Web Exclusives:

Raising Kate

a PAW web exclusive column by Kate Swearengen '04 (kswearen@princeton.edu)

October 25, 2000:

Eating with Princetonians
Free food brings free laughs

I called my parents today and told them they were paying $33,000 a year so that I could identify the mineralogical components that make up Nassau Hall and the Frick chemistry building for my geology class.

This is the second call in which I have told my parents that their finances are being abused by the Princeton administration or by the New Jersey Transit Authority. The first call of this nature transpired in the wee hours of Thursday morning, when I called home to say that I had missed the last train back from Philadelphia and had spent the night sleeping on a bench in the 30th Street Station.

"The Dandy Warhols concert was great," I said. "But I'm going to have to buy a $25 Amtrak ticket so I can get back for my 8:30 class."

Although I am very independent, I like talking to my parents on the phone, particularly when I have some sort of bad news to tell them. It's comforting to be able to unload my financial grievances and consummate irritation with the Princeton laboratory requirement over a fiber-optic wire.

My mother discourages this practice, not so much because she would rather not know about her daughter sleeping in a train station, where she could be attacked by "angry homeless people with sticks and knives," but because she wants me to write emails instead. She plans to compile the emails that I send home and eventually publish them.

I really doubt there's a market for that sort of thing, but I'm in favor of any sort of income that would allow me to never eat in Wu Cafeteria again. Lunches and dinners centered around the hot chocolate and grilled cheese sandwich food groups have driven me to seize upon any opportunity for a free, toothsome meal. In pursuit of this, I recently attended a dinner for my residential adviser group, as well as one for the dedication of the C . Bernard Shea '16 Rowing Center.

Last Sunday my residential adviser group dined at the home of Butler College's Master. After trekking to the Master's house in a pair of blister-spawning dress shoes, and after observing that marked contrast between the Master's own elegant quarters and my own, I did not feel like making any kind of small talk. Not so the Master.

"So, where are YOU from?" he asked cheerfully, speaking very slowly and distinctly, and pointing at me to indicate that I was the object of his attention.

The Master's gesturing reminded me of my elementary school guidance counselor, who had manipulated a dolphin puppet as she spoke in order to visually engage her students and thus facilitate conversation. Lest she read this article, and think that I am unjustly maligning Duso-the-Dolphin, let me hasten to say that the fuzzy, gray puppet was actually a fine conversationalist, in that it never questioned the intelligence of its third-grade charges. Not so the Master.

"Missouri," I answered. "Columbia, Missouri."

"Missouri," he said incredulously. "Missouri? You're going to be surprised by the weather up here. We get SNOW in New Jersey. Do you know what SNOW is?"

I put down the gyro I had been gnawing and informed the Master that yes, I did know what snow was. I then asked him if he knew where Missouri was situated geographically. This was evidently interpreted as some sort of a challenge, because the Master, after angrily responding that he indeed knew where Missouri was, retreated to the kitchen under the pretense of scooping more ice cream for his guests.

Fernando, a student from Colombia, became the next target.

"Why did you choose Princeton?" A professor from the Woodrow Wilson school asked him.

"Actually, Princeton was not my top choice," Fernando said. "Princeton is not a prestigious school in my country. No one has heard of it. In my country, Harvard and Columbia are considered the best schools. For generations, the men in my family have gone to Harvard, and so I applied there, with Columbia as a backup. While I was on vacation in Barbados, I decided to apply to Princeton just in case. I did the entire application in one day, the day before it was due to be postmarked, and wrote the essays without even editing them."

The Woodrow Wilson professor looked troubled. Either he was worried about Princeton's status abroad, or he was unhappy that some snotty kid could whip through the application in a day and still get in.

"Well, when you graduate with a degree from the Woodrow Wilson school, you can go back to your country and be a great leader," he offered. "Then people will hear of Princeton."

Fernando laughed.

"I'm actually going to major in architecture," he said.

A week after the meal at the Master's house, the prospect of free food drove me to attend another dinner, this one for the C. Bernard Shea '16 Rowing Center.

The dinner was held in Jadwin Gym, and the lights were extinguished in a futile effort to provide some sort of ambiance. I sat with several other novice rowers and an older couple who had driven Mrs. Shea, the cash behind the boathouse, from Pittsburgh to Princeton.

Conversation with the couple was pleasant; they lived in Massachusetts, but spent a great deal of time driving throughout the country in their RV. They had traveled to all of the contiguous 48 states, with the exception of North Dakota.

"Who drives the RV," I asked curiously. "You or your husband?"

"I used to," the woman responded. "But my husband has ever since we totaled someone's car and got a bigger RV."

She laughed merrily, probably out of genuine good humor, and not at the idea of crushing a small car with a monstrous RV. She then told me that she and her husband had driven through Missouri once, but that they had not seen the Gateway Arch, and therefore hoped to return.

My next conversation was with Sermin, a sophomore rower from Turkey.

"I went to summer camp a few years ago in Pennsylvania," I told her. "And you look exactly like a Turkish girl who went there at the same time."

Sermin said she had not gone to that camp.

"I suppose you think all Turkish people look alike," she said to me.

"No, I don't." I responded. "When I went to that camp, there was a large group of students from Turkey. There were several Turkish girls on my floor; one had red hair, one had blonde hair, one had dark hair like you."

"Good," she said. "Because we don't all look alike. We're not like the Chinese."

Mercifully, this conversation was terminated by a succession of speeches made by former Princeton rowers. As a group of men in lurid orange jackets got up and recited a cheer for the "great rowers of '68," I crept out of the building.

Later I called my parents about the night.

"I just got a free dinner," I told them. "And you're paying $3,606 for my meal plan."

By Kate Swearengen '04