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

December 19, 2001:
Thanksgiving Weekend in New York

Date: Thursday, November 22

Location: Chinatown

We went to Little Italy for Thanksgiving dinner. I ate potato gnocchi, and my parents had linguini. After the tiramisu, we headed for Chinatown. A couple of years ago, my parents and I had wandered along Mott Street looking for a famous checkers-playing chicken. This time, we wandered along Mott Street looking for Chinese slippers. My mother wanted a pair. Don't ask me why. The weather was nice, and the neighborhood grocers were selling fresh fruit and vegetables from the sidewalk. It would have been perfect if it hadn't been for Barnaby Balboa Bear.

Barnaby Balboa Bear was part of a project for a class of third graders at my former elementary school. The kids have a deal that whenever one of them travels, he's supposed to take the bear and a camera with him. The idea is to take pictures that will be of interest to the class, and then to write about them in a journal. The whole project is premised on the belief that a photograph of a stuffed bear in front of the Empire State building will teach kids more than a picture of only the building.

My father and I weren't fond of Barnaby Balboa Bear. For one thing, he had to be carried around in a fanny-pack. Then there was the humiliation of having to pose in pictures with him. The two of us wanted to take pictures like "Barnaby Balboa Bear Meets the Russian Mafia" or "Barnaby Balboa Bear Visits a Bowery Flophouse." My mother wanted to do "Barnaby Balboa Bear in a Chinese Store," and she got her way.

Naturally, the woman who owned the store thought we were crazy. She called her husband over. He thought we were crazy, too, but said it would be okay if we took a picture. My mother stood, the bear clutched in one hand, in front of a display of wooden backscratchers. My father took the picture. The man who had allowed us to take the picture shielded his face with his hand. I couldn't tell if he was embarrassed for us or just laughing.

Date: Friday, November 23

Location: St. Mark's Place, East Village

Conversation with owner of vintage shop:

Kate: "Hi, I'm looking for T-shirts. Do you have any here?"

Owner: "They're right next to you."

Kate: "No, I don't want polyester. I want really thin, soft cotton T-shirts that are kind of greasy. And have been worn a lot."

Owner: "You mean, like, with stuff on them?"

Kate: "No, I want them to be clean. I don't want anything with dried food on it."

Owner: "I mean, with words on them? Like, with the names of rock groups?"

Kate: "Oh. Yeah."

Owner: "No, we don't have anything like that here."

Date: Saturday, November 24

Location: 2econd Stage Theatre

About a month ago, I read a review of Metamorphoses, a new play based on the myths of Ovid, in the Wall Street Journal. The review interested me more than anything else in the newspaper, which is unfortunate, because the articles about energy prices and Argentina's debt swap were the ones that showed up on my economics midterm. The bad news is that I had to drop economics. The good news is that I got to see the play.

I also got to see Lizzy, a friend from crew. She was sitting a couple of rows over, and I talked with her before the play began. Lizzy was spending the weekend in New York with her mother, and they had already gone to MoMA and to the Met. I hated to tell her that my parents and I had spent the afternoon combing the East Village for crack dealers.

The trouble didn't start until the play began. The man seated to my right understood all the classical references, and wanted to make sure everyone around him realized it. As soon as he figured out which myth was being reenacted onstage, he would twitch excitedly.

"Narcissus," he said, nudging the man to his right. "That's Narcissus."

The fact that the actor onstage was supposed to represent Narcissus was so obvious that there was no dialogue to accompany the scene. The man was crouched over a pool of water, staring at his reflection. After a while, another actor came onto the stage, carried the first man away, and put a pot of white flowers in his place. Of course it was Narcissus. Everyone else in the theatre could see that, and they weren't patting themselves on the back. But ol' Edith Hamilton to my right, well, he thought he was really something.

It gets better. My mother indignantly reported that she had overheard a woman in the bathroom say that so-and-so was "a pretty smart cookie, for a woman."

"Are you sure it was a woman who said that? Maybe it was a misogynistic transvestite," I said hopefully.

My mother said that it had definitely been a woman. And that she hadn't washed her hands after using the toilet. But the play was good.

You can reach Kate Swearengen at kswearen@princeton.edu