Thursday, June 27, 2013

No. 343 – I Don’t Care Anymore

Performer: Phil Collins
Songwriters: Phil Collins
Original Release: Hello, I Must Be Going!
Year: 1982
Definitive Version: RKO Captured Live, 1983

Not a day went by when I didn’t feel stress while I was at the Fiji house. College was supposed to be fun: You’re away from home; you’re learning new things, meeting new people and having new experiences. I hated it, and my grades suffered.

At mid-term break in October I first floated the idea—safely at home—of leaving the Fiji house. Actually, it was more leaving Wabash completely. Beth was all in favor of it, but Dad strongly suggested making a smaller move first and seeing how I felt about Wabash in a different environment.

In retrospect, I went into my fraternity experience unprepared. Oh, sure, I’d heard all the stories that Dad used to tell about Hell Week and being a pledge at Delta Tau Delta at DePauw, but, you know, that was the Sixties, pre-Vietnam. That crap couldn’t still go on any more, could it?

I was pretty naïve. True, the corporal punishment, the boarding, was gone, but everything else was fair game. Before long, I was so afraid of having my rules ripped or being yelled at in a lineup in the basement that I did things that frankly are hard to believe, but that’s how cowed I was.

For example, The Who were making what was being billed as their farewell tour in 1982. One of the seniors, who was a huge music fan and a pretty cool guy, asked if I wanted to go—a group from the house was going to the show in Indianapolis. Of course, I wanted to go, but the concert was on a weeknight, and I had study table after dinner. I was so afraid of being punished for breaking some silly fraternity rule that I passed on potentially the only time I’d ever get to see The Who live.

If I had gone into the Fiji house with a different attitude, I suppose I might have survived my pledgehood, but the attitude that was needed wasn’t possible at that point in my life. After the past six years at Upper Arlington, I wasn’t interested in being made to feel like crap any more. I made it two months, but I had another three before I’d be made an active member of the fraternity and the hazing would stop. That seemed like a lifetime.

I tried talking to a few people at Wabash about it, including my pledge father, but I didn’t get what I wanted—needed, really—to hear. What I needed to hear was hang in there, it’s no big deal. THIS ISN’T REAL. It’ll get better. Instead, all I heard made me more despondent.

The final straw was Homecoming weekend. Each house built a float to display in front, which meant the pledges. Like with most things about our pledge class, we were divided between those who were slackers and those who worked hard on the float. Guess which group I was in?

Wabash was playing Wheaton at Homecoming, so the obvious theme was Cream of Wheaton. We’d build a Wabash football player sitting at a table eating a bowl of Cream of Wheaton—complete with a moving arm.

The float was a huge project, way more work than anyone anticipated, and it led to some late nights the final week as we struggled to finish on time. The final Friday night was an all-nighter, and apparently, at one point at about 4 in the morning, I conked out on a couch so hard that when a couple guys moved the couch to get it out of the way to start moving the float upstairs, I never stirred.

I remember waking up, and no one—and nothing—was down in the basement. Oh, crap! I got upstairs just as the final assembly was taking place. It was an incredible feeling of pride to see it all put together.

As it happened, Dad and Laura stopped by that day to see how I was doing before they headed to Bloomington for the Ohio State-Indiana game. I wasn’t doing well, and I spoke with the Dean of Students about my situation before watching a little of the football game. At halftime, it was announced that our float took third prize, which was disappointing considering the effort, but you can’t win them all.

You can’t really have a functioning fraternity house with a huge float blocking the front door, so there was never any question that all that work would be smashed to bits the next day. I actually was looking forward to tearing down the float as a good release of pent-up hostility. However, when I got up about 8 to start my morning chores, the float already had been demolished. I had been on cleanup duty for the Saturday night party until about 2, and it was intact then. What the hell happened?

Apparently a few upper-classmen took it upon themselves to get liquored up and destroy the float at about 4 or 5 in the morning. I remember looking out at the splintered wood, which we had to clean up, feeling neither anger nor dismay. Instead, I just felt disgust. Really? We spend all that time working hard on this thing, and you don’t even give us the pleasure of tearing it apart ourselves?

I depledged and moved out of the Fiji house that week.

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