• Elizabeth Jackson

In Which Our Hero Embraces Tradition

By Elizabeth Jackson


It had come to Verily’s attention that he might not be making the most of his college experience. In fact, such a possibility had been explicitly pointed out to him by his very own mother. And then his father. And then his dog (nonverbally, of course, but with considerable disdain).

“Are there not some must-do activities at university tonight, darling?” Vena Veritas had asked with some urgency. She had just finished a light volume on child psychology and had consequently begun to suspect herself negligent of her only son. These pointed questions, couched in “darlings” and subtle, little colloquial contractions like “must-do” had thus become frequent suppertime features.

At the time, Verily had merely shrugged in response to her question. But, as he was not accustomed to disappointing his mother, he began a vigorous bout of internet searching for any sort of hint at what he simply had to do at Columbia before graduation. With much jubilation, Verily came upon Spectator’s list of 116 Columbia traditions, which made up for what it lacked in brevity with its pithy specificity.

It was only mildly taxing to check off some of the options on the extensive list. Number six, for instance, “Get a milkshake at Tom’s Restaurant after 3 a.m.”, jeopardized Verily’s strict adherence to a 10:26 p.m. bedtime, but, on this one occasion, he adopted a sufficient amount of joie de vivre to overcome his apprehensions surrounding beauty sleep.

That being said, there was no need to be gratuitous about the whole thing. So, 2:57 a.m. found Verily pacing back and forth outside Tom’s, poised to accost the neon-leg-warmer-wearing waitress with a harried request for a lavender honey milkshake. At 3:02am, she popped a gum bubble in his face before informing him that he had only two choices, chocolate or vanilla. Verily selected the latter, though it pained him to do so.

Some traditions were so simple they bordered on boring. Verily was so used to observing people moving his laundry, most often prior to the cycle’s completion, that he felt he could cross number 11 off with no additional effort. Detaching his closet door (no. 8) posed no problems, as Verily’s father had gifted him with a chainsaw for Michaelmas, saying that every young man should be well versed in power tools so as not to be accused of weakness when he (inevitably, decorously) chose to employ another, less refined man to perform repairs in his home.

Other milestones on the list were more difficult to achieve. Verily had resolved many times to become chums with the maintenance worker he frequently perceived in the lobby of his dormitory, but, try as he might, Agnitio Alienus seemed immune to his charms. Verily had tried everything to gain access to Agnitio’s inner circle, from purchasing the finest cleaning solutions in all the land and leaving them gift-wrapped next to the vending machine, to orchestrating an actual orchestra concert at 4:30 a.m. on a Tuesday, when Agnitio often began his shift. Verily’s frustration at his unrequited overtures of friendship reached dire proportions when he noticed Agnitio dive behind the security desk to avoid eye contact with him. Knowing no other way by which to convey his desperation, Verily prostrated himself before Agnitio, lamenting “O, thou, who cleanest this fair building, why dost thy friendship lie beyond the reaches of my tender efforts? What can I do to achieve the status of your intimate friend? To be privy to your creative pursuits and your dearest desires?” Agnitio, normally stoic as a monk, gave Verily a look of mild concern and adjusted his backpack on his shoulder.

“Kid, don’t take this the wrong way or anything, I’m sure there are … less odd things about you, but you need some … friends your own age. A girlfriend perhaps? A boyfriend? Maybe a pet?”

Verily stood up abruptly, smoothing his rumpled attire. Our hero was fully prepared to count this a victory. How many students could truthfully say that they’d received life advice from Agnitio? Precious few, Verily would wager. Verily seized Agnitio’s hand vigorously and clutched it. “Thank you, my good man, I shall take these recommendations of yours under the most sincere advisement.”


Illustration by Maya Weed

Scanning the list the next day, Verily caught sight of number 60: Quote a text from the Core outside of class. Bonus points if you do it at a cocktail party. Alas, it was a slow week for invitations, and Verily was operating on a tight schedule (his parents were visiting the following Sunday, and he dearly wished to be able to report some success on the carpe diem front). So, steps had to be taken and, though Verily had never been a party crasher as such, he had no categorical objection to attending a non-ticketed event sans invitation. Feeling he needed a quieter audience than would be present at a typical EC party, Verily made his way to Low Library, feeling that the acoustics of the place, coupled with its grandeur, created an ideal environment for his Core quotation. Lo and behold, there was a very chic event already underway when Verily arrived. Immaculately dressed individuals who had clearly gotten the memo that black was back meandered around the space, holding delicate glasses of wine and speaking in soft, dulcet tones. This, this was the kind of distinguished affair in which Verily could thrive.

Drifting from group to group, Verily could only pick up fragments of conversation, but everyone seemed to be discussing the same book, involving the tragic end of a man called Darius.

“I can’t believe he was poisoned, in a restaurant, just like that. It really makes you wonder about how much faith we put in each other, how much trust every day requires,” a woman was saying solemnly.


Verily thought this might be a bit of an exaggerated extrapolation from a fictional scene, but nonetheless, it seemed as good an opening as any to say “Well, if an injury has to be done to a man it should be so severe that his vengeance need not be feared.” Twelve sets of wide eyes abruptly turned toward him. A spluttering, ruddy-faced man broke the silence, voice booming throughout the room. “How could you say something so unfeeling about my brother? And who are you anyway, you punk!” In horror, Verily suddenly noted the abundance of handkerchiefs around the room, the sniffling and, from one corner, abrupt and inconsistent sobbing that occasionally tore through the air. He had walked headfirst into a funeral, our hero.


Shrieking a hysterical apology, Verily barreled from the room.

Glancing fearfully behind him to ensure that no disgruntled memorial-goers were in hot pursuit, Verily rocketed down Low Steps, caught off guard by something very solid colliding with his knees. With a highly undignified yelp, Verily splashed headfirst into one of the gurgling fountains, flailing about in great disorientation until he could grip the marble side.

“I am undone!” he yelled to no one in particular, feeling the rippling water soak through his custom-tailored silk shirt.

“Compatriot,” an equally silky voice intoned from above Verily, and he glanced upward to see Alias Alibi, his academic nemesis, staring down at him in judgment, like a slouching, cigarette-smoking, eyeliner-wearing, youthful, timeless Hades. “Why the aquatic amusements this evening?”

Verily stood up with as much decorum as he could muster, dripping. “I, unlike you, Alias, have a sense of completion and persistence. I was merely checking off number 71 on Spectator’s list of 116 Columbia traditions. Think of this, when you must think of me, as yet another example of my boundless whimsy and attention to the entertainment of my fellows!”

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