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"Well," she said, thinking. "Brown has come up quite a bit. Brown used to be perfectly dreadful."
"Partywise?" I asked.
"Everythingwise," she said. "Boorwise. Borewise. You-name-it-wise. But lately Brown has gotten, well—really rather nice. Some people think Trinity has come up, too," she said, "but not me. I see no changes in Trinity. They still run up and down the stairs at Trinity parties, yelling and banging the walls with their fists as they go. And if you want to know a place that's gone way down, as far as everybody is concerned, it's Cornell. Cornell used to be considered fun, but now, honestly, Cornell is too ghastly for words."
The most up college in the East in the Smith girls' opinion—or, rather, the college that was so secure in its upness that movement up or down seemed not even worth considering—was Yale. Princeton was a close second, Williams a close third, Harvard a poor fourth. ("I'd almost put MIT ahead of Harvard," said one girl.) They added, "Oh, yes, and of course there's Amherst," and they spoke of it with a disdain that I gathered sprang from the fact that Amherst—seven miles from Northampton—was so close as to be indistinguishable from Smith on weekends.
During the football season it was the relative upness of the colleges whose teams were playing that counted where the girls were concerned—not the game. "I really don't understand football anyway," one girl said. "The only reason I go is—well, it's fun to see people you know in the stadium, and you can find out who's going to which parties afterward. I never pay any attention to the game. If somebody next to me yells or cheers, I say, 'Goodness me, what happened?' The only moving, really moving, part of the game is when somebody gets hurt and has to be carried off the field. Then I think: What a shame, what a waste, what a foolish game! All through his life that boy will have a broken nose or false front teeth. Oh, I suppose it would be different if any of the players were anyone I knew. But almost always they're boys I've never met."
This episode started me on a chain of thought, the links of which I will now describe. The idea that our most, august institutions of higher education are in a condition of perpetual social flux, subtly moving into a state of grace and out again, was new to me. But it didn't take me long to realize that whether a college is Up or Down depends entirely on where you're standing and whom you ask. From the campus of Smith, Yale may be Up, but it is not necessarily so from the campus of Radcliffe. Dartmouth may be out of fashion at Bennett Junior College, but it is not at Colby Junior College. To me the more interesting thought was that the college football weekend—the very symbol of college social life—no longer seemed to revolve around the quality of the football team, the prowess of some individual players, the excitement of seeing ancient rivalries brought to the test again under bright autumn skies or even the slightest degree of interest in the game itself. Was college football on the way Down, I wondered? If so, what sports were Up, in its place? I thought of the Smith girl's remark about enjoying football games more if "anyone she knew" were on the team. I thought of Grandfather. Had the social standing of football players dropped to such a point that no one spoke to them any more? Did the sport a man played determine his position in the college community? Was selecting a sport as delicately chancy a business as selecting a fraternity? Could water polo be construed as a gaffe, like using the wrong fork?
With these questions tugging at my curiosity, I began what I consider to be an extensive and thorough exploration of the athletic scene at eastern colleges. I have emerged from this research unbruised, and with what I think are some enlightening conclusions.
I learned, for one thing, that on most college campuses there are three distinct categories of male students. There are the Up guys, the Down guys and a third group popularly known as the straight arrows. An Up guy is a guy who, with a trick of manner—a kind of clear, blasé self-assurance—is able to convince other guys that whatever thing he is doing is the most worthwhile and engaging thing, while the thing that they (the other guys) are doing is probably kind of silly, if not actually stupid. Down guys are simply guys who do not possess this trick of manner. Nobody blames Down guys. (Down guys can't help it if nature, or some other inscrutable force, failed to endow them with the special luxuriance of mind and spirit that Up guys seem to have.) Down guys may be good guys, but Up guys are better guys. The straight arrows, as their name implies, are in the middle. They are the fence sitters, the controversy straddlers. Straight arrows play it safe. They are on everybody's side. As tides in campus affairs turn, so do they, but not enough to endanger their center-of-the-road position. (If straight arrows had any strength of character everybody would detest them; since they haven't any, everybody tolerates them good-naturedly.) There are always more Down guys than Up guys. But the fact that Up guys are Up (plus the fact that a substantial number of straight arrows swim in the Up guys' wake) gives them stature and influence. They are the thought-leaders.
Just as there are Up guys and Down guys, so are there Up sports and Down sports. The system is not as simple as the one Nancy Mitford devised, in which people and things were sorted into two bins, Upper Class and non-Upper Class or—as she abbreviated them—U and non-U. The dividing line that I have discovered is somewhat similar, but what exists on either side of it is quite different. Up sports and Down sports are not static categories, not as easily separable as Up guys and Down guys. Instead, they are like two department store escalators moving in opposite directions, side by side. There are degrees, in other words. If you picture a number of college sports spread out like passengers on the moving stairs, you can see that the result is a hierarchy or, strictly speaking, a pair of hierarchies—one ascending, the other descending.
Also, unlike Miss Mitford's categories, the various social levels of college sports have no relation to social upness and downness that may exist in the world outside. Wealth and lineage, that is, are not, to the youth on college campuses, the sort of considerations that they may become in later life at Palm Beach. A whole infield full of Biddies and Rockefellers would not make baseball an Up sport at Princeton. The requirements are more democratic nowadays than they were in my grandfather's time, but they are also more complicated.