In Which Our Hero Joins a Community of Like-Minded Peers
By Cy Gilman
Verily Veritas frequently thought about decline. At night, after a few sips of bénédictine, he would sprawl his body across Low Steps and gaze at the pillars of Butler, imagining them as naked stumps. “Nothing besides remains,” he would exclaim into the empty twilight air. “Round the decay / Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare / The lone and level sands stretch far away!” Often, Verily’s nostalgic rapture would be punctured by the gaggles of students drunkenly loitering on the steps, nodding their heads to a high-BPM soundtrack, and calling out, “Man, are you okay?” or “Yo, Hamlet’s delivering his monologue!” They had no appreciation for Ozymandias, of course; he supposed that few had even heard of Percy Shelley. Still, he made sure to inform them that the poem was an ingenious commentary on civilizational decline.
Verily cursed the commonplace—for these hecklers were terribly common—and eyed a hackathon tee with loathing. He mourned the ripe renown that had made the school’s name so fragrant. He mourned Romance, now out on the town, and Art, a vagrant. Verily thought, and thought, and thought—and thought about it.
Verily Veritas, born too late, he would mutter to himself, wandering under Columbia’s firmament, crisscrossing the purgatorial stretches between Broadway and Amsterdam. It was on one such walk where, casting his gaze plaintively to the heavens, as he often did, Verily’s view of New York’s starscape was suddenly obscured by a dark green banner with “ΑΔΟ” printed in large white letters. Our hero was reluctant to extricate himself from a self-diagnosed state of sublime melancholy, but the sight of prominently displayed Attic lettering was intriguing enough to buoy his spirits and prod at his curiosity. He turned to the glowing door of the dimly lit brownstone. On it was written: “Nu Chapter Headquarters of the Alpha Delta Omicron Fraternity of the National Panhellenic Conference.”
Verily’s wide eyes were as round as a capital Omega. Had there been, all this time, tucked away in this lonely corner of the Morningside acropolis, a surreptitious circle of philhellenes, an underground network of budding Socratics? So long had he dreamed of Thebes and Camelot—had he now found it? Verily tore open the door and followed the pulsating noises up the stairs.
Our hero soon found himself inside the house amid four men playing a strange game that involved a small orange ball and a series of red cups. Verily suspected they were engaged in a round of episkyros, and determined to enter the foray for the next round. Around the table were clumps of men engaged in animated conversation: One was explaining at length what he thought were the problems with modern art. Another was gesticulating wildly on the subject of something called “kryptos.” The deep pitch of the assembled voices was matched only by the deeper pitch of the blaring subwoofer.
Verily felt a full-fisted tap on his shoulder. “What’s up, man, welcome to Meet the Brothers.” Verily turned to his right and looked up to face a student with a dark, short-cropped tuft of hair, and a hulking gait. “I’m Bellicus Brutus, but the bros call me Bo. I’m the pledge master here, but you already knew that. I’ve been an Alpha D for two years.” Verily gaped back at him, thinking that his newfound acquaintance very much resembled the Penseur that stood watch over Philosophy Hall. Our protagonist even went so far as to picture, for the sake of comparison, his Herculean friend nude and crouched in the penitent pose of mental labor, and concluded that the resemblance was indeed uncanny.
Verily shook himself out of his reverie, remembering that the fleshy person facing him had continued to speak. “No hazing, of course—that’s against the rules! We just do, like, a fucking ‘initiation ceremony,’” Bo noted suggestively. “Just, like, beer and pushups—that kind of shit. Like, if you already work out you’ll be fine. Do you lift, bro?”
Verily was beginning to squirm underneath his turtleneck, whose fringes were getting sticky in the cramped brownstone heat. “My hours of exercise are devoted to the rigorous development of my cerebral muscles,” he pontificated. “I take to heart the words of Socrates, in his exposition on Diotima’s ladder: that a love for fine ideas outweighs the love we have for a beautiful body.” He let his eyes gloss over Bo’s frame before adding, “My modus operandi is to contemplate the beauty of Perfect Forms.”
It may be left for the reader to decide whether Bo was only halfway paying attention, or if he got stuck in his attempt to recall the meaning of the word “cerebral”—but his reaction was a laugh that sounded just like someone coughing into a tuba. “Bro, are you talking about, like, Lit Hum shit?” he guffawed. “Didn’t it say in the book that that Soccertitties dude was, like, butt ugly or some shit like that?”
Verily cleared his throat and stiffened his back. “Socrates possessed an aesthetically deficient body, which fell into further disrepair from his own neglect,” he explained, “but he was loved by the most beautiful youths of Athens because of his command of Truth and the force of his oration.” Bo shot a quizzical glance to his left, then took a real shot of something thick and muddy, as Verily continued: “Upon reading the Symposium, I too proclaimed to our seminar that, like him, I had refrained from bathing and shaving for the previous month. I then announced directly to the more beautiful members of my seminar that, as Socrates did unto Alcibiades, I too would not take them as a lover even if they were to lay in my bed and put their arms around me.”
“I dunno man, I do somethin’ kinda different with the people that lay in my bed and put their arms around me.” Bo’s reaction was somewhere between alarmed, puzzled, and vaguely turned on. “I mean, look man, even if you’re into all that Greek stuff, why copy the ugly dude? Aren’t there some of those peeps who were built, too? Like that tall white David sculpture thingy—that dude is fucking chiseled, bro! You could go, like, that route, right? I mean what you’d have to do is …”
As Bellicus continued to talk, Verily (who, during this conversation, had been taking swigs of sweet liquid from a red plastic cup of unknown origin) became increasingly convinced that this beautiful man was, in fact, a man of thick intellectual fibre. Bo was evidently adept in classical philology, throwing off Greek and Latin names for every muscle, bone, or limb on the human body. “Yo, once you pledge, you can come lift with me and my buddies at Dodge,” the pledge-master yelled cheerily over the ambient thumping. “I’ll show you the ropes—your fucking pecs are gonna swell up like you won’t fucking believe, bro.”
After Verily left the party and returned to his room, his mind wandered down many long, searching, meandering roads, as it often did. Questions lingered: How many pounds could Ajax Telamon have bench pressed? Could this Bellicus teach him how to throw a discus? How many grams of protein were in a poppyseed strudel? But under all his imaginative haze was a clear vision of himself, Verily Veritas, in the image of an Olympian athlete, doused in olive oil, crowned with a laurel wreath, his mind and body in perfect harmony. Verily was going to go to the gymnasium.
Verily quickly realized, supine in the second circle of the Dodge Inferno, that the oil had been a bad idea. His slick hands slid back and forth across a metal bar, which loomed over his head. A drop of sweat fell from his right cheek.
“Okay VV, I’m spotting you, so you’re all G about safety and stuff,” Bo pronounced from above him. “Just remember to grip the bar at about a shoulder’s width apart and lift evenly with both arms.” Verily lifted the bar out from its stationary rack, and as his thin muscles began to engage, brother Brutus became increasingly animated. “OK! Let’s start firing up your FUCKING ENGINES! Take it down … then allll the way back up. Ariiight, not too fucking bad for a noob. How does that feel?”
“I must admit, I am beginning to feel my heart beat a tad faster. I do suppose my face must appear rather sanguine at the moment.”
“Fucking LEAN into it bro! Let the fire FUEL YOU. Let’s fucking GOOOOO, c’mon you FUUKIN pOOssAY, downnnnn … and UHHHHHPPPPFFFF!”
“I am starting to sense a pattern to this. There is a rhythm, a symmetry, a cadence to it. It is rather beautiful.”
“NONE of this looks fucking beautiful to ME, you SKINNY PIECE OF SHIT! Get in the fuuuuucking GROOVE, bro, GRIND THIS OUT–come on, one more, let’s FUCKING GO!—DOWN! ... UOOOUUUHHHP!”
“You know, good fellow, I believe I may truly be capable of this!”
“OH YEAH?! You better fucking show me ’cause I DON’T FUCKING BELIEVE YOU. LET ME FUCKING SEE IT you FUCKING WIMP! One fucking more! DOWN! UUUUUUUP! Tell me right fucking now—can you fucking do this?”
“I have, contained in the set of my abilities … ”
“Nah, bro, COME ON! Stop fucking WAFFLING—say it like I say it, read my sweet fucking lips: I GOT THIS, BRO!”
“I … got this … breaux?”
“C’mon, like you FUCKING MEAN IT! I GOT THIS, BRO!”
“I got this, bro!”
“There you go! DOWN! UP! I FUCKING GOT THIS, BROOOOOOO!”
“I fucking got this, bro!”
“DOWN! UP! I MOTHER-FUCK FUCKING GOT THIS, BRO!”
“I FUCKING GOT THIS, BRO!”
“Did I just hear Verily Veritas say bro?” a voice called out from the staircase. Footsteps followed, and Amare Aspera entered the weight room with a squash racket slung across her back. “Verily wha—are you rushing a frat?” she blurted out, turning her head and glaring at Bellicus, who replied to her in the same tone of voice with which he had previously addressed our protagonist:
“RUSHING? This dude right here is one of the BROS—VV IS A FUCKING ALPHA DEEEEEEEE, BABY!” The pledge-master tried, enthusiastically and unsuccessfully, to give a high-five to Amare, who was busy muttering to herself in exasperation.
“My dear Amare, I believe your conception of this situation is utterly incongruous with reality,” Verily called back to her, his back still arched over the weight rack. A pool of olive oil was beginning to form around his feet. “This organization of which I am a member is a fraternal order of the Hellenic variety—it is very much in keeping with my classical sensibilities.”
“Verily, that’s a fucking frat!” Amare stammered, and turned back towards the stairs. Verily watched her leave in smug disbelief, until he noticed Bellicus nodding in silent acknowledgment. Had this man inducted Verily Veritas into a frat? Verily had heard tell of such rabbles from those of his acquaintances most embedded in the nether regions of Columbia party life. He knew of them as intellectual black holes, filled with gaggles of oafs and mercenaries, where answers to intro-sequence exams circulated alongside cans of cheap beer. And Verily, above all else, was a man of impeccable intellectual integrity and bibulous refinement. Even the word “frat” had an uncouth sound—could Verily possibly countenance joining an organization with such a brash fricative in its name?
Verily looked up with horror at the goliath who had so misled him—looked at his lying eye, his mischievous lips—and sat upright on the lifting bench. “There has been a grave misunderstanding between us, my dear man,” Verily announced to him. “I no longer have any desire for membership in your little club, and thus do not have any reason to maintain your acquaintance.” And with those words, Verily picked up the strigil stashed underneath the lifting bench, and began to scrape the olive oil off of his body.