“Zen and the Art of Alienating Sorority Girls”

by Sam Buntz

[Note: I don’t know what occasioned this absurd reflection.  One might as well blame the barometer.  Yet there’s a farewell to the college years hidden in there somewhere – an under-song of peace and reconciliation…beneath the bile.]

“When to the sessions of sweet silent thought / I summon remembrance of things past / I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought / and with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste.” –SHAKESPEARE

This article has nothing to do with Zen.  That was just a “witty” title (I thought.)  But it does have a lot to do with alienating sorority girls.   The first sentence of another article (written for The Dartmouth college newspaper), in fact, the very article that alienated the titular (pun… not intended?) sorority girls by critiquing the Pan-Hellenic rush process, was: “All y’all hens better stop rattlin’ yo’ coop – hear?”

This is, in fact, a lie – the real opening sentence was of an inferior literary quality, was not in Southern dialect, and was boringly balanced to boot.  But this lie has a (tenuous) point.  The article might as well have begun with so direct and so daringly cocky (fowl-related pun, given the earlier hen bit…not intended?) a fusillade against and affront to the feminine virtues of Dartmouth women.  Believe me, my last intention was to offend the sensibilities and impugn the considerable moral values of our sorority girls – but that’s how it worked out.  I may have been too traumatized by the havoc I had wrought to reflect on it objectively – an earlier self would’ve simply descended into the impersonation of a raving Othello preparing to smother a collective Desdemona.  But, now, the grace of years has allowed me to regain some of that lost time – and lost perspective.

It’s been interesting to step out into the wider, bubble-less universe of the non-undergraduate world – by which I mean, grad school – and suddenly discover that I am thinking and talking about fraternities and sororities and Greek Life, not only less but – well, I’m not talking about them at all (except for right now, obviously… and when this dude blabbed about how his frat made his pledges swim in a kiddie pool full of piss.)  Yet, at Dartmouth, I remember walking around at midnight, muttering sonnets to myself (or whatever it is I do), and I would see other people walking from one frat to another – and whenever I tuned into their conversations, they would go something like this: “I can’t believe we couldn’t get on table [to play pong.]  Alpha Epsilon Unicefs are all so meh-bleh-neh, you now?” The respondent: “Fer sure – but the Sigma Delta Omegulons are all like bleh-neh-meh.”  To which the first rejoins: “Ohmygod, you are so meh-neh-bleh, Becky!!!”  It was as though we had constructed this crazy version of the Matrix where everyone walked around in really gross, sticky, grime-besmeared frat basements and had conversations like this – these subjects had been manufactured out of the loam, as it were, out of the bowels of night.  Instead of talking about TV or Dostoevsky or whatever, we talked about this quaint stuff.  Consequently, not belonging to a fraternity in a world where most people did, I felt both left out and proudly aloof because of how silly this all obviously was.  I mean, who cares if “the Rebulon Zagma Deltathons all dosed their pumpkin cider with PCP but it was cool ’cause squash players are like that”? (The indignant squash playing Deltathons now pour down their hatred—my inbox is stuffed).  I was securely, rigidly positioned on the steeple of my Puritanical Stoicism, surveying with a scowl the naughty, silly, and vaguely fun-looking decadence surrounding me.

But, honestly, my animus didn’t extend to the sororities.  It was a hornets’ nest I walked into, blindly – but a nest full of hornets that stung with their Philips-Exeter-educated tongues and scratched with their angry female nails.  I wrote the article because something like a third of all the girls who rushed a sorority didn’t get a bid, and I thought that was unfair – and a lot of girls who didn’t get bids really liked my article.  But I threw in some details that, while true, pissed everybody else off.  For instance, I’d picked up that the deliberations about who to offer a bid to were just catty conversations about whose Daddy owned what country and whose eyes were too beige and so on – and while all this was true, so achingly true (at least for a good number of the sororities at Dartmouth), I made the literally sophomoric mistake (cuz I wuz a sophomore, get it????) of actually putting it in the article.

Then the romantic-embargo and emotional-blockade began.  Which is to say, they went from shipping one broken crate of bargain-bin tangerines from Cuba a year, to zero.  (A joke!  A mere jest!  Actually, maybe the most serious thing I’ve yet said.)  I mean, the article jokingly compared sorority rush to apartheid (as a segue into a pithy Desmond Tutu quote, albeit) – but the worst you could say about that was that it was in bad taste.  Aside from this, the article said that it was unfair that so many girls couldn’t find a space in the mean ol’ sororities, and that instead of building more sororities (as was being suggested at the time), we should all just try to get along in our unaffiliated gulag as best we could, by relating to each other as humans without rank, instead of Gaffulon Zelta Zebrons or Bligma Phi Wigmas or what have you (you may have guessed at this point that my Greek is a little rusty – I haven’t brushed off the old Aeschylus in a while, I suppose).  I compared building more sororities to building another exclusive tree-house when the cool neighborhood kids wouldn’t let the uncool neighborhood kids into their already exclusive tree-house.  Why do we need such tree-houses? I mused.  Perhaps we should out-grow them, I idealistically suggested.  Perhaps we should just EXIST amidst one another in joyous abandon, free from pre-conceptions, like in some sort of weird PBS educational program.

No one took kindly to this message.  And with the aforementioned grace of the years, I can see why – I was calling something stupid that a lot of people liked.  I mean, not much of a revelation, but that’s what I’ve come to gather.  Yet, doubly stupidly, I called some stupid thing stupid that a lot of girls liked.  What was I thinking??   I mean, I just figured everything was bound to go wrong anyway, so what harm could it do to speed up the process?  (And that probably was the case – but there was no need to compound it like that.)  Yet what I’m getting to is that people remembered this article literally two years later (for the record, it had no particularly sexist content in it aside from the use of the term “catty” as applied to sorority deliberations [which was merely accurate]).  Girls in specific houses held it against me – as I made conversation with them over the intervening years, they secretly seethed, their vast reservoir of inward resentment endlessly undulating.  I was floored when someone actually brought up the article senior year, two years later, after I had virtually forgotten it.  And if you think it helped me gain any ground with the unaffiliated girls – well, let’s just say that, in retrospect, they were probably rejected en masse for perfectly valid reasons.

So, the moral of this story is – just don’t say a bunch of dumb accurate crap about the sororities at Dartmouth.  They will hold it against you forever, snapping the memory up in their little Gucci-purse minds and storing them beside the keys to the Mercedes that Daddy bought them with the money he earned from his secret human-trafficking side project… Okay – that was way too far.  I’m sorry.  Again, ladies.  This was all so wrong.  Writing this was a terrible idea.  I mean, these sororities are everywhere – they’re Pan-Hellenic (meaning across all of Hellenica)– so they can haunt me forever.  You know how you might spill some chocolate milk on something you’re writing, and then you try to get it off, and soon it’s covered in a thousand different condiments and Bed Bath and Beyond products?  This whole rotten article is just like that.  Put it down to upstart inexperience.   Once more.

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