Country Roads, Take Me Home

This post is a reprint of something I wrote for a different blog, so sorry if you’ve already read it, but honestly if you have, you probably want to read it again. As before, the story is based loosely on actual or rumored experiences and the lyrics to the DKE Rho anthem “Country Roads” by John Denver. To make it easier for everyone, regular print signifies the present tense, italics signify flashbacks, and bold signifies the song’s lyrics.

Please enjoy responsibly.

Driving down the road I get a feeling that I should have been home yesterday. Cruising up Sullivan Trail, I pound my flattened hands on the steering wheel in overflowing excitement. I haven’t been back to DKE this semester. The same could also be said for the college (what was it called again?) as a whole, but that’s not as important. I start yelling along with the words of Lil Wayne’s ‘Shotty Bounce’ as they blast through the opened windows. The anticipation of a DKE Happy Hour has to be sublimated somehow.

Taking a left into the March field parking lot, I am glad to be here for a number of reasons, one being that I’m fucking starving. I skipped lunch so I could leave straight from work. I had texted Nog what they’d had for lunch at the house, and he said breakfast sandwiches. Money. I park and walk across the grass toward DKE, the white-pillared palace. Our flag, the Black Rampant Lion over Goules, Azure, and Or, is barely fluttering. Painted on the sky.

Painted on the sky. It was darkening as we pulled up in the March field parking lot. It had to be like 7 30 or 8, but I really had no idea. We got out of the car, and stood there until the other four or five cars pulled up. It took quite a squadron to figure out the Forke’s Diner’s soup of the day. Smags started leading us over to the house, which was looming menacingly across the field.

“You guys notice anything different?” he asks.

“The flag.”

All my memories gather round her as I walk up to the door of the house. My house. Unfortunately, at the start of this year, Public Safety installed a checkpoint system on all the doors, so I can’t get in. Bastards. I ring the doorbell infinity times, but nobody answers, and luckily, nobody was coming to the house… I call a few of the kids, as well as the monkey phone, but I get no response there either. As soon as I finally get through to a phone and Brent promises to come down to let me in, Walt opens the door to let me in.

Our favorite and the world’s worst chef-and-sometimes-janitor looks exactly the same as he always does. Hat, grey beard, grey t-shirt, jeans, boots, and glasses.

“Heyy Josh, what’d you fucking do, lose your checkpoint?”
“Walt, I don’t live here anymore, I graduated almost a year ago.”

Due to time constraints, I won’t go into Walter’s reply now, but I follow him into the kitchen. Obviously, all the breakfast sandwiches have been eaten, so I make a regular sandwich. I stroll back into the dining room as ‘Stairway to Heaven’ blares from the stereo. Radio reminds me of my home far away.

During lunch, I was sitting at the senior table in MY seat.

“Hey Tourek, can you pass the hot sauce?”
“….Alright, but can you give it back when your done?”
“Tourek, why don’t you just dump a bunch at once on your plate instead of using the bottle for every bite?”
“Yea Tourek, what the fuck man, you do this all the time.”
“I just like to do it that way! I don’t have to rationalize it to you!”
“Tourek, you’re a fucking moron.”
“No I’m not, god damn it!”
“Hey Cesaro, what soup is that?”
“It’s ravioli soup today, it’s so good.”
“Ohh, yes! I’m goin to get some.”
“Hey, I wonder what’s the singular of ravioli?”

(It’s raviolo, fyi)

I consciously appreciated the banter, engaging in the conversation while knowing as it occurred that it was already an epic one. When people rush fraternities, they think the best part is going to be all the drinking and partying. That’s fun for sure, but those people are wrong. Meals are the best. Meetings too, now that you mention it. Both kinds. Almost heaven, West Virginia.

I go upstairs and change clothes in Nog’s room, throwing on a grey beater, black gym shorts, and proper footwear. I have a theory of Eminem I want to run by Majowka, so I ask Nog to remind me where his room is. Telling me he lives with Adler doesn’t help, but telling me it’s Brent’s room from last year makes the lightbulb turn on. Taking the steps to the third floor two-at-a-time, I think it’s humorous that some rooms are known only by who lives or has lived in them. How will I navigate the house if I come back in 5 years?

After I tear around the house catching up with people, I grab my paddle, The Kid, and head down to Brother’s Bar, as the Social Chairs had just gotten back with the beer. Taking the steep steps like a pro, I get to the bottom of the dingy stairwell.
Dark and dusty. 

I turn to my right and pound on the door three times. Oh, to be back is a glorious thing – the one place on Earth where I’ve felt most at home. The eye-hole turns dark for a second, and then the door creaks open. Some sophomore I can’t put a name to stands there with a two-by-four in his hand, and after I walk in, he wedges it back in the door to prevent any unauthorized entry.

As I look around the room, it’s obvious that nothing significant has changed. The benches on the bad side have been repaired a bit, but that’s not obvious to any but trained eye. Other than that, Brother’s Bar appears as if it were a year, or three years, ago, and I’d never left. Filthy rust-red floor, black-painted walls setting the backdrop to the DKE Flag and Crest.

Shmalls and Teapot were rallying against Toofts and Saggy on the already-aging pong table. It was brand new just over a year ago. The previous table had gotten so warped that action had to be taken, so needing a new one, we put the task in the hands of twenty semi-capable individuals. However, my table was already starting to show signs of wear. Quickly aging, it too would soon need to be replaced.

I squeeze by the table and head into the bar room. DKEs are playing one-ball beruit with beer for water cups. There are more balls, but they are cracked, and wedged up in a shelf above the table. Above that shelf are countless signed liquor bottles, remnants of bottle splits from years past. Old bottles of Jack, Jim, Jager, Old Crow and other brands are covered with dust, circling the entire room. All are dated, some even going back decades. I look for one of mine, but it’s missing. After searching further, though, I find a Jager bottle I split with Nog during a romantic one-on-one chill session on senior year Golf Night. I wonder how long before this one disappears as well.

Another nameless sophomore hands me a somewhat-crisp cup of Beast from behind the bar, and I head back into the pong room to wait until I can play in the next game. As I sit there, more people start coming downstairs. I engage in various conversations, but watching the pong game progress is a constant.

I think about some of the classic games I had over the years. Tourek throwing his paddle in Ross’ face. Saxe and I destroying Sander and Ezra in points, despite the fact that our drink count was like 8 times more. Sinking 6 of the first 7 points against Pete Hart and Griff. Coming back from a 15-2 deficit to beat C-Vrach 22-20. Founding and winning the Milwaukee’s Best Light Brother Pi Invitational Pong Tournament. Even the time Lambie and I went to Zete Happy Hour, and opened up their table with 7 straight wins, pissing off their entire house. I fucking love this game, and can hardly contain my anticipation of playing next. It’s been way too long.

Finally the first game ends, and I immediately jump up from the bench and go to MY spot on the table. Generator-room side, left side. The spot where Chris Johnston was a legend. The spot where I like to think I left a legacy of my own, despite knowing that soon my name will be long forgotten. Before placing my cup in the winged sun-disk, I rub my hands over the area to clear off any remnants of spillage. The action is more affectionate than practical. Oh, mountain mama.

Mountain Mama. I sat on a dryer in the unfinished basement of a mountain cabin. I had a beer in my left hand, and a blue book in my right. We were all trying to learn the words to the song, but between the constant demand to entertain our “hosts,” and the steady decrease in our sobriety, it was near impossible. Plus, Tony Touch and Schimmel distracting us with their don’t-pee contest wasn’t making it any easier.

We were hitting a “wall” in our keg-kill. We’d barely had a chance to eat all day, so we were especially drunk. It didn’t help that one of us, The Fly, was trying to pass out in a sleeping bag on the cold stone floor. He’d already hit a wall, having been so gung-ho about drinking that he overdid himself. Now, he was rolling on the ground, trying to get comfortable, but the unfamiliar building and the unaccommodating floor made it hard to do so.

“Alright, boys, we gotta pick up the pace. Everybody fill up, we’re chugging.”
“Ugh, I’ll boot if I chug right now.”
“So the fuck what?”
“Yea, dude, here, let’s go.”

Misty taste of moonshine.

I leave the pong table, wondering if I would have won that overtime game, had this been a year ago when I was back in my prime. I played pretty well anyway – I mean four sinks ain’t bad considering I haven’t played in a few months. We still lost though. Alas. Not like we would have been able to play again anyway. There are so many people here now, what with the freshman guys and girls coming, but not blending, into our ranks, that Rup is forcing us to put up the pong table. Typical. When will people get their priorities in order?

I stand on the top bench with Ezra, watching the scene unfold. We Da Witnesses. We still know a lot of people, but we don’t know even more. Guys we’ve never seen before are welcomed whole-heartedly by Dan Toutoungi, one of the current DKE Rush Chairs.

Ya Boy C struts out of the barroom leading a group of awkward looking freshman guys, each one carrying a mostly-full cup of beer. As C directs them to form a chug circle, some of the kids look enthused, and some look nervous. I grin, recalling back during my freshman year when I couldn’t finish an entire beer at once. I came a long way.

Ya Boy shouts “ON ‘E,’ ON ‘E,’ D-K-E!” and plastic lips are pressed to human ones. Heads gradually tilt back, some more quickly than others, as they pour beer down their throats. C finishes first, throwing his Conex cup triumphantly to the floor, and some eventually follow suit. Others can’t finish, though, and embarrassed, drop their cups to their sides, looking sick. Ya Boy C claps a kid on the back, saying “good work boys, I’ll be right back,” and hurriedly exits into the generator room, closing the door behind him. While he’s away, I overhear one of the rushes comment, “Man, that kid is a champ, he just chugged three in a row.”

A minute later, Ya Boy walks back out, eyes red and bleary. One of the freshman asks, “Yo C, did you just vomit?” “Hell no,” he replies, “I just had to take a piss. You guys wanna chug another one? Go grab me a beer and bring it back in here, I’ll be ready to go by then, I just gotta say what up to my boy.”

While the rushes go to grab some more beer, C-Rad walks over to Ezra and me and joins us on the top bench. Wiping his eyes dry, he admits, “Man, I just booted so hard.” We laugh at the ignorance of freshman, despite the fact that a few years ago, we were in their shoes. Metaphorically, of course.

The room is even more packed now, and the heat, mixed with the cigarette smoke, is oppressive. I look up at the wall behind me to see a trickle of water running down from the ceiling. The walls, as expected, have begun to sweat. Teardrops in my eye.

With tears in my eyes, I walked downstairs. It was midday, and Touch and I had just ripped four shots in an ineffective effort to take the edge off. I’d decided that was enough, and it was time to join everyone else, but Touch remained upstairs.

I pushed through the front door and walked out onto March Field. Most of DKE was sitting on the ground, looking completely demoralized. Under normal circumstances, everyone would sit in little groups, based on grade, circles of friends, and who was stoned. This time, everyone was spread out, evenly spaced, but all together. United in despair. The sun had just set on the life of Jeremy Saxe. Blueridge mountains, Shenandoah River.

I hop down off the bench and walk across the room, running into Pete Phillips, another of the current Rush Chairs. I ask him how everything is going with this year’s program. He tells me everything’s going pretty well, but he’s having a hard time getting the seniors to go out of their way to rush. I laugh – some thing’s never change.

Passing swarms of drunks, including RJL and Doctor D playing Rock, Paper, Scissors, Drink!, I climb up the bench on the other side. Moving down, I face the wall and find the the spot directly to the right of the DKE Flag, where red and black collide. There are some faded smears of handprints marring the paint. I smile knowingly, especially because so many in the room don’t know. This is MY spot. I’m back, to the place I belong.

I hustled back up to the benches, to the place I belong. I was so ready for this to be over.

“When was Rho chapter founded?”
“Sir, October 15, 1855, Sir.”

Life is old there, older than the trees.

Life is old in Brother’s Bar, and as I sit down next to Nog on the bench, I feel, in some ways, that I am too. With so many kids that I know still here, I still belong, at least for the most part. But what happens when I don’t know any DKE undergrads? How long will this house remain my home? Has that time passed already?

A few years ago, when I was Rush Chair, some of my best friends were freshmen. By now, though, these freshman look more like high schoolers than college kids. Some of them have clearly become familiar with Brother’s Bar, and act like they belong, unable to recognize the divide between them and the brothers. Others, however, have never been here before, and it’s obvious as soon as they are let through the door. The leader, with his deer-in-the-headlights look, takes two nervous steps into the room, before standing there to wait for his three friends to join him. He’s scared to go any further into the unknown. I can’t blame him, since I’ve been a victim of this same intimidation – that room, especially when someone like KOP opens the door, can be pretty foreboding. Still, I chuckle to myself. Stranger to blue water.

I couldn’t stop smiling as I greeted all the brothers sitting on the couches. Everyone seemed so happy to have me there. Flaherty even complimented me on my Hundreds tee. I was on top of the world.

After too many handshakes and bro-hugs to count, Ezra, Siegel, and I went inside the house, doing as we were told. The house had bought us pizza for dinner. The three of us sat at the same wooden table, and started stuffing our faces. “This is going to be bad news if we have to drink a lot tonight,” I remarked.

I looked around, but I didn’t recognize too many people. I had met that Chinese kid, Brian Hu, two nights previous at the Alpha Phi party in Main Bar, and I recognized that punk kid in the spiked jacket from Zoo Crew pre-games the previous year. That kid named Chris I’d talked to a few times in Brother’s Bar last year walked over and introduced himself. “Hi, I’m Chris,” he told me. ‘I know, dude, we’ve met like 5 times,’ I thought to myself. Other than them, however, I didn’t know anybody.

The tall blonde kid looked familiar – my guess was that I’d seen him walking around Easton Hall last year, but I wasn’t really sure. I’d definitely never the albino kid, nor the one dressed all in Pastel colors, nor any of the rest of them. Little did I know at the time how close we’d all become over the next few years. Younger than the mountains, growing like a breeze.

Happy hour was finally ending, and Ya Boy was directing everyone to head upstairs. Some kids leave for good, and others team up to go to the third floor. The non-degenerate sophomores, future house managers and vice presidents, remain downstairs to clean.

Nog hands me Mint as we sit and watch the new DKEs work together. It makes me proud to see them organize their different tasks. One volunteers to take out the bucket. I lean over to Nog and tell him, “Don’t fuck your pledge brother,” and he nods knowingly. More grab squeegees after dumping Minto on the floor, and another takes out the trash. Unity – one of DKE’s most crucial virtues.

No longer sober, I walk upstairs and go to the Dark Side triple. As we sit and talk, I notice how much these rooms have changed since last year. Over the summer, the school had come in and dormified the room, repainting everything and replacing all the furniture with a generic design. The old couches had been disgusting and in need of replacement, true, but at least they had character. I had loved having the phone number for Manhattan Bagel written in pen on the wall. These things were relics from the previous generations, tying everyone together. Now, because of Lafayette, that history was just that. History.

The rest of the night, between Simon’s, hitting up Uzi, and Milo’s, is all a blur. Leaving the sweaty and claustrophobic air of the bar, I stumble home with a hodgepodge collection of individuals, and we find a room to chill in. Somehow, out of nowhere, it’s gotten to be 4 AM, and I stand up to go find a couch to pass out on. I hear the voice in the morning hour, she calls to me.

I hear the voice in the morning hour she calls me. “… FUCK UP!” I rolled over onto my right side, bumping into Ezra, The room was dark and I couldn’t see shit. “WAKE THE FUCK UP!” rang out again, followed by repeated banging of metal on metal. I sat up and swung my legs over the side of the futon.

Suddenly, Saxe burst into the room, and light from the hallway stung my eyes. “Yo dudinnn, you gotta get up,” he told me. He was clearly drunk. “Dude, what time is it?” I asked him, reaching into my duffel bag and pulling out my shorts. “Don’t worry about it man, just get dressed and head down stairs.”

Ezra and I scrambled to throw on our clothing, trying our best to stay out of each other’s way. Once I got fully dressed, I rubbed my eyes in an effort to wake up, and headed toward the door. “Wait, man, you’re going to need your bottle. You still got that shit?” Saxe asked.

I rummaged deep into my bag, and finally pulled out the brown glass. The initials, J-B-S, had been sloppily drawn on it with white out. Tucking it in the pocket of my shorts, I headed for the hallway.

“Yea, pops. I got it.”

Take me home, country roads.

Respectfully Submitted,

The Kid
R.I.P. Saxe

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