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February 23, 2005:

Coming out swinging

By Jordan Paul Amadio ’05

On an icy night during January intersession, while appearances suggested a quiet post-exams campus populated only by thesis-toiling seniors, the basement of Quadrangle Club was boiling over with bloodlust. Several hundred student spectators had shelled out a $3 entrance fee and jammed to an incomprehensible density in the club’s dining area, which had been converted into a kind of ersatz “American Gladiators” set.

With a small ring traced on the floor with blue duct tape, cameras flashed from every direction. In their respective corners, two heavyweight members of the track and field team, their sweat-covered muscles quivering, rested their gloves. The fighters adjusted their headgear. Members of their lively entourages, dressed in jumpsuits and mirrored sunglasses, patted them down with towels. Presiding over it all was the requisite pull-string bell — tended, naturally, by a bikini-clad blonde.

Theme music blasted. Bikini Blonde rang the bell. Out came the ring girls with the “Round 2” signs — wearing, to the delight of the audience’s male contingent, nothing but Ugg boots and fur-lined lingerie. The two pugilists recommenced pelting each other with punches. The throng roared. Then, in a flash, Derek Davis ’06 delivered a savage haymaker straight to his opponent’s face — and Matt Susan ’07 fell to the floor, cold. Knockout!

The vicious (and perennially popular) “Tuesday Night Fights” have been a yearly fundraising tradition of the track and field team for over a decade — despite the fact that, in the words of one incognito senior, “the Athletic Department hates it.” Quad has hosted the six-match event for the past two years, but because of its underground nature, advertisement is strictly word-of-mouth.

That same evening, a mere two doors down on Prospect Avenue, boastful words were in short supply. Cottage Club, after all, was still licking its wounds from Dec. 13, when the eponymous “Cottage Bill” received final approval from the state Legislature in Trenton. The new law, sparked by Cottage’s gutsy 2001 filing for tax-exempt status as a historic landmark, severely tightens the state’s requirements for property tax exemption. So it looks like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s old eating club will continue to pay about $59,000 in taxes — adding insult to injury, perhaps, after its much-publicized fall bicker flop (17 of its only 20 bickerees were accepted, according to the Daily Princetonian).

Lately, Cottage’s sole saving grace has been member Evan Baehr ’05, the aspiring conservative politico from Pensacola, Fla., who continues to remain in the campus limelight well after his defeat in November’s Borough Council election. A full-page critical essay in the Jan. 6 Nassau Weekly even remarked on the prevailing perception that Baehr’s venture into local politics served only “to unofficially launch his run for president.”

Baehr was not the only Floridian making headlines on campus. In December, a momentary hullabaloo surrounded the 1 a.m. arrest in Frist Campus Center of a male fugitive from Florida, wanted on charges of attempted robbery and parole violation. Vigilant students reported a suspicious person in the building, and Public Safety officers questioned the man. After discovering his outstanding warrants, they snagged him. Immediately afterward, one could sense an almost imperceptible hesitation about the popular study location. (“I think I’ll go work on my problem set in my room — I guess it’s a little quieter there than Frist. Right?”) This lingering anxiety, however, evaporated by reading period when, in a nod to the all-night cramming crowd, the campus center remains open 24 hours a day. During this time, at 2 a.m. nightly, Frist’s suddenly charitable staff lays out the day’s unpurchased food (almond cookies, chocolate chip muffins, cold pizza, warm coffee…), which is promptly devoured by regiments of sleep-deprived, climbing-and-clawing undergraduates.

Grandly, this collective madness concludes at 5 p.m. on Dean’s Date. For most, Dean’s Date spells the end of a harrowing cerebral ordeal — for the worst procrastinators, writing three or four analytical term papers between midnight and lunchtime. No wonder that the administration, in a sardonically lighthearted spirit, sponsors a gaudy annual celebration at 4:45 on Dean’s Date. There, you can gather in the McCosh courtyard, listen to the Tiger band play a heroic number or two, munch on popcorn, and jeer good-naturedly at your hapless peers dashing to turn in their papers before the deadline. (“Run!” proclaim the banners striped along McCosh Walk.)

This year, it almost made us forget that for the first time, our academic prowess was being judged under Princeton’s new anti-grade inflation standards. After an assault from premeds and other pre-professional-school types — all deadly concerned, understandably so, with the stability of their GPAs — grade-inflation-slayer Dean of the College Nancy Malkiel issued a comprehensive e-mail message to undergraduates after exams “about the efforts we are making to ensure that the outside world will have a good understanding of Princeton’s grades.” Said efforts include not only a revised transcript, but also letters to graduate programs, employers, and fellowship competitions, making the gentle understatement that Princeton grades are now “rigorous markers of academic performance.”

Somehow, though, undergraduates don’t seem any more relaxed about their plummeting marks. In dorm rooms from Witherspoon to Forbes, frustration is mounting. When all the grades come in, there’s no telling what will happen. With the right mix of camaraderie, sophomoric pride, and lusty je ne sais quoi, it could be enough to inspire an encore from the track team’s pugilists. Let’s just hope that nobody gets hurt.

Jordan Paul Amadio, a premed student from Cazenovia, N.Y., is concentrating in biophysics. One of 20 members of USA Today’s All-USA College Academic Team, he can be reached at jamadio@princeton.edu.