October 9, 1999 Saturday
Since coming to Western the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity has played a role in my time here. First Collinsville joined in the fall of ’97, and then Tom rushed the following class, so I have heard more than my share of Pike news. I went to the house sometimes with them, and have slowly gotten to know the members. They would ask me if I would pledge too, and I could always use my G.P.A. as a reason to not join. I was happy, in truth, to just keep things as they were, which was pretty great. I really didn’t want to officially be in the Greek system in any way. But this semester my grades were high enough to give it a go.
Collinsville, always the most hopeful I would change my mind, asked me again over the phone while he was over at the Pike house. Granted, it was only a halfhearted request, because he well knew my past views on it. Yet I gave it some thought.
Everyone, no matter who you are, goes into pledging with a selfish motive. It’s a “what-can-I-get-from-this” mentality that is hard not to have. Either you want it for status, the connections, the girls, the parties, the camaraderie as it is, or something else.
I liked the idea of coming home with a Pike coat on, something no one would have thought I would ever wear. Willa, Sidney, and others have joined Greek chapters, and the Pikes are supposedly “good” everywhere else, as far as reputation. I could really care less what everyone else thought of me here, because I get along with just about everyone. That’s been the one nearly undisturbed rule of my college life. So my own selfish motive, if I had one, was to “make good” for the ones where I came.
So soon I found myself signing a bid to be a part of Iota Class for the Kappa Lamda Chapter of Pi Kappa Alpha. On the first Thursday of September I found myself dressed in shirt and tie in an upper bedroom packed with 21 other Pike hopefuls. We were then taken individually to the formal room on the first floor. When my own time came, I was told to keep my head down and arms at my side. I walked into a dark room that was only lit by a few candles. I walked to the end of the long room, noticing that Pike active members were standing shoulder to shoulder to my left and right, presumably watching me advance forward. Finally I was told to stop and kneel. I looked up and Cedric was in front of me. I has known Cedric since coming to college two years ago, and he couldn’t help but crack a broad grin. He asked me my name and if I wanted to be a member, and answered. He then handed me my bid card, as everyone in the room suddenly yelled and cheered, telling me to go to the basement. Hurriedly going down the stairs with my card in hand I felt pretty proud. Of what I’m not sure, but everyone there in the basement, from other sororities as well as other Pikes I had known for years all congratulated me. It seemed authentic, something that was apart from the many strangers they also accepted that night. That was fun.
That Saturday night we had to go to the Pike house and spend the night there. The pledge committee talked to us for a while, then we ate pizza and watched The Revenge of the Nerds for some reason. I helped design our class flag, but the most fun part of the night was the scavenger hunt. We had to drive all through-out Macomb, getting things from sorority houses, the campus, and Macomb. On the list too was “Get something from C-ville’s house,” which was pretty awesome, since it meant I was going to my own house on Calhoun to get something. The winner of the hunt got to sleep on couches, while the losers got the floor. My group didn’t win.
In a week came Pledge Night, and it was interesting walking up to the dark Pike house with the other pledges. I guess that was the worst part, not knowing what was awaiting us inside. But it all right, because I rationalized every one was a little nervous too.
Silently we were led to a top room and told to wait. The room was dark, except for a single candle that flickered a soft radiating light in front of a photo of the actives, while a CD of chanting played. The house remained pitch black, and we were up there a while. Finally we led down, again going one by one. When it was my turn I was taken out into the hallway and blindfolded with my tie. I was led to the basement where I believe Riley asked me if I had ever been a member of another fraternity. I of course said no, and so was led to another room were there I stood, still blindfolded, until they had gotten through all 22 guys. Eventually (and I do mean eventually), we all recited something about entering the gates of Pike Pledgedom, and how the secrets of the fraternity must never be revealed, and a pledge pin was then pinned on me.
So now I was an official Pike pledge with “all the duties and responsibilities” of one. Our first pledge meeting was held the following Sunday in an upper room in the Union. We elected officers, myself getting Social Chair, and I helped to nominate Chase for Internal Vice-President. We also received our pledge books, a matchbooks (I had only one taken the entire time, and it was an entire-class infraction) and our note books. We had to memorize the Pike Preamble for the next week, and had to get five member interviews and three signatures by the next week’s meeting.
Then began our first week of pledging. On Mondays I dressed in pin attire, and at five would play our weekly pledge team inter-mural football game (We went 5-2 and got to the playoffs). I really liked playing on the team, and preferred to play in the secondary on defense, as it is most like being an outfielder. Tuesdays we had study hours in the University Library. Wednesdays we had to dress in our garnet-colored pledge polos, and then usually came some activity at the house that night after classes. We always had to have our pin whatever the day, and out pledge materials with us. After the first week of pledging was my first social event, which was Big Wheels ’99, and I was on the pledge team. Didn’t do too well.
Something I will always remember is our Dad’s night on the next Wednesday night. We hadn’t done very well on the quiz we were given, and were also having problems being places on time. We even arrived that night an hour late, because as a group we were waiting on one pledge, and we could only arrive as a whole class. The night didn’t begin well. We were told–not in kid voices–that we had better get our acts together. This went on for a while and we were told to go into the next room were we were introduced to “Shield.” Again blind-folded (they really liked us being blind folded), we were told to go up to a room where we were made to recite the Preamble, Ode to a Pledge, and name off all of the Founders and Junior Founders. If a positive can be taken from it all, it was that I learned all that stuff that night. The pledge-master, Mike Swaltzski, told us he was going to get to the bottom of why we were continuously messing up. He took us each downstairs one-by-one to talk to him. I never moved, never raised or lowered my head, but kept in level and looking forward. At one point a phone rang in the room, and a pledge was made to say the Preamble into the receiver and say goodbye.
A few hours went by like this, and I finally was taken downstairs where I was asked by someone what the Ode was. Well, we had had done it so much my brain turned to mush, and I couldn’t do it without messing up twice. Finally I got to Swalski, who asked what our problem was. We all knew that there were correct answers to give and we had all been given the same one to say. “Communication,” I said while in “Shield” stance. Swalski, irritated, said every had sad the same thing, and he wanted to hear a different reason. I stood there from a good fifteen seconds without making a sound, not thinking of a new response. So his reject of a pledge was led to the other room where I was told to take off my shoes and socks and then walk forward. They wanted us to think we were walking on glass or something, but they were just potato chips. That done, Swalzski took off my tie from my eyes and said, “You fraternity dad is right next to you.” I looked to my left, and the first I saw was Amdor. “Oh no…” I thought, but just hadn’t turned for enough around, and Amdor wasn’t my dad at all. His name is Pat Davis and he gave me a lift home.
Collinsville told me later, and I walked in the door at Calhoun and collapsed on the couch, “Don’t worry Maestro, all that is just what they always do on Dad’s night, ” but we did probably did get a little for free.
Something else that happened was at my second-to-last pledge meeting. The pledge committee told us all w should be doing something to actives, sort of a revenge, which had been a tradition for the pledges to do. They suggested we either a) taken over the Pike house for the night by tricking the actives living there to leave. b) kidnap Kevin Wells, the Pike president, for the night c) take the chapter flag. Then, just as quickly, they told us to actually not take the flag, and forget about it all, because we could get in a lot of trouble. But what we should do, they said, was plan it out for weeks and have everyone know every detail of the plan.
All right, well, the meeting was over by 9:30, and I walked to Thompson Hall to its computer lab–telling no one where I was going–to type a paper. By 10:30, one of the pledge committee guys, one named Wynn “Barf” Dantley, appeared out of nowhere and said, “Two guys just snuck into the Pike house and took the flag.” Just great.
So Barf took me and Jay Spencer, another pledge he had rounded up, to the house. We went down in the basement, and Kevin Wells was there, waiting with rope and Super Soakers. Wells told me to sit down, and proceeded to tie my hand and feet together around a pole. They asked me, “Where’s the flag, Carlson?” like I had any idea. When the actives left the room for a moment, I noticed my wet ropes had slackened, and I slipped out of the bonds tying my torso to a support pole in the center of the bare room, and ran up the back stairs and into the back yard. With my shoes in my hands I sprinted about a block in the dark on the outskirts of town, until I ducked behind a car to get my shoes on. That’s when I was found, and I went back willingly, walking back casually with captor. Because it was all part of the game. They then brought out the handcuffs for me, but they had mistakenly gotten a fake pair, and in two minutes I was gone again, running into the night. When I was brought back a second time the actives were perplexed about my amazingly escape ability, so they tied Houdini from chest to feet with heavy rope and duct tape. Then came a long cold deluge of Super Soakers. I was in heaven.
While working on loosening ropes, they happened to bring in a captured Chase and Greg, and tied them up to. Then Amdor showed up, with a malicious, giddy grin on his face. He’s loving this too, because for a moment he’s the picker instead of the one being picked on. Chase came prepared with a handcuff key, and escapes, with Amdor suddenly running in a circle, yelling that Chase had escaped. It was worth it being there just to see that.
All this time activities are hunting down pledges (who also have no idea that the flag was taken) and bringing them slowly to the house. They need the poles we’re occupying, so they relocate Spence and I to the bathroom, handcuffing us together with real ‘cuffs to the urinal. I tried picking the lock with my pledge pin that I still had on (I appreciated the irony) but it didn’t work, and after also trying a nail Spence had, we could be nothing until we were let go. We had fun with the actives and they they had with us, but it did drag out a little long into the night. Got home around two, soaked and tired. Whatever happened to the flag? It was found wrapped around one of the pledge’s legs under his jeans.
Chase let it secretly spread the next night around the pledges that there was going to be a secret meeting at his house on Calhoun, two down from mine. We kept quiet about it, but somehow Barf found out and followed us to Calhoun. He only stayed a minute though, and we all went down into Chase’s cellar. He wanted to talk about the night before, and how it better never happen again, as well as discussing kidnapping the president,Wells, sometime after Homecoming–with a thought-out plan though– and keeping him in the cellar for a night. That’s something I really wish I could still do with them.
Yet money and grades were a problem, and I didn’t see any way I could be initiated at the end of the semester. I went through pledging one day at a time, which is really the only way to do it. People who were kind of shocked I had rushed at all now knew me as “the fourth Pike at 722 Calhoun.” I was always busy with pledging, and it did become a toll. I looked at it as something to get through. I guess in a sense I hadn’t had that long-range goal to achieve since playing baseball in high school. The thing is, I cared about baseball, and I cared about being on that team and wearing that uniform enough to make all the anguish worth it. I always felt strange wearing my garnet pledge shirt and pledge pin. It didn’t seem me. I also didn’t like it that people could possibly begin stereotype me and think I’m just another fraternity guy. I like not being able to classified, and I revel in my uniqueness. I thought about all of this for a good week and a half, not wanting to make any rash decisions. I also reasoned that most of the hardest work would be over by Homecoming, and it would be a lot easier. Yet, that was not the question. After being initiated, would it mean anything to me? No, it wouldn’t. Not in any way. Some might need that support, or to be more charitable, might really enjoy it for its own merits. But I didn’t.
I also thought about all of the things that had been put on hold. I had written only two songs (“Lady in the Tower,” “Travelin'”), and had not been to practice the guitar I rented very much. I had gotten nowhere in a few books, like The Fountainhead and Canary Road. These are the things that are important to me, and two days later I won myself over again.
I called Mike Swalski Thursday night in the dining room with Collinville and Tom supportive but likely disappointed , and then, suddenly, I was no longer a Pike pledge. I was just me.
The next day I didn’t reach for my pledge pin before class, and that was okay too.
Today is the Pike Pledge Retreat I would be at if I was, well, still a part of all that. I liked my time of being a pledge. I liked the activities and loved my class. The decision was partly academic and monetary, but it was also about personal philosophy. I will still see the guys in my class all the time, and we’ll do things. After all, they’ll be dropping by my home of Calhoun often, as it is a “satellite” house. So I feel I have not lost a thing, and in fact only gained. I tried something new if I could balance to different outlooks, and it didn’t happen. I had fun, but I can live without calling myself a Pike.