“Who do you know here?”
“Name four brothers.”
The trio of fraternity brothers were glaring at me, blocking my entry into their Collegetown houseparty. Honestly, I was blanking. I had one vague connection to this particular fraternity, but it was one of those “friends of a friend” things that rarely ever fly. I was in a tough spot and they could smell the fear on me. Apparently, stammering out “Kevin” wasn’t a good enough answer to their interrogations. Ultimately, I struck out. This experience was only improved by the shortest brother of the bunch threatening to “knock me the f*ck out” if I didn’t get off his steps. Seeing that I had obviously overstayed my welcome, I grudgingly left and tried my luck elsewhere.
It was orientation week at Cornell, which was largely seen as an excuse for the student body to engage in a five day bender of alcohol-induced poor-decision making. For the sophomores, like myself, it was another Cornell tradition that in 2020 fell victim to the pandemic. So naturally, my roommates and I made the pilgrimage down to Collegetown this year to see what exactly we missed out on.
Up and down the streets of Collegetown, house after house played host to various scenes of debauchery. There was dancing, zero social distancing and carefree fun. In other words, it was everything COVID-19 took from all of us. Guarding these oases of unrestrained enjoyment were various iterations of the fraternity trio I encountered posing similar questions to would-be partygoers and ensuring that the sanctity of their fraternity’s “mixers” were maintained.
Like brick walls, they stood stone-faced, arms crossed, determined to keep the riff raff at bay. Crowding their front steps, each doorman assertively staked their claim to the thirty-by-thirty mud-pit they called a front yard, daring unwanted guests to attempt entry. Some bouncers were easily satisfied with claims of knowing a fellow brother. Every once in a while a “yea, I had a class with so-and-so” was good enough to gain entry, other times not so much. Some doormen enjoyed their role a little too much (like the one who zealously threatened me). Others felt a sense of duty to their party. Either way, the fraternity doorman was a constant. “Who do you know here”, has been repeated so many times that it’ll echo for eternity in the streets of Collegetown.
Full disclosure, the number of gatherings I actually attended was far lower than my number of attempts. To say the least, I was not batting one thousand. One might think then that these words come from a sense of bitterness. I assure you, however, that they do not. Honestly, I think a little empathy for fraternity doormen is in order. It is the dictionary definition of a thankless job. A doorman doesn’t get to enjoy the gathering he’s protecting, they must deal with hundreds of inebriated underclassmen and their task is nigh impossible. In most cases, their mission is protecting a totally porous outdoor space and filtering everyone who tries to enter. An enterprising individual can just step over the fence circumventing an interaction with the bouncer and in this case that’s exactly what most people did. For all these reasons, I would like to say directly to all the fraternity doormen out there, I feel for you. Astronaut, fireman, doctor and party bouncer — during Cornell’s O-Week, these are all equally important and difficult jobs. There’s no room for debate.
It’s not just the sheer impossibility of the task that made the doormens’ jobs hard, it was also that they were out of practice. It’s been over a year since the last semi-sanctioned O-Week extravaganza. Frankly, we’re all out of practice. I mean, I’d never been pressed by a fraternity bouncer before. Same with my roommates. Like most other underclassmen, we’re just wide-eyed sophomores whose only experience with Cornell’s social scene was limited to masked gatherings of ten people or less. So, when that initial trio barked, “name four brothers”, I was flummoxed. I didn’t know what to say. This was an interaction I just wasn’t prepared for and so naturally the doormen got the best of me.
But it wasn’t all doom and gloom. While I may have failed their test and been blocked from their heavily guarded party, my mind didn’t immediately jump to disappointment. As I gazed up and down the street and saw each house with its own party defender, I was overcome with a strange sense of optimism. After two years of our freedom to socialize being constrained, we were finally cutting loose relatively safely.
Of course, the disclaimer here is the Delta variant and the increasing number of cases on campus, but at that moment I was hopeful. As the brave doormen of Cornell returned to their posts, guarding their respective parties and kicking schmucks like me out, the world began to feel marginally more normal. Students were having fun, inhibitions were lowered, the coronavirus wasn’t at the forefront of everyone’s minds. Nature was healing. And as I sat from the outside of the party looking in, that was a glorious thought. So, to the bouncers and the would-be partygoers keep being you (responsibly of course), and here’s to a time when getting into a fraternity party will be the only thing we have to worry about instead of masks, social distancing and pandemics.
Brenner Beard ‘24 is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached [email protected]. Agree to Disagree runs every other Friday this semester.