Take: June 7, 2000
Or Why is it so hard to say you went to Princeton
By Wes Tooke '98 (email:
New Orleans, LA-I
spent much of last summer deliberately ignoring the siren call of
a full employment economy, instead choosing to wander the state
of California. In late July I was hiking alone in the high Sierra
when my Achilles tendon blew out. After 24 hours of very unpleasant
limping, I found myself at the end of the road. Literally. A long
dirt path-just wide enough for a truck-came to an end near a tiny
tackle shop and country store. The odds of catching a ride to the
nearest hospital seemed remote.
Remote, that is, until
I saw the man sitting behind the counter. He was utterly unremarkable
from the eyebrows down, but perched on his head was a cotton object
that told me everything was going to be all right. He was wearing
a Red Sox cap.
Sure enough, two hours
later I was bouncing in the cab of a beat-up flatbed toward Fresno.
By the time we reached the first paved road, we had exhausted almost
every possible topic of conversation: Pedro's fastball, Johnny V's
knee, and the great evil that resides in New York. But sometime
shortly after the disgruntled rumble from the tires had become a
smooth roar, my new friend asked what should have been a simple
"What do you do,
man?" he asked.
"I'm in college,"
I paused. "B.C."
Even now I have no idea
where the answer came from. Boston College? I don't even like the
school's football team-not even when they beat Notre Dame. All I
can deduce is that I felt as if our conversation would be damaged
if I mentioned that I'd gone to Princeton.
And that wasn't the
A certain town in
When it comes to people
I've actually lied to, the list is fairly selective: the Red Sox
fan, a hippie I met at Jazz Fest, a pushcart vendor who worked trail
crew with me. Nevertheless, when strangers ask me where I went to
college, I generally tell them New Jersey. I only mention Princeton
if I'm pressed for details.
I would view these episodes
as just lingering manifestations of my privileged white-kid guilt
if some of my friends from Princeton didn't sometimes behave the
same way. An ex-roommate of mine often performs remarkable verbal
gymnastics to avoid mentioning a certain town in New Jersey when
he talks to girls in bars. He even has an expression to describe
the first time he mentions Princeton in a conversation with someone
he has just met. He calls it "dropping the P-bomb."
I know that this little
phobia is my problem, not Princeton's, and perhaps graduates more
secure than I have never encountered it. And my fear of the P-bomb
is hard to articulate. After all, I am wonderfully proud of having
been educated at Princeton, and I firmly believe that I was blessed
with the best undergraduate education in the nation. But I am also
conscious that to many people the word Princeton still means martinis,
country clubs, and Alex P. Keaton, the yuppie-to-be character from
the 1980s television sitcom Family Ties. And maybe that strikes
a little close to home.
It's also possible that
for all my self-absorbed wanderings I've become even more of a classist
prick than the two banking brothers from Trading Places. I wouldn't
rule it out. But maybe my phobia also says something larger about
the odd educational stratification in America at the end of the
20th century. I wouldn't rule that out either-and while I didn't
pay enough attention in my sociology classes to say anything intelligent
about that issue, I certainly think it's interesting to ponder.
Also interesting, of
course, is the idea that a person would drive a stranger four hours
to Fresno based solely on the fact that he and the stranger share
a fondness for a baseball team that plays 2,000 miles away. That,
however, is an idea for another day.
Wes Tooke '98 hails from
Boston and is a regular contributor to PAW's Web site.