The answer is always 'No, I was in a Fraternity.'
Alot of people don't see the difference, and unless you hung out with my Fraternity brothers, I can't say I really blame you. The Fratinerity I was (and am still) in is called Sigma Kappa Nu (the Skins for short). It's not a national Fraternity. You won't find chapters at universities across the country. As a matter of fact, the only place you'll find it is at the Erie campus of Penn State. There was a chapter at University Park for a while, but it faded away eventually as Fraternities everywhere have been feeling a decline in popularity of late.
What separates my Fraternity from others? Well, we're not jocks. We're not brains. We're not preppies. We're not rich. But we're a little bit of all of these things when you look at us as a whole. I think, what it really boils down to is that we're a bunch of guys (and a couple Little Sisters) who like to hang out, and laugh, and drink beer. There is no one characteristic that defines "A Skin." We have alumni who are NASA rocket scientists, and Lawyers, and Car Mechanics, and Meteorologists, and Forestry Consultants, and House Husbands, and Teachers, and Bankers. The only thing that kept someone from getting an invitation to join was a shitty attitude. If you were arrogant? Bye. If you were a snob? Bye. If you were a smart ass who liked to play practical jokes? COME ON IN!
I pledged up in Erie. I didn't have to. I lived with a Brother my Freshman year, and one of the other guys in my house pledged that year. So I knew the guys, they came over and hung out occasionally. I went over and partied occasionally. When my Freshman year ended and I needed somewhere to live, I ended up renting a room at the House. Yeah, they rented to non-brothers.
The House was a former convent. Yeah, stop laughing. But it was. It had been rehabbed and added on to by the brothers. It was awesome. The basement had a huge kitchen, a big ol' dance floor, a TV room, and a jacuzzi (the 'coogie'). Each floor was filled with bedrooms and a common bathroom. The first floor had the Trophy Room, and the second floor had the Study Room.
My first semester living in the house I lived in "The Cave" (named for it's lack of windows). It was that semester that I learned how to turn off my alarm clock with my toes in my sleep. Whoops.
It was also that semester that I decided to give pledging a shot. I mean, the guys were cool, and I was already living in the house, so why the hell not?
While I'm not going to go into the details of the pledging process, let me tell you that it was some of the most fun moments of my life. It was a couple of the more stressful ones too, but there was no physical or psychological scarring. :) And no, the only time I ever got hit with my paddle was three years after I pledged on my 21st birthday, cause I didn't hide it well enough.
I let my feelings for a woman pull me away from the guys, and I moved out of the house at State College (Beta) to be closer to her (and then was summarily discarded by her). Much to my discredit, in stead of going back, I stayed away. I still saw the guys occasionally, but I allowed myself to drift. I think that was probably one of the biggest mistakes of my life.
I stayed away for more than ten years.
This last weekend, however, I was given the opportunity to reconnect, and I'm damn glad I did.
One of my little brothers (I have two, Sean and Jim), Sean, was getting married. He and I email occasionally, and about six months ago he told me to save the date. About two months ago he asked if I would sing at the wedding. About two weeks ago I freaked out about it.
There were issues with my frequent flier miles, and I was nervous about not getting the music soon enough. Honestly, I think I was afraid to see everyone again.
Sean's wife-to-be called me and assured me that they were just regular church Hymns and that four year olds could pick them up.
Tim, one of the other brothers called me an offered me his miles to get there.
I calmed down, got my tickets using my miles, and got on a plane on Friday.
I got to the hotel, and Sean was in the room I was staying in (he let me crash on the couch in the room he and Greg, the best man, were sharing). He immediately dragged me across the street to TGI Fridays where folks were hanging out. I swear to fucking gawd it was like walking into Cheers. The bar erupted with shouts of "CLAAAAY!!" as I walked in the door. Before I knew it there was a shot and a pint of Yeungling in my hands, and people I'd not seen in 10 to 12 years were hugging me and honestly happy to see me.
Tim, Steve, Gregg, Chris (Sean's biological brother), Guy-Chuck (his real name is Guy, we all call him Chuck) and some of their spouses were there, along with Nean (Jeanean) who wasn't part of the Fraternity, but was one of the folks who always hung around. We spent the next two hours talking, and laughing and catching up. It was awesome.
The next day at the wedding I got to see a TON more people including my OTHER little brother, Jim. People chastised me for being away for so long, but never enough to make me feel bad, just a little guilty for being stupid enough to make myself feel unwelcome. It was just amazing to feel the relationships that had been 'missing' in my life for so long just click right back into place. People were surprised to see me, and the honesty of the happiness on their faces was REALLY moving. I was sitting up in the Choir loft with the Sister Margarite during the ceremony, and Jenn and Deb were down in the pews. At one point they turned and started waving like a couple of four year olds. I almost laughed out loud into my microphone. But I didn't. I threw the Goat instead, then realized I was in church and blushed ALOT.
I don't know that there's a way to express just how awesome it was to see everyone, and to get to meet their spouses, and see pictures of their kids, and be told OVER and OVER again that I need to come visit. I didn't realize how much I'd missed them all.
I won't be letting myself drift away again.
Brother CLAAAAY!! Fall 1989