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It was Hell Week during my pledge semester. After three full days under the tyrannical watch of the House Dogs and their satanic hentchmen, we were weary, we were downtrodden, and we were broken. Amid the Hell Week haze, we were getting to know our house intimately. We grew to know her like we’d never known her before. Once thought to be a joyous structure that housed the pinnacle of the college dream, we now saw her for what she was capable of being: an ugly, heartless bitch.
On the third morning, we were abruptly awoken from our slumber — a nap, in actuality — by a House Dog. He was a frat house veteran, a third term exec member who’d lived in the same room on the first floor of the house for at least two years. An overall nice guy, but now, during this week, he was an Auschwitzian presence. He was not to be crossed. He entered the living room where we were all sprawled out on the hardwood floor, clinging to any shred of cover we could find to escape the unseasonably cold fall air seeping in through the uninsulated, 140-year-old walls. He stood at the room’s entryway and knocked on the wall — loudly enough to wake everyone in the room, but still softly enough to create an eerie, ominous tone. As we fought off the early morning sun beaming through the adjacent windows, the figure slowly came into focus. We immediately recognized the House Dog, but he was holding something, something not so easy to make out while deprived of sleep and food. Our senses were running at 30% of their full capabilities. It first appeared that he was holding two toddlers swaddled in gray blankets. They weren’t tiny people, though. One-by-one, gasps were heard throughout the room as the objects hanging from his thumb and index fingers came into focus.
He was holding a mouse trap. Hanging from the mousetrap were two rats. They were adult rats, healthy and well-nourished, about a foot and a half long each, tails included. They were both caught on the same trap, necks snapped. The trap was set in his closet. These were the biggest goddamn rodents I had ever seen in my life, and there were two of them…on the same trap. It became abundantly clear at that point that the frat house had a very serious rat problem. I won’t begin to speculate on the probability of killing two rats with one trap, but suffice it to say, it’s not high.
I turned to the pledge brother next to me and whispered to him with fear in my voice, “What is this place?” He responded, “I don’t even want to know anymore.”
The better I got to know her, the scarier she got. But oddly, I grew more fond of her with each chilling revelation, and there were many more to come. As shitty as our house was, and it was shitty, I loved everything about it. Actually, I still love it.
It’s those many unique, definable characteristics that make it your own. Aside from the mutant rat infestation, here are some other characteristics of our house that make it unlike any other:
The Forgotten Veranda
The veranda that protrudes from the front of our frat house wasn’t always closed off, but it is now, as it will likely remain for generations to come, and for good reason. I believe it was decided that its access be cut off about the time my tenure ended.
It was not structurally suited to hold the weight of more than three people at any given time. The house was old to begin with, but the construction was questionable at best. Over the years, the veranda developed a very noticeable sag at the middle. Weather-beaten and heavily foot-trafficked, it was slowly giving way. Throw in a hand railing that was incapable of performing the only duty a hand railing is designed to do — support the weight of a human hand — and we’re talking about a major safety liability. It’s a minor miracle that thing never collapsed with people underneath it and landed our chapter on the front page of the local newspaper.
Several unfortunate incidents did occur up there, however, most notably being the very sad attempted suicide of Duke, our chapter frathound.
The Cedar Trunk Foundation
No, this doesn’t mean our house is supported by cedar beams. I mean that it is very literally held up by the unaltered, untreated trunks of cedar trees in their natural form. They are about 10 feet in length, stretching from dirt and rock up to the base of the house. If you walk down to our basement right now, you will see what appears to be a slew of cedar trees growing straight up from under our house, through the floors, and into the house. However, only the trunks are present.
The structural accomplishment is equal parts impressive and alarming. I’d like to shake the man’s hand who signed off on these blueprints — he’s gotta be all balls — but then I’d like to ask him if he’s fucking insane, and if he realizes how many young lives will be at risk over the course of the next couple hundred years.
The fact that many of our pledge lineups were held in the basement, ie. under the house, made the possibility of our house collapsing at any moment all the more real. Then again, she’s been standing as is for well over a hundred years.
The Most Dangerous Deck In America
The front yard veranda was shutdown citing safety measures, but if someone was to die at the house, I would have thrown down my dues money, at 3-to-1 odds, that it would have beens at the hands of the backyard deck. Where the veranda was a short 12 feet from the ground, the deck in the back is a deadly 20 feet or so.
“But the veranda was a decaying disaster. Is the deck structurally sound?”
Great question, but I don’t know the answer. It certainly doesn’t pass the eyeball test, but on the other hand, I’ve seen upwards of 75 people standing on it at one time, so it’s held up its end of the bargain to this point.
The railing, though — the hand railing is where my real fear comes from. It’s held together by the ingenuity and workmanship of completely unqualified and spiteful pledges throughout the decades. With thoughts like “I honestly don’t care if an active falls off this thing and snaps his neck” in mind, pledges have maintained the deck’s structural integrity with but a flicker of earnest or dedication.
My pledge class constructed the bench seats that attach to the railing. The idea behind the benches were to prevent people from leaning against the unstable railing. Unfortunately, these benches are now serving counterintuitively. Instead of people sitting on them, they now sit on the railing and use the benches as foot rests. I shudder at the thought of something tragic happening because of the benches and railing.
She’s a patchwork of questionable construction, pledge class futility and scummy intentions, but she’s our house. And we love her.