Talk of the Quad: The Trojan horse
In kindergarten, Ms. Poger had a big bowl of buttons. They were “counting buttons”—meant to help us with math. If I have eight buttons, and I give you three, how many do I have left? Now, a little bit you need to know about me…
Growing up, I had what my parents termed a “special drawer.” It was below my sock drawer, above my shirts, and it was where I kept all of the small objects I compulsively squirreled: diminutive unfilled notebooks, miniature rubber dog models, tiny binder clips.
I had a glass cup of coins—not even special coins or foreign coins—just shiny nickels, mostly. So, being a small, strange child obsessed with collecting useless and unexceptional things, I was naturally drawn to the buttons.
And they were beautiful. One was tin-colored and conical, with complex cutouts and curlicues. One was brass, square shaped and deceptively heavy, with two-thread loops on the back. All together, they were enchanting, tumbling over one another and tinkling conspiratorially.
Sharing may be caring, but thievery is far more gratifying, and the buttons were like insects to my flypaper fingers. I started to steal them, every few days, after our math sessions. If Ms. Poger has one hundred buttons, and Stevie takes three each week for seven weeks, how many buttons does Ms. Poger have left?
When Ms. Poger discovered that the button bowl was losing weight—that students were pilfering—she took the bowl away in draconian fashion.
The idea was this: that if we were abusing her generosity in sharing the buttons, we lost the privilege of having them at all. In front of the class, Ms. Poger made a big deal out of locking the bowl away in the bottom drawer of her desk. No more buttons.
Thursday at 2:40 p.m. and I’m wondering if the same sort of logic is operating in Coles Tower, except that now, being 22, I’ve graduated from buttons…
Let me explain: There are five Tower RAs, all of whom are wonderful people. I have no unkind words to voice against them. They put nametags on our doors, they have cellphone numbers posted to theirs, and they host pizza parties on the 16th floor catered by Flipside. I have no real complaints.
But it’s Thursday at 2:40 p.m. and I’m looking for condoms. Ok, ok—not for use at 2:40 p.m. admittedly. But it’s important to be prepared—for anything and everything. That’s a rule I also learned back in kindergarten, when, after being confronted with the impossible and explosive nature of the milk cartons, I started always opening my chocolate milk with the spout pointing away from me, at my friends.
So I go down a few floors, to the nearest RA’s door. I’m looking for that Halloween-style, serve-yourself vessel full of the small, light blue packages. No luck.
I know RAs aren’t proctors, and maybe they aren’t told to provide seniors in the Tower with condoms, but why not? I guess I’d just assumed that all Residential Life staffers had access to an off-putting number of condoms with which to arm us residents.
Disappointed on this floor, I head down a few more and stop by the next RA’s apartment. Same thing. And none at the next RA’s floor, either.
There are, surprisingly, no condoms in the Tower.
And here’s the Ms. Poger connection—are you still with me? I wonder if, like the bowl brimming with “counting buttons,” there used to be an awe-inspiring bowl of Trojans made available for students, a privilege which Tower residents abused for too long—stealing condoms, hoarding them, hiding them in their “special drawers.” Then I think about the bowl being locked away forever in someone’s desk. No more condoms.
Not that I’m blaming anyone— I’m certainly not one to judge. But no matter, I still have no condoms, and now it’s 2:50 p.m. And so I do what any rational senior would do when the weather is below zero with windchill, and head for the nearest first year dorm.
So I’m headed to West. Hey—when you got to go, you got to go. (I think I’d rather not tell you all about the day in kindergarten when Ms. Poger’s class learned about that.) On the first floor, I beeline for the proctor’s door, made evident by the whiteboard and—at last!—the condom bowl.
I sort of wish I’d been discovered—a senior hunched greedily over the condoms and, for the first time in my life, choosing something over chocolate, which the kind proctor had also left in the bowl—because it was probably hilarious. Or incredibly frightening.
I’m trying to imagine some analogous scene—to throw some metaphor in here—and I keep thinking about Santa feeding from his plate of cookies, but everything about that comparison is disturbing. Anyway, I stuff the condoms into my bag, and kindergarten math comes rushing back. If the West first years have nine condoms, and Stevie takes them all, how many condoms do they have left? Sorry, West.
Am I embarrassed? A little. Did I abuse the system in taking all of the condoms from West? Undoubtedly. Am I judging myself just as much, if not more so, than you? Likely. But I hope that this, besides being a mildly entertaining story you read this morning while eating breakfast alone and feeling a little socially awkward about it, can be a lesson.
For all those of you who call the Tower your home on campus, don’t waste your time looking for the free condoms. There are none. In the interest of efficiency, head straight to the closest first year dorm—maybe you pass Coleman on your way to the library?—and stock up. And for all of you still in the dawn of your Bowdoin days, living in the first-year bricks—if your condom bowl is empty, it was probably us.
Stevie Lane is a member of the Class of 2015.
Talk of the Quad: The seder, as a modern Jew
“Are you Jewish?”
It’s a girl I sit next to in my English class. She is now sitting across the table from me at Bowdoin’s Passover Seder.
I give her my standard, terribly long-winded response:
“Yes, well, I mean, my mom is Jewish, so technically—I use big air quotes—I’m Jewish. But I never went to Temple and I never was Bat Mitzvah-ed and we celebrate all the Jewish holidays but also Christmas because my dad is Christian—well, technically—more air quotes—he’s both because his dad was Jewish but they weren’t religious so it’s more of a cultural thing I guess. So, yeah. I’m half-Jewish—or, like, three-quarters. But basically no. Not religiously or anything.”
And like everyone else I tell that to, including most likely the reader of this article, my classmate doesn’t care all that much.
“Oh. Cool,” she says.
And yet, it’s important to me, every time that question is asked, to clarify my level of Jew-ness, to emphasize that, though non-practicing, I am a technical Jew. It’s a surprisingly central aspect of my identity. I feel like I owe some strange, intangible allegiance to my Jewish heritage, which I simultaneously know almost nothing about and have never felt any interest in exploring.
Inexplicably, I also feel like I’m part of some invisible global Jewish network. When I’m outside of my home in the greater-New York-metropolitan area—which one-third of the Jewish population calls home—I feel an immediate connection with other people I meet who are Jewish. It’s like their Jewishness automatically makes them comforting, safe, friendly—even if they’re complete strangers. Not that I’d pick up an ominous-looking hitchhiker carrying a lead pipe and smelling like formaldehyde if he told me he was Jewish, but I guess I have to admit that it wouldn’t hurt his case. After all, he could turn out to be, like my Grandma thinks of Aaron Sorkin, “a nice Jewish boy”…right?
I’m thinking about this in Moulton Union while members of Bowdoin Hillel recite Hebrew prayers I’ve heard every year at my family’s Seders that still sound entirely foreign. I’m mouthing along, pretending I know more than I really do, and thinking about the forthcoming meal, which is also my habit at Seders. Last year, Bowdoin served roasted root vegetables. I wonder if they’ll serve them again. I snack prematurely on the matzo in the center of the table; I eat the charoset (sweet apples and cinnamon) but skip the maror (bitter herb).
Looking around the room at faculty, students and community members, I wonder why my Jewish identity is so inextricably tied to the person I believe myself to be. Especially when considering I care so little about observing the religious traditions of this holiday (I skip the hardboiled egg, too).
“It’s so interesting to see all the people who are Jewish at Bowdoin,” my friend comments.“I think that most of these people aren’t Jewish,” I say. But I don’t mean it as a judgment at all. That observation is, in fact, precisely what I like so much about Bowdoin’s Seder. Open to anyone, including my redheaded Irish Catholic friend sitting diagonally from me, the Seder is far more about community than anything else.
Yes—it’s about celebrating a Jewish holiday. But it’s also about not caring if a fellow student skips over the difficult Hebrew words in the Haggadah (the Jewish guide for the order of the Seder). It’s about amending the Haggadah so that the story of Joseph, my knowledge of which is limited to the plot of the musical “Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat,” includes him “committing himself to the Common Good.” It’s about coming together with a group of peers and enjoying each other’s company over a delicious and bountiful meal (thank you, Bowdoin Dining!). Having grown up in a vaguely-Jewish household, I feel relatively confident in claiming that nothing is more Jewish than that.
So I can take from my Jewishness what I want—I can value it while also denouncing my religiosity. I can eat the charoset and not the maror because I am in a position to ingest what I want from this experience and leave the rest on the table.
The time comes for the closing remarks. It’s my friend’s turn to read from the Haggadah. This is the second Seder she’s ever been to, (the first was the Bowdoin Seder last year.) She comes to a Hebrew word, and stumbles embarrassingly. Someone a few seats down murmurs the pronunciation. I suppress laughter—partially because of my friend’s mistake, but mostly because I have no clue how to pronounce the word either.