Thursday, June 2, 2011
Back in my college days, I joined a fraternity. Let's just call it Alpha Tau Omega- because that's what is was called. I was actually part of the fourth pledge class since the chapter started on campus so it was a new group of guys. And when they started the chapter, they got guys from two other schools to help get the initial local guys involved. The problem was that the two seed schools had two vastly different types of ATO chapters.
One seed was USC- a very well established "Animal House" style chapter- and by that I mean that it was around from at least the 1950s, prestigious school, lots of history, lots of jocks, and pretty much one of the more popular houses at USC. The other seed chapter was from Cal Poly Pomona... which was not like the USC chapter. In fact, it was everything the USC chapter was not (or vice versa). These guys were pretty new to their school, the school was not even division I sports, and from what I heard, these guys were how shall I put it.... So who were the first members of my school's chapter? That's right- a mixed bag.
So for the years that I was an undergraduate, my house had an identity crisis. I think everyone wanted to get laid and get drunk and have parties, but there was a huge clash of who to let into the chapter and our chapter image. Did we want to become "top house" and be the jocks at school? Did we want to be the "pretty boys"? Or did we want to just "be". I was part of the cool house faction (despite my own lack thereof) but there were plenty of guys who simply didn't care- or they lost their interest. It was downright nasty at times with accusations of racism, quantity vs. quality and lots of subgroups within the house. We even had a house cleaning in my latter years that was pretty awful in concept. Don't get me wrong, I was proud to be a Tau and I had enough confidence (and hair) to not really care about what outsiders thought about me personally, but I was concerned with keeping the engine going with people wanting to join rather than us trying to keep our numbers up so that we could continue as a viable house. Plus, it doesn't hurt when the sororities like you too- which was definately a concern back then.
Moving forward, our house actually knocked off the top athletic house before I graduated, we were the second fraternity to actually get our own fraternity house (yes, most chapters didn't even have an actual fraternity house), and by the time I graduated, I felt pretty good about my fraternity and a lot of the guys who came in after me. My ultimate measure of satisfaction would be flash forwarding to when my kids were looking to go to college. When we visited my alma mater (University of California at Riverside), I'd go up to a random hot sorority girl and ask who the cool fraternities were. And if she said "ATO" then I'd be happy.
Well, boys will be boys... And boys will get crazy in college. And bad things can happen in college and my little chapter made some bad choices over the years. I'll be honest when I say that I wasn't involved after I graduated like a chapter advisor, and I never went to any reunions on campus, but some of my closest friends are my fraternity brothers that I carried home (ok, maybe they carried me home) when we were young and wild. Sure we did some jackass stuff- like knocking down a half-built home, or tagging our mark all over campus and at other schools, or general humiliation of newer brothers, or getting in minor fights, or causing the sherrif's helicopter to raid a secret ceremony- or get banned from a church... but we were good lads.
However, over the years, I guess my chapter got caught doing some really bad stuff- and I won't even speculate as it would be hearsay. And by no means am I trying to finger wag or finger point- I'm just talking about something that's a part of my life. But needless to say, they were actually put on probation a few times over the years. In the meantime, the Pomona chapter that helped found ours is now gone- as are several other more established chapters throughout the state and country. But for some reason, my own chapter- at one of the lesser UC schools- persevered through the years- 20 whole years! I can only imagine how many can say that they were Riverside ATOs. I was something like #200.
So now it's 2011- the 20th anniversary of our chapter getting chartered- which means the trial period was over, and in 1991, the UC Riverside chapter of Alpha Tau Omega was legit. I'm an old man now. And guess what came in the mail a few months back- a letter from the national president of Alpha Tau Omega. The gist of the letter was that over the years, the Iota Theta chapter of ATO had screwed up, but they always managed to jump through the hoops to set things right again- and all the while they were a chapter that people wanted to join. But the real gist was that after all the chances, enough was enough and the charter was finally revoked. Alas, Alpha Tau Omega at UC Riverside is no more. Talk about a bummer of a 20th anniversary celebration.
I still keep my ATO membership plaque on my wall, along with my little brother paddle- and I'm permanently marked, and I have a set of letters somewhere in my closet (even though it always finds its way to the semi annual family garage sale). I'm well beyond reminiscing with my "bros" and I don't live in the past in an unhealthy way. But every once in a while, a fond memory is triggered into my head for a second and makes me laugh- usually it's related to a Mike Tyson fight, or lots of Taco Bell (because you forgot that you were hungry before you put on the Metallica album) or Blades of Steel on Sega Genesis, or "asking" pledges to knock down trees, or defiling a cake that sorority girls brough to a social and only telling certain bros what you did, or impulse Vegas trips. Sure it was fun while it lasted, and the friends I still have are priceless, but it's sad that our chapter is no more.