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