I am a self-diagnosed sufferer of PADD (Planning Ability Deficit Disorder), a condition that extends beyond general academic and extracurricular management to affect my vacation plans. Thus, I found myself in a pressurized metal tube, hurtling eastward through the sky towards Newark this past Sunday (February 1), when I should have been on campus. This is not because said Sunday boasted Superbowl XXXVIII; my ever-wavering North Carolina pride contract doesn’t cover professional sports. No, my unease was at missing the Princetonian’s culinary moment of truth: the start of bicker/sign-in week. The tragedy in this case is that my PADD has (as usual) robbed me of precious moments in which I should have been trying desperately to reach a last-minute conclusion about my personal subsistence strategy for the next two years, not staring wistfully at the receding Rocky Mountains as I try (in vain, of course) to remember something, anything, from my past five days of being completely retarded while visiting a friend at UC-Boulder. Breathtaking as the mountains are and entertaining as my attempt at recollection is, these moments are indeed precious because sophomores on the cusp of second semester have much deciding to do. Do you go the way of the Street? If so, do you bicker or sign in? If not, do you opt for an organized plan or do you fend for yourself? This is the current plight of ’06ers.
Instinct tells you to join an eating club. Come on, what could possibly be a better way to make sure you eat than to join an eating club? Problem solved. Terrific. But I lied when I said “instinct” – what I meant was “the masses,” a nameless (until, fleetingly, now) entity here that dictates perhaps a little too much of what Princetonians do. You figure 50 million Elvis fans can’t be wrong, so 1600 eating club members must not be either. Even more terrific: not only do you get to eat, but you get all the social definition you’ve ever wanted. (Though keep in mind that this function varies directly with how much of a gigantic douche bag you are.)
So now you’re faced with more choices. Fortunately, if you know you’re joining a club, chances are that you have a pretty good idea of which one. Few and far between are the sophomores heard uttering “I can’t decide if I’m going independent or joining ——-” (hint: seven letters, means “small house”). Unfortunately, some of these clubs demand a say in whether you’re granted membership. And why not? As was insinuated in the Rejection Issue of this past semester, Princeton was built on selectivity. Why should who you get to sit with at lunch be any different? If you’ve accepted and embraced this truth, you’re in great shape. Or incredibly deluded, or even more mindlessly supportive of the system than everyone else. Whatever. Go in bravely. The tests for granting membership are tough but completely necessary to reveal the true character of the vying masses. The range of these assessments is very broad and may include the ingestion of other peoples’ bodily fluids. Or a series of closely-supervised, awkward, forced, timed, and counted social interactions. Or nudity while doing something extremely sexy, like playing Trivial Pursuit. But silly or irrelevant (hah!) as these activities may seem, take heart knowing that they are all excellent, brilliantly designed to ensure that all interactions are 100% genuine and telling of what you as a person are like in a social setting.
I recognize, however, that perhaps a club that’s named for a plant, or that evokes mental playings of “Pomp and Circumstance,” or that a man named F. once described as “broad-shouldered and athletic,” is not for you. There are a few more clubs to join, some of which don’t even ask anything in return for their gift of eating privileges. A couple of the many options include a club where you will be beaten senseless if you’re not taller than (please insert here your own measure of extreme tallness) or are unable to propel things through water really efficiently, or one where you can be surrounded at all times by social anomalies like homo- and bisexuals, people wearing second-hand clothing, and liberals.
I also recognize that the clubs aren’t for everyone. I carelessly quote here a friend of a friend who, when asked why he didn’t join an eating club, replied “I don’t really like eating.” Reasons to abstain don’t get any more solid than that, but not everyone is born with such a conveniently economical inclination. And even among those who do like eating, not all subscribe to the “everyone else is…” approach to decision-making. Sure, we say that this popular vote can’t be wrong, but if those 1600 members drunkenly jumped off of something high and also possibly moving, would you do it too? Of course not. (Unless you did join a club, and they were all in it, and it was pick-ups night.) So I present now some alternatives…
Purchasing a University Meal Plan: This is the perfect solution because it prevents any nostalgia for the incredibly varied and impressive dining hall fare. You’ll inevitably form meaningful and lasting friendships with the freshman class or develop a reputation as the awesomely solitary, creepy, cynical upperclassman that lurks at corner tables and won’t make eye-contact over the Southwest Chicken Pizza.
Joining a Co-Op: A stepping-stone to the some twisted version of the real world, this option allows you to cook for yourself, but only once in a while, and also for your fifty-some dependents. But don’t do it in avoidance of the social stigmata that at once define and defile the eating club system; the co-ops simply eliminate several stereotype possibilities, limiting you to “hippie” or “regular weirdo.”
Spelman: No question the best square footage on campus (with the exception of the Terrace Presidential Suite), but the location can be beat and the geometric ambiance can feel a bit vulgar amidst the gothic towers. Plus, barring a bold-faced lie, how’re you ever going to nail any freshmen?
Complete Independence: It is entirely possible, albeit slightly lonely at times, to exist on a day-to-day acquisition of food from Frist, Panera, and Papa Johns. And (depending how your tastes run) it’s probably cheaper than joining a club anyway (they spend a lot of money on…high-quality ingredients… and… napkins). So why do so few people do this? I’m not really sure. But for some reason, one which this hard-boiled reporter has yet to discern, the track of complete independence just, well, sucks.
Anorexia: By far the cheapest, and it will do wonders for your skin tone and bodily hair growth. Anorexia, though, like all things, should be practiced in moderation, lest PUHS send you packing.
The quirk of this article is that though I write it as an honest-to-goodness, bona fide sophomore in limbo, by the time it goes to press my fate will likely have already been decided. I can offer little in the way of guidance, at least for now. I do strongly encourage that questioning parties explore other options not discussed here (or anywhere), like intravenous feeding, or maybe photosynthesis. For there is always the chance of blazing a new trail for uncertain sophomores of future generations, and besides, you can always do fall bicker.