, Mary and Juan’s Church of a Higher Power.

We then scattered hay on the floor. Because Mexicans are farmers? We also invited people to bring their dogs to roam through our Mexican village.

Finally we stole a bunch of construction barricade materials and set them up on the stairs leading to the room to mimic crawling across the border. No one questioned the logic as to why someone would crawl through a tangle of border fencing only to arrive in a village in the country they were so, so desperately trying to escape for a better life.

Casual racism follows its own logic.

Every señor needs his señorita, so each night at dinner during the weeks leading up to the party as we pledges stood on The Line attending to the actives every food service need (and doing push-ups/chicken clucks), we had to announce the full name of our date and describe her physically. If we didn’t yet have a date we had to say meekly, “The Rat” In turn, all the actives would start screeching “The Rat! The Rat! The Rat!” sounding like those feral children in Thunderdome.

The Rat, short for Rathskellar, was the name of the Wittenberg campus pub located in the basement of the Union. In a shockingly heteronormative praxis, if a pledge did not have a date, some actives would take him down to the Rat and force him to ask out whichever girl they chose for him. As you can imagine, this nuclear option rarely had to be employed.

Myself, I stood on the line and announced, “I’m taking Anastasia [redacted five syllable Greek name]!”

“Ooooo. Greek! You know what that means!” said one active, assuming I knew what the eff he was talking about. Basically, every girl mentioned was greeted with some variation of “Ooooo, you know what that means.”

Another active asked, “Does she have black hair? They all have black hair.” People should know better than to stereotype. In other news, I stole the jalapenos off the dining hall salad bar for drinks garnishes because, you know, Mexicans and their jalapenos.

In truth, Anastasia and I had bonded at a party over her Greek heritage. We both were in the Rat one night, and someone had put Kyrie by Mister Mister on the jukebox. Before I continue, please note that my college experience involved hanging out in places that had Kyrie by Mister Mister on the jukebox. I think this explains a lot.

“Do you know what that means?” asked Anastasia, her shock of black hair bopping in time to seductive beats of the Mister Mister.

“What?” I shouted over the music. …..THE ROAD THAT I MUST TRA-VELLLL……

“The words ‘kyrie eleison.’ Do you know what they mean?”

“Yes. ‘Lord, have mercy,” I said with all the confidence of someone who was raised Catholic and had heard Casey Kasem say as much a couple weeks earlier.

We then got into a deep discussion concerning the sit/stand/kneel patterns of the Rites in which we were raised.

MEANWHILE: One of the actives, Joey, had a long-standing crush on a girl who kept rebuffing his advances. But Joey’s charm was like a drop of water out of which the mighty stalactite and/or stalagmite grows. Denise [redacted vowel-ly Italian name] finally gave in.

Denise also had black hair.

The day of the dance arrived, and we pledges worked hard. If my ’85 Mustang is still out there somewhere, whoever owns it now is wondering why bits of hay blow out of the vents from time to time. Sure, it might be inconvenient and annoying for them, but verisimilitude is paramount to party planning. Also, hay is an excellent absorber of spilled beverages.

We planned on knocking off at six to wash up, get decked out in our Corona/Señor Frog’s ponchos, party store sombreros, and moustaches. But, the actives kept finding new tasks and push-ups for us to do. “Something’s going down. I can tell. They’re gonna fuck with us,” muttered Andy Springer, our pledge president.

The actives finally let us go in just enough time to be approximately 30 minutes late picking up our dates. I called Anastasia. “Oh, you’re still picking me up?” she asked.

I didn’t think anything of the comment. I had important Mexification to work on my self. “Yeah, of course. I’m looking forward to showing you my Mexican village. I gotta hop in the shower now. See you in around 20 minutes.”

“Okay. I thought it was strange anyways.”

“I know I should’ve called earlier. I’m sorry. I’ll make it up to you.”

About 25 minutes later I was signing into South Hall, the main women’s dorm on campus. I ran into another pledge, Zippy. He looked pissed. “I got fucking stood up!”

Why would anyone stand up Zippy? He was cute enough and a nice guy.

Then I ran into Joey on Anastasia’s floor. He looked every bit the crestfallen Mexican, like he had just lost the Alamo all over again. (Yes, at this time, I thought Mexico lost at the Alamo.)

“What’s up, Joey?”

“Denise [redacted vowel-ly Italian name] stood me up.” Joey was even cuter than Zippy and even less deserving of such treatment. Something was afoot, or rather a-poncho.

I approached Anastasia’s door worried that she wouldn’t be there. How could she stand me up? We had bonded over Mister Mister, fercrissakes. To this day, I don’t think I could be happy with anyone who couldn’t carry on a passable Mister Mister conversation. She had to be behind that door.

And she was –resplendent in a poncho and micro-sombrero ensemble that really brought out her eyes and worked with her complexion. She greeted me with a hug.

At least I had a date, but it turned out none of my other pledge brothers (and Joey) had one. The actives had a reason behind demanding the names of our dates. They had called each of our dates, told them that we were delayed up at the house, and that an active would be by to pick them up. This is why Anastasia sounded so surprised on the phone that I was coming.

The actives rounded up Denise by mistake because she lived three doors down from Anastasia, was dressed in a poncho and sombrero, and looked Greek-enough for them. Greek, Italian –it’s all the same if it’s Mexican-y enough.

The actives took the pledges’ date (and Joey’s) to an undisclosed location where they plied them with shot after shot after shot after shot. Then they took them to the party. Upon bringing them in, one of the seniors announced, “We did you boys a favor! We loosened them up.” But it soon became apparent to everyone that these poor things were loosened up to the point of being bags of half Jell-O, half cement, half Schnapps vomit. My pledge brothers spent most of the night propping crouching beside the toilet, holding back their dates’ hair.

Joey just looked at me with a murder in his eyes. Apparently I would pay for having a date that kinda looked like his date.

Other than that the party room was a see of very happy people in ponchos. The only folks not be-ponchoed were one wag and his date who went a more tasteful route and dressed as Mexico City earthquake victims. The 1985 Mexico City quake killed more than 10,000 people. Everyone lauded him for his creativity.

Anastasia and I enjoyed the party. We danced in Juan’s Disco. We drank in Juan’s cantina. She kicked my ass in Juan’s Casa Del Foos and patched up my wounded pride with a kiss. After a quick prayer at the Church, it was time to walk her home.

“Hurry back,” said an active as we left. I knew we were expected to clean up after the party, but I guessed I would have a little time.

Let the fumbling and the stammering begin! I had just gotten horribly duped and dumped by the only girl I had every dated. I was beginning to doubt this whole dating thing. Doubting a lot of things. But when someone who could carry on a decent conversation about Mister Mister lets you have a little under-the-poncho action, you go with it. This was right, right? Who am I to argue with under-the-poncho action? I can’t deviate from the plan, whether that plan involves messing around with girls or stereotyping the entire country of Mexico.

So I might as well plunge in headfirst –be it decorating for a Border Bash or, to torture una metáfora, running for a border I had only crossed with one other girl before. After all, everyone loves a joiner.

Anastasia and I were actually enjoying ourselves. Maybe my high school girlfriend wasn’t a fluke. Maybe, just maybe…… then the phone rang. Anastasia answered it. “It’s for you.” She held out the phone for me.

It was Andrew, the pledge president. “Take your dick out of wherever it is and get your ass back up to the house.” Honest, it wasn’t anywhere. That would require at least 35 minutes more fumbling and stammering. I mean, can’t a questioning guy catch break around here?

Then he dropped the bad news: “Kunde and Falk threw paint all over the floor.” Kunde and Falk were two actives who looked, respectively like a burn-out Art Garfunkle and one of those little dudes on the foosball table. Apparently they were tired of the way our pledge class was being coddled, what with the chicken clucking and everything, and decided to bring back the old tradition of throwing paint after the pledge dance. Of course, everyone went along with it.

“That’s bullshit!” I said. “I’m busy.”

“Get up here.”

“I’ll see you when I see you. Just a little longer.”

“It’s time for unity.” Andrew’s voice I could tell was air-quoting the word “unity,” so I figured I had at least another 40 minutes before thing went critical. I hung up and rejoined Anastasia.

The phone rang again. Anastasia sighed, picked up the phone, and tossed it to me.

“Seriously, dude. You need to be up here.”

“Awww, c’mon.”

“Seriously.”

“Okay.” I hung up, but I didn’t leave. Once more into the breach!

About 30 minutes later, both Anastasia and I had shed our ponchos. This was a major accomplishment. I felt kind of right. I think. At least, I felt like I had a roadmap.

Then there was a knock at the door. It was Zippy and Longnecker, another pledge. Zippy quoted Risky Business: “Joel, get off the babysitter!

Anastasia covered herself. I went to open the door a crack, which was a mistake. They grabbed me and dragged me out of the room. Poncho-less. I never saw that poncho again because Anastasia refused to talk to me anymore. Not everyone loves a joiner.

I’ve kept the boxer shorts from that event. At first, they reminded me of frat house shenanigans and the fun joining. Now they remind me to not go along with things. I can so much more creative than stereotypical, alliterative parties.

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