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Rush Week for Dan and George and Every Other Sonofa Deke

<i> Steve Chawkins is bureau chief for The Times Ventura County edition. </i>

I am about to blow my chances for a Cabinet-level post in the Bush-Quayle Administration. For I am about to reveal secrets as closely guarded as maps in the White House war room--just to spare the candidates, who have suffered almost enough, the embarrassment of doing so themselves.

George Bush, Dan Quayle and I are fraternity brothers. We are joined in pomp, if not in circumstance. We are bonded forever in mystic ritual. We would be card-carrying members of Delta Kappa Epsilon, known on 44 campuses as “Deke,” if Deke issued cards.

But Deke does not. Dekes know each other by a secret handshake, which I’ve forgotten, and a whispered Greek phrase that sounds something like “Yippee-i-ti-yo.” I think I saw George (I believe I can call him George) slip the grip and mouth the phrase to his running mate just before he introduced him to the world in New Orleans.

It was a proud moment for Dekes all across America. Some of us hail from “animal houses” at land-grant universities, others from the most aristocratic enclaves of collegiate privilege. But who among us could not envision a multitude of Dekes singing the old Deke songs before a blazing White House hearth? My gold lion-rampant Deke lapel pin has long since disappeared in my socks drawer, but I still remember the inspirational refrain that goes to the tune of “I’m a Rambling Wreck from Georgia Tech":

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I’m a sonofa, sonofa, sonofa, sonofa, sonofa D-K-E

I’m a sonofa, sonofa, sonofa, sonofa, sonofa D-K-E

Like every college fellow, I like my whiskey free--

I’m a sonofa, sonofa, sonofa, sonofa, sonofa D-K-E.

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The song concludes with a cryptic reference:

And when upon the woolly goat, they finally mounted me,

I knew at last I’d reached the halls of dear old D-K-E.” I don’t know if goats played a part in the initiation rituals of George’s chapter at Yale, or Dan’s at DePauw, but 22 years ago they were major characters in the twisted liturgy of Hell Week in my old Deke house at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn.

How well I recall the sound of a goat urinating in a silver goblet!

The brothers, robed and solemn, were clustered around a candle-lit altar. A hooded figure placed the chalice in my hands, bid me look at the billy goat behind him, and intoned: “Candidate, it is time to drink of the urine of the sacred goat of Delta Kappa Epsilon!”

The night before, I’d passed out after slugging down a grain-alcohol concoction the brothers had administered to the unknowing pledges. Dreadfully hung over, we were put through six hours of forced calisthenics.

The rest of the night we stood blindfolded in a freezing attic, where we were bombarded by loud Egyptian music and harangued by brothers demanding the tortured melody’s “secret meaning.” My mind was clouded.

“Drink, candidate, drink!” chanted the brothers. “Drink, candidate, drink!”

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Somehow, just saying no didn’t seem like the thing to do. So I drank, as did the other pledges when their turns came.

Later, I ate, as commanded, when the brothers disclosed the sacrifice of the sacred goat, plunged my hands into a bucket of offal and shoved a warm, foul-tasting chunk of gristle in my mouth.

When the pledges finally were welcomed into the fold, we were told that the “urine” was asafetida, an all-purpose folk remedy. The offal were chicken parts, and the foul morsel was a raw clam soaked in coffee grounds. And those rusty nails we had to jump on from the seventh step of the Deke staircase? They’d been snatched away and leather sticks put in their place as we trudged up the stairs for the jump. The joke was on us!

Whether the land’s most visible Republicans endured and perpetrated the same kind of hoax during their college days, I don’t know. Each chapter ran its own initiation.

Eventually, Hell Weeks at Trinity and many other chapters were (forgive the expression) liberalized or eliminated. Even the next year, when I was the master-of-ritual, I allowed one frail pledge to forgo the calisthenics and type for six hours instead.

If it all seems dumb and a little sick now, it sure seemed dumb and a little sick then. But youth can accommodate such lunacy; I wasn’t permanently hobbled by the experience, nor, I figure, were the men who want us to place them a fingertip and a heartbeat away from annihilating civilization as we know it.

Just as I have, surely they’ve outgrown whatever undergraduate hi-jinks they may have indulged. Still, White House guests who are offered odd-smelling wine might do well to just say no .


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