Now before you run off, or think that I am going to hit you with some gross-out story, realize that this is not about cheap bathroom humor. This is about a triumph of magical thinking. This is the tale of Lynchburg Lemonade.
Let me set the scene: It was the summer of 1989. George H.W. Bush had recently ascended to the presidency, and the Indigo Girls were at the peak of their powers.
Heady days, indeed.
I went to a school in New England. By nature of its peculiar history, my alma mater required an entire cohort to stay on campus and take classes one summer. It was great...like summer camp, but with booze. People took lighter course loads. There were daily cookouts. Volleyball, soccer, and softball games were played constantly. There was a beautiful river nearby, where we spent a lot of time. Hiking trails surrounded us. There were also parties, lots of parties. It was after one of these parties that my frat brothers and I learned just how much magic there is in a New England summer.
This incident, actually more of a phenomenon, began on a Friday night as my frat house was hosting a party - room to room ‘tails. If anyone is unfamiliar with this concept, it means that you slowly tour the house with a signature drink in every room. We co-hosted the party with the sorority across the street. It was a garden variety frat party.
Seeing as how most everyone in my fraternity was from the Megalopolis, people from elsewhere were unusual. I was the public school jock from Nebraska. There was a guy from St. Paul, MN. There was a guy from Jackson Hole, WY, and there was a guy from Nashville.
The guy from Tennessee was going to ride that Rocky Top identity for all it was worth, so he made Lynchburg Lemonade. This dude, pledge-named Cooter (of course), took one of the five gallon water bottles from the water dispenser and filled it with Jack Daniel’s, Sprite, and any number of other treacly things - all the fixin’s for his thematic regional elixir. It was a hit, and the party began swimmingly.
Sure enough, and to the surprise of no-one who has ever been to a frat party, that huge bottle got kicked over. There was a carpet in that room. It was a mess. Gallons of the stuff. Everywhere. People’s feet were sticking to the floor, and the women were wearing sandals. The sickly sweet smell mixed with the heat and made things miserable. It was bad. After an hour or two of this, an executive decision was made to simply close the door and party...everywhere else.
If you have not spent much time in New England, you might not know that few buildings have air conditioning. Old frat houses, the structures of which are held together by a mixture of paint, spilled beer, dip spit, vomit, and stale piss most certainly did not have air conditioning. This will become important shortly.
As one would guess, nobody was in a big hurry to clean up this odoriferous ooze the next day - most of us weren’t on the top of our games. Everyone had a reason. The guys who lived in the room had girlfriends, so they weren’t there much. Someone living in another room wasn’t going to take care of it....I mean, why? The guy who helped make it didn’t feel responsible - hell, he didn’t knock it over. And the person who kicked it over...well, that probably doesn’t even matter (no, it wasn’t me). There were days, probably more than a week, of inaction on the spill front. It was getting worse.
It festered. Remember how there wasn’t any air conditioning? No air conditioning means you need to open the windows in the summer. There were gnats. There were mosquitoes. One night someone claimed they saw a goddamned bat in there. Of course, there were flies. People stopped going in there.
Then came the bees. A lot of bees. A carpet apiary in the room next door definitely diminishes one’s college experience. We wondered who would cave and clean it up. We toyed with the possibility of just living with it. That room and that floor of the house became intolerable. We moved on with our summer camp lives. The stopgap was to stay outside. We would deal with a rainy day if it came.
So, one day the whole house took off to do something - I think maybe we had an intramural softball game.
We returned in a couple hours...and something supernatural had occurred. That horrible, gooey, insect-attracting mess that was impinging on our indoor lives had been utterly erased. Sent to another dimension. Gone. No bees, neither. No flying critters of any kind. No gnats. No bats. The room smelled something akin to “normal.” What we had on our hands was a full-on frat house miracle. NO FURTHER CONSEQUENCES...OF ANY KIND!
Truly, we had touched the divine.
To this day, nobody knows (or maybe nobody will tell) who cleaned up the Lynchburg Lemonade.
Some of my frat brothers are now titans of finance, public servants, or university professors. Most are pillars of their communities in one way or another. We, all of us, shared in learning the vital lesson of “Lynchburg Lemonading”:
If you ignore a problem long enough, it might just go away.
As an aside: There are two other legs to the frat boy problem-solving stool. One is to throw money at a problem (be careful, though, of your rotator cuff). The other is to simply declare the problem a virtue (the frat boy version of declaring victory and going home).
“Lynchburg Lemonade” encapsulates the feelings of wonder and discovery I experienced in that halcyon time. Fathers actually pass this tale along to their children, and alums marvel at its majesty during zoom reunions. Most do not want to know how the whiskey slick disappeared, choosing to hold this little piece of magic close to their hearts as long as they can. None of us who were there will ever forget it. The experience serves as a touchstone, uniting the brotherhood. I have never seen anything like it since.
To sum up, a bunch of over-privileged carousing frat boys attained a level of problem-solving that equals that of many modern local, state, and national polities.
I want to point out a few things:
- We were twenty-ish.
- We were deeply drunk, most of the time.
- All of us graduated (some more than others) out of that way of thinking.
Alas, a whiskey miracle is rare. This rarity is both its radiant beauty and its stark truth. It does not happen everywhere, or under any planned set of conditions. It is an occasional gift, but it is never a promise. I know that now. We should all know that now.
Wear a damn mask.
Otherwise, you will be responsible for my beloved Nebraska going undefeated this year.