Boomerang Days: From Here to Fraternity

A Longhorn does college all over again.


When I attended UT, I was proud to be unaffiliated with a fraternity. I was a confirmed hippie with slightly liberal leanings and a taste for fringe society. You were more likely to find me at a sit-in than doing a keg stand. I also couldn’t understand the allure of weeding a drainage ditch in a diaper at 3 a.m. or whatever other adventures my freshman dorm mate would brag about when he staggered in an hour before dawn, bruised, proud, and occasionally tattooed.

In reaction to the abundance of Greek culture, my outlier friends and I dubbed ourselves Delta Omega Rea Kappa, or D.O.R.K. Unfortunately, we lived up to the name all too well. And our parties, such as they were, often lacked a certain special something—namely, females.

In my entire UT career, I stepped into a fraternity house only once, to study with a Greek classmate. The place had a strange odor, as if the floors had been varnished with cheap light beer and man-sweat. Brothers wandered about, laughing and hanging out. I picture the wild parties that happened here, the late-night talks, and the crazy pillow fights. The house had an aura of tradition and brotherhood. Or perhaps just mold. Either way, I wondered if I had missed out by not going Greek.

So why not do it now? Why not return to the university 20 years later and find a fraternity that would allow a slightly older Longhorn to pledge?

Choosing one of the 30-plus fraternities is not simple. In my day, you got the dirt on fraternities from graffiti on the bathroom walls at Cain and Abel’s. But today’s Longhorns have websites designed to help, like and—basically Yelp for the Greek-bound undergrad.

Houses are ranked in categories like “looks,” “popularity,” and “classiness.” I happen to be lacking in all three. The user comments range from helpful, to catty, to all-out spit-in-your-face nasty. Fraternities are accused of being the drunkest, the loudest, the most redneck. None are necessarily insults. Occasionally the commentators berate each other: Name-calling, reputation-soiling, mud-slinging —it really is like Yelp.

Relevance is a common theme on these sites, in an ongoing discussion as to whether a fraternity is “relevant” or “irrelevant.” Relevant to what is never clarified, another reminder that I’m venturing into an enclosed system with its own exclusive expectations and social dynamics. Like sitting in on someone else’s Dungeons and Dragons game.

I narrowed down my list of favorite fraternities and proceeded to find my new best friends.

Calls went unanswered. Emails disappeared into the Grecian ether. The few conversations I had did not go well.

ME: Hi, I’m 42 and want to rush at you.

FRATERNITY: You want to what?

ME: Be with you. Pledge all over you.


Mentioning I was writing for a magazine made matters worse. The Greek system has a justified fear of reporters. You don’t read many viral pieces on the sweet brotherhood fostered in fraternity culture. They’ve been burned and would rather not be burned again.

It occurred to me that if any of these fraternities did an online search of my name they’d soon find that, in 1991, while Longhorn freshmen were pledging and celebrating Greek life, I was doing stand-up at the Velveeta Comedy Club viciously mocking Greek life. They’d likely discover that my unflattering song “Fraternity Life” appeared on the soundtrack of the sex-romp comedy Going Greek. Or they may find that while attending a rare sorority party at a Sixth Street piano bar, I was dared to perform the song. A beer bottle was thrown at my head and I was ushered outside for my own protection. I couldn’t blame them for avoiding me.

Then I get lucky. The guys from Pi Kappa Alpha, better known as Pikes, are ready to give me a shot. I guess they don’t use Google at the Pike house.

I sit down with two clean-cut, friendly Longhorn undergrads, Ryan Thompson and J.D. Swancoat, both devoted Pikes and former State Rush co-chairs. We met at the Cactus Cafe, so I could have a beer and look cool.

I know it’s sad, but I honestly worried about looking cool. Am I too old? Is my haircut right? Do my suspenders match my loafers? I want these guys to like me.

“Okay, let’s say I’m at a rush party,” I say, sipping my beer. “How do you know if you want me to join Pike?”

“We talk, find out who you are,” J.D. says. “Like, what sport you played in high school.”

“Drama,” I say.

J.D. hesitates, but only for a moment. “Great. We’ve got some amazing members who did drama in high school. We’re less interested in what you did, but whether you excelled.”

“Cool,” I say. “I want to pledge Pike.”

Well, it turns out Greek pledging has gone the way of the Greek economy. Incoming Pikes are now called “new members.” In fact, many national fraternities, like Sigma Alpha Epsilon and Sigma Phi Epsilon, have eliminated the entire pledging ritual.

Hazing is also not nearly as popular as it was when I was at UT. Back then hazing was rampant. Everyone—Greek or not—hazed. Sport teams, art groups, academic clubs. It was rumored that to join the vegan co-op you had to go a semester wearing nothing but a suit made completely out of bacon.

The crackdown on hazing, or anything that could be interpreted as such, is slowly transforming the Greek experience.

Still, a Pike’s first semester is no cakewalk. There are Pike history classes, study hours, service hours, and the unofficially required uniform of white-washed Wranglers and a Polo shirt.

Ryan says with a smile, “The most fun you never want to have again.”

I have to admit, I’m disappointed in J.D. and Ryan. I was looking for beer-swiggin’ bullies. Where are the Alpha Betas from Revenge of the Nerds? Where are the snobby Omega Theta Pi from Animal House? These guys are talking about management skills, charity pancake breakfasts, and a complete and utter absence of spanking. Believe me, I asked for a spanking.

They assure me there are still plenty of parties, plenty of hijinks, plenty of fun. In fact, they have a party that Friday. But the fraternities have to remain above-board.

“When you were in school,” J.D. tells me, “what happened at a party stayed at a party. Nowadays …” He pulls out his phone. “Everything is documented.”

“So what happens next? How do I become a full member?”

After a semester of slight servitude, new members go through a secret initiation ceremony.

“I’m picturing robes, candles, maybe a blood sacrifice,” I say.

J.D. and Ryan neither confirm nor deny my assumptions.

I’m impressed with these guys, and I tell them so. I confess that I had some pretty firmly established prejudices against fraternities.

“We know,” J.D. says. “We’ve heard the song.”

There’s an awkward silence.

“So,” I say. “Can I come to that party on Friday?”

“No,” Ryan says. “No, you can’t.”

Illustration by Mario Zucca.


Tags: , ,



Post a Comment