Winter term of my freshman year, the drinking age was eighteen and several of the guys in my dorm and I decided to hit fraternity row. It’s a bucolic little street with maybe a half-dozen fraternities lined up on each side. It’s anchored on one end by Baker Library and on the other by the President’s home (neither of which did much to dispel the revelry one enjoyed there).
Late that night, Chuck, Lefty, Hilliard and I found ourselves in the basement of Beta. There was a crowd but nothing specific going on – no band or cocktail party – just beers on a Friday night. We were standing near the back of the basement where four guys were playing a game of “Zoom, Schwartz.”
Zoom, Schwartz is a drinking game. While the rules are simple, the game itself is difficult to play – especially if you’ve been drinking. It’s a verbal game of tag where players stand in a circle and bark out one of four commands to tag another player – who then has to use one of the four commands to tag someone else. If you speak out of turn or fail to respond quickly enough when you are tagged, the game stops and you are required to drink. You are only allowed four drinks to a cup of beer and if you get tagged three times in a row, you chug.
The four commands are, “Zoom” – which designates the player at whom you are looking. “Schwartz” – which designates the last person who spoke. “Budeman” – which designates the person to your left. “Perfigliano” signifies the person to your right. On this last, the shortened “Figliano” is considered an acceptable contraction due to the speed of the game.
So much for the rules. Back to the basement of Beta.
“You guys want to play?”
It took us a nanosecond to say yes. Freshmen aren’t always welcomed into upper class sanctuaries, let alone invited to join in their fun. I had an older brother who belonged to Bones Gate (another fraternity) where they played a similar game called Wales Tails (‘nounce pronounce the prince and four, regular Wales Tales, the prince calls on…) So, I thought we could hang.
I was wrong.
They were so fast! “Zoom, Zoom, Shwartz, Budeman, Figliano, Boom.”
“Boom? BOOM? Drink ‘shmen!”
We couldn’t follow them. It was like watching a professional team play against a high school. They owned us. And we were too embarrassed to quit. Once they realized that we couldn’t keep up, they started to single each one of us out, ganging up to force three mistakes in a row. We were chugging left and right. It was a nightmare. The drunker we became the worse we played. Finally, one of us booted and they kicked us out. We returned to our dorm in shame.
The next morning we met up at Thayer Dining Hall.
“Unacceptable.” Hilliard said, shoving his plate away.
“They fucked us.” Lefty was so made he could spit.
Chuck drummed his fingers on the table. “We can’t go back there…not unless we get better.”
I lifted up my head. “So, let’s get better.”
We chipped up a keg, I called Mo’s and within an hour we were set to go in the common area of our dorm. We circled around a trashcan and made a vow that none of us could leave the game until we booted. We nicknamed the game “Boot, Shwartz.”
We played all day. We stumbled through the first hours, but as time moved on, we began to feel the rhythm of the game.
“Zoom, Shwartz, Figliano, Budeman, Budeman, Schwartz, Zoom.” We became supercritical of each other. “That was a roving Zoom. Drink!” “Too slow. Drink!”
Eventually, we all booted into the can and had to stop.
Sunday morning the keg was still there. So was the boot bucket. Each of us took our places and again we began. One beer in and we were back up to speed. We started using headfakes, double Zooms. We got so good, if felt like we could read each other minds.
“Zoom-Zoom, Budeman, Figliano, Figliano, Shwartz, Shwartz, Zoom, Schartz…the sequences got longer and longer…it took a minor miracle for someone to make a mistake. No one booted on Sunday.
We were ready. The next Friday night, we met outside Beta, our faces solemn.
“We got this.” We high-fived each other and went inside.
Same basement. Same guys. They seemed surprised that we had returned. We got a beer and talked amongst ourselves, waiting…hoping to get the invite. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the Beta boys discussing it amongst themselves. They were laughing, remembering how poorly we had played last week. Finally, one of them shrugged and they all nodded.
“You guys want to play again?”
“Yeah, if that’s okay with you guys.”
Lefty started. We double-zoomed them and although they were surprised, they were quick enough to return fire. We began to use head fakes. We anticipated each other’s moves. The Beta boys started to falter. After ten minutes, they were drinking as much as we were. We adopted their tactics, imitated their moves. They started to get angry.
Now the alcohol was working against them. Their faces grew serious. Ours, on the other hand, were exuberant. We knew we were winning. They tried to gang up on one of us, but we diverted the attack. After a really good head fake, one of them spoke out of turn. He drank. When he started the game again and we pegged him with another head fake. Same result.
“Fuck.” He knew we were coming for him. His buddies tried to deflect our assault, but we were faster. We were pounding him with commands, but despite all our pressure, he remained resilient. We had all of his attention now and could see the determination on his face. He wasn’t backing down and we couldn’t seem to catch him. He was playing at a higher level – until the triple-zoom.
You have to be really good to pull off a triple zoom. We had practiced it enough, but too often, the second or third player would speak too quickly, disrupting the order of commands. Speaking out of turn was a drinking offense, so the ploy backfired as much as it worked.
Hilliard set it up. He was grinning an evil grin and looking at my ear on each command, so I knew he wanted to try it. I looked at Lefty and he had seen it too. With a smirk, he nodded. We played along, waiting for Hilliard to get called. At long last he caught a Budeman. He took a deep breath. I looked at Lefty’s ear. Lefty looked at the Beta boy.
“Zoom-Zoom-Zoom.” We spoke almost in unison. The call bounced from Hilliard to me, from me to Lefty, and from Lefty to the Beta boy in under a second. By the time he realized it was aimed at him, it was too late. He had taken to long to respond.
“Fuck!” He was furious.
We were laughing.
“Get the Fuck out of here!” His face had turned crimson.
“You have to chug first.”
“Get the fuck out of here!” The room had quieted. We suddenly were in unfriendly waters. Guys were lining up behind Beta boy.
“Time to go,” Hilliard whispered. And go we did.
I never got invited to join Beta. Neither did Lefty, or Hilliard, or Chuck. But, I’ll never forget the look on that guy’s face after the triple zoom. It was worth it.
It was so worth it.