Very soon I discovered that I loved the people who hung out at Wagner’s—Rollie and Marilyn, Rosalie and Delphine, Selma and Bruder, Chris, Robert, and all the others. Beer, burgers, stories, jokes, acceptance.It was a stark, and welcome, contrast to the beer culture I’d experienced at my women’s college in Virginia.
In the early sixties, our social life revolved around football weekends at Washington and Lee, and UVa. Older girls arranged blind dates for us at the fraternity house their own boyfriends belonged to. There was a hierarchy of desirability, I soon learned. Some were “animal houses,” so called (and well in advance of the movie some years later). Some were snooty, populated by boys from the northeast with chiseled cheekbones and firm chins. There were, however, plenty in the middle, and that’s where most of the blind dates came from.A boy would drive to our college, load up his car to bulging with girls and drive back over the mountain’s twisty roads to his campus. We got out, wearing our heels and kilts and circle pins, full of expectation in the crisp air and falling crimson leaves. We would stay in all girl boarding houses, run by widows with strict rules.
The boys usually started drinking at the game. After the game, there were parties. After the parties, more parties, usually with live rock or blues bands.Scene: a keg or three, vats of grain and grape, a slippery layer of wet on the dance floors, boys shedding jackets, ties, sometimes pants. Shirts clung, heavy with sweat. Hands wandered and it was very, very loud.
This was before 9PM, when we and our nervous, increasingly inebriated, blind dates wandered from frat house to frat house. After nine, we came back to his home base where some boys would pass out. Some would duck into the pitch black “make-out room.” Some would stagger upstairs, with or without an equally inebriated girl. It never occurred to me to visualize what took place up there. I had just turned a very sheltered 17.Why go at all? It was the only social life. It was the way it was done. Very few people had the sense to opt out, until later.
But, even when I was young, I never understood the desire of twenty-something people to render themselves intentionally insensate. So much energy seemed devoted to obliterating the personality, the self, the censor in the brain.How many of those boys had blackouts? I don’t know. One boy I knew very well did stagger into a room where I was, talking nonsense. A strong, athletic boy who careened around the room, knocking over a table, a chair—alarming in his strength and lack of control—before he flopped on a bed and passed out. The next day he remembered nothing. Absolutely nothing. Not me, not the chair or table. Nothing after he left the place where he’d been matching another group of boys, beer for beer, shot for shot.
Girls from my college did date at most of the houses, even the ones known as possibly risky. Sometimes that was where they met the men they would eventually marry. I have wondered how many of those women, my contemporaries, resonated to the recent testimonies of Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, as I did.Or how many of the boys they knew wondered, now in old age, whether they had done something similar to a girl back at W&L or UVa. They may not remember what they did while they were blacked out, but they certainly were told by a brother the next day that they had been “acting crazy, man,” “out of your mind.”
I know that much for a fact.