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  • The Wharton School of Business: a house party for the entering class.

    G. and I were taking a road trip from Florida to Boston, and when we stopped in Philly, a mutual friend invited us to tag along. A couple new acquaintances came with us, too. I barely remember them now, except for one guy, who stood out immediately because of his shirt. I wouldn't describe it as "electric teal." I would say that his shirt appeared to have actual, measurable voltage.

    Thanks, probably, to articles about dogs written by evolutionary psychologists, we assembled into a pack. Within the pack our friend N. was the alpha, by virtue of knowing everybody, and this guy was the beta. He was crazy about saying the word "cool" twice: "OK, we ready to go? Cool, cool, let's get it started!" Or, to me: "You're from California? That's cool, cool man. I've been in LA but it was barely anything, purely business, I've never been so sober in my life."

    The party was bursting at the seams. We arrived pretty early, and even still, the vast pineapple cake was already nothing but a frosted crater. The microbrews were gone. It wasn't hard to start conversations, as people would introduce themselves, only to find out that I was a) not going to Wharton, and b) not even from Pennsylvania.

    Things got so bad that I started pretending I was going to jump from the (kind of unsafe) balcony, which was tiny, and being kept open to let out a little of the accumulating body heat. (I highly recommend this, by the way. People would come up and say, jovially, "You've got so much to live for!" A perfect icebreaker.)

    That was fun for a while; when I headed back in, the guy in the teal shirt pulled me aside.

    "You're a graduate student, right? In English?" he asked.

    "Yep," I said, resolving for the hundredth time to stop saying "Yes" like that. (I don't even think Andy Griffith says "yep.")

    "Can I talk to you for a second?" he asked, pointing to a side room.

    We ducked through the unlocked door into the host's bedroom, which had the dark, messy look of a room you're supposed to not enter.

    "What am I supposed to do out there?" he asked me, after closing the doorknob gently, like a burglar.

    "What?"

    "What are you doing? Joe, man...Look, I'm telling you this because what do you care, you're studying literature, right? Telling you doesn't matter. What should I say to people?"

    I looked at him blankly. Finally, I said, "Well, I guess, you go out there and network, right?"

    He looked both relieved and angry. "Right? I mean, that's why we're all here, we're networking." His eyes were getting wider. "But, OK, but look, Joe, I'm out there right now trying to network, and--that's cool, it's just-- It's just that I don't even know what that fucking word even fucking means!"

    I looked away, looking at nothing, trying to catch up to all this. "Well, I've been pretending to be considering suicide, on the balcony. You could try that," I finally offered.

    You know, in war movies, when somebody reaches down to their belly, and then stares at their fingers, which are now covered in blood? Surprise! At first, there is no pain, only shock and wonder. I saw what he must have looked like as a kid.

    He allowed himself one more second, letting out a breath. He closed his eyes, patted his collar and hair. He never said another word to me; instead, he opened the door and strode into the room, arms wide, as though ready to hug the shit out of the future.
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