Wexing and Waning

The ghost of F. Scott Fitzgerald might have passed unnoticed through the crowds at Princeton's Cottage Club Friday night. Three of the most selective--read exclusive--eating clubs had joined forces to stage a "casino party" in honor of "Hahvahd weekend," a phrase which for some reason everyone down there thinks is hilariously funny.

The sons and daughters of the rich were doing just what their parents and grandparents used to do. In fact, the whole thing looked like a costume party, only nobody thought they were in costume. Some of the more subdued party-goers arrived in white tie and tails, but a number of enthusiasts did their bit to kick off the Harvard weekend by wearing tiger-striped suits and fake tiger-fur jackets. Their "dates" ("This is my date Sally," was the standard introduction), imported by the bus-and train-load full from Briarcliff, Wheaton, Manhat-tanville, and even as far away as North Carolina, wore outfits that had never known the rack at Filene's basement--or anywhere else, for that matter.

One popular party game (popular with me, anyway) was trying to distinguish the "imports" from the Princeton "coeds." It wasn't easy. I stared at one strikingly pretty woman for a full five minutes, waiting for her completely blank expression to change. It didn't. Of course, she may have had a good reason for her glazed look. "I'm so bored," I overheard one girl sigh. "My date isn't the most interesting person."

But there were plenty of other things to do when chit-chat about old prep school buddies and blustering predictions about the next day's games began to pall. You could always just watch. Or you could get drunk, if the jostling, six-deep crowd at the bar didn't scare you off (and it usually didn't). Or you could blow your money on roulette and backgammon. You could fox-trot to a three-man band, complete with a black pianist playing "As Time Goes By." Or you could be interviewed by The New York Times.

People couldn't decide whether it was chic or declasse to be interviewed by The Times. The Ivy Club--confronted by a camera crew from NBC--had barred all press from their formal extravaganza Saturday night. But the earthier crowd at Cottage seemed for the most part thrilled by the presence of a reporter in their midst--although the Times photographer was forcibly prevented from shooting the roulette tables, where the son of the governor of New Jersey was blithely gambling away in defiance of state law.

The Times reporter nodded as two Princeton seniors told him proudly that applications to the eating clubs had gone up steadily over the past two years. A member of the Princeton class of '71 joined the conversation to commend the "new breed" of students--not like the grubby, noisy activists of his day, he noted. "I think it's good thing that students are turning back to study and to introspection, that they're thinking about things again," he declared, as the crowd pressed eagerly around the gambling tables, apparently thinking very intently about what number would come up next.

Somewhere out there, beyond the oak-paneled rooms and red-carpeted stairways of the Cottage Club, most of the university was going about its business in more or less the usual manner. "There are probably even some people who don't even know this is Harvard weekend," a friend of mine conceded. "Can you imagine that?" Yes, I told her, if I closed my eyes real hard I thought I could imagine that. In fact, I could even imagine wanting to go out and join them.