Meanwhile, back in Oxford, Deborah was already planning for this reception.
“It’s going to be a celebration of what a good time they had in New York, all they learned at Sarah Lawrence, and how well they did,” she informed me.
“By what if they hate New York, learn nothing and Sarah Lawrence, and fail miserably?” I asked.
“No, it’s going to be a celebration,” she insisted.
“Okay,” I conceded. “I’ve got to go anyway, I’ve got 10,000 pages to read, and nine and a half essays to write before 5 tonight, so I’ve got to focus.”
“Oh, and we want a few of you to present, as well,” she added, “to give perspective to the other side of the exchange, so write something for that, would you? It’s going to be a big reception with the Dean and a lot of students, so make sure it’s really good, okay?”
“Wait. What? No,” I panicked. “I’ve got all this work and can’t stress, wait” –
“Make it funny,” she said, tossing her hair with an air of affirmation, “Yes, funny,” as if that were settled. Tick – I could hear her mentally checking that off the list of things needed for this reception, as she departed into her office and closed the door (I think she may have locked it behind her).
I guess that’s what makes a good administrator: feeling like you’ve successfully completed something when you’ve delegated it to someone else, even if that someone else, like me, is not to be trusted.
But there’s nothing funny about Oxford, I thought as I left the office and stepped outside. Sarah Lawrence is funny, with its lawns constantly full of hippies, poised to protest anything. Oxford’s grey. Oxford’s rainy. Someone walked past me without saying hello. Look what happens to people who live among stiff cold buildings, and the food alone is enough to depress you: who’s ever heard of chips-and-cheese-and beans? And who considers that a snack? Can these geniuses think of nothing better? Why can they remember the entirety of The Metamorphoses, in Latin, and forget how much better a slice of pizza tastes from a New York deli?
Well, that’s funny, I guess, I continued as I exited Wadham and turned right onto Holliwell, following a group of English peers. And their accents are funny, too. I snickered. I could talk about that. And come to think about it, they’re stone buildings are pretty funny, too, I thought as the Sheldonean opened up to my left, with those ridiculous bust-sculptures of ex-deans atop fence-posts, like smiling conquered heads on spikes. I laughed out loud. How do the people stay so stonily serious when even the statues don’t? Why don’t they burst out laughing when they see each other walk past this stuff, acting so serious?
Well, I suppose that sort of self-consciousness WOULD ruin the atmosphere of this place – the professors would surely lose their prestige if they fell to the floor rolling with laughter every time a student started reading his paper aloud in his most literary tone. Yeah, that’s what’s funny about this place: the people. I know, I thought, I’ll tell them about the Frisbee team.
And so I give you this:
During Michaelmeus term I worked at a bike shop up Cowley Road. That was my extra-curricular activity. It was refreshing because I got to take a break from academics for a few hours every week, and hang out with some people who didn’t take themselves so seriously, who worked to pay the bills, and who could laugh at themselves.
The shop didn’t need me last term because of the winter lull in bike sales, so I had to find something else to occupy my time. I’d like to play a sport, I thought, to keep my serotonin up during the notoriously drab Hilary Term. But I didn’t want to get into anything serious, so I decided to try out for the University Ultimate Frisbee team, or OW! as they call themselves (O for Oxford, and W for University Ultimate – double U, two U’s, that’s funny right? Get it? Don’t worry, they don’t either). Frisbee’s fun, I thought, and even though it’s the University team, they won’t be too hardcore, because, after all, it’s Frisbee.
Boy was I wrong. At Sarah Lawrence, Frisbee is a chill sport – a notoriously hippy sport played on that sunny lawn, by those dread-locked protesters. I always thought games of Ultimate were scheduled: smoke a joint, play a little bit of Ultimate, and repeat until stoned. That’s how it’s done at Sarah Lawrence. That’s not how it’s done in Oxford. Here, Frisbee entails track workouts where mottos such as, “If you don’t puke at the end you didn’t try hard enough,” are commonplace, five practices a week comprised almost solely of drilling, and 25 e-mails a day discussing how to improve your huck, supplemented by web-forums dedicated to what we’re going to shout before games. The leading cheer at present is based on an under-armour commercial where the team circles the field, and slowly moves in while clapping in unison – clap, clap, clap, clap – until a small circle of frenzied clappers has formed at the center of the field, then the team captain, screams out a bunch of things like, “Whose gonna protect this house,” to which the team inevitably replies, “we will.”
Actually, the commercial is kind of cool, but mostly because all the athletes are built like tanks and have voices that are a subtle mix between Berry White’s and McGruff the Crime Dog’s. In America, Frisbee players are the dorkiest jocks, the ones who couldn’t make soccer or football teams. In Oxford, they are too, they just pretend they’re not. Let me tell you, the under-armour commercial is much less cool when acted out by a bunch of nerdy, scrawny, white boys.
I’ve always gotten along with Frisbee players best among all athletes, because they’re typically the nerdiest, hippiest group. And they are here too, and so these Frisbee Addicts have become my friends. I do really like hanging out with them, when I can get them to stop talking about how I could improve my huck, and be the best Frisbee player I could be.
That’s what’s funny about Oxford: that from my writing teacher who rolls cigarettes and strokes her cat while I read my stuff, to my literature professor who pounds port in his armchair next to his roaring fire while ranting about Joyce, to all the students who want to be just like one of those two intellectual archetypes, to the athletes who never stop talking about their athletics, to the administrators who live in the check-lists of their minds, to those silly, grinning stone-heads watching kids feast on chips-and-cheese-and-beans, no one realizes how much fun they are.
And that’s surely a testament to this SLC-Wadham exchange: that we’re sending fresh eyes to each place, helping both places to see a broader view of things, and themselves. I’ve surely learned a lot in this stone town, among these comical characters, that I’ll be taking back, to Sarah Lawrence.