Stories From My Father: The Night The House Caught Fire

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So like some of you people, I have a father who was in a fraternity. I was also lucky enough to hear some of his crazy stories over beers during dinner with a pledge brother or two of his. Most of these stories had to do with living in the house, pledging, and general fraternity shenanigans. But one story is always told at reunions or over drinks, when they all lived through a fraternity man’s worst nightmare; their house burned down.

When my father was a sophomore he was what Bolen so accurately called “a house dog.” He went to school in a nice college town in North Carolina (I’ll let you figure out where) and since good off-campus housing was hard to find at the time, the majority of the brothers lived in the house. It was a packed, shit-show filled place to live. There were always spontaneous parties (like the one that happened that night) and enough debauchery to make even the most seasoned risk manager cringe. There was one brother named Kyle (they all called him Killer Kyle – kick-ass name) who liked to have his own space, and lived in a room in the non-hazing part of the basement (pay attention pecker-heads, this is important). The room had two doors, a cellar door leading outside and of course the main one to the basement, which he never used. Now, Killer had one trait that was sort of a double-edged paddle; he could sleep through anything. My dad always says, “Had the Soviets dropped the big one, Killer would have slept through it as though someone had simply slammed a door.” That’s how intense this man’s beauty sleep could get.

One night after a spontaneous party with a couple of sororities, the pledges had cleaned up as much filth as they could without hazmat suits and a priest, and everyone went to pass out in what was hopefully their own beds, or go to Pound Town with some 1970s slams (the unshaven, pre-AIDS fear kind). Then, the fire alarm started blaring like some of the screamers the brothers were known to bring home. Apparently, a couch had caught fire in the billiards room, probably from some drunk sorostitute’s cigarette she left between the cushions. Within minutes, the entire front half of the first floor was ablaze. People drunkenly jumped onto ledges and crammed down fire escapes trying to get out. Fortunately, no one was seriously injured. By the time the fire department got there, it was too late. The entire front half of the house was burnt to a crisp.

“But Freddie Money, this isn’t funny. Where’s the humor?” Shut up, you ADD-ridden assclowns. I’m getting to it. So the next morning, hungover, exhausted, and probably a little high (it was the ’70s and I’m sure someone’s stash got lit up), the brothers gathered in the front yard to look at the damage. They were all still dumbfounded by fact that their castle was gone, and then there was a sudden thumping noise. They all looked at each other’s stupefied faces and then someone shouted, “Shit, Killer’s still in there!” The brothers ran over to the door, cleared the rubble, then out came a foggy-eyed Kyle, still in his blazer, shirt, and tie, minus the pants of course. He looked at everyone’s faces and slowly turned around to see what they were looking at. Without changing his expression whatsoever, he looked at the house for a minute, then back at everyone and said with a raspy, hungover voice, “Shit guys, what the hell did I miss?” The lucky bastard had slept through the entire ordeal.

There was a silver lining, thoug. The basement was fine as well as most of the brothers’ rooms (though a bit soggy), so people got their stuff, parties were thrown (called “burn parties”), and pledges were reminded that they are worthless (and blamed for the fire because everything is their fault). The brothers even went on to throw the infamous Christmas party of ’71 (that’s a story for another day).

The moral of this story: we really, REALLY, can’t have nice things.

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