All the freshmen in those days ate at Commons. Ceilings close to 3 stories high. More dark, more stone. We stood in line to enter. One of the very first nights I was waiting there in line by myself on the sidewalk. A boy stood in front of me. He turned. I was wearing jeans I had patched with pride, an Outward Bound logo squarely on my seat. In my “alternative” high school we had done survival training as part of the curriculum. I had a bandana on my head, probably navy blue but still, really? a bandana, pirate-style. The boy was wearing pants the color of faded strawberries. A button down shirt. A needlepoint belt with some small figures, could have been whales, could have been lacrosse sticks. I was not familiar with the secret life of belts in those days.
The boy asked me why I wore the bandana on my head. I was very nervous. I said in what I thought was a joke but actually was a manifestation of my discomfort, “Because my hair is dirty.” The boy was silent, unable to find a response. He turned away. Later it turned out that the boy was the son of someone everybody said was a member of La Cosa Nostra. Probably his belt was protective coloring, a disguise. But who can know at 17?
That’s just one piece. Here’s the other. I wrote my senior thesis, on Metaphor and Metonymy – List and Catalogues in Epic Poetry (the young are entitled to some hubris after all), in a study carrel, a small metal locker for people, combination lock and everything. I would go sit, read, write. Eat peanut M&Ms from a yellow 1-lb bag. Sit, read, write some more. And I would feel drunk. High. Stoned. Drunk on the workings of my own raw brain. I don’t mean to sound arrogant. That’s what it felt like at 21.
This is my own particular version of Princeton. It is embarrassing to discuss here, in public, because it is so much the emblem of privilege and yet so important to me in my personal identity. What I say is true. I do not know if it is important.