Family: August 2008 Archives

"Let the rush begin"

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I received an e-mail earlier this week from my college fraternity, Xi Chapter of Zeta Beta Tau, about their upcoming rush week activities.

Saturday: All-you-can-eat steak and lobster dinner and a casino night.

Sunday: Building potato guns, canoeing on the Charles River.

Monday (Labor Day): Paintball, barbecue, geocaching.

Tuesday: Bowling, go-kart racing.

School starts on Wednesday, but they will have an event each night, and then a Boston Harbor cruise to a 19th Century fort on Georges Island on Saturday and a picnic at Larz Anderson Park on Sunday.

During rush week, fraternities entice freshmen to visit with fun activities and the best food they'll eat all year. This gives the freshmen a chance to get to know the brothers and vice versa, to figure out whether a potential member is a good fit with the house.

Reading about rush week brought back a lot of happy memories.

Way back in 1981, I arrived on the MIT campus the night before the beginning of what was then officially called "Residence/Orientation Week," but was unofficially known as rush week. During R/O Week, you met your adviser, registered for classes, and picked a place to live, either entering the dorm lottery (as about 2/3rds of the freshmen did) or pledging a fraternity or joining an independent living group (as the remaining third did). To join a fraternity, you had to receive a bid. There was also an "activities midway," where you could learn about clubs and musical groups and sports teams. All this took place before the start of classes.

Over the summer, I had received an official residence book from MIT, with a page about each of the 33 fraternities, ILGs and a couple of pages about each of the dormitories, and a map in the middle showing how they were scattered throughout MIT's campus, Boston's Back Bay neighborhood, and beyond.

Some fraternities (not "frats" -- you wouldn't call your country a...) held summer rush parties in cities where they had a cluster of brothers -- our house usually had one in Boston, one in Chicago, and one in LA. Most houses sent out postcards advertising rush week activities. When the booklet I ordered from The Sporting News about baseball scorekeeping arrived in the mail, my mother assumed it was a particularly offensive fraternity brochure. On the cover, in big letters, was the title: HOW TO SCORE.

After flying to Boston on Braniff and catching a shuttle to campus, I spent my first night at MIT in a gray, dismal cell dorm room in East Campus, my temporary assignment. It was like an SRO apartment -- there was a sink and a mirror in the room. The dorm was quiet -- dorm residents weren't required to come back for R/O week. I was alone, just me and the clock radio, tuned to WEEI 590, the news station. I was homesick to the point of tears.

(Earlier that night I had eaten a cafeteria dinner at Lobdell Dining Hall with three other freshmen, one of whom was named Greg Lobdell -- no relation.)

The next morning, I was surprised to discover that the bathroom on our floor was co-ed. I learned this as I was about to go in for a shower, only to hear a female voice declare, "I'll be out in a minute." Had I misread the sign on the door? I retreated to my room. No one had instructed me on the etiquette of co-ed bathrooms, and rather than risk an embarrassing breach of protocol, I skipped the shower and washed up at the sink in my room as best I could.

If memory serves, we had adviser meetings later that day to get acquainted and to start the process of signing up for classes. There was an R/O edition of The Tech to read, replete with ads for fraternity rush events. (There was also an ad for the whizzy TI-59 programmable calculator, featuring Bill Cosby in academic regalia.)

That afternoon was the freshman picnic. The picnic was held in Killian Court, a broad lawn surrounded on three sides by the original 1916 campus buildings. According to The Tech's report, we ate roast beef, corn on the cob, watermelon, and ice cream, mingled with fellow frosh, and then listened to speeches, including addresses by Dean of Students Shirley McBay and President Paul Gray. (At MIT, the joke went, the skies are gray, the buildings are gray, even the president....) Banners were unfurled from the roof of Building 10, behind the speakers. One of the banners, which didn't completely unfurl, was supposed to read, "This to MIT. Collect and third number calls will not be accepted at this number." (That was the message the phone system played to outside callers.)

While our attention was directed in the opposite direction, fraternity upperclassmen lined up across the open side of the court. At the end of the picnic, the president of the interfraternity council declared the beginning of rush, and the upperclassmen rushed in to shanghai freshmen to their parties and activities. While I had a list of houses in mind, the onslaught threw me into a state of confusion, so when an upperclassman named Scott Fulks came up and invited me to ZBT, I said yes, having forgotten that I had pretty much eliminated the house as being too far off campus. Scott conducted me to a waiting car, already packed with other freshmen, which took us up Memorial Drive, across the BU Bridge, west on Commonweath Ave. alongside the "B" Line streetcar. A U-turn at the Brighton Ave. bend brought us to Naples St. and the colonial facade of ZBT at 58 Manchester Road, Brookline. I was ushered up the steps and into the house, where I signed in at the front desk.

ZBT's special event was an excursion to Canobie Lake Park, an amusement park just across the state line in New Hampshire. I was hesitant; I had planned to visit several different fraternities that evening. I later learned that this was part of the game -- keeping freshmen out on activities for as long as the rules allowed gave a house a better shot at finding and getting their choice of freshmen.

My seatmate going up to New Hampshire had been a sophomore named George. He was a talkative fellow with wire-rim glasses and a tidy little mustache. He told me all about the house and the brothers. Later another brother apologized that I had to sit next to George and told me I shouldn't believe anything he said. I seem to recall he left the house and possibly MIT as well after about a year.

It was a fun evening. Canobie had a great wooden coaster. I recall riding it with a senior named Bill Rubin, who, with his bushy black beard, curly hair, and receding hairline, looked more like a middle-aged professor than a college student.

I was invited to spend the night at ZBT, and someone drove me by the dorm to pick up a change of clothes. I didn't spend another night at the dorm.

It was only as an upperclassman that I learned how much went on behind the scenes. Brothers had vacated some of the second-floor rooms for freshmen and were sleeping on floors and in the basement. Being invited to stay over meant you were a prospect.

While freshmen slept upstairs, the brothers cleaned the house and then met in the basement to go through the log of freshmen who had signed in, soliciting appraisals from those who had talked to each one. Brothers were encouraged to keep a small notebook handy and after a particularly interesting conversation to make some notes, discreetly, to bring up in discussion that night. Eddie Beauchemin, who was in the class ahead of me, always had the most detailed notes. If no one else could remember a freshman, Eddie would.

Upperclassmen didn't get much sleep during rush week, particularly those who ran the front desk and the back room, part of a bigger IFC operation to track the whereabouts of all freshmen and the house's own efforts to find and bring back freshmen that were regarded as good prospects for membership. (Stephanie Pollack's column in the post-rush edition of The Tech from that year is a good description of an upperclassman's experience of rush week.)

After a short night of sleep, upperclassmen were supposed to be showered and shaved and ready to schmooze before the first freshman came downstairs for breakfast.

After a Saturday morning made-to-order breakfast, I asked to be taken to one of the houses that I had on my list to visit -- Epsilon Theta, a co-ed house and the only other MIT residence in Brookline.

To be continued....

Mobile blogging test

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This is a test....

Except for having to remember the filename of the photo I wanted to upload and having to both attach the file and manually insert the code in the post entry and the double-posting, everything worked just fine.

I'm amused / distressed that mobile blogging apps haven't advanced much since the last time I attended a national political convention.

A few days ago on the linkblog, I linked to Brandon Dutcher's story of a surprising word of reassurance in the midst of tremendous stress, out of the blue in the middle of a sermon:

"Who has chest pains?" he asked. "Stand up."

I was somewhat taken aback, yet I stood up because, indeed, for about a week I had been having some pain on the right side of my chest, the cause of which was unclear to me. Since the pain wasn't severe, I had pretty much dismissed it as a nagging inconvenience that would go away soon enough. It certainly hadn't been on my mind during the service. But as I stood there, this man, his face and his voice exuding genuine compassion, said to me something altogether unexpected: "Don't worry. You'll be able to get all your work done."

Until that moment, it hadn't even remotely occurred to me that stress and worry could be the source of the pain, but in an instant it became clear. Then began to wash over me an overwhelming realization that God really does love me and is intensely concerned with my well-being. Even amid my disobedience ("Be anxious for nothing"), here was Almighty God--who was, after all, quite busy running the universe, everything from galaxies to governments--taking the time and the initiative to attend to one redeemed sinner in Nowata, Oklahoma.

As I sat down I tried to maintain my composure, but this realization was simply too much. I spent the next several minutes in that rickety little church weeping, as God's love--how to put this?--poured over me like warm oil. And he wouldn't let up. He just kept telling me how much he loved me and how he didn't want me to worry.

Michael Spencer is very open on his Internet Monk blog about the challenges and discouraging circumstances in his ministry and his personal life. That openness sometimes brings him "encouragement" from readers of the sort Job received from his "friends." (I've been guilty of offering that kind of encouragement in his blog comments.) On Saturday, Michael wrote about two examples of genuine encouragement from surprising sources. He concluded with this reflection on discouragement:

There is discouragement in my world, but if I am honest, most of it is smaller than I make it. I am the one who amplifies it most of the time.

As I've learned to listen more and more to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, I'm learning that Jesus was very dependable when he taught us that the Kingdom of God is upon is. Right here, right now, close by.

I choose to not see it because I am lobbying for that most destructive of emotions: self-pity. Jesus is reminding me that there is sufficiency in the love he extends, and the love he places around us. That love comes in thousands of different ways in a day.

The problem is that I don't expect it, don't listen or look for it, don't live in expectation that his gracious love will meet me throughout the day.

Lamentations 3:22-24 "Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, "The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him."

Saturday night, I drove the family to Bartlesville, to the Kiddie Park. It's one of my favorite places, where I get to watch my children have fun on the same rides that delighted me forty years ago. The two-year-old rode everything he could (except the roller coaster), and this year he liked it all. The almost-eight-year-old is almost too tall for many rides, but she was able to join her little brother on the ferris wheel, the pirate ship, the airplanes, the trucks, the boats, and the bumper cars. We all rode the train and the carousel.

The twelve-year-old can only ride the same rides the grown-ups can, so he brought along the juggling sticks he bought the day before to keep him occupied and walked around the park practicing tricks. He was already pretty good at it. Toward the end of the evening, an older boy walked by, said, "That's awesome, dude," and handed him a dollar. His first tip, and he wasn't even trying!

Before we left for Bartlesville, my daughter's Sunday School teacher called to remind us that she needed to review Psalm 121, as the class would be reciting it during the morning service. So as we prepared to head home from Bartlesville, I looked up the Psalm on my Palm, and handed it back to her so she could practice as we traveled. As she recited, we each had opportunity to ponder the Psalmist's words:

I lift up my eyes to the hills--
where does my help come from?

My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip--
he who watches over you will not slumber;

indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

The LORD watches over you--
the LORD is your shade at your right hand;

the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.

The LORD will keep you from all harm--
he will watch over your life;

the LORD will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.

MORE: David Rollo wrote to remind me that Thomas Matthews, the late sacred music composer, organist, and choirmaster of Trinity Episcopal Church, wrote a setting of Psalm 121, which was included on the Coventry Chorale's CD of Matthews' anthems. Here it is:



(Download 850 KB MP3)

UPDATE: There's a sweet song about the Kiddie Park that they play over the loudspeakers at the end of the evening. There's a page on the Kiddie Park website where you can read the lyrics, read the story of the song, and listen to it.

Summers come and children grow And life goes on you see But time stands still in Bartlesville Where the last train ride is free

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Family category from August 2008.

Family: July 2008 is the previous archive.

Family: September 2008 is the next archive.

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