When I was 20 years old, I did something incredibly stupid.
Because other people were involved, I will give them fake names, but I think it’s time for me to come clean about this:
I grew up in Los Angeles, not far from UCLA, and the surrounding area of Westwood was a frequent hangout spot for me when I was in high school. We would go there and pretend we were older and sneak into the then popular hookah joints and try to sneak beers at the Irish pub that rarely carded.
One night in fall, Chris, a friend of mine and I were walking down Gayley Avenue, where all the fraternity houses lived. The crowds outside were pretty huge and it seemed like a good idea to see what was going on. Apparently, it was rush week, which was a great excuse for an UCLA student to snag some free beers. Unfortunately, at the time, I was not a UCLA student. I was a dropout.
Full of hubris, Chris and I decided that rushing a frat at a school we didn’t go to wouldn’t be hard enough, so we gave each other additional challenged. I was dumb and quick to tell him he had to be a member of the swim team, hoping this would lead to funny conversations about shaving body parts and so on.
He quickly turned and said “You have to be a mute.”
Never one to back down from a challenge, no matter how stupid, I quickly said ” .” I didn’t say anything. I was a mute. No more speaking. He would have to introduce me. He would speak for me, and I would have to go alone with everything he said, no matter how ridiculous.
Minutes later, we walked through the front door of the frat house. I won’t mention the name of the frat for fear I will be killed, but it was a pretty well known one.
Right away, he introduced me as “Eli” and told everyone that I had burnt my esophagus in a spelunking accident in New Mexico and was getting grafts over time to get better, but unless I was able to get some kind of miracle surgery, I wouldn’t ever be able to speak again. Needless to say, it was hard to keep a straight face, but I did.
And as the night went on and I concentrated on not speaking, I found that people were really interested in talking at me. I was being treated like a dude with an accent. Everyone walked up and said “Oh, hey, you’re the dude that can’t talk, right?” And then I wouldn’t say anything and they would high-five me and say “Awesome!”
The Keystone Lights flowed that night and by the time it hit midnight they had invited us to their mixer at the San Pedro brewery the next night with some girls from a nearby sorority. Of course, we were in, but of course, I would still have to be a mute.
The next night we showed up at the frat house and boarded a bus of men and women headed to get destroyed and make bad decisions. We hit the brewery and continued in our underage drinking. Now, being a mute is hard. But being a mute is even more difficult when you’re A: drinking and B: trying to hit on co-eds.
I was on the dance floor with a young lady who though the fact I couldn’t talk was pretty sexy. But she kept talking to me and with the Sisqo blasting in the background I had no idea how to make my facial expressions match what she was saying. Finally, she said something and I blurted out “What???”
And she froze. And I froze.
“Did you just talk?”
At that point, totally caught, I grabbed my throat as if I was being stabbed in the neck and turned around and ran frantically through the front door of the bar. I landed about two blocks away before calling Chris in a panic. These. Guys. Were. Going. To. Murder. Me.
Chris finally answered his phone and came out into the street. We got in a cab and headed home, hoping to never speak of this again.
The next morning however, I got a call from Chris.
“Eli. They have no idea. They just thought you got drunk and left. They’re having a big party tonight. We should go.”
“This is a terrible idea. No way.”
Pulling up to the party, I felt a sense of dread. But as soon as I stepped inside, everyone seemed happy to see Eli the Mute. So I cracked a Keystone Light and played pool with Brad, one of the “elders” or whatever the hell they’re called.
But suddenly, Chris wasn’t around. 10 minutes passed. 20 minutes passed. Chris hadn’t left my side here before. But 30 minutes passed.
“Eli. Can I talk to you privately?” asked Brad, placing his pool cue down. I nodded and followed him up a staircase.
He followed from behind and guided me into a darkened room where four of the other “elders” were waiting for me. It was dark. Where was Chris? Nowhere.
“Sit down,” said Brad, as all eyes were pinned on me. “Here’s the thing, Eli. We have a rule at this fraternity. And that is if any member says that they don’t want you around, you’re out. So, you’re out.”
Oh Thank God, I thought. They had no idea. I nodded sadly and shrugged apologetically and stood up to back out of the room.
“Sit the fuck down,” said Brad.
“There’s something else. If you ever tell anyone what happened here tonight, or any of the other secrets of this brotherhood, we will make your life a living hell.”
Oh Thank God. Ok. I can do that. I stood up.
“Sit back down.”
And at this point I was expecting a bat across the back of the skull, but Brad just started talking again.
“There’s one last thing. In order to be one of us, you have to have a sense of humor.”
I didn’t know where this was going.
Suddenly, the lights turned on and they popped open a bottle of champagne and in unison they screamed “Congratulations!”
They all hugged me and poured cheap booze on my shirt and told me that I was now a part of them. The door behind me opened and there was Chris. He was in too.
Breathing a sigh of relief, I embraced Chris, but gave him a look telling him I was going to kill him for letting them get me alone.
“Guys. Welcome. We’re so glad to have you. Come back tomorrow and just bring your transcripts from last semester so we can make sure your GPA is 2.0 or higher and we’ll be good to go.”
We did it! We’re in!
Oh wait. We don’t have transcripts. We don’t go to UCLA.
Needless to say, we disappeared after this. We never showed our faces again.
Chris dodged countless phone calls and of course, they never called me. I didn’t have a phone. I couldn’t talk.
I avoided the entire Westwood area for about three months, but then, after a while, I figured everyone had forgotten about Eli the Mute and I let down my guard.
One day, sitting at the Starbucks outside the Fox theater with my friend Aron, I heard someone called out “Eli!” and for some reason I turned around.
“Hey, Brad” I said. And then his face turned to stone.
He walked closer and closer until he was right over me.
“Eli?” he asked. “You can talk?”
This was it. I was about to die. He was going to frat-murder me, whatever that means.
“Holy shit, dude. You got that surgery you needed! Congratulations!”
“I’m so lucky!” I screamed.
Brad gave me a big hug and said “I can’t wait to tell the other guys.”
“Say hi for me!” I said.
Brad walked away and I sat back down at my table with Aron.
“Who is Eli?” asked Aron. “Why did that dude call you Eli?”
“I have no idea,” I said.