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

Late July, 2001:
Those Were the Days
Whether you’re 21 or 71, all things change too much

By Hugh O’Bleary

The Dinky ride between the Princeton and Princeton Junction stations lasts a little less than five minutes. When you’re trying to get through the New York Times Op-Ed page, or the final chapter of that mystery you’ve been reading, or you’ve simply closed your eyes for a moment at the end of the day, the trip can go by all too fast. Find yourself sitting next to Randolph (Randy) Wellfleet ’58, however, and it can feel like the Trans-Siberian railway on a slow day.

Old Randy (he insists you call him that, so as not to confuse him with his son, Randy Wellfleet, Jr. ’86, known as Young Randy) is — how shall I phrase this? — not exactly the sunniest of commuting companions. As Larry King would put it, “You look up ‘curmudgeon’ in the dictionary, you get a picture of Old Randy Wellfleet.”

Nothing, to hear Old Randy tell it, is what it used to be. In his opinion (usually loudly expressed, complete with hrumphs and pshaws thrown in), the whole world is heading hellward in the proverbial handbasket. Politics, entertainment, food, fashion (“When did women stop wearing hats?!”) all come under his blistering attack.

However, loyal son of Old Nassau that he his, Old Randy reserves his bitterest grumbling for what he sees as the across-the-board decline of Princeton. It was with a kind of morbid fascination that I lately found myself jotting down Old Randy’s complaints. The following — a mere sampling of his menu of malcontentedness — makes one wonder how Princeton manages to stay in business.

He is, for example, outraged by the trustees’ plan to increase enrollment. “Why bother even matriculating?” was his refrain during a recent morning’s ride. “Why don’t they just hand out degrees on the street corner?”

As for the question of whether trustee ballots should be mailed to alumni, don’t get him started: “What a colossal waste of time, paper and postage! How am I supposed to know what the candidates stand for? There’s no information anymore on religion, or political persuasion, or family status, or personal financial statements, or arrest records, or blood type .... It’s no more than an exercise in photographic phrenology!”
Then, of course, there was the Peter Singer controversy: “Moral bankruptcy! A university has no business sanctioning the advocacy of bestiality.”

His reaction to the announcement of Shirley Tilghman’s appointment as president was predictable: “Couldn’t they find anyone with a Princeton degree?” He also grumbled about the university’s “knee-jerk kowtowing to the feminist agenda,” in appointing a woman when “there must be scores of men better qualified.” That led him naturally into a long, meandering and all-too-familiar grumble against coeducation.

Other bugaboos include campus construction — “One monstrosity after another” — and the Dinky itself: “What was wrong with calling it the PJ&B?”

Well, nothing, I found myself wanting to scream when I heard that one, but now they happen to call it the Dinky! And what’s wrong with that?!
I staggered from the train, brushing past two young women waiting to board. “And I had to walk, like, practically all the way around Nassau Hall,” one was saying. “Totally,” said the other. “I don’t even know why they’re putting in new walks anyway. What was wrong with the old walks?”

And that’s when it hit me: Old Randy may be a bit extreme, but he’s not unique. I mean, that could have been his voice coming out in twin falsetto. Randolph Wellfleet ’58 is, if you will, merely the poster boy for disgruntled alums. And there are plenty of those. Just read the letters to PAW; though signed by men and women representing classes from before World War II to ’02, ’03 and ’04, half could have been written by Old Randy at his most curmudgeonly.

A university thrives — financially and spiritually — on the support of its alumni. It is only through that support that a great institution like Princeton can continue to grow and evolve and change and... . And 90 per cent of alumni, it seems, are against change. As Old Randy would say, “It wasn’t like that in my day!”

Hugh O'Bleary commutes to New York City from Princeton. He revels in his daily sojourn across campus to catch the Dinky. You can reach Hugh O'Bleary by writing him c/o paw@princeton.edu