INTRO: When writing my first book, Fraternity House, I wasn't able to fit this story into the flow of the narrative, so here it is as Short Story. The irony is delicious, and the story is all too true.
ABOUT THE ART: Photograph by Arthur Jay
Another year in the frat house was winding to a close. The end was in sight and we were all ready for it; but none more so than the pledges. Four of them were presently laid out on their stomachs, scrubbing the dirt stained, sticky spotted, crumb laden floor of the kitchen, otherwise known as the Cockroach Cafe. The pledges were scraping a school year’s worth of muck and filth from the grout between the tiles.
Stories were told that in years past, the pledges scraped the grout by fingernail, but this year they were using metal knives stolen from the campus dining hall. The knives were much shorter now than they had been at the start. I was in the kitchen with the pledges, as I had been all week, commanding them to move appliances, scrub walls, and mop floors.
I was preparing their lunch, bologna sandwiches on white bread, slicing the bologna thick with a knife, when Brother Moose came into the kitchen, grinning broadly. “Attention Scum!” he yelled. The four pledges stood up and saluted. “Yes Sir, Moose, Sir!” “Back to work losers!” Moose chuckled. Then he came over to taste the bologna. “Chef,” Moose said, loud enough so that the pledges could hear him, “these pledges have it good! I mean, seriously? Bologna? You really do have a soft spot. When I was a pledge, I ate only butter with my bread.” Moose tilted his head back and dropped a slice of bologna into his mouth. He chewed it with satisfaction and washed it down with a cup of coffee. Mmmmm mmmmm.
“Chef,” Moose said. “Hit me.” He held out his mug and smiled. I poured the rest of the coffee from the pot into Moose’s mug. “Here you go buddy,” I replied. “Drink it up.” Moose slugged it down and belched. Then he pulled out a cigarette. Coffee and cigarettes, the only way to stay level. I was on my fifth cup already. It took a lot of coffee to keep up with all the late nights, reefer and beer. But hell, hell week only came once a year.
A whole week of yard work, house work and hazing. I mean, nothing bad; just the usual taunting, teasing, and low-grade tortures. But it was exhausting. Seriously. If you think it sucks to be hazed, try hazing! Planning yard work, house work and pranks takes a lot of effort. Mulch doesn’t order itself. Neither does paint or primer. And if you think staying up late at night bellowing sheep noises into the dark is easy, then clearly you've never done it. To survive, coffee is essential. So watching Moose finish his coffee reminded me. I wanted to clean the coffee maker.
The pledges were still busy scraping the grout, so I said to Moose, “Yo, Moose, help me move the coffee maker. I want to clean it out. Damn thing probably hasn’t been cleaned since last year.” Moose came over. We grabbed the massive industrial machine. We lurched it toward the stainless steel sink and propped it on the edge. I had two hands under it. “Moose, take off the top.” Moose undid the lid and set it aside. “OK, help me tilt it.” We tilted the machine, to drain the water from the reservoir. A cup of water poured out. “Ok. Now shake it.” We shook the machine, and Moose smacked it to loosen what might be in there. Something black and hard fell to the bottom of the sink. “Ok, good, put it down.” We put the coffee machine back in its place. Then we looked into the sink to see what came out. It was four dead roaches.