Modern Manners: The national pastime

Opinion by Jeff Mandell
April 5, 2012, 12:28 a.m.

Modern Manners: The national pastimeI lived in Arroyo freshman year. Escondido Road is famous in some circles; for those who enjoy hearing ambulance sirens at all hours of the night, it is a pilgrimage site. Arroyo made its fair contribution to the Stanford Police’s emergency call logs that year. I actually could have been on first-name terms with many of the paramedics who serviced our dorm on a regular basis. “Hey, Bob. How’re the wife and kids?” I might have asked on a typical weekend night. “How you doing, Jeff? They’re just fine. Becky lost another tooth. Now who is it tonight?”


It got to the point that someone decided that Arroyo needed an official alcohol intervention. Everyone was rounded up in the common room to brainstorm solutions. One suggestion was for everyone to start drinking earlier in the day so that our systems would have more time to handle the alcohol. No one had the courage to say that if you think there is an amount of alcohol that you have to drink each night, you have a serious problem.


The closing words at the intervention can be summed up as follows: 1) Mistakes will happen, and that’s okay. 2) No one will ever get in trouble. 3) Friends will take care of each other. Obviously, a message that implies alcohol abuse has no consequences is not going to cause people to change their behavior. Why are repeated mistakes okay? Shouldn’t we be ashamed that a cadre of medical professionals is required to keep undergraduate, and especially freshman, social life running smoothly? There is a culture of acceptance here at Stanford that prevents alcohol abuse from being taken seriously.


I do not mean to give the impression that I haven’t made my share of questionable late-night decisions. One warm spring night that year, my nostalgia for high school baseball reached a peak, and I enlisted a gang of Arroyo friends to break into the Sunken Diamond complex with me. I had scouted the facilities in advance, and I knew that the batting cages could be accessed by scaling a 12-foot chain-link fence.


We approached well after midnight carrying bats, balls and gloves. When we got to the fence, it became apparent that not everyone wanted to climb it. It did look taller than I had remembered, and getting down from the top looked a little tricky. Besides, even at this late hour, there was a steady stream of golf carts on the nearby paths that seemed to be patrolling the athletic fields. Figuring that they would definitely hear the ping of metal bats, we gave up on batting practice in favor of a Wiffle Ball game on a football practice field.


It is obvious that midnight Wiffle Ball is not actively encouraged by the University, but since no one told me not to do it at NSO, I assumed it was allowed. The field was not well lit, forcing us to play on the edge closest to the streetlights. We also had to jump the waist-high fence, but overcoming barriers comes naturally to Stanford students.


After about 20 minutes, a golf cart stopped next to our game and we were ordered to leave the field. “After this inning,” I said.


At the same time on Mayfield Avenue and in dorm rooms throughout campus, hundreds of students, many of them underage, were drinking more than is safe or healthy. In addition to the health damage that is inherent to binge drinking, some of them also made bad decisions that further impacted their physical and emotional health, as well as that of others. Stanford students are adults (sort of), and in my view it is appropriate that paternalistic laws against underage drinking are practically unenforced on campus. But when fields are policed to prevent Wiffle Ball games, yet it is tacitly accepted that one of the most intellectual and high-achieving student bodies in the country supports a very visible subculture of escapist drinking, it makes me wonder what our national pastime really is.


After a quarter in Italy, Jeff is always on the lookout for good, cheap Italian wine. Send him tips at jeff2013 “at” stanford “dot” edu.

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