Those were the heady days of grade inflation, now long since past. Those were the days of rowdy shouting and whispered promise, vanished now like the morning mist. In this, the spring of 2012, I look back at those days in shock and amazement. Did I really live them? Was that really me? Was that really— us?

We would all go over to the D-Bar to score midterm extensions from our preceptors. It didn’t matter what department you were in. Anthro, Mol Bio, Woody Woo— everyone was doing it. You’d see the freshmen there for the first time, nervous and awkward and just looking around not knowing what to do. But very quickly they would get to know the ropes and soon you’d see those same freshman kids coming out of a bathroom stall, riding high, followed by their preceptor who was more than happy to dispense extensions if it meant he could send some extra cash to his aunt and uncle back in Hunan Province or something. And it didn’t matter what you put in your Blackboard postings. Junk postings were the name of the game and they made everything a lot easier. I mean, shit, when you were taking five or six courses per semester, cause it was just that easy to pull it off, you needed to find ways to cut corners. In the end, it all became a time thing. We were all looking for more time, the slipperiest shit there is, more time to slam in those A’s and keep pushing the GPA higher and higher. Time in a cup, time in a pill, time rolled up in paper. Everyone would strut around like Mister Big Shit with a 3.7, a 3.8, a fuckin’ 4.0. Hitting on a girl out at the Street and she’d ask you, “Whaddayou drive?”, and woe be to fuckin’ you if you said “A Benz,” or some crap like that. You’d tell her you were driving a Four-Oh, no matter what. Got to the point where you had to carry around a little copy of your Academic Record in your back pocket. Some fuckers got theirs laminated. We used to say that they shouldn’t put it down as four-point-oh. In our opinion, it was more like four-point-oh-Oh-OH-OHHHH!!! But fuck it.

Coming home was a trip. Growing up, I’d expected my parents to stop putting my report card up on the fridge when I got to college. But when I walked in the door, threw down my bags, and ran into the kitchen for a big bowl of cereal, there it was. I couldn’t believe it. I don’t even think my folks started putting my report card up there until I got to college. My parents were acting like some chickenhead I’d showered with too much bling. I coulda fucked someone right there at the dinner table with a needle coming out of my arm and they’d still have been all smiles. The grades were just that good. Everyone—me, my family, my cleaning lady— those grades had us a mile high.

But seeing friends back home was awkward. They told me I had changed, that I had turned into some sort of asshole. They couldn’t understand. They— with their GPA’s in the low threes or worse, giving it their earnest best at some state school and still never coming out ahead— they’d never been where I was, and they never would be. I may have been an asshole, but they were worse. They were suckers.

To tell you the truth, the grades weren’t even the best part. It was the perks that came with them. They say you can take a dipshit out of high school but you can’t the high school out of a dipshit. That may be so, but back in those days this school came pretty close. Sure. Time was short. But people were less hung-up about “Am I gonna get a B!?” and petty shit like that. We did stuff. People put on dance shows. From what I hear, today’s Princeton is pretty much a coma ward. Except instead of vegetable bliss everyone’s just being a hardcore tool at the Friend Center until all hours of the night. It’s a shame.

But of course, like everything else, it couldn’t last… Wait! I can’t bear it! Let me linger here a while longer. Thinking back to those heady, heady days— it’s like a warm bath after a day in the rain. I feel safe. Let me tell a story or something. Anything to prolong this soak in the tub. So here’s a story:

Nowadays, your typical Princetonian studies alone, sometimes studying with one other person and— with exceeding rarity— engaging in a study threesome with two study partners. Back in the inflation days, before the 35% rule turned everyone into a bunch of cutthroat backstabbers, things were a little more… open. One semester I was taking this small Art History seminar— there were maybe a dozen of us in the class. It was a fairly tough class. During reading period, we all decided to get together in the common room of a large quad, order some pizzas, and just compare notes and talk over some concepts before the big final. Very casual, nothing serious. So there we were, idly discussing this or that painter, etc., when all of a sudden, one guy from the class asks this girl to give him a synopsis of a packet reading. Right there. So this girl goes does it. She just goes over to the couch where he’s sitting and starts giving him a synopsis in front of everyone. Next thing you know, things go buck wild. Highlighters are passed around. I’m underlining important passages in one chick’s book while another chick is explaining lecture notes to me. Three dudes were logging onto Blackboard together to look at old postings and download important articles in pdf format. This shit went on all night. Finally, satiated and exhausted, we all closed our notebooks and went our separate ways. I’m certain that no one who was there will ever forget that night— or the final we all aced the next week. The final we all aced together.

What became of those days? I think we know all too well. It’s almost too painful to recall. No one deserves to see their best friend, crashing off a bad C-, shivering in 1879 arch, clutching a torn Pequod packet wrapped in a paper bag and muttering about “representation.” No one deserves to have his hook-up ruined, with the most brutal irony, because the dude is too nervous about the “cut-off” to get it up. I’ve heard that story more than once. I once saw a professor struck in the head by an empty soup can. The can came flying out of nowhere. Bonk. She looked around, bewildered, tears welling up in her eyes. Who threw it? Neither she nor I will ever know. Actually, I threw it. But she will never know. And I will never know why I did it. Actually, I know why I did it— she gave me a shitty grade for the semester. How had I been brought so low? From an invincible hot-shot to a dweeb taking pea soup potshots. Luckily, I graduated before the new policies could land me in serious trouble, before they could do too much damage my GPA.

I lived those days. We lived those days. And now their sun has set. Talk to anyone in the working world and they’ll all tell you: the kids they’re hiring now, you look into their eyes and something’s not right, there’s something that’s missing and there’s something that’s there that shouldn’t be. Will I grow old amid an increasingly thick swarm of drones? Fuck it, just fuck it. Somebody made a mistake.