Petri Dishes

Exams

May 12, 2010

It’s the night before exams, and you have failed to study. In some cultures, this shameful act and its implications for your family would lead you to move to Sweden tomorrow to pursue an acting career. But I am here to reassure you and give you courage to carry you forward.

Every year, The Crimson dutifully re-runs columns by supposed graders and supposed exam-takers, offering ways to “beat the system” or “work, successfully, within the constraints of the system.” But as someone who has never graded an exam in my life, except once when my aunt, who is an eighth-grade history teacher, allowed me to read some raps her students had written that were inspired by Benjamin Franklin, I can tell you that what they have to say is ridiculous. I’ve taken lots of exams, and I know how this works.

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Overdue Fine

April 16, 2010

I’ve been a woman for over twenty years now. I’ve been in all kinds of final clubs—the Fox, the Owl, the Spee, the Kong, the Quad Dance Complex—and I don’t see what all the fuss is about.

Still, every so often, be it during the fall punch season or at that time of spring when the Smoke Monster materializes in Quincy House, people begin to clamor for the admission of women to final clubs. This always reminds me of a quote from Stokely Carmichael. Asked whether there were any positions for women in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, he responded: “The only position for women in SNCC is prone." Let women into final clubs? Sure—on Saturday nights, if we’re wearing those outfits that make us look like someone poured us into our clothes and we forgot to say “When.” That’s how it’s been for more than two hundred years, when you could only get into the Fly as a woman if you exposed your ankles, no matter how good at needle-pointing you were. And that’s how it should be. If God had wanted women to be in final clubs, he would have created us first.

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All in the Family

April 02, 2010

They are the luckiest of the lucky, the most favored of the favored, the crème de la crop. As I sit in limbo waiting for “America’s Most Wanted” to return my calls, they are waltzing off to book contracts and movie deals and exercising royal dominion over small islands. They are the new elite. They were also the old elite. They are the people whose parents work in their chosen professions.

Some of them are sneaky. Every so often I become excited by someone who appears to be a fresh new talent rising on his own wings, and then he turns out to be Oscar Hammerstein’s nephew. It’s not that they are less talented than other people or that they are more talented. They still have to work hard and possess some degree of skill. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have a significant metaphorical foot in the metaphorical door.

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Run, River, Run

March 12, 2010

“Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.” If Oscar Wilde was right about that, then perhaps this year’s River Run will have been the most dangerous yet.  This year, the “supposed tradition that involves drinking a lot of alcohol in the courtyard of the Houses along the Charles River” (to quote the email sent to freshmen by the office of Dean Thomas A. Dingman ’67) featured police cars guarding the exits to the Yard and the entrances to upperclass houses. Freshmen reported having their swipe access to upperclass houses deactivated. Boat-burning was verboten. Some students went so far as to perform the annual “ritual” a day in advance to avoid administrative sanctions.

But what’s wrong with excessive, sometimes dangerous alcohol consumption? We are young. As a 21-year-old, I know for a fact that I am invincible. Every day, on my way to class, I jump out of two planes and yell rude things at heavily armed strangers. I only sleep on Wednesdays. Once I gave myself consumption just to see what the fuss was about. That’s what youth is for.

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Too Soon?

February 26, 2010

“Too soon!”

One of my hobbies used to be telling people that I found certain jokes offensive based upon my peculiar life experiences. I had to stop because people started taking me seriously. Whenever I entered a room, they would freeze and pull out long, neatly typed lists of verboten topics.  “We can’t talk about ice-climbing, those little tabs they put on bags of bread, ice dancing, manatees, transsexuals, carburetors, or people whose cousins are exceptional chess players.” “Or whaling,” I would add with a heavy sigh, sinking down next to them.

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