Last week, the University of Montana banned fraternities and sororities from sponsoring any events that involve alcohol, citing some Greeks' rowdy behavior over Homecoming weekend. Caitlin Parker, interim assistant director of the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Involvement, criticized chapter leaders in her letter announcing the ban.
"The actions and behaviors of members over the last few weeks have showcased that our community has lost track of our purpose as value-based organizations," she wrote.
It was bad news for me, because I had just started my own fraternity and sorority involvement by pledging Delta Fresca Nu. As a middle-aged man, I couldn't wait to contrast my stodgy adult persona with hard-partying frat hijinks in hilarious and unpredictable ways. But it turns out movies misled me about the nature of today's value-based Greek collegiate social organizations. All my frat brothers care about is helping sick kids, and now I have to do it sober.
The trouble started on day one, at around 2:45 a.m. That's when my new friends got me out of bed by spraying me with a fire extinguisher, scaring me half to death and potentially damaging my orthopedic leg pillow.
"On your feet, pledge!" Brother Hawkeye shouted. He was wearing a moose hat with antlers.
We all have frat names in Delta Fresca; Brother Hawkeye is so called because he's great at spotting when someone is being treated unfairly. In the predawn light, I recognized my fellow pledges: Walrus (fat), Hard Drive (nerd) and Lieutenant Stevens (undercover police officer).
Making liberal use of the fire extinguisher, Hawkeye herded us all out of my apartment and into the back of the frat van. I was thrilled to see it was full of toys. There were whiffle bats, roller skates, helmets—everything we needed for a grueling but hilarious drinking game that would prove we could party hard enough to join Delta Fresca Nu.
"I'm scared," Hard Drive said. "I should really get back to the dorms and study."
"And I'm hungry," Walrus said. He meant that he was scared.
"Shut up, guys," I consoled them. "We need to man up, take this van to the liquor store and use my fake ID that says I'm 38 years old to buy a bunch of booze."
"Great idea," Lieutenant Stevens said. "Let's stop off on the way and get some marijuana from one of our established dealers."
Lieutenant Stevens always likes my ideas. For whatever reason, we seem to have a lot in common. But Hawkeye told us to quiet down.
"Buckle up, pledges," he said, refusing to put the van in drive until we realized he was speaking literally. "It's time you learned to party like real UM fraternity or sorority members."
Passing several gas stations and other licensed sellers of beer on the way, Hawkeye drove us to the hospital. There we were greeted by the sisters of Loofa Beta Pi, who were unloading case after case of Red Bull from their sorority Outback.
"Fleek!" I said, perhaps correctly. "Let's get this party started." I reached for a can of Red Bull, but one of the sisters glared at me.
"Those are for the kids with narcolepsy," she scolded. After Hawkeye got consent to shake her hand, they led us inside, where my initiation began.
I spent the next four hours reading to children in the pediatric oncology wing. It was the hardest thing I've ever done. I knew joining a frat would expand my horizons and help me negotiate the difficult transition from my mid-30s to my late-30s, but I didn't think we'd be helping people. That's where I draw the line.
"I can't take it anymore," I said, after a chorus of bald kids ordered me to read Where the Wild Things Are for the ninth time. "I think I'm going to pass out."
And sure enough, the world went black. I woke up in the back of the frat van. Hawkeye was standing over me, holding a funnel and a rubber hose.
"I just have to siphon some gas out of the van," he said, "to help this family."
By the time we got home, we had stopped twice to help change tires and once to rake an old lady's yard. Walrus found a box of doughnuts in a tree, but Hawkeye made us take it to the food bank. Once we were back at the frat house, I tendered my resignation.
I guess I'm just too old to stay up all night helping people. My system can't handle 36 hours of binge service and hard-charging community involvement after every Griz game. So Lieutenant Stevens and I joined the College Socialists instead. They're not as popular as the frat guys, but at least they let you have a drink now and then.
Dan Brooks writes about politics, culture and the intoxicating thrill of community service at combatblog.net.