One of the first things you learn at Clemson University is that there isn’t much to do there, outside of studying, drinking, and cow tipping. Clemson U is located in rural Clemson, SC, and Clemson, SC ain’t close to anything except extras from the movie Deliverance. That’s not meant as a slam; I rather enjoyed the peace and quiet. I’m a country boy, at heart. And Clemson is truly a nice place. But it means that basically your entertainment choices are (a) go to a bar (b) hang out with friends (c) see of you can catch a ride to Greenville to go to a bar. Not a lot of options. However, every so often one of the frats would throw a party worth going to, and you for damn sure made sure you went. I’m not talking about a Pan Hellenic frat party; I mean a Pan Greek frat party. Omega Psi Phi. Alpha Phi Alpha. Kappa Alpha Psi. Perhaps you’ve heard of them. If not, then I mean the black fraternities.

Black frats differ from white frats in many fundamental ways, too many to go into here. For example, black frats don’t have “rush”; their pledges “go on line”. If you really need a primer on the differences between the two, you should go talk some people who know, then come back to this blog. I wasn’t in a fraternity. When I wanted to go on line, I didn’t have the money, and by the time I had the money, I didn’t care anymore, because I had already found my identity. Being black at Clemson was a humbling experience, especially if the area you grew up in was predominately black or something close to 50-50. Clemson was 5% black. 5%. For every 1000 people you saw, only 50 were black. As a result, you tended to stick together, at least until you built up your own identity outside of your ethnic background. In most of society, this phenomenon is called “de facto segregation”, meaning that people segregate themselves, rather than having a governing body or authority do it for them. And so it was at Clemson. So when one of the black frats threw a party, you knew that every one you likely knew on campus would be there. It was THE place to be.

One weekend, my good friends Duke and Snack Cake came up for a visit. Duke was supposed to attend the same college…at least, that was the plan, until another school swooped in and made him a better scholarship offer. Can’t get mad about that, you know? He had a girl he was seeing on my campus, and wanted to chill with her and crash with me (since she lived in an all-girls dorm). We had a blast that weekend. Seems like that was the same weekend we learned that you could literally melt a Corvette by pouring industrial paint thinner on it, but that’s another story. The highlight had to be the Kappa party. Kappa Alpha Psi was hosting a shindig at the local National Guard Armory, and we knew it would be off the chain. The Nupes (their nickname, don’t ask) always threw bomb-ass parties. We pulled out our best rayon shirts (it was the early 90s, rayon on men was very popular then) and black slacks, polished up our run-down shoes, ran a pick through our high top fades, and were ready to roll out.

 

We were having a great time at the party. Wall to wall women, music thumping so hard it made your chest hurt, and darkness. The darkness worked both ways…women couldn’t see how ugly you were, and vice versa. Whenever the lights came up at 2 am on a frat party, you would undoubtedly hear a few people saying “Damn! Uh, that was my OLD number I just gave you…here’s my new number.” That new number never, ever worked. Or if it did, it dialed a Vietnamese chick named Baotram Phan who never heard of you or your girl. Anyway, the place was packed. I think every black person in Clemson was at that party, including the locals.

The locals were a problem. I’m sure locals can be problematic anywhere and to anyone, but it seems like when you’re black and in college, the backlash is severe. Guys are always trying to be “hard”, trying to take the college women and rub it in your face, or trying to show the college boys how tough they are. They assume you’re soft or a punk because you’re in college, not on the streets where life is tough. And even if you ain’t no punk, you still don’t wanna rumble with a local, if but for one reason: they have very little to lose, and you have a lot. So it’s always a fine line you walk when you party with locals. It’s just like Chris Rock says, if you’re black, you get more respect getting out of jail than you do getting out of school sometimes. Hell, my sister’s in college now at a PBC (predominately black college), and she told me about some local girl, GIRL, who shot up the parking lot at a party my sister attended. Why, you ask? Because she was mad that some guy she was dancing with decided to dance with someone else. For real.

 

We were chilling, dancing with a few girls, and checking out the scenery. Duke found some hottie and went across the room to dance with her, and I was hanging out with Snack Cake (yeah, I was trying to hit that) and a few friends. I remember that “Doo Doo Brown”, a very popular dance song from the early 90s, was blasting. Even if you had trouble getting girls to dance with you, “Doo Doo Brown” almost guaran-damn-teed you a session on the dance floor with a fine chica. The whole dance floor was packed. A couple minutes later, some dudes got into a scuffle over…something. Who knows. Maybe Dude A stepped on Dude B’s Fila shoes or something. Maybe a mother got insulted. At any rate, they started scrapping right in the middle of the dance floor. As kids will do, the dancers all formed a huge circle around the pugilists and started chanting “Fight! Fight!” to the rhythm of “Doo Doo Brown”. These fights never last long, and it was over in about 2 or 3 minutes, tops. Dancing resumed. Everybody’s having fun – until it happened.

BAM! BAM! BAM!

Gunshots. Some fools were busting caps up in the party! Shit like this always happens! Everybody ran at top-speed to get away from the shooter. I didn’t even stop to see what happened; I just hauled ass for the furtherest corner away from the action. like a straight-up punk. We didn’t need to know what was going on. We could find out later when we got home. I find my friends huddled in the corner, and I started counting heads. Everyone was accounted for…except for Duke. I looked all around me, but he was nowhere to be found. I was terrified – my best friend came here to see me (sorta), and he was gonna end up the lead story on Channel 5 news! I glanced back toward the dance floor – and there he was. I had to do a double take, because he was making his way toward the shooting! I thought “What is this crazy fool doing?” Against all logic, I ran out there to drag him back to safety. I thought maybe he was dazed or something. But when I reached him, he wasn’t dazed – he was pissed off. Royally. This is the conversation we had, as close as I can remember:

Me: “What the hell are you doing? Get over here! They’re shooting up in here!”
Duke: “Nah man, fuck that! I was dancing with that girl when they started acting a fool!”
Me: Silence (I just stared at him for a couple of seconds)
Me: “Get over here!”
Duke: “Nah, man! I’m gonna go tell ’em something!”

I’d seen Duke do some pretty incredible things in my then 19 years of knowing him. I’ve seen him actually run horizontally, like Spider-Man, along a concrete wall for several yards to escape a hazing ritual. I’ve seen him step over a girl who fainted in front of him due to her unrequited love for him, without even breaking stride. I’ve seen him try to fight an entire marching band. I’ve watched as he sent customers fleeing in terror from a restaurant where we worked. I’ve seen him completely ace high school while studying maybe 1/4 of the time that I had to study to make my C’s. (It should be noted that this same man turned down a full scholarship to Harvard Medical School because it was too far away. He smart.) But he ain’t bulletproof. And I outweighed him by about 50 pounds at the time. So I physically persuaded him that safety beats bravado, every time.

The good news is that no one got hurt that night. Apparently the fool who did the shooting shot into the ceiling, and not directly at anyone. I tell ya, there’s nothing like gunfire to completely derail your game. You have ZERO game when guns start blazing. It’s because, basically, you turn into a 4 year old watching The Wizard of Oz for the first time. You run, you cry, you might even soil yourself. You’re anything BUT smooth. Any woman standing next to you when gunshots ring out will immediately lose all respect for you. Snack Cake begs to differ, but I know the deal. Especially when that same girl sees you on campus the next week, and she’s standing with a group of her friends, and starts pointing at you in the distance while whispering and giggling. Yeah, that’s smooth, baby.

Peace.


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