Bohunk is not my chosen name. I was given the name while a member of a fraternity Beta Theta Pi at the University of Michigan. It was custom to attribute a derogatory name to a new member as practice of assimilation, usually at the time of “hell week” or initiation from pledge status to active status in the fraternity. The whole idea was to humiliate or humble the members. Why? I never bothered to research the answer. Whether I approved it or not, my fraternity name was intended to disparage and degrade the recipient.
When I joined the fraternity I was majoring in philosophy, having gone through a particularly traumatic transformation from a devout Catholic to an agnostic. That happened when I attended a Catholic men’s college, St Ambrose in Davenport, Iowa. There I received a steady dose of orthodoxy from the priests and professors that crystallized Jesus Christ as central to Catholicism. Whereas I viewed God as one, and not split into a trinity, the Father, Son
That created an upheaval in direct conflict with the Judaic Religion from my earlier Jewish practice and education. I had a fundamental falling out or emotional crisis that created an abyss similar to that described by Frederich Nietzsche. I experienced my own “Death of God” and crisis of nihilism, particularly Christendom. Although I was in a profound depression, I appeared and sounded lost and confused.
Unknowingly, I became addicted to alcohol and later drugs similar to Nietzsche who used opium in dangerously high doses. He was also a heavy user of other psychoactive drugs including potassium bromide, a mysterious “Javanese narcotic”, and most unremittingly, chloral hydrate, a known hallucinogen. I took bottles of opiate drugs and chloral hydrate. Thus, I stared into the abyss of intoxication, despair and hopelessness. I had not only studied philosophy, I had adopted a philosophical perspective. Thus, my fraternity brothers called me Bohunk instead of Addict.
To some, Bohunk is a disparaging or offensive name for an immigrant from central or eastern Europe, especially a laborer. To others, it was just another way to say “uncivilized.” My heritage was Romani, Polish, and Lithuanian, so I fit. Bohunk has another derivation that fit me at the time, as a philosophy major in a conformist fraternity environment, I was unconventional and a nonconformist. My limited brothers were sages unwittingly and showed uncharacteristic clairvoyance.
While studying philosophy, I identified mostly with Plato from my universal religious backgrounds, though my addictions plunged me into the more negative and pathetic philosophy of existentialism and nihilists. As others I had rejected universal forms or established deity or truths accepted as self-evident. Afterall, Plato’s proof for the existence of God was merely that most people believed in a greater power than humans.
Alcohol and drugs became my higher power, my abyss and ultimately my destruction. I definitely earned and lived the name, Bohunk.