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Goat: A Memoir by Brad Land

 

Rating: ēē (Mildly Recommended)

 

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Pledge

Brad Landís story of violence and fraternity hazing in Goat: A Memoir may not be every readerís ideal ďback to schoolĒ reading opportunity. The cruelty presented in taut language may be more vivid than most readers want to explore. The alienation that Land deals with following an assault makes raw the adolescent experience of separation from parents and finding personal identity. Hereís an excerpt from the beginning of Chapter 6, pp. 111-117:

 

In my dorm room on Monday afternoon, waiting for the phone to ring, I keep thinking about what Brett said, that I had to make people like me, that it was the most important thing. I canít shake the feeling that I donít want to make anyone like me.

Pledge season officially starts when my phone rings. The brothers told us that we were going to a picnic with our little sisters, this group of sorority girls who do things with the fra≠ternity. Itís supposed to be a celebratory thing for pledges. My pledge brothers were excited when they heard this, said things like thatís fucking cool of them, but for some reason I didnít buy it. I asked Brett about the picnic but he wouldnít elaborate, because itís this secret thing that heís not supposed to talk about. But I knew it wasnít going to be what the brothers told us because all Brett said was this: donít wear anything nice. I am wearing torn shorts, a green Velocity Girl T-shirt.

The shrill ring of the phone startles me away from my window and I jerk around, peer at the orange plastic rotary dial left over from the sixties. It shakes because the ring is so loud. On the second ring I take a step toward the phone. On the third I let my hand fall down close. On the fourth I force my≠self to pick it up.

Hello, I say.

Take your fucking goat ass to the hall right fucking now. The voice screaming. I canít tell who it is. The voice rattles a list of things I am to bring.

Two packs Marlboro Lights.

One Hustler.

A toothbrush.

I leave my dorm room, stumble down three flights of stairs, start toward the Cricket Mart. I pass through a brick arch that borders the soccer field, my feet crumpling scattered trash and dead leaves. Past the arch two brothers stand cross-armed lean≠ing against a black truck. One winks as I turn and catch his glance. His lips pulled tight across gray teeth. The slight breeze tosses his red hair. I see two of my pledge brothers when I hit Main Street. Cars blaring music move slowly down the road, shirtless students hang from open windows. Dave Reed and Kevin Brehm look both ways, take a step and then jump back as a car blows its horn at them. Kevin punches Dave in the arm. They stumble into the road all smiles, laughing the whole way across. They see me standing. Gauging the traffic.

Whatís up, motherfucker? Kevin says. Slaps my back.

Nothing, I say. Look back and forth across the road again. In one hand Dave has Listerine, some Levi Garrett chewing to≠bacco. Two rolls of toilet paper, a magazine that I assume is porn tucked beneath his other arm. Kevin has everything in one hand, two packs of Camel cigarettes, a cheap disposable lighter. When I ask Kevin about the difference in their loads, he says fuck that, I ainít buying all that shit. Dave just nods his blond mop back and forth. It catches the light.

I told him heíd regret it, Dave says.

What the fuck are they going to do, beat the shit out of me? Kevin says. Fuck that. Iím fucking broke anyway. He looks back at a girl in a bikini top riding a bicycle. He smacks his lips and turns back to me.

This is pretty crazy shit, huh? he says. Guess we ainít going to no picnic. I nod. Dave says that they need to hurry and they shuffle off in the opposite direction. Drops his magazine and Kevin kicks him in the ass when he bends over to pick it up. I look back and see the two brothers still waiting by the black truck. When I cross the road I look over my shoulder again. One brother yanking things from Dave and Kevin. The other pushes Dave in the back as he and Kevin start toward the hail. Yells something I cannot make out.

 

I only have eight dollars and I donít want to blow it all so I only buy one pack of Marlboros and a toothbrush. The Hus≠tler is seven dollars by itself. I really donít want to buy any of these things but the least I can do is get the brother with the gray teeth a toothbrush.

I have two dollars left and I crumple the bills and receipt into my pocket. When I open the double doors at the Cricket Mart I see across the road that the brothers are not waiting anymore and I think that maybe I will be the last pledge to show up at the hall.

 

I push the gray metal door open on the Kappa Sigma hail and see Dixon Lynch and Patrick Wells. Patrick is short and thick. Wearing sunglasses. Trying to make himself look like a badass. Heís yelling at Will Fitch, whoís taller than he is. He points up toward Will, pokes his stubby ring finger back and forth inches from his face. Will flinches each time. Patrick yells. Flails his arms. Tries to look his meanest. Dixon just smirks. His face is dark with stubble. He pushes Will toward the short stairwell that leads up into the hail. Will catches a foot on the first step. stumbles and then rights himself. Looks back at Dixon, who says that if he looks back again heíll break his fucking face. Patrick sees me standing with my back to the door. It almost makes me wince to see him turn so quickly toward me, his eyebrows rising, his lip curling slightly. My hands are shaking. I smile. Try to hide the fact that Iím scared. Patrick grabs the front of my T-shirt and pulls me away from the door.

What the fuck are you smiling for? he says. He stares hard at me. I look away.

Huh? he says, cups a palm beneath my chin, spins my head around to face him.

Iím fucking talking to you, he says. I said what the fuck are you smiling for? Dixon comes from my right and slaps the glasses from my face. They spin across the floor and rest beside a trash can.

Take those fucking glasses off, he says. Everything blurs, Patrick and Dixonís faces, the walls, the light streaming from outside. Patrick says that I am fucking pathetic. His breath hot on my face and it makes me wince. Dixon takes the cigarettes and the toothbrush Iím holding, pulls them from my clenched hand, stuffs the toothbrush into his back pocket like a comb. Patrick moves behind me. Places his hands on my shoulders. Pushes me up three steps. The door leading into the hallway is closed but through it I hear muffled voices. A brother waiting on me at the top of the stairs. He is much taller and much big≠ger than I am. I feel Patrickís hands leave my shoulders. The brother at the top of the stairs looks at me. His face scarred from acne, his skin rough from the beginnings of a beard. He does not yell. He does not poke his finger toward me.

When you walk in there, he says, pointing toward the closed door and leaning down, I want you to yell. And what I want you to yell is that you own this fraternity. I mean it. He pauses. Looks at me sincerely.

I want you to look at everyone and scream at the top of your lungs. This is your fraternity. You own it.

I place my hands on the door and push.

 

 

There is a line of brothers down each side of the hallway and pledges are filing between them. Will somewhere halfway down. A brother pushes him in the back. He spins limply toward the opposite wall, where Chance meets him with an≠other shove. I wonder where Brett is. His door is shut and a brother is leaning against it. Everyone yelling. I throw my hands up. For a moment I canít remember what I am supposed to say but when a brother catches my eye I remember, say that I own this fraternity. At first it comes out softly but then I see the anger welling up in the brotherís eyes. He clenches his face and then I am screaming, flailing my arms, bouncing toward the gauntlet like a madman.

I own this motherfucker, I say. A brother grabs me. Jerks me by one arm. I am still screaming.

What the fuck did you say? he says. You fucking goat motherfucker Iím gonna fuck you up if you say that again. I do not look at him I just scream. Chance hears me. Another brotherís head spins around after he shoves Will and now all eyes are on me. A brother flings me down the line and now I am being thrown from side to side. My body goes limp and I just let the shoves come. I reach the end of the line. A brother opens the door to the hail lounge and pushes me inside. The door slams behind me. I am still screaming that I own the fra≠ternity. There are composite pictures lining the walls. A large star painted on the back wail. It contains the Greek letters kappa and sigma and a crescent moon with a skull in the middle. Two crossed swords border the star on each side. The star and moon painted in green and red. A television on one wall. Tro≠phies line a cabinet. A pool table in the middle of the room. The brother who is the pledge master grabs me when he hears what Iím saying. Heís big, six-five, and he talks slowly even though heís trying to sound furious.

Shut your fucking hole, he says, like his mouth is full of novocaine. He puts one large hand behind my neck, his fingers resting against my ears. It feels as if heís going to hoist me up like a dog hauls her young.

Get on the goddamn floor with your pledge brothers, he says. Shoves me down. I land on my knees, behind the line of pledges sitting cross-legged, their heads bowed toward their legs, their arms locked tightly together. They bob like the pis≠tons of an engine. They are bahing like goats. The sound rises and falls. It fills the room.

I lock arms with Will.

Bah like a goat, motherfucker, someone says.

We bah.

Louder, he says. We bah louder. I push my head closer to my legs. Sweat is pouring down my back and my arms are slick.

Get down, faggot, a brother says. Someone is shoved down next to me. Through a squinted eye I see Dave Reed and his shaggy blond hair. Dave locks arms with me tightly. Someone yanks at Daveís arm.

You better fucking hold on, faggot, a voice says. I better not be able to tear you off. I am holding tightly but Daveís arm slips through mine. I will not look up. Dave disappears and then slams back down next to me, sends me teetering into Will and we pull the whole line backward.

Bah, we say.

Bah bah bah.

I feel spit hit the back of my neck. It rolls down into my shirt warm, slips down my back slowly. Someone whispers in my ear. It is soft almost gentle and I can feel hot breath against the side of my face like someone is bending to kiss my cheek.

I fucking hate you, he says, you hear me? I hate every single one of you goat motherfuckers. A hand slaps the back of my head. At each end brothers pull the line, try to loosen us.

Hold on, motherfuckers, you better fucking hold on, some≠one says. Everything is beginning to blend together and every≠thing sounds like a chant, the goat sounds, the yelling, the sway of the line. Will crying next to me. I can hear him whimpering. I cannot cry. I squeeze my knees around my head until it hurts.

Readers who complete Goat will come away wondering about the rites of passages that are meant to assimilate individuals into society, and how those rites have become perverted. In a violent world, Goat is another contribution to the troubling aspects of human behavior.

Steve Hopkins, August 26, 2004

 

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The recommendation rating for this book appeared in the September 2004 issue of Executive Times

URL for this review: http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/Books/Goat.htm

 

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