smallbanner.gif (1847 bytes)
August 13, 1998

The brotherhood under the bridge
Cincinnati sophomore finds lasting friendship in fraternity of magic gnomes

CINCINNATI — Nationwide, fraternal organizations appear to be on the wane. Surveys have shown a steady decline in fraternity and sorority membership for the last five years. gnomes.jpg (28750 bytes)

But many students still look to these groups to anchor their social lives during their formative college years. For them, fraternities are places where, despite the complexities of our times, friendship is still official, unbreakable, like a brotherhood. A case in point: University of Cincinnati sophomore Andy Fleck.

Fleck was turned down from just about every fraternity on campus, from the "jocks" in Tau Omega to Tri-Lam’s brainier set. No one seemed to want him. Outcast and dejected, he had practically banished himself, spending most of his time under a nearby bridge.

But this story has a happy ending. Fleck quickly made friends with a group of 12 magic gnomes who lived under the bridge and collected gum wrappers and used prophylactics from teenagers up above.

Said clan leader Grrk Plakricht, "Children play on bridge. Sometime fall. Sometime we feast."

Unlike the fraternities that had spurned Fleck at every turn, the gnomes took him in and treated him as one of their own. They gave him a makeshift bed of straw, and welcomed him to their nightly feasts of berries and mutton. Fleck finally felt like he belonged.

"They’re the best guys in the world, above or below the earth’s crust," says Fleck, who has dubbed the group ‘Alpha Alpha Alpha.’ "They’re so much cooler than those losers in Tau O or Tri-Lam. Alpha Alpha Alpha rules!"

The gnomes felt equally strongly about Fleck. "Magic hard do," said one gnome. "Make tired. Need snack. Need An-dee."

As is typical in fraternal organizations, the gnomes have directed a certain amount of playful abuse, or ‘hazing,’ at Fleck. While the group has no structured hazing schedule, they have promised to work Andy "to death."

"Eat An-dee. Eat face," quipped Alpha Alpha Alpha brother Cramlap Elteim.

But Fleck understands that the hazing is crucial for the development of the fraternal bond. "If the brothers want to eat a part of my body as a sign of trust on my part, I’ll do it," he said. "I love these guys. Joklib ate my left index finger yesterday. I don’t care. He’s my brother."

"An-dee" quickly found himself with a full social schedule, attending events like "Kill Night," named for the rampant killing-and-eating spree that the gnomes organize on the first night of the full moon. Fleck’s fast feet and a forced marriage to a female gnome kept him from ending up as one of the victims. "It’s all in good fun," says Fleck cheerfully.

Sometimes, the pranks fly like wildfire. "Last sun, Grok use magic make An-dee go blind, then eat leg. Me laugh," said clan shaman Rateekl. Another gnome caused a drought in a nearby town, killing 52 elderly.

"It gets a little crazy sometimes, I admit it," says Fleck. "But all the fun and games just makes us closer brothers, you know?"

lowernav.gif (10023 bytes)