Tookie and DKE
I woke up this morning to a newscaster announcing that Stanley "Tookie" Williams had been executed by lethal injection in California. It made me feel profoundly sad. What purpose was served by killing a man who had turned his life around and was helping other people? Just read the letter from a recovering addict on the home page of his website.
"The other day I sat down after I watched your movie Redemption and thought about all the things that I've done in my life and counted how many years that I should be in prison. ...Before I watched the movie I was making plans to start living my old life again. I wanted all the money and girls and respect (or fear) of others — but after I watched the movie and started to do some research on you, I found that we are not all that different."
Whoever we are, Tookie was one of us. And we killed him.
Then I turned to the New York Times and read a story about Colgate University's attempts to control its fraternities. The news peg was that a lawsuit that alleged that the university had coerced a fraternity into selling its house to the college had been dismissed.
Colgate embarked on a mission to control its rambunctious fraternities after an 18-year-old freshman, Katie Almeter, and three other young people were killed when a fellow student drunkenly plowed his car into a tree in 2000. The driver was a member of Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE) who had been drinking at a frat party. DKE is the only fraternity on campus that has refused to sell its house back to the college, and it is one of three fraternities that has filed lawsuits to force Colgate to reverse its decision.
Katie's dad, Bob, has embarked on a mission to change campus culture. It is a mission very similar to ours, but we are ever so fortunate that our daughter is able to join us in executing it.
My father was a DKE at Colgate. He edited the DKE quarterly alumni magazine for several years when I was growing up. Every three months, he'd either commandeer the kitchen table or set up a bridge table somewhere in our apartment in the Bronx, and use scissors and a glue pot to throw together the next issue in a deadline flurry. The table always looked like a tossed salad of paper and photographs, and we knew to stay out of Pop's hair when he was doing the magazine. It was not so much a labor of love as a labor for some pin money — and what self-respecting journalist does anything if it's not for money and not on deadline (this website excluded [g]). I remember being amazed when a slick, glossy magazine, printed by the George Banta Co., emerged out of all that cutting and pasting a few weeks later.
Defenders of the fraternities say that they offer much more than the stereotypes suggest. One outraged Colgate alumnus told the Times that "fraternities do many more good works than they get credit for and provide immense social benefits, including lifelong friendships."
I'm sure this is true. My father seemed to have an inordinate amount of DKEs he called friends, including former President Gerald Ford. DKE's mission statement reads:
"The objects of Delta Kappa Epsilon are the cultivation of general literature and social culture, the advancement and encouragement of intellectual excellence, the promotion of honorable friendship and useful citizenship, the maintenance of gentlemanly dignity, self-respect, and morality in all circumstances, and the union of stout hearts and kindred interests to secure to merit its due reward."
But in the end, the essence of DKE that sticks most vividly in my mind is a drinking ditty that I learned at a very young age. It became a staple in the repertoire of songs we sang on long car trips, right up there with "I Had a Hammer" (an inexplicably progressive song, now that I think of it), "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall," and the memorable "George Washington Bridge," whose lyrics, in their entirety, are "George Washington Bridge."
The DKE song I remember starts off:
So merrily sing we all to DKE
The mother of jollity
Whose children are gay and free ...
I always got the impression that "social culture" trumped "the cultivation of general literature" in the DKE that my father loved.
Libba's Lightbulb Theory
I had an extremely illuminating conversation with Libba Phillips, the founder of Outpost for Hope, this morning, about the astounding amount of under-represented missing and unidentified persons in this country, and the hellish lives they and their families lead. The exact number is impossible to determine, but we were extrapolating seven-figure numbers based on what is reported. These are often people whose families have forsaken them, or have lost track of their whereabouts. Or they are running away from abusive families themselves. They usually fall into the many cracks of our social services and criminal justice system and, because of co-occurring illnesses that are not treated, are often preyed upon by pimps and drug dealers.
In the middle of our conversation, Libba offered "Libba's Lightbulb Theory." I think it is as good an explanation of why families who expect people who are addicted and/or mentally ill to suddenly "get it" and "make good decisions" about their lives are disillusioned, at best. Here's how Libba put it:
"Let's say you go to the hall closet to get a new bulb to put in a lamp. You walk back into the den and replace the bulb and turn on the switch. The light doesn't come on. So you check to see if the light bulb is good, and you make sure that you put it in right, and you check the cord to make sure that it's plugged in, and you test the circuit box to make sure you haven't blown a fuse. All of those things have to add up in order for the light bulb to go on. But it doesn't. The true source of your problem, it turns out, is the wiring. The wiring is the source of the power. If the wiring doesn't work, that's the source from which choices come from, and the ability to make good decisions, and the ability to move forward with some type of hope for a positive outcome."
Many time families have the feeling that the light is going to come on, but if the wiring in the brain isn't right, if the chemistry has been altered by disease, it's just not going to happen unless that wiring can be fixed.
Libba today used the word "synchronicity." I thought I had some notes somewhere on my computer about Jung and synchronicity, but I couldn't find them when I searched. What I did come across were some notes on my first cigarette and first drink, which I've posted in Thom's Story.
It has been a reflective week. My best buddy in high school, and for many years after, was born on Dec. 8, 1951. Mark moved away after college, but we visited each other when we could, talked by phone, wrote (letters!) and generally stayed in close touch. We always talked on Mark's birthday, and mine,
In the late '90s — I don't care to remember the exact year — I got a call from Mark's sister. Mark had taken a pistol to his head and blown his brains out. Mark's mom, who I adored, didn't want to talk about it then. When I tried to call her a few years ago, I learned that she had recently died.
I miss Mark terribly. We used to drink together a lot. After I stopped drinking, my relationship with him was one of the few than didn't drastically change. Mark was Duncan's godfather. He had the greatest gift of all: He made me laugh — at him and at myself.
Mark had a major depression in the early Seventies, and evidently it came back with a vengeance. I should have known something was up when he decided not to come up from Miami to visit us at DisneyWorld when we were down there a few months before he shot himself. I will always regret that I did not pick it up and try to get some help for him. I don't feel guilty; I just feel a tremendous sense of loss.