Going to college at Trinity University in San Antonio at age 18 became the most exciting time of my life. I felt like a grownup, free to make my own decisions and live my lifestyle with no parents to answer to. In 1972 our country was in upheaval with the Viet Nam war and rebellious youth. However, at our small, private college in the heart of conservative Texas, I didn’t worry about such things. We wore bell-bottoms and grew long hair, but that was our current fashion, not rebellion.
Grades were easy with reasonable study time but becoming a fraternity member interested me more than anything else. I grew up in a family that loved to party. Stories of numerous fraternity parties and sorority interactions convinced me that joining a fraternity would keep my family traditions alive. Freshmen boys signed up for a week of Rush selection activities to get to know different fraternities and apply for membership in one with hopes of acceptance. One fraternity had snobby rich kids. Another was notorious for over the top cruel initiation actions culminating with butt branding with the fraternity symbol.
Along with several of my friends, I applied for the middle of the road Triniteers, a local, not national, fraternity. At the end of the week, I waited with excitement, hoping to receive a bid on selection night. A phone call meant they selected me. No phone call meant misery. My phone call came through to say they accepted me as a Triniteer Pledge.
To celebrate, the Teers had the first of many parties in a hotel ballroom with the Spurs, our sister sorority. The Spurs appointed a Big Sister to each Pledge. My Big Sister taught me the ins and outs of fraternity life and how to get dates with other Spurs. What more could I want? In high school, girls didn’t date me, mainly because my fear of rejection kept me from asking them out. Being undersized didn’t help my ego. Another part of the fun was learning to find my limits for drinking beer. Dad would have kicked me out of the house if he caught me drinking booze. I made up for that now.
As a Pledge, I became obligated to do whatever an Active (full member) told me to do. Such as make up his bed, shine his shoes, drink a beer without stopping, spend the night in his closet….. you get the idea. I learned to avoid places where Actives hung out. If they didn’t see me, they wouldn’t make me do something stupid. This good-natured fun provided me a way to befriend Actives and learn about fraternity life. Some took it easy on me, and others did not. Bill did not. Every morning he told me to make up his bed. Same with Matt. After a couple of weeks, I decided to put an end to that foolishness. I waited for Bill to leave his room, then I salted his bed. Salting consisted of spreading a lot of salt between the sheets on the lower half of his bed. He did not ask me to make his bed anymore. As for Matt, I short-sheeted his bed, which means I folded both sets of sheets in half and made them up on the top half of the bed. No sheets from the waist down. Both of those Actives were not happy campers. I knew they would gun for me after that.
Active Frank was a different problem. Our two-story dorm had one row of rooms with a concrete walkway connecting them. Frank woke up at 6:00 every morning and went out on his walkway two-doors down from me and sang. At the top of his lungs. Weekday mornings were bearable because we had to get up for 8:00 classes. However, on weekends when most of us in the dorm slept off a late-night party, his sunrise sonata became unbearable. For some reason, Frank didn’t get hangovers, so he enjoyed waking the rest of us up with an early bird reveille. I couldn’t tell an Active what to do, so I thought about it for a while. In those days, many guys in my dorm hunted and had guns in their rooms—no big deal in Texas. I decided what to do. I opened one of my shotgun shells, took all the BBs out, and closed it back up. The next Saturday morning after a party, Frank walked out of his room and sang his usual song at the top of his lungs. I heard several guys in other rooms yelling at him to stop. That did it. I grabbed my shotgun and loaded the blank shell. I threw open my room door and charged out on the walkway in a fury.
“Frank,” I yelled, pointing my shotgun at him. “Stop the hell singing.”
He froze, then said, “Pledge, you’re not going to shoot me. Put that gun away.” He started singing again.
I pointed my shotgun slightly away from him and shot the blank. Loud as hell at 20 feet. He stopped singing and ran into his room, slamming his door behind him as laughter erupted from other rooms. We had no more trouble with Frank singing after that. But he remembered me.
Life was good for the rest of that semester. A whole new world opened up for me with fraternity and sorority activities. Fortunately, I didn’t have hard courses on my schedule. The next semester, organic chemistry broke my illusion of being smart. I had to pass organic for my premed major. For the first time, I studied hard; and partook of great parties almost every weekend. I became tight with my Pledge brothers as we endured constant harassment from Actives. I put up with it but did not like them humiliating me. Midterms rolled around, and organic chemistry proved to be the hardest course I ever took. Like most students, I planned on pulling an all-nighter before the test. Little did I know that Matt, Bill, and Frank had planned retribution. About 10:00, I was getting my second wind to study late. I heard a knock on the door and opened it. There they stood with grins on their faces.
“Pledge England,” said Frank. “You need to come outside with us.”
I didn’t need this. Not tonight. But I had to obey my Actives.
They surrounded me, one in the back and two on each side then led me downstairs and around to the rear of the building to a dark thicket of trees.
“Pledge England,” Frank said. “Drop down and give me 20 pushups.”
They chuckled as I looked at them. Here it comes. Maybe I’ll get it over with soon and go back to studying. I dropped and started doing pushups. After number three, they jumped on me, pinning me to the ground. Three to one. I thrashed but couldn’t wrestle my way out of this one. Matt pulled out a coil of rope and tied my legs together, then my hands behind my back. I didn’t see a happy ending for this. They stood back. I rolled over and sat up.
“Pledge,” shouted Bill. “Do you remember salting my bed? You salted an Active’s bed. And you short-sheeted Matt’s bed, another Active. And worst of all, you tried to shoot Frank. Now is the time for your punishment.”
They pulled grabbed my arms and dragged me to a tree with low branches. Now I was pissed. So much for studying tonight. They lifted me to a low branch that I could sit on it. Then they tied me to the tree and left laughing. I twisted and struggled to free myself until I fell asleep from exhaustion. I awoke every couple of hours and tried again. I yelled for help to no avail. Actives in the dorm had put the word out not to help me. That was the longest night of my life. I didn’t sleep much hanging up in that tree. I had plenty of time to think. My organic chemistry test was history. And Premed. Dad would kill me. All because of this damn fraternity. Other Pledges put up with the hazing, but I couldn’t. No more Triniteers for me. And no more stupid tricks on other guys. I learned the hard way that they would get even.
At daylight, Frank came out smiling. “Good morning Pledge. Did you have a good night’s sleep?”
I did not answer.
“Have you learned not to be a smartass?”
I nodded but didn’t say a word.
“That’s more like it.”
He untied me. I climbed down and walked away from him without a word.
Back in my room, I showered, drank a quick coffee, and went to take my organic midterm. I didn’t even finish it. I waited in misery for my grade. The F came as no surprise, I didn’t like organic anyhow. And I didn’t want to be a doctor, that was Dad’s big idea. I decided no one was ever going to screw up my studying and grades again. I dropped out of the Teers with all their silly games. During Teer’s hell week of initiation, I snuck out in the dark and watched my Pledge brothers forced to drink a lot of whiskey. Once too drunk to resist, perform all kinds of humiliating acts with no clothes on, with eggs, and pushups until they puked. Many Pledges ended up flunking out that semester. All to be a Frat Rat. That wasn’t my calling.
Quitting the fraternity had been the right thing for me. I learned a life lesson and didn’t let myself ever get into a position to be mistreated again.