Show Us Your Brand, Governor Bush!
Readers of Doonesbury learned not long ago that George W. Bush
probably bears on his buttocks the brand of his Yale
fraternity, Delta Kappa Epsilon. At the very least he must
have presided while others were branded, since he was
president of the chapter.
Now that Mr. Bush is seeking another
presidency, one question ought to be on every voters mind:
What happens when you ram a red-hot iron into human flesh
Not many people know, but I am among them. George W.
Bush still belongs (Once a Deke, always a Deke, is how we
put it in the brotherhood) to the Yale chapter of DKE. I
belong to the chapter at Middlebury College. In the mud season
of 1955, I was a senior there.
Mud season in Vermont is when
winter hasnt gone out yet and spring hasnt come in yet.
Theres not a damned thing to do
but kick the dog or whip your son or rape your daughter or
beat your wife, or just shoot yourself and all of the above to
death, and the final hell with everything.
Well, you could get
Before World War II branding had apparently been
the custom in the Alpha Alpha chapter of Delta Kappa Epsilon.
When the veterans came back it became no longer the custom.
They had seen enough of that sort of thing.
But in those
olden days the real brother of one of our fraternity
brothers had served as Brother Brand--the one who actually carried out
the job. Ill call the younger brother Sammy, and will
similarly change the names of the other brothers involved, on
the slim chance that they may look back on their youthful selves
Sammy argued that great increases in
self-esteem and tribal solidarity were to be gained
through third degree burns, a proposition that seemed plausible
to perhaps half of the brethren. To the rest of us, it seemed
In our gentle fashion, we suggested that Sammy ought to
get his brand not on the haunch, where Middleburys football
coach had his, but on the forehead so that his Dekedom might
shine before men. Or if this seemed overly boastful Sammy
might elect a location allowing for more private
contemplation, such as the inside of his eyelids. And thus, at
increasingly inventive length, did we youngsters while away
the lazy hours of college.
Nonetheless meetings were held on
the absurd idea. Sammys elder brother, Brother Brand, came by
to explain it and to address the health concerns raised by
certain Nervous Nellies among us. In his day only a few wounds
had ever turned septic, he told us soothingly, and those were
guys who got infected from every little thing anyway. This sounded
encouraging, and the date was set.
The ceremony was in the secret room on the
third floor, where even the windowpanes were painted black.
Human bones hung on the walls, along with mottoes or
passwords or something, in a language that was Greek to us.
Delta Kappa Epsilon was not about scholarship.
was old chairs, trunks and footlockers in storage, and a
council table. On the table was Sammy, with four football
players holding down his arms and legs in case the human canvas
should flinch and spoil Brother
Our new Brother Brand was a hockey player named Ollie. His
assignment was to brand each volunteer three times, once for
each letter. Sammys older brother had explained to us that a
single branding iron with all three letters wouldnt work, as
some of the fellows might prefer to be marked on curved
parts of the body. Consequently Ollies assistant was juggling three
brands at once in the flame of a blow torch that hissed and
Everyone in the room intended to get branded except for
myself and a classmate called Pooh Bear. Pooh and I climbed on
a trunk, from which we could stare down on a Thomas Eakins
tableau--grave men of science bent over their immobilized patient, disputing
whether the instruments should be sterilized red-hot or white-hot. Meanwhile
Sammy waited, spread-eagled under a lamp suspended from the
ceiling. In late winter, his torso was the milky color of a Japanese beetle
Ollie had argued for white-hot, and once the irons
reached that stage he ran out of excuses for delay. He plucked
the brand from the fire (how often do you get the chance to
use those words in their literal sense?), took a deep breath,
and then struck while the iron was hot (or these words
either?). To Ollies credit, his hand shook. Only one corner of the
triangular brand actually made contact, searing a small caret
rather than a proper delta above Sammys heart.
Oh, shit, Ollie said. Sorry.
Hang in there, Ollie, Sammy
said, stoic as an Iroquois brave.
time Brother Brand was done, Sammys white flesh bore a
partial and a complete delta, followed by a passable kappa and
Next up was Will, a distance runner displaying less body
fat than a flayed whippet. He wanted the brand on his
shoulder. Ollies hand was still shaky, and he had to redo
the first two letters. Wills negligible
anterior deltoid offering only a limited area for text entry, the
last letter wound up in his armpit.
And on it went, as smoke rose
from youth after callow youth and the smell, familiar to any
barbecue chef, became overpowering. Only an involuntary flinch
or two showed that the process might be anything more than
In the days that
followed, the branded brothers talked very little about their
experience, at least to the nonbranded. This may have been
because the results were almost uniformly
unsatisfactory--illegible smudges of scar tissue. Or perhaps,
and this is the explanation I prefer, regret and even
shame had set in.
Have second thoughts of this sort ever occurred to the
compassionate conservative from Texas?
This strikes me as a perfectly
legitimate avenue of questioning for the press to pursue. Were
you branded yourself, Governor, and if so, where, and can we
take pictures? George Schultz had a Princeton tiger tattooed
on his buttocks, Governor Bush. Whats your opinion of that?
Whats your position on tattoos generally?
Is tribal disfigurement a Republican thing, Mr. Governor, or
just an Ivy League thing? What do you think about all those wannabes in the NBA?
Where do you stand on piercing? How
about nipple rings? Governor, governor! Over here! If elected, will
you support assisted suicide? Where should society
draw the line between self-murder and self-mutilation? Between
second and third degree burns? Between George and Gracie?
Fair questions, all of them, and relevant, too. I dont care a bit
about whether Mr. Bush snorted cocaine during his unusually
protracted adolescence. I doubt if Mr. Clinton had
the nerve to inhale, but I hope he did. I know Mr. Gore did,
and so what? Boys will be boys.
But hey, George--mind if I call
you George, Brother Bush?--if youre branded, enquiring minds want to know.