Exclusives: Raising Kate
PAW web exclusive column by Kate Swearengen '04 (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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'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
"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