Thursday, January 11, 2018

Men of the Skull Chapter 3:

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.

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