Web Exclusives: PawPlus

July 19, 2006:

Rain man

By Benjamin A. Plotinsky ’99

This year’s Reunions were a mess, literally speaking. Figuratively speaking, there was nothing messy about them: The P-rade ran like clockwork, the tents dispensed beer and music with precision, and the fireworks were the greatest miracle of careful planning and accumulated gunpowder since the Battle of Trafalgar. But days of drenching rain, and the muddy quads that resulted, eloquently attested to the truth of the proverb: Man proposes, God disposes.

I bring God into this because I’ve figured out the reason for the rain that soaked campus from Thursday to Saturday. The University’s official guide to Reunions cryptically alerted Princetonians that festivities would coincide with Shavuot, the Jewish holiday that commemorates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. And on Shavuot, as on many Jewish holidays, we celebrants are enjoined from (among other activities) carrying umbrellas.

Picture me, then – dressed neatly, from my earlier attendance at synagogue, in Dockers, button-down shirt, and black leather yarmulke – being utterly, saturatingly, permeatingly marinated in water from head to toe; darting, like a timorous mouse, from reunion tent to reunion tent. (What happens to a black leather yarmulke, in that kind of downpour, is a repellent phenomenon best left undescribed.) To say that I was soaked to the skin would be understating the case.

Perhaps it’s arrogant to claim that the rain came because of me – but I have statistics to back me up. My last visit to Princeton was from Oct. 17 to 19, 2003, to celebrate a related Jewish holiday, Simchat Torah, with friends on campus. I also visited the year before that, from Sept. 27 to 29, 2002, for the same reason. On neither visit could I carry an umbrella. And according to the National Weather Service, rainfall for those two occasions was half an inch and 2 1/2 inches, respectively. To put it plainly: Every time I visit Princeton to celebrate a Jewish holiday, I get drenched.

In this respect I resemble two great, though fictional, characters: Rob McKenna, a trucker in the fourth book of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, and Joe Btfsplk, a bringer of bad luck in Al Capp’s comic strip Li’l Abner. Both are perpetually followed by rain clouds; neither knows the joy and comfort of a sunny day. When, early on Friday night, I sought the shelter of 1879 Arch to listen to a Wildcats arch-sing – and to give my sodden clothes a chance to drip-dry – I think I understood how McKenna and Btfsplk must have felt. The Wildcats were crooning, without apparent irony, the Eurythmics’ hit “Here Comes the Rain Again.” Even under the archway, it seemed, I couldn’t escape the rain.

The showers petered out about 2 p.m. on Saturday, allowing a mostly dry P-rade and one night of rain-free, though muddy, carousing. Still, I’m taking this early opportunity to issue a ransom note. The next time that a Jewish holiday coincides with Reunions is 2009. Class officers of 1999 and 2004: Pay me handsomely, and I’ll promise not to come. END

Benjamin A. Plotinsky ’99 works for City Journal, a domestic-policy magazine.