History 4G: The Modern Greeks
I awoke forty-five minutes before my eight o’clock morning class. During the second week of January, my room was still dreary and dark at dawn. I cursed myself for deciding early classes would give me more time to do the things I wanted to do, because now, at 7:15, I wanted to stay in bed.
One of my roommates, Alan, was still asleep, snoring gently, hidden under a pile of bedding and blankets. He was a large, rotund man with a hairy chest, legs and back. I wondered about the beauty who would want him lying on top of her, humping the hairy beast.
Alan was living at Cloyne Court by default. He needed a cheap place to stay for one quarter as he rushed the different fraternities. The Co-op was a wayside inn for his true housing and social goals.
Alan made no secret about his reasons to join a fraternity. "My father was in a fraternity at UCLA in the mid-1950s,” he said. “He met my mother at a sorority party. He loved the Greek system. It was the best thing that happened to him in college."
According to Alan, his parents, Marvin and Rachel Schwartzman's college romance revolved around the Greek system at UCLA. Therefore, he wasn’t surprised that they expected him to follow their example.
However, Alan was at Berkeley, not UCLA. Instead of following his father’s goose step, he sidestepped, skipping and hopping around what was expected of him. Alan was outright relieved, but his father’s influence had done its damage.
Alan explained one of his many fraternity secrets to me one day. “Never tell a sorority woman you live here in this dive or you live in the co-op housing system. That’s like telling them you’re a communist sympathizer. Lie and tell them you live in the dorms. People start at the dorms and move to fraternities or sororities. But telling them you live here means you’re too poor to afford the dorms or you’re too freaky to join the Greek system. No sorority woman will go out with me until I’m in a respectable fraternity with an outstanding reputation.”
He went out most nights during rush week visiting different fraternities, drinking beer, trying to act cool and impress these guys, and act as if he belonged. But each evening, he'd come back to Cloyne Court and kvetch about the whole experience.
"What a bunch of idiots. I went to a jock frat last night. They took one look at me and ignored me. One guy told me that I should find a fraternity with my kind, because I wasn't their type."
"What type were they?" I asked.
"Why do you want to belong there?"
"I don't. I just want someone to tell me they like me enough to want me to live with them."
"Isn't that what a girlfriend is for?"
No matter how persistently Alan tried to find his type, he came up lacking. With a last name of Schwartzman, it was obvious he was Jewish. He looked Jewish. He had the Jewish nose. He talked like a New York Jew, though he was from Southern California. I am not saying fraternities are anti-Semitic. Alan’s father was a Polish Jew who found social success in the Greek system. Alan needed to find a fraternity that had Jewish members who would mentor him and champion his admission into their brotherhood. He was having no luck. Alan did not fit into the milieu of rich, white-boy suburban snobbery.
This episode is based on a true story.
Although seventy-five percent of this memoir is factual, liberties were taken with the other twenty-five percent for plot purposes. That is where scenes were recreated from memory when they were not clearly defined in the journals written by the author from 1976 to 1980.
Individual characters are composites of several people and do not represent any one person, and the names have been changed to protect innocent people that may be guilty of indiscretions in their youth.