CALIFORNIA 1949-52

A private dialect and a secret idol reappear in the familiar surroundings of The Lodge
October 21, 1979

The Lodge doesn't look right. It has this tidy redwood facade now instead of the great cracking stone pillars and the vines. Once it looked like a Greek ruin; now it could be a banker's country estate. But it is still, amusingly, "The Lodge." Other fraternity boys at Cal had "houses" to come home to, we had "The Lodge." The Campanile bells would toll the hour as we trudged uphill in the darkening afternoon. And as we rounded the corner of Bancroft and Piedmont, we could glimpse the gray horror amid the imitation Tudor mansions of the other fraternities and sororities. The Lodge.

It is only 11 in the morning, but the streets leading to Memorial Stadium are already clotted with fresh-faced rooters, young and old. Piedmont Avenue is alive with color—the red of Stanford, the blue of Cal. It is Big Game Day. Cal will play Stanford, and we Cal men, we Old Blues, are dressed in blue and gold. Once I would not have considered making such a concession to old-school chauvinism. I would no more wear blue and gold on Big Game Day than I would wear green on St. Patrick's Day. Now I am a true-blue Old Blue in blue blazer.

We will have lunch and a few drinks at The Lodge before the game, then be off to the stadium only a block or so away. We climb stairs to what was once a rolling lawn. It is a giant patio now, the roof of an underground garage that also serves as an outdoor dance floor for fraternity parties. I search the faces in the crowd for guys from "my era." No one else there interests me in the slightest. We guys from "my era" have been out of college for more than a quarter of a century now, but on occasions like this we still cling to each other, hanging together for protection against outsiders.

We are underage, all of us, but the huge black man in the camel's-hair overcoat at the door recognizes us instantly and cheerfully lets us pass. It is 2:30 on the morning of the Big Game, and the Longbar in San Francisco's Fillmore District—the city's Harlem—is just now coming alive. Black entertainers from all over the city have finished their regular performances by now, so they will dock to the Long-bar to jam before audiences more sympathetic and aware. We are the only whites in the long, narrow, smoky room, and we are treated like household pets. The Eddie Hammond Trio—"featuring Sammy Simpson on the tenor sax"—strikes up the Cal fight song, "The Sturdy Golden Bear..."as we walk in, our tweed coats bulging with the bottles we have been allowed to sneak onto the premises. We take a table near the bandstand and order glasses all around, which we will fill with "Red Death," a near-lethal mixture of gin and Dubonnet. The Red Death is a test of our manhood. We are 19, and in our own minds we are Fitzgerald creations, Amory Blaines and Anthony Patches incarnate. Sweetly doomed young men.

The sun is rising over the East Bay hills as we drive across the Bay Bridge through the early-morning mist. The Campanile materializes in the gloom, providing a sight line to the campus, The Lodge. We look pale, phantasmal in the half-light as we cross the lawn, giggling, and mount the stairs unsteadily. Upstairs, sacked out on the sleeping deck, are those we dismiss as men lacking our esprit, our imagination. It is six in the morning. We have heard Dinah Washington sing this night. We have talked to prostitutes and dope dealers. We have drunk the Red Death, and we are slightly sick to our stomachs. As the first shafts of sunlight illuminate the Kappa house across the street, we lean against fissural stone pillars, laughing helplessly. Can there ever again be moments so sad and joyous as these?

I find Duff and Chubbis on the patio, and I see R.L.V. in the distance. We guys never exchange conventional salutations. We slide into our conversations obliquely, as if we really didn't intend to address one another. "Oh, yesss," says Chubbis, ruminatively. Chubbis goes to all the Cal games now. I do not recall that he had the remotest interest in football when we were undergraduates and the Rose Bowl seemed a part of the regular schedule. I tell him I have seen one Cal game this year, the 45-0 loss to UCLA. "Ohhh yesss," he says gloomily.

But we do not talk about football. We talk about what we have always talked about—women and hangovers. We are happily discoursing on our latest discoveries in these perplexing fields when I feel a tap on my shoulder. I turn to confront the hard blue gaze of a man in his 50s whom I recognize instantly. He was president of The Lodge when I joined, one of the returned servicemen who ran the fraternity like a boot camp. They were the "old guys," men already in their mid-20s who had fought in "the war," men of the world we held in awe. They wanted nothing more of college life than that it should be exactly as they left it before the war. They revered tradition. They believed resolutely in the "fraternity system." We did not, and when we in our turn became somewhat younger "old guys," we supplanted their ritual with pure anarchy. The former "old guys" had so intimidated us with their abracadabra and their hazing that we chucked it all out. We ran a burlesque queen for "Soph Doll" and transformed the once-sacred initiation ceremony into a comic opera.

"Good to see you," I say to the old guy. Actually, it was good to see him.

We secured the black robe and the hood from the "secret room" where the initiation paraphernalia is kept. We scrounged the mascara, talcum powder and lipstick from the bathroom that served earlier as the women's John at the Big Game luncheon.

"He needs more black under the eyes," says Weakely. "The eyes are vital. Are the teeth comfortable, Groops? Good."

Groops stands before us, a monster in black, his face chalk white except for the blackened eyes and the blood-red lips, from which novelty-store fangs grotesquely protrude. We have created him. We situate him before a crackling fire in the fireplace, advising him to strike a dignified pose, one elbow resting comfortably on the mantel. The Count—Dracula, our hero—was noted for his sangfroid, we remind him.

We hide in the darkness near Groops, waiting for the first old guy to come back from his Big Game-night date. We had not had dates. We had gone to our hangout, the "V" (for Varsity Lounge), where we had hatched this scheme. There is activity at the door. An old guy walks in, resplendent in dress shirt, cashmere sweater, doeskin slacks and loafers. He looks pretty smug until he gets a load of Groops at the fireplace.

"Oooohhh, nooooo, "he gasps, backing out the door.

"Good work, Groops. Cool."

I look out over the scene on the deck. We mill about there in our sports coats and slacks. The women, old girls now, have blue-and-gold corsages pinned to their sensible wool sweaters. The fraternity kids circulate dutifully among us, on orders to make us feel "at home." Mostly, we resist their advances. We hang out by age and by clique. An earnest young man tells me the old frat is in sound shape financially and is academically near the top among the houses at Cal. I tell him we were hopelessly in debt and just about at the bottom of the scholastic ladder. "I'm afraid we were irresponsible little cheeks," I tell him. Cheeks? Of course, the word means nothing to him. It is one of ours.

We had our language, and it revealed much of what we were about. A "cheek" was a kind of jerk. Women were "areas." To "con" was to ogle areas. Necking was "working." Sleep was "flat ones." Beers were "hooks." Shots of whiskey were "whips." Parties were "flails." Throwing up was "birding." A mythical scamp, "Jocko," was responsible for all disasters, including blind dates. And another character wholly of our invention, "Beau Regardo," was our standard-bearer, the embodiment of all we held dear—indifference, urbanity, elegant sloth, coolness. His rewards—and they were many—were achieved without any discernible expenditure of effort.

"Beau's areas don't bird on the upholstery the way yours do, Gartz."

"True, but Beau's areas can handle their whips. Mine can't."

"Beau doesn't phone for a date two weeks in advance, either."

"Nah, the same night is plenty of time. Any area would break a date for Beau."

"Beau got nothing but As and Bs again, and yet you never see him with a book."

"Cheeks carry books. Beau carries a single notebook."

"When I grow up, I want to be Beau Regardo."

For the first time in close to 30 years I had gone to the big outdoor rally in the Greek Theater the night before the Stanford game. I had gone to hear Garff Wilson, now a special assistant to the university chancellor, read the Andy Smith Eulogy, which he wrote and began reading in 1949 when he was a professor of speech. Andy Smith was a raffish Cal coach whose "Wonder Teams" of the early 1920s went undefeated for five straight years. He died relatively young, and in accord with his last wishes, his ashes were sprinkled over Memorial Stadium. For 30 years Wilson had doggedly read his eulogy before every Big Game, no matter what the mood of the times. He even read it in the mid-'60s when the Berkeley campus was the focal point of a student revolution against, among other "irrelevancies," things like football games and the Andy Smith Eulogy.

Now the eulogy is enjoying a comeback. And when Wilson cranked up for his socko finish at this latest Big Game rally—"the multitudes stood silent while an airplane circled overhead"—the students solemnly held lighted candles before them in the cavernous amphitheater. And when he finished, they cheered him and the departed coach.

I tell my old friends of the strange hold this recitation has had on me over the years as we retrace our footsteps through time to the stadium where Smith's ashes were strewn. They are amused at my mawkishness. Would Beau Regardo sit still for the Andy Smith Eulogy?

"D'ya think we ought to catch some flat ones?"

"Naw, it's too late for sleep. The game's in only a few hours, and the alumni cheeks'll be crawling all over. Let's go up to the roof and con some Pi Phis."

"Geez, they were flailing at the Longbar tonight."

"Tonight? You mean this morning."

"Yeah, it's always morning, isn't it."

"Let's keep it that way."

PHOTOBlazered and attentive—how Beau Regardo would have scoffed!—Old Blue Fimrite watched California lose to Stanford 30-10.
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)