As I peer out of my Leverett window and watch intently as the snow swoons and finally falls to Memorial Drive and settles on top of the benches that line the Charles River, I think back on how many tan faces, mine among them, spot classrooms on these first days back after spring recess.
There is something symbolic about the fact that the sky poured a pure, white ointment on Cambridge the day after many returned from the Caribbean, Mexico and other supposedly exotic locations. The snow may be functioning as a detergent for the soiled feeling one gets from Spring-Breaking down south.
The brown--and somewhat orange--among us contrast noticeably more with the white blanket covering fair Harvard. Where have the tan been this last week and what have they been doing on spring break?
Spring Break, very different from spring break, is a phenomenon of which I was ignorant until now; it exists for several weeks every year on warm and sunny islands in the Caribbean, and we may as well not know or care about it, except for the fact that it seems to be in our faces every year from January to March--Let's Go, MTV and the Internet bombard us--and many, many people go.
What it is exactly is not quite clear until it is witnessed and participated in. The beaches are what they are cracked up to be: the sand is white and the water is clear and blue. But very few real Spring Breakers will be quick to announce the merits of the ocean because they have concentrated their efforts elsewhere. Where have tan friends spent their evenings this last week?
Well, in the Bahamas, probably one of two places: The Zoo or The Waterloo--charmless nightclubs that would serve their purpose just as well if they were located in the middle of a warm swampland. What have Spring Breakers been doing there? Getting drunk and doing what they would like to do, but cannot, here, such as "freaking" whomever catches their eye, rushing like lemmings to the loudspeaker call of "Free shots at the back bar!" (which is coming from a communal SCUBA tank), or best of all, competing.
As it happens, a Harvard woman won the Hot Buns Contest at The Zoo this past week. This contest, (not so different from the other nights' wet t-shirt and bikini contests) entails getting on stage with several other women and showing most of your merchandise to a crowd of 300 or so; she who elicits the most grunts and yells, wins. There are male equivalents (though fewer of them) to these contests, such as the Hot Bod Contest. In sum, many students of both sexes, while away from their respective colleges, decide to "let loose" and party hardly in a most candid way.
What motivates thousands of college students every year to lose their inhibitions like this on Spring Break? Do they walk off the plane, and hit by the warm Caribbean air, think to themselves, "I'm gonna go f---in' nuts this week, dude!" Or are they finally allowed to be themselves without the restraints of being spotted by their chemistry tutee?
Spring Break '97 was--as Spring Break '98, '99 and the rest of Spring Breaks from here to eternity will be--a home for the id to run wild; the Bahamas and Cancum are places where you can't get caught and thus "anything goes"; these typical MTV Spring Break-havens harbor and nurse the college id until it is full with who knows whose milk.
New Providence (the island with the capital and most populous city, Nassau) teems with Americans and is ripe with McDonalds, Dunkin' Donuts and other American fast-food chains. So, although the Bahamas are a foreign country, it would be plain wrong to assume that Spring Breakers descend on the islands for anything but the hedonism that they hope will follow.
Spring break can be a wonderful thing--a cathartic, relaxing escape from the everyday Harvard experience. And many of those who are tan have had such a spring break, but let the April snow keep falling for those who are Spring Broke.
Daniel M. Suleiman's column appears on alternate Wednesdays.