Bicker is an important rite of passage for people with a creeping suspicion that they might be cool. Champagne bubbles and dreams of Ivy League grandeur saturate even the most level of heads. Some even go so far as to pop their collars.
Remembering back to my sophomore days, I think I might have even popped the collar once or twice myself. I think I’m a reasonably good person, and I’ve seen it happen to many others like me. I remember the transitional moment, as I was enjoying a beer and a cig at my bicker club of choice on a random Tuesday night in November. Outkast’s Hey Ya came on. Finding myself in a Quintessentially Princeton moment, I smoothly exited a conversation and boogied over to dance with my friends. Seeing so many badass, attractive people with their collars popped, I did the same to mine. Something mystical about that action released a floodgate of self-assurance in my brain. I’m sure I was smugly shakin’it like a Polaroid pitcha,’ and at that moment I knew this was the club for me.
To some this will certainly seem like the bitter tale of a person who never-quite-got-over-being-hosed, and I have one thing to say: oh my God, I am so totally over your club and I think the music is lame, too, and you know what else…I never have fun when I go there because its sooooo lame. Meanwhile, I hope you sophomores will enjoy the following public service announcement. I recognize that Hey Ya and poking fun at popped collars may make my story seem dated, but from what I have witnessed from all sides makes me think the story remains the same.
Whatever your bicker club of choice, there is a universal, strategically formulated equation upon which membership is granted. These are largely based upon tests that reveal the core-of-ones-being, namely chugging bananas and goldfish while arguing a case in favor of Lindsay Lohan’s hotness, post anorexia. No matter how enthusiastically you wriggle in a nebulous mixture of mustard and hair, though, it’s still a crapshoot. Some people may blackball you because you are in a rival dance troupe, or just because they’re drunk and don’t like your face.
Knowing these odds, I still couldn’t resist putting myself on the line. Who am I kidding, I thought I had it made in the shade with vodka and lemonade. I had a lot of upperclass friends in the club, and most of my friends wanted to bicker there too. The clincher, though, was when I first realized that Saturday night out was like a house party straight out of an eighties movie: boys with windswept hair wearing Polos and aviators, dancing to Billy Jean and Glory Days.
Apparently my epiphany wasn’t a unique one: at the kickoff of Bicker, I walked into a foyer with 150 other sophomores who were equally as certain of owning the place as I was. I signed in and filled out a form about my “Hobbies/Interests.” Thinking I had the hick-chic angle in the bag, I wrote “Barbecue. Playing Duck Hunt. Independent films.” or something trying equally as hard to be uber-unique. I didn’t realize at the time that this meant I was going to have ten conversations about barbecue, playing Duck Hunt, and independent films. That got lame pretty quick.
Middle School Awkward does not begin to express vibe of the foyer during Bicker. With so many more bickerees than club members, each conversation is followed by an hour of a hundred people gazing eagerly at the staircase, waiting to be called again. A friend and I would chat about our last conversations, and then fall silent waiting to have another conversation that would hopefully count.
I had never been called upon before to be interesting as though my meal plan depended on it, but I had yet another sneaking suspicion that this was my forte. Talking about barbecue was tiresome, so I reached deeper into my bag of hick tricks. I laid it on thick with stories about fishing in Texas with my uncle, the philosopher. I even impersonated Cornel West. The experience was nerve racking and semi-prostitutional, but strangely enjoyable. At the end of it all, my self-assurance was magnified by the affirmation of feeling like I had made some new friends.
The night before the Day of Reckoning, my suitemate and I debriefed, both expressing appropriate concern: “I’m sure you’re fine, I’m the one that should really be worried.” We both went to bed wishing each other luck and hoping we would get to sleep in. Let’s just say I think we had both planned on getting our beauty rest.
The next morning, two of my friends woke me up at 7 a.m. to hose me. The really unsatisfying thing was that no reason is ever given for a rejection…sometimes the members themselves don’t even know why. I remember how sincerely sad we all were, but at such an ungodly hour the only phrases used were “sucks a big one” and “blows hard core.” But much to the relief of my ego, like angels of death, they moved to the next room to reject my roommate, too.
Apparently the commotion had already woken her up, because they found her trying to sneak out the door to shower. She perkily said “Hey!” and gave me a “sucks a big one” look of pity. Either she thought they weren’t there for her, or that she could evade rejection by jumping in the shower. Since she didn’t understand that they were blocking the door, one finally had to say, “uh…we’re here for you.” This could have been said more tactfully, but my roommate also could have added some polish to her response of “Are you fuck-ing kid-ding me?”
This was the moment when I started to re-evaluate. While I might have had the sense not to say anything, I felt the exact same way. In just the course of a semester, I had let myself become somewhat of an overconfident assface. This was the hardest part of rejection to swallow: seeing just how far along my friends and I had traveled on the road to being totally insufferable.
I have a pretty averse reaction to people with popped collars now, and hearing Hey Ya nauseates me. Still, I would say that I do completely support bicker just like other institutional injustices at Princeton, from grade deflation to senior theses: they’re rites of passage. Of course it’s wonderful for those that get in; but I would argue that it’s better for those who don’t. These people have the opportunity to learn a lesson about rejection and failure that’s fairly unknown to the Princeton student – and eventually come out realizing that there are more important crises in life than failing to vomit both multi-colored and projectile on command. As we say in the Religion department, it’s a sort of redemptive suffering: a good, swift kick to the ego is the only thing that can save the soul of a badass.