We Saw Your Light On
Everything you've ever heard about the Greek system is wrong. Just after 2:00 a.m., most of the windows of the ornate fraternity and sorority houses that line the University of Washington's "frat row"—on 18th and 19th avenues just north of 45th Street—were dark. There were no shirtless young men running through the streets pounding beers and setting broken furniture on fire. There were no tanning-bed-scorched blondes having pillow fights in their living rooms. There was nothing but disappointment.
As Ari Spool (holding a flashlight) and I (holding a sign) approached Greek Row, there were few signs of life. A young couple stood on the back porch of a small white house, deeply engaged in what could only be the depressing end of their relationship. Across the street, three floors up, a thumping bass line—accompanied by the telltale coughing of someone doing bong rips—seemed to be the only indication that anyone was having a good time. Ari flashed a light across their kitchen window. The music stopped and a young man nervously peered out the corner of the window. "This is harassment. I'm calling the cops," he yelled.
Down the street, another young couple staggered out of a frat house. They were groggy but they stopped to talk. We asked where they were headed in their sweatpants and sandals. "We're going to my house because the bed's more comfortable," said the young woman as she huddled next to her boyfriend. Despite the probability he was about to get laid, the young man looked completely unenthused about being dragged around in the middle of the night. They wandered down the street to have awkward teenage sex. Again, complete failure. No one wants to hang out with two weirdos with a flashlight and a giant crumpled paper sign.
Frustration turned to spite as Ari and I began sniping through open windows with our flashlight. We lit up another couple, having sloppy sex on a couch in a fourth-floor apartment. They stopped for a moment, looked out the window, and got back to business. Ari dragged me down the street before I could take a picture.
Almost ready to give up, we tried one last house—big and brown, with a neatly manicured front lawn and a strange windowless brass door on the side. We shined the flashlight into the one lit-up room and immediately got the attention of four young men. "Woo! Stranger danger," one of them excitedly yelled.
We were hurried inside Sigma Nu's enormous house and led down to a cavernous kitchen turned into a makeshift dining room. A half-full bag of tortilla chips sat next to a half-empty bottle of Jameson. The four frat boys sized us up, trying to figure out why we were there. We asked what they were doing up at this hour, and they offered to show us.
They led us up through the house. As we
walked through the pitch-black living room, a man lying on a couch, underneath piles of cushions, reached out for Ari. "Is that a girl?" he slurred. One of our guides turned to us. "He had a rager. He was trying to build a fort and he passed out." We continued up a flight of stairs into a large room, sparsely decorated with a long table, a few chairs, and a bookshelf full of books that appeared to be there simply for effect.
Sigma Nu is, apparently, the nerd frat. Mike, Chris, Tristan, and Kris still look like your typical fraternity brothers, but instead of offering us tall boys or roofies, they invited us to join them for a round of Uno.
"Sigma Nu parties all night," laughed Tristan, a sophomore psych major with a goofy white-kid afro. "We're not the stereotypical frat." No shit. One of the other guys in the room actually had his homework out in front of him. We've ended up in the second-most boring frat in the neighborhood, next to Alpha Epsilon Pi—the Jewish fraternity. Sigma Nu doesn't haze its rushees, and they only throw two parties a quarter, "on average."
Around 3:00 a.m., we said our good-byes and continued our walk down Greek Row. No one else was up, save for three young men rolling a shopping cart down the street.