By Hannah Greenwald ’14
Volume XXXIV, Issue 3, December 14, 2012
After four months of exploring the thriving artistic scene, flourishing culinary life, and rich history of Buenos Aires, there was only one cultural attraction that could bring me back to the states: Crossett Christmas. Two days after returning to America, or, Los Estados Unidos (the things I learned in Argentina!) I hopped on a bus to Amherst. I decided to come back to campus for Crossett Christmas for many reasons—partially to visit with friends, partially because I’ve never attended Crossett Christmas despite being a junior, and partially because I was curious to observe the changes in Amherst fiesta culture that I’ve been following so closely on Facebook. And what better time to re-enter the social scene than the event widely regarded as the biggest shitshow of the year?
7:13 PM: I find myself in the post-dinner, pre-pregame void. Normally I use this time to do some last-minute schoolwork; the ladies of the Taplin suite where I am squatting are doing just that. I, however, finished Clown College (that is, study abroad) last month, so I would like to start drinking. Luckily, my buddy Mr. Claus is always down for early-evening flask-fueled festivities. The night has officially begun.
7:46 PM: Mr. Claus and I are still at Val, and we have been joined by Dancer, Donner, and Blitzen. So far, my most jarring instance of reverse culture shock is that Val now serves cereal at dinner. How did nobody tell me about this? Does anyone care about me? What other massive structural changes in the Amherst community have I missed while I was in Argentina
7:57 PM: Blitzen: “This reminds me of my favorite drinking game, Recursion, where every time you take a drink, you have to take another drink.” Ah, Amherst. Ah, reindeer.
8:58 PM: Unfortunate: I go back to Taplin to get ready for the night, and I find myself locked out. Such is the miserable life of a squatter on the Amherst campus.
9:07 PM: Fortunate: The ultimate team is getting merry in Mo Pratt. I decide to stop by before I get ready. My new plan involves getting drunk and then operating a hot and highly temperamental hair straightener. I see no problems with this plan, except getting drunk and then operating a highly temperamental hair straightener.
9:14 PM: First haircut of the night! Hair straightener visibly envious, acting temperamentally. It is officially Crossett Christmas
9:21 PM: The ultimate team’s gift exchange begins. I have no gifts. No one has any gifts for me. Like I care! So I duck out and head over to Mr. Claus’s room. As I cross Route 9, I chug the remainder of my rum and cider. This is new. I haven’t been below the legal drinking age for the past four months. I haven’t been in a country with enforced open container laws for just as long, and I’m not going to say that such policies encourage binge drinking, but that’s what I’m strongly implying.
9:59 PM: I’m standing around a computer with a bunch of dudes in Mr. Claus’s room, watching Louis CK videos on Youtube. Donner passes around some beers, and we all catch up for a while. This is the Amherst I remember and (mostly) love. Yes, Buenos Aires has chic bars and multi-floor nightclubs—but there is something comforting about sharing a few drinks with good friends in a cramped dorm room. Perhaps shockingly, this atmosphere is one of the things I missed most while abroad. It feels like home.
10:22 PM: On my way back to Taplin, I see a gaggle of girls in booty shorts and Santa hats running towards the social quad. They are shrieking and laughing, and one of them falls over. Maybe they’ve been drinking.
10:37 PM: I have decided to endanger myself with a hair straightener, and I’ve gotten into the Crossett Christmas spirit by wearing heels and donning a rather tight-fitting strapless dress. I walk down towards Crossett, entirely unsure of what to expect. It’s not just that I’ve been away for four months; I lived on The Hill sophomore year and can count the number of times I went to the socials on one hand. On top of that, I’ve heard that Amherst party culture has changed for the worse this semester, with more binge drinking and heightened police activity. What am I getting myself into?
10:48 PM: I am in Crossett! I find myself in a chill, well-lit first floor suite full of AAS senators and newspaper contributors. This is the opposite of how I expected Crossett Christmas to be. Rudolph, one of the suite’s residents, offers me some sort of mulled whiskey concoction with raisins and almonds floating in it. The drink is festive, for sure, but decidedly unpleasant to drink. I commend his efforts and sip very slowly.
10:50 PM: I have started to drunkenly speak in Spanish. I am an asshole.
11:00 PM: The senators/newspaper writers are doing haircuts in the middle of the suite. “Hair” all over the floor. People are listening to a mash-up of Lil Wayne and the Nutcracker March. I decide that senators/newspaper writers are good people.
11:07 PM: Overheard: “You know, I feel that the first night of Chanukah is being downplayed in the face of Crossett Christmas. It’s really a shame, I’m very proud of my Judaism.”
11:14 PM: A diver informs me that his friends at the men’s swimming/women’s track mixer tied four helium balloons to a Keystone and let it float out of an open window. “We’re hoping it gets to the moon!” he tells me. It probably won’t. But surely this is the type of ingenuity and creative spirit that Amherst College hopes to cultivate in its young students.
11:21 PM: Rudolph’s suite is nice, but not at all representative of Crossett Christmas as a whole. I decide to go exploring with my trusty sidekick Comet. Comet is one of the more well-liked and widely recognized members of the class of 2014. This is wonderful because he’s welcome in any suite and always finds a group to dance with, but also vaguely uncomfortable because, as he makes the rounds saying hi, I follow him like a scared puppy and make half-hearted small talk with strangers. Comet leads me into a suite where I know almost nobody. We pass through a bathroom into a suite of sophomore girls. Their party is dying down; an excitable DJ is still mixing Kid Cudi tracks behind a table covered with empty bottles and solo cups, but the lights are on and few people are dancing. Meanwhile, the party in the hallway continues to rage. “I don’t understand why anyone would be out there when they could be in here,” one of the suite’s residents tells me, motioning towards the sweaty mosh on the staircase. Moments later, a rather small, timid-looking girl whose face I don’t recognize pushes her way through the crowd into the suite, almost gasping for air. I ask if she’s okay and she tells me that she’s a first-year at UMASS. She then says, “I can’t believe you’ve dealt with this two times before and you’re still coming back. Seriously, congratulations. I don’t know how you do it.”
11:55 PM: Comet and I pass through a suite that seems indicative of the true Crossett Christmas spirit. The walls are covered with wrapping paper, and windowsill dancers are illuminated by blacklight. To my left, a couple is sloppily making out; to my right, another couple grinds too enthusiastically. Comet finds some friends and we dance—a little less enthusiastically, I hope. Perhaps he notices the uncomfortable expression on my face, because he offers to escort me back to Rudolph’s suite. We push our way up a staircase, through a bathroom, and back into the comfort of Rudolph’s common room. The mulled whiskey concoction is gone, and many of the revelers have left along with it.
12:12 AM: I begin to feel restless and guilty for not exploring more suites. The editors at The Indicator are going to shout at me if I don’t get all the action. Comet is nowhere to be found, so I head out on my own.
12:14 AM: Now I am in a suite where I actually know nobody. I wander through the sea of drunken bodies looking for a familiar face, but I can’t find a single one. I have never felt this much like a freshman, except during the year when I actually was a freshman.
12:15 AM: Oh, thank God—I’ve found someone I know. She comes over with a few friends, gives me a hug and tells me, “Welcome back!” One of her friends, Dasher, strikes up a conversation with me. I recognize him vaguely, but we’ve never been introduced. Ah, Amherst.
12:48 AM: Sometime over the course of the last thirty minutes, Dasher has stolen my Santa hat and our conversation has morphed into a rant about identity, privilege, and party culture at Amherst. “I know this is probably so boring to you,” Dasher tells me over and over again. I am bored of hearing that. “No, it’s really not,” I assure him. This is not the kind of conversation I expected to have at Crossett Christmas, but I am enjoying it all the same. Dasher tells me, “I feel like I’ve been really conscious this semester of whether or not I’m coming off as creepy.” I tell him I think that that is a decidedly good thing to be conscious of.
12:52 AM: Almost as if to underscore Dasher’s words, I feel a swift slap on my ass. My first thought is that it must have been administered by the friend who had introduced Dasher to me in the first place. I turn around grinning, but my friend is far away, her attention fully invested in a beer pong game. Instead, I find myself face-to-face with a leery little rando, who makes eye contact with me for a second before scurrying off into the crowd. My only verbal response is a long, exasperated “Woooooow.”
12:53 AM: I don’t know why this has upset me so much. It’s not like I’ve never had my ass slapped, even here at Amherst. And come-ons in Buenos Aires were far more aggressive and threatening than anything I’ve experienced tonight. But all semester I’ve been hearing about massive changes in Amherst party culture, about a new campus-wide awareness of rape culture and harassment. I realize that my only source of Amherst news for the last four months has been Facebook; I haven’t actually experienced the Amherst party scene before tonight. Maybe I’ve overestimated the extent to which things have changed. In any event, I decide it’s time to head out. I politely excuse myself and retreat back into the comfort of Rudolph’s suite across the hall.
1:10 AM: One in the morning is a laughably early time to head home in Buenos Aires, and even by Amherst standards it’s pretty modest, but I decide I’m just not feeling it anymore. I make the rounds saying goodbye and head home.
I did have fun tonight—but the fun I had was in almost no way connected to the venue or to the general atmosphere of Crossett Christmas. I liked seeing old friends, meeting new people, and being presented with limitless interesting and free alcohol—but I would like those things even more if I could enjoy them without being grabbed at in a sweaty social dorm.
It’s easier said than done, but the Amherst party scene needs to offer multiple options to multiple types of partiers. This semester, friends have bemoaned the noticeable dearth of Hill and Zü parties and a widely unpopular crackdown on beer pong tables. When comfortable options are no longer possible, students are forced to accept either discomfort or complete lack of socialization.
My memory of the walk home is a little hazy. I think I saw the very same helium-propelled keystone contraption in a crumpled heap on the social quad grass. I seem to remember a car whizzing by me past Beneski. I can’t be sure, but I thought I heard the driver exclaim, ere he drove out of sight “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”