Boots and Rallies

by Aaron Pellowski | 2/12/15 7:50pm

“Are you going to FoCo?” This question, the most phatic bit of verbiage, is laden with history and innuendo that someone outside of Dartmouth’s cultural cell could never understand and about which someone within forgets to think. We learn our culture so incrementally that we cannot see ourselves changing. No sudden moment of skin-shedding metamorphosis takes place when we hop off the Coach and into the new world of college. Instead, we become Men and Women of Dartmouth the way a scab grows — invisibly. It becomes a fact of our existence, beyond question.

So no one is particularly surprised by the assertion that, technically speaking, FoCo doesn’t exist. The building between Psi U and South Mass is the Class of 1953 Commons, named for a bunch of alumni who donated money for the cafeteria’s renovation and then had their names inscribed on the entering wall. Somewhat tragically for the philanthropists, though, students never took to the new name. Not only because it’s a bit of mouthful (enjoy the pun, Mom), but because, in some odd way, accepting that the power to name and rename is in the hand that holds the purse-strings would amount to some kind of concession to oppression. “No!” we shout in apostrophe at the face of an abstract, unknown authority, “You can’t make us call it anything other than FoCo!” This is the indignant spirit of conservatism, which can be a beautiful thing for preserving lifestyle and tradition. On its own, well-measured obstinence has a sheen of virtue and freedom to it.

The funny thing, though, is that all present students, from the ’15s down to the ’18s, matriculated after the change took place. We are mounting a daily linguistic defense of an experience and an era that was never properly our own. That’s just what it is to be part of a culture that transcends the temporal and terrestrial, I suppose.

There is more to be said about FoCo that is left unsaid. FoCo, in a way that does not quite hold for Collis or the Hop, is a merciless social panopticon. Once you swipe in, you enter a battle royale of paying and attracting attention. You can eat alone in a corner upstairs if you want to duck out of the game, but woe betide if you suffer the terrific ignominy of being seen eating alone downstairs. You might as well wear a sandwich board that reads, “I am a born loser, and I am socially illiterate. I have had multiple terms to learn the rules of Dartmouth and make friends, but I have still failed on all counts. Every pitying look cast upon me by chattering, passing packs of my peers adds to a symphony of stings and aches that plays upon my soul from dawn to dusk.”

By the time you’re a senior — hopefully earlier — you’ll know that it matters where you sit in FoCo. The “dark side” is reserved for the chill and A-Side, the athletes and frat stars, the people who win pride for our institution. The “light side,” of course, is for the dregs: the NARPs, the people who play board games, the bowl-cut-and-sweatpants type. The dark side is Harvard and the light side is high school.

Where do you belong? It is a sad fact that students self-divert in this way. I’m sad to report it, but at least I can say I don’t make the rules.

Another thing: FoCo cookies. When I was a freshman, I was carousing in McLaughlin when I spotted out the window a girl being collected by an EMS truck. Apparently she had been Good Sammed for uncontrollable vomiting. Somewhat incoherently, she protested that she was not drunk at all. I found out later that after she’d been booked, she did a breathalyzer and blew a 0.0. Turns out, she had eaten one too many FoCo cookies and gotten food poisoning.

I find the term “cookie” a bit of a misnomer in the first place, since I suspect that no cooking takes place in the process of bringing these soupy confections into existence. It speaks volumes that last evening my dining partner selected a spoon as her preferred utensil for eating her pair of chocolate chip cookies. Why don’t we all just admit that FoCo cookies cannot be classified among the solid-state elements of the world? Why pretend? Stride into FoCo, grab a cup and declare to the baker, “Pour me a tall glass of FoCo cookie, please! Where are the straws?”

Besides being the chemical oddities that they are, FoCo cookies just aren’t that good. Yet that has not stopped them from becoming an institution within an institution within an institution that people worship as iconic of “The Dartmouth Experience.” What The Dartmouth Experience is, anyway, is strikingly nebulous, since anyone should know that no two people could have remotely similar experiences, let alone the forty thousand students of the past decade. It seems that The Dartmouth Experience, what is common to us all, is the belief that The Dartmouth Experience exists, and the slow, scab-like absorption of its hallmark articulation.

We will eat FoCo cookies no matter how liquid they become. We will eat at Lou’s no matter how spectacularly unspecial the food and atmosphere are. We’ll wear flair like a carnival of imbeciles such that former versions of ourselves would look on us and shudder. Pong, the bonfire, the Dartmouth Seven — these are good traditions. But as we construct and re-construct our collective identity like the ship of Theseus, sailing against the current times, borne back ceaselessly into the past, it is never the content of the traditions whose failure would disrupt our voyage — they are done for the sake of sustaining a world. When at Dartmouth, we do as Dartmouth students do. When we stop, Dartmouth will sink and disappear into the jaws of Lethe.