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

February 7 , 2001:
Big "P", an orange-and-black umbrella, a PAW
Discreet signs that a Tiger lurks

By Hugh O'Bleary

I met a man named Watson last weekend at a cocktail party. Actually, it was a dinner party, but the cocktails were by far the best part, so I choose to remember it as a cocktail party. (Didn't Churchill say that once? Or twice?) Anyway, I met a man named Watson who was a doctor. Dr. Watson. Of course I made a joke about "Elementary, my dear Watson." (It was a clever reference to my daughter's grade school. Har! Har!) And it set him off. I mean, like totally off.

Perhaps because he has been hearing my-dear-Watson jokes ever since he applied to medical school, this is one doctor who cannot abide Sherlock Holmes. The names Arthur, Conan, and Doyle are, collectively or even as stand-alone monikers, anathema to him. He was halfway through his third tumbler of Scotch by this time, and he launched into a particularly scornful diatribe against what he called the "preposterous so-called detection" practiced by Holmes. "All this crap about being able to tell a person's life history by the way he dresses or walks," he muttered. "It's not scientific. It's not possible!"

I chose that moment to slip away behind the bean-dip and was able to avoid him throughout the rest of the evening, but the next morning, walking to the train, I found myself thinking about what he had said. Was it possible to determine a person's past from just a few, subtle external details? I looked around me at the students criss-crossing the campus in the pale morning light. Ten years from now would I recognize them as sons and daughters of Old Nassau? Would I perceive their intrinsic Princeton-ness? Well, if I were standing along the route of the P-rade, the orange-and-black pajamas might be a bit of what Holmes would have called "a clue," but what about in less obvious settings?

I was in a confectioner's shop in Berlin last month and noticed a handsome young couple standing near a refrigerator-sized chocolate model of the Reichstag (better to not even think about that). In their late 20s, they both were wearing fleece pullovers and toting backpacks, and the woman had on a faded orange baseball cap with a very familiar-looking black "P" on the front. A little homesick, I went up to them, smiling, and asked whether they both were from Princeton. "Nein!" was about all I understood of their answer. After much pointing and gesturing, the woman took off her cap, looked at it and then said to me in a careful, Valkyrie-like voice, "Provincetown. Massachusetts." What's the German word for "clueless?"

I've had a little better luck closer to home. It's a game that works well on the train. I start out on the Dinky, where, face it, there are pretty good odds you're sitting among Tigers (and in the case of some of those Tigers, "odds" is the right word - but that, like the chocolate Reichstag, is another story). There are the students, laughing and talking loudly, always drinking from big plastic bottles of water (what is it about college life that makes these kids so doggone thirsty?) and usually wearing some bit of Princeton-emblazoned clothing. There are the faculty members, who while seldom outfitted in mortarboard and flowing robes are still pretty unmistakable, with their tweed and overstuffed satchels. And then there are the working commuters. In their suits, with their Wall Street Journals, they're not as immediately recognizable, but they wouldn't get past ol' Sherlock. He would notice the discreetly rolled orange-and-black umbrella here, or the copy of PAW slipped into a briefcase there.

Coming home, though, is when the game is, if you will, truly afoot. I look around the seething mass of humanity in New York's Penn Station, a crowd roughly the size of the one that attended the Super Bowl and all of them converging on a single stairway that will lead us down to the platform where the Trenton local awaits. There are 10 stops between Penn Station and Princeton Junction, and a vast number of these shuffling commuters will disembark at one of them. That doesn't mean, of course, that they're not Princetonians, but I always figure my prime suspects are among those going all the way to the Junction.


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