Whenever our self-absorbed baby boomer generation hits certain milestones, we make a big deal about it. Everybody knew when we turned 50, then 60. You’d think we invented air, or something, when really we’re a bunch of dumpy schlubs trying to keep it together and figure out why we’re here. The ultimate milestone is, of course, death.
Actuarially, we’re dying off at the proper rate, but individuals aren’t statistics and the recent passing of Brother Ralph Olivier was a tough one. He was only 62. His wife, Carol, contributed greatly to him making it that far, as his dodgy ticker sent its first warning when he was in his late thirties. Carol tamed some of his less healthy instincts. Ralph lived his life true to the spirit of our brotherhood, and he did it consciously with forethought. It wasn’t just that he was a nice guy, and that his character happened to comport with the bonds of phi phi kappa alpha, he actually worked his program with conviction, no matter the cost.
Ralph lived an upright life; remember, that’s why we wear our fraternity pins upright. He wore his proudly, not just as a reminder of the friendships and good times, but as a reminder of his pledge to his brothers, which he upheld until, to paraphrase Mozart, he carried his loyalty and probity to the coolness of his grave. But he would frown upon this maudlin diversion, so we move on.
Ralph got a grand send-off. Hundreds attended his funeral, including many brothers from the active and alumni chapters of both Cornell and the University of Delaware. Tom Sporney’s eulogy included messages from many brothers who couldn’t attend. On the lighter side, I talked to Joe Fiteni for the first time in decades, and reminisced about how he got me my first grown-up job, in the galley of a merchant marine ship plying the North Atlantic in unusually rough seas.
The day after finals freshman year I was packing in my dorm room to head home to Hollywood, Florida, when I got a call from my dad: “Do you have a summer job? You’re not going to lay around on the beach drinking beer all day.” Amazingly, this was my exact plan, plus occasional forays to the horse track. Dejected, I wandered over to the fraternity house for a beer and advice from Gibber. As I walked in, Joe Fiteni was posting something on the bulletin board. “Do you need a summer job?” he asked hopefully. His sister was short a man for a galley crew she was staffing, and which was shipping out the next day. We called her, she hired me, I snagged a ride to New York, and had the adventure of my life. The job was for a hotelie, and at the time I was an art history major, but there are great paintings of food, so – close enough.
I’m on a few fratboy reminiscence email chains. You know the kind I mean – somebody sends around a scan of a picture from a beer party in 1978, and for a few days guys write about the crazy stuff that went down. We’ve been doing this for years, this trading of stories of depravity, reckless endangerment, and wanton irresponsibility. Guys use their work email accounts to do this. For eons, email servers in government offices, corporate headquarters, and, for all I know, churches, have hosted Pike stories involving all kinds of mayhem, accompanied by pictures. Here’s what brought it shuddering to a halt: a female nipple. One fine breast. We regrouped after everybody signed up for anonymous gmail accounts, but dang, it was revealing, in more ways than one.