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November 12, 2004

The Day I Decided To Light My Pants On Fire

The year was 1991, December, it was a very cold winter at Villanova and I was a new brother in Delta Tau Delta.

I was a sophomore, I moved from the South Campus to the Main Campus of Villanova and was living in an all-male dormitory called Sullivan Hall. Across from that hall was the all-female dormitory called Sheehan Hall. In between the two halls was the "Quad" which was a strip of paved walk way in between the dirt & grass yards of the respective dorms.

Normally there were a few days in between the last day of classes and the final exams. During those study nights the students traditionally would take a break at midnight from studying and let off some steam, it was called "The Rebel Yell". The most common practice everyone would scream, holler or make some noise to let out the pent up frustration of trying to study. There were other things that were done, like streaking ("Hey, Snoop-A-Loop, bring your green hat!") or egg throwing or toilet paper tossing.

I asked one of the older Delts that lived in Sullivan hall, his name was Kaz, for his wisdom for the most impressive thing that he saw during The Rebel Yell. He thought about it for a moment, and then chuckled a reply, "Well, I did see someone light their pants on fire and run through the Quad once, that was impressive."

I repled, "Wow, who did that?"

He turned to me and said, "Why, it was you!"

So remember this is a brother talking to a newly-minted brother. I was finished with pledging and it should be made clear that one of the best things about The Delts were that they really didn't haze (their version of "hazing" would be scavenger hunts or having beer contests with other brothers - it was harmless stuff).

It was more of a Jedi-mind trick suggestion. Because as soon as he said this the three other Delts who were all in his dorm room were like Oompa Loompa out of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. They jumped up and started to get McGuyver on my ass and assembling the materials needed for our little endeavor.

Now you have to remember, dear reader, that this was very much before the time of Johnny Knoxville and his MTV foolishness. Plus these particular Delts are the most feared of college students - pre-engineers.

You see, I wasn't an engineer. But if you know most pre-engineers, they get it into their heads that they can build just about anything and are very, very dangerous because they liked to build things that would go "bang, pop or sploosh". Walking into any of their dorm rooms would always contain a few of their half-assed creations, some were good (like a homemade kegerator) or bad (a steam trunk converted into a makeshift coffeetable - a coffeetable that was 4 feet off the ground). Hey results be damned, it was something they built!

So here you have a bunch of 19 year olds scrambling around getting lighter fluid, sweatpants, jeans, a hooded sweatshirt, a hat, large beach towels, a stolen dormitory fire extinguisher, flash lights, a laboratory lighter, and a bucket of water.

Then we cleared an area in the room and drew out a picture of the quad and marked everyone's position on the map. It was like the invasion of Normandy Beach, I swear to God. What started as a little prank soon turned into a logistical nightmare, with the Delts calling in backup (Code Red! Code Red!) to assemble the other brother as lookouts and fire wardens.

At first I was excited to be the first brother to be lit on fire.

Wait a second. Lit on fire?!

"Don't worry about it!", Jason, a fellow sophomore Delta and NROTC friend said. "We got it covered, the lighter fluid will be the only thing that burns, and your jeans won't be touched."

Brian, or Gomer as he was known because he was about as bright at Gomer Pyle, chimed in, "Now you see," showing me the sweatpants, "you have the added layer of protection from the sweatpants which will protect your legs from any heat for a good 30 seconds after we light the lighter fluid."

Kaz, who was about 6'5 and weighed in at a solid 275, put on of his beefy hands on my shoulder and said, "Dude, what's the worse that could happen?"

Oh, I don't know maybe 2nd degree burns?

I had a vision of Channel 6 news at 11pm the next day:

"I'm Jim Gardner and welcome to Action News. A fire rages in Kensington but the big story on Action News is the jackass Villanova student..."

Oh, the glories of peer pressure. Ok, so I wanted to impress my new buddies in the fraternity and hey - it was college, you were supposed to break out and do crazy college things. Plus, they were enginnering students - they knew what they were doing, right? Right?

The plan was set into place, someone actually had walkie-talkies and created certain code phrases for trouble:

  • "Dog can't fly without umbrella!!" became "Rent-A-Cops are here, run!"
  • "The roast is ready!" meant that I was about to be lit up.
  • "OUT! OUT! OUT!" was the quick chatter to diffuse the fire.

    So they get me outside, in a uni-bomber style get up. I have the sweatpants on, along with the hooded sweatshirt and a hat. I'm wearing boots and a thick leather jacket. My shirts are tucked into my sweatpants and i'm wearing gloves. Three of us, Kaz, Gomer and I are huddled around the corner, while the Quad has about 80 people standing there, throwing toilet paper, screaming and smoking cigarettes.

    Jason runs over to me and douses my jeans with lighter fluid, the smell reminds me of a bar-b-que and my knees were knocking with nervousness. I won't lie - this was an extremely bad idea and it was kind of too late now to pussy out of it.

    Kaz explains to me where everyone will be, and that he wants me to run down the middle of the quad and there will be people there with fire extinguishers waiting for me. Also, if something goes wrong he and Gomer has beach towels to pat the flames out just in case. If I feel any pain or need help - take off your hat as the signal.

    Sounds like a plan. My knees didn't shake in agreement.

    Gomer lights my pants on fire and its too late now, i'm off.

    Normally i'm a very fast person and naturally athletic (ok, keep those comments to yourself and let me live in my fantasy world.).

    No, seriously, I was fast - and when your pants are on fire its amazing how much faster you can run to someone who wants to put your fire out.

    Carl Lewis couldn't have caught my sorry ass. I was running like, well, like my pants were on fire.

    At first I experienced what it must have been like to been an athlete in a sporting event because the yells, cat-calls and chatter or 80 people in the quad turned into a roar of approval and clapping. It was like I just hit the 3-pointer at the buzzer, because the people were eating it up. I was a God!

    So in my second stupid moment of the night, I stopped running and thought it would be a bright idea to do a little dance in the middle of the quad with my legs on fire.

    Funny thing about lighter fluid and jeans. Gomer the Engineer was very much correct: The lighter fluid did burn for a solid 15 seconds.

    And then it went out.

    So what was once a large crowd of adoring fans suddenly turned on the star fire athlete and their cries of approval turned into a chorus of "ASSHOLE! ASSHOLE! ASSHOLE!"

    Wow, from hero to zero in about 15 seconds.

    So me and my extinguished jeans makes a quick move towards where the brothers standing - and what do they do?

    The bastards do a 180 degree turn on me and they don't want to be associated with me! Some brotherhood!

    So I skitter my way, jeans smoking, into the dorm. I quickly get rid of any evidence and we go back to the D-Day Planning Room for a recap and a lot of Delts giving me hell for stopping my sprint for glory.

    Oh, it was embarassing but it wasn't all bad. Two random sidenotes came from that night. One, I heard the next summer in Washington DC (while I was interning for a PA Senator) from someone who went to Villanova a story about a guy who lit his pants on fire and ran thru the quad last year. Second thing was that I was at a Villanova renunion in 1997, and some random girl walked up to me saying, "Hey I know you!" - turns out she recognized me from that night (I have great legs, of course) and how funny I was that night. Oh, what I will do for a laugh.

    Oh a related topic - Do not, I repeat, Do not, do what I did. I was very lucky not to get hurt and the last thing I want to hear is some random blog enthusiast who reads this entry and thinks its a bright idea to light their brother's pants on fire (Jack, i'm looking at you).

  • Posted by Furey at November 12, 2004 2:19 PM

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