Then another arrived later in the week, from the same student: “If you haven't seen my past messages, the Festivus committee will pay for your flight and a place for you to stay. That's how dedicated to the cause we are.”
And then yet another on April 9: “As I've said before, get back to me and I'll pay for your airfare and hotel costs. All of us throwing the event really want this to happen.”
April 9 was a Tuesday. By Thursday, a brief spike in the New York weather had turned south: Temperatures were dropping. Gray skies loomed. I was dealing that morning with a tax misunderstanding that had briefly left me a grand in the hole and frantically calling my accountant. At 9 a.m., I stepped on the subway to head into the office, choosing the empty car with the pooping homeless man.
Mud wrestling. Beer. A roast pig. Blue skies.
I shot over a follow-up to the unknown student: “Serious about the pay-for-travel thing?”
Elon University is a small school nestled in the piedmont of North Carolina, about an hour west of Raleigh. 6,000 people go there. Many live on or near the campus, which is, without a doubt, one of the prettiest I’ve ever seen. When you ride in, you get the strong feeling that you’re on some sort of exclusive country club—it’s all rolling hills and fountains and massive, imposing brick buildings. I wasn’t surprised, at all, when a student told me that Elon has been named the Most Beautiful Campus in the U.S. multiple times. Or that the whole thing is an actual, state-designated botanical garden. It’s idyllic.
I met my handlers, including party chair Dean, Friday night at a Festivus Eve pre-party at the Sheridan Apartments, just off campus. Everyone was terrific. Most at least claimed to be expecting me. “You’re the BroBible guy?” said one girl. “I was expecting some old guy who’d creepily follow us with a camera.” (I didn't really have a response to this.) Most other conversations were slight variations off an Elon kid drunkenly saying, “You have no idea what’s in store for tomorrow,” with me responding, “Hey, I’m only a year out of school. I know how you kids roll. I see the emails. C’mon.”
I was told Elon’s Festivus origin story. Which goes something like this:
The party began nine years ago. Its name naturally stems from George Costanza’s famous telling of “The Story of Festivus” on Seinfeld, although—save a canceled yearly attempt at placing the pig’s head atop a long metal pole—there are no similar traditions. No Airing of Grievances. And the only Feats of Strength involve carrying two dozen kegs from one patch of grass to another.
Instead, Festivus was so named because the motto, “a Festivus for the rest of us,” reflected what the Founders (who were described to me in a way that requires a capital “F”) wanted out of a party. These Founders were non-affiliated Elon bros, and they wanted to create a full-blown campus-wide Event, open to literally any student, Greek or not. This Event would take donations throughout the year for the beer and the pig, and one of the main attractions would be mud wrestling, because why not.
Somehow, this crazy idea worked. The Founders convinced a group of returning students to throw the party for them the next year. An informal chain of succession was established, with younger kids learning the ropes and then, during their sophomore and junior years, taking their turn by collecting donations and throwing the actual party. Considering the fact that there is no student, fraternal, or university organization to back this power handoff, you’d think it would be about as stable as a Somalian government changing hands. But it’s actually worked. Nine years straight!
Of course, the chain of command isn’t the only miracle to come out of the party. The True Festivus Miracle, as told to me on Saturday, states that the skies will always be clear on the given party day. I can’t speak for past years. But I’ll confirm that the weather was indeed perfect during my trip.
Filled with keg beer, I crashed on the couch of a sorority house that took me in. It wasn’t the best night of sleep.
Pots rang in my ears at 7 a.m. A couple of truly devious girls screamed for me to wake up. A cat named Kitty walked by my feet. I realized that the combination of pollen, cat hair, and a more-than-slight hangover meant my eyes were essentially swollen shut. This would be my Jordan Flu Game.
The girls I stayed with were nice enough to cook me an eggs and bacon breakfast. I quickly downed two mimosas and hiked back to the Sheridan, making it in time for the, uh, bagpiper.
Dudes sprayed down a large grassy field with water hoses. Kegs were carted to an area beside it. Dozens of students started to stream in—every guy and girl in some sort of tank—and someone tossed me a beer. “There’s an emergency stash behind the house in case you don’t want to walk near the mud yet,” he said. “Beautiful,” I replied. I met a new friend from the night before, Mikey. “I slept in a sleeping bag with the kegs last night,” he said. He wasn’t lying.
Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” the song of the summer, seemed to appropriately kick things off. The smoker was opened and the juicy, delicious pig was presented, sans his head. (I later saw it lying on the parking lot pavement. He died an honorable death.) Mud started to fly in the pit. “Around 11 a.m., things really get going,” said another new friend. It was only 9:30.
The next hour and half, before that magical 11 a.m. mark, saw some of the wildest early morning drinking you'll ever really see. I discovered very quickly that I couldn’t, and didn’t, even want to try to keep up, but this conversation—this stupid, stupid, self-defeating conversation—happened around 80 times.
“So you just go around to different schools and party with them?”
“No, I kind of just sit on my laptop and write about stuff. This is a special circumstance.”
“So you’re not like Tucker Max.”
“Haha, no, dude. One time only thing. ”
“WELL YOU CAN CHUG, RIGHT?”
“I mean, screw it, give me the beer.”
“Excuse me for a sec.”
By noon, the heat, the booze, and the sheer sensory shock of seeing over a thousand college kids reenacting a scene from a teen sex comedy had caused my brain to fry. My memories are kind of a blur. I do remember ultimately walking into the pit because I was told I wasn’t muddy enough. Someone hit me in the face with mud, a direct shot, and I was temporarily blinded. A buddy from the previous night spotted me and walked up.
“Dude, you’ve got to really get down in it. Otherwise, everyone is going to give you shit.”
I looked the guy over. He had told me the night before that he was a former offensive lineman on the Elon football team. He looked it. Before I could voice any concerns, I was picked up and thrown. I’m 6-foot-1, 175—this must have been a truly wonderful moment to see.
I came to at the bottom of it all. What looked like four simultaneous keg stands were occurring at the same time. Couples freely made out. Cops stood across the street and took pictures. “That okay?” I asked Dean, my handler. “They do it every year,” he said. “They’re not going to bother us.” It was true. After everything was over, I went up to a cop for an “interview.” “As long as they behave, don’t drive, and keep it contained here,” he said, “we’re okay with it.”
Outside of the mud pit, as the afternoon edged on, I began to see some strange sights. A fully clothed and non-muddy bro danced furiously by himself.
“DUDSTONFEWMD,” said a guy to my left.
“DUDE IS STONEDOFFHISMIND.”
The offensive lineman who had tossed me walked by. He was cut.
“Yo, dude, your knee is bleeding.”
He laughed and looked down. “Oh shit! I am bleeding!”
The mud wrestling and beer chugging continued in mass. This would be the point of the party that you can't really, truly can't describe—everything is kind of just happening the way it should and how many different ways can you write “Everyone drank.” I don't want to beat you in with a “You had to be there” thing.
A procession of 19 and 20-year-olds eventually marched out in a muddy line. You could literally only see their eyes. Everything, everything, else was covered in viscous mud. The cleanup would later require freezing cold outdoor hose baths and, later, ruined shower drains.
By only 2, the 20 kegs were kicked. Cleanup began at 3. The party itself was like meteor shower—annual, fleeting, a bright shining spot before the darkness of exams. (There's your miserable metaphor of the day!)
Hundreds of kids streamed back to their apartments and dorms, ready to rest up for more drinking later in the night. They had that blissful, I'm Really Pumped To Be in College look. The planners stayed back to clean the hundreds of lime-green Solo cups and crushed bottles of champagne lying around. They were also going to nap and drink more that night. The madness would soon be a distant memory.
As for me? I slept 14 hours on Saturday. 12 on Sunday. You kids have all the fun without me next time.