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

July 4, 2001:
Summer sins
What one Princetonian's doing on her vacation

By Kate Swearengen '04

Enumerated by Dante Alighieri in the Divine Comedy, and later immortalized by Brad Pitt in Seven, the so-called deadly sins seemed a good jumping-off point for this column. Here's what's happened in the three weeks that I've been away from Princeton, listed in order of my favorite vices.


Although I typically use the term "greed" in conjunction with finance majors with summer internships at the Princeton Merrill Lynch, I wouldn't turn up my nose at a job that would put me within reach of T. Sweet's and an appearance on the cover of Forbes. Just because I don't have a good summer job doesn't mean I should be resentful of those who do. And besides, come the revolution, they'll be the first ones up against the wall.

Greed, however, is not a vice unique to Princeton's finance majors. Upon my return to Columbia, Missouri, I heard that Greg, a high school classmate at Washington University, had made a tidy profit from shoplifting, and reselling, textbooks. While such actions are undeniably unscrupulous, the news didn't scandalize me. After all, a year of being fleeced by the U-Store would relax anyone's standards.


Pride is ubiquitous on this campus. If you didn't come to Princeton with a big head, you won't be without one for long. This situation is only exacerbated by the approach of summer. What happens when May comes to Princeton? The Patton Hall residents move their steins and sofas out onto the lawn, and "Where does your family summer?" replaces "What do your parents do for a living?" as a conversational icebreaker. In one memorable instance, I got around the parental employment question by saying that my parents breed reindeers.

"It's really not very lucrative," I said. "Reindeer are accustomed to cold climates, so Missouri summers are hard on them. They develop all sorts of nasty skin diseases if we don't shave them. Of course, then we have to slather them with sunscreen so they don't get burned."

But when it comes to fielding questions about my summer plans, things aren't so easy. For one thing, I'd rather swallow glass than listen to people who use "summer" as a verb. Not only does it sound affected, but it's also unfair to those of us who spend the three hottest months of the year in places not associated with the Kennedy family. It's one thing to say, "I summer in Quogue," but it's quite another to say "I summer in Columbia, Missouri."


While aimlessly flipping channels two weeks ago, I came across a meeting announcement for "Pie With Pagans" at a local restaurant. Figuring that this might be a formative experience, or, more likely, the kind of thing I could talk about when things got dull at parties, I decided to go. I recruited my high school comrades, Yang and Jeremy, and we drove to Perkins Family Restaurant.

We had expected that Pie With Pagans would involve some sort of ritual, or even an administrative meeting of some type. Aside from a couple of references to lunar festivals, however, discussion centered around sexual harassment, the quality of the local elementary schools, and Lyme disease. More than anything, the event resembled the freshman class's study breaks in the enormous amount of onion rings, chicken fingers, and fried mozzarella sticks consumed.


Yes, I'm envious. Why shouldn't I be? Today I got an e-mail from my friend Charlotte, who is working with Habitat for Humanity in Trenton. An armed robbery went down close to where she was working, and the police interviewed her. Not only that, but she's sharing a room with a handsome male anthropology major. To put this into perspective, consider the fact that I'm sharing a room with a couple of mangy stuffed animals.

And, as if that weren't enough, three of my Princeton buddies are currently in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where they're doing cutting-edge medical research. Holly called me a couple of days ago and told me about her experiences.

"Today I designed four primers for RT-PCR on the gene," Holly told me. "Once I amplify this 3-prime untranslated region of the gene APP, I'll clone it into a vector that contains luciferase and the 5-prime UT region of APP."

"Luciferase?" I asked. "What does that catalyze? Lucifer? It sounds like something out of Rosemary's Baby."

Holly laughed, then proceeded to tell me about luciferase.

"By the way," she said, "what did you do today?"

"I had a pretty exciting day, too," I said. "I watched a documentary about punk rock, and then I checked out the Vegemite website."


In the course of the same conversation, Holly, a rising sophomore, told me that she had picked up an attractive EMT earlier in the day. She had been sitting at a café, when she noticed a table of uniformed men several feet away. Observing that they were all quite attractive, she introduced herself, and told them that she was interested in the training process for EMTs.

"I told them I was attending medical school at Harvard," Holly said. "And one of the guys asked for my number. He called me later that night, and we're going out for coffee. He wanted to go out to a club, but I told him that I had lost my driver's license."

"What did he say?" I asked.

"Well, he wanted to know if my driver's license had been revoked, or if I had just misplaced it," Holly explained. "So I told him that I had left it in New Jersey. Then he asked why it was in New Jersey, so I told him my parents live there."

"Good thinking," I said. "Have fun on your date. Let me know how it goes."

"I will," said Holly. "By the way, did I mention that he's 35?"


I lived for nine months at Princeton without a television. Now I'm celebrating my joyful reunion with the world of sound bites and airbrushing. Sure, I know that television rots the brain, but I want my MTV. And my CNN and my Discovery Channel, too.


The Council on Foreign Relations, Schnuck's supermarket, Kinko's, Gerbes supermarket, the World Policy Institute, and Shakespeare's Pizza. Each of these institutions rejected my petitions for summer employment, and I'm angry at them all. Fortunately, my neighbor saved me from disgrace when he offered me a job with the University of Missouri's agriculture department. I reported to work last week, where a junior named Cliff showed me how to make a spreadsheet using Microsoft Excel.

"What exactly am I recording?" I asked Cliff. "What do all these numbers represent?"

"We're measuring hog waste output," Cliff said. "And evaluating different methods of disposing of it."

"When you say 'hog waste', you're not talking about beer cans and Styrofoam plates, are you?" I asked.

"I'm talking about nitrogenous waste," Cliff clarified. "It's a problem on large hog farms."

Indeed, it is. A recent article in the Columbia Daily Tribune graphically illustrates this point: "Considering a hog poops 10 times the amount in volume of a human and that the typical contract operation contains 4,000 hogs, this means that the farmer must deal with feces and urine of the amount created by a small city."

Stomach-turning as such statistics may be, I get a kick out of knowing that the bacon-wrapped water chestnuts served at Lahiere's have their humble origins on northern Missouri farms. Similarly incongruous is the fact that my friend Kim, whom I had pegged in elementary school as a future stewardess, is earning money this summer by waxing tractors.

"Waxing tractors?" I said. "How did you end up doing that?"

"My friend's uncle mentioned that he was looking for two people to clean and wax his tractors this summer," Kim said. "He has almost 50 of them, and he offered to pay us each $30 per tractor."

"I can't believe it," I said. "It doesn't sound like the sort of thing you'd do."

Kim shook back her blond hair.

"It's fun," she said. "Besides, I work outside, so I'm getting a tan."

And so Kim is getting a tan, and my friends in Cambridge are doing challenging scientific work, and the pagans are getting ready for their Summer Solstice party. As for me, I'm experiencing the kind of humidity-provoked misery that only someone who summers in Missouri can understand. Er, make that "simmers in Missouri."

You can reach Kate Swearengen at kswearen@princeton.edu