Monday, January 29, 2018

Men of the Skull Chapter 7: Pilgrimage

This is the second time that this chapter appeared on this blog.  The first was last September, at the beginning of college football season.  I posted it without comment back then.

In any case, as pretty much everyone knows, football is HUGE at Penn State, for better or for worse.  Football brought fame and money to the University, allowing for the construction of new buildings, endowing a academic chairs, new fields of study, cutting age lab equipment, etc.  By the time I enrolled at Penn State, it truly was a world class university (and it still is, despite all that happened a few years back.)

So many traditions since my day are gone.  Before the south upper deck was built, any field goal going toward the student section was caught (no net) and tossed up until it went over the south rim of the stadium and out.  Also, Several times a game, the crowd would chant "We want the Lion!"  Whichever section shouted the loudest got to body pass the Nittany Lion mascot up to the top of the section.

Then there were marshmallow fights.  I detail them in the chapter.

Game day was a time for me to lose myself in Penn State Traditions.  No one cared about me or the Pain I was secretly carrying.  I was just one voice among 80,000 plus.  They helped me forget.  The few games I attend these days do the same for me.

Many guys wish they were the players on the field.  Not me.  I always wanted to be a cheerleader.  Not the boy type either.  I always thought they had perfect lives- beautiful, athletic, had status...  I never knew any at PSU though, not well anyway.

In any case, this was a happy day, despite some problems.  Oh, and Tri- Delt?  They were kicked off campus a some years ago.


Chap 7 Pilgrimage
Saturday, September 6, 1986 Gunfire Kills 17 on Hijacked Jet

I had never felt anything like it.  Or seen anything like it.  Everyone was animated, electric, on fire--name the cliché and it fit.  Game day: Penn State vs. Temple.  Even God seemed happy, as the sky was an absolutely perfect and cloudless shade of blue. 
I stopped at the house around 3 PM (it was the first night game held at Beaver Stadium), and the kegs were already tapped.  I overheard the House tailgate was ten rows down the south hill with a Jolly Roger and a tie-dyed flag flying above.  I tapped three beers and melted in with several brothers, handing two of them beers to replace their empties.
“I don’t know--we were about to leave!” said one of them, dressed in a white polo shirt. 
Dogger smirked.  “Then chug it, lame ass!”
And chug we did.  As always, I finished last.  The brothers tossed their plastic cups aside, and one belched loud enough to rattle the windows across the street. 
“Thanks Lance!” said the belcher.  “Hey we’re heading up to the tailgate.  Want to tag along?”
“Sure!”  I was glad I wouldn’t have to go alone.
The walk to the stadium was a full mile, and it was all uphill.  We followed the flow of people.  Several sorority girls joined our group around Pollack Halls.  The closer we came to the stadium, the larger the groups--capillaries to venules to veins heading for the heart. 
Beaver Stadium, facing southwest.  Pic from 1980, but this is how I knew it as well

Standing proudly at the top of the long hill, the pinnacle of the campus, was Beaver Stadium.  Filling all the fields within sight of the stadium were people, cars, RVs and other vehicles.  People of all ages laughing, shouting, throwing footballs, and grilling.  And drinking.  Above them fluttered hundreds of flags in every combination of colors.  Many of them were navy blue and white, with every possible Penn State theme imaginable.  Beaver Stadium was a light battleship grey--the largest all steel stadium in the country.  Hours before the game, and it was already starting to fill.
As we passed Shields building, hundreds of people were trying to sell tickets, holding signs, yelling, quietly imploring.
The crowd dispersed into the surrounding fields.  Dogger and the other guy, Keemo, cruised through the RVs and flags down the south hill.  We passed rows of Porta Potties with long lines in front of each one.  They found the tailgate quick enough.  The Jolly Roger was black and white.
“Why don’t we fly our fraternity flag?  Wouldn’t that be easier?”  I asked.
“We were allowed to until this last spring.  The school banned it because they said it implied that the houses were sponsoring the tailgates” Dogger added with disgust.
“Isn’t it?”
“Yeah, but we’re not allowed to.  Get it?”
The tailgate centered on an alumni’s new red pickup truck.  The grass was flattened by so many people walking around on it.  The flags flew from a tall makeshift wooden pole.  Four kegs sat in the back of the truck while three barbeques smoked and sizzled behind it.  On a large folding table in the space next to the truck (I guess he set up the night before) were plates of rolls, condiments, napkins, and, most important, cups.  Each of us took our turn at the keg next to the lowered tailgate of the truck.  Swarming all around this set up, the space between the sides of the truck and the twenty feet between the back of the truck and the next row of cars were brothers, older guys (alumni?), and women.  Whole bunches of women, mostly wearing blue and white, some pink, all collars turned up, lavalieres and expensive sunglasses.  Tri Delt (Delta Delta Delta) was our special “invited” guest to the tailgate.  Maybe thirty of their hundred plus sisters were here.  The rest were probably flitting between the tailgates of various other houses: smiling, flirting, and mooching free food and beer.  Sororities were really good at that.
Several beers and hot dogs later, I was standing with Ernie, a pledge named Pluto who I met during the Triangle fight, and a recent alum.  Ernie was flirting with a blue dressed Tri Delt with a little blue paw print painted on her cheek who seemed enraptured with his every word.  Even I could tell she was faking interest.  Two other sisters joined us, both blonde like every other Tri Delt. 
“Hey Steph!  We’re going in soon!  Coming?” the taller one chirped, smiling.  Her blonde hair was pulled back in a ponytail that dangled just below the collar of her white polo. 
“In a minute.  I want to finish my beer!”  Steph, Ernie’s target, replied.
“Would you ladies like a beer?”  I asked.
The shorter of the two girls looked me up and down and rolled her eyes.  “Who do you know in the house?” she asked a sneer.
“I’m a brother.  What does that have to do with the beer?”
“Oh.  You must be a legacy then.”
“No, I just transferred up from Drexel.  Why?”
“It figures” she said with a giggle.  “You’re too dorky to be a real Skull.”
Ernie, Matt, and the alumni all laughed.
The taller one jumped in. “Yes, a couple of beers would be great, thanks!”  She said with an embarrassed smile.  She was cute.  And I loved tall women.
I went and tapped three beers--one for myself.  I held all three in both hands walked the ten feet back downhill to the group. 
Just as I arrived, I accidentally on purpose tripped on a stone, spilling all three beers all over the shorter girl’s white polo, her hair, her blue shorts, everywhere.  She shrieked, and everyone in the area turned to see.  Brothers and others nearby started laughing.  Some of her sisters tried to hide their smiles, while a couple other sisters came to her aid.  The cold beer made her nipples stick out quite nicely I noticed (as I’m sure everyone else did as well.) 
“I’m so sorry!  I tripped!  Let me help you!”  I said, attempting sincerity.
“You asshole!” she shouted breathlessly.  “Look what you’ve done!”
The truck owner pulled a dark green beach towel from the cab of the truck and handed it to a couple of sisters who wrapped the cursing blonde with it and tried to dry her off.
“Oh!  Now my underwear is wet!”
“Hey Lance--you got her excited!” shouted a voice I recognized as one of the alums I’d met that day.  More laughter. 
A few sisters bundled the now crying girl off, a couple of them glaring at me.  Steph stayed with us, and laughed when the girl was out of earshot.
“She can be such a bitch!”  Steph said, smiling.
“I guess a real Skull wouldn’t be so clumsy” I replied.
“Face it, you’re too dorky to be a Skull” replied Pluto.
“Thanks, pledge!”  I said with mock anger.
A pledge came over with a plastic pitcher and refilled all of our beers.  Dogger joined us as well.  He held two bags of marshmallows.  “Finish up.  We’re heading in.”
Ernie and Pluto chugged theirs and looked at me.  I slowly chugged my sixth beer, stopping twice.  We tossed the cups into the trash and flowed up the hill toward the stadium.  As we walked, one of the other brothers punched me in the arm.  Really hard.
“Hey dork!  What did you do that for?  She’s a fuckin’ Tri Delt!  She’s better than you’ll ever get!  You want them pissed at us?  Use your fuckin’ head, asshole!”
“Hey Veal, cut him a break!  It was a fucking accident!”  Ernie said.
Veal glared at him.  Veal was as tall as me, strong, with reddish blond hair and strong features that people would call “All American.”  He wore a blue and white rugby shirt.
“Fuckin’ tool!”  Veal hit me again and melted into the crowd.
I turned to Ernie.  “Thanks.”
“Don’t worry about him.  He hasn’t been laid yet this semester.”
The crowd thickened as it slowly passed through the gates of the stadium.  The security people punched a hole through the number one on the bottom of my season ticket.  Up, up we all climbed--thousands of pairs of feet clanging on the steel walkways.  Then we walked into daylight and up even steeper stairs until we found several seats together about two thirds up the stadium.  I noticed that somewhere we’d lost Steph.
After we all sat down, Dogger, who sat next to me, tossed one bag of marshmallows to Ernie, and opened the other.  “Marshmallow?” he asked.
“No thanks.”
“Trust me--you want one--just don’t eat it.”
I took one and looked around the place.  Beaver Stadium sat aligned North South, with the student section being all around the south end.  The freshmen sat on the south “curve,” and as your class year advanced, your seats moved up the east end toward the fifty yard line.  We sat at the south side of the east stands.  The upper decks on the north and south stands were still years away, so all the freshmen sat out in the sun below the scoreboard.  The west stands were all alumni.  North stands were alums, others, and fans of the other team.
Looking over at the freshmen section, I saw what Dogger meant: streaking about the section like shooting stars were marshmallows.  The whole south end was a huge marshmallow fight.  I smiled and prepared to throw at some dude in a florescent orange cap--seemed as good a target as any. 
“No… wait ‘til the game starts- everyone else will be out of ammo” Dogger said.
Then, as if on cue, a sticky marshmallow hit him in the left ear with a dull splat.
“Mother fucker!”  Dogger shouted as he grabbed at the gooey mess.  The rest of us looked in the general direction where the shot came from, and saw two guys high fiving.
“There!”  Keemo pointed.
All five of us whipped marshmallows at the two guys.  Maybe one came close, the others impacting innocent civilians.  Suddenly the section was a war zone, marshmallows flying everywhere.
Then the crowd roared!  Eighty thousand people welcomed the number six ranked Nittany Lions onto the field.  I cheered and yelled…and two marshmallows hit me in the chest.
The announcer directed our eyes toward the bright blue sky.  You see, this was the opening of Penn State football’s one hundredth season, so the powers that be wanted to make it special.  A plane flew over, and we could see a speck, small and black.  Then a blossom of color- a sky diver.  He bobbed and directed, and landed right on the fifty yard line, where he handed an official the game ball to the approval of the crowd.  I cheered and then threw a marshmallow down toward the area I thought the two that hit me came from.

"We want the Lion!"  
The navy blue-shirted Nittany Lions scored quickly.  The cheerleaders bounced and yelled.  Any time a Temple player came close to the student section, a rain of marshmallows fell upon him.  The Nittany Lion mascot- a guy dressed in a brown Lion costume, did one armed pushups for every point Penn State scored.  Then he was blanket tossed.  The “Wave” swirled around the stadium several times. 
As directed by the distant cheerleaders down on the field, the East and South sides of the stadium shouted “WE ARE!”
The people in the West and North stands shouted “PENN STATE!”
This made sense:  we were the students, and they currently were not.
After a few exchanges like this, a pause.  The cheerleaders then pointed at our side and everyone shouted “THANK YOU!”
The other side replied “YOU’RE WELCOME!”
That was kinda neat.  Years later, I figured out the metaphor.  All of Penn State is based upon tradition-hell, it’s all we heard about.  Where did all that tradition come from?  It was handed down from the people who were students there before us.  Because they kept traditions alive, we had them to enjoy.  Those students were now the alumni- sitting on the other side of the field.  So whether we knew it or not, the students were not only thanking them for helping with the cheer, but also were thanking them for all that Penn State was and “is.”  Will be?  That was up to us.  Deep shit, eh?
The crowd shouted and waved and threw marshmallows and all kind of fun stuff.  A fight broke out in the freshman section, and everyone chanted “ASSHOLE!” as the two guys were forcibly ejected by security.  When the game ended, everyone was hoarse, sweaty, happy, and for the most part sober.  We all were working another kind of buzz- Holy Shit that was awesome!
We made our way back to the tailgate, drank a few more, then walked back to the house.  Tonight, the House, and all of Penn State, would party.
Oh yeah, by the way, the Nittany Lions beat Temple45-15

Friday, January 26, 2018

Men of the Skull Chapter 6: Socially Acceptable

This chapter brings up a bad side of me.  I used to get into a lot of fights.  I never much talked about them then.  You see, I had to prove my manhood to myself.  In fact, I had to prove I was a better man than anyone else.  (As you can see, it worked. *looks down at my boobs*)  My definition of manhood was a cross between James Bond and my dad.  A Man drinks.  A Man fights- and Wins.  Losing is not an option.  The only emotion a Man shows is anger.

Yes, people look at me and say "male"
In this book, I discuss only a couple of my college fights, but there were many more.  Usually I would find a jerk who was being an asshole to a woman, and I would insult him until he took a swing at me.  I would then make quick work of him (I have martial arts training, but haven't been to a dojo in decades) then exit quickly.  I continued doing this until the late 00s.  I never swung first.

I realized during my thirties that I really had no idea what Manhood truly meant.  I like to think I was a good husband, and a good father.  But in the end, I never was a Man.  I never was a boy.  I was a Woman- female- playing a bad parody of manhood.  Now I'm trying to figure out the meaning of That.

In any case, this happened.  Thirty years on, I'm sure no one involved is proud of it.  I'm Not.  It's because of events like this that I changed all the names in the book.  I haven't re-read this chapter in a while.  I wrote this book back when I was still under the delusion that I was male.  Upon reading this, I detect a note of Pride in my prose- that I proved myself a Man.  Must've been the Testosterone Poisoning.

It is mentioned earlier in the book- I was, at the time, a volunteer Emergency Medical Technician.  This fact comes into play a few times in the book.

Chap 6: Socially Acceptable
Friday, September 5, 1986   4 Men seize Pan Am jet in Pakistan

          The blondes bounced and smiled, laughed and drank, ate and flirted.  Speakers placed in upstairs windows blared live Grateful Dead music.  A small knot of brothers played hacky-sak on the lawn. 
A social!  I'd heard of these- read about them- but I'd never been to one.  The Pi Phis (Pi Beta Phi) came over to party.  They had to stay until eleven, at which time they could stay or go.  Kind of a mandatory thing to make sure they'd show up, but they could still get out if the party was lame.  Socials usually started at nine, but this was a "BBQ Social" where we fired up the grill and made them dinner.  Food was one way to guarantee that most of the sisters would be there. 
The grill was a large silver painted barrel, maybe five feet long and two to three feet wide with several racks in it at varying heights.  With it a person could grill a shitload of food in a hurry- just what we needed for this occasion. 
Smoke cascaded from the grill and the front porch was congested with brothers and sisters, everyone in shorts, mini skirts, and tasteful collared shirts.  The Pi Phis were obviously one of the top sororities- or at least they thought so- as they were impeccably dressed, groomed and had the proper slightly snobbish, if slightly playful attitude. 
There I was, surrounded by hot women!  And I couldn't think of anything to say or do.  I was so scared and out of place.  I wanted to be funny and fun, but I couldn't think of an "in."  I was out of my league.  So, beer in hand, I walked over to the keg, where a knot of brothers I'd already met were standing. 
"Hey!  It's good old Lance!" shouted Ernie, causing heads to turn.  "Do you drink, Lance?"
I looked down at my plastic cup of beer then smiled at him.  "Yeah."
He refilled my cup.  "Ok!  Let's chug!"
Chugging was downing a beer at one shot without stopping.  I never could chug.  Still can't.  But I tried anyway.  Ernie was done before I finished half of mine, but I kept going until the cup was empty anyway. 
"Didn't they teach you to chug at Drexel?!?!  That's lame!”  Ernie laughed, slapped me on the back and refilled my cup. 
"Here, I'll show you how.  You lean back your head like this to open your throat and just pour it down."  He chugged the beer very quickly.  His demonstration attracted the attention of a few other brothers and a couple of Pi Phis. 
"Ok.  Now you try it" he urged. 
I did what he said: head back, pour…
And ended up snarfing (spitting out) most of it as my mouth overflowed and my gag reflex kicked in.  Beer was all over my shirt, and worse- all over a cute short Pi Phi who wore way too much makeup.  She screamed as she was drenched with beer. 
The brothers almost fell over laughing.  I offered to get towels and whatever else was handy. 
"You asshole!" she shouted.  Her sisters glared at me as pledges brought towels to dry off her hair and powder blue polo shirt. 
Ernie refilled my cup.  "Not bad.  Try again!"

The sun set and Happy Valley was gearing up for another weekend of fun.  The Skull social was still going strong.  Piles of grilled burgers, hot dogs, and chicken were heaped upon trays in the dining room.  We'd finished three kegs so far.  The porch spotlights illuminated the front of the house, making it look like a grand stage where the brothers and guests were the players in a grand production with Beaver Avenue as the audience. 
I lingered around the edges, my pastel blue and white striped shirt smelling like stale beer.  The world was slightly out of focus, yet had an unusual clarity.  I had to concentrate to walk straight and speak clearly.  Some of the girls still glared at me or whispered as I staggered by.  Not a great debut.   

View from the Porch.  Arts Festival 1988

          I joined a group of guys at the top of the porch steps.  A couple of pledges each held clear plastic pitchers and refilled the beers of the brothers in the group.  I hadn't met the guy who was speaking.  He was maybe a couple of inches shorter than me, and solid muscle.  He looked like a body builder- in fact he looked like a little Schwarzenegger: squinty eyes, lantern jaw and all.  He wore a tight black t-shirt, white shorts, and Dockers, and he pointed at people while speaking. 
"I'm telling you guys, their pool table is fuckin' sweet!  No way those geeks should have something that nice in their house" he preached. 
A bug-eyed pledge refilled my beer.  I recognized him- he went to my high school.  Graduated a year or so after me.  What was his name?  The body builder turned to me. 
"So do you agree with- who the fuck are you?” 
            "I'm Lance.  I'm a Skull just transferred up from Drexel," I managed to spit out.
He looked at me like I was a repulsive worm ridden corpse. 
"Whatever.  Anyway Laaance," he said, dragging out the A to make the name sound like an insult, "are you with me on this?"
"Shurr" I slurred.  "Ab- absolutely."  I gulped down more beer.  The pledges smiled.  The bodybuilder squinted at me.
"Have you been drinking, Laaance"?
"Yup!”  I smiled. 
"Well, Laaance from Dorksel, you should learn to control yourself.  Here at Penn State, Skulls don't get drunk."  He poked me hard in the sternum. 
I looked around the porch and yard.  There was a guy sitting in the hedges, laughing and stuck where he fell.  A couple of Pi Phis were trying to help a third down the walkway as she had forgotten how to walk.  Drunken shouts of "WOO HOO!" and "YEAH!" pierced the new night.  I turned back to the bodybuilder. 
"Of course you don't" I smiled.  "What am I agreeing to anyway?"
"I was just informing the pledges that those dweebs next door don't deserve such a nice pool table.”  He pointed at the house next door.  It was a large fraternity house with a dark stained wood exterior- home of Triangle, the engineering fraternity.  They were having a party, so all their lights were blazing and people meandered in and out their front door. 
"Why don't we go take it from them?  We could set it up in the foyer and give it back later" drooled bug eyes. 
"Great idea!  Now you're getting it!" beamed bodybuilder.  "Round up your pledge brothers!  I'll get a couple of guys and we'll do this!"
"Mind if I join you?”  I asked drunkly. 
"Whatever, dork.  Just don't get in the way" snarled bodybuilder.
The five pledges assembled in the foyer.  Bodybuilder grabbed three other guys who were also pretty big.  I recognized one of them as Mike, whom I met on a visit last year. 
"Ok guys, we go in, we grab the table and some cues and get right back out.  No problem!  Pledges, remove your pins," barked the bodybuilder. 
"Hey Saint, what if they stop us?”  Mike asked. 
"They can't.  They're pussies and we're Skulls!"  Saint (the bodybuilder) replied. 
With that we clambered down the steps to the yard and strode across the lawn.  All of the brothers were huge, as were most of the pledges.  I was by far the skinniest guy in the formation. 
We walked right through their door.  No one even tried to stop us. 
The room was large and rather nice.  Tan carpet, walls covered with composites and other Triangle regalia, several comfortable chairs, and in the middle of the floor a beautiful mahogany pool table with red felt and leather and brass accents.  Two guys were shooting a game as we walked in- maybe twenty guys total in the room- drinking and talking.  Only a couple of girls were there, both talking to one guy. 
Six guys surrounded the table and, with a mighty heave, picked it up.  Their muscles strained- you could see it on their faces.  Too heavy?  They started carrying the table toward the door as a couple of guys grabbed some cues off the wall rack.  The rest of us formed a lane to carry the table through.  The Triangle guys just stood there- stunned.  We were almost out when-
The fucking table doesn't fit through the door: it was too wide.  Maybe one of us should've thought of that earlier.  They must have assembled it inside.  Shit.  I turned around.
The Triangle brothers figured out what we were doing, and they outnumbered us almost three to one.  And they were pissed off. 
Saint and a couple other of the muscle heads tried to turn the table at an angle to get it through.  The balls scattered on the floor. 
I don't know who threw the first punch.  They were on us like a sudden summer storm.  I had a beer tossed in my face and was tackled against the table.  Suddenly I'm sober.  Blocked a punch.  Jab back.  Connect!  One guy let go.  Knee up.  Connect!  I'm free.  Guy punched a pledge.  Hit the guy in the gut.  Pledge smiled at me and lunged.  Slammed into guy behind me.  Triangle guy flew into me, thrown by somebody.  Blocked a punch.  Counter hard to the face.  My fingers split open on his teeth.
Suddenly I'm in the air.  Grabbed from behind…  Owww!  I'm outside!  They fucking threw me outside!  Look around.  WHAM!  One of the pledges landed right on top of me.
          Some of our brothers started running over from the house.  I saw bug eyes slamming some guys head against the front walk near Triangles door. 

Triangle's door and front lawn, January 2018.  
          By the time other brothers arrived, it was over.  The Triangle had tossed us all out of the house and closed the door.  We had some cuts and bruises.  Three Triangle guys were lying outside, groaning.  The guy that bug eyes was bashing was twitching and moaning.  Bleeding from the head.  I crawled over to him. 
"You ok?”  I asked.
He flailed his arms at me.  "Get the fuck away from me!"
"I'm an E.M.T.  Let me help!"
"Go away!"
I shrugged.  Can't help them if they say no.  The other two Triangles waved me off as well.
I slowly, painfully, stood up and walked back to the house with the others.  The spotlighted brothers cheered as we crossed the lawn and mounted the stairs to the porch.  One of them fingered at my torn shirt (when did that happen?) and another handed me a fresh beer.  One of the pledges high-fived me. 
        A few minutes later, the ambulance came to pick up the guy on Triangle's front walk.  Bystanders gathered to gawk.  Triangle's president and Soap, our Alpha, talked quietly under the large tree between our houses.  As the paramedics carried the Triangle guy to the ambulance, we all applauded and shouted encouragement to him.  After a few minutes, Soap came back and went into the house to speak to a few select brothers- the officers I guess. 
        The ambulance left- sirens blaring.  We continued with our party.  I met a few more brothers, some of whom had ignored me before.  They weren't exactly friendly, but they weren't rude either.  I didn't see Saint for the rest of the night.  After a few more beers, I noticed that there were a lot fewer girls around.  I heard some feminine laughter upstairs, so I guess some of the party went there.  The rest dispersed into the warm early autumn night. 
I looked out over the lawn at the cars cruising down Beaver Avenue.  What a blast!  I was quite trashed, my shirt was torn and bloody, and I had some damp paper towels around my injured fingers. 
        I smiled, downed the last of my beer, and teetered slowly back to the apartment.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Lone Pilgrim

Tuesday January 23, 2018.  Bands of rain swept across Pennsylvania, some of which were pretty severe.  And I drove through them.

I was headed to Penn State to visit an old friend for the last time.  I know that sounds kind of morbid, but that's the truth.  You see, the Rathskeller is closing.  It has been open since 1933- just three days after Prohibition ended, and has been operating continuously since then.  It is the longest continuously operating bar in Pennsylvania, and it is closing.  This Saturday the 27th will be last call.  It is closing because a corporation, Herlocker pretzels, bought the building and decided that they wanted to do something else with the space.  So now this Landmark is going away.  I would wager that almost every single living Penn State Alumni has been in that bar, because those who were before it are probably dead by now.  In any case, it is a landmark, and I killed many brain cells there during my college days.

I used to see many bands there.  I saw Stolyn Hours, and I saw Queen Bee and the Blue Hornet Band, which, after all these years, I still say was the best Bar band that I have ever laid eyes on, and I should know- I've seen many of them.  (The guitar player, Mark Ross, still lives in State College and still plays around town, but Tanya Brown, lead singer,  tragically passed away some time ago.)

In any case, I was there to have one last drink in what was one of my favorite watering holes in college.  The drive-up was through many storms.  I was alone- my bestie Linda decided not to come with me.  Driving through the rain, I couldn't help but think of all the Ghosts riding with me- of all the different people I've taken up to Penn State: like my girlfriend/fiance/Wife, who really wasn't a big fan of going to Penn State, but knew how important it was to me.

I remember driving up alone to visit my friend Dr. Dave, who was attending Penn State before me.  I drove up to visit him, and it was because of those visits that I chose Penn State.  I can't help but to think of those times driving up with a whole weekend ahead of me, not knowing what was going to happen.  Just another wonderful weekend of college antics; of fun of drinking and meeting people. Later, when I was enrolled there, the times that I had meeting people- love, heartbreak, eventual depression.  Yet the fact remains that Penn State is still my happy place, as it is I'm sure for many people.

For Sale

I found a parking spot in a parking lot that I've been parking in ever since I graduated.  It's really, really cheap, and I also noticed that it's for sale- that someone is going to put a building up there.  Another building: just what they need.  After parking, I went up to the LGBT Center in Boucke building. I stopped there for maybe fifteen minutes, and then I walked with the assistant director down toward College Avenue.  She was going to get a flu shot.  I was going to drink.  I was going to the Skeller.

Last call, at least for me.

I took some pictures going in, and sat down at the bar.  It was actually fairly busy, but I found a seat, and sat.  To my right was a gentleman with gray hair in a ponytail and beard.  He was reading something quietly to himself.  To my left were a couple.  He was wearing a black Texas Longhorns hat, and she was the one who was sitting to my side.  Eventually we began talking, and I found out that they live an hour away from State College.  They were not Penn Staters, but they came here occasionally.  They didn't know that the bar was closing.  I drank a couple Rolling Rocks, and the couple was kind enough to buy me another.  I walked around to the back room, where the bands used to play.  I took pictures.  How many sweaty nights did I spend packed into this room with tons of other college kids, drinking and dancing?

The Bandstand

The nice couple was kind enough to buy me a couple shots.  At this point, I knew I would have to walk this off.  After finishing my last Rolling Rock, (which I hate but that's what you she was that's what you drink when you go to the Skeller.)  I walked around for a little bit.

Last beer

Sitting next to that couple was another Penn Stater. I found out she was also class of '89 like me. I asked her if she was Greek, she said she was a Crow little sister.  I asked her name, and she told me: Michelle  It turns out that I knew her very well- in fact one of her college roommates was one of my dearest friends!  We talked for a little bit and caught up.

Michelle and I

She didn't recognize me at first, of course, but how could she?  When I told her who I used to be, she recognized me instantly.  After a hug, I left and walked back down College Avenue toward my car.

After getting into my car, I drove over to the Nittany Lion shrine, and took a few pictures.  Then cut across to University Drive, and then the trip back east towards home.

I've written many times that Penn State is a major part of my heart and identity, but so many things have changed.  Most of the roads that I used to take up here have changed.  There used to be three bottlenecks on the trip up: one east of Lewistown; another around a town called Milroy, and another around a town called Dauphin.  Those are all gone now, as they've been replaced by two lanes In both directions.   It took years to build these large highways.

On the way home, I did something that I often do on my trips to State College when I ride alone: I cried.

I cried like a baby.  I cried for all that was, and is no longer. I cried for my lost youth.  I wanted to scream at the students and tell them to treasure the time that they have now, because for some of them it will never get any better.  The fact is that they are now, in their late teens and early twenties, in an area specifically built to cater to them- a Fantasyland.

My Penn State is gone.  Sure there are landmarks.  Most of the buildings are still there, but looking around looking around I saw so many new buildings.  Tall buildings.  Large buildings.  Buildings in places that used to have little green quads; Sports Fields; trees that one used to be able to sit under and read a book or play a guitar or talk.   These places are gone now.

So yes, I cried.  I cried for things that are Gone.  You lose so much in transition, but this loss was not due to that.  No, this loss is something far more powerful: Time.  My time at Penn State is long past- thirty years now. I'm an artifact to these kids.  To them I'm ancient.  The comparison would be if I had met people from the 1950s while I was there.  Actually, I did: however they were Senators, cabinet members, CEOs...  and I work retail.

Driving east through the cloudy twilight, I Cried.  A sad reality is that tears will not stop time. Time never stops- it's merciless.

Be well

Friday, January 19, 2018

Men of the Skull Chapter 5: Beginnings

In this chapter, I introduced one of the other main people in this story: "Judy."  As with all people in this book, Judy is a real person.  I wrote down our conversation in my journal that night.  I can't remember why I did, but, well, there it is.  So our conversation is word for word.  Yes, my reparte was that lame.  Wonder why I couldn't get dates?

I worked at Burger King in Spring City during my high school years- from 1982-84.  I've written blog entries about how that job changed me.  I was fifteen when I started... and a crossdresser.  I didn't let ANYONE into my life, lest they discover my shameful secret.  But, people managed to break through my barriers, and I made some wonderful friends there.  It was my first experience with people who were NOT in my high school.  Also, I used some of my BK money to order feminine clothes from the Sears catalogue- my first wardrobe!  (If you don't remember the Sears catalogue, ask your parents about it.)

In any case, Judy is still my friend all these years later.  She has been supportive of my transition, but has never met Sophie.  She also knows about this book, and asked me to keep her name private- hence the pseudonym Judy.

Everything else relevant about her will be revealed in the book.

Oh, and those uniforms?  They were as uncomfortable as they were ugly.


Chapter 5: Beginnings

Wednesday, September 3, 1986 Soweto officials face a lethal rage

First day of work.  It was bright and warm, so I rode my bike down to University drive.  It’s all downhill, so it took five minutes.
Walking through the door into the back of the restaurant, I pulled on the rust color corduroy uniform over my T-shirt and bent the bill of the corduroy hat so I wouldn’t look so dorky- As if that could be helped in this outfit.  I then reported to the front next to the registers where the manager was waiting.  Joyce was youngish, maybe 30, with a tight butt but a face that showed the worry of an eighty hour a week job.  Her dark hair was tied back in a ponytail.

Burger King, University Drive.  July 1988

“Since you’ve worked at a BK before, I’m putting you back here on specialty board.  Think you can handle that?”  Specialty board was where things like chicken sandwiches or ham and cheese sandwiches were made.  It was relatively easy, but the food took longer to make there so it was kept separate from the burger boards.
“No problem.”
“If you run into trouble, just give a yell.”
She walked into the back area toward the office, and I promptly helped myself to a couple of chicken nuggets. Not two feet behind my back was the stainless steel back of the fryers, so it was very hot by the specialty board.  Fortunately, I was allowed to have a soda with me.  It was 11:30, and the lunch rush would be starting any time.  I looked over at the burger board, not five feet away.  A short girl with her black hair tied back stood there playing with the lettuce.  Her uniform was the same color as mine, but she wore a corduroy visor.  Her skin was light, and she seemed lost in her own world.
“You shouldn’t do that.  You’ll catch the dreaded Letticitus!”
She turned and smiled. 
“Oh, so I’ll turn green?”  Her voice was a pleasant alto, with a hint of New Jersey nasal.
“Something like that.  I’m Lance, you’re…”
“I’m Judy.”
She extended her hand and smiled wider.  I accepted her handshake and looked her over.  Her eyes were hazel and inviting.  Her bright smile immediately made me glad I spoke to her.  Her uniform stretched tightly around her large breasts.  The top button had popped off.  I tried not to stare. 

Burger King Uniforms circa 1983-87

“How long have you worked here, Judy?”
“Oh, a couple of weeks now.  Is this your first day?”
“Here, yeah.  I worked at a Burger King at home though.”
A bored sounding voice crackles over the speakers. 
“Three hamburgers, six piece tenders, two large fry, two Pepsis.”
The rush began, so talking time ended.  A couple of hours later, Judy clocked out.
“Well Lance, it was nice meeting you!”
“Nice meeting you too.  When do you work again?”
“Wednesday.  Same hours.”
“Well, I’ll see you then!”
I spent the rest of my shift working both specialty and burger boards.  An hour later, my shift ended.  I pulled off the uniform, put it in my bag, and rode back to my apartment.  The day was hotter, the ride was all uphill, and I smelled like pickles.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Apology Is...

You just don't get it, do you?

Your apology is not just Worthless- it's Hurtful.  Instead of taking a microsecond to think- a heartbeat to consider your words- you CHOSE to misgender me.  Maybe you think my situation is funny- the whole "guy thinks he's a girl" thing.  Maybe you think you're superior to me because you're cisgender, and don't have my problems.  Or maybe you think my existence is a Sin against your Evangelical beliefs and your version of a "loving God."

Slip of the tongue, my ass.

Care to insult me some more?

In that moment- the moment you CHOSE to misgender me, you did the following:

You just told me that the YEARS I have spent working on my appearance; the hours of laser hair removal and painful electrolysis; the hours and years of makeup lessons and practice; years of practicing walking and comportment; expensive voice lessons; painful injections of expensive estrogen, and other hormones not covered by insurance; refining my wardrobe to blend in...

Have been COMPLETELY wasted- that even though when you CHOSE to misgender me I was at the absolute peak of my development as a woman, ALL of the time, effort, money, sweat, Tears, sacrifices, losses... was useless.

I didn't CHOOSE to be transgender.  No one chooses this.  I was born this way.  The only choice I made was to LIVE- to transition.  Because if I hadn't transitioned, I would be dead.  That's what the decision came down to- live my Truth, knowing I'd destroy my whole previous life, or Blowing my head off.

But that doesn't matter one fucking bit to you, does it?  No.  You had to get your little dig in- you had to show that YOU knew that I was Trans.  You couldn't just let me live my life while you lived yours.  No, you had to inject yourself into my life as forcibly as if you raped me.  You had to rip me apart just to satisfy some inner need you had to be Superior to the fucking weird "tranny."

"Put on your big girl panties."  "Man up."  "Stop whining, you snowflake!"  "Grow a pair."

Yeah, easy for you to say- no one is fucking insulting your basic humanity.  I hear it almost EVERY DAY.


Been almost four years for me.  How about you?  Could you take that kind of abuse for so long?  And I have to smile and take it.  Because if I don't, I'M the bad person.  I'M not showing the proper respect and deference. 

And here's the kicker.  You don't even have the guts to say it where I can react.  No, you say it while I'm at work, behind a counter.  You KNOW that I can't respond.  You KNOW that I can't do a fucking thing back to you.  "Thank you sir, may I have another?"  You're a fucking coward, and you know it.  Would you say these things in a place where I could react?  Where your "freedom of speech" may have consequences?  Of course you wouldn't.

You wouldn't give a fuck if I'd blown my head off instead of transitioning.  I'm just another replaceable servant to you- a forgettable cog in the machinery of your life.  If it weren't me, someone else would be there providing whatever service it is I'm providing.

So, No, I don't accept your lame-ass apology.  Because you don't mean it, and we both know it.  You don't give a shit about my feelings.  You just want to pretend.  Live your little fantasy of being a "good person."  You don't care about the damage you've inflicted, because you don't care to know.  You're just going to waltz on with your life.

So, just Go.  Get out of my face.  Don't even fucking pretend that you care.  You've already insulted my life and appearance- don't insult my intelligence as well.

(My dear friend Gina wrote something about this as well- and was far more eloquent than I)

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Men of the Skull Chapter 4: Nickel Tour

This chapter was one of the last ones I wrote for the book.  It's really for people who don't know Penn State.

Of course, many things have changed in thirty years.  The HUB is completely different (and finding pictures of the old HUB is freaking HARD!)   The Lion has a new perch of stone.  Still, in one form or other, all of these landmarks are still there.

I was messaging with a friend this morning. (Hi Jenn!)  I wrote the following:
Our Penn State is long gone.  It lives in memories and fading photographs.  Many of the places are still the same- but WE aren't.  We are no longer the 20 something's inhabiting the fantasy land.

And that's True.  Penn State means something completely different to everyone who ever attended or visited there.  This book is my Penn State story- your mileage may vary.


Chapter 2.4: Nickel Tour

August 28, 1986   Battles kill 13 and hurt 70 in Soweto

            I knew it had to be nearby.  Somewhere.  I finished class in Chambers building, which was on the extreme north side of campus.  I had some hours to kill before my next class, so I decided to find it.
            I opened the notebook that contained my campus map, figured out where I was, and headed west.  A couple of minutes later, I found it- just past Kern building.  It was behind the Rec Hall parking lot, on the crest of the hill.  It sat atop a large mound covered with wood chips, and the trees behind it framed it magnificently.
            The Nittany Lion Shrine.

Me at the Lion, April 1987
            It’s actually a statue of a mountain lion crouching on a rock.  Many Penn Staters can quote you the statistics:  sculpted by Heinz Warneke out of thirteen ton block of tan Indiana limestone, it was presented to the university in 1942.  I figure it’s about ten feet long and maybe 5 feet high.  However like many things, numbers don’t tell the story.
            This chunk of rock was and is the Heart of the University.  It is the Symbol.  Hell, I’d been on campus less than a week and I knew that. 
So there I stood: in front of this statue I’d seen on TV, in magazines, books, anywhere Penn State was mentioned.  It looked wise.  Impervious.  I put my hand on its nose, warmed by the late summer heat.  I felt drawn to it- like I was being welcomed- like I belonged.  Warm.
I stood there a couple of minutes.  Then, smiling, I turned and headed back to Beaver Hill, a mile away. 
Hell, while I’m at it, I may as well give a quick tour.  The Pennsylvania State University was founded in 1855 as a farm school.  Located in the middle of the mountains of Pennsylvania, the campus and the town that grew around it are in a long valley known as “Happy Valley.”  Really- that’s what it’s called. By the 1980s it was as well known for academics as it was for football.  From its very humble beginnings, the campus had grown to over a mile side to side.  The town of State College is right next to campus, and it has everything a young college student could want or need for studies and/or fun except for strip joints.  It was and is a fantasy land. 
Headed back from the Lion, I passed Pattee Library.  It sits at the crest of the hill, and the top of a long avenue of Elm trees and gardens that extend all the way down to College Avenue.  Pattee is a huge building, columned and solemn.  Stately.  It’s everything a grand old library should be- right down to the quotes carved in its face: “A Library is a summons to scholarship” and “A University is a collection of books.”  In the late 1990s, a large wing was added to the library, donated by Joe Paterno, the football coach.  However, as this wasn’t there when I was, that’s the only mention of the Paterno Library you’ll get. 

Old Main April 1987
Walking down the avenue toward College Ave, the first street I came across was Pollock Road.  Back then it was open to traffic.  Maybe fifty yards to the east of the Avenue along Pollock was Old Main.  Old Main is the building that most people associate with Penn State.  It’s the one with the bell tower that people always see on TV.  Old Main was once a dorm back in the old days.  It burnt down (I think) and the current building was built on the same site with the same stones.  The building houses the university administrative offices.  It’s also supposed to be haunted by a donkey named “Old Coaly.”  Really.
Old Coaly's bones are now in the HUB

            In front of Old Main is a large lawn which reaches all the way down to College Avenue.  Remember that Avenue of Elms?  It boarders the one side of the lawn.  The other side is bordered by another Avenue of Elms.  Some of these elms are over a hundred years old.  When one dies, it is replaced by a sapling grown from one of the original elms. 
            Maybe a hundred yards east of the second avenue, (the one bordering the east side of Old Main lawn- still with me?)  was the Hetzel Union Building: the “HUB.”  It’s the “student union” where people meet between classes to eat, study, nap, or whatever.  In the mid 1990s, the Hub was completely redone, so the building today bears no resemblance to the Hub I knew.  Next to the Hub is the Penn State bookstore.  Bordering the south side of the Hub is the imaginatively named Hub lawn.  On the rare sunny and warm days, people congregated there to play football, Frisbee, or sunbathe.

HUB Lawn  April 1987

            Ok, let’s backtrack to the first Avenue of Elms- the one that heads south from Pattee.  Heading south from Pollack, I passed the Obelisk.  It’s on the west side of the Avenue, maybe fifty yards from Old Main Lawn.  The Obelisk was built in 1896 to mark the Geographic center of Pennsylvania.  Turns out someone fucked up; because years later it was determined that the center of Pennsylvania was out by Beaver Stadium.  Oops.  Anyway, the Obelisk is built out of every type of rock native to the commonwealth in geographic order: “oldest” on the bottom to “youngest” on top, and it’s about thirty three feet high.  Tradition says that if a graduating senior who is still a virgin walks past the Obelisk, it will tumble to the ground.  After over a hundred years, it’s still standing.  I guess we’re all just a bunch of sluts.

Me at Lion  May 2016 (in the rain)

            Of course there are many other places that make up the campus, but these are the best known- aside from the stadium.  That’ll show up soon enough.  Like there are places like Hammond building, which takes up a whole block on College Ave and seems like it was built sideways.  Hell, there’s even a university president entombed on campus: Atherton.  It’s said he rises on nights when the moon is new and black to do shots with the prettiest of the freshman girls in Pollock Halls.  Ok, not really.  Still, every building on campus has a history of some kind, but I digress…

State College skyline, March 1987 from Beaver Hill.  Composite picture

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Men of the Skull Chapter 3: First Impression

The third chapter of the book concerns my finally getting the guts to go to the fraternity house (which I would learn was affectionately called "the Bone."  My apartment, Beaver Hill was two blocks east on Beaver Ave, so it was a short walk geographically.  However, in my mind, it was eternal.  My mind was buzzing with thoughts like "what if they hate me?" and "what if they throw me out?" and similar things.

I remember back on late March 31, 2014- my first day of work as Sophie.  The staff all knew I was coming in as a Woman for the first time.  I was absolutely terrified.  Yet, I put one foot in front of the other, and entered the bookstore where I work.  In retrospect, the Fear I felt that March day was almost identical to the Fear I felt on that August day thirty years ago.

As I noted in Chapter 1, my fellow fraternity alumni have asked me not to use the fraternity name, so I'm not.  That said:  "Letters" are articles of clothing, usually a shirt or sweatshirt, which bear the letters of one's fraternity or sorority.  They are common on college campuses with Greek systems, even today.


Chapter 3:  First impression

Sunday, August 24, 1986 Trolley Crashes Into Terminal

I may as well have been holding a huge flashing neon sign saying “DORK!”  I headed to the house wearing my white letters polo shirt, black shorts with yellow letters, and wearing my letters hat.  I wanted to make a good impression- I just didn’t know how.  And did I ever fuck it up.
"The Bone"  I took this from a balcony on a tall apartment building, April 1987. 

            So I walked up Beaver Ave, and there it was: Skull House.  A couple of brothers stood around on the porch, holding beers and enjoying the sunny afternoon.  As I turned to head up the steps toward the house, they stared at me.  I reached the porch and smiled.
            “Hi!  I’m Lance!  I’m a Skull from Drexel, and I just transferred here!”
            The two guys looked at each other and back at me.  “Well, um, welcome to Penn State, I guess” the taller one said.  He had a deep voice.
            “Yeah” said the other one.  “I’m Flounder.  That’s Beef.  Nice to meet you.”
            “Flounder and Beef.  Surf and Turf!”  I said, smiling.  They just looked at me blankly.  “Um, I guess you’ve heard that a million times.”

Street View, same day as above

            Flounder was a little shorter than me.  He was a bit heavy, in a “construction worker who drinks too much beer” sort of way.  His brown hair was thinning on top, and he had wide set friendly eyes with the beginnings of crow’s feet.  I guess if there were a word for him, it would be “jolly.”  That said, he looked like a guy called “Flounder.”
            Beef was big.  Six foot five or more.  Pear shaped.  The first thing I thought of when I saw him was “Baby Huey,” the cartoon character.  He had an oblong pear shaped head with a crew cut.  His eyes were small, beady, and close set.  He looked like an overlarge child.  And he looked strong- “this isn’t fat its muscle” strong.  The name Beef fit him perfectly.
            “So why’d you come to Penn State?”  Flounder asked.
            “Lots of reasons.  Better programs, better women, better house, safety…”  I said.
            “I heard you guys at Drexel didn’t have a house” Beef said.
            “We don’t, but a bunch of guys rented out neighboring rooms in row houses, so that’s kinda the house.  How’d you hear that?”
            “One of the guys here is also a Drexel transfer.  Scott Kershaw.  Know him?”  Beef asked.
            “No.”  I shook my head.  Must be from before my time.  Is he around?”
            Flounder and Beef looked at each other.  “I don’t think so,” Flounder said.  “He goes back to Philly all the time.  He’s in a band there.”
            “Oh,” I said.  Then there was an uncomfortable silence as we shifted about looking at each other.  “Well,” I finally said, “I guess I’ll go in and look around if that’s ok.”
            “Um, sure!”  Beef said.  “There’s beer in the ice maker in the kitchen.  Help yourself!”
            “Thanks!  Pleasure meeting you!”  I said, and then I walked through the open door into the foyer. 
Foyer during a typical Thursday Night Party, 1987  Photo taken from the steps
            The house was quiet and smelled like stale beer.  Empty and half full beer cups were scattered everywhere.  Tiny insects of some kind flew in clouds above the cups that still had beer in them.  I could hear Beef and Flounder laughing.  Through a doorway, I could see the back door open and a guy carry in a box.  He was very tan and had shoulder length black hair parted in the middle. 
            “Need help?”  I asked.
            “Sure,” he said, not even looking. 
            I walked out the back door into the back parking lot.  It was mostly empty, and I spotted a blue Mustang and a black Chevy pickup both packed with boxes and furniture.  An older man was unloading the car and setting boxes on the ground.  I walked over and offered my help.  He looked up and smiled. 
            “That’s awfully nice.  Maybe Pat was right about you guys.  Do you know where this shit goes?” he asked.
            “No.  I guess I should wait until I’m shown.”
            I waited and helped pull boxes from the car.  After a minute or so the guy I saw came back out for another load.
            “Who are you?” he asked.
            “I’m Lance.  Just transferred up from Drexel.”
            “Oh.  Ok,” he said, looking me over with a puzzled look.
            “Figured I’d help out carrying, since I’ve moved in down Beaver Hill already.”
            He smiled, almost in relief.  “Ok.  I’m Pat.  Grab a box and follow me.”
            After several trips (including a heavy couch) later, we emptied both vehicles.  Pat’s nickname was “Dogger” (I never found out why.)  He lived on the second floor at the west end of the house, over the covered porch: the “Icebox suite” as the cold air beneath the floor made the whole three rooms there fucking cold during the winter.  Dogger had the room facing Beaver Ave.  He seemed friendly and thankful for the help. 
            After a while (and attempting to help set up Dogger’s stereo system with its four speakers) I decided to explore.  Eventually I found the kitchen, and the beat up ice machine with the beer: Cans of Busch.  I grabbed one and kept walking around.  I heard music playing behind a closed door on the third floor, and smelled the already familiar smell of weed.  I didn’t bother to interrupt them. 
            After exploring, I helped a couple other guys carry stuff in.  Not that they needed the help- they were all pretty big guys.  Eventually, my arms felt like they were going to fall off, and I was completely soaked by sweat, so I left. 
            I figured something out: the Skull brothers here at PSU were all the popular guys in high school: All the guys that got the girls, caught the touchdowns, wore the right clothes, partied with the right people, drove the cool cars, and everything else.  Here the cream of the “it” guys from across Pennsylvania (hell, across the country) gathered as a group to share their college experiences.
            Then there was me.

            I didn’t know what to expect that day, but I left feeling like an intruder.  How right I was.