A Little Bit of Happiness

April 3, 2010 · 1 comment

I can’t really begin to tell you how happy I’ve been for the last 12 hours or so, dear reader.  It’s an overall, mellow, all-pervading kind of happiness.  For the most part, I’ve been content to simply enjoy it, though there’s a bit at the back of my mind that’s waiting for the other shoe to drop.  I’m not really paying attention to that bit.

I was hoping to get out of work early (around 1PM) this afternoon, but I didn’t leave until around 4:30.  That’s still early.  I was the last one out of the office, but I got done the things I wanted to.  I had a nice lunch with Randy at 1 and headed back into the office; there were some last-minute things I had to get done in the morning, so my morning-work was pushed off until the afternoon.

I sent emails to Anna, Katie and Brendan, thanking them for the nice dinner last night and got very nice emails in return from Anna and Katie.  I offered to help them in any way I can, and I truly hope they ask me to.

I was hoping to jet up to the Adirondacks after lunch with Randy, but that didn’t happen, so I figured I’d avoid the stress of rushing and go next weekend.  This weekend will be one of preparation for me.  I’ll open the windows and kick the fans on high to air the apartment out, run my errands, and get my kayak ready (put the roof rack attachments on and get it registered for the season).  I hope to have time on Saturday afternoon to go over my car with rubbing compound and put a fresh coat of wax on it.

My happiness this afternoon was pretty sweet – it was like anything I looked at or thought about made me feel good.  Like I was a raw nerve, but not in that fearful, flinchy kind of way.  More of a strokey kind of way.  I suppose that’s what ecstasy (the drug) feels like, though my feeling wasn’t nearly as visceral as the accounts I’ve heard.  I’m not really looking for that kind of chemically-induced body-feelings (any more), anyway.  This was very pleasant.

I’m sure it’s partly to do with the fact that it was sunny all day today – coming out of a dreary winter (and a few days of rain and overcastness), the light was a welcome change.

I also received an email from my buddy and fraternity brother David this afternoon entitled “Howard Stern of facebook”.  Dave said he logs on regularly, only to read my posts.  That really made me feel good.  Mostly for the compliment itself, but also given the source:  Dave’s a dude, and for a dude to go out of his way to send a message to another dude, telling him (dude #2) that he (dude #1) appreciates something about him (dude #2) is a rare thing these days.  I know:  I’m a dude too.

I’ll tell you a quick story about my buddy David – and David, if you read through this and decide it’s not flattering or you just don’t like it, let me know and I’ll delete it from this post.  And if you remember this story differently, feel free to say so in the comments.  This will (necessarily) be told from my perspective – at that time, I wasn’t able to stand in the birkenstocks of anybody else but me.

I tell this story to people all the time, but I don’t think I’ve ever told you, dear reader.  So here we go:

David is a couple of years younger than me.  I think I was a senior when David was a freshman and pledged the fraternity – maybe he was a sophomore, but I don’t think we ever lived in the house together.  Anyway, David had all the characteristics of a perfect social outcast – I won’t get into the grisly details, but he was all kinds of socially awkward and practically begged to be ridiculed at every turn.  And that happened relatively often.

David rushed the fraternity with a handful of friends – probably other guys from his freshman dorm.  The other guys were pretty decent and though I remember David getting his balls busted, I think he was pretty well accepted by those guys.  The me at the time (who was often kind of a judgmental asshole) couldn’t figure it out.

Now, for those of you who aren’t familiar with the processes of fraternity life, this will be kind of a crash course.  Try to keep up.  “Rush” is the period in which prospective new members visit one or more fraternities, in an effort to get to know the brothers and impress them that they’re cool enough to be brothers too.  After the rush period, fraternities give out “bids” to the prospective new brothers.  Bids are an invitation to enter the first part of the initiation process, a period known as “pledging”.  Pledging is the period during which pledges are hazed and sometimes die.  After pledging, whoever makes it through (i.e. doesn’t quit or die) goes through the formal initiation ceremony and are accorded all the rights and privileges of a full brother (e.g. secret handshake, passwords, and sometimes used sex toys).

My fraternity doesn’t particularly like to give out bids to one or two members of a group that rush together, so everyone in David’s group – which was really someone else’s group, though I forget who – received a bid to pledge the fraternity.  Once those guys (and some others) put their pledge pins on, they were ours to haze as we pleased.  David had it pretty hard.  I’ve seen situations in which one or more brothers take a disliking to a particular pledge and single him out for extra-ugly stuff, in an attempt to get him to drop out.  While I can’t say that this was necessarily the case with David (animosity and viciousness were lacking), David was definitely singled out more than the average pledge.

A quick word about “hazing”:  we called everything hazing.  “Go get me a beer” was a particularly light form of hazing.  There were, of course, more onerous things than that (some possibly dangerous, from a certain perspective), but for the most part, when I say “hazing” I’m not using it in the parlance that mass media generally does.  That is, we didn’t physically torture anyone or force them to do anything particularly horrible.  Disgusting, absolutely.  Life-threatening, not really.  But then again, walking can be life-threatening if one is drunk enough.  My point is, what we called hazing was not the stuff of the newspaper horror-stories.  My blue is not your blue, get it?

So back to David:  he hung on like a champ and made it through.  He’s my brother today – my equal – and I treat him as such.

Here’s the magical part of the story:  when that pledge pin was taken off David’s chest and his brother pin affixed, something changed.  He changed.  In a blink:  like when you read the part of Catcher in the Rye where Holden Caulfield relates his dream about being “the catcher in the rye” and the whole dumbass story suddenly makes some sort of sense.  Or that point in A Clockwork Orange when your brain clicks with the slang and you suddenly realize – all at once – what they were talking about the whole time.  At least, that’s what it was like for me with those books.

One day, David was a sniveling pledge who had (from my perspective) very little chance of making it through the many years of life ahead of him, and the next day he was a man:  he had self-confidence.  He didn’t give a shit what anyone else in the fraternity thought about him – he was their equal in all respects.  He started getting laid pretty regularly after that, btw.

For some brothers, it takes a little while to get out of the habit of treating new brothers like pledges; several of them had a hard time doing so with David, but it was like he didn’t even notice.  People would say “go get me a beer” and he would simply say “no” (as was his right) and turn back to the conversation he was having.  People would bust his chops, trying to psyche him into or out of something, and he saw right through it and didn’t budge.  New brothers sometimes have a hard time getting out of the subservient pledge-mindset, but not David.  He stepped from that chrysalis a butterfly with the fucking Jolly Roger on his wings.

I’ve never seen anything quite like it.  It actually gave me a little faith in the fraternity as a maker of men.  Until then, the fraternity was basically just a drinking club for me.  To see David’s transformation put things in a whole new perspective for me, which was a satori in and of itself.  I visited a year or so later, and David was one of the fraternity’s most trusted brothers – elected to leadership positions a couple of times, I believe.

Thanks for the memories and that little bit of enlightenment from those years, David.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Emily April 4, 2010 at 13:25

I know what you mean, being a fraternity member at one point, I’ve also seen people change like that. It’s pretty amazing :) It happened to me too, and although that part of my life is in the past, I did gain a sense of confidence and feeling ‘a part of’ that I’d never felt before. I see what my Little and the other members are up to lately, going through major reconstruction of the house, and I have a lot of respect for them. For some members at least, they’re going in very positive directions.
Thanks for helping remove some of my resentment…

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