Farewell Fred Caruso

Dear Brother Fred Caruso,

My heart aches because you decided to leave this world behind prematurely. While I met with a group of familiar faces Thursday night at McSorley’s imbibing beers at an expedited pace and reliving memories of your life and contributions to our fraternal order, I still feel remorseful.

When you pledged and came out to the brothers of Delta Phi at NYU in the early 90’s, the brotherhood responded, “Thanks for coming out, but we already knew. It’s about time you stopped dipping in our dating pool. Please stop taking our women!”

I pledged a few years later in 1995, thanks to brothers Ken Takahashi and Brian Martin, who promised me endless beer and female companionship in perpetuity. They were excellent salesmen and they at least complied with the beer promise. Foolish me, as I thought these were commodities… only in North Korea, if and only if you were the Supreme Leader. In reality, all it took was one night of free Dos Equis beers and tequila shots at El Cantinero and the opportunity to couch surf in a convenient location on campus. But I digress. Did a gay brother affect my decision to join this fraternity?

Absolutely not.

I was a blind, ignorant and immature culturally-confused boy from the Bronx. Fred Caruso, you never disrespected, belittled or hazed me as a pledge. You made me feel loved (in an appropriate, platonic way). You were the first homosexual person I met, interacted with and got to know. You taught me tolerance and acceptance of different people and paved the way for me to empathize with the LGBT community. You were fearless and confronted anyone who was a bully or disrespected you, no matter how large the person was. I feared for you often. Where I came from, that attitude got yourself beat up or killed (due to the increased probability of physical confrontation and violence).

When I became Delta Phi president in 1998, you held me to a higher standard and expected me to improve quality of life for the brothers and alumni relations. I always admired that. Judging by the quality and quantity of beer I provided in the house during my administration, I obviously failed. A thousand pardons. I often disagreed with your views, but we could still accept each other because we had a common bond: our fraternal order. My parents never approved of my membership (it caused major strife), but they did not agree with many of my other life decisions either.

I could not expect my immigrant parents (who grew up in the Korean War) to understand Americanized “Greek life” or better yet the meaning of St Elmo, the janissaries, the Knights of Malta or the trials and tribulations we as an organization experienced in 3-5 Washington Place. Despite the trivial first world struggles, what a wonderful time it was! After graduation, the brothers dispersed and moved on to the real world, where making money or chasing the dream (or a mate) became the priority.

I am sorry we lost touch.

I am sorry I did not congratulate you personally on the Big Gay Musical debut and heckle you after the performance. I thought of you occasionally, since brother Ashley Gordon and I would start a “FREDDO!” chant in public for no reason and laugh hysterically. I would talk to brother Joe “Bear” Freedman over the phone annually and we too would chirp your name like a pair of annoying parrots. It never got old.

Life in the fraternity involved imbibing copious amounts of inexpensive beer. To creatively pass time, we had to play drinking games. I understand that this is not a skill to publish on a public LinkedIn profile, but you were a subject matter expert in such games.

“Whales Tales, Prince of Whales…” oh my. You were often the center of attention when the brothers played. Many brothers were good, but few were great, making the game more fun for everyone involved. It required quick wits and agile adaptation to rules that changed on the fly. Your education and your unbridled enthusiasm shined here. I remember playing with you once, hearing things like “Drink for pointing!”, “Drink for chirping!” and “DRINK!” every time for an incorrect response. I failed miserably and experienced early retirement that evening. I did not hate you, the player. I hated the game. I could not party with the big boys, so I decided not to show up. Whenever I hear the phrase “Whales Tales” I shudder and remind myself of that night. I never played again. Thank you, sir.

On the other hand, “Asshole” was a drinking game I played well. I remember one night I played so well, I won three games in a row as “President.” This great distinction awarded me two things: a drinking “presidential salute” and the authority to create a new rule. I felt extremely proud of this achievement. Seriously. I decreed that all brothers would forever address me as “Emperor Kim.” Next, I started the presidential salute and quickly chugged my beer. My ego and delusions of grandeur that night ruined me. Somehow I lost the next game in the most egregious fashion ever. Like a choke artist, I went from “President” to “Asshole”; from the top to the most bottom position. I vividly remember you and brother Juan Ortiz’s reaction to my untimely demise. I witnessed your sheepish grins. You chanted “Good evening Emperor Asshole,” “Drink Emperor Asshole” and “Wipe Emperor Asshole” the rest of the night. Of course, the peanut gallery followed. The Delta Phi orchestra performed a cacophonous symphony of embarrassment in D Minor but I deserved it. Thank you, sirs. May I have another?

I can never repay my debt to you and it hurts.

I brought shame to House Lannister. I am sorry.

I wept uncontrollably in the office Friday morning reminiscing about one of our infamous street fairs. During our annual street fairs on West 4th Street we always brought out one couch so brothers could hang out and enjoy the weather. We had that ugly old couch that had seen better days (it may have come from the Regan administration) and we were all sitting on it while proudly wearing our letters. Today, a couch like that would score us more bed bugs than women. No, it was not the ugly, yet surprisingly comfortable, green, stinky couch that brother Kelvin had a penchant for…

It was early in the morning. You were being yourself: so loud, gay and proud, singing show tunes while all of us were hungover and hating life. We all wanted to shut you up (or decrease your volume), but you had other plans. We later would compete with each other to determine who made the most offensive and witty cat calls with the foot traffic (most were innocent strangers). This was judged by the brother who received the most indignant response. Brilliant comedy; I remember laughing so hard my cheeks hurt. In the end, your boisterous presence and leadership made that day glorious.

Farewell Fred Caruso
Farewell Fred Caruso

I wept on my drive to Maryland this morning remembering one of many times we had altercations with other fraternities in the 3-5 Washington Place stairwell. You were in the stairwell yelling and screaming at our frenemies and hexing their houses. We all knew your bark was bigger than your bite, but it took courage to be out there first and put your body in harm’s way… NOBODY MESSES WITH MY BROTHERS. That was your philosophy. The drive was painful with the traffic on the Cross Bronx expressway but the tears came later… even after I enjoyed my favorite cheat meal, Popeye’s fried chicken. Unreal. Is there no logic here, Mr. Spock?

I have suspended this weekend’s Ironman training workouts because it is difficult to concentrate or demonstrate any modicum of emotional intelligence. I am trying to be positive by listening to “The Man” by Aloe Blacc on repeat which is helping me weather the storm. I wish you could listen to the lyrics. You were “The Man.”

But I know you too well. You would have retorted such an inappropriate, obnoxious response in a high pitched voice (like the Tisch School of the Arts drama queen that you were) that would make me cackle like a hyena.

Thank you for being you and staying true to yourself. You were no saint, but I wish you decided to stick around longer. I hope your family one day learns how much you enriched my life, many others within the fraternity and beyond.

Farewell Fred Caruso. I miss you brother. You will never be forgotten. May your suffering be truly over.

Yours in the Bond,

“Emperor” Peter Kim, Gamma 1996


tl;dr = Rest in peace. Thank you for the memories. I love you brother Freddo. All life is precious.

Author: Peter Kim
Former chunky child and couch potato, now adult triathlete. I share my experiences to help you embrace an active lifestyle of swimming, cycling and running.