For the four weeks of pledge season, the earth pretty much stopped on its axis. Other than survival, there was nothing else of even minor importance. Parents lost contact, girlfriends moved to the back burner, grades suffered, and current events might as well have taken place in a far-off galaxy. The Bay of Pigs, Sputnik, Cinemascope – they would all come back into orbit in a few weeks. And so it was with the civil rights movement.
Not that the Theta Nus were even remotely racist. No; in fact. they were quite the opposite. They were so unracist that they never even gave a thought to the story that is about to unfold.
The pledge class of ’62 represented Theta Nu at the dawn of its transformation from a mild-mannered music fracternity into the scourge of Trenton State society. Pledge brothers, terrorized daily (and nightly), began to form their own bonds and act as a unit. They found that together they could act with impunity. And so it came to pass that they chose one particularly feared brother for their vengeance.
In truth, Monte Buck was a really nice guy. Medium height, mustached, easy going, even mellow. Physically a bit soft; you might say pudgy, and – oh yeah – black! His ethnicity should not have been of importance and it, unbelievably, wasn’t.
No, the pledges didn’t single him out because he was black. Ironically, they singled him out in spite of it. Monte, you see, had a Jeckyl side to his Hyde. During pledge season, he morphed into a sadistical demon sowing fear and misery among the poor pledges. “Don’t fuck with the Buck” was his motto. And singularly no one did. But that was singular and , if anything, the lessons of brotherhood unleashed a “strength in numbers” attitude.
Curiously, a pledge class tradition had begun a few years before wherein the pledge class, with or without the blessing of the brothers, would kidnap and playfully avenge themselves upon one brother. And who better deserving than the brutal Buck?
They struck quickly. Joe Scelfo, a mainstay upperweight on Trenton’s wrestling team, threw in a paralyzing double-arm bar while Mike Whelan reached back into his navy days to tie him down with a knot reserved for death-row escapees. John Nicol secured the blindfold while the rest swarmed like fire ants stripping him and painting him blue and white before they stuffed him into the back of a car.
Tradition was that they would drive him around for a while, terrorize him, and safely deposit him back at his dorm. But then traditions have a way of sometimes morphing into an entirely different form. Bringing him back safely was the last thing on their minds. This was, after all, the Mighty Buck. That doctor of doom that must be schooled in some meaningful memorable way.
They drove out to St. Catherine’s Cemetery with Buck and the knowledge that he was scared to death of cemeteries. Obviously, being blindfolded, he was unaware of his surroundings until he felt himself pinned against and hogtied to a tombstone, His response was as immediate as it was predictable. He screamed. He howled. He pleaded. The graveyard inhabitants, of course, paid scant attention to his rantings. Although more than one witness suggested that the resident of that particular gravesite stirred ever so slightly. Across the street, at the Katzenback School for the Deaf, students lined up for their evening meal without a shred of acknowledgment of the commotion next door. You might say it all fell on deaf ears.
Monte Buck, at this point, was at a red alert state of terror. That’s when John Hines and Skip Downs upped the ante. They knew Monte was also a victim of ophidiophobia – fear of snakes. Hines and Downs, well-prepared for the occasion, took it upon themselves to corral a bag of garden snakes which they gleefully dumped at his feet. What’s the point of harboring snakes if you can’t elicit a cookie-cutter coronary or at least a mild stroke? Buck was now so furiously hysterical that the pledges decided it best just to leave things be. Which is exactly what they did. They non-chanlantly got back into their cars and drove off; probably to the nearest bar where they could revel in their conquest.
As luck would have it, a small cadre of brothers were hiding in the shadows so, after they finished laughing their asses off, were available to rescue their traumatized brother.
So what became of this incident? Well, the story, of course, was the topic of conversation all over campus the next day and it didn’t take long to reach the dean’s office. Dean Pruitt, already penciling in Theta Nu as her arch enemy, would make an example of the perpetrators of this civil rights atrocity. And no doubt she would have if not one-by-one-by-one they came in and denied – denied – denied. The Karras defense had once again carried the day. How proud he must have been.