Friday, March 30, 2018

Phi Gamma Delta Ski Chalet ~ Lake Lanier Orr Yacht Club Commodore's Ball ~ Lies & Untruths That Started & Perpetuated it All

Beginning in 1968 founding brethren of the Kappa Deuteron Chapter of Phi Gamma Delta at the University of Georgia proudly dwelt in an exceptionally regal structure.

Okay, let's not dicker that we had an 1800's chapter slapped down and out because hooligans broke curfew to go to the circus. We know that and have talked about that. We're talking this minute about where Delta Colony guys and their immediate successors dwelt.

This is where early modern era Phi Gams resided. Of course we know that none of those young men were hooligans.

In the early 1970's brothers or others who choose to remain nameless concluded Phi Gams were not suited for such a regal dwelling. Perhaps early brethren were hooligans after all and were evicted. No one is talking.

Somehow Phi Gams acquired a sweet piece of real estate upon which to erect a monumentally ugly structure. No one is talking about how this came about or if there was some structural design competition whereby the designer receiving the fewest votes was awarded the project. This was the result. Quality roofs do not sag like this.

Since no one is talking let's just tell the story the way we want and see who emerges to call us liars. Hooligans were involved. They were to be evicted from their regal dwelling. Perhaps they were to be evicted from the University of Georgia and the state of Georgia. Perhaps they were destined for labor camps in Siberia.

To avoid any of these eventualities the hooligan Phi Gams sponsored a poker night and invited owners of sweet pieces of Athens real estate. Hunch punch flowed freely. The property owner who consumed the most hunch punch lost his sweet piece of real estate. He also lost his girlfriend. She went on to become an early Phi Gam Sweetheart.

With property in hand a structure was needed. A design contest took place at this Bavarian Alpine Inn during Open Mike Yodeling Night.

Hunch punch flowed freely. When hunch punch ran out and no one could yodel any longer Phi Gams decided one building design looked like it might be a happening venue to attract 1970's women. Due to many exotic forces that influenced 1970's women the design in fact went on to function quite well in the women attraction department. In other departments not so much.

With remaining proceeds from the hunch punch poker game Phi Gams built a structure loosely resembling the design selected on the hunch punch yodeling night. Construction details will follow after several digressions. Phi Gams moved into the structure.

This is where conjecture ends and the verifiable legend begins.

In 1976 brothers and occasional women influenced by exotic forces would sunbathe on the flat roof of our glorious house, by then recognized as the “ski lodge”. Whether that was an affectionate term or other was a moment to moment decade to decade thing.

Before long a puddle became apparent near a roof drain.

Gradually the puddle grew. And grew. This in not the actual roof.

The puddle grew impressively. Water mysteriously never drained despite what appeared to be drains. This in not the actual roof either.

This puddle demanded a name. Lake Lanier Orr. Lanier Orr was the Delta Colony brother and Athens area home builder who built the ski chalet. That’s about all we undergrads knew about him in 1976.

Lake Lanier Orr demanded a high brow recreational facility. Lake Lanier Orr Yacht Club.

Yes, we have already shown you this facility. It is in no way high brow. But it was the only Yacht Club available to us.

Lake Lanier Orr Yacht Club demanded a potentate. The Lake Lanier Orr Yacht Club Commodore. Who maybe should look something like one of these prosperous and attractive people.

The Lake Lanier Orr Yacht Club demanded a regal annual celebration. The Lake Lanier Orr Yacht Club Commodore's Ball was born.

The late great Steve “Codman” Tmay served as the inaugural Commodore. Yours truly served as 
inaugural boatswain a/k/a bos’n.

The Lake Lanier Orr Yacht Club Commodore’s Ball followed a theme employed by many, but never before at Kappa Deuteron. Brothers and dates arrived with packed luggage hoping to win a weekend beach vacation awarded as the grand finale of evening festivities.

All this was engaged on short notice. Commodore Tmay expended minimal if any effort seeking appropriate attire, settling contentedly on a blazer and ascot. This is not Codman.

Bos’n Stoddard worked marginally harder attempting to locate at the very least an official whistle essential to welcoming guests aboard.

The Navy School was the obvious and only source to procure a bos’n whistle. The cashier smirked and advised it is called a pipe or more properly a boatswain’s call, never a whistle. The Navy School still did not inventory them due to the dearth of ships in Athens upon which passengers might need to be welcomed aboard.

A sailor cap and referee's whistle would have to suffice for this bos’n.

The First Annual Lake Lanier Orr Yacht Club Commodore’s Ball was festive even with guests welcomed aboard by an improper pipe / call / whistle. Some kind of grog beverage was concocted by the trash can full. A brother with a blind date won the vacation, most certainly giving rise to an awkward weekend of unguaranteed romance.

In year 2 the first bos’n was promoted to Commodore 2 following the graduation of Commodore 1. Commodore 2 was astonished when girlfriend Julie Sams’ father, a former Navy officer, bequeathed to him his 
Navy blazer and peaked cap. Bequeathed, not loaned. The Commodore asked if the father was certain, as the volatile Stoddard-Sams romance had notoriously unstable sea legs. The father was certain. His son is probably curious about that bequeathal to this day. The blazer looked like any blazer but with several stripes. The cap resembled this but with fewer scrambled eggs. 

Promoted to bos’n 2 was Rusty “Vince” Blair. N
o one can remember year 2 Lake Lanier Orr Yacht Club Commodore’s Ball except that it was vaguely similar to the year 1 event. At night's end bos'n Vince was promoted to Commodore 3. When year 3 Ball dates approached Commodore 3 Vince confessed to retired Commodore 2 that he lost the Commodore blazer and peaked cap. Vince liked to climb trees and meditate. Perhaps he pondered there the meaning of life and where he last saw the many things he lost. This is not the actual Vince.

Back to the ski chalet.

During the summer quarter of 1978 Bob Cheeley, Tommy “Poonhead” Williams, Mike “Duckie” Hall, Walker “Stalker” Campbell and yours truly resided in the officers' quarters. The condition of those quarters was by then a powerful deterrent to becoming an officer.

One night when all but 2 brothers were lodged elsewhere a monsoon hit Athens. Cheeley and yours truly were awakened by the noise equivalent to Niagara Falls from a distance of 18 inches. Not sure what led us there but we ended up in the kitchen to find roof water flowing down via the 2nd floor and out of fluorescent ceiling light fixtures. Somehow the fluorescent tube lights still shone and no sparks flew, yet water gushed out of the fixtures by the gallons. Kinda like this but with way more water and in a gnarly kitchen far less nice than this office.

We grabbed jimongo trash cans formerly used to concoct and dispense Lanier Orr Yacht Club Commodore’s Ball grog and began collecting water. We collected and dumped water for hours. At the recent Pig Dinner Brother Cheeley advised that Duckie Hall was there to bail too.

This is not the recollection of yours truly, but let’s not split hairs. It would be entirely unlike Hall to stick around during frantic hours of aquatic need, though with a name like Duckie he should have been perfectly suited to our task. In my mind Duckie would have bolted from that scene 
like this. But I digress.

Days later we learned the peculiar occurrence of gallons of water pouring out of functioning light fixtures was the result of an aberrant drain line malfunction deep within the ski lodge bowels.

The rest of the ski lodge bowel failure and repair details are fuzzy because yours truly moved to Rivermill weeks later. There the roof was 67.3% less likely to collapse as one slept. This is what a habitable structure with a proper roof looks like.

Let’s exercise some timeline suspension.

Each and every year ski lodge namesake Lanier Orr loyally attended Pig Dinners absolutely devoid of any apparent shame. He even entered and loitered in the ski chalet, which he had to know better than anyone was primed to implode any second, minute, day, week, year or decade. Take your pick, but Brother Orr showed zero shame or fear. Brothers like me found that astonishing. That link is not our Lanier Orr, not a Brother and not even a man. It's the best Google can find. To the best of our knowledge Brother Orr has never been arrested or worn anything orange. Since we really need an image at this point we chose a handsome guy. Let's say this is Lanier Orr.

For decades yours truly disparaged Brother Orr without mentioning him by name to any member of the general public when discussing our UGA fraternity house, as follows:

“Our fraternity amazingly prospered despite a lodge that looked like an ugly ski chalet shabbily built with no plan whatsoever by a fraternity brother with an otherwise excellent reputation for quality work. The structure violated every architectural standard known to man.”

This is what yours truly wanted people to imagine.

Several months prior to a recent 
Pig Dinner reunion my blood brother Clay informed me of the first fallacy of my decades of contrivance and/or false recollection. An architect did in fact design the place and secure all requisite stamps and building code conformity approvals. Only he designed and got it approved with no basement in the plans. 

The basement idea came late in the game, and Brother Orr was asked if it could be included. An accommodating fellow, he said it could be done and did it. The afterthought basement was largely the cause of inherent structural instability from day one of the building completion. Yet this was not Brother Orr’s fault in any way. Yours truly did not sweat the vague fault or liability details. Yours truly just wanted more details.

Yours truly owed Brother Orr one large yacht load of an apology, as likely did decades of brothers who were armed with misinformation. Much of that misinformation was likely initiated and certainly perpetuated by yours truly.

Clay suggested not to worry. Lanier is probably good with everything. Yours truly was not good with everything.

At this point I will begin to speak in first person instead of yours truly.

Fast forward to a recent afternoon Pig Dinner event in Athens. I pulled Lanier Orr aside and began to blather my poorly rehearsed apology for decades of misguided abuse of his name and reputation. It may have been the first time I ever looked him directly in the eye at close range.

Then came what I call The Enlightenment.

The Enlightenment blew away all other decade long fallacies of contrivance and false recollection. We had virtually zero facts correct. Lanier calmly and with no pretension told the real story.

Lanier did not build the house and was not instrumental in its plan. Another builder got to a point of approximately 90% completion then disappeared. Fortunately he did not depart with any Phi Gam funds for uncompleted work. Lanier was the only go to guy who could come to the rescue given the schedule. He was local and talented. Whether he was available is moot. He made himself available. Lanier did not throw in the word “talented”. I did.

Yes, the basement was an afterthought. No, the columns placed down there to support the rest of the house were never the proper length or properly set. There was more than the only one column I thought I remembered. I remember only one because it obstructed billiards shots on the only sorry pool table we owned during my era.

That table was cheap to begin with and came by virtue of the chapter somehow winning it. It was never properly leveled on the concrete floor that was never properly leveled. It had strange ruts, leans and angles I came to know and occasionally used to my advantage during the only period in my life I was remotely decent at billiards.

Okay, back to the lodge. 

This week I reached out to Brother Lanier Orr for further edification on details. I know of no email address for him. I left him a voice message. Perhaps he prefers to lay low. He is retired and he has earned the right to lay however he wishes.

I go on record here to say Kappa Deuteron owes Brother Orr a debt of gratitude. For a many years he got a bad rep he did not deserve. Perhaps he was unaware of misinformed young twits like me thinking less than ideal things about him. I hope all is well today.

Following that 1978 gully wash I thought it impossible the house would stand another week, much less another decade plus. We even won a few of our 14 Cheney Cups while the place held together.

I last set foot in the old place circa 1983 before moving to Chicago. What it must have looked like and been like to dwell in at the end of its life circa 1990 I can not imagine. 

The Kappa Deuteron Chapter of Phi Gamma Delta at the University of Georgia now occupies the regal structure befitting the Finest Fraternity Ever to Grace Planet Earth.

It was not always so.