I certainly didn’t want to fight with him. I did, however, want to shout, “Listen, you son of a bitch, life isn’t all a ******* football game! You won’t always get the girl! Life is rejection and pain and loss” — all those things I so cherishly cuddled in my self-pitying bosom. I didn’t, of course, say any such thing.
— “A Fan’s Notes,” Frederick Exley
“What was that Malzahn? A draw on third and 13? Really? You’re terrible. I coulda made that call, and I don’t get paid millions!” yelled a fresh-faced frat wannabe in his red tie and his wrinkled white button-up with the sleeves rolled, his blue blazer in a beer-stinking stack beside a bloated brother-in-training who looked to be somewhere between beer four and smuggled and shaker-stirred rum and coke three. “Booo! Booooo!”
“Shut up.” I was looking up at him from two rows below. There might’ve been an explicit modifier in there somewhere. Our eyes met. I’d stopped him mid-boo. “I said shut up, you idiot.” You idiot — you child, you imbecile, you absolutely clueless cretin. His hate was immediately redirected from Gus Malzahn and Auburn’s lethargic offense to me. His fury had a face. And it wasn’t a particularly intimidating or threatening face. It wasn’t a face that causes pre-fight recoil. It was a very punchable face. The face was smiling, probably smirking. The face looked superior. The face felt superior.
The booing pledge went crazy. Cursing, spitting, challenging, straining against the bonds of the bloated brother and another pledge. I looked past his animated reddening head to AUHD only five or so rows above. Auburn 0 Clemson 17. At that point, Auburn had less than 50 yards of total offense. On the stat-framed screen was probably a shot of dudes in Polos and khakis surrounded by beautiful blondes jostling and scrunching and trying very desperately to let the cameraman compress their personas into bits and bytes. We’re #1! War Eagle!
I looked back at the angry pledge. He was still screaming, still gesturing, still shouting personalized threats. A strange sense of calm came over me. I remember this calm more than any of the half-truth details listed above. For a few seconds it felt like I was observing outside my own body. It was almost as if the whole experience was occurring on AUHD and I was just a spectator like everyone else.
And then, feeling like some sort of omniscient alien shifting the gears and levers of an early 20s human male, I turned around to watch the on-field action, leaving my left arm and the middle finger of my left hand behind. The one-finger salute lasted for a minute, maybe two. I’d always thought the expression “howled with anger” was hackish and clichéd. But he literally howled, a kind of agonized yip. Here I was, a lanky kid in a faded orange Auburn shirt, a nonentity in the world he was fervently attempting to join, challenging his manhood, his very identity even, in front of his peers. Two attractive brunettes in sun dresses and cowboy boots were watching. I think one was his date.
A pledge dressed in an identical red tie and white button-up sitting beside me turned and put his arm around the shoulder of my lowered left arm. “I don’t think you want to do that,” he said. His eyes had the roving unfocusedness of the recently drunk. We were about the same height. He had curly brown hair and his jawline was covered with red splotches signifying emerging acne. He was white. He was no doubt middle class. It was like looking into one of those fun house mirrors. “Do you understand how fraternities work? We stick together. If you mess with one of us, you mess with all of us. Like we could all just join forces and beat the [blank] out of you.”
“I don’t care,” I said. I’m not trying to recreate myself as a tough guy. I’m really not. I spend most of my time talking to my 11-year-old Miniature Schnauzer as I lay in my bed playing Mario Kart. The one time a fist met my face I was knocked unconscious . . . on a baseball field . . . by a teammate . . . during the 2005 Tennessee state semifinals. (We won and I played one of the better games of my baseball career. Even if I don’t remember the 3rd, 4th, and 5th innings.) Tough or not, I do have self-respect, and I’ll be damned if I was going to let a bunch of confused kids partaking in what is at least in part an antiquated and silly search for identity intimidate me. “I don’t care if you all joined in and kicked the [blank] out of me. Do it. I don’t care. I’m not scared.”
I glanced back at the angry pledge. He was no longer being restrained. He looked like a frustrated and tired infant. Like most pre-fight productions between young American males his actions were all theatrics for the crowd. To back down, to not get hysterical and crazy talking about how much he wanted to “kick my ass” and “[blanking] punch me in the face you [blankity] [blanking] [blanker],” would be a sin against his manhood, and thus a sin against his future brothers.
Do you understand how fraternities work?
I told my parents while eating at an Outback in Ohio I was thinking about joining a fraternity for a year and writing a book about my experiences. After my graduation from Auburn, I’d enroll in Ole Miss or Arizona State or the University of Texas, transform myself into a Fraternity Man, keep copious notes, and write a best-selling book about the whole ordeal. The book would be an outsider’s insider look at what it means to be in a fraternity at a large party school with a rich Greek tradition. I wasn’t going to necessarily bash the fraternity life. I’d probably have a couple close friends among the pledges. And they’d probably be thoroughly decent guys. The book would be more about their evolution than my own. I’d explore the drinking and the women along with the pathos of the pursuit of parties and the hedonistic path. In my head, it was a brilliant book.
But, when I thought for more than 10 seconds about this plan of action, I had to admit it was just another attempt to remain an adolescent and keep the “real world” and its uncertainty away for another year. Who wouldn’t want another year of irresponsibility and girls and parties and general tomfoolery? The best part, the most insidious part, was that I would technically be working toward this whole goal of writing. It’s not the worst idea, and I do think it could be an interesting book, but it’s not for me right now. And I don’t think I came to that conclusion out of some fear of failure. Besides, the whole A.J. Jacobs, life-as-experiment nonsense is stale by this point. I’m not sure I want to build my foundation on the shifting sands of gimmickry.
I’ve become an amateur anthropologist of the greater Auburn area. Four, sometimes three, nights a week my job delivering for Willie’s Wings and Stuff allows me to momentarily peak into the lives of 15-40 strangers. For the time it takes to find a wallet or sign a credit card receipt I get to imagine (often times judge; I’m human) what the food recipient’s life is like.
And that often means peaking into the domestic life of Auburn’s fraternity population, as a large chunk of Willie’s business is inebriated frat guys. (Willie’s slogan: “We don’t care how you got the munchies, just how you get rid of them.”)
I was going to crystallize all my delivery experiences into a jumble of generalizations, walking you through what a typical delivery to a Fraternity Man’s living space is like in a humorous, caricatured kind of way, but one particular instance will do the trick.
Through the door, the song being blared sounded like the National Anthem. Turns out it was “Night Moves” by Bob Seger. The guy who opened the door was wearing khaki shorts and a maroon front-pocketed T-shirt advertising a rodeo of some sort. Behind him, melting into two different couches, were an assortment of tall, tanned, short-haired dudes in assorted Guy Harvey shirts and Greek memorabilia. Two NBA teams were playing on a flatscreen television sans sound. Chris Paul missed an open three to We weren’t searching for some pie in the sky summit/ We were just young and restless and bored/ Living by the sword. Natural Lights were lifted in time with Seger’s gravelly inflection. It was all sublimely appropriate.
I stumble into a scene like the above or I look around the student section in Jordan-Hare or I walk around campus with my eyes open and I think, Who are these people? I mean, really, who are they? How did they become like this? Is this preferable? Is that a sound life path? Should I be emulating them in some way?
You might get the impression I hate frat guys and Greek culture. I don’t. Or at least I don’t despise the whole enterprise like a lot of independents at Auburn. Because what a lot of the GDIs don’t realize is that forming your identity on not being something is the same, as “bad,” as basing your identity on that something — it’s the same conformity mislabeled as nonconformity. A fundamentalist is a fundamentalist is a fundamentalist. Polarization leaves no room for nuance. That’s why I have a hard time with politics. Democrats and Republicans are different sides of the same crazy coin. (Like The Layman Group and Greeks. Like the hipster crowd and Greeks.) And the marginalized parties have no power and change nothing. Sometimes it seems hopeless.
I’m perplexed by Greek culture. Part of me, the part young and male, is envious of the world they’ve created. Joining the right fraternity sets a young man up with business connections, ready and easy access to sorority girls, and a large group of gregarious friends to spend lazy spring days tossing football with. Buy the ticket, take the ride. I’m not sure how much of my idea of fraternity life is demonized and how much is idealized. The truth of it all probably exists somewhere in the middle.
I guess this whole writing exercise is my attempt to come to terms with my diverging life path. I came from their middle class background, I played their sports, I moved in the same circles, I have their look, but I’m not a part of their group. At some point I became an outsider. But not an outsider by circumstance. An outsider almost by choice. I don’t think that says anything particularly revealing about me or my character. Or maybe it does. Maybe it says everything. But joining a fraternity and wallowing in its excesses doesn’t necessarily implicate the joiner as a terrible, unaware human being. Sure, plenty of dumb, unthinking, spiteful people are fraternity members. A lot of dumb, unthinking, spiteful people are Auburn fans. A lot of dumb, unthinking, spiteful people are human beings. Embrace the nuance.
I guess I’m saying God Bless America.
At the end of the Clemson game, after the then unique Auburn second half comeback, after the Kyle Parker overthrow, and the missed field goal in overtime, I glanced at the curly-headed pledge beside me. Cam Newton and Trooper Taylor had just chest-bumped and the Auburn sideline was spilling onto the field. The pledge looked up and we locked eyes. Without hesitation he took one step toward me and put his arm around my shoulder.
“War Eagle, man.”
I didn’t look back at the angry pledge, but I like to imagine he was smiling and hugging his neighbors.
* The Secret History of an Underground Iron Bowl
* Pretty Auburn girl. In the Philippines. Saving Toomer’s.
* Rare candids of Pat Sullivan at the 1971 Heisman banquet
* My first meeting with Dean Foy
* Pompadours on the Plains: the 50s revival at Auburn
* Bear Bryant’s lost year at Auburn
* Classic punxploitation flick features broadcast of Auburn game
* Auburn students stand in for Joaquin Phoenix, stars of Space Camp (1985)
* The G.I. Joe from Auburn
* Videographer behind AU hype videos wasn’t initially sold on “All I Do is Win”
I was in a fraternity at Auburn. And the thing I always liked about Auburn was that there was greek life, but it wasn’t the all-consuming, mandatory institution it is at other colleges. I think when I was there, which was only 6 years ago obviously, only 13% of the student body was greek. Places like Ole Miss and Alabama it is a lot higher, and therefore I have always heard it is a lot more a necessity to one’s social life. But we had a huge contingent of guys that hung out at our house who were not brothers for whatever reason, but they still partied with us, brought women and booze to the house, and occasionally fought the neighboring fraternities with us. And that is who we almost always fought with whenever we fought, not a GDI but someone from the fraternity house next door because it was Friday night and we were drinking and they were drinking and no one had a job where it mattered if you came in with a black eye on Monday. Plus, they were d bags who were about due for a good ass kicking. It is the run of the mill prolonged male adolescence that our expanded middle class American culture has spawned. It was just about being young and dumb and bulletproof, not about being superior to anybody.
Not sure I get the point. I’ll admit to being immediately biased as I was in a fraternity and I assumed this was a hit job from the start so I was waiting for the point where you say that we’re all pitiful and you don’t hate us but you feel sorry for us.
So while I want to say that not every frat is Beta, or Sigma Nu, or Lambda Chi, I’m not sure that you’re even arguing that any of them are necessarily bad.
So what are you saying?
Blake W. says
I like it. I can totally relate to the divergent life-plan line of thought. Except I know why I didn’t go Greek.
For anybody who went to the NCG, how crazy was that culture difference? I’m from Oregon so I knew what to expect, but it was still a trip to see Auburn fans dressed in near-uniform consistency right next to Oregon fans in their best rave gear.
As an independent at Auburn who had many frat friends and attended quite a few frat parties, I would say the Greek life offers a clear but not mandatory path to douche-dom.
“So what are you saying?”
Fight The Power
@Blake W.: Ha ha! Yeah, even on TV, it looked like most of the Oregon fans’ clothes would look great in some blacklight.
Having attended Auburn as an “independent” and now living here, I’ve always thought it was funny how the supposed non-conformists have as much of a uniform as anyone else. And that’s not unique to Auburn. It’s that way all over the country, if not world. Take the girl who wrote the “scathing” article in The Plainsman about how all sorority girls wear tights with shorts over them. She was essentially saying, “Don’t dress the same…dress the way I’m telling you to dress.” Other than the fact that the Greek system is more organized, all college students are the same. They all want to be part of some larger group, desperately looking for some sort of validation (often by disparaging some other group) while at the same time claiming how individual and open-minded they are. Then, more often than not, political and/or religious affiliation becomes the adult version of this same social dynamic. So we’re all doomed! 🙂
I don’t have an issue with conformist nature of frats. I just note that in my personal experience, the % of d-bags within a fraternity is higher than within the independent crowd. Then a d-bag bloc is likely to form within a fraternity.
But really, anyone who reads this article and wears orange with 87K other people to watch strangers play football is about as conformist as it gets here on planet earth.
Big A says
I don’t care for frats and was not in one or associated with them while I was in school at Auburn, but luckily Auburn isn’t UAT where frats are a way of life. I just don’t fit in with that crowd. More power for the folks that do.
Loved the greek life at AU even though I wasn’t in a sorority. To me, the d-bag percentage was equal among greek and non-greek students at Auburn. The difference for me was, more frat guys drank more at games, thus making their d-baggedness more pronounced at that particular time.
For the Oregon guy – I did notice one peculiarity about the Duck fans at the BCSNCG – their air of superiority stank up the place until about a minute left in the game, no matter what anyone was wearing.
I think Ben makes a great point – all AU fans are the same at the end. Orange and blue ranks over greek letters. War Eagle.
why call a fraternity a frat? you don’t call a country a …
I was president of my fraternity when I was at AU. That opened a lot of doors on campus that really allowed me to build my resume, which helped me get into grad school, which helped me be a proferssional success. I keep up with 1 person from that fraternity today, 20 years later, and haven’t been back to “the house” in over a decade despite the fact that I’m on campus frequently. The fraternity was something I did while I was in school. It wasn’t who I was. I hate Greek bashing. I was relieved this article didn’t go there. Interesting read.
I’m currently an auburn student and I am an independent. For me, when I first got up here during my freshman year and I looked around at all the frat guys and pledges, it was kind of like culture shock. I thought “What’s up with all these narrow minded conformists.” But you know, after the initial shock wore off, I realized that everybody just has their different ways of living their lives. I realized it is just as douchebaggy to be a pompous frat guy as it is to be a hoighty-toighty GDI. I even have some friends that are greek. I don’t relate to them very well, but they are certainly cool people. You’ve just got to live and let live.
DUDE! Willie’s Class of ’98…
@ SWI non-greeks use frat like you use GDI
I wasn’t in a fraternity, but made lots of friends in college. Some in frats, others not. I just did what I enjoyed doing and met alot of cool people along the way that shared common interests with me. Dreads, tattoos, khakis, visors…it didn’t matter to me. I’d try to be friends with anyone. The ones whose company I enjoyed I’d continue to hang around. The ones that treated me indifferently or like crap (greek or not) I had no use for and didn’t try to pursue their friendship. There are too many good and nice people in the world for me to waste my time trying to get you to like me by changing who I am. A’holes are A’holes no matter what kind of clothes they wear.
Alex P in Smyrna G says
Willies Wings were awesome. Western Subs were too. I remember that if you ordered right before closing time, they would punish you by making your wings almost unbearably hot.
And… I was in a fraternity. There were d-bags but mostly normal guys who all like similar stuff. I also knew some d-bag GDIs. I was/am not a d-bag.
That is all.
I’m not really sure what you’re trying to accomplish by writing this article, and I’m almost certain that this isn’t the place for it.
It seems that deep down, you are interested in greek life and want to be a part of it, but because you aren’t you feel obligated to hate it, because it just seems like that’s what independents do.
It’s good to have opinions, but I would advise against forming (and publicly voicing) one about thousands of individuals based on your limited interaction with some of them at a football game or while delivering late-night food to them.
You no read good.
you verbally accosted a stranger at a FB game, cursed him, told him to shut up, called him an idiot, flipped him off- and he is the bad guy?
What the hell else was the point of this? College guys wear shorts and t-shirts?
You sound like the biggest d-bag on campus. And you have the nerve to accuse someone else of (supposedly) feeling superior?!?
I curse you for the 3-4 minutes of my life I will never get back.
Thoroughly enjoyed this. Thank you for promoting the “everyone is a person; what you are or what you aren’t doesn’t necessarily define who you are” thing. Regardless of what some commenters may say (as I have refrained from reading comments so I don’t become angry, as many times they make me furious), it’s sometimes just really refreshing to read about someone else’s perspective, even if the reader doesn’t fully grasp a point, or even if the writer doesn’t necessarily have one. War Eagle.