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An Encounter on the Upper East Side

We were turned away by the crowds at Stout, so after the game we headed to Brother Jimmies to reminisce and rekindle some more old friendships and perhaps make some new. The memories of both the loss and our yesteryears on East Hill were still raw, but the beer was crisp and the lines at the little boy's room short. Commented one friend: "You should really drink more often."

By one o'clock in the morning, it was time for me to call in the towel and head back to the Upper East Side, where I was spending the night.

I hailed a cab and zipped past Times Square, circling around Columbus, and through the Park. While I'm a New Yorker by strict definition, but I'm not a New Yorker in any true sense of the word. Yet I know enough about the city that I know that New York can exhilarate you in its history, its money, its power. It can out-hustle you on your best day and keep on taking when you thought you had nothing left to give. But it can also envelop you, when least expected, in a knowing intimacy or a serendipitous catharsis. The latter of which was in store for me that night.

I instructed the cab driver to drop me off early, on First Avenue, so I could grab a bite to eat before strolling the final block back to my waiting couch. The pizza place looked promising enough; it was no Gepetto's but it would have to do. A slice of whole grain spinach and mozzarella was ordered, heated, and began to be consumed.

Mid-pizza and mid-bite, I was interrupted by a girl who drunkenly blurted out a most obvious question: "Do you go to Cornell?" Given that I was still wearing more Cornell hockey hoodie and my Cornell hockey toque (this in an unseasonably warm last-weekend of November), I answered that I most certainly was an alumnus, but I graduated a couple of generations ago.

She then asked me if I attended the game at Madison Square Garden.

Either the pope is no longer Catholic or Cornell admissions standards have gotten a bit relaxed.

It turns out that my overzealous inquisitor was a freshman Human Development major. She had not attended the game that night instead opting for "a night out". (But what do you think the Big Red Hockey team and 15,000 other Cornellians make for, darling?) And upon my further questioning, I discovered that she had not yet attended a hockey game at Lynah. Full stop.

Once we've recovered from such sacrilege, I'll turn to my next inquisitor, her friend, Nick, who jumped in to ask me what I did for a living and whether or not I was in a fraternity. Nick quickly told me he was in Arts and Sciences but thinking of transferring to the Dyson School.

Note at this point so far there was no inquiry into whether or not the team in Carnelian and White won the aforementioned game at the Garden.

Nick, coincidentally, was wearing a soccer scarf for Barcelona. I asked him why he was supporting a European soccer team over our beloved Big Red. He had no answer. I asked him why he wasn't at the game that night. No answer.

I sighed. I asked him if he knew the Alma Mater. Now his eyes got big.

"I mean, I think they've played that song on campus," he said, "but I don't know it."

"And nobody ever taught it to me." It was his final excuse.

At this point in the night I had had enough price-gouged New York beers to work up the gall to lecture a little bit. I started, as if quoting Wikipedia, "It's one of the best known collegiate songs in the country," and went on from there. I finished a couple of books of Cornelliana later, concluding with my oft-quipped mantra that a true Cornell education is one that you seek out on your own.:

"But I'm certain you know the tune. And you'll help me sing it."

And so I sang the Alma Mater, swaying with Nick the freshman who stumbled along to the lyrics.

Cornell won in spirit.

Matthew Nagowski | Posted on November 28, 2011 (#)

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