Winter formalities, wagers and roulettes

Bobby Zipp / The Phoenix
Bobby Zipp / The Phoenix

The writer was assigned to the Winter Formal. There was never any promise of a story. Like many Swarthmore students, Winter Formal began at a ‘pre-game.’ Some students had invaded a radio show on the fourth floor of Parrish.

“Hey there!” the DJ of the radio show said: “We have a question from one of our ‘viewers.’” The microphone was over. “Hello,” the viewer began, putting on an air of daintiness: “Hi, I’m trying to make my thoughts a little more coherent— so, you know—but I heard you know everything about everything—”

A large portion of Swarthmore’s community, not only WSRN, became a parody of itself as the night progressed, with a little help from alcohol, adolescence, Student Activity Fees and a Swarthmore education. Literally in step with both the songs and the culminating event of the weekend, the writer wavered in and out of parody like an impressionist, dipping the article into so many brushstrokes of Saturday night-life that he both completely forgot who the writer was and became his true self.

“—The Marines were here,” someone had written in Sharpie on the wall above the broadcast equipment who knows how many years ago. “Hash-tag TS Eliot,” someone shouted from the crowd. Wine in a paper bag was stashed in a record shelf behind me, and circulated every now and then like a scratched Human League vinyl stuck on “Don’t, Don’t you want—”; Swedka was mixed into Coke, like a loop in a Yeezy being mixed with one of MIA’s. “—it’s an individual journey —” the ‘caller’ parody continued. “—Earth is a construct—” “—Lorde’s on deck!” the DJ shouted.

“These speakers have GOT to go a little louder,” a senior said, disappointed. That brought the writer back to an hour prior: surveying Upper Tarble’s hardwood floors before the Formalities began. The writer followed a local event-coordinating-supplier as it erected various rented lights, wires, and soon-to-be-beats above the soon-to-be-casino, dance floor and DJ setup. Noah Weinthal told the writer how he’d been working on the conceptual sound-framework since December.

“My chain hits my chest,” MIA interrupted, back in Parrish: “When I’m banging on the radio/ Get back, get down./ Pull me closer if you think you can hang.” Oof, the writer thought. “—The unbearable thingness of being—” someone had written above the broadcast equipment. The writer looked at his watch.

“—just got a job!” a student shouted from the hallway. Shoot, the writer thought, jealous. “We met in Hobbs?” the student with the job asked the writer, “Right?” Yeah, the writer said, Hey, how’s it going? “Your voice,” the student replied, “just got fake, really fast.” Did it? the writer asked. Maybe the writer’s just performing an act.

“Well maybe it’s me,” the student retreated, “I get to know people mostly through eye-contact and sex.” Excuse the writer, what? How—does that work out for you? “Pretty well, I mean, sometimes not for friends and stuff.” And people with short tempers? the writer asked. “Do you have a short temper?” the student asked him. Nope, just a short attention span.

The writer walked and wrote through a Rugby pre-game, past a Vertigogo show in AP, glimpsed the Basketball team, and felt the throb of their bass through the bathroom walls. The writer needed to take a leak. When the writer returned, Vertigogo had summoned the specter of ‘Ballet-sumo-wrestling,’ as comical an image as a liberal arts college masquerading as a casino, where tuition is the bet and the job market is Roulette.

“Ice!?” someone shouted, surprised, upon the writer’s arrival to Worth courtyard. “You’re a HERO!” he concluded upon receiving the ice. It was too cold for ice, but the whiskey didn’t care. Jazz was mixing to other sounds in a drum-machine loop, along with tobacco and other kinds of smoke. “Do you want to do shots?” “Nice, sweet, vanilla,” someone described their smoke, blown like locomotive steam or a subwoofer into the bitter-static cold. A Cigarette sat calmly behind someone’s ears like headphones as he hooked up his iPhone bluetooth to some speakers and the sub. Taste, preference, quality, authenticity, object-oriented identities dependent upon consumption, contrary to us, were becoming more permanent to the composition of a Saturday evening than any abstract education had, like the difference between a Walther PPK and Fred Flintstone’s club as respective weapons of choice.

“You dont mess around,” someone told the writer. “You’re a good writer.” It seems even the writer had become a parody of himself.

Like Bond and like Bond’s many girls, people were dressed up at the Formal. Suits, slacks, dresses, belts, heels of varying degrees of quality. Appearance was everything. The writer’s idealism was showing. “Wow, even YOU dressed up!?” someone asked, scoffing. “Nice,” said another. “Who opens my vodka?” someone asked the writer: “Honestly!?”

“Comedy,” someone dangerously alluded to career ambitions, adding onto the end: “Pipe dreams,” making the writer’s heart hurt. “Dude,” someone interjected, “[X student] is finally done with her homework!”

Then the writer remembered the four beers that he’d invested in the ‘Beer-garden’ parody in Paces, below the Winter Formal casino-parody. “Sorry,” the “not being paid” bartending-parodies said when the writer arrived, having passed through security-parodies (known on campus as Swat Team) and ditched his jacket in Parrish, before reaching Casino Clothier. “We don’t have a bottle opener.” The night couldn’t have gotten any more absurd.

Plenty of soft-pretzels etc. around Essie Mae’s. The writer used a paper plate to cut some cake, like a note-app to record quotes. Didn’t feel fake eating the content with the writer’s fingers. Guys had put on the 007 ‘licensed to kill’ gaze; plenty of girls looked kinda cold. The writer went upstairs to find a parody of Roulette, you know, invented by Pascal. Everyone’d been talking about a $250 raffle for-a limo and-a dinner at some fusion restaurant. The writer’s head spun like a ball in Roulette, between Pascal’s various winning-wagers and the House, or the Casino-parody, which had morphed into a College-parody. Writing though didn’t know what it had to lose if it did or did not choose to believe in it. The Formality of appearances was intoxicating. In pursuit of an image of Swarthmore, the writer somehow missed out altogether on his chance of winning at the raffle and the currency-parodies.

Not wanting to sound conceited or anything, but, in that post-gambling dance, the writer felt like he’d discovered Pascal’s ideal perpetual-motion machine, a source of constant energy that would go against the laws of thermodynamics: Parody—no! the writer meant to say Education! The Roulette game of social life at Swarthmore was probably flawed, biased in favor of traditional beats and parodies—“One More Time!” Daft Punk said—but maybe the secret to a success Education is in choosing not to need traditional winnings, knowledge, or Education in the first place. Choice, in this regard, being of course one of those privileges always in need of checking.

Not that privileges were ever in check Saturday night. “We had our own girly high face: Like this,” some people said downstairs, when the writer gave up on perpetual-motion, exhausted and sweaty. “Very sex positive,” stuck to the writer’s ears. “Did you know,” someone asked, “that MLK studied in Chester?”

“Doesn’t this kinda music just piss you off, though—everyone is just waiting for THE DROP—”


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