At this time of year my friends are mostly snowboarding (in blue states) or hunting (in red states), activities where I would pose an immediate health and safety concern to the public. So, for the long weekend I opted instead to attend an inaugural conference for alumni volunteers sponsored by OFSIL*, to check on the house, and tend to some neglected friendships in Ithaca.
I am ashamed to say one of the most neglected is with Ray Melton, who, younger brothers may recall from their A.M. manuals and the occasional grumbling from Sankar, was Omicron's cook for a solid 22 years (1976-1999). I had not spoken with him in over two years. But despite that and my unannounced arrival, he greeted me warmly, and we spent the next few hours catching up.
For the brothers who knew him, you will be pleased to hear that Ray is still Ray: colorful as his disco cake and surprising as his squirty chicken, reliable as his French toast and brown as his green beans. He asked me about Jon Turell, and I couldn't answer, and then he asked me about Chris DiNapoli, and I couldn't answer, and then he asked me about Faizal Enu, and I did answer— but he didn't believe me anyway, until I opened up Facebook on my phone and showed him the engagement pictures.
He reminisced about bailing various brothers out of jail, and bringing them egg McMeltons while they camped out for hockey tickets, and going on strike in disgust when enough brothers didn't bring down dates to breakfast the morning after the formal, and being disrespected by the National Consultant for refusing to dish any dirt on us. He didn't remember the house voting, at the behest of Shannon, to declare nacho bar to be both unacceptable and un-American, but he did say he enjoyed adjusting the dishes year-to-year. He said he had learned more about cooking by working at the fraternity than in any cooking class, and that even after 20 years on the job he was still learning new things. He said he wished he had stayed on a few years longer, for the extra Social Security money. My inner Bing said a few extra years of learning to cook wouldn't have hurt either, but I let him continue.
He shared a bit about retirement community life. It's hard to get around town in a walker, especially when your wife is also in a walker, so he spends most days reading in his apartment. They made him take down all his composites from the wall, and now one is missing, but he doesn't remember which one. He has not spoken to a single person in his family since his mother passed away a few years back, except one of his sons who lives in Ithaca who visits periodically. But there are plenty of folks there with lots of free time on their hands to gossip and argue the minutiae of local politics, and revive resentments from ancient arguments. So in a way, it's actually like Thanksgiving dinner after everyone's third glass of wine.
One of the strangest things, he said, was that he would run into people from the old neighborhood who would castigate him as a traitor. Not for staying on the straight-and-narrow after prison, or for befriending some snotty Cornell frat boys, but for moving from the northside of Ithaca to the southside. You know, from the 14850 to the 14850.
That got us talking about Northside Community Center, which had been Omicron's main charity in the 1980s and 1990s, It had been a common practice into the '50s for the fraternities to invite city kids up to their houses for a Christmas party, and Ray was happy that Lambda Chi had partially revived that tradition with Forty Little Nippers. He recalls that growing up, the best part of those Christmas parties was not getting toys or playing games with sorority girls or a day out of the housing projects, but getting to eat as much as you wanted for a change— and he felt good being the one to prepare their food for that night.
He hasn't been back to the house since he retired in 1999— not once. It's painful for him emotionally, to contemplate walking in and seeing strangers there, and having no part of their lives beyond a photo on the composites. And it's painful for him physically as well. He looks much the same as he did a couple years ago, but he is not a spry 75. He says the doctors blame years of walking up the hill in cheap shoes for his arthritic knees, but Ray freely admits his own choices about smoking and being stubborn about diabetes did him in. He's spending more days in the hospital, and losing sight in at least one eye.
He misses everyone, maybe even the Hotelies, and though he probably won't write back (arthritis, etc.), he always enjoys hearing from brothers. He and Lillie are still at
Ray and Lillie Melton
798 S Plain St, Apt 159
Ithaca, NY 14850
I have their cell phone numbers as well, but as they are on a prepaid plan and living on a very tight budget, I prefer not to distribute them to the list. If you're planning a visit to Ithaca, just contact me and I'll be happy to send them over.
He has had a few brothers visit him at Reunions, and Trevor Connor whenever he passes through, but he doesn't receive the electronic Oracle (let's face it: if you asked Ray to live-tweet from the Titus Tower II lobby, he'd think it to be some sort of vulgar act Paul Bosworth or Vinnie Suppa invented). I warned him that we weren't expecting a big turnout for Reunion or Homecoming this year, as we are encouraging everyone who can to attend the Centennial Weekend on October 19. Shit buddy, he said, I guess I'll see everybody then. He not only promised to go, but he had Lillie mark it on their calendar. So while I don't advocate waiting till the autumn to reach out to him, seeing him back at the house for the first time in a good 14 years is something to look forward to.
As far as I know, this is only the second promise he's ever made to me. The first was that he would kill Karlin if he ever stepped foot in his kitchen again. Since it's not his kitchen any more, that could pose a problem, but I am sure after he swaps a few stories about dealing with brothers with the "new" guy, Etienne would happily hand over the knives. That would be a sight. Two chefs so different, and never normally seen together, but presented before the brothers to marvel and digest.
Like peas in pasta.
* Attention initialism enthusiasts of Cornell: you know of course that ARME has been AEM for the better part of a decade now, and that in the strange math of the HomEc school, HSS + PA = PAM. You know LASSP studies baryons and LASP barrios, and may even be able to name each constituency of the LGBTQA First Year Group. Well, in 2011 the Office of Greek Life, latterly the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs, had its writ extended to co-ops and off-campus housing, and is now the Office of Fraternities, Sororities and Independent Living (OFSIL). So now you know.