Web Exclusives: Inky Dinky Do
a PAW web exclusive column by Hugh O'Bleary
March 27, 2002:
Too close for comfort?
A view from the other side of the Princeton Paradise
By Hugh O'Bleary
In the winter its not so bad. Theyre all in their big
bulky jackets, knit caps pulled down over their ears, hurrying past
to get out of the cold. The campus feels nearly empty as you hustle
home from the train, or drive past on a late-night video store run.
Its so easy to forget, to begin to think of the university
as nothing more than a collection of handsome buildings and gray
slate walkways, a picturesque backdrop to your daily doings. And
then spring comes and suddenly there they are again, everywhere
you look. The students.
My friend Stephen calls it "P-ness envy." (You know, like
the P-rade) Its that wistful, gnawing, thrilling yet slightly
galling feeling you get when you look around you at, well, at the
Princeton-ness of it all. And at all the young, attractive, energetic,
young, clearly intelligent did I mention young? young
people who actually get to live in that atmosphere. Twenty-four
hours a day. Its theirs, not ours. Remember the scene in the
movie Breaking Away in which Dennis Quaid, playing a former
hot-shot high school quarterback from Bloomington, Indiana., watches
the university team practice? "Every year theres going
to be a new bunch of them," he says to his townie friends.
"And every year Im not going to be one of them."
Stephen, who like many Princeton inhabitants works
in New York and crosses the campus every morning and every evening
on his way to and from the train, is given to railing against that
fundamental and eternal gap what he calls "the untouchable
P-arallel universe." (Hes big on the P- construction.)
Last week he said, quite seriously, "They should put a big
screen up around the whole place, OBleary. Just so we wouldnt
have to see it. Its cruel, especially this time of year."
Indeed. Spring comes, and the campus blooms: shorts, sandals, T-shirts,
and bare feet; frisbees and bicycles and sunbathers; crew practice
and track practice, baseball, softball and lax; books and papers
and lap tops under the trees. I mean, who lives like that? Princeton
students, thats who. I only hope they know how good theyve
got it. Kingman Brewster, who was president of another Ivy League
university a while ago, used to tell his incoming freshmen, "You
will never be this free again."
And, my god, was he right!
It is brought home to me every day by the laughing, nuzzling,
water-bottle-sipping, walkman-sharing couple on the train on their
way into the city for a day of museum hopping; by the guy eating
a hoagie and reading Kierkegaard on the steps of Nassau Hall; by
the young woman sprinter practicing starts in Weaver Stadium; by
the kids emerging, blinking in the sunlight, from Firestone, bulging
knapsacks over their shoulders. Oh, Im not ready to pull a
Stephen and blot them all from my sight. But I admit that sometimes
I get just the tiniest bit fed up. I mean, give a guy a break. I
wonder if that wasnt why Russell Crowe flipped the bird at
that student while he was in Princeton last year filming A Beautiful
Mind. Sure, Crowes a big-shot movie star, with an Oscar
tucked in his tote bag and a love life that runs the paparazzi ragged,
but even he, looking around at the absurd utopia that is Princeton
on a spring afternoon, must have felt a little bit out of it.
The trick, I suppose, is to turn that envy into inspiration. Strive
to bring a sense of that freedom and possibility to your own life.
Take advantage of all the wonderful opportunities the university
offers to members of the community. Chat with the students, learn
from them. Let them rejuvinate you. Either that, or just hang on
You can reach Hugh O'Bleary at "Hugh O'Bleary" firstname.lastname@example.org