Tag Archives: alcoholism

Frat Crap


Thirty years ago this month I made one of the worst decisions of my entire life: I joined a fraternity. In August of 1984, I was a shy, naïve 20-year-old; the kind of person college social groups eat up and spit out. When I started classes at what was then North Texas State University (now, the University of North Texas), I hoped to complete my education within two years and begin a career in computers – anything to do with computers – like my parents had planned for me. I also hoped to break out of my shell of insecurity, make plenty of friends and find my future wife – after losing my virginity first. I ended up suspended from school for the fall 1985 semester, addicted to alcohol, maniacally depressed – and still a virgin.

Then, as now, I blame that fucking fraternity. I know the status of “Victim” has been a coveted one in America since the 1980s. But, hear me out on this mess.

I’ll say flat out that social Greek-letter organizations serve absolutely no purpose. They have only one function: party, which means getting drunk and having sex. Yes, they toss in the occasional charity function bullshit just to look good. For example, in November 1984, the frat I joined teamed up with the county to drive people to voting stations. In another self-righteous instance, we participated in a campus blood drive; where the director (a pre-med professor) walked around in a stupid vampire outfit. (Get it? Blood drive? Vampire?) Anne Rice probably would have killed him on the spot. Other than those two saccharine-laced, cringe-worthy exceptions, we just got drunk (they called it “enjoying alcohol – immensely”); tried to seduce as many unwary females as possible; engaged in quasi-macho antics; and partied at an aging two-story house on the edge of campus.

On my first day in the dorm, I saw a flyer advertising a party for the frat, which I’ll call Alpha Omega Dipshit (AOD). After I settled in – living away from home for the first time in my life, along with a flamboyantly gay roommate – I looked again at that ad for AOD and thought it must be great way to make new friends. I was desperate to meet new people. This wasn’t high school, which I hated. Life at a community college the preceding two academic years had been nice. But, I didn’t spend a lot of time with people. My social life during the my first two years out of high school revolved around whatever plans my parents had and my German shepherd. My dating life revolved around my hands and a bottle of baby oil. Things would be better now, I assured myself. North Texas was different. I wasn’t dealing with kids anymore. I was dealing men and women. I thought.

On a whim, I followed a guy I’d met and quickly befriended in the dorm to the AOD party, where beer flowed like the testosterone through my body. There were lots of beautiful people, and I tried making friends with every one of them. I really wanted people to like me. Being shy hurt and I had to break free of it.

In 1984, President Ronald Reagan signed a federal law requiring states to raise their minimum legal alcohol consumption age to 21; otherwise, they’d lose highway funding. The law was a response to the growing anti-drunk driving movement. Before the 1980s, drunk driving was viewed with an almost humorously dismissive attitude. Despite fatal accidents involving alcohol, intoxicated driving still wasn’t considered nearly as egregious as interracial marriage or homosexuality. That all changed after the young daughter of Candy Lightner, a California woman, was struck and killed by a habitual drunk driver. She made it a national issue. Hence, the 1984 federal law.

But, then-Texas Governor Mark White essentially told Reagan to go to hell when he mandated the legal alcohol consumption rate wouldn’t be raised to 21 in the Lone Star State until 1985. Texas had enough money to fund its own highways without some former B-movie actor telling us what to do. (That anti-Washington sentiment has always sort of been part of the Texas identity. White, I might add, was a Democrat.) It really didn’t matter to me, though. I didn’t drink that much alcohol anyway at the time.

Three years earlier, 18-year-old seniors at my high school were upset because Texas planned to raise the minimum alcohol-drinking age to 19.

“They can give you a right,” one girl told me at the start of an English class, “but they can’t take it away.”

How profound. I didn’t care. I just wanted to get the fuck out of that high school.

But, when I stepped into the back yard of the AOD house, I followed the crowd to the beer kegs and started partaking of Coors Light. Even now, the mere smell of Coors Light incurs bitter images of college boys behaving stupidly. I had one plastic cup of beer. And then, another. And then, another. And then, another. And then, another. And then, another. And then, another. And then, another.

And, that’s where it began.

I wanted so much to Belong. My lifelong shyness had stunted my personal growth. Aside from my dog, I felt no one liked me. But, in pursuing that friendship goal – paying money along the way – I became a punching bag for most of those guys. More importantly, my entire academic regimen collapsed, and the university placed me on academic probation for the spring 1985 semester. That prevented me from becoming a full, active member of AOD. I still had to pay monthly dues, of course. But, I remained in the netherworld of pledgeship. That’s something like a glorified time out. Can you feel the hopelessness?

Things got worst that year. We had to put our dog to sleep in April, and then, the university suspended me for the rest of 1985. My parents were outraged, and I became suicidal. I felt I’d lost everything. My dog was dead; I didn’t have any new friends; and my future looked bleak. And, I was still a virgin.

My life reached a new low that October when I got arrested for drunk driving. I showed up to my waiter job at a country club already intoxicated one weekday evening. Carl*, my openly-gay supervisor, wouldn’t let me work, even though the gaggle of mostly-Jewish members wouldn’t have given me a second look anyway. Instead, Carl made me sit in the back office where I ate a meal he had one of the cooks prepare for me and admitted he had the hots for me. Great, I thought. After all my efforts at chic one-liners and coy humor, the only person interested in me was a middle-aged man with a beer gut. After I sobered up a little, he told me to go home. But, I didn’t. I felt I had nothing to live for at the time. So, I got into my little Ford Escort and went bar-hopping. Coming off Dallas’ Greenville Avenue, I stumbled into a police trap and then into a police car. I had never felt as much humiliation as the moment I called my parents from Lew Sterrett Jail in downtown Dallas. They bailed me out early the next morning. Fortunately, my blood-alcohol level tested below what was then the legal limit of .10.

I returned to North Texas for the spring 1986 semester and then again for the ensuing academic year. I left for good a year later; vowing to return and complete my education. I never went back. But, I finally did earn a college degree – 20 years later.

I made only two really good friends during my tenure at North Texas. One, Dean*, I had met through AOD. He was a tall, skinny guy with tousled brown hair and a penchant for short girls. We became close – like brothers. Not frat brothers. Real brothers. As an only child, that meant everything in the world to me. He became the kind of friend I’d always wanted. He was upset that I didn’t become a full member of the frat, yet he didn’t let that bother him.

But, AOD did get in the way of our friendship. In September 1986, after I’d settled in once more at North Texas, I ran into Dean in a parking lot, while headed to class. We hadn’t seen each other in over a year. We traded phone numbers, and later, he invited me to drop by an AOD rush party. Against my better judgment, I took him up on his offer. I went with a guy named James* who’d just graduated from high school and who I’d met at my new job a few months earlier. There, I ran into many of the people I’d known before. It felt so strange – being in that house – with those familiar faces – and the smell of Coors Light. But, nothing could have prepared me for what happened next.

At some point, I got into a heated discussion with a guy named Kyle*. He’d been part of the same pledge class as me and Dean and now, two years later, was AOD’s president. Kyle was already kind of a strange character; someone who did a great Keith Richards impersonation, but was probably the same type to walk into his workplace with a shotgun. I didn’t realize he could be such an asshole, though. I don’t know what prompted the argument, but a short while later, Dean asked me to leave. Actually, he had been told to ask me to leave. He was the frat’s “Sergeant-at-Arms” – a glorified Boy Scout-type role – and apparently, since we’d been such good friends, he’d been given the task to let me know I was no longer welcome. Fine. I didn’t need them. So, I calmly departed with James in tow; acting is if nothing was wrong.

Deep down inside, however, I felt completely dejected. I had wanted so badly to be a part of that group. The next night I scampered about the campus, ripping down flyers advertising AOD. I guess I showed them! Regardless, Dean and I stayed in touch throughout the remainder of the academic year. We just didn’t talk about the frat.

The other friend, Robert*, had actually attended the same grade school as me. We knew each other only sparingly back then. But, on my first day in the dorm in August 1984, Robert stepped into my open doorway and introduced himself; he was in the room just across the hall. He startled me at first, but I was glad people were so friendly. Or, at least he was. After another moment, though, I thought I remembered him. It’s one thing to reconnect with people from high school. But, grade school?!

Ironically, he joined AOD – at my urging – and did well with it. He wasn’t there the night Dean asked me to leave. But, Robert has remained one of my best friends ever since. He’s tolerated my moodiness over the years. For example, I had an alcohol blackout one night in the early 1990s and unwittingly called him to tell him “this was it.” I was determined to kill myself. (I seriously don’t remember the incident, but I trust he’s telling me the truth.) Being the good real estate salesman he is, Robert stayed calm and managed to talk me into exhaustion.

When he revealed that to me a few years ago, I apologized to him for making such a scene and taking up so much of his time. It’s not his fault I couldn’t get my stuff together and heal myself from depression and alcoholism. Which I eventually did. Several years later.

Over the past two decades, I’ve been dumbfounded – angered, actually – to learn of incidents involving social Greek-letter outfits on college campuses. They almost always feature severe alcohol abuse, hazing and, quite often, sexual assault. How is it, I ask, that colleges allow these groups to exist? I guess the frat culture is embedded that strongly in the realm of America’s higher education. What a waste.

In the summer of 2003, my employer hired three young female temporaries to assist with an ongoing project. One had just graduated from high school and planned to attend a major Texas university that fall. Shortly before she resigned her position, I warned her to stay away from social fraternities – and sororities. “They’re just no good,” I told her.

I last saw Dean on South Padre Island during spring break 1987. I’ve retained my friendship with Robert, but I still often think of Dean. Not long after he had ordered me to leave the AOD house in 1986, Robert told me Dean had gone on a drinking binge. He felt he’d turned on a friend, Robert said, and couldn’t handle it. I never knew that. I can only hope Dean didn’t descend into a decades-long battle with alcohol like I did. I wouldn’t wish that on anybody.

It wouldn’t be fair, if I said that Dean and Robert were the only decent guys in that fraternity. In fact, most of them were great guys. It was the handful of assholes who ruined it for everybody else. Isn’t that the way it often works?

Yet, I wonder – where is Dean now? Is he okay? Did he succeed in life? I felt, if anyone deserved it, he did. I’m not so arrogant to wonder if he thinks of me, though. But, we had the kind of friendship that should have lasted a lifetime. If that damn fraternity just hadn’t thrown so much crap all over us.

*Name changed.



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No Tears


Last month actor Cory Monteith died of a drug overdose in a hotel room in Vancouver, British Columbia.  He was 31.  Monteith, a star of the popular musical TV series “Glee,” apparently had struggled with drug addiction for some time.  I had never heard of him until his death; due mainly to the fact I’ve never watched “Glee.”  Something about cheery high school kids breaking out into song in the midst of their teenage angst is just too saccharine for me.  But, while I didn’t know Monteith even existed until after he died, I’ve heard of his sad dilemma too many times.  His circumstances are all too common: celebrity – drug addiction – rehab – dead in a hotel room.  Think Janis Joplin; think Whitney Houston.  Drug addiction and celebrity-hood are almost symbiotic.  It’s truly heartbreaking when someone becomes hooked on drugs or alcohol to the point that it rules and ultimately destroys their lives.  But, despite the tragedy, I simply can’t bring myself to cry for them.  I have the same reaction to someone who smokes for 40 years and comes down with lung cancer, or who fucks almost everybody they meet and contracts HIV.  Yes, it’s sad, but what did you think would happen?

I also find hypocrisy in the mix.  Trayvon Martin, for example, only had a trace of THC in his system when he was killed by an overzealous neighborhood watchman last year, but he was branded a thug.  Monteith had been in and out of drug treatment for most of his young life, but he’s considered troubled.  The glaze of celebrity seems to upgrade one’s station in life, and thuggish behavior transmutes into personal issues.

Drug addiction costs the U.S. roughly $160 billion annually; second only to alcohol abuse, which costs us about $185 billion every year.  Those are just hard dollar figures related to various tangible things like hospitalizations and property damage.  There’s no way to put a price on the emotional toll substance abuse takes on people.  There’s no real means to assess the heartbreak parents feel as they look at their dead child in a coffin, or the fear residents of a neighborhood racked by drug violence experience every night.

I don’t feel too sorry for people like Monteith because they pretty much bring the damage upon themselves.  They’re essentially responsible for the incessant carnage along the U.S. – México border.  Since 2006, when then-Mexican president Felipe Calderón launched a massive crackdown on drug trafficking, some 40,000 people have been killed.  Thousands more have disappeared.  And, not all of them are tied to the drug cartels.  Not every victim is a drug mule, or a hit man for a powerful drug lord.  Many of them are innocent people caught in the crossfire of spontaneously brutal narcotics battles.  Others victims are people who dared to refuse to bow to the cartels’ extortion tactics.  The U.S. has supplied the funding, which only makes sense, since the problem lies here.  Mexican officials like to point out that, for every Mexican who uses illegal drugs, there are up 10 Americans who do.  The other half of the problem, of course, is the gross incompetence and glaring corruption of the Mexican political system, as well as the governing bodies of other Latin American countries.  But, if people didn’t have an insatiable appetite for narcotics, the border region wouldn’t be in the vise grip of bloodshed.

Drug laws in the United States have always had a racial component.  The first – anti-opium laws passed in the 1870s – were aimed at Chinese immigrants.  The first cocaine laws, passed in the early 1900s, were designed to prevent Black men from raping White women, even though White women at the time were much more likely to use cocaine.  It’s hard to imagine now, but cocaine was once perfectly legal.  It was a common substance in many cold medicines.  And – in case you didn’t know – it was the principal element in Coca Cola.  Contemporary narcotics laws – most stemming from Richard Nixon’s self-proclaimed “War on Drugs” – have put more people in jail in the past four decades than at any time in U.S. history.

But, think how Cory Monteith obtained his drugs.  He had to go out and get it; he had to know where to get it.  Or, he had to pay someone to go out and get it.  Or, know someone who could bring it to him.  The stuff didn’t just magically appear in his hands.  No one accidentally dropped it into his luggage – a ruse some celebrities have tried before.

I can’t relate to the anguish of drug addiction, but I understand alcoholism.  I had known for a long time I had a problem.  But, it all came into focus for me back in the mid-1990s, when a young man named Byron* arrived to work in the same bank as I did.  Not much taller than me, Byron was affable and intelligent; his wire-rimmed glasses making him look especially distinguished.  And, he walked with a pronounced limp – one result of a catastrophic drunk driving wreck a few years earlier.  He was returning home from his job as a waiter, around 1:00 one weekday, a college student trying to balance school and work; when he noticed the car ahead of him suddenly veer off to the right.  Then, he saw a pair of headlights bearing down on him.  That’s the last thing he recalled before waking up in the hospital some two weeks later.  In a strange twist to the usual drunk-driving tragedies, he had survived, and the intoxicated driver had died.  But, Byron wasn’t much better.  His body was damaged as badly as his sense of security.  He spent months in recovery, which included a partial hip replacement and a prosthetic lower leg.  But, aside from being alive, he found something good amidst the tragedy: that’s how he met his wife; she was a nurse in the hospital.

Hearing his story made me reflect on one weekend night in 1988.  I attended a party at a coworker’s place where I consumed plenty of wine and even smoked some marijuana.  I have to concede marijuana never did anything to me, except dry out my throat.  But, as I headed home, I spotted a set of headlights far off in the distance.  They were coming right at me.  I managed to steer right and return to the proper side of the road.  But, that fleeting second scared me enough to stay sober – for a while.  I can’t remember the number of times I’ve driven intoxicated.  Occasionally, I was smart enough to lie down on the front seat of my vehicle for a while; other times, I pulled off the road; on some nights, I was fortunate to have a friend drive.  I ruined entire weekends because I let Friday happy hours get out of control.  A few times I had to take a day off work because I’d imbibed too much on a week night.  I recall one Friday several years ago where a long happy hour inexplicably metamorphosed into suicidal mania.  I arrived home suddenly feeling lethargic and viciously depressed.  I don’t know what came over me or why, but I managed to calm myself down after a while.  I haven’t had any such events in years.  I’ve long since learned to control myself.  Some people never get that proverbial grip on themselves.  And, the outcomes are filled with sadness.

America’s drug policy obviously hasn’t worked out as well as its designers intended.  We saw what happened with alcohol prohibition early in the last century.  People still consumed it, and its banishment led to a long series of crime waves.  Once prohibition was repealed, alcohol was regulated and taxed.  That didn’t exactly solve the problem of alcoholism.  But, anti-drunk driving campaigns that began in the 1980s raised awareness of that particular crisis, and people take alcoholism much more seriously now.  Personally, I think the U.S. at least could legalize marijuana.  But, legalization of any narcotic is a much more complex matter.

If we could somehow track that one last drug hit Cory Monteith consumed, I doubt if he’d turn out to be the only casualty.  God only knows how many people died just so he could get a fix.  Yes, it’s tragic.  It’s never a good thing when someone that young dies, much less under those circumstances.  But, my heart doesn’t ache too much for them.  I just can’t bring myself to shed too many tears.

*Name changed.

Image courtesy Pomegranates & Pearls.

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Psycho Crap


The death last week of legendary comedian and actor Jonathan Winters invoked a plethora of admirable responses.  Many contemporary comic figures, such as Robin Williams and Jim Carrey, spoke fondly of a man who inspired them in their own careers.  But, amidst the accolades came another type of acknowledgement: that Winters suffered from depression and alcoholism.  I never knew that – and I really didn’t care to hear about it.  It’s become inevitable though in recent decades, especially here in the U.S.; that when someone dies, or announces their run for public office, the media tries to learn what bad stuff lurks in their backgrounds.

It seems to be a uniquely American trend; one I still insist began with Watergate.  When the American populace first heard some of the secret tapes Richard Nixon recorded, most were shocked at the level of foul verbiage that spewed from the mouth of the president.  It may be naïve in retrospect, but at the time, I suppose most people assumed someone at that level of power would speak more maturely and professionally.

But, I remember my mother saying how surprised she was to learn, years earlier, that actress Carolyn Jones wasn’t the angelic figure she often personified herself to be.  That’s the thing with people in the entertainment community, though; they create a universe for themselves and expect the public to believe it’s true.  Pretty much the same can be said about politics.  There’s a certain sense of egotism one must possess to succeed in either venture.  Yet, is really necessary to point out the bad things people have done?

Almost as soon as the local ABC news channel announced Winters’ death, they just as quickly pointed out that he’d battled depression and alcohol.  In fact, that took up half of their brief piece on him.  Here was one of the most talented and ingenious comedians the U.S. has ever produced, and the goddamn news has to highlight the fact he was a recovering alcoholic!

I know what it’s like to suffer from depression and alcoholism.  The two are almost symbiotic; conjoined twins of human psychosis.  Growing up shy and an only child – as I’ve mentioned here before – plunged me into severe states of depression while enduring the tough times of childhood and my teen years.  When I discovered alcohol, it only numbed the pain, but it didn’t make it any better.  It never does.

I’m not proud of those struggles – except to say I got through them – but I certainly don’t want to be remembered for it.  However my epitaph reads, I’d hate to think whatever demons lumbered around in my mind take up much of the dialogue.  We Americans love a good success story, but it seems we also love to see people humiliated in public.  We like to see that proverbial dirty laundry flapping in the winds of fame and fortune.  Or, some do.

I don’t know what it is that compels this society to do that to people.  Are we so enamored with our own potential that we have to snuff out our competition at any costs?  Or, are we just that psychology twisted?  Regardless, it’s immature at best; cruel and destructive at worst.

We all want to have people think the very best of us.  So, as I contemplate Jonathan Winters, here’s what comes to my mind: hysterically funny, innovate, creative, impressive; a man with no equal; a damn good comedian; someone who made me laugh every time.



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