Late August 1981 and the hot breath of summer was still beating down the back of my neck as I loaded up the 1964 T-bird and headed off to college. I had grasped the grizzly hand of Destiny and decided to join my friends who were two years ahead of me in the Phi Sig fraternity at WTU. It didn’t take long upon arrival to ascertain my predicament. My former classmates, Curtis and Walt, had already flunked out and that just left Ben D. and me. This would have been okay except not only was Ben disinterested but also moderately crazy. He had a girlfriend, a temper, and an alcohol problem. One night, after a particularly insane party, the frat house awoke to loud pandemonium. Ben had taken the sword from atop the fireplace mantle and had wrought some destruction on our living room.
“Hey!!” said Clint Locke approaching Ben.
“Put it down, Ben!”
Ben looked at him with glazed over eyes.
“It’s okay, Ben,” said Clint.
So there I was a friendless freshman in a preppy redneck hell. There I was in a fraternity trying to fit in with my rock n’ roll hair and with connections that had deserted me faster than you could catch a Crazy Train.
Then I met Gar. He was cool, especially for that crowd, and musically inclined with long hair. Finally a friend. So it wasn’t actually surprising when Alton Fields III, president of our chapter of the Phi Sigs, called Gar and I in for a counseling session.
“Ahem, guys, umm, you know it’s great to have you here in the Phi Sigs,” he said, glancing sideways at me. “We like to present an image here, you know?”
Gar smiled, and I tried to look as disinterested as I actually was except that wasn’t really possible.
“We have events…and socials, and …” Alton went on. “So I would like to encourage you guys to conform a little and cut your hair.” Alton shifted in his chair.
I looked at him. Gar looked at me.
“You know guys, it’s the Eighties. Phi Sig wants to soar into the 1980s,” he said, making an airplane motion with his hand. “Rock ‘n Roll, well it’s just not like it was, right?” he asked smugly directing his beady-eyed stare to me.
“Is that all?” I asked testily.
“Well, uh….” Alton said.
I turned to Gar, we both got up and walked out leaving Alton the Third to plot his own strategy for dealing with the new decade.
“Can you believe that guy?” asked Gar.
“I can’t believe I picked the most redneck school in America,” I responded.
We walked out onto Main Campus Avenue and that’s when we noticed first the Homecoming Bonfire sign, then a band of marching, militant ROTC dudes chanting like animated toy soldiers. We knew about the festivities, of course, but it was at that moment that the little light bulb went off in the corner of our mind, a little red devil preaching on our shoulders. At that moment, we understood what we must do about the bonfire.
We looked to the left and found: the cowboys, their pickup trucks, girls that could skin something alive. We looked to the right and spotted: orderly fraternity and sorority types endeavoring to make the human race clean cut and productive, the voting members of society. We looked back to the ROTC, uptight, focused, Protestant and regimented. Then I looked at Gar and he looked back at me, and it was at that point that we made the decision to do what must be done.
“Time to plan,” said Gar.
“Yes indeed,” I said.
Gar picked me up in his tattered Ford Pinto. I stuck a gas can in the back.
“You got the eye black?” I asked with a smile. He nodded. “Alright then, to the gas station!”
We were pulling up to the tanks when a cop pulled in to park in the corner lot.
“Man, are you kidding? He’s gonna see us now,” I said.
“It’s okay, just act cool. He will think we are mowing lawns,” said Gar. “Don’t act like it is a big deal or anything.”
Reluctantly, I got out and walked steadily to the back and picked up the gas can. I look slightly to the side to see if we had piqued his interest. The cop did not seem to be watching. I filled the gas can up. The cop was drinking coffee and didn’t even appear to be on a stakeout or anything. He showed zero interest in what we were doing. So it was mission accomplished, gas bought, and we were on our way. There was a bonfire going down, alright, but it wasn’t going to be exactly what they had planned.
To be continued ….