As a rule, guys aren’t all that focused on cleanliness, especially before they start serious relationships with women. Then guys want to smell good, look good and follow everything else they are being trained to do, albeit with some backsliding moments.
You might think that some guys start playing the role at college, but from my experience nothing could be farther from the truth. For example, the frat I belonged to at Purdue was kind of like Animal House with a better-looking building to live in. It has a social area that sort of resembled a Pizza Hut that jutted out from in front of the dorm building. We were in the Tower Acres, which I know sounds really nice and exclusive. In reality, the “Tower” was the campus water tower, which stood atop Slater Hill. My frat house sat on the hillside lot directly beneath it. Of course, we were the black sheep fraternity of the neighborhood.
I fit right in, really. As my first spring semester ended, I moved in from the dorm where I’d lived as a Freshman. There was a dozen or so guys living in the frat house over the summer to attend summer school and/or work. Most of them lived in the frat year-round, I learned. I got a part-time job working at a local hi-fi store. It was convenient. I earned money at the store but turned around and spent most of it on stereo equipment and the latest LPs, which were sold at a record store that was conveniently located next door. Since the store didn’t open until 10 AM, I could sleep in a bit on the days I didn’t have classes. For summer I usually took two classes, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, and I worked at the store for the noon hour and in the evening until closing.
Teenage guys also have a lot more stamina about staying up later and such. I don’t think I ever made it to bed before midnight. Often it was past 3AM.
I’d like to say I spent all that time writing, but usually not. I fancied myself an aspiring author, but I was into that concept of “everything I do is being a writer”. Still, as it turns out the life I led generated several characters for my future writing and created some interesting scenarios to explore as well. So, I guess it is true that a writer is always writing.
The second summer, we had a party over the 4th of July weekend. We bought multiple slip and slides and stretched them down the hill in our frat house’s front yard. At the end we piled some spare waterproof (plastic covered) mattresses to prevent us from tumbling out into the street. Yeah, all that was my idea. And somehow, reaching speed approaching 50 miles per hour while stretched out on your stomach or, worse, trying to surf down the hill standing upright seemed like a lot of fun. I even invited the girl I was dating at the time, she was in my radio production class. It was pretty cool. She and I worked on projects together and had a lot of fun. Little did I know that some of the guys in my frat took exception to be dating a black girl. They never said anything to my face.
It took a while for me to convince her that it was safe to slide down the hill. After showing her how to do it with several practice-runs of my own— and having consumed a couple of beers in the process— she was up for it. But she insisted I go first. So, I did, but toward the bottom of the hill a huge mud puddle had already formed, just in from of the mattresses. As I reached that, my feet came out from under me and I did a summersault with my feet winding up on the mattress and the rest of body, from the knees up were partially submerged in the puddle. into the mattresses.
Already, even before I’d landed, my girlfriend had started down the hill. Seeing that, I scrambled to get up, but slipped and fell backwards again, just in time for her to knock me back down with her bikini clad bottom resting on my face. You can imagine the howling laughter. And, in retrospect it was pretty funny. Both she and I were laughing too, that is until a couple of my frat brothers mentioned chocolate pie.
We remained friends after that and continued to work on projects together for class, though we did it at her place. But we didn’t really date anymore. I blamed those two frat brothers for that. One was nicknamed Cooker and went by his real given name, Larry. I never forgot about that, nor forgave them.
The summer of my junior year, my fraternity Big Brother, Brad, who lived next door to me, was attending summer school so that he could make up a course he’d had to drop earlier in the year. Both of us were a bit overweight. Hey, it happens in college. All the calories from beer and pizza is hard to burn off, you know? So, we decided that every night, around midnight, we’d go for a jog. Then we’d come back, shower and settle in to watch Star Trek reruns that aired around 2AM. As I recall, consuming a six pack before running was fairly common. And sometimes there were a few follow up brews shares while watching the show.
How does all this relate to personal hygiene? Well, you see, I used the same pair of sweat socks all summer— just about, anyway. After jogging, I just hung them over the rail in my closet and let them dry out, ostensibly because I didn’t want the wetness to corrupt the semi-dry clothes in the laundry bag. Sometimes I went for a month between doing laundry. That’s normal for college kids, right?
I guess, I sort of forgot about throwing the socks in the wash, because they were my favorite ones for running. They had thick soles that padded my feet nicely in the New Balance running shoes I wore. After a month of running every night, they became a little crusty and stiff. But once they were on, that went away. Then, somewhere during the second month, after running and showring, Brad came over as usual to watch Star Trek. But he started sniffing and complained about something smelling pretty-bad in my closet, so bad that it was penetrating the door and the pungent odor was saturating the room. After searching for the source, I determined it was my favorite running socks.
“I’ll have to wash them,” I guess.”
“What do you mean? You haven’t washed them lately?”
“They are my favorite socks for running. I only have the one pair.”
“So, when was the last time you washed them?” He asked.
“That would have to be before we started jogging every night.”
“Holy crap! Are you kidding me?”
From the blank expression on my face he knew I wasn’t.
“Look, I’ll buy you another pair. We need to get rid of those.”
“What? Just throw them away?”
“No, something that ripe needs to be put to good use,” Brad said.
“What do you have in mind?”
“You’ve got a master key, right?”
“Yeah, in case the fire department comes for an inspection over the summer.” As the only member staying for the summer who was a fraternity officer (I was social director if you can believe that) the responsibility fell to me.
“You want to get even with your friends from last summer?”
Of course, I’d told Brad about the 4th of July fiasco, so I knew exactly what he was referring to. “Yeah.”
Larry and Cooker shared their room for the summer with John, another brother who, like Brad, was making up a course over the summer but wasn’t a usual year-round brother in residence. They had an air conditioner in their window. Brad and I only had box fans. So there wa a bit of jealousy right there.
“Let’s sneak down there, open the door really quiet like, and toss the socks inside.”
I laughed. “That might actually kill them.”
“No, it won’t but they’ll wake up wondering what did die in their room.”
I continued to laugh.
Around 4AM, Both Brad and I had settled enough that we weren’t laughing in anticipation of what we were about to do. The execution of the plan was flawless. I slipped the key into the lock, opened the door, tossed in the socks, and carefully closed it.
The next day I woke, went to class, then to work, and afterward to my afternoon class before going back to work, just like had been my routine all summer. In the evening, when I came back to the frat, I entered the back stairwell, the one closest to my room. There were two stairwells, the other one was closed off because no one lived on that end of the building for the summer.
What hit me was the smell of many flavors of aftershave, as if multiple bottles had been broken on the floor or something. Having forgotten completely about what Brad and I did on the night before I ascended the stairs two and at time looking for the source of the overindulgent smell. Cooker and Larry’s room was open with a box fan blowing out into the hallway, John was inside.
“What the hell happened?” I said.
“I don’t know where it came from, but there was a really bad smell in the room, this morning. We looked everywhere for it and finally found a pair of rancid sweat socks.”
I nearly lost it, but I held in my guffaw. It hurt, though. And it wasn’t right that John suffered the indignity of his roommates, but over the years, I had a couple of run-ins with him as well. So, I didn’t feel all that bad.
When I regained my composure enough to speak, I asked. “What did you do with them?”
“There in the far stairwell. We tossed them down there and closed to door behind.”
When Brad came home from work and asked me why the frat house smelled like a bunch of teenage boys at their first dance, I told him what happened. And, we never mentioned it or told anyone what we did.
When the other brothers came back from summer and started moving back in to their rooms for the fall semester, the other stairwell was opened, and the socks and their lingering odor was discovered. This time the solution was air freshener… and lots of it.
Greg was another of my frat bros who was an ex-Marine Viet Nam vet, and a little crazy at times, was taking advantage of his GI Bill Benefits to get his degree. He seized the opportunity to don his old camouflage uniform replete with face paint and gas mask, to remove the offensive socks from the stairwell. When I found out, I asked him what he did with the socks.
“It was a successful mission. I used a rake to pick them up and I carried them into the woods next door. There I buried them, fairly deep.”
“Won’t that kill a tree or something?”
“Unfortunately, some sacrifices needed to be made.”