I went to a college where much of the social life revolved around fraternities, but I never had an urge to join a frat. I'd already been in one, and had had enough of that nonsense.
Since the day I entered my upstate New York high school as a sophomore, I'd seen the hotshots walking in the halls in their frat jackets, which looked pretty cool. Most of them were varsity athletes who dated the good-looking, popular girls. The jock set occupied the top rung of the social ladder. It was a small-town school. There were no cool nerds there, no artsy types either. There was a group we referred to as "hoods"—antisocial, greasy-haired tough guys who didn't participate in any school activities. The hoods didn't want to talk to me, and I didn't want to talk to them, so it worked out.
Most of the students at the school fit in no particular category. I've forgotten almost all their names.
I'd hear stories about how the frat guys hazed their plebes. All the petty humiliations. Fraternities were ostensibly against school rules; the only thing the school could do was police the hazing but that didn’t happen.
To get in a frat you had to be either a jock, or be in the jock-adjacent crowd—guys who didn't play varsity sports but hung around with those who did because they were cool enough in a high school way. I was a varsity athlete in two sports, which made me a candidate. I hung out with jocks, but I'd read a bunch of books most of them had never heard of.
I felt some envy for the BMOC guys. They were members of the only elite, exclusive organizations I could identify at the school. So when the invitation came, I accepted. The hazing commenced the next day. A football player lined me up against a wall and punched my sternum as hard as he could. His younger girlfriend, who knew me, watched on in horror. I coughed for about two weeks after that. One guy made me bend over and he kicked me hard. That was it for the physical abuse, but I was suddenly less enthused about the whole idea, which was just a cheap shortcut to gaining status. Why be a part of an organization with these pricks in it?
One of the cooler frat members just made me go out to his car one day and fetch his books. A more sadistic one lit a firecracker outside the school and made me step on it. The explosion hurt like hell, making his face light up. A basketball star took me in the boys' room, blindfolded me, and made me reach into the urinal, where I felt a soft, cylindrical object several inches long. He told me to squeeze it. My thinking was that this was a urinal, so the foreign object couldn't be what he wanted me to think it was. He'd made a strategic mistake by not placing it in the toilet, so I squeezed what turned out to be a banana. The hoops player expressed his astonishment that I'd squeezed it, but he'd tipped his own prank off. By that time, I'd figured out that these guys only came at me once, so that was a victory.
That's all the hazing I can remember until the day came for the "final initiation," held on a secluded bank under a bridge over the Chemung River. One frat bro made me eat a spoonful of canned cat food, a disgusting taste I couldn't get out of my mind for several years. There were two large blocks of ice on the bank. One of them had a green olive on it. The other inductees and I had a rock, paper, scissors competition. We were told that the loser would have to sit on the olive bare-assed, secure it, and then deposit it on top of the nearby block of ice. If the unfortunate loser lost the necessary compression and dropped the olive en route, our masters said he had to eat it. Fortunately, I didn’t lose, but nobody ended up eating it. For the final initiation rite, they poured a gallon of white, oil-based paint on each of our heads.
Now that we were in, two inductees dragged the guy who'd kicked me—and them—into the river and invited me to join them in beating the crap out of him. They were football players, so I let them handle that job as I watched on with pleasure. Not one frat member tried to intervene as two powerful athletes pounded on his head, turning the water red. I'd hated this dipshit since the time I came back to my junior high school in ninth grade after spending eighth grade in Missouri. He carried himself as a tough guy, and saw me as a newcomer to bully. I was scrawny, but not afraid to fight. As we walked into school one morning, he sneered at me with fighting words. I barked back and he shut up.
There was no further contact until, several weeks later, the gym teacher told me to wrestle him during gym class. What a gift. I won, and still remember the score: 12-3. The victory proved that it's true what they say about bullies when you hit back at them. The tough guy (I remember his name, of course) never said another word to me. The wrestling match saved me from having to fight him and then going through all the rigamarole in the vice principal's office, which I'd already been through for a fight.
The older brother (a senior member of the frat) of one of the inductees drove all of us new frat brothers home when the fun was over. I snuck in the back door and got out a rag and a gallon can of gasoline in the basement to get to work on my long hair. I've since learned that this can cause brain damage—you're supposed to use paint thinner—but I didn't get enough of it on my scalp for that to happen. Speckles of white paint remained in my hair for at least a week.
Now I was an IKZ member, but for what? I paid my $10 initiation fee that I'd soon learn went into a slush fund for the frat's president. I went to one frat meeting at his house, which was just a bunch of guys hanging out. That was the last meeting I went to. I never bought an IKZ jacket. I was done with the idea of being in a fraternity, and never discussed my membership again with anyone, both inside and outside the frat.
When my turn came to haze an incoming class, I passed. I just became friends with the new guys. The fraternity had no activities, other than the dreary meetings, to give us a purpose. By the time I was a senior, I'd forgotten that I was even in that frat.