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The Princeton Club made me feel awkward once

I have a story from 2009 that I am reposting here, because it was truly the most awkward event of that year, and who doesn't like reading about other people's awkward situations. So. Here we go.


Okay, so my father went to Princeton back in the Dark Ages when it wasn't co-ed and all that. Very long time ago. And he gets e-mails from the Princeton Club in Chicago, although he and my mom are two hours away, so I'm not sure why, but anyway.

He sends me this e-mail and says he wants me to go to what might be the most pretentious event of my year: "Please join the Princeton Club on Thursday, March 19, 2009, for a special evening of a cappella music with undergraduate members of the Princeton Nassoons."

Yeah. At Whosy Whatsits the Third's home. And he makes me go by myself.

My dad doesn't ask me to do a lot of things, and I'll have to put up with this crowd when I do opera, so fine. I take a cab, arrive outside an insanely nice row of houses, all of which have intimidating gates and a complicated set of doors, leaving one a bit unsure which one to open before knocking.

Some blonde, rich-looking woman in her early 40s answers the door. I stammer something about being the daughter of *insert father's name here,* class of '62, and she tells me to go up the stairs and put my coat on the bed. LIKE IN BOOKS AND FILM. I go up their very nice staircase, almost knock their very, very nice painting off the wall, and lay my Coat of an Early 20something-Year-Old on their very nice bed, which is flocked by impressive books in impressive bookcases.

There's still about 20 minutes to the performance, so I have to mingle. Mingling groups had already been established, as the reception was set for 6 and I got there about half past. So I awkwardly stand about before thinking that the best thing to do would be to look busy by wandering from hors d'oeuvres table to hors d'oeuvres table (because oh, they have several). I pick up a plate before realizing with an anguished expression that standing there by yourself, holding a small glass plate with vegetables and miniature chocolate things is one of the saddest things ever. But it is too late to put it back.

I look around, determined to latch onto someone without appearing to latch onto someone (or at least, if it's inevitable, to then plainly state it and reduce awkwardness). I spot a tall student wearing a Princeton tie and blazer hovering at the back of a group and instantly start talking to him. He does something with math and engineering, is a freshman and is utterly surprised that I'm 23 (a running theme for the evening; from now on I shall assume I look 12).

Person #2 is a preppy looking snot who is pleasant enough in conversation, but you can sense the snot within. He interned at the Metropolitan Opera and hasn't declared his major yet. Probably one of those legacy kids that my dad vaguely wished one of us would be. When, during the conversation, I realize he has assumed I graduated from Princeton, I do not correct him.

When -- thank God -- it finally comes time for the performance, we're ushered into the living room, where I am afraid to lean on/touch anything, as any item in the room is probably worth more than my annual salary. And I mean that in a literal, non-clich├ęd sense. Immediately beforehand, I managed to introduce myself to the only near-deaf person at the party (she has two cochlear implants), who turns out to have studied at both Princeton and Oxford and is now working at the Newberry. And she reads medieval French and Spanish. And is kind of generally brilliant.

Immediately before the 11 Princeton men -- all in matching ties and blazers -- start singing, I meet two girls near my age, one of whom is from New Jersey. I, of course, being the University of Illinois grad that I am, bring up the Jersey Devil (the cryptid, not the mascot) with great enthusiasm. Fortunately for us all, the program begins.

There are not one, not two, but three jokes made about Yale, all of which are chuckled at by the assembled company. All I can think while I'm standing behind the Incredibly Nice Sofa and next to the Incredibly Nice End Table and Fireplace is how much it all reminds me of The Nanny Diaries, which I read something like five years ago and retain only a faint impression of. But it was that exact impression, only with a whiff of academia added.

Everything is fine until they announce that their final song is Old Nassau, and one of the younger girls whispers to me that this is the cultish part of the evening and that I shouldn't be scared. They all stand and, with gestures, sing their school's song. I stand as I've been standing all evening, arms crossed in front of me and occasionally looking down to make sure my cleavage isn't too much, which would then make me not only The Girl Who Didn't Go to Princeton, but also The Girl Whose Bosoms Were Indecently Exposed.

My parents' own snobbery prepared me enough for the small talk of the evening. I felt rather ghetto about my university, but when you're surrounded by 30 to 40 Princeton grads of varying ages, all of whom seem to know each other, as they all frequently go to Princeton Club events, it's a bit difficult not to. But it was all highly educational on The Other Half, and the evening ended with me walking to the El with the Newberry woman, discussing how ridiculously specialized Oxford is and something about the Spanish Peninsula. 


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