I arrived at JFK airport four hours early. Unsure of what to do with myself, I purchased two magazines from a cockeyed Pakistani woman and made my way to the waiting area adjacent to the departure gate for Rome. Choosing the chair farthest from anyone already seated, I tried to discern who would be in my study abroad program. Thumbing my nametag, I debated putting it on as I had been instructed, but I couldn’t quite justify changing my look from “savvy world traveler” to member of a juvenile field trip.
It was not long before I knew of whom my group consisted. Their nametags did not give them away (they, too, did not wear them), but their leggings did. All of the girls wore leggings — black, tight, lascivious leggings and, of course, North Face fleeces. They came in droves from the security checkpoint, as though they were part of an exodus from Egypt — I could picture them, upon being offered manna from heaven, saying “Unleavened or leavened, we don’t eat carbs.” Descending upon the waiting area, Blackberrys glued to their heads, they exaggeratedly chewed gum and tossed their flat-ironed hair into messy buns. They vaguely acknowledged the presence of others.
Much small talk and 14 hours later, we joined the other half of our program at our hotel — they had flown in hours earlier. Later, as all 150 students congregated for dinner at a nearby restaurant, one thing became blatantly apparent: this was no ordinary abroad program – this was a vacation for the wealthy. New friends dined and mingled in the dank trattoria, with older mutual friends such as Gucci, Chanel, and $900 Missoni dresses.
Most barely ate the veal dinner, because “eating baby lamb is gross.” Instead their appetites were allocated toward the pitchers of red wine that were continually refilled. After dinner, quite drunk and with their garishly white teeth now tinted red, these ladies of Rome ambled toward the bars before deciding upon one “Sloppy Sam’s.”
The sloppier they became, the more they “loved me.” After ascertaining that I am gay, which on average took 2.34 minutes, they would shout things like this direct quote from Rachel,* “Oh my god! Can we please GO SHOPPING?! It will be like this (now imagine a dramatic hand motion simulating using a credit card) Swipe - Prada! Swipe - Louis! Swipe - Dolce! Thanks, Daddy!” By the end of the night, I was believed to be every inebriated rich girl’s most sought-after accessory. No, not a Teacup Poodle or the newly chic Puggle, but a purebred homosexual — an accessory to spend more money with than the average Nigerian makes in a lifetime.
I chose to acquiesce to their requests rather than decline politely, because I knew that come morning they wouldn’t remember what they had said or even how they returned to the hotel. Inside the Vatican the following day, clad in oversized Chloe aviators, Stephanie* complained to her fellow vampires that she had a massive headache. Inside the Sistine Chapel, I whispered to her,
“Isn’t this breathtaking? It’s almost surreal to see the ceiling in person.”
“Yeah…great,” she exasperatedly replied, but she was not looking up. “My fucking head hurts too much to look at it,” she then muttered as she shuffled to a bench — vibrating Blackberry in hand.
I felt a bit like Truman Capote (albeit much better-looking and sounding) as I mingled with the wealthy and superficial, waiting to report on the ridiculousness for others’ pleasure. For those of you who did not comprehend that reference, I’ll offer another: I am like Lindsay Lohan when hanging out with “the plastics” in Mean Girls. Now, I don’t want you to get the wrong impression of these young women, some of whom are quite upstanding and have many aspirations. Take, for example, my friend Courtney.* Upon learning the tagline of my column, she exclaimed, “Oh my god, I am going to hell, too! You should totally write about me. No, seriously!”
Well, Courtney smokes pot every day, and dreams of having a room in her future home dedicated to just that. She hopes to smoke with her children. She currently takes (snorts) Adderall so that she can get her work done when she is high, and then takes Ambien to help her sleep because the Adderall keeps her awake, which adds to her anxiety…which is why she smokes so much pot to begin with. She loves chewing gum, her blonde highlights, Italian policemen, and BBMing (Blackberry Messaging — I first thought it was a bodily function). She has no idea how she gets straight A’s, but I do: she goes to Indiana State.
The moral of the story: be mindful of the company that you keep and be glad for the cultivated minds at Cornell. Oh, and Italy is beautiful.
*Names have been changed to protect the guilty