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JANUARY 24, 2014









For as long as we can remember, we’ve been surrounded by rankings. Our dads shouted at the TV when there was an upset (Erin’s about basketball, Marina’s about assorted Russian music awards). We were both bummed when that girl from PE class suddenly removed us from her Top Eight on MySpace. And don’t even get us started on the Neopets games room. As we’ve grown up, tragically forgotten our Neopets passwords and gotten more involved in the things we’re passionate about, we’ve noticed that our sensitivity to all the rankings out there has only increased. The seemingly arbitrary numbers assigned to the things we love, namely Dartmouth, suddenly seem to reflect something about ourselves and the choices that we’ve made. We came to this school for a reason, and it’s easy to let each evaluation affect our self-esteem. But it’s also important to take a step back. There are some ridiculous rankings out there, and frankly, we’re the only ones who care about them. No one else is particularly interested in whether Dartmouth women are the hottest in the Ivy League (in case you’re curious, survey says we aren’t). What matters at the end of the day isn’t the countless rankings on the Internet but how we feel about this school and the people in it. Maybe it’s a good thing that we felt all kinds of proud when Dartmouth beat out Princeton for undergraduate teaching this year, or that we felt personally slighted when the Colorado School of Mines beat out Dartmouth on the Forbes list of 25 colleges with the best returns on investment. It just goes to show how much we care about this place and its countless narratives, which could never be quantified by College Prowler.

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Outrageous fees are part of the college admissions process — it’s no big secret. With preparation books for every standardized test imaginable, application fees that stop you from adding that one last safety school to your list and pricey volumes with oddly specific titles like “The 437.5 Best Colleges in the U.S.” and “100 College Admissions Essays That Really, Truly, Actually, Honestly, Definitely Worked,” it’s impossible to escape the process with your wallet unscathed. But for some lucky applicants, money can buy major perks. Charging prospective students (or their parents) between $34,000 and $40,000, Michele Hernandez ’89, a former Dartmouth admissions officer, works tirelessly to get them into their dream colleges. Speaking twice as fast as the average person, probably to compensate for the unexpected time waster that was my phone call, Hernandez explained that her company, Hernandez College Consulting, takes 20 to 25 new clients each year, most of whom begin working with her in the eighth grade. “The first thing I do is evaluate everything about them,” Hernandez said. “I write a 10- to 20-page report based on what they’ve done so far, their strengths and weaknesses and how they can get from point A to point B.” For the next five years of her clients’ lives, Hernandez manages almost everything about their academic lives, saying that her goal is to make students better scholars and not just more appealing applicants. She’s placed students in reading programs, taught them how to use vocabulary notebooks and pushed them to find their academic niche. Hernandez said that the bulk of her job is handling the psychological side of the process. “It’s hand-holding, it’s helping them through difficult times,” she said. “A lot of the time it’s comfort-counseling. There’s nothing we don’t do over the course of five years.” Hernandez said she does not screen potential clients based on where they want to apply, but she does turn down students with unrealistic demands or expectations. “I have people who call me and say, ‘I want to buy a place in Stanford’s class,’ and I tell them that’s not possible,” Hernandez said. “I also have students in the eighth grade who tell me that they want to go to Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth and Brown,

’14 Girl: I can’t concentrate, I can only think about pong.

Blitz overheards to

but they don’t actually know anything about those schools or how hard it is to get in.” Hernandez College Consulting also holds a lucrative Application Boot Camp every summer in Boston. During this four-day intensive program, 40 to 60 students, usually juniors, are harshly evaluated and scrutinized to make them more palatable to college admissions officers. The charge for four days is $14,000 per student. “Sure, it’s expensive, and is it equitable? No,” Hernandez said. “But neither are college admissions.” Five months after leaving the Dartmouth admissions office, Hernandez published a book titled “A is for Admission: The Insider’s Guide to Getting Into the Ivy League and Other Top Colleges.” The 1997 book reveals inside information on how the world’s most selective schools pick their incoming classes. Hernandez became a full-time college consultant in 2000 and has published several other admissions-related hits such as “Don’t Worry, You’ll Get In: 100 Winning Tips for Stress-Free College Admissions” and “The Middle School Years: Achieving the Best Education for Your Child, Grades 5-8.” Though certification is not necessary to work in her field, her experience reading files in an admissions office taught her “everything I know about admissions.” In her first book, Hernandez chronicles her experience in the jungle of admissions officers, dividing the “typical admissions officer” into two categories — highly talented recent college graduates and the “lifers,” people who got sucked into admissions and are now out of touch with us young folk. “The very best of applicants will often be brighter than many of those who will be evaluating them,” Hernandez writes in “A is for Admission.” So basically, future applicants should be catering to elderly people who didn’t go to Ivy League schools. Try to be humble and understand how many applications these people read. Bev Taylor, the founder and CEO of The Ivy Coach, a New York-based college consulting firm, is a “rival” counselor who says a large part of her job is spent strategizing and convincing students to have more realistic expectations. “A lot of students say, ‘If I don’t try, I’ll

Government professor: Since we have to have inflated grades, I’d rather make you work for them.

’14 Boy: My hands are sweaty from being on Friendsy.

never know,’” Taylor said. “We absolutely drop students if we do not think we can continue working with them.” The Ivy Coach’s website echoes this sentiment, stating that the company does not take on cases of unreasonable parents and students — “unless you’re Melinda Gates, your daughter with failing grades isn’t getting into Duke.” Way to tell it like it is, Ivy Coach. Every Ivy Coach client gets into one of his or her top three choices, and according to the site, over 90 percent get into their top choice school. When asked to prove her success rate, Taylor said that the names of successful students, which are listed on her website, are all that is necessary. “We don’t need to prove our success because of the real first and last names on our website,” she said. “Those say more than any parent testimonials or references.” Hernandez disagreed with Taylor’s reasoning, saying that the meaning of “success” can change significantly for a student over the course of five years, making measuring success rates difficult. Taylor also said that 80 to 85 percent of her clientele is Indian or Chinese. This, she says, makes many of her students look similar on paper. “What we do is differentiate them, and if we have to ‘de-Indianize’ or ‘de-Chinese’ a kid, we do it,” Taylor said. “The parents are all happy about that because they know about the competition.” Though the lucrative college counseling industry may have faced extreme skepticism five or 10 years ago, it is now growing rapidly and gaining substantial influence. According to the Independent Educational Consultants Association, in the last three years, the number of independent admissions counselors has grown from 2,000 to nearly 5,000 across the country. Apparently, over 22 percent of students applying to competitive colleges received admissions help from an individual counselor outside of their high school. Both counselors take this to mean that the stigma associated with coaching a student to get into college no longer exists. “I don’t have to respond to any doubts,” Taylor said. “Our clients come to us because they need us. I don’t have to sell The Ivy Coach.” Before our interview ended, I asked The Ivy Coach exactly how she can be sure of a client’s likelihood of getting into his or her top choice. “We have a crystal ball,” she said. I couldn’t tell if she was joking.

’17 Boy: Being drunk is weird. I can’t feel my feet.

’15 Girl: Walking across campus without a bra is actually really liberating.

’14 Girl: The library reeks of procrastination and Facebook.




By MIN KYUNG JEON On a winter night my freshman year, I jolted awake from a poorly planned nap crammed between midterm study sessions. With a devastating sense of loss, I realized that my mother was nowhere to be found. I called out to her, my eyes bloodshot, then fell back into bed. I was not in my house in Korea, 6,600 miles away, but rather in my dorm room at Dartmouth, my supposed home away from home. At that moment, all I wanted was to go back to elementar y school, to a time when my mom would comfor t me after a nightmare involving a homicidal chicken. I fought back an onslaught of tears as I realized that this time, no one was there to reassure me. I missed the days when I shouted for my parents after a spooky dream, and they came running for me, missed the rush of tender relief I felt as they held me in their tight embrace, rocking me back and forth to sleep. Now, buried in material about trade-of fs in public policy and Vladimir Nabokov’s “Pale Fire,” I grieved for the childhood memories that came back to me with such a sudden pang. Until that moment, it seemed as though

they had evaporated into thin air, faded into the background as time marched inexorably onward. Even in kindergarten, I was an introspective loner who preferred snuggling up with an Astrid Lindgren stor ybook to playing dress-up with giggling friends who constantly teased me about my bookishness. My big brother raised hell wherever he set foot, an ingenious class clown who shot back witty remarks at disapproving teachers and tirelessly ran around the neighborhood with a throng of admiring peers trailing behind. Despite, or perhaps because of, our diametrically opposed personalities, we were insufferable yet inseparable pals from the ver y beginning. We bickered, scuffled, snickered and blubbered together over the years. We would reenact epic combat scenes from Digimon Adventure, dare each other to jump from the top of a jungle gym and protest loudly as our dad inquired about our homework. I ached for the blissful world I inhabited in those days, the mythical creatures of ancient Korea and the fantastical landscapes of Russian folklore that lay at my fin-


gertips — the ludicrous courage and solemnity with which I accompanied my brother on any number of apparently dangerous expeditions, from navigating through sinister alleyways to defying our father’s order to brush our teeth by 9:30 p.m. Somewhere along the frenzied timetable of classes and club meetings, I had lost the spark of passion and tenacity that had suffused my childhood. And then, all at once, I found myself reliving the powerful moments that had defined those years in Korea. With hushed breath, I stared at the immobile body of my beloved grandmother, gulps of stifled sobs escaping through my clenched teeth. My mind continually replays her last words and her low chuckle as she graciously received my temper tantrum the morning of her death. As a token of her unconditional love for me, who she called her “puppy,” she had

... I’ll turn down eternity unless The melancholy and the ten-­ derness Of mortal life; the passion and the pain... Are found in Heaven by the newlydead Stored in its strongholds through the years. Professor John Shade, the novel’s protagonist, muses about his tendency to stroll down memor y lane, which resonated with me as I longed for the haunting yet rejuvenating memories of my childhood. I wondered whether years from now, my memories of home would remain as cherished and unadulterated as they seemed to me in that moment. In the back of my mind, I knew that even the memories I cherished most must have had flaws before time wiped away their imperfections. The solution to this dilemma, however, came promptly and unexpectedly.


Break out your America gear — probation is over.


We are more and more intrigued with every single wooden board that gets placed on this mystery box...

DARTMOUTH OLYMPIANS Did you know that 25 Dartmouth athletes are going for gold at the Sochi Olympics this winter? We’re pretty impressed. See if you can spot them around campus. We bet you can’t. They’re in Russia.


asked that I join her on a trip to the grocer y store. Both of my parents worked late, occasionally in faraway cities, so my grandmother had practically raised me and my brother since the first grade. Mom was absent most of the time — a figure I idolized as a poised, ambitious career-woman, but not a tangible presence in my life. Dad was a terrifying influence both at home and away, whose lifelong dedication to research and professorship compelled him to demand the same level of self-control and work ethic from his children. But my grandmother – she was plate after plate of meticulously prepared comfort food and wrinkled smiles that warmed the nooks and crannies of my heart. I knew that my task for the day was to study, not to reflect, so I pulled my mind from my memories and back to “Pale Fire.” But the words I found in its pages catapulted me right back.

Sitting at a trippee reunion dinner that evening, I found myself thinking back on my experiences at the Luna Bleu Farm during my organic farming trip in the fall. I remembered the awkward handshakes that we exchanged. The sunshine that ricocheted off of the cow hides as we bonded around a serene grazing area. Yet the persistent memor y of my family made me secretly homesick when I slept in a tent along with my trippees that night. In this, I had a revelation. Memories, as fluid and unreliable as they are, will remain a constant in my life. They provide extraordinar y strength, motivation and consolation in times of happiness and sadness. There is no distinct space into which I can shove all my memories to preserve them in their original forms. But I don’t need to. My memories are not important because they are accurate — they are important because they intersect with my current life at Dar tmouth and shape so much of who I am.

PROTEST We know there was a protest at the MLK keynote speech, and we know it was a big deal, but we haven’t found someone who knows what it was about yet. Give us a call if you have any details.

MIDTERM DENIAL It’s week three, which means you should probably go buy your books and stop lurking around KAF.


MORE THAN JU As the oldest and selfproclaimed favorite of my family’s three children, I was the guinea pig while my mom and dad tried their hand at the whole parenting thing. As it turns out, my mom had heard that the other (presumably more learned) mothers had star ted supplementing their infants’ diets with sweet potatoes for extra nutrition. Perhaps a heavier emphasis should have been placed on the word “supplement,” because they ended up feeding me so many sweet potatoes that I actually turned orange. I repeat — I was the guinea pig. I was back in the hospital two weeks later. Ever yone thought I had jaundice. As my skin returned to its normal hue and my parents

started to hone their skills, my mother took particular pains to use the “follow your own path” method of her new parenting strategy. This idea, of becoming a leader among others by focusing strictly on oneself, continues to resonate with me. Despite how simple it seems in theor y, I find it difficult to apply when the natural tendency for most is to compare themselves to others. Whether it’s feeding one’s child an abhorrent number of orange veggies or studying an extra couple of hours in the hopes of joining the ranks of the cur ve setters instead of the cur ve anchors, we as competitive people consistently gauge our behavior and overall sense of satisfaction by those around us. We are never simply good,

but always eith worse than othe Just look at admissions proc accepted to Da any college for involves nausea of side-by-side by admissions little thought g intangible or non dif ferences that unique. While all of us being judged an the colleges we h there seems to outlet in popula for students to favor. While D cer tainly no str limelight — actu to be perpetually der the media’s

BY AMAN third in the Ivy League for student body attractiveness, with both male and female students earning a respectable B+ in hotness. So let the record stand that Bean boots are sexy (at least when paired with some LuLus), and anyone who begs to differ can march themselves on over to Har vard and its C+ average. Even if you don’t feel particularly compelled to seek shelter from the brutal New England winter in the warmth of your mutual attractiveness with devilishly good-looking classmates, you are still in luck. Business Insider ranked Dartmouth among the 10 best colleges for “an awesome winter experience.” The further I delved into my research on Dartmouth’s rankings in the public sphere, the more ludicrous the findings seemed to me. One particular study carried out by the Daily Beast ranked Dartmouth as the third “druggiest” college in the U.S., oddly behind Uni-

versity of Colorado-Boulder. Who would have guessed it? While the ranking seems absurd, I suppose it does give new meaning to the whole “Big Green” thing. For those of you who are feeling skeptical, I don’t blame you. It seems impossible to quantify things like attractiveness or per-capita drug use they don’t have a reliable data set upon which to operate. As a skeptic myself, I took the liberty of researching the ranking systems that each site uses to make their annual “best of” lists. The academic evaluations offered up by U.S. News and World Repor t were perhaps the most well-r esear ched and unbiased. According to the publication’s website, the ranking system relies on two concepts. The first of these focuses on categorizing schools by their missions and breaking them down into one of four separate types of educational institutions, namely national

universities, national liberal arts colleges, regional universities and regional colleges. Once all eligible schools are sorted into one “WHILE DA of these smaller IS CERT groups, NO STRAN the sysTHE LIME tem then evaluates ACTUALLY, each colTO BE PER lege on TRAPPED U up to 16 indicaMEDIA’S SCR tors of EYE — THE academPUBLISHED ic excell e n c e . FROM BUSIN E a c h TO THE DA factor’s HELP PUT D weight is deterIN ITS P mined by the publication’s own assessment of its merit. Through this process, the schools each r eceive a composite quality score, and final rank is determined


her better or ers. the college cess. Getting ar tmouth, or that matter, ting amounts comparison of ficers with given to the n-quantifiable make people

have endured nd ranked by hope to attend, be a growing ar journalism o retur n the Dar tmouth is ranger to the ually, we seem y trapped uns scrutinizing

eye — the rankings published by outlets from Business Insider to The Daily Beast help put Dar tmouth in its place. It should come as no surprise to anyone who has fallen victim to the late night Novack grind that Dartmouth is an institution of academic excellence. And if you have ever been in Novack late enough that they start giving away once outrageously overpriced muffins for free, you will be gratified to learn that Dartmouth earned itself a spot at number 10 on U.S. News and World Report’s Best National Colleges list. In other words, your 3 a.m. toils are not for naught. Additionally, Dartmouth seized the number one spot in U.S. News and World Report’s rankings for best undergraduate

teaching methodology. I know, office hours do suddenly seem harder to avoid. Business Insider assigned a similar rank to Dartmouth in its 2013-14 list of the 50 Best Colleges in the U.S., placing us at number 9. Take that, U.S. News. In addition to assessing Dartmouth’s academic standing, several online publications have begun to tackle the “work hard, play hard” mantra that keeps students in the stacks all day and in the frats all night. A list compiled by U.S. News and World Report cited Dartmouth as one of the top 10 “frattiest colleges.” Looks like we’ve been making Bluto proud. In a self-esteem boosting study carried out by Business Insider, Dar tmouth ranked


through the comparison of these scores. Business Insider cultivated its academic rankings based on the results of a ARTMOUTH 1,000-person readTAINLY er sur vey NGER TO asking reELIGHT — spondents — 91 per, WE SEEM cent of RPETUALLY whom had UNDER THE bachelor’s RUTINIZING d e g r e e s — how RANKINGS much they BY OUTLETS b e l i e v e d NESS INSIDER each college would AILY BEAST help a stuDARTMOUTH dent succeed in PLACE.” life. In the case of a tie, colleges with cheaper tuition edged out their pricier counterparts. As for the social statistics, data seemed to be obtained

through a slew of sources, from federal databases to collegiate dating websites. One site stood out to me across the spread of ar ticles as a consistently cited source of data: College Prowler. Fueled by reviews submitted by current and former students at various colleges and universities, College Prowler ranks ever ything in students’ academic and social lives, down to the quality of campus Wi-Fi. Why do we even care about these rankings in the first place? Julia Dressel ’17 said that she believes the accuracy of these grades are important because many prospective students look at websites like College Prowler when learning about colleges. “We want the rankings to accurately reflect the school so that we attract the right people and don’t deter the ones who would actually love it here,” she added. I’m not sure if thereis a better way to assess a school.

Chris Banks ’16 said he thinks that rankings that include narrative reviews of student experiences of fer a clearer picture than lists alone. A more accurate ranking, Dressel said, would be pulled from sur veys of random samples of students. She believes that people who had a difficult time at Dartmouth are more likely to use College Prowler to warn others of their experiences, which skews the rankings. While one might suspect that a fair amount of trolling goes on with a site fueled almost entirely by student responses, it is true that the those who are best equipped to rank the colleges are those who actually attend them. Plus, some of the insight offered up about Dartmouth didn’t seem all that misguided. Campus parking, for example, scored a D+ among students and alumni. If you have ever called Safe Ride to pick you up from A Lot, I’m sure you would concur.





By TAYLOR CATHCART Down the Rabbit Hole is a new section of The Mirror that showcases student work from across campus. Submissions of all genres are welcome — please send works of 3,000 words or fewer to mirror@thedartmouth. com. The following is a work of fiction. It started on a drear y summer evening in 2001. I remember the day well. I’d been at the ham radio club meeting at the community center earlier that night and was sitting at my computer with a Miller Lite in my hand — just sitting there, minding my own business, sipping on my Miller and reading news and maybe checking out a few cat pictures or whatever. That was when I saw her, on the left side of my screen in a banner ad, winking at me from a green and yellow rectangular frame. She had green eyes with blonde hair and little dimples on her cheeks — she was ver y beautiful. I felt self-conscious for a moment (since after all I was sitting in front of a computer at 2 a.m. on a Monday morning with six empty beer cans in front of me and my left hand down my pants for the reassuring feeling it gave me). I started to get a little anxious, the kind of anxious you get when you realize all your friends have girlfriends and mortgages and you’re still pretty into your joint-rolling skills. I looked down at the keyboard, then back up at the woman. “Alexa, Age 31,” read the caption underneath her in sparkly script, and I mar veled at the coincidence. The more I sat there watching her, the more I felt like I knew her. She had a tight smile and a mischievous softness in her eyes that made me wonder which of the many secrets we shared was on her mind. She looked like she could enjoy a nice Miller Lite from time to time. My pulse quickened. I thought about teaching her radio: “Calling O4ZAS, this is N24RC. I’m here with my smoking hot girlfriend ... just, uh, FYI.” The caption caught my attention and I read its entirety for the first time: “Alexa, Age 31. Alone in house?

I grew up on the western coast Wish have beautiful lady make feel of Canada in British Columbia, new? Pick face, see it soon!” The website was based in Po- just a few minutes outside of land. My breathing tightened. I Vancouver. It was a good place to watched my cursor begin to make grow up, and it’s true what they its way to the left side of the screen, say about Canadians being nicer. felt my pointer finger twitch on They couldn’t give a shit about the mouse. With no small effort how good you are at sports or I managed to peel my palm away the money you make or how bad I am at making eye contact. In and set it gingerly on the desk. I closed the browser window, Vancouver we lived in the kind of cracked a brew and leaned back neighborhood that doesn’t seem in the worn leather chair. I gave to exist anymore — a little street myself a little kick and spun a few in a little neighborhood where circles as I gazed up at the ceil- the road saw more roller hockey ing. I saw the woman engraved games than cars. The memories are fond. there, smiling When down at me. Her “I WAS AN I was 14 face was filled AMATEUR years old, we with kindness RADIO moved from and her mouth Va n c o u v e r with Miller Lite. OPERATOR, A to a suburb There wasn’t DENIZEN OF of Chicago much going on THE INTERNET, for my dad’s for me that sumwork. He was mer, aside from A HIGH SCOOL pretty excitteaching a reTEACHER FOR ed about the medial English THE PUBLIC whole idea class on Ameri— our new can literatur e SCHOOLS OF house had a where my stuCLEVELAND long drivedents showed up AND A FAN OF way, and he blazed and left got a thick bored. I didn’t ‘LOST.’” stack of goldforget about Alembossed exa. It was silly, really. I was an amateur radio business cards. The pictureoperator, a denizen of the inter- perfect town of Lake Forest had net, a high school teacher for the manicured lawns, an old market public schools of Cleveland and a square, good schools, big houses fan of “Lost.” She was posing for and a community sailing program. a mail-order bride advertisement When we showed up, we were assigned a welcome family to in Poland. Besides, the whole mail-order help settle us in: the Papastefans. bride thing always kind of creeped The father, Tom, was a soybean me out. Who would want to sell trader, thick around the middle, the rest of their lives so they could and his wife Valerie was a delicate come here to eat cheeseburgers, extrovert who always seemed a pay for health insurance and get bit fatigued when she wasn’t at screwed over by the electoral a party. Their daughter, Sarah, college? Not me. Wouldn’t pay for avoided me for reasons that were a little unclear, probably because I someone to do it, either. Still, I found myself returning had a high-pitched voice and she to the same sleazy websites ever y was too preoccupied with steaky couple of weeks hoping to catch dudes and her eating disorder. The Papastefans’ front lawn Alexa’s face on another banner ad, maybe have the composure to take gleamed green and sported the a screenshot this time. And ever y permanent imprint of a fresh mow. once in a while, when I’d had a few Their double-entried driveway beers and could justify it to myself, wrapped around an absurd granite I would browse Polish directories fountain, the kind with little naked of international marriage brokers stone babies standing and pissing and look for her eyes. I don’t re- ever ywhere looking fancy. I hated that fountain, and I quickly came member finding them.

to hate Tom and his soybeans, too, and eventually the whole goddamn town. About a year after I first saw Alexa staring back at me through my computer screen, I took a glance at my email inbox and dropped the beer I was holding. Four emails down, below an IHOP advertisement, a Drudge Report newsletter and a bank statement was an email from an address I did not recognize. It read, “Thank you for business! Your beautiful Polish lady depart today on ship for America. She arrives nine days and looks for ward ver y much to meet you. Your friend at, GLOBAL PAR TNER SEARCHES, INC.” I tensed for a moment and then relaxed, the message was clearly a scam of some sort. I jumped over to Google and did a search. The top link was unambiguous: “Beautiful Polish girls look for love and marriage in America! Be no more lonely! Best price all of Europe!” I had an uneasy feeling. Was it a scam? Or maybe ... but how the hell could that have happened? Would they give me a refund? I found the company’s phone number and dialed it. The air around me was ver y warm. I began to sweat. “Hello?” A man with a heavy accent greeted me, his voice distorted by the 4,400 miles between us. I spoke quickly. “Hello, my name is Nicholas Black, and I’ve just received an email about some woman coming to visit me? Can you tell me what’s going on?” “Oohoo, Mister Black! So good to hear from, you! You will be happy, your bride has just left for the States this morning!” he exclaimed. My eye twitched. “My ... uh ... what?” I whispered. “Bride! Remember? You asked special. Ver y excited,” he replied. “What is her name?” “Ever ything is okay, Mister Black? We talked before. Remember?” he asked. “What is her name?” I repeated, losing patience. I tensed. “Of course, her name is Alexa. You know. Green eyes. Ver y beautiful.”

She arrived at my door nine days later, in a pair of khaki shorts and a loose-fitting shirt. She had a small leather suitcase, the kind without wheels. It was Alexa all right, though her eyes were more bluish than green and her dimpled cheeks had evaporated into a thin face with sharp cheekbones. “Hello, Alexa,” I intoned, tr ying to disguise my racing pulse. “Hello, Neek,” she replied with a restrained smile and a husky accent. She looked ner vous, too. I offered her a drink. As it turned out, she didn’t mind Miller Lite but preferred vodka. She certainly was beautiful. I tried to think of something to

say as we sat in the den sipping vodka sodas. It was four in the afternoon. “So, uh, how was your trip?” She looked startled by my question. “It was good, Neek. Maybe — how you say? — too small.” “You mean, uh, cramped?” She gave me a look telling me she had no idea what that meant. “You know, cramped. Too many people in a small area,” I clarified. She nodded absentmindedly, head swiveling as she took in the den and what she could see of the kitchen. Then she looked back down at her vodka, then up to me. She looked satisfied. “What is your job, Neek?” she asked me innocently. “I am a high school English teacher,” I answered. Her face leapt into a smile. “You can teach English to me!” she exclaimed. I chuckled. “I suppose I can tr y, Alexa, but I’m used to teaching Americans who already speak ver y well.” “Well, you can tr y?” she asked hopefully. I nodded. “Are you hungr y, Alexa? Do you want to get some food? There’s a Polish place around the corner you might like, or we could tr y some American food.” Her nose wrinkled and her eyes lit up. “I do not want Polish food. I do not want Polish anything. We are in America, I must be American!” And so it went — that night we ate cheeseburgers from the B Spot a few blocks away while I gave her a primar y school histor y lesson (“There was a great man, who never lied, named George Washington ...”). The next day, we went to a shooting range. I stood behind her and supported her hands as she chewed through 12 gauge shells with a grin on her face like a 10-year-old kid who’d forgotten to take his Ritalin. I took her to City Hall, and we stood under the dome, and I explained American politics as best I could. She liked to sit and watch me use my radio, and she smiled when I introduced her as my girlfriend. It was all ver y exhilarating. The next day we went out for a drive, and I was in a talkative mood. I told her a bit about my childhood cat, Chester, and she explained the best ways to make pierogi — if the dough won’t seal, add some water (and apparently they put prunes in their dumplings over there ... seriously). Half an hour outside Cleveland, we found ourselves on a big road in a wealthy neighborhood. Kids played on their lawns as we cruised past, wielding baseball bats, street hockey sticks and other weapons of terror. After a few minutes, Alexa pointed out a magnificent house. I pulled over so we could inspect it. The cast iron gate was wide open and the driveway could be seen circumscribing a tiered stone fountain. I was reminded of the old Papastefans back in Lake Forest. “It is beautiful,” Alexa remarked, pointing at the fountain before us. I didn’t disagree.








I couldn’t even tell you the number of times my editors cut out the Dartmouth cliches I used in my first Mirror articles during freshman year. References like #facetime, the weather being unbelievably cold and all forms of “so/too real” were akin to profanity. But for me, these were the easy jokes because as a freshman, I understood them. I could even execute them. And it never occurred to me how little insight they conveyed to the upperclassmen that had heard the punch lines thousands of times before I ever stepped on campus. Having received these criticisms, I spent my first seven terms writing for The D in an uphill battle to be original. My intros became funnier, my puns cleverer and my questions harder. By the end of sophomore summer, when I hadn’t left Hanover except for the 10 weeks after freshman spring, I started to finally feel like I had it all figured out. Then, in my eighth term, I went somewhere else, and a British professor on the Government foreign study program made me realize something. A scholar on modern warfare, and almost as old as warfare itself, he told my classmates in his posh, impassive voice the truth about saying things that hadn’t already been said. “You will probably think that you have brilliant ideas, but I can almost guarantee they aren’t yours,” he scoffed. “You will never write or think or say anything that someone hasn’t thought first.” With a slight smile, he swished his vodka. “And if you do, I’ll be happy to borrow it.” The professor seemed to imply that an idea isn’t worthwhile if it occurred to someone else first. The more I’ve thought about his concept recently, the less I’ve bought it. If it really is the case that an infinite number of people across time and space all reach the same conclusion, it has to be a good one. It’s statistically unlikely that everyone is messing up. Maybe I have too much faith in humanity, but I think that’s why the same anecdotes, metaphors and critiques of the College appear consistently throughout the years – because to some large number of people, they ring true. The things that are relevant, the jokes that everyone on campus will always get even when they cease to be funny, are bound to be cliched. It’s only because they’re accurate. And so, after being off for two terms now, I couldn’t be more sure that the ultimate Dartmouth cliche is the truest of them all — the Dartmouth bubble is too real. You’ve heard the concept before in its most basic terms — the joke (or reality) that Hanover exists in isolation from the rest of the world as a snowy pocket of New England that does not give to or take much from its surroundings. The students are magically able to reduce the scope of their concerns

to what is happening directly on campus. The jury is still out on whether the result is an environment of diligent academia or indulgent ignorance. Most likely, it’s both. But while being away from Hanover has perhaps made me more aware of current events and less concerned with which frats are on probation, the dramatic increase in how often I watch the news isn’t the reason why I am suddenly convinced that a force field surrounds the far side of Occom Pond. Everyone locked away in the stacks right now probably has a bone to pick with this, and I respect where they’re coming from, but being in the bubble just makes things easier. If you’re camped out in Baker-Berry, you know why you’re sitting there and what you’re doing. You’re going to get through this chapter, so you can take that test, so you can pass this class, so you can fulfill your CI, so you can graduate. I have an internship, so I can perhaps get a letter of recommendation from an unknown person who will recommend me as capable of doing something I’m not even sure I want to do, so I can put it on a resume, so one day I can perhaps apply to ... Well. You got me there. I suppose the best way to describe the feeling of being off and outside the bubble for the first time is that you are suddenly terrified of running out of time to figure out what you want to do when you grow up. The bubble, an environment I didn’t even fully realize I was in for two years, made me feel like I knew exactly what I was doing with my life just because I knew what I was doing with it in the moment. The environment shrunk the scope of goals and obstacles to manageable benchmarks. For all of their stresses, terms at Dartmouth provide absolute stability — 10 weeks of knowing exactly what you have to get done and the amount of time you have to do it. I’ve never been one for nostalgia, and my musings on how blissful and easy life is at Dartmouth are absolutely a function of me being away from campus for an unreasonably long time. To be honest, the longer I spend in the real world, the more I am convinced that the simplistic and artificial framework that the bubble creates for measuring success is likely problematic. For those of you in need of a reminder of what the other side looks like, I encourage you to step outside your comfort zone, reach for the stars and do something every day that scares you. And I mean it. Call that one a cliche, and I’m calling BS. Advice is one thing that should never be original. Sara Kassir ’15 is a new columnist for The Mirror. Her column will rotate with “What Have We Done?”

In case you were wondering, toothpaste, or what we recognize as toothpaste, was first invented by Washington Sheffield in 1892. Various other tooth-cleaning agents had been used before then, including but not limited to crushed bone, salt, charcoal and pulverized brick. I begin with discussing toothpaste because I recently completed the obligatory start-of-term run to CVS. Not having to move every term is wonderful, because I can come back to a room that is well stocked with essentials like shampoo, lotion and deodorant. Long ago, I discovered that the physical labor required to pack, store and transport half-full toiletries wasn’t worth it. Plus, the shampoo could possibly explode, leaving me with sheets scented like passion fruit and mango for all eternity. But this year, I was lucky enough to return to a full medicine cabinet — by which I mean a plastic box that lives under my bed. All that was missing was toothpaste. Rush is over, and so is “The Great Rush Scandal That Wasn’t.” I am old, this is my fifth rush and by this point my mentality is, “Yo, I think you’re cool. If you think I’m cool, let’s be sisters, but if you don’t, that’s fine, too. Let’s just not be weird about it.” I can manage to come up with searing, insightful social commentary — regarding rush or any other topic — only about twice a term, so I’m saving mine up for the Oscars and the Winter Olympics. Hats off to those who have the stamina to offer social commentary every week — your talents far surpass mine. Considering the state of my mental faculties, at this point meditating on dental hygiene products would be far more interesting. The Great Toothpaste Quest of 2014 began with a visit to CVS, which somehow lies on the very outskirts of Hanover, even though it may be the store most visited by students. And by outskirts, of course I mean the third block from Wheelock Street. I know Topside is closer, but now that my $50 of Topside money is gone, I see no need to go there and pay too much for something or find out it’s out of stock. Another sign of my age — I still remember when it was Topside. I made it to CVS, and for the first time, I noticed the sheer number of possible toothpaste options. I stood before the toothpaste display like Proust with his madeleines. Is this why we fought the Cold War? To ensure the survival of capitalism so that Dartmouth students, even when


banished to the frigid wastes of New Hampshire, would have an unlimited number of toothpastes to choose from? Are different brands of toothpaste really that different? Is sodium lauryl sulfate that bad for you? How much money was spent on researching and designing and marketing all these different toothpaste brands, and could that money be better spent elsewhere? How many poor souls are trapped in cubicles in Proctor and Gamble or Johnson and Johnson, working on these different brands of toothpaste and wishing they could become environmentalists or bring clean water to Africa? So many thoughts summoned by toothpaste. Had I studied economics, I could probably explain elasticities of demand, supply-side economics or what have you. I haven’t. I was left not so much marveling at advanced economic theory as I was sad and mildly irritated. The cornucopia of toothpaste made it impossible to find the one kind I like. And then they only had the orange-and-silver Aquafresh tube, which is somehow different than the green-and white Aquafresh tube, which, for some reason, I like better. But I like my teeth, and I lack the time and inclination to create my own organic all-natural substitute, so I bought the subpar toothpaste. As Dartmouth students, we are nothing if not resourceful — when faced with less-than-desirable options, we simply make do. I have made macaroni and cheese for 20 using nothing but a screwdriver, pot, pan, butter knife and coffee mug. Everyone has figured out that duct tape can be used to mend anything, from laundry hampers to onesies. I lack a vehicle, and even if I had one, I probably wouldn’t use it because I learned to drive in Los Angeles. Five lanes of traffic bumper to bumper on the 405? No problem. Two inches of snow? Major difficulties. So, in my life, if it’s not purchasable at CVS, it’s pretty much unobtainable, unless you want to order it online and wait a week. Though I am completed devoted to Hanover’s CVS, I have to put my foot down when it comes to the toothpaste issue. In my post-capitalist socialist liberal democracy (in case it’s not obvious, I haven’t taken any government either), the only toothpaste available would be green-and-white tubes of Aquafresh and maybe that sparkly bubblegum flavored Crest that I used when I was little. Resources spent developing all the other types could be diverted to education and the construction of cost-effective solar panels.


Over winter break, I spent a few days playing hot potato at the homes of my New England-dwelling friends. Each house and family was different — Shih Tzu puppy versus orner y cat greeting me at the door, scr umptious Indian food versus decadent blueberr y muffins made from scratch — but toward the end of the week, I began to realize it wasn’t so much that these families were all different, but that none of them were normal by my standards. I mean, where were the dead cats in the refrigerator or the cousins singing drunken versions of “Silent Night” by the piano? Not a soul was inquiring about whose turn it was to shower with the dog. And by golly, there wasn’t a hoop skirt in sight. As I looked up from dinners that had obviously never contained roadkill and tried to convey my family’s complex rituals to simpler folk, I knew they thought I was making all of this up. Trust me, I couldn’t. Here’s a quick rundown of the family. My dad is from Chicago, which, in his voice, is pronounced shee-CAHHH-go. His mother still lives there. I should mention that she only eats one shrimp per day (or one melon on holidays), looks vaguely like a skinny gorilla and smokes like a chimney. Strangely, she puts no fewer than 12 sugar packets in her coffee each morning. She has two drawers full of them. Let’s swing on down to Nashville, Tenn., where my mother and ever y one of her relatives was born and bred since the dawn of time, or at least since God anointed Dixie the most wonderful place on earth. The flock wouldn’t be complete without a few choice Southern-tothe-core names. Meet Bubba, Rufus, Ruby May, Ella May, Horace, Ruby Joann, Mar y Brugh, Mar y Braden, Mar y Anne, Mar y Summers and me, Mar y Liza. Whenever I lament having a double name, I send up a special thank you that it wasn’t any of the other ones. Yes, grandmother Ruby Joann does have the exact same

accent as Vivien Leigh in “Gone with the Wind” (1939) — and many of the same political views. Rounding off the bunch is an uncle with a musical theater background, a cousin with a penchant for tattoo artistr y and a cat whose daddy is also his uncle. In my family, you never have to wonder if the South will rise again. It will. Most of the time, having a crazy family is great. I find myself the star of dinner party conversations and the winner of ever y crazy family debate. Oh, your dad sometimes sings in the shower? How cute. My dad goes jogging in bouncy moon boots, and he once smuggled a potato cannon through Canada. All I need do is allude to a good stor y (“...turns out it wasn’t his iguana after all!”) and people are hooked. My sister has a phrase for this phenomenon — “on display.” Putting yourself “on display” is when you meet a new group of people and drop one

of these impossible stories on them, and you can just that they already love you. It’s a powerful feeling. Often, sensing you’re on display propels you deeper into the family vault until you’re sharing things that you’re sure the rest of the clan would want to keep under the raccoon-skin rug. Did I forget to mention that my house has a whole room full of taxidermy? Like my relatives, these special friends have splendid names — Bucky the Buck, Ray the Raccoon, Bob the Bobcat, Lil’ Red the Fox. And we’re still looking for the right squirrel to add to the collection. Perhaps Carl or even Pearl the Squirrel. Gazing about the quiet, warm homes of my friends this winter, I felt that familiar pang that comes with being just a little bit odd. These people could take their parents to a parent-teacher conference without worr ying whether their father would start belting Beatles tunes while the teacher tried to talk about algebra. I felt certain they were the types of families


who, on Thanksgiving, sat around and watched football instead of pr ying a cat out from under an exponentially lustier cat. I doubt my friends had ever sat on their beds wishing just one family member would act normal, be it for a wedding, a funeral or just a regular day. I knew none of them had to live in fear that their sisters would sneak up on them as they watched TV, inch closer and forcibly pluck out their nose hairs. I recently discovered a musical about a family quite similar to my own — “Next to Normal.” The show follows a bipolar, hallucinating mother and her family’s attempt to live normally in the face of its many abnormalities. Now here’s a feel-good musical for the whole Hartong family! Listening to the songs, especially to the lyrics, “What doesn’t kill me doesn’t kill me,” makes me feel a little better in my times of woe. In the end, the family in the musical decides that being next to normal is enough. Perhaps I should strive for this state of being. I can’t stop expecting that there will be another family pet nestled beside the stack of frozen DiGiorno pizzas, or that my dad will stop wearing shoes that look like something from “Back to the Future” (1985). I would honestly be saddened to come home to find our moose-themed tchotchkes replaced with black-andwhite family photos and scented candles. Oh, the horror I’d feel if my grandmother admitted that Obama and Democrats aren’t really all that bad. I’d slap the embroidered handkerchief right out of her hand and use it to fan the flames coming from the microwave she had just used to “warm up” her hearing aid, as she claimed the doctor told her to. No, wait, that already happened. But that’s another stor y. I think Tolstoy put it best. “Happy families are all alike; ever y unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Although I’d replace “happy” with normal and “unhappy” with weird, loving, horrible, wonderful and ver y, ver y funny. ROBBIE NEUHAUS//THE DARTMOUTH STAFF

The Dartmouth Mirror 01/24/14  
The Dartmouth Mirror 01/24/14