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PUT AWAY YOUR TOYS: Sunday brought perfect weather for hot-air ballooning over the Old Mendon Highway -- but when it's over, you still have to pack up. / Photo by Nancy Williams

Today's word on journalism

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

"Paranoia means having all the facts."

--William S. Burroughs, Beat Generation writer (1914-1997)

You know summer's over when the frat boys return to the White Owl

By Tyler Riggs

September 21, 2006 | Some say the first signs of college starting are empty bins of pens and loose-leaf paper at Wal-Mart.

They're lying. The first signs of school aren't found at any big-box store, nor at the grocery store where demand for bread and milk is as high as American sentiment for Donald Rumsfeld's resignation, nor at a bank where most 20-something's checking accounts are as empty as the gas tanks of the cars they can't afford to fill.

To find the first true sign of school starting in the fall, you need not look further than a college town tavern. The sign comes when the stale Marlboro Red-scented air of the bar becomes stale Tommy Hilfiger cologne mixed with Camel Lights air, and the summer crowd of sunbird women wearing pastel pants with their husbands wearing corduroys and golf visors is replaced by hordes of young men, most with hats on backward and hooded sweatshirts bearing the logo of their frat house or favorite sports team.

Even though Utah State University classes started on a Monday, it was a Tuesday night at the bar -- the night cheap burgers and beer are offered to hungry students -- that it became clear school was in session. Nearly 200 people, mostly young with cocky looks on their face like they'd just struck the jackpot on a slot machine in Wendover, strutted around, apparently celebrating the fact that it was the last chance to celebrate before school would keep them from celebrating anymore.

The somber look on the face of Brady Johns, a bouncer at The White Owl in downtown Logan, said it all that Tuesday night: A bearded man with long hair, looking more like a Viking than a soldier in the war on public intoxication, Johns usually is smiling, listening to Slayer on his iPod, happily reeting customers and checking identifications while sitting at the table nearest The White Owl's front door.

On this night, however, Johns wasn't at his normal table. He had to sit at a smaller table a few feet away, because a group of what he called "frat boys" asked to use his table to accommodate an ever-growing contingent of women dressed in ways that would make producers of those "Girls Gone Wild" tapes blush.

If the bar had a sign posted above its door listing the maximum occupancy, it might have been exceeded that night. Although during the summer the "regular" bar crowd could do a commendable job of filling the bar to capacity, but when they -- the group of people who frequented the bar 12 months of the year, not just when it was convenient with their school schedule -- filled the bar, it didn't seem as annoying.

I stood next to Johns that night and watched Gary Jones, a Vietnam veteran with an amputated leg, as he came into the standing room only palace of neon lights and "INXSentric" music. On most nights, Jones would gingerly climb up the stairs at the back of the bar to The White Owl's deck, balancing his pride with his safety, trying not to fall down the stairs. With the bar already bursting at the seams and it being impossible for someone with two good legs to make it through the crowd without feeling like a victim of a molestation crime, Jones frowned.

Although all logic told me that night that for the next four months, the students -- of which I admittedly am one -- would be learning about things like calculus and philosophy of billiards, the biggest lesson I'll learn this semester was taught that night: No matter what the calendar says, and no matter how many three-for-a-buck sales Wal-Mart offers on mechanical pencils, nothing will ever signal the death of summer and start of school like the return of the frat crowd to the bar. And although for the next eight months their presence will frustrate me and other barflies, it will all correct itself in May when the frat boys leave, and I know that school is over and it's the one true sign of summer beginning.


Copyright 1997-2005 Utah State University Department of Journalism & Communication, Logan UT 84322, (435) 797-1000
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