Altonji: IMs don’t suck, secretary says

Sometimes, people ask me what it’s like to be an intramural secretary. In conversations, it usually comes up about two questions after, “Wow, why do you look so sad?” and before, “Um. Right. Huh. I’ve got to go now…No, right now. No, I can’t stay to play…NO.”

Those conversations always make me nostalgic for what it used to be like when I was first made an intramural secretary. I was so excited about the job. I would get to play sports! I would get to make panlists! I would get paid!

I’m still not sure, frankly, when it was that I started thinking of that paycheck as an investment in future therapist’s bills.

It may have been last year, when, with fresh hope for a new season and a new start, I sent out an email with the schedule for women’s squash, asking people to RSVP if they were interested in playing. The only response I got was from a freshman, informing me that I had incorrectly written “woman’s squash” rather than “women’s squash.” My initial response, obviously, was something like: wow, you must be a lot of fun at parties!

But did I send back anything like that? No, of course not. I responded pleasantly, thanking her for the correction and asking her to please come to women’s squash. “We can talk about grammar!” I promised.

She never showed, of course.

There are about thirty kids at Yale who are nodding along with this. They are my fellow IM secretaries. We hold meetings on Fridays during which we try to think of ways to keep JE from winning the Tyng cup (unfortunately, last years’ scheme, known as “Ping Pong-gate,” ultimately failed, but we are forever hopeful). We also have monthly parties, where we gather and play weirdly intense games of flip-cup (“Hey, I think Berkeley cheated…just like they did in COED VOLLEYBALL last week!!!) and talk about why people should play IMs.

So, you may be wondering, why should people play IMs?

In fact, this is a question I have had plenty of time to think about, for example during long, solitary walks to and from the IM fields, or while my friends are ignoring my texts because they think I am trying to trick them into playing intramural ping pong. (In my defense, I only did that, like, once. And playing ping pong is ~kind of~ like a party. They’re both fun, and sometimes you score.)

And what I’ve concluded is: people should play IMs to make them not suck.

Because when people don’t go to IMs, they suck. Which, unfortunately, means that going to catch the IM bus is always a leap of faith, or, as my Game Theory professor would have called it, a decision made under conditions of incomplete information. There’s always the possibility that no one else from your college will show up. You may be in for a lonely bus ride to a lonely field where you loneli-ly sign a sign-in sheet of loneliness and defeat, while kids from JE laugh at you (not even because you’re playing JE. Just because JE’s team happens to be there. Why is JE ALWAYS THERE?) And, sadly, if this happens to you enough, you may even find that you have become an IM secretary.

And yet, while intramurals may suck often, they do not inherently suck. If you think about it, this is an incredibly rare quality. Most things that suck, like P-sets and distributional requirements and Saturday night Toads, suck permanently. But with IMs, there’s always the possibility that this time will be different. Better. (A note to the freshman: Let me repeat — this possibility does not exist at Toads. Does. Not. Seriously, I’m old; listen to me).

And so sometimes, going to the buses is actually like a trust fall where the people who are supposed to be catching you don’t jump backwards laughing. Because you see other kids from your college, and other kids from the college you’re playing, and you know that for all of you, the next hour or so will be spent playing something that’s intense and low-stakes and random and fun. And so when everyone goes out to the fields TOGETHER you get a sudden, rapid, increase in overall happiness, because of math or magic or whatever they ultimately called it in a Game Theory class that I missed because I was playing IMs.

So don’t get me wrong; I have made some of my favorite memories at Yale playing IMs. Learning that badminton can be more competitive than I’d ever imagined. Ping Pong and Oreos. Softball and Beer. Meeting all the awesome underclassmen who play for Branford. Every single dodgeball game. Watching our Dean dominate women’s basketball. Running to the fields to keep us from forfeiting. Saving Tinkerbell. Whatever. I can imagine a world in which playing IMs is like living in the ending credits of a Disney movie. A Disney musical, even.

Unfortunately, we play IMs in the real world. And in this world, sadly, many, many times, Tinkerbell is crushed. Because of freaking labs. And JE.

So. I’m stepping down as an IM secretary next week. I’m good friends with my replacement; I’ve known him for a long time. He has enthusiasm, spirit and resolve. He is determined to reinvent Branford intramurals.

To him, I say: Well. At least you get paid?