Why you have to go through hell and back (Part 2)

I’ve been putting off posting Part Two of Hell and Back because the entire episode makes me cringe with embarassment and a bit of regret and horror, but since  I’m usually true to my word, I’m just going to have to plow through with it. Given myself one hour and whatever’s written up ’til then I’m going to post and, uh… to hell with it.

It all had to do with the fact that 16 athletes all wanted to get a shot at eight open starting positions on the University of British Columbia‘s two eight-man rowing crews. The year was 1983, and we were all young, foolish and eager to please.

After nearly three months of strenuous training on and off the water, the day which until then had only been whispered about was finally upon us: Initiation Day.

The guys already on crew had set the day out before us. We met at a bare, concrete block changing room at the edge of a rugby field at the far side of campus and were given our instructions. We were split up into four groups of four and given a list of tasks to perform, with the warning that we were not allowed to talk to another group should we accidentally run into one. And no shirking! The organisers had watchers posted at designated locations and would know if we’d failed to do what we were told.

The tasks seemed to be designed either to bewilder or humiliate us, but little did we know the humiliation that was to follow once we returned at 6pm with tales to tell.

Among our tasks was: buy a jar of olives, a block of ice and dixie cups. What the hell are we supposed to do with them, we asked? No matter, just do it.

Oh, and streak – for those who forget, that means on a rainy Saturday afternoon in late November with the streets crowded with early Christmas shoppers, take off all your clothes and run from the Hotel Vancouver across the square and over the steps of the old courthouse to a van waiting on Howe Street.

For those who’ve done that sort of thing, no problem, but for us it was the ultimate in daring. We could be arrested! Kicked out of school! What would our PARENTS say?

That was thankfully the last task of the day before we headed back to the rugby pavilion to meet the other groups and begin part two of the initiation.

Each team had to designate an orator. As the mouthiest of the bunch, I was thrown up on a table and started to recount the day’s activities.

“Show us your joke, show us your joke, show us your joke!”

So I did. Pants down, cheering, laughter, beer bottles shaken and fizzed all over me.

Next up, we finally found out what the jar of olives, the blocks of ice and dixie cups were for.

Everyone had to strip naked and line up in four rows of four at one end of the room with an empty dixie cup on the floor in front of the first man. At the opposite end of the room one olive lay on each of the four blocks of ice.

Try to picture it: the place is cramped and sweaty, you’re standing naked on a concrete floor being sprayed with beer by a bunch of jerks standing on benches around the perimeter dressed in streetclothes and laughing their fool heads off, and then you’re made to walk the length of the room, squat over the block of ice, pick up the olive with your buttcheeks, keep them squeezed tight enough as you waddle back to the line, squat over the dixie cup, and drop it in. Miss, and you gotta do it again.

I can’t remember whether our group won or not or whether there was even a prize for the winner, but that wasn’t the point. The point was to send us all to hell and back. To throw us all through an experience we wouldn’t forget, either as individuals or as a group.

It was more than 15 years later not long after I’d moved to Germany that I was attempting to tell that story in my fractured German at a bar when someone leaned over and said, “that happened to me too!”

I was stunned. I’d been telling this story for years in Canada and Hong Kong, and nobody had ever said that. Here I was thinking this experience had been unique to us, that these fellows had been geniuses – evil and twisted, but still geniuses – to have devised something guaranteed to weld us together as a group like nothing else.

“We had to go through that during our year in the Bundeswehr – in the army. One guy threw up in the middle of it all because he couldn’t stand it. He was never part of the boys after that.”

© 2007 lettershometoyou

16 Responses to “Why you have to go through hell and back (Part 2)”

  1. July 20, 2007 at 8:04 am

    you must have wanted to row pretty badly :-)

  2. July 20, 2007 at 8:14 am

    Did I neglect to mention we were all pretty drunk at the time? Guess that goes without saying…

  3. July 20, 2007 at 9:05 am

    and there was me thinking they were going to make martinis

  4. July 21, 2007 at 7:42 pm

    Oh my. This is great. My favorite part, without a doubt, is having to pick up the olive with your buttcheeks and then distribute it into the dixie cup . That is so ourageous.

  5. July 22, 2007 at 8:05 am

    We were so outrageously tanked, it didn’t matter anymore. The beauty of it was that, like heidikraut, we also imagined it was for making martinis. So twisted…

  6. July 25, 2007 at 9:32 am

    Oh, so that was YOU I saw downtown on that rainy Saturday afternoon in November in 1983!! I went to U Vic and I don’t know if they went to such extremes there, except for the initiation rites to become a card-holding member of the Amateur Gynecologists Association, of course.

    And isn’t it scary that when you wrote “a jar of olives, a block of ice and Dixie cups” that I knew exactly what was going to happen?

  7. July 25, 2007 at 11:56 am

    you did? do you come from a military family??

    also interested in the ins-n-outs of the UVic AGA ;-)

  8. July 26, 2007 at 10:58 am

    Nope, not a military bone in my family’s body, but I’ve seen it done several times on TV – MTV Jackass or Viva La Bam, I think. Not that I watch those shows or anything…

    As for the AGA – one day they’d be wearing ordinary t-shirts and the next they were dressed in green scrubs so *something* must have beeing going on, but don’t ask me what. ;-)

  9. July 26, 2007 at 8:06 pm

    I wonder if jackass or the other show passed it off as their own invention…

    the AGA: don’t have to ask you what :-)

  10. 10 mortality
    July 27, 2007 at 9:48 pm

    I’ve never been fond of those kind of “initiation-rites” to be honest.. Why make people so bloody embarassed for? You can make them feel like a group in other ways.
    Migth just be me though…

  11. July 28, 2007 at 8:12 pm

    it’s not something I would recommend to anybody, believe me. in these politically correct days, it probably won’t happen much any more, not in canada anyway. could be wrong though…

  12. July 16, 2008 at 9:12 am

    Wow. What a wonderful initiation. I was alarmed when you listed those items you had to pick up (double meaning here), but what a story. And you should be proud that you don’t have to list “compulsive lying” under this tale. It’s golden. Truly outrageous.

  13. July 17, 2008 at 5:32 am

    Hey, glad you came over and checked it out. It was a short-lived streaking career, a training ground for the German sauna experience in later years? :-)

  14. 14 JoeM
    January 25, 2010 at 7:04 am

    Great story. But, in fact, the “Olive Race” used to be a standard part of Hell Week in U.S. fraternities. There’s a scene about it in the 1970s nostalgia film “The Class of 44.” A few fraternity refinements: The pledgemaster would start things off by shouting, “Gentlemen, start your olives!” And the losing team had to eat all the olives!

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