A late afternoon/early evening “need to get out of the house” sketch, sat at the desk in the kitchen all day I escaped on the bike despite the threat of sneezes, and cycled toward the UC Davis campus where we’re currently working away from. I stopped at Russell, and drew one of the many fraternity/sorority houses that line that long avenue. Sorry, boulevard. Street, boulevard, avenue, road, I don’t mean to be rue’d. Sorry I’m juts avenue on. Right, now the obligatory weak puns are out of the way, this is Delta Gamma. It’s a sorority and as I have mentioned before, the whole fraternity/sorority thing is highly alien to me, for two reasons: one, I’m from Britain and we don’t have those there at our universities like they do in the US (not to say that certain old universities don’t have their posh-person clubs, but that’s also very alien to the likes of me), and two, well I have never been one of those “member of a social club” types. Some people just are, some people just aren’t. So I’ve always found the whole thing fascinating, but not so fascinating that I want to know anything about them. I work for the university, but I have never interacted with them, and I’ve mostly worked with international graduate students who are probably as nonplussed about these organizations as I am. The Greek lettering they use for the names means you can come up with funny pretend ones; Terry Pratchett once joked about the rowing club “Rho Rho Rho”. I always liked Theta Xi, where future cab drivers go to learn The Knowledge. (For non-Americans, The Knowledge is something that London black-taxi drivers have to learn in order to be eligible to drive one of the famous black cabs. It’s not something you learn overnight or by taking an online course. You learn The Knowledge over the course of a couple of years or more, by studying the A-to-Z every day. My brother did it, but gave up. My former brother-in-law did it too, but also gave up. He had a huge map of London on his wall while trying to learn it. They both drive all over the country for a living and could tell you the quickest route from Penzance to Penrith, but the Knowledge requires you to learn every single street in London and the shortest route between them. I know quite a few black cab drivers back home who’ve driven for years. You would see trainee cabbies riding around London on their mopeds, easy to spot because there would be a huge map board on their handlebars. There was a little test book you had to study. I never wanted to be a cab driver myself, but I was fascinated by The Knowledge and loved the idea of being able to store all of that information in your bonce. This is why cabbies have such great general knowledge, they are used to soaking all that in. Now as I write all of this, I’m writing from memories about this stuff when my brother was doing it, so it might be completely different now. Even since I have moved to the US, the world has changed. With smart phones and more accurate GPS, with all these Uber and Lyft apps, black cabs and their Knowledge might seem a bit old fashioned but I still admire them. Not that I’d hail black cabs very often, a bit expensive. I like to walk about central London. How did I end up talking about London taxis? I should draw one sometime. In the meantime, here’s another fraternity/sorority house. To get into one of these, you don’t need to do The Knowledge, you just need to do whatever they do in their ‘Rush’ periods, I don’t know, wear a different dress every day is one I was told about, or hazing, which I think involves beer. I remember the first time I ever met “Frat Boys” at an American party in Provence, and my American friend explaining to me “these lads are typical Frat Boys” and the idea of them stuck. Very drunk, huge muscular frames, nasal voice, glazed expression. Long time since I was a student, and this would have all been alien to me. Except the beer, of course. (And the glazed expression, and the nasal voice; it was the muscular frame my skinny-boned stick figure body didn’t have). Many British universities are actually built around the campus pub. I suppose the closest thing I can think of to these institutions in British universities are the rugby teams. I remember at Queen Mary, being in the pub at the same time as the university rugby team was not fun. I remember one rowdy night when the rugby team were all partying around one table and one shirtless bloke was stood on a chair drinking massive amounts of cheep beer (the student union pubs always had the cheapest beer, like a quid-twenty a pint), vomiting into a bucket, then drinking more beer all while stood up, with his fellow rugbyers singing something one of their public school rugby field songs (by the way, a “public school” in England is a private school, not a public school, which is a state or comprehensive school, and both rugby and cricket are very popular at those) (the one I worked at for a while had strong rugby and cricket teams, but didn’t even have a football team, that’s more a sport for the oiks, like at my school). Anyway I seem to recall he was then encouraged to drink the vomit from the bucket as well, which he gladly did, to much public schoolboy merriment. The antics of the British public boarding schools and university rugby teams are more worlds of mystery to me. But I studied drama, and I’m sure they thought we were all bonkers as well, and they were probably right. I took part in a multilingual performance show once where I had to play a drunken old man doing a solo piece on stage drinking a bottle of wine and ranting about, I have no idea what, it was by Raymond Queneau. Anyway I was given a bottle of real wine and I got through about three quarters of it during this one very silly speech, which only wet on for less than ten minutes. Needless to say there was plenty of ad-libbing by the end of it. the vice-chancellor of the university was in the audience and he actually came up to me and said how much he enjoyed the show, but because I had so much wine in me by this point I immediately asked if there could be more funding for the university theatre company, as if I had any idea about that at all, I’d just heard they were well short of dough These days I am part of university bureaucracy so I navigate such things differently, but when I was a kid I thought “the multilingual absurd performance piece is the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the vice-chancellor!”. Ah, student life was fun.
Continuing the intermission from Italy posting, here is one from the edge of UC Davis, a sorernity house on Russell Blvd. One of many; this area is called “Frat Row”. This one is “Pi Beta Phi” which is you all know is short for “Pirates Be-taking Philosophy” which yes I know makes no sense, but I know nothing about the origins of the phrase and don’t want to assume. I assume it is some sort of in-joke, like “Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense”, the famous slogan of the Knights of the Garter, which I’m sure they never intended to be their permanent slogan, just a bit of a laugh, like their name, Knights of the Garter. The origins of names and phrases are often lost in the swirling sands of history. Ok before I turn this post into another inevitable meaningless collection of weak jokes and untrue etymologies (“sweetheart, that could be the name of my autobiography”), let’s just get back to the subject matter. There are lots of these houses just off campus, but as someone who didn’t go to college here this whole ‘Greek Life’ is alien to me. When I was at uni I went to the New Globe pub in Mile End with my fellow drama students and got drunk on halves, and that was about it really. Fratorities and Sorernities are not really a thing there at all. The first time I ever met ‘Frat Boys’ was when I spent a year in France teaching after I graduated. There were lots of American students in the city where I lived and I remember going to a party and some lads being described as ‘Frat Boys’. “Frat?” I would ask. “Is that an acronym, like ‘Fourteen Recipes About Thunderbirds’, or ‘Flying Rabbits Are Terrifying’ or something?” (I was not as good at coming up with funny acronyms back then) “No,” they would say. “It doesn’t mean anything. It just means they drink loads, are usually white, and drink loads.” I think that was the description I was given, it was a long time ago and I didn’t really understand it. They might have said more but they definitely said that. I didn’t think they drank more than British binge-students. I have snippets of very odd conversations with young Americans while living in France, like the person who asked me, upon hearing that I was from London, if I liked “London Broil”. Again I didn’t know what that was (I still don’t by the way). What I got was that “Frat Boy” just means a certain recognizable type. They might not even be in a “Frat” (and I didn’t learn what that was until I after actually moved to America) (and then spent years deliberately saying “Fratority” and “Sorernity” just to see if anyone would correct me, then I would laugh). It’s an expression I hear very often, “They’re just a bunch of Frat Boys,” “This place is full of Frat Boys”, “Get off of my lawn, Frat Boys”. I’m focusing very much on the Frat Boys here but not on the Sorority Girls. You don’t shorten that by the way, you say the whole thing. The rule of thumb is if you can pronounce the whole word ‘sorority’, then you are sober enough to drive home. I don’t know much about these societies other than what I’ve been told, about how they do ‘Rushes’ where you have to wear a different dress every day for a month, and say “ew” a lot. Like I say, it’s all alien to me. My wife did make me watch “Legally Blonde” years ago, but it was because I lost a bet (if I had won she would have had to watch “Young Einstein”, to this day she still hasn’t had the pleasure of seeing that amazing and not ridiculous at all movie). In “Legally Blonde” they make references to some sorority or other and that is pretty much all I know. So, I decided to do a little research on this particular sorority. When I say ‘a little research’ I mean I googled it and looked at the Davis Wiki page. Apparently (and this is cool) Pi Beta Phi was the first “national secret college society of women”, founded in 1867 in Monmouth Illinois (as “I.C. Sorosis”, and we can all agree the Greek letter name sounds a lot better). This means they are 150 years old! Notable Pi Beta Phi people are Jennifer Garner and Faye Dunaway. Not from the Davis chapter of course, but it’s a national organization. So there you have it. It also definitely has nothing to do with Pirates Be-taking Philosophy.
One of many downtown buidlings I’ve always wanted to sketch but given a ‘some other time maybe’ thought to, this sorority house on the corner of C and 2nd in Davis, Alpha Chi Omega (I think it’s a sorority. I always have trouble saying that word, “sorority”, words with too many ‘r’s are never easy. Many Americans have trouble with the word ‘mirror’, pronouncing it more like ‘meer’ as opposed to ‘mirrah’ like we Londoners do). I always thought that Alpha Chi Omega was a Greek equivalent to the A-to-Z maps of London. If you are wondering, I didn’t really, I just made that up and had never actually thought of that before. Anyway, I sketched it one lunchtime in brown-black ink, decided against colouring it in. The weather is nice right now in Davis, a little more autumnal, though still sunny.