This is a short story I originally wrote in 1987, but I have revised it this past weekend. It is a longer short story, so I have divided it into two sections. The second half will follow shortly.
Bobby Joe Childress was a young man of great strength and stamina, hailing from a southern state noted for its football in both the high school and college ranks. Naturally, after a stellar high school career, Bobby Joe was predestined to take his exceptional talents to the state university to help it attain higher glory. He possessed exceptional talents in blocking, running, passing, and catching, and even standing six feet seven inches tall and weighing 278 pounds, he was the fastest runner in the entire state, as far as football players were concerned.
Bobby Joe rebuffed the numerous offers from national powerhouses outside the state, knowing that if he should choose anywhere other than the state university, he may as well move from home permanently, for he would never be welcome inside its borders again, even by his own family. When it came time to leave for college, he packed his one suitcase (he came from a large, rather poor family), boarded a bus because his parents could not afford to take him there personally, and headed off to the place everyone expected him to go.
Bobby Joe Childress was a little green concerning the ways of the world, although he learned quickly. His naivety made him an easy mark for any third-rate confidence man, and his parents had concerns about his safety away from home. A teacher in his high school recognized Bobby Joe’s lack of worldly wisdom and helped guide him through his high school years without much loss, but privately this teacher referred to Bobby Joe as a straw-foot.
A simple definition for a straw-foot would be an uneducated rookie. The term originated during the American Civil War, and referred to recruits who had just come from the farm and did not know the difference between their left foot and their right foot. They were lousy soldiers during training, and drill sergeants had great difficulty teaching them to march in time or on the correct foot during the cadence. No amount of drill or punishment was able to correct this deficiency until finally, in an act of desperation, an instructor tied small bundles of hay to the recruits’ left feet and small bundles of straw to their right feet. Knowing these simple farm boys knew the difference between hay and straw if nothing else, the instructors would yell, “hay foot, straw foot, hay foot, straw foot,” and marvelously the soldiers learned how to march.
The vastness of the campus and the great numbers of people overwhelmed Bobby Joe, and he had to ask for help in finding his own dorm room. Lying on a bed was Jack Brody, and the two were perfect complements. Jack was outgoing and helped Bobby Joe in that area, while Bobby Joe helped to stabilize Jack’s life.
Even though Jack was only a first-day student, he knew every nook and cranny of the campus through frequent visits the year previously, and he was well acquainted with the social customs and nightspots in and around campus. Jack suggested they join a fraternity because he knew several members of a particular fraternity, which was having an open house starting immediately and lasting for a week.
“What’s a fraternity?” asked Bobby Joe.
“It’s a group of guys who get together and try to make life easier to handle at college,” replied Jack. “They throw parties and have fund-raising events, hook up with girls, and participate in a lot of activities, especially during football season.”
At the word “football,” Bobby Joe immediately said he was interested, so that evening they walked to the fraternity house, which was full of people, many of them carrying beer in their hands. The fraternity president spoke to them a short while later.
“Hello, Jack,” he said while shaking his hand. “I’m glad to see you came and brought a friend.” After introducing himself as Alex Murdstone, he asked Bobby Joe about himself, and then said, “Let me introduce you to the brothers.”
Bobby Joe appeared puzzled, but he followed the president into the main room, where many people stood around, talking, laughing, and shaking hands. Jack secured two glasses of punch and brought them back to Bobby Joe. For the next hour or so, they met every fraternity member present, drank punch, and listened to stories about escapades the brothers had accomplished over the years.
“What do you think?” quizzed Jack when they returned to their dorm room.
“I like them,” responded Bobby Joe.
“Do you think you’d like to join?”
“You and me? You think they’d let us?”
“Yes, I think they would. You’re a pretty important man around here, Bobby Joe. Every fraternity wants to have you.”
Bobby Joe again looked perplexed.
“What’s the matter?” asked Jack.
“I have a hard time believing they would let us join.”
“Why? I’m a friendly, ordinary guy, and you’re…well, you’re a football star.”
“Maybe, but…well, I can’t believe it.”
“Don’t you want to join?”
“Sure, I’d like to join a fraternity. I don’t understand why they would let us in, though.”
Jack went to the mirror, looking first at himself, then turning around and looking at Bobby Joe.
“What’s wrong with us? Are we odd looking? Do we look like we come from Mars? What don’t you understand?”
“We’re not related,” said Bobby Joe.
“I say we’re not related.”
“We don’t have to be related. We just join, if they’ll have us. And they’ll have us.”
“But why would that family let strangers come in and live with them?”
“What do you mean family? What family?”
“The family at the house. It’s a big family. Haven’t even seen one that big back home.”
“Bobby Joe, that’s not a family—I mean a blood relation family.”
“Well, everybody there was a brother, so they must be from the same family. Must’ve been tough on their mother to have all those boys and no girls.”
Jack laughed and explained the term brother when used in a fraternity. Bobby Joe was not embarrassed, but he was silent for a short while before saying, “I’d like to join them. I don’t have any brothers at home, just a bunch of sisters, and I’d like to know what it feels like to call someone my brother.”
The boys informed the fraternity of their decision to join, and then they were instructed to return the following Sunday afternoon for a meeting with all new potential members. There were nearly thirty others there, listening to a half-hour speech from the president, the gist of which was that they were trying to become members of an honorable social organization whose ultimate goal was to benefit mankind. Bobby Joe liked the speech, but he did not understand why Jack occasionally laughed aloud.
The president also explained that all new members had to be given a testing time, a week of initiation to ascertain if they were worthy, that was to begin the following morning and last for a week. The ones who wanted to joined, called pledges, were to report to the house before attending any classes.
After receiving instructions the next morning, Bobby Joe went to his first class, which was titled “The Olympics—Past and Present,” a standard course for first-year football players. In fact, the only students who could enroll in the class were football players, as this section was not listed in a regular student’s choices. No student ever failed “The Olympics—Past and Present,” and none ever received a grade lower than a ‘B’.
All of his classes puzzled Bobby Joe, as gridiron teammates filled each class’s roster, and likewise an assistant coach instructed each class. He wondered when he was going to get to take classes he took in high school, such as English, math, history, and science instead of the ones he took this first semester: General Nutrition 101, The Law of Gravity 100, The History of Numbers 107, Geometric Shapes 100, and of course his Olympics course.
Class convened at 9:00 a.m., but the instructor had not arrived by 9:30. Students started to leave, but then the door opened and a football assistant coach entered.
“Anyone absent, please say so now,” he announced without looking at either his roster or the number of students in the class, which contained fewer than half of the number of names on the roster. After receiving no responses, he continued, “All right, then, everyone is present this morning. Good class, gentlemen. Be on the field at 12:30 in full gear. Dismissed.”
His second class was a little different, for the students had to speak. When the instructor called upon Bobby Joe to stand and tell what position he played, Bobby Joe rose and replied, “Rolodolo humphata. Delinquo magnum. The Brotherhood of Casalidas forbids me to answer any questions.” Bobby Joe nailed the required response of the fraternity perfectly.
The instructor moved onto other students, some of whom actually gave their projected positions, after which he dismissed class.
That evening required another meeting at the fraternity house.
“This entire week you are our slaves,” said Alex. “You must not deny us any request by us. If you do, then you will be counted as unworthy to join us. We are brothers and we stick together through thick and thin.”
As Bobby Joe and Jack were leaving the house, one of the members called to them, “Pledge!”
Immediately Bobby Joe stopped in his tracks, stood at attention, placed his hand over his heart, and said, “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands…”
Sometimes fraternity initiation requires the pledges to do some very strange things, and to be subjected to verbal and physical abuse, a practice called hazing, which is now officially banned on most college and university campuses, but still used by some groups despite the ban. Bobby Joe and Jack got to witness this first hand as part of their initiation.
The next morning when students arrived at the dormitory cafeteria, they were greeted by Bobby Joe and Jack sitting in chairs atop two lunch tables, wearing only bikini tops and jock straps, and blowing bubbles using Mr. Magico’s Bubble Stuff. As a requirement of their initiation process, they were not allowed to offer any explanation or engage in any conversation with anyone.
However, a fraternity brother strolled into the cafeteria, and seeing them yelled, “Pledge!” Bobby Joe repeated his performance from the last time he heard the command, causing the fraternity brother to shake his head and leave them there.
The pledge business occurred to him numerous times over the course of the week, and he wrote his mother telling her that he was joining a patriotic fraternity, knowing this would make her happy.
— End of First Part —