Web Exclusives: Inky Dinky Do
a PAW web exclusive column by Hugh O'Bleary

November 20, 2002:

Welcome back
Sometimes it takes a fresh set of eyes to see how good we've got it

I was running the other day with my friend Motley Donne '78. It was a crisp, clear fall afternoon, and we were doing an easy 40 minutes through the woods behind the Institute for Advanced Studies, having come over the little swinging bridge from the towpath. Above us, the sky was a brilliant blue through the flaming leaves, and ahead the Georgian faÁade of the Institute stood like some impossibly picturesque calendar photo.

"You know what Einstein said when he moved to Princeton?" said Motley, who has always been given to quoting great thinkers and writers on the run. "He called it 'being banished to paradise.'"

"Well, it's all relative," I gasped, which was the best Einstein line I could come up with at that pace.

Motley didn't laugh. I glanced over and saw that an expression of great contentment had settled on his sweat-streaked face. "Banished to paradise..." he said. "Yes, that's the way I'm going to look at it."

Motley, you see, had just resettled in Princeton. He'd grown up in New Jersey and, he says, enjoyed his undergraduate days at Old Nassau. For the past twenty years, however, he had lived in New York City, as confirmed and contented a Manhattanite as anyone this side of Woody Allen. But, now, with two young kids and post-9/11 security concerns, he and his wife had decided it was time to relocate. I don't think that they seriously considered moving anywhere else. They spent all of about a week house hunting before buying a nice old colonial right in town, barely a mile from where I live.

Now, before going any further, I want to stress how delighted I am at Motley's arrival. One of my very best friends is now a neighbor. That is cause for celebration, indeed. It is also a boon for Princeton. A man of boundless intellectual passion and curiosity, as well as compassion and wit, a wonderful conversationalist and a great mate over a few miles or a few pints, Motley single-handedly raises the bar in even so socially-rarified a community as Princeton. At the same time, I gotta say that Motley's... well, his approach to his new home has thrown me for a loop. A free-lance writer, Motley has set up an office in his house. No commute for him. And, as it happens, Motley being fairly well off, his lance is even freer than it might be. Which means he has the time and energy to embrace Princeton and its many opportunities in a way that puts me to shame—and, if I'm honest, leaves me a little envious.

And I'm not just talking about Springdale golf course—which, to me, is the big expanse of green I drive past early in the morning or late in the evening on my way to and from the Dinky station, but to Motley is a challenging new course that he can walk to from his house for a quick afternoon round. Surely, as anyone who has seen me swing a club will attest, it's better, commute or not, that I just drive on by any golf course.

No, it's Motley's engagement with the university that has me worrying about my own attitude (the term brain-dead leaps to mind—if that isn't an oxymoron). Already he has attended lectures, gone to concerts and readings and art shows. He's looking into auditing a class or two. He has signed up to officiate at university track and swim meets. He even auditioned for a couple of Shakespeare productions! I fully expect to see him running naked across campus come the first snowfall this winter.

It's easy, of course, to joke about Motley's gung-ho approach to suburban living, but at the end of the day (i.e., when I'm on the 6:33 New Jersey Transit train stuck outside of Rahway and he's sipping gin-and-tonics on the veranda with John Cheever and Shirley Tilghman — Ha! Ha!), I've got to admit that he's a good example to me, and one that's come at the right time. I've lived in Princeton for fifteen years. I still rave about the place to friends and colleagues in the city, citing the town's beauty, its history, its cultural opportunities. But, let's face it, I haven't exactly been milking the place for all it's worth. I mean, I might as well be living in Rahway (where the big sign beside the tracks says, "If you lived here you'd be home now!").

Given that rather chilling realization, I've decided that it's time that I go for a few more runs with Motley, and a few walks as well, and try to rediscover the paradise to which I've been lucky enough to be banished. Hey, it shouldn't take an Einstein to know we've got a good deal here.

You can reach Hugh O'Bleary at "Hugh O'Bleary" paw@princeton.edu