It was less than a week into pledging. The intrepid phase where my pledge brothers and I were riding high after bid night and felt unstoppable. Accepted. After being showered in champagne and women and praise, we felt like part of the fraternity.
We were wrong. Painfully, tragically wrong.
When we were told to meet at an off-campus house for “Keg Night,” we assumed the good times were going to keep on rolling. Spirits were high. The 30 of us were picked up at our dorms, taken to the spot, and herded into the house. In the middle of the living room sat two full-size kegs and a pack of red Solo cups. Next to them stood Tom — or as we were told to call him, Captain — wearing what came to be known as his signature hazing attire: a pair of jean overalls, no shirt, and a straw farmer’s hat. The rest of the fraternity watched from the kitchen. Drinking. Smirking.
“Tonight is my favorite night of the pledgeship,” Tom said in a thick southern drawl. “That’s why we’re doing it so early — I just couldn’t fuckin’ wait.”
We beamed, excited to bust open the kegs for a night of drinking and partying with the brothers.
“Now…” the inflection in Tom’s voice took a sinister turn. “Which one of you PUSSIES knows how to tap a keg?”
We froze for a moment. We had not yet been insulted by a brother and were taken aback. Tom walked up to Greg, a pale, stringy kid, and put his face inches from his.
“I said, which one of you PUSSIES knows how to tap a goddamn keg!?”
“I do, sir!” Matt announced. He was a massive bro from Jersey, and he lived up to the stereotype. He spoke like a cocky “Joisey” wise-guy and was a member of mUSCle, the USC weightlifting team.
Tom turned to Matt as though he had been challenged to a duel.
“Well alright then,” Tom said. He threw the faucet and beer line at Matt’s feet. “Tap that shit.”
Tom walked over to the kitchen, picked up a large trashcan, and placed it in the middle of the living room between the two kegs. He motioned to a digital clock in the corner.
“Y’all see that?” Tom said. “By the time that 11 turns to a 12, these here kegs better be empty.”
“But Brother Tom, that’s an awful lot of beer for a group of young bucks,” another brother called from the kitchen, playing along. “What happens if they don’t finish?”
Tom turned to us.
The clock turned to 11:01.
“Well?” Tom said.
We just stood there, dumbfounded.
“Get fucking started!” Tom shouted.
We practically sprinted the five feet to the kegs and started pumping and pouring as fast as possible. Eventually, we worked the cluster of us into two circular lines, 15 surrounding each keg. While one man poured, the rest of the men drank, finishing the cup by the time it was his turn at the pump. It was our first moment of coordinating as a team.
As the kegs grew lighter, our belches grew louder and wetter. Poor Greg was about to spew.
“Trashcan trashcan!” Tom shouted.
Greg stuck his face in the trashcan and sprayed. YAAAARRFF! The brothers cheered from the kitchen.
We continued to drink. And drink. And puke. And drink. We beat our chests and cheered each other on and held each other up for keg-stands. Hyped. Sick. The splatter sound of vomit against the plastic trash bag turned into splashing as the can filled and liquid hit liquid.
By the time the clock struck 11:45, my stomach felt like it was about to split open. I had to make some room. I leaned over the can and shoved two fingers down my throat until a deluge of half-digested Natural Light fell into what was now a pool of vomit. BLAAAARGHH! Three brothers in the kitchen held up whiteboards reading “8.7,” “9.2,” and “8.5.”
I refilled my cup and continued to drink. My vision blurred. My senses dulled. I barely felt a thing when Jersey Matt grabbed me by the shoulders, shouted “Let’s goo!” and slammed his forehead into mine. Goddamn meathead.
Greg held up an empty keg and howled like a mad man. One down. A little less than a quarter of the other keg remained.
“FIVE MINUTES!” Tom shouted.
We crumpled our Solo cups and cast them aside. There was’t enough time. It was all keg-stands from then on. I put the faucet in my mouth and felt my legs being hoisted in the air. I sucked on the hose until my drunken body failed me and my arms gave out. I smashed my face against the side of the keg and fell to the ground, foam pouring out of my nostrils. Another man was lifted vertically before I could even get to my feet.
“FIVE… FOUR… THREE… TWO… ONE… STOP!” Tom shouted. “Everybody back the fuck away from the keg!”
We stood against the far wall in anticipation, save for the half dozen men huddled around the trashcan. Tom walked slowly up to the keg. He picked it up, placed his ear against it, and shook. We held our breaths and our dinners.
“Whelp,” Tom said disapprovingly. He looked at us. Then at the brothers in the kitchen. Then shrugged his shoulders.
We looked at the ground. Defeated. Deflated. Hammered beyond all comprehension.
“You sick sons of bitches actually did it.” Tom said.
Wait… what? My pledge class erupted. We jumped and hugged and cheered and threw up. The brothers gave us a golf clap.
“Alright alright everybody simmer down,” Tom said. “I gotta admit, I didn’t think you pussies could do it. Well done.”
We pumped our fists and high fived.
“To recognize y’all on a job well done,” Tom continued. “I got y’all a little token of my appreciation… you just gotta… fish it out first.”
We looked at one another in confusion. The brothers snickered. Tom pointed to the trashcan, which was now filled to the brim.
“At the bottom of y’alls… um… pussy juice, is a poker chip,” Tom said. “It’s my lucky poker chip and it’d be a damn shame if I never got it back.”
We just stood there for a moment.
“Get in there and find my damn poker chip!” Tom demanded.
Jersey Matt was the first to step forward. He screamed like a gorilla and threw off his shirt to reveal an insane tattoo covering his ribcage. It depicted an angel stabbing a demon through the heart with a spear. I don’t know what it was, but seeing that shitty tattoo stirred something deep inside of me. A fire. A desire to conquer. Next thing I knew, I was on my knees beside Matt, shoulder deep in the trashcan full of mess.
Some brothers cheered. Others excused themselves out back. The rest of our pledge class could do nothing but encourage us. We slid our arms through the 30 gallon bin of stomach sludge, groping desperately for something solid. I tied my button down around my face to hamper the rotten smell. My finger knicked a small, disc-shaped object. I grabbed it and pulled it to the surface. I opened my palm to reveal a half of a Ritz cracker. Everybody laughed. Even Matt and I.
“Goddamn!” Tom exclaimed. “Didn’t y’alls mamas teach you to chew your food!?”
I plunged my arm back into the trashcan. I stirred all around, feeling the sides and corners. We were in there for what seemed like an eternity. I was about to give up and assume the poker chip was a cruel lie.
“It’s in there I promise you,” Tom said.
Suddenly, I felt another hard object graze my palm. I squeezed. This was it. This had to be it. I flung my arm victoriously in the air, readjusted fluids dripping down my front and back. Between my thumb and pointer fingers gleamed a slimy blue poker chip. My pledge class erupted. The brothers applauded. Matt smacked his arms around me in a crushing bear hug. It was the most disgusting, drunk, bizarre — and damn near one of the proudest — moments of my college career.
Three years later, I sat at the desk in my room, my face buried in a media law textbook. I had four hours and six chapters to go before a make-or-break final exam. I glanced at the meager accolades lining my shelf for inspiration. But it wasn’t the high school wrestling trophy my eyes turned to. Nor was it the medal I won at a college journalism convention. Instead, I fixated on a little blue poker chip resting against a pledge book. I held it in the air between my thumb and pointer fingers, and could almost feel Jersey Matt smash his forehead into mine.
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