A Knockout Punch

When I was in college at the University of Oregon, autumn meant one thing: barn dances. Each year, my sorority held its annual “Barn Bash Spectacular,” which was basically just a fancy way of saying “drunken dance party held in a freezing cold abandoned barn.” It’s a pretty good time when you’re a 20 year-old Communications major with low self-esteem and a Toni home perm.

Each October, after all of the “Who’s taking who?” drama was over and most everyone had dates lined up, we’d kick off the event with something called “tapping.” Tapping begins with the entire sorority house learning a very special barn dance song. For example, one year I wrote “Come to the Barn Dance with Me” to the tune of Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar On Me.” (Best line: “Red punch, yellow hay, green puke—no!”) All 150 girls would then get liquored up, put on our newly purchased flannel shirts and drunkenly charge through campus to serenade our lucky dates. It was just what our parents dreamed we’d do when they sent in our huge tuition checks each semester.

The day of the big dance, we’d spend hours on our hair and make-up, then eagerly wait for our dates to show up. Then we’d all board the “buses” that would take us 50 miles out of town to the party barn. I say “buses” because the only ones we could afford were giant dilapidated hunks of green metal owned and operated by scruffy 60’s burnouts with names like “Rainbarrel Joe.” These guys would trail the Grateful Dead around the country for most of the year, but each fall they’d stay in Euguene and shuttle sorority girls to parties. Not only was this a great way for them to make money, but the more enterprising drivers also took the opportunity to hunt for magic mushrooms in the forest while we were partying. We always prayed really hard that they wouldn’t eat the psychedelic ones until after they drove us home.

Since sorority parties technically didn’t allow alcohol, our dates were in charge of smuggling it onto the bus for us. Most guys either did this with a bota bag or a flask, but a few geniuses (which includes most of my dates) would just bring a wine jug with the label peeled off. Tricky! Inside the various containers was something cleverly called “Party Punch” that we’d happily chug all the way to the barn. Of course, “punch” is probably overstating it a bit because the recipe was usually just: “Fill jug with 190-proof grain alcohol. Add cherry Kool-Aid for color.” By the time we finally reached the barn, we’d all have bright red mustaches, random hickies and absolutely no feeling in our lower extremities. That’s probably why so many people spent the entire party passed out on random hay bales.

My favorite barn dance ever was my senior year when my date was my now-husband Chris. As the two of us snuggled together on the bus, romantically competing over who could slam more of the Bartles & Jaymes wine coolers we’d hidden in our parkas, our rather angry bus driver, “Colonel Cannabis,” stood up and yelled for everyone to shut up. “Now listen here, all you smooth-skinned punks,” he growled in his professional pot smoker’s voice, “this here’s MY gig and I DO NOT want you to fuck it up, okay? The rule on my bus is ‘YP, YP.’ You puke, you pay! Now shut your yappers and let’s get on the road, you morons!”

For the next hour, as Colonel Cannabis gunned his rickety green bus through the dark Oregon forest and blasted Country Joe & the Fish, seventy college kids bumped up and down on the springy, broken seats, guzzling nasty red punch and chanting at the top of our lungs, “YP, YP! You puke, you pay! Don’t fuck up his gig! Don’t fuck up his gig! Woooo!”

Twenty years later, it’s still the best time I almost don’t remember.


And speaking of punch, here is my mom’s secret recipe. (Luckily, I didn’t have to go see “Mamma Mia” with her to get it, but I did have to apologize to my father for voting for Dukakis in ’88.) It’s not a very fancy recipe, but my parents have been married for over 47 years, so it must live up to its name:

Mindwiper Punch:

3 1/4 cups of vodka

2  cups of gin

2 liters sprite

2 large cans of pink lemonade

Mix together. Drink up. Don’t remember anything.

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