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Spinning Trouble Both Ways: A President’s Challenge

One thing you quickly learn after being elected president of your fraternity is that you are the mouthpiece from the alumni to the chapter and vice-a-versa. That means you, and you alone, get to craft the messages given to both sides. The typical strategy employed by most presidents I knew was as follows: when you talk to the alumni, you emphasize how difficult these crazy frat guys are to control. It’s important to make it seem as if you are well respected but powerless against their occasional bouts of stupidity (which is sort of true). That way, the alumni’s anger is diffused across your membership base, and they believe the executive board is doing their best to right the ship. I mean, fuck, Exec is only a couple of guys anyway. How much can they really do?

When you talk to your chapter (except those in leadership positions), you demonize the alumni board. This was very easy for me because our Alumni Board President, “Jerry,” whom we affectionately referred to as “Fat Tits,” (because he had big fat man tits) was a complete asshole with nothing else to do, and nobody else on the board to stand in his way, he was a one-man whiny douche show.

Fat Tits engendered zero respect from the guys beneath him. Most times alumni who remain involved in the day-to-day operations of the fraternity aren’t like regular, cool alumni. Instead the’re like a stereotypical black guy in a movie theatre— loud, unwelcome, and completely ruining the whole experience, but with every right to be there.

Interactions with Fat Tits generally ranged from terrible to I’d-prefer-the-sweet-release-of-death-to-this. The latter was the case when the fraternity was in crisis. Being that we were, in fact, a fraternity, this was very often the case.

One such “crisis” fell in late May, when 80 percent of the undergrads were home, interning or abroad for the summer. My exec board and I had stayed in town for two reasons: to take our first executive retreat—two days holed-up in a lake house to hammer out our plans for the next semester and to build a united front—and because we wanted to get really fucked up and troll for lake ass.

Before hitting the road the rush chair, and the academic chair, and I decided to take two bongs directly to the skull. Was it a bad idea? Probably, but a two-hour drive through nowhere was ahead of us. A half hour later we were balls deep in the Bible Belt when my phone started to ring.

What now? We told the few guys staying at the house over break not to call unless there was an absolute emergency. And by emergency we meant a house fire BARELY qualified. We wanted to be left alone. It was too early for my parents to be bothering me and my crazy girlfriend was still looking for the baby panda exhibit that the funny fat guy in our house convinced her was coming to town (naturally said exhibit was completely fictional).

I was driving, so I made the rush chair answer the phone.

“Who is it?” I asked him.

“It’s Jerry,” your rush chair mumbles nervously.

“You mean Fat Tits? Why would he…”

It was about that time that the massive piece of glassware we left behind in the basement popped into my mind. Fuck. It was summer, the house was under “summer rules,” typically a utopian three months of don’t-give-a-fuck. Normally that meant people could smoke and drink whatever, whenever and wherever without fear of reprisal. But never mind that now, here comes the reprisal, straight up my ass.

“Hey, it’s ________________,” I said, hoping he had called about some routine bullshit like overdue house bills.

“MR. PRESIDENT YOU HAVE A BIG FUCKING PROBLEM, AND IT’S SHOWING BUDDY,” Fat Tits screams.

He was no doubt standing in the basement, spit flying out of his mouth, blood rushing north while his impish little hands shook violently. I wondered what he was even doing there. It was Friday and barely after noon. Didn’t he have a job?

“Slow down, Jerry. What happened?”

I tried to sound as innocent as I could, but I was pretty high.

“Well Mr. President, there’s a GIANT. VIOLET. BONG on the third floor,” he garbled.

“There’s a violent bong? What’s it doing?”

Fuck I’m too high for this.

Fat Tits gets a little red in the face when he’s angry, and most of us were pretty sure he LIKED being angry. I wondered which is redder, his face or the red rocket he had from getting so worked up.

Oh shit, still high, and in trouble. Don’t laugh at that image.

“VIOLET! VI-OH-LET!” He clarified angrily.

“You mean purple?”

“It doesn’t FUCKING MATTER! You and I both know heads are gonna have to roll,” he continued, “All I need from you? A name.”

Never, EVER, give any alumnus the name of an undergraduate member they don’t know if there’s potential trouble. Normally they hear very few names, so they remember the names they DO hear, for years. If Brother X wants to get a business job in five years, you probably shouldn’t tell the alumni president that it was his bong. The Dean of the Business school will find out, and that poor little stoner could be fucked for life. Or condemned to a life living in like, I don’t know, in the far north—that, my friends, is a fate worse than death.

“Well everyone knew that all of exec board was going on a retreat. We left the prison to the inmates I guess. But we just didn’t see any other way to get this done. We thought we could trust them!”

It’s important to try and deflect an alumnus’ anger. If you can keep them distracted and change the issue you can usually get yourself out of any situation. Naturally I played up the “we can’t control them” angle. They were in the fraternity once. Even though it’s their job to be complete hard-ons nowadays they haven’t completely forgotten what it was like to run the house as an undergrad.

“Did you catch anyone with it? Is there anything I can do from here, or should we just come back? We can, it’s no problem.”

That was a lie. A total lie. We weren’t coming back, we were getting lake drunk and playing politics.

A normal man would have told us not to come back. He would have told us to worry about it in a couple days and not fuck the whole retreat because of one little ol’ bong. You’ve taken this conversation from a screaming match to a civil political interchange.

He has not.

“DO YOU THINK I’M STUPID? WHERE’S THE BONG!”

Apparently the guys still at the house realized who was there, snuck down to the basement, and hid the bong from Fat Tits… after he found it. Smooth move assholes.

It was a stupid move on their part, but it’s the type of thing a good (see also: clever bastard) president can use to his advantage. When you’re trying to convince the Alumni President that it’s hard to control the crazed degenerates in your chapter, people doing stupid shit like that makes the argument a whole lot easier to sell.

Eventually the situation plays out like every damn other one. A simple solution is found to an overhyped problem. It’s the type of end result that makes you both relieved and annoyed. Relieved because you’ve avoided trouble once again. Annoyed because you’re tired of this shit. After three hours of phone calls, bull shit and politicking Fat Tits happily bid me adieu and offered some advice on conducting a worthwhile executive retreat. This advice did not involve getting completely faced and doing stupid shit, so obviously I disregarded it. The house ended up in little to no trouble. But I kept that to myself. Everyone else still thought we were in deep shit. That’s a powerful weapon: the appearance of forthcoming doom and oversight.

Nothing governs like fear of probation or being shut down. Maybe now I’d be able to control these bastards for a few weeks… maybe.

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