Once, Bundy removed a woman’s head and perched it atop a stool, facing it directly at the sliding glass doors. This was later interpreted as a message to his father – a cop – saying, see dad you can’t protect them all.
Sheeple never learn. The whole Bundy thing – sliding glass doors are such easy access, especially these older homes without the track guards. Even the slightest lift, and plop, you’re holding twenty pounds of glass trimmed in ten ounces of aluminum. Barnum loves people like these. They actually spent the extra green for storm-safe glass doors, but the damn fools had them installed on the old tracks. Seven hundred bucks spent on doors that can withstand hurricane winds, but pop for prepubescent pranksters, (let alone a determined collegiate with a budding interest in violence without consequence).
The frat brothers would have the pledges hunt up abandoned housing with sliding glass doors. Keg parties without the hassle of beating the barf-caked, hungover pledges into cleaning up the place made for a more enjoyable time for all. We pledges were all-too-grateful for the freedom from cleaning to care about some snowbird’s winter home.
Saturday mornings were hunting days during our pledge semester. We could easily drive slowly through neighborhoods looking for abandoned homes, while pretending to garage sale. As pledge class President, I was responsible for turning over the list of homes to the frat President. Being chronically over-organized, I typed the weekly report complete with directions to each address, general layouts of each house, and an estimated capacity. The last was relevant only in determining which sister sorority to partner for each event. As always, I impressed.
About six weeks into the routine, I withheld one address, one I had scoped myself. It was a concrete block house with that rock-on-stucco look. Everything outside was earth-tone. It had a standard tar shingle roof and a single-story. A solid concrete driveway led up to the one-car garage. The lawn was slightly overgrown, and the mail forwarding tag was hanging from the outgoing mail flag. Perfect, less than a mile from campus. I jotted the address on the last page of my notebook, and went about my day.
Three keggers a week, plus the pop up parties in between, made classes a little challenging (to get to). Luckily, by the mid nineties, state universities had become a debtploma society. As long as you attended class, and piled on the student loans, instructors made sure you received your degree in four years. The coursework required a moderate amount of skill in paraphrasing and bullshit for the papers, tests were mere regurgitation of the lectures. High School 2.0. It’s far worse now.
The frat brothers knew the routine well and had started “herding” a few years before my attendance. Herders were first year members of the frat whose job was to make sure you were awake and your ass was in your seat for morning classes. Some of them were a little over zealous in their efforts. Rumors of pledges literally being prodded with electric cattle wands whispered their way through the pledge class. A few took your cell number and told you to put it on vibrate in your underwear before going to sleep. Then they’d call in the morning to “rouse” you from slumber. At least they had a sense of humor.
The herder assigned to our dorm building was Sprigs. Sprigs got his name from a styling accident. He took great pride in his hair and had it streaked and styled every two weeks. On one particular visit, the story goes, he was getting his normal streak-n-style. The girl put the clear plastic cap on his head and teased the needed hair through the holes. Then she applied the bleach-reeking glop to the hair that would soon be platinum blonde. Sprigs (previously Danny McElwain) fell asleep in the seat while waiting through his half hour setting. The stylist then busied herself with an elderly Jewish woman who rambled about every family member’s fall from faith, pointed out each neighbor’s violations of the Home Owners’ Association policies, griped about the price of the color and perm. Finally, after two and a half hours of old Boca-Jew rant, the stylist shooed the woman from the store and returned to Sprigs. The chemicals had set too long, chemically burning his scalp and as the woman rinsed his scalp, his beautiful platinum hair filled the sink. It left a chessboard of white scalp and dirty blond tufts. Remember those defining moments I mentioned earlier? This was one of Sprigs’.
He enjoyed his job as an herder and was fairly good at it. If you were on campus, he’d find you before first classes. Prior to his follicular disaster, his hair, good looks, and suave manner had built him quite the social network. Everyone knew Sprigs, and he knew everyone. He’d start the day with his contact list of Resident Assistants on each floor as necessary. If you weren’t there, he’d ask the desk clerks (usually the hottest girls from each dorm) if any pledges wearing the green sigma had come in last night. If you hadn’t been identified by then, he’d tap his contacts in Campus Security. Sprigs usually had your location before you woke up and realized you hadn’t made it home. Short of jamming a GPS chip up your ass, Sprigs was on point.
So I made every class, maintaining the 4.0 Dad would have expected – and doing so with relative ease. Man, I missed the challenge of our chess games. Classes bored me. Biology was rudimentary. The Graduate Assistants were so dedicated to ensuring that everyone passed that the intricacies of selective pressures, mitosis, myosis, and electrophoresis were left to independent study. Statistics barely progressed beyond bivariate data. The English Comp professor was satisfied with regurgitation and paraphrasing in the required writings. Like I said, High School 2.0.
Dad would have been loathed knowing he was paying for such drivel. He’d probably harangue my professors with a discourse on Socratic method – how students should be questioned and pushed into learning through independent experience, not spoon fed the trivialities of the profession.
I gained plenty of experiential knowledge later. While I’m not sure Dad would have approved of my hobby, but he certainly could have appreciated my methods. Hate the what, love the how.
Friday nights, of course, were the biggest keggers. With two days to recover, the brothers and pledges were free to get as smashed as they wanted. The kegger of October 28, 1994 was set to be the biggest of the year. It was homecoming week. The parade, and carnival events had everyone running on Vivarin and NoDoz. It was also the kickoff to Halloween weekend. Combine that with the completion of midterms and all the pieces were in place for a three-day hangover. The Deltas were on tap for the Monster Mash Mixer, a huge costume affair that had been shared between the two Greek organizations for at least a dozen years. Costumes, alcohol, and loose morals, what college freshman could ask for anything more?
The bash began around six. Chuck was out on the lawn grilling burgers and brats behind the frat house on one of those huge wood burning grills. Some all-too-rich alumni brought it by for all the big events. The damn thing was fifteen feet long with two racks, and a smoker on one end. Tonight corn on the cob and baked potatoes, carefully wrapped in foil with butter and salt, were slow roasting their way to perfection. Chuck was a master griller, hence his nickname. His real name wasn’t even Charlie, but Chuck was all anyone could remember.
Tyler ran his own DJ business on the side and always ran the tables for the frat parties. He would juice up on NoDoz and Jolt cola, and spin til six in the morning. He even got the fraternity to purchase lights for him: strobes, disco globes, laser arrays. In his three years, he’d built up quite the inventory. Tyler had his finger on the pulse of everything hot. He spent the early hours of every morning bouncing from club to club, noting the latest in hip hop, house, trance, dance, and booty shake joints. Whatever he couldn’t download free, he’d cop from a buddy of his at the FYE in the local mall.
Susan, President of the Delta Delta Delta sorority, trained her girls in proper party etiquette. The eldest girls arrived first, juniors and seniors in their glam costumes. Then the first-years and pledges. All the frosh girls in some demeaning costumes. Any costume you could prefix with the word sexy and a hyphen was there. Sexy-mermaid, sexy-french maid, sexy-nurse, the list went twenty-seven deep.
Three kegs outside, four inside, the frat bar completely stocked with rums, tequilas, and vodkas. There wasn’t a soda to be found in the house on party nights – part of the unwritten, yet clearly understood, code that everyone drank to excess during a frat party. Especially a mixer with the Deltas. Susan’s girls knew how to party, and how to completely release their inhibitions.
By ten, many of the pledges were upstairs engaged in various extra-curricular activities with Delta pledges. Sometimes more than three to a room. It got so crowded that several of the upper classmen took their dates (if that’s really what you’d call them), back to the Delta house, despite campus rules against males being allowed on Sorority Row. Some never made it inside anyway, either hooking up on the lawn or passing out there. By twelve the alcohol was getting the better of the less-engaged fraternity brothers. A few of the guys lit up a home-rolled blunt and practiced that most-ancient of rituals, Puff-Puff-Pass. Drew and Steve tumbled into a rambling, half-coherent discussion about the meaning of life. This quickly deteriorated into a low-energy debate about the value of people’s lives. Something Drew said caught my attention as I was passing through the foyer on my way outside. “Moliere said, ‘Things only have the value that we give them.’”
Drew, “’There is no value in life except what you choose to place upon it and no happiness in any place except what you bring to it yourself.’ That’s Thoreau.” The logic was flawless.
So began the internal moral cogitation. What lives had I known to be valuable? Mom, Dad, Tani, myself. I had been willing to fight for Mom and Dad, despite the futility of my actions. Were there others that truly mattered to me? I couldn’t think of one. If completely honest, I couldn’t think of another valuable life. Try as I may, four valuable lives… What of the greater good? What of the social contract? How does this grand understanding affect morality or, on a more practical scale, law? If the founding fathers had developed a similar acumen, how would laws differ?
The stoners corner was camped out in the living room, ground level. An L-shaped sofa fit perfectly into the corner of the room forming a pincer shape around a small television. The eleven o’clock news burped to life. The lead story was of a shooting that had taken place in a poorer section of town. Apparently, a local business owner had been arguing with his neighbor. He pulled out his shotgun and the neighbor dared him to shoot. The man obliged, killing the neighbor with birdshot to the face, neck and shoulders. Drew and his stone-crew giggled at the newscast making comments about the two men’s intelligence, or lack thereof. They showed no signs of concern for the dead man or his family.
Twinge. Did the dead man’s life have value? Apparently his life was of entertainment value only to the fraternity brothers watching the news. His only value to them came in the manner of his death. How many people had to place a value on your life before you became valuable to society as a whole? When River Phoenix died last year, how many television specials portrayed his life? Did that alone give his life value?
I had to know.
A hermit with no friends, family, or social contact, would that define a life least-valuable? Or could the value of a life only be defined by the individual’s own opinion of self worth?
I had to know.
Knowledge through experience, right Dad? Socratic method, questions inspiring deeper questions.
There, by the sofa in the corner, with the snippet headlines capturing the fading attention spans of Drew and his burners, a seed germinated within my mind. Is this what Eve felt when tempted with the knowledge of good and evil? Is this the cognitive morass Pandora faced with the sealed box? The great existential question: What is the meaning and purpose of life? In the cacophony of Moby, inter-Greek relations, herb-induced puzzling, and drunken frat challenges, my mind drifted to a single pulsating idea: What is the value of life?