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October 27, 2008

Can we tour your sorority?

October 26. Day 118.

I am not a member of a sorority.

I have never been a member of a sorority.

I have never set foot inside a sorority.

Until last night.


It was 10 p.m. and I had some asking to do. La Sorella and I headed toward the university district.

"We should drive by the frat houses! They're beautiful," she told me. She was right. Stately homes with grand pianos behind grand front windows. Some were elegant and discrete. SAE, on the other hand, had a pair of lions out front. Roar!

La Sorella miraculously found a parking spot and we started wandering around. Inside, people were working at laptops or, it seemed from outside, cleaning. What to ask, what to ask. So much opulence to gape at, so little time! Inspiration, my friends, came shortly.

Stop One. Kappa Kappa Gamma!

"Hi! We're visiting Seattle, and we were wondering if we could get a tour of your house. We were just taking a walk of your neighborhood, and it's the most beautiful house on the block."

"Of course! Come in! Where are you from?" She had beautiful long blonde hair. Rumplestilskin hair. Bright blue eyes. Diamond earrings.

"San Diego."

"My roommate is from California!"


"Are you also Kappas?"

"No..." Quick -- smile now.

She smiled back. "Well, I can't promise the house will be very clean on a Sunday night -- the cleaning lady comes Mondays -- but you're welcome to take a look around!"

I kept a smile on my face and waved to everyone I passed. Seemed like the nice thing to do.

Andrea, a sophomore studying communications, showed us the common areas and few bedrooms, including her own.

"Is that your bed?" I asked, noticing the green sheets decorated with little pink foxes on them. A bit more interesting than the hot pink sheets the rest of the girls seemed to prefer.


The bathrooms were clean and organized, but again she apologized if things weren't very neat. Her mother had been in the sorority in the 80s, she mentioned, and her picture was on one of the class portraits hanging in the hallway.

Some of the doors were decorated with elaborate signs -- "Kappachinos!" on a huge coffee cup, for example. After we left, La Sorella and I speculated about who'd made the signs, and why.

Grade: A+. Andrea was polite. She handled an unexpected situation well. She was an enthusiastic represenative of her group. And she didn't turn us away because we were non-Greek, non-UW, or would probably never see us again.

Stop Two. Alpha Chi Omega.

From the street, we spotted two girls sitting in large couches.

"This is one of the most exclusive sororities," La Sorella informed me. "We should see if they'll be all hoity toity."

A girl with short brown hair opened the door, looking surprised.

"Hi! We're visiting Seattle, and we were wondering if we could get a tour of your house. We were just taking a walk of your neighborhood, and it's the most beautiful one on the block."

"Oh. Please, come in. We're all studying now, and I'd have to check if giving a tour is okay, but if you'd like to wait here, I'll be right back."

I looked around. A hard bench. A mirror across the hall. The floor was stone, as was her heart.

"You can come back tomorrow," she said when she returned. "The president is the one who gives tours. That's our protocol."

"Great!" I replied. "What time? Afternoon or evening? Or, is it best to drop her an email?"

"Oh, um, oh..." as she opened the door. "If you can just come back tomorrow, the president can give you a tour."

"What's her name? Or do you have her email address?"

"Keely," she spat.

I checked out their website just now. Their motto is "Real. Strong. Women." This is the featured quote:

People ask why I am in a sorority and I try to explain all the things a sorority is that they cannot see. A sorority is more than letters on a sweatshirt, I say. More than traditional songs, a gold pin, rituals, and obligation, or a way of life. A sorority is learning about people, a sorority is giving without expecting a return."

Grade: F. Learning about people? Giving without receiving? More effectve strategies for handling our visit -- even if she was busy or just indisposed, which would be totally fine -- would have been: Turning us away from the start. Not resorting to excuses or white lies about the president giving us a tour tomorrow. Limiting the use of interjections for rhetorical effect. And perhaps loosening up.

Stop three. Theta Chi.

We saw Steven outside. He was sweeping up some leaves, and it was clear we had to get involved.

"Hi!" we chimed.

"Hi," he replied.

"Would you like a hand?"


"How about you sit back, relax, and let us sweep up those leaves for you?"

He looked uncomfortable. "I don't need any help."

"Maybe you wanted a break? I don't know. It's cold out here. If you let us do this, you can go back inside sooner. This is our good deed of the day!"

"It's my house duty. I'm the one who needs to do this," he replied. "Why don't you use your good deed on someone who needs it more?"

Grade: A. He could have been friendlier, he could have played along. Instead, he chose to abide by his organization's rules in a courteous and intelligent manner. And his instict was generous, not selfish.

Last stop: Psi Upsilon.

We spotted a few guys standing outside, but as we climbed the stairs they rushed inside. WTF?

To get inside a frat outside visiting hours or a party night, I realized, I'd have to be bold. I knocked, and a short guy with messy hair came out, holding what looked like Kool-Aid in a plastic cup.

"Hi," I said. "I'm sorry to bother you like this, but could we please use your bathroom?" (Not a lie, frankly.)

"We're from out of town and we were just taking a walk and we don't know where else to go," La Sorella added.

"I'm rushing," he answered, "so I don't want to do anything wrong. I need to check with our president."

He took out his cell phone.

"Hi... There are two ladies here and they're asking if they could our guest bathroom...They're tourists...just for a minute...No, I don't see any Actives...Sure."

He hung up and smiled.

"He says you can come in. I can't promise how clean it will be on a Sunday night."

Actives? And what is it with Sunday nights? I had many more question than answers...

"Where's the keg?" La Sorella asked, the moment we stepped in.

"We're not allowed to have kegs anymore," our host, Ben, told us.

Before leaving, a few other guys had come over to see what was going on. I glanced around -- slots for mail with envelopes falling out, average age 18, lots of sweatpants and Nikes.

"Thank you so much!" I said before we left.

On the frat's website was this tidbit: "We are a collection of brothers striving to break the negative stereotypes of the Greek Community, while emphasizing the positive social, scholastic, and financial aspects of Fraternity life." True is dat.

Grade: A+. Friendly, adroitly negotiated between the present situation -- girls at the door! -- and his house management. Quick thinker. Problem solver. And social (see below).

UPDATE: La Sorella gave out her phone to Ben, since she tutors math and he mentioned he was studying that. She just got a text from him: Spooky Blackout Halloween Party! Wednesday Night! You guys should come!

Years out of college, I've been officially invited to my first frat party.
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