Original Preface to Two Parties, One Tux and Very Short Film About the Grapes of Wrath
by Steven Goldman
"Tell me something about yourself, Mitchell" suggests the smirking woman behind the large oak desk. She sits in front of a picture of the campus, or maybe a banner, sometimes a painting of some former College president. Sometimes she is an intense, healthy looking young man in a blue blazer and a tie. Only once an African-American. Always a former athlete, always under thirty.
I must have interviewed at fifteen schools. It got easier.
The memorized responses spill out.
You never really lied, you rearranged the facts, shuffled the details of your life to fit the story you know they want to hear.
It's a creative writing assignment. Take these eight events and construct a story which proves that the hero deserves to get into Princeton. You start slow.
"I'm a good student, I really like school. Academics come first for me. I'm active in a lot of clubs.
I think it is very important to be involved in your community, don't you? I'm on the newspaper staff."
Note the specific. The sense of responsibility. Next the trump card. Why I'm different.
"I make claymation films," I say, as if I just remembered it.
"Claymation is, you know, where you make a cartoon like film using clay figures which you shoot, you know, a few frames at a time. It takes a lot of patience, but it's a...a creative outlet."
Nice pause. Almost as if I hadn't already repeated this very sentence a dozen times before in a dozen different admissions offices. "I express things through my films which I don't have the, you know, opportunity to say otherwise."
Films? Barely plural. Two. Two videos, my total oeuvre. Neither of them is longer than ten minutes. Mostly the things I express through my art are sadistic and violent. I don't mention that. I talk about technique and what my hobby says about me as a person.
"Claymation requires planning, forethought, and tremendous attention to detail." All traits anyone would look for in a prospective college student, right?
Actually it works well. After hundreds of basketball playing cellists who are presidents of their class, a nerdy kid who sits in his basement trying to make clay figures dance is probably somewhat refreshing. It's different. The half-hours go by quickly.
I only got caught out once. This prematurely balding, ex-lacrosse jock turned on me and asked, "So, you spend all this time in your basement. Don't you have any friends? Are you like a nerd? Who watches these films?"
He meant it to be provocative. I was supposed to explain how well rounded I am, how I also shoot hoops and play in pick-up soccer games. Maybe I should have answered honestly. It's a hard conversation to imagine.
Lax Jock: Don't you have any friends?
Me: No. I have a friend, and that is relatively recent. I am a pathetic loser with a near diagnosable personality disorder.
Lax Jock: So, you're like a nerd?
Me: No. I pretty much am a nerd. Technically, given my interest in an obsessive compulsive hobby like animation, I'm more of a geek.
Lax Jock: Who watches these films?
Me: If I were half-way intelligent, no one at all. But, you know, last year there is was and it seemed like a good idea to show it to my English class. I'm not sure what I was thinking.
Lax Jock: Why? Did your English teacher flunk your butt?
Me: Not exactly. Between you and me, let's just say it didn't go as I had hoped.
Lax Jock: Disaster?
Me: In a word.
Lax Jock: I appreciate your honesty. Please come to our school. You are exactly what we are looking for in our freshman class. You, Mitchell Wells are the ideal candidate for our school.
Instead, I tried hard to look like the word nerd wouldn't fit someone like me.
"I have friends." I said, too quickly, too defensively, and I didn't elaborate. He changed the subject.