They targeted him because he was a Jew. Their motive and intentions were obvious. And they did not deny it. But he didn’t care. He outsmarted them, took advantage of the situation, and, in the end, while they did get what they wanted, he was the one who came out the real winner.
His name was Sol Weiner and he was a sophomore dormitory resident at Sierra State University. When the college’s lone Jewish fraternity learned of Sol’s existence during the first week of classes, they contacted him with the hopes they could persuade him to join the house. It was a small, modest house by Greek Row standards, lacking the grandiose architecture associated with many fraternities and sororities, but it had presided over the corner of Sixth Avenue and Beta Street with dignity for decades. The house, however, now was struggling financially because membership was declining. Membership was declining because times were changing. It was 1968. Greek Row, traditionally Caucasian and Christian, was opening its doors to racial minorities and Jews. They were dropping the generations old elitist, discriminatory policies of the past and, as a result, siphoning off the few Jews available.
When Delta Mu Zeta Fraternity rush chairman Lenny Lefkovitz contacted Sol, he was surprised how eager the dormitory resident was to meet him. The next evening, Lenny and house president Aaron Gottstein went to Cramer Hall, Sol’s dormitory, where he greeted them in the lobby. They found a lanky guy with straight wheat blond hair. His eyes were as blue as the waters of a Norwegian fjord. Lenny and Aaron were surprised. Blond hair and blue eyes are rare among Jews.
“You’re Sol?” Aaron asked. The blond nodded. “Really?” Lenny said. “We expected…something different.”
“I know,” Sol said with a laugh.
The trio sat down in the seating area around the lobby’s fireplace. Aaron and Lenny, sitting on a modern steel-and-vinyl two seat sofa that was too uncomfortable to be called a loveseat, faced Sol. He was perched atop his lean, folded legs in a similarly styled chair.
He told the fraternity representatives he was glad they had contacted him because he had been thinking about joining a fraternity. “I lived in the dorm last year,” he told them, “and I’m here now and I like it. I’ve made a lot of friends in Cramer. But it is time to move on.”
“Why? Why do you think a frat would be a better fit for you?” Lenny asked.
“Because,” Sol answered, “I think I’d like the structure, traditions, and brotherhood.” He paused. “And the opportunity to meet people from other houses,” he added in a rehearsed manner. His answer was perfectly stated, perhaps too well-worded. Sol sounded a bit like a politician at a press conference. Desperate for new members, Aaron and Lenny momentarily overlooked the programmed quality of Sol’s answer. “Oh, and I plan to run for a student government office in spring, probably commissioner, and everyone knows you can’t get elected at Sierra State without Greek Row’s backing.”
“That is pretty much true,” Aaron agreed. But this addendum to Sol’s answer raised a potential red flag and concerns about Sol’s motives. This guy’s more interested in what he can get from us than what he can contribute to the house, Aaron thought as he sneaked a peek at Lenny.
Lenny glanced back and nodded with his eyes.
Well, that certainly is self-serving, Aaron thoughts continued. He’s got political reasons, ulterior motives. The fraternity president shifted his weight as he pondered the dilemma. He probably wouldn’t be very involved in house activities. “Sol,” he asked, “what’s your major?”
“Oh, we have a few poli-sci majors,” Aaron said in a slow distracted tone. He was preoccupied with evaluating the pros and cons of the situation. But, on the other hand, he analyzed, Sol’s presence as an elected student leader would be a great asset, a powerful magnet when trying to attract new members.
“So,” Lenny said, “you want to be a commissioner.”
“Yes. And I plan to run for student body president after that.”
“Really?” Aaron thought a moment. “I don’t think we’ve ever had a student body president from our house. We’ve had two Inter-Fraternity Council presidents and a Men’s Club president, but no student body president.” Aaron paused. “Lenny, what do you say? Should we invite Sol to dinner Monday?”
“Of course we should. We’ll let the brothers decide.”
Sol had dinner at the fraternity Monday and met the men of Delta Mu Zeta. By seven thirty he was asked to pledge the thirty-nine member house by a unanimous vote. He accepted. In spring he was elected Commissioner #2 in a landslide. Not only did Sol appear to be likeable and quite electable, but he seemed to be on a winning streak.
It was during that campaign, in a candidate profile in the Sierra State newspaper, The Rattler, that the fraternity brothers unexpectedly learned that Sol had a big secret, one he had intentionally kept since first approached by Lenny. He had guarded this secret religiously because he felt uncomfortable sharing the information with members of the fraternity. He assumed, they could not understand. Sol, therefore, carefully navigated his relationships with the members of Delta Mu Zeta during that first year by never offering more information about himself than was necessary. He did not so much lie as simply neglect to correct a false assumption. Lenny, Aaron, and the brothers, on the other hand, never suspected. They had no reason to; Sol, they thought, was just like them.
But Sol was not like them. Sol, whose name was more Jewish than a 1960s stand-up comedian performing in the Catskills, the fraternity brothers learned, was not a Jew at all. He was Catholic. In Judaism, one is a Jew only if one’s mother is a Jew. His mother was Catholic. Sol was raised Catholic. Having a Jewish father, being a Weiner, did not make Sol a Jew. But, apparently, being a Delta Mu Zeta helped Sol become a commissioner.
After the initial surprised reaction, the D-Mus accepted Sol’s revelation, many even laughing off the ironic twist. After all, they rationalized, other houses are ending their discriminatory policies, we probably should do so too.
As the next school year neared, Lenny, as out-going rush chairman, learned of Steven Krantz, a Jewish class valedictorian, state tennis champion, and Letterman’s Club president from top-rated Taft High School across the state. Steven was headed to Sierra State. Lenny was well-aware that Steven did not have to join the Jewish house there as had generations of Jews before him even though that was what was expected of him by family, friends, and the members of the Jewish house. As a result, Lenny reminded his successor, Mitch Kohn, signing someone with credentials like Steven was a priority.
Although he was pursued by several top fraternities, Steven did pledge the fraternity in September. Sol became his Big Brother, the member assigned to mentor and advise him as he adjusted to college life. Therefore, other than his twelve pledge brothers, Sol was the fraternity member with whom Steven became closest. But it didn’t start out positively; when paired off the night before classes started, Steven reminded Sol they had met during Rush Week. They had talked fleetingly about cars, football and Raquel Welch. When reminded of that conversation, Sol stared blankly. “Sorry, man,” he said with a laugh, “I don’t remember that. Do you have any idea how many people I talked to during Rush Week?”
But Steven and Sol bonded rather quickly. It was not simply because they had been arbitrarily teamed in the house’s Big Brother Program or because Sol had done a notable job mentoring Steven. It was as much the result of Steven’s glomming onto Sol and instigating constant communication. This deliberate interaction, this overuse of his “big brother,” was the result of Steven’s own secret, a secret that fraternity members learned of from Steven’s writings years later. It was a secret he purposely had kept from the fraternity and particularly Sol because, first, he did not know how to share it, and more importantly, it was 1968. Steven’s secret was that he had pledged Delta Mu Zeta because he was physically attracted to Sol and he hoped something beyond fraternal brotherhood would develop.
Same-sex attraction was not something new to Steven, he wrote. He had experienced it throughout high school. But he had experienced it internally and alone. He had reined it in, waiting to go to college, away from family, his perfect high school image, and the gossipy small-minded people with whom he had attended Taft, to explore these taboo-in-1968 thoughts, feelings, and desires.
The moment Steven saw Sol during Rush Week, he knew he would join Delta Mu Zeta. Sol was, according to Steven’s written recollections, the most beautiful man he had ever met and meeting Sol had unleashed Steven’s long-restrained feelings, emotions, and passions. While brotherhood should have been at the core of Steven’s decision, lust was.
As the year passed, Sol and Steven became more than big and little brothers; they became friends. They learned a lot about each other. Steven learned about Sol’s varied interests like playing the guitar, reading the Bible, and chemistry. He learned Sol intended to go into politics or public service of some kind. He learned about Sol’s past accomplishments, his being a National Merit Scholarship winner, the string of elected offices he had held in high school, and his Eagle Scout status. And he learned about Sol’s string of heterosexual conquests since arriving at college, oftentimes hearing about them in frustrating detail. Steven quickly realized that the chance of a sexual relationship developing between them was minimal. Frustration became Steven’s constant companion.
Sol learned a lot about Steven, too, but he never learned about his secret desire for him.
In spring of that year, as promised, Commissioner #2 Sol Weiner ran for Sierra State student body president. Because Steven was an advertising and marketing major, fraternity brother, and a trusted friend, Sol asked him to run his campaign and design his ads, posters, and flyers. He gladly accepted; any reason to spend time with Sol was welcomed.
But Sol’s physical appearance had gradually changed that year as the War in Vietnam escalated. His flaxen hair grew to shoulder length. He grew a sparsely populated goatee and moustache. He began wearing brightly colored, hip-hugging, flare-legged pants. And he began going barefoot whenever he could. In essence, Sol became a hippie, a hippie on Greek Row.
Sol introduced Steven to marijuana during that campaign. He did it after dinner, just before the fraternity’s weekly Monday night meeting in late March. They toked in Sol’s third floor bedroom and then dashed downstairs for the meeting. As they left his room, Steven whispered, “I don’t feel a thing.” By the time they reached the main floor and meeting, however, he felt it. He walked into the living room, filled with fraternity brothers awaiting the gavel drop, and felt a light-headed sensation take over. It was accompanied by gut-clenching paranoia. “They all know what we just did,” Steven whispered to Sol. Then, as he looked around the living room, he thought, They can see I’m stoned. But worse, they can see how I really feel about Sol. He can see it too. Steven hung his head with embarrassment and guilt, avoiding eye contact with everyone. His heart pounded and he remained silent through the entire meeting, staring at the floor.
After the meeting, Sol, unaware of Steven’s paranoid angst, rushed Steven back to his room. He suggested they smoke again. “It’s Monday, meeting night. And that boring meeting is over. Let’s celebrate.”
Steven resisted. Sol insisted. This time, however, Steven became high, enjoyably high, quickly. Sol plopped down on his bed, lying across it with his back and head propped against the wall. His legs dangled over the mattress edge, spread shoulder-width apart. Steven sat opposite him, slumped into a black beanbag chair. As Sol started to talk about his campaign, Steven became fixated on his Big Brother’s mouth and how sensually his lips moved. Steven heard him talking, but he was not listening. He was imagining what it would be like to kiss those lips.
Sol stopped talking. “Are you alright, man?” he asked.
Sol’s question momentarily ended Steven’s taboo thoughts. “Yeah,” he answered with confused guilt. “I’m just stoned. Oh, now I get it. This is what being stoned is like. Not the paranoia I felt downstairs.”
“Exactly. Wait. You were paranoid at the meeting? Oh, yeah. This is your first time.” Sol reached over and turned on the radio. An FM station blared an album track from Cream. “Cool. Clapton is God,” Sol said. He lowered the volume and began talking campaign strategy again. By his second sentence, however, Steven had tuned him out. His gaze had lowered from Sol’s lips to his feet peeking out from the bottoms of his faded denim bell-bottomed pant legs. His stoned stare then inched its way up Sol’s long, lean legs. It stopped at his crotch His penis was clearly outlined in soft denim. It was longer than his own and clearly circumcised. Well, he thought, you are Jewish in some ways.
An urge came over Steven to get up, walk over to Sol, crawl between his spread legs, lay on top of him, and begin kissing his sensual mouth. He began to fantasize Sol’s fingers digging into his back as their tongues danced with each other. The image was erased as the hall phone, just steps away from Sol’s room, rang. Snapped out of his reverie, Steven realized Sol was still talking politics. The phone rang twice more followed by a firm three rap knock on his door.
“Sol, you there? Phone,” an unidentified brother announced. ”It sounds like Linda.” Linda was Sol’s current girlfriend, although that term might imply more of a commitment than Sol was willing to make. His “girlfriends” never lasted more than a few weeks.
The erotic moment shattered by a ringing phone, and a chick, their conversation and Steven’s daydreams ended. Sol and Steven never got stoned alone again.
Sol did not run unopposed for president. Late in the weeklong sign up period for campus-wide political offices, another commissioner, Commissioner # 6 Boyd Stevens, with a record and experience equal to Sol’s, entered the race. When Steven voiced his concern, Sol told him not to worry. “Boyd is an independent; he is not a Greek and he doesn’t live in a dorm. He lives at home with his parents. “And,” Sol added, “commuters never win elections for government positions. He has no built-in voting constituency.”
But Boyd Stevens had one advantage over Sol; Boyd looked like a frat boy, not a hippie. When he campaigned on conservative, traditional Greek Row to get its all-important support, sorority sisters and fraternity brothers could relate to him. They listened to him make typical political speeches and promises, nothing too radical. On the other hand, when Sol made his Greek Row campaign whistle-stops during the dinner hour, he didn’t look like his audience. More important, Sol didn’t say what the fraternity and sorority members wanted to hear. Instead of talking about non-controversial campus issues, shoeless Sol played folk songs and anti-war ballads on his guitar. He was politely and coolly received by the constituents he thought would be his automatically. He did not hear the comments made after he left.
“Get a haircut.”
“Shave your chin, you weirdo.”
“God invented shoes, you know.”
Sol was shocked when he lost the election. Steven wept at the announcement. Why he did, he was not certain. Was it because, he thought, he knew how much the election had meant to Sol? Was it because they had spent so much time and energy on the campaign? Or was it because–and Steven begrudgingly admitted this to himself– he was in love with Sol and it just plain hurt to see him get bad news and be disappointed? The disappointment, however, did not last long.
Two weeks after returning to school in fall, the newly-elected student body vice president, who had run unopposed, resigned. Undisclosed changes in her personal life necessitated that unexpected action. The Board of Commissioners selected Sol to replace her.
In the end, then, Sol Weiner came out a winner. Although his joining the fraternity to garner Greek Row support in future campus elections backfired on him, he still achieved a position of political power on campus, a position that certainly would be noticed by potential employers on a resume or by an inquisitive electorate in the event Sol ever ran for public office.
Upon graduating from college, Sol took a job across the country and disappeared. He never contacted the fraternity, responded to mailings from it, or sought out Steven. But decades later, after the internet and Google had taken over the world, Steven discovered a Sol Weiner living in a mid-size East Coast city where he had served as a city councilman for twelve years and then mayor for eight.
Steven stared at the photographs of Sol he found on the internet. The onetime Greek Row hippie was clean-shaven and his shoulder length blond hair was now trimmed and gray. Steven remembered fondly the friendship, the frustrating feelings of unrequited love, and experience of knowing Sol so many years earlier. And he laughed at how similar the name “Weiner” and the word “winner” are.