Why did I join a fraternity in college? Mainly to get easy access to drugs. Also, it beat sitting in the dorm on weekend nights and sipping Jansport-smuggled vodka handles while playing MarioKart, watching Seven for the umpteenth time, and looking for hopeless excuses to go upstairs and wander the girls' floor, where most of us dumbasses only later figured out the girls were sitting in their rooms doing more or less the same fucking thing. Also, this fraternity I joined was for weapons grade fuckups, like the one guy who had scars across his knuckles from the time he got day drunk in high school and attempted revenge on a cop who'd ticketed him for speeding a few weeks earlier by trying to slash the officer's car's tires with a pocket knife while John Q was inside a Circle K taking what my fraternity brother decided was a poop break; what my friend misjudged was the ruggedness of steel belted radials, and he wound up in a nearby woods hiding a bloody hand in his shirt. It may some as no surprise that this brother did not finish his schooling. He was a weapons grade fuckup.
I was not a weapons grade fuckup, but I had strong potential. For instance, I had this ex-girlfriend I liked to pine over while listening to Stabbing Westward songs. Not all of the songs, but like three of them, and mostly just one. If you know the band, you know the song, and I probably also don't have to tell you that I had dyed my hair and wore an occasional mohawk. The color? Blue, obviously.
So I was the guy in the pledge class with the mohawk. I was also the only one in any kind of shape. The older guys used to cajole me into showing off my abdominal muscles and then laugh their stoned and bourbon drunk heads off, probably because they had noticed I had yet to sprout facial hair and knew I was the same as them with slower time-released genes. When Hell Week rolled around, they praised my pushup ability and kidnapped me to their rooms, where they got me high and hid me in closets and bedrooms when the Hellmasters came looking. All in all, I had a good fucking time.
My fraternity was poor at most things that matter to college guys, except for drugs and booze. Nobody except a few desperate guys in button-collar waffle-knit shirts even bothered with the sororities that would have had us, and it was for the best because those sororities were way less pro-drug. Most brothers who knew how to talk to girls had serious girlfriends. If you were looking to meet a new girl, the last place you went was to one of our parties, which generally involved blacklights, DJs, and unknown quantities of tripping and rolling goofballs who might at any moment go into a locked room and stay there for two hours listening to Phish or The Delicate Sound of Thunder at a vomit-inducing volume. As weapons grade fuckups, there were many ways we made no sense as a fraternity.
One of these ways was Fight Night, a Friday in the spring when the new brothers and the older dudes laced up gloves and boxed in the kitchen of the frat-house. With no women allowed, it tended toward the gross and pathetic, a lot of flabby white shirtless boys panting and getting red in the face as they traded swings that mostly missed. The only signs of civilization in this event were that we wore gloves and fought roughly by weight class.
A mid-sized guy, I knew I could whip anyone my size. And I knew all the other guys thought I was tough. So I invented a what I deemed a harmless lie. I told it a whole bunch of times over the course of few weeks, and each time it got bigger and more bullshitty: I bragged I'd done some boxing in high school. Nothing extensive, mind you, I told them, but yeah, I'd worked out with some golden gloves guys, and I knew my way around a ring. Where I'd grown up, the only place to box was in a Mexican part of town, and if you boxed, you fought black kids and Latinos and were generally feared by your white contemporaries. My fraternity brothers grew quite excited when I told them this. You should have heard those assholes bellow when they imagined a much tougher version of me beating some poor caballero up against the ropes. It was the kind of long tailed moose call only weapons grade fuckups can make. All I can say in my defense was that I was eighteen years old in body, twelve years old in my head, and that I was enjoying what felt like genuine admiration for the first time time in my life. So when someone told me I'd be matched with the one brother in the boxing club, a guy who lived across campus and whom I'd somehow never met (though, weirdly, all my pledge brothers seemed to know him: You know, they'd say. P——————? You know him. I did not.), I figured he couldn't be that tough. After all, the rest of the weapons grade fuckups were well on their ways to being fatter than most of the dads where I'd grown up.
So Fight Night rolls around. It's a beautiful night, and the brothers at my frathouse are getting high and drinking keg beer. The Ohio sky is pink and blue and robins are singing among the fresh buds, and my dorm buddies and I shotgun a few Milwaukee's Best Lights before making the walk across campus. In the basement, I meet P——————, who's smaller than I imagined and kind of fat. He's walleyed and has a dazed look, and I figure I've got victory locked. I do a few keg stands and put on the gloves and go do what I imagine is shadow-boxing, though not for so long that someone figures out I'm a total fraud. In the corner of my eye, I see P—————— watching, taking measure of how hard I hit the wall. He's nodding his head in what I take to be fear and appreciation.
Of course, the brothers don't let us go right away. They want us for some kind of main event. So by the time we get out there in the kitchen, everybody's drunk and high, and everybody's present. Some of the guys are actually making bets. P—————— comes out and puts his gloves up in what I take to be a fairly weak-looking position, and the brother doing the officiating (now a major provider of health care services in a fairly infamous West African country who I'll call Dr. WB) has us do the fist bump handshake. I immediately go in for what I've already decided will be the fight-deciding bunch.
But I don't land it. Instead, I find myself standing stunned, taking repeated punches in the face and side of the head. I don't even know the basics of defending myself in this situation, and I realize I'm going to lose. So I do what I know how to do, which is wrestle and fight close. I duck down and lunge forward, catch P——————'s face with my open arm, and in the process of throwing him backward slip a foot behind his nearest ankle, so that he goes onto this ass and slides backward on the floor.
I should point out that, at this point, the other brothers at Fight Night are staring silently. Though nobody says it, they must all grasp I've been living a stupid-ass lie. But now, seeing me fight dirty, they begin shouting in protest.
Dr. WB stops the fight to help P—————— back to his feet. Then he blows the whistle for us to resume. I've got an urgent feeling I don't much like. I lead with a left jab and prepare to throw my strongest right. I'm still preparing when P—————— throws an overhand right that comes over my gloves and knocks my nose a fraction of an inch to the right. My nose breaks for the third time in my life. Blood is all over my arms and front, Dr. WB is blowing the whistle, the rest of the fratbros are howling and laughing and shouting and who knows what the fuck else, and P—————— moves in and bear-hugs me before I can try to throw the temper tantrum-style relation my upbringing tells me is now my only choice. He's mumbling some shit about what a good fight we've had and how it's over. I begin to hate him with a hatred that will last a month before turning to good old-fashioned shameful self-loathing, and I will feel a petty sense of satisfaction years later, when I hear someone saw him selling cell phones in a mall in Columbus.
As it happens, a temper tantrum-style relation is not my only choice. I'm drunk, P—————-'s drunk, and everybody else is at least drunk. Fight Night ends, the doors open up, and people start leaving, and people start coming over. Someone leads me to a room where I clean up and borrow a shirt. My nose looks straight, and I leave it be. I get drunker and smoke some weed. I try to explain myself, but a number of favorite frat brothers have lost their fights tonight, and nobody wants to think about the fact that our toughest guys are also our biggest tools. We don't want to think about the fact that our coolest guys are weapons grade fuckups. We start playing video games and listening to music, and pretty soon everyone around me is laughing as wildly as usual, as if they've completely forgotten I've just had my ass handed to me after lying to all of them. I begin to relax and enjoy myself. I talk to an older girl who decides I'm not a total idiot, or at least she decides that for long enough to hang out with me for a few more weeks. That night we end up making out in her room while her roommate tosses and turns as loudly, it seems to me, as a person possibly can. Each time the girl I'm kissing bumps my nose, I wince a little or make some small noise, and she kisses the end of it. I'm pretty sure I'm going to get lucky, but she knows that I am most definitely not.
Did I get teased about my humiliation at Fight Night? In a word, yes. But it was never a full-on balls-breaking, as I guess by then we were all too intent on feeling as much pleasure as possible to waste our time trying to hurt peoples' feelings in any lasting way. The morning after, I got up and left the older girl's house while she pretended to sleep, and then I walked home through the chilly spring air. The sun was out. Ohio is beautiful in the springtime and I felt pretty okay, all things considered, even with two nostrils filled with dried blood and nightmare boogers. I smoked then, because I was a weapons grade fuckup, someone incapable of extracting a general principle from a bad experience, and so I torched a Parliament and did my walk of shame figuring I'd never tell that particular lie about boxing again.