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

June 4, 2003:
The end is near

Tents, barbecues, games, and golf carts

Reunions begin in a week, and there's already a big tent outside my window. I live on the third floor of 1901 Hall, on the side overlooking Dillon Gym, and when I look out I can see the top of the tent — white with four peaks, like mating albino camels. The tent-men must have snuck in at night to set it up, and done so in a matter of minutes, because one morning it was simply there, where there had been nothing the day before.

"#$%@, what the @*&# is a #*%&@*# tent doing here?" I heard one gentleman cry, en route from the Street, in the wee hours of Wednesday morning. Tuesday was Dean's Date, the campus-wide deadline for all written academic work, and an occasion to get thoroughly sauced. The unfortunate young man had been out celebrating and had returned in poor form to find a tent on his doorstep. From the sound of things, he had either tripped over one of the tent stakes or become entangled in a stay brace.

Those tents, they cause a lot of trouble. Princeton has yet to truly taste summer, but there were a handful of warm days when students could gather on the green spaces of campus and expose themselves to direct, unadulterated sunlight. During that time, the Henry Hall courtyard doubled as a baseball diamond. Now, there are tents everywhere, standing in the way of a good tan and an expertly thrown fastball.

With senior theses turned in, departmental comprehensives over, and only one more week of final exams, everyone has taken up sport. There are campus-wide games of Frisbee, in which the players traverse the campus in pursuit of a flying disc. The games wend around Cannon Green, through the sculpture outside the West College, past the photographer carefully posing a Chinese bride and groom, and down to the Henry courtyard, where they are broken up, disrupted by the canvas lashes and stay braces of the tents.

In addition to Frisbee, summer weather brings golf and whiffleball and endless games of catch. There are croquet games too, played under the tents, whose stakes provide an added challenge. I saw a group playing yesterday, and when one of the young men got bored, he tossed his mallet up onto the taut roof of the tent. It slid down, unable to find purchase on that plasticy stuff, and he caught it and tossed it up again, to the amusement of his friends. "Huh, what if it gets stuck up there?"

The mallet didn't get stuck up there. It came crashing down, landing not on the soft grass or on soft head of the young man who had thrown it, too hard, over the top of the tent, but on a cement walkway, where the head broke off with a crack.


The workmen ignore all this. They're busy constructing pylons, grounding electrical wires, erecting wooden fences around the dormitories so alumni can drink in compliance with Borough alcohol regulations. Screens of vertical wooden stakes cover the arched passages of the old gothic dorms. The campus has taken on the look of a medieval village. All that's missing is the moat.

Barbeques and Golf Carts: The end of the spring academic term means the proliferation of barbeques and, as Public Safety has observed, incidents of golf cart theft. The two are perhaps not unrelated: in the evenings, students assemble in courtyards, set up a barbeque, and cook hamburgers. The gatherings usually number from 10 to 20 people, and play out in much the same way across campus: as the patties brown, the revelers drink countless plastic cups of beer. They get bored and want to listen to music. The student whose room is nearest to the barbeque opens his windows and turns his stereo up as loud as it will go. Public Safety is dispatched to deal with the noise violation. The barbeque is broken up. A few hours later, Public Safety is dispatched again. Someone has stolen a golf cart and has driven it down the Blair Arch steps.

Golf carts are assigned on a first-come, first-serve basis to students who, in the course of daily life or in the pursuit of sport, have sustained an injury. Broken arms don't merit a golf cart — fractured legs and torn anterior cruciate ligaments do. Even before the Blair Arch incident, there was a long waiting list for the carts. Now, it's become virtually impossible to get one. A week ago, the Undergraduate Student Government issued a public letter decrying the recent rash of golf cart attacks:

"Golf cart vandalism on this campus has become endemic. During peak times, an appalling 1-2 golf carts per week must be sent to the shop because their tires are slashed, their electronics are tampered with, etc. Students often attempt to steal the golf carts. Some owners of the golf carts have irresponsibly driven them under the influence of alcohol and crashed!"

The USG letter ends with a quotation by Professor Stanley Katz of the Woodrow Wilson School — "A civil society is one in which multiple social contacts create relationships that bind the society together. In a civil society even strangers trust one another. It is one in which people who do not know one another nevertheless treat one another with respect. This is what we call 'civility.' " — and an entreaty that Princeton students live up to this ideal.

"Since when does Princeton buy into all this Rousseau crap?" my friend, a philosophy major, asked. "Life is supposed to be nasty, brutish, and short. Especially if you're a golf cart."


You can reach Kate Swearengen at kswearen@princeton.edu