Legacy 3: Frats and Freaks
Legacy: def 2: Anything as a characteristic, derived from an ancestor.
Pedigree: from the French: pied de grue or Crane’s foot: A chart of ancestry. Family tree
In the early 1960s at least, social success in a prestigious southern college was closely linked to joining a fraternity or a sorority. It provided promptly guaranteed social introductions and social venues along with pre-certified social credibility. However, if wishing to join a southern college fraternity or a sorority, one had better have a “legacy” or otherwise suffer the serious risk becoming a social outcast, and worse, deemed to be an “Independent;” a veritable man without a country. Even if one did not have a legacy, which is almost predetermined genetically, a person could still occasionally make the grade if possessing some ill-defined attribute that the fraternal organization required for itself: such as new money, musical talent, athletic prowess or physical beauty.
I had none of these attributes. I was upper-middle class, had no preppy clothes, did not know about Weejun penny loafers, wore geeky large framed brown spectacles with coke bottle bottom lenses, and possessed only mediocre talent when it came to athletics. In addition, my father was just a journeyman first generation Italian dentist, while my former dirt-farmer mother had already shunned and insulted The Daughters of the American Revolution.
When I went to college, at Duke University in North Carolina, I didn’t know at the time that I even had a definite, albeit defunct, Southern American legacy, much less what in the world a legacy was. But I soon came to discover that Legacy at Duke basically meant having old Southern wealth attached to an old Southern pedigree; along with the litany of private clubs and arcane organizations that go with it. Those things were not discussed in the High School I attended, ‘up yonder’ in New York, because ethnically and biologically speaking; nobody ever really gave a damn. The Northern melting pot had already created a new amalgam of its society, which made people pretty much accepted for who they were as opposed to an AKC Dog Show pedigree of who had bred them.
As it eventually turned out a year later, the concept of legacy was not the only thing I was ill prepared for when I went to College.
Nevertheless, every Freshman gets an informal tryout in an initial hazing process consisting of an endless string of Frat House parties where the brothers meet, greet and ogle you. They also bait their hooks with a bevy of beautiful WASP sorority sisters garbed in cute little Villager outfits and draped over their “brother’s” arms like limp dishrags. However, I flunked the field trial when every single fraternity, including even the most marginal ones such as the Pi Alpha Geeks and the Zeta Beta Nerds, rejected me.
Fortunately, enough however, one of several “Independent” dormitories, Canterbury House, finally did accept me, along with several other intellectual misfits who did indeed possess a chromosomal complement of normal human genes but sadly genes that lacked a readily definable or proof-based DNA legacy. The Independent Houses, being created as a reaction to the harshly restrictive fraternities, had then rounded up a collection of the fraternity outcasts. This action was entirely necessitated out of a need for social self-defense and survival. These houses also tended to attract their own unique group of female independent counterparts. These women were more interestingly genuine or colorful than the graduates of a Southern Debutant cookie-cutter assembly line that had invariably molded their daughters for an automatic re-deposit into the protective womb of their mother’s former sororities.
Thus, for the time being, although the rest of the fraternities never recognized the legitimacy of the pseudo-fraternal Independent organizations, nor of its members as being part of the human race, at least I had found a home of sorts with a quasi-identity on campus…even if it was considered second-class by the elite body of blue blooded Southern snobs.
The “Frats” would condescendingly refer to the Independents as “The Freaks,” ironically enough, only a year or two before things got very freaky indeed. When I eventually found out in the 1990s that I did have a legacy, which makes it quite certain that on pedigree paper I would easily qualify to be a fraternal member, I am still not quite sure if having to do it all over again, any one of those great Southern old-boys clubs would ever reconsider admitting me anyway. Even if given a mulligan, as I found out later in life there would be a small residual stigma attached to any other personal introduction or application I might ever make. My last name ends with a vowel; and in the good old Southern pedigree system, they simply “do not cotton to that.”
Fraternity interview question: Hey boy. You sum kind-a furriner, or what?
The freaks’ll stay together
They’re a tight old crew.
You look at them
And they look at you.
I love the Ballyhoo girl,
But she don’t care
It’s hard to find love anywhere.
Hard to find love anywhere.
(Devil Baby: Mark Knoffler)
A Good Mutt’s Pedigree
Granny Nora, my mother and her siblings My father and his siblings
Go, go, Joe
You mixed up Siciliano.
(Hey Mambo: Bob Merrill)
Freaks: Movie Poster ©Todd Browning/MGM Studios