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Finals may loom ominously, but (for most!) there'll be time to worry about that tomorrow. On this crisp evening in late November, it's time to kick back and enjoy another...
Saturday Night

By Sally McGrane (MA '03)
Photography by Christopher Myers

7:45 p.m. Calories Galore, and Britney Spears

Inside a rowhouse on East University Parkway, the Karaoke machine is turned to high volume as the members of the women's swim team swarm a dining room table covered in confections -- apple pie, ice cream, cookies, cakes, brownies, Oreo pie, doughnut holes, and a bowl of something called "dirt," a confection resembling chocolate mousse.

A handful of the 20-odd swimmers tear themselves from the desserts long enough to sing along with Britney Spears in the living room: Oh baby, baby how was I supposed to know/ Oh pretty baby, I shouldn't have let you go/ I must confess, that my loneliness is killing me now ... Hit me baby one more time!

There are two things important to know about this annual party. One: The team is "in season," so the swimmers are not drinking. "They told you we're dry, right?" asks team captain Liz Schlicher, gesturing to the plethora of desserts. "We're not just weird."

Second: The location is top secret. "I e-mailed the girls and said, 'Do not tell a single boy!'" says Emma Gregory, another team captain. There is good reason for this precaution. Every year the men's swim team members try to find out where the dessert party is so they can egg the hostess's house. Gregory shrugs. "They're mad that they're not invited."

8:35 p.m. A Taste of India

At the south end of the Lower Quad, a banner on the steps of Shriver Hall proclaims, "SASH presents ... Many Voices, One Soul." Inside Shriver's auditorium, half full at this point, undergraduates Anjali Malik and Shalin Shah take the stage to introduce the South Asian Students at Hopkins (SASH) Fall Show's next performance, a traditional north Indian dance called "Ras."

"And now," says Malik, "we're going to kick..."

Shah finishes... "your Ras!"

The audience eats it up. The curtain rises on eight couples in traditional dress who begin to dance.

Choreographer Nishart Patel (r) at intermission "I liked it, it was really good," says freshman Prakash Vempati during intermission. "I kind of miss India," adds Vempati, who moved to the United States from India as a child and visits every few years. "Every time I watch these shows, it's like India."

Upperclassmen Lynda Ken and Safe Fecadu, chatting in the lobby of Shriver, are here as moral support for friends in the show. "There's always something put on on the weekends by different cultural groups," says Ken, a neuroscience major. Counter to stereotype, the Hopkins undergraduate, she says, does go out on the weekends. "We don't just stay home and study. Not at all."

"We like to act normal," adds Fecadu. "We like to have fun."

Members of American University's a cappella troupe Dime a Dozen belt out their desire for the fairer sex, to an appreciative Hopkins audience. 9:10 p.m. "Girls! Girls! Girls!"

Across campus, in the auditorium of the Bloomberg Center for Physics and Astronomy, the women of the co-ed a cappella troupe Octopodes form a semicircle around the microphone. They are wearing skin-tight, stomach-baring beige outfits. Troupe member Popi Benisch has modified the lyrics of the Destiny's Child song "Independent Women Part I" to better reflect the experience of the Hopkins female undergraduate. The auditorium is overflowing, and a hush comes over the crowd as the first suggestively clad singer approaches the microphone. She begins:

Question: tell me what you think about me
I go to Johns Hopkins and I'm dead sexy
I call your dorm room when I'm feeling lonely
When it's over, please get up and leave

There is wild applause. Another Octopodess comes forward to sing about the Hopkins women's purported rivals, the (by reputation, less nerdy) Loyola College girls:

Loyola women, you ain't got nothin'
Hopkins honeys will be making money

Also part of tonight's show, which features three acts in addition to the Hopkins group (one man is a "human beat box" who performs a convincing didgeridoo solo with his voice), is the American University a cappella troupe Dime a Dozen. The male group belts out: Girls! All I really want is girls/ And in the morning it's girls/ Cause in the evening it's girls .... Two at a time -- I want girls.... Girls! Girls! Girls! Girls! Girls!

The Jays capture a 50-48 victory over Trinity, with one second left. 10:01 p.m. A Victorious Prelude to Fun

With one second left to go, Blue Jays senior forward Jay Kreider hits a three-point shot from the corner, boosting Hopkins' men's basketball team to a 50-48 victory over Trinity University.

"When you have a victory, an amazing game, on Saturday night, it puts you in a good mood. It makes you feel like it's going to be a fun weekend!" says freshman cheerleader Ellen Minnihan, leaving the gym in her blue-and-white miniskirt uniform. Her friends, freshmen Christina McCarthy and Jessie Gilligan, attended the game to cheer Minnihan's cheering. So what now?

"Things start around 11:00, 11:30," says Gilligan, "so we have to find something to do."

"A lot of times, we work until we go out," says McCarthy.

"Because we're dorks," says Gilligan.

"Or we'll fail," says Minnihan.

McCarthy says they are going back to their AMR dorm, which is just across from the gym, to nap or read until they're ready to go out. The three freshmen are fans of their dorm, Lazear, in spite of the bathroom ("disgusting") and the mice ("we wake up in the middle of the night and hear them"), because, they say, it's one of the most social dorms.

"We leave our doors open all the time," says Gilligan. "Even if we're changing -- we don't care!"

"Honestly," she says about Hopkins Saturday nights in general. "I'm shocked at how much is going on at Hopkins. Not that I thought it was a loser school. But it's a closet party school!"

McCarthy agrees, "It's known only for its workload. But it's work hard, play hard."

"Or work hard, play harder!" says Gilligan.

Hangin' in the hall: from left, Gilligan, McCarthy, and Sliker 10:10 p.m. Lazear Loyalty

According to Minnihan, the second floor of Lazear (which happens to be her floor) is the house social center. She attributes this to the laws of physics ("people gravitate up"). But, at this hour, the halls are empty. Then Zirui Song and another friend, freshman Tim Sliker, come back from the SASH performance.

"It was freaking awesome!" says Sliker of the performance. The group discusses plans for the evening. "This is not a normal Saturday night," says Sliker. "No parties!"

Conversation turns to house pride. Song volunteers that he has sewn the letters "Lazear" on the back of his basketball shorts for a house basketball game. He offers to model the modified shorts.

"Hand sewn! Oh yeah!" says Gilligan, admiring Song's behind.

Dorm pride runs strong in Lazear: witness Zirui Song (right) and his hand-sewn basketball shorts. "This is too weird," says Sliker.

"Yeah, we're all big dorks," says Gilligan.

"That's what we do on Saturday night!" says Song. "We sew!"

Down the hall, one dark, messy room has its door slightly ajar. Inside, a freshman named Matthew is watching the movie Fight Club on his laptop computer with the sound low. His roommate is sleeping a few feet away. "He has an inverted schedule," explains Matthew. "He studies from 10:30 at night to 5 a.m., then sleeps all day."

A few doors away, another freshman and a friend from home are watching a basketball game on TV. Basketball clothes are strewn on the bed, and a half-empty bag of tortilla chips shares desk space with a calculus book.

"I'm gonna do something, but right now I'm watching basketball," says the Hopkins freshman.

As it gets closer to 11 p.m., more and more people come home -- or out of their rooms. There is a buzz in the hallway. A blonde in red sweatpants crosses the hall to the bathroom. She is talking on a cell phone. "I need to go out!" she says.

"No one loves me!" shrieks someone else down the hall.

All eyes are on Celebrity Jeopardy While the second floor gets ready to go out, the third floor is sepulchral. Behind one closed door comes the muted sound of a TV. Inside, a klatch of freshmen, packed into the room like sardines, are watching Celebrity Jeopardy.

"This is the all-guys floor," explains the room's official occupant, who wishes to be identified only as "Rob, a random freshman BME major."

So, what do they do for fun on the all-guys floor?

Rob the random freshman says, matter-of-factly, "Almost all of us play Counter-Strike. It's a first-person shooter game."

11:22 p.m. Content, and Despairing, at the Library

From the number of people in the Milton S. Eisenhower Library, you wouldn't know it was a Saturday night. Chris Tallent, a poli-sci major, is researching a paper "on the Progressive Party of 1924 and the role of that party and progressivism in general in the realignment of the party system in the 1930s." Tallent is on the debate team. "So I'm on kind of a weird schedule," he says. "Some weekends I have to catch up on work." He doesn't mind being here on Saturday night, though. "It's cool. I like what I'm doing. If I didn't like what I was studying, I'd probably kill myself."

Gadi Dechter, a master's student in The Writing Seminars fiction program, is similarly upbeat about finding himself in the library's computer room at 11:30 on a Saturday night. He is looking for fellowships for next year.

Chris Tallent, "cool" with being at the MSE. "I'm at an age," he says, sitting back from the computer, "where I'm no longer depressed by my lack of social life, but rather grateful for the opportunity to not spend money. And for free Internet access."

Jeremy Geimen, who finished his master's in computer science in October, is less enthusiastic. He is crouched in a semi-fetal sitting position over LSAT prep books, his shoes off. "I feel," he says, "like my spirit has been destroyed. This is the last place anyone would want to be on a Saturday night."

Midnight: Dating? What's Dating?

At PJ's Pub, a pitchers-and-pool-tables college bar just across from campus, field hockey players Michelle Doll, Rachel Callaway, and Jenny Farrelly are sharing nachos and drinks. The bar is relatively sedate; that is to say, it isn't packed with upperclassmen shouting and doing liquor shots, the way it will be later in the night.

So, what goes on on Saturday nights?

One thing that doesn't happen on Saturday (or any other) night, says Farrelly, is dating. "We haven't had the best luck," she says. "Formal dating doesn't happen here -- you don't 'date' people."

Nachos and the demise of dating, at PJ's. "Dating is hooking up" at a party, says Callaway, with a sigh. "Then it's like, you'll see where it goes from there."

"It's not like anyone asks you out to dinner," says Farrelly.

Outside PJ's, there is perhaps more excitement than there is inside, as several underage students bemoan the fact that their fake IDs didn't pass muster. "You don't understand the situation!" says one distraught woman, "I just got rejected from PJ's!" She takes out her cell phone. "Claire!" she says. "We're outside! We can't get in! Come out!"

12:25 a.m. Aimless Shuttling

The Hopkins security escort shuttle, which students can call at any hour of the night for a ride from wherever they are to wherever they're going -- the grocery store, a frat party, a friend's house, home -- is popular. Tonight there are three undergraduate passengers -- Dennis, Daniel, and Chris -- on one of the shuttles picking up at the Charles Village Pub, on St. Paul Street. They mumble when asked what their destination is. Finally, one admits: "Um, we're not really going anywhere, we're just riding around."

"We know the driver," explains another.

"We're not normally doing this on Saturday night," says the third.

"Yeah," say the first two. "This is really embarrassing. This is not what we usually do."

So, how long have they been riding around?

"Since 11:30. About an hour."

"Stop talking, Chris!"

"Yeah, shut up!"

A Ricky Martin song comes on the radio:

Living la vida loca!
Living la vida loca!

A "non-party" at the WaWa frat. 1:16 a.m. Winding Down with Disney

There's no party at the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity (the "WaWa" frat, so named for its location atop the former convenience store at 33rd and St. Paul streets), but as the bars start closing, an unofficial gathering picks up momentum. By 1:30 a.m., there are a dozen undergraduate athletes milling around in one room, watching Fantasia 2000 on a large screen TV and playing quarters. True, the room downstairs designated the "Champagne Room" in gold spray paint is closed, but that doesn't mean nobody's having fun. Does it?

How is Saturday night at Hopkins?

Sophomore Adam Cook looks around at the room, which is filling up with the post-PJ's crowd. "Sure, we're going to have a good time," he acknowledges, "but it's never going to be a state school."

1:55 a.m. World-Weary at the Wheel

To get from the frat house to the next destination involves a second shuttle. This driver may look like a young man, but the stories he tells are reminiscent of a Harry Chapin song. "Saturday night?" he asks, wearily. "You drive around, and all the people start telling you their life stories," he says. "They start saying things like, 'You're really cute, can we get together sometime?'"

His words give way to Eminem on the radio:

The music, the moment/ You own it, you better never let it go/ You only get one shot, don't miss your chance to blow/ This opportunity comes once in a lifetime yo.

2:15 a.m. Chess and Clove Cigarettes

It's after 2 in the morning and a house party on 30th Street is wall-to-wall with what one guest calls "the alternative crowd." In the living room, under the coquettish eyes of Audrey Hepburn and a poster advertising De Russische Avant Garde 1915-1932, two students are playing chess and smoking clove cigarettes. One, wearing flip-flops and contemplating his next move, pushes a foppish strand of blond hair from his face. Both seem immune to the hubbub around them.

Freshmen chess players trying hard to be noticed at a house party for the alternative crowd But senior Perry Price warns not to be fooled by the rarified, disinterested appearance of the mid-party chess game. "A lot of guys are copping attitudes," says Price. "Like these guys playing chess."

"It splits along class lines," he continues. "It's more transparent than you think: Freshmen are trying to meet people. Sophomores are even worse -- they've been here for a year, they think they know everything. They're totally jaded. Juniors are always at the library. Seniors spend all their time worrying about next year. These guys playing chess," Price motions toward the devil-may-care duo at the board, "they're trying to be noticed. They're probably freshmen."

Neither chess player wants to give his name. But, as it turns out, Price is right.

"I'm a freshman," says the blonde.

"I'm a freshman," says his chess partner.

2:58 a.m. The Hut

It's nearly 3 a.m. on Sunday morning. "The Hut" (the always-open Hutzler Library in Gilman Hall) is not empty. Two students are asleep on couches; one has brought a sleeping bag. Everybody else is bent over a book.

Sophomore neuroscience majors Yu-Ming Liou and Doug Choe are sitting at a table in the back, with their laptops, notes, and a carton of chocolate-covered pretzels.

What are they working on?

"It's about electric fish," says Liou. "Apparently, it's a fish that generates an electric current around itself and uses it to detect objects, and neighboring fish."

Liou (left) and Choe make up for lost time at the Hut. So, why are they studying at 3 a.m.?

"Because we did nothing all week," says Liou. "I read a bunch of books for the hell of it. I've been trying to read The Magic Mountain for a while. It gets kind of ponderous and Germanic, as you'd expect. I also read Bobos in Paradise."

Why not study at home?

"That would be too easy!" says Liou. "No, I feel like a committed, responsible student here. Whereas, at home I feel dissolute."

"There is no Saturday night, sad to say," sighs Liou, in conclusion. "We're here, aren't we? And we're talking about electric fish."

Sally McGrane (MA '03) is a graduate student in The Writing Seminars.

Return to February 2003 Table of Contents

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