The Politically Incorrect Guide To life, the Universe and HBS

Most traditions at HBS have a long and illustrious past. Like skydeck, dressing up in drag with ghastly makeup in dimly-lit bars and systematically but categorically causing irreparable damage to your liver. For the benefit of bewildered international students everywhere, no it’s not a measly “keg party” – it’s called networking. (Read: Primer in American-Bschool-speak). Besides, it’s a time-honored practice passed on from generation to generation and an integral part of cultural doctrine. Think of the keg as a symbolic melting pot of sorts, of cultures and diverse ideas all spewing together in Miller Lite. The situation is ripe for a transformational experience.

HBS traditions have been around since time immemorial and are likely to remain that way, with each new generation of young, bright-eyed RCs passing down the baton of cultural practice. Thanks to RCs, we will always have such revered rites of passage as skydeck, Priscilla, keg parties, thanksgiving dinner.. Wait, what?

OK, so maybe not all traditions stand the test of time. Some are more equal than others. Which brings us to one of HBS’ most long-standing traditions – Newport Ball. The brochure says:

“Guaranteed to be the ideal way to end the year before the summer, Newport Ball has been a memorable black tie event for generations of HBS graduates”

And we all know the official literature can’t be wrong. They’ve even used that hoary word ‘guaranteed’ in this litigious day and age.

However, a certain friend of mine, this anti-social renegade..actually, make that an acquaintance of mine…decided to forgo Newport Ball in favor of her own Ball. Bearing the strictest adherence to my journalistic duties, I decided to infiltrate this poor man’s Newport Ball so I may report from the front.

After much dogged and secretive information gathering, thanks to my adept reading of the FBI case study in STRAT class, I had successfully penetrated this most unlawful activity. It was not easy to find, but the big red arrows and huge banner saying “Poor man’s Newport Ball” piqued my suspicions. There were valiant efforts by the darker side to throw me off track by sending me Outlook invites to various pre-parties. The enemy has obviously learnt of my one great weakness of not being able to resist that little blinking Blackberry red light. Nevertheless, I resisted. I was not to be shaken from my goal. Not even when they sent nefarious requests to join them at the pre-party and head to the main party as a group. No doubt, this was part of a diabolical ploy to find strength in numbers, heading to the main party like a marauding mass, gathering force and innocent bystanders who hadn’t yet heard of this sham Ball.

Thanks to my superhuman restraint, I was able to resist and found myself alone on the dark, wet night staring up at the big red banner saying “Poor Man’s Newport Ball”, with “man” being hastily struck out in glitter pen by a member of the WSA. Ugh. Stereotyping.

Having finally arrived, shaken but not stirred, I was forced to part with 10 dollars of my hard-earned cash, as an entry fee by a snarly little man in military gear. He said it was to cover for the free-flowing bar and refused to be swayed by my protests as an unwavering teetotaler. I bent closer to read what it said on his label – “Military junta, bazookisthan and part-time security personnel. Can do birthday parties, barmitzvahs and political coups.” Hired help isn’t what it used to be these days. Fishing out a crumpled note from deep within the recesses of my by-now completely soaked gown, I made my way inside.

Once inside, I was visually assaulted by a multitude of HBS patrons in various stages of inebriation. By God, what fiendish activity is this? I even found a most respectable member of my section gyrating like a frog in a blender to the nonsensical warbling of Lady Gaga. He was a section officer, no less. For Pete’s sake, the lyrics don’t even make sense! Just some lazy song-writing masquerading as music. I made a mental note to rebuke him for his flippant attitude to his administrative responsibility.

The so-called Ball consisted of a rather drafty old house in some area of Cambridge untouched by civilization. What sort of medieval nightmare is this where you can’t even get a cab at the decent hour of 4 a.m.? I moved through room after room in dazed wonderment, finding former bankers, lawyers, consultants, respected military officers and one very lost and confused shepherd partaking in this mindless revelry. I stumbled upon another section officer, quite green in the face and hugging a potted plant in the corner. Green certainly is the new crimson.

I had had enough of this mockery of hoary tradition. I was prepared to take it up with the queen bee herself. Spotting the devious mastermind of this farce, I slithered over to the hostess who was trying to appear nonchalant, sipping a nondescript drink by the nondescript open bar replica breitling Aeromarine . But I could see right through her charade of carefully constructed nondescriptiveness. It was time to get to the root of this tomfoolery.

“So”, I said as I rested a nondescript elbow on the open-bar, “why call it the poor man’s Newport Ball?” I was hoping she wouldn’t see the beads of perspiration sliding down my damp forehead as I attempted to keep my voice casual. Perhaps she would mistakenly attribute my soggy countenance to this rotten rain.

She turned a slightly bored face in my general direction. I could see she was nursing a Sam Adams in a desperate attempt to display a shred of patriotism. But she couldn’t fool me. I was sure she had snuck out back and filled it with a diet coke instead. Her slim thighs were a dead giveaway. I bet she would go to the ladies room after this fiasco was over and shove two well-manicured fingers down her throat and dredge up the 3 M&Ms she had for dinner Thursday night. I bet all those crates of Sam Adams at the open bar were half-mixed with tap water.

“Why darling”, she drawled as she lazily raised an eyebrow, “it’s the recession, of course. Honestly, who has the bonuses these days to warrant such frivolous extravagance?” I stood with my mouth agape, as she yawned and turned her attention to a recycled Wall Street Journal nearby. My head was swimming. “How bloody inconvenient,” she murmured beneath her breath as her eyes skimmed over the article about Goldman Sach’s run-in with the SEC. I hastily made my escape.

My mind was still reeling from her accusation that Newport Ball was an extravagance. And a frivolity, no less! Those words kept playing back in my head repeatedly like a broken tape at a not very pleasant karaoke bar in Chinatown. I felt sick. I had to get out from there.

I ran past the pygmy in a security outfit standing guard at the entrance and threw myself on the sidewalk. I had to shake the traumatic memory from my head. The thundering clouds parted, and it poured black, Boston rain on my $900 nondescript gown. Why, I thought to myself, why was I here retching on the cold, dark sidewalk when I could have been miles away in warm, sunny Newport instead? Images of my merry-making black-tied HBS friends basking in intellectual conversation floated before my eyes. I walked out into the night, dragging my soggy, drippy gown through the cab-forsaken streets of Cambridge.

Now you see why it doesn’t pay to forgo an HBS tradition. I’m going to be the only one in the section without a lovely Newport tan.

Lavanya Nalli is an RC student at HBS (Section G), where she reads cases, makes ugly-looking Excel models and sharpens pencils. When she’s not doing any of those things, she blogs, sketches, obsesses over xkcd and occasionally frightens squirrels.