Your Social Obligation

I have seen the future, and it is, um, wet.

And muddy.

And as chilly as a Jets game in December…

The following is your Magic-8-Ball wrapped in a column; A prognostication of this Saturday on Moorland Farms in Far Hills, New Jersey. If you’re staying in Hoboken because is The Hunt is sooooo yuppie, so pretentious, or if you’re miserable enough to purposely avoid being in the presence of those tens of thousands enjoying the social event of autumn, feel free to continue surfing the world wide web (or read one of Paul Krugman’s columns if it makes you feel worse, which in your world, actually makes you feel better).

8:00 AM: Ahhhhhh! You haven’t felt this way on a Saturday morning since the weekend after Labor Day when you swore after a summer of Sangria or SoCo Shots or Sam Adams that you were done, finished, through with drinking (three nights a week, anyway). The Hunt would be your coming out party, a trip back the wonders of an all-day bender. In order to avoid playing uphill, the Friday night before Hunt Saturday you may have elected to rent a movie or grab an early, non-alcoholic dinner (OK, with one glass of wine) with friends. Either way, you were in bed alone by 10:30 PM, slipping into a nice REM sleep by 10:38.

Nearly 9 ½ hours of clean snooze time? Wow. Well, look out…the world is your oyster. You’ve been hungry for an unpredictable, rollercoaster kind-of-day for weeks, and The Hunt never disappoints in that regard.

As you practically skip to the shower, the sound of pitter-patter emanates from the fire escape. It’s not a drizzle, but the heavy drops that can only make that kind of sound. You open the window to gauge how strong the precipitation is, and of course, it’s worse than twenty leaky faucets. But your concern turns to that white smoke coming from exhaling into the cool air.

Crap, is it really that chilly, too? This kind of weather hasn’t happened on a Hunt Saturday since, like, 2005, when the weather was 48 degrees with a classy touch of sideways rain.

But it couldn’t happen two years in a row, right? Is this some kind of sick conspiracy orchestrated by the North Koreans, or worse, the Democrats?

Well, think of it this way: If it rained 20 consecutive years on the same Tuesday in late October, would anyone ever notice? Mother Nature doesn’t have an Outlook Calendar or access to eVite, so how would she know? Besides, she already figures that she made Mother’s Day this year a perfect day, and that clearly was a higher priority.

You’re tempted to go back to bed or maybe go to the gym. Just blow the whole damn thing off, you think. It’s simply not worth getting on a bus, already being damp and bitter, and trekking out an hour to Western Jersey just to walk a mile in the slop to your designated spot, which will only consist of wet sandwiches, soggy cookies and very cold beer (hot chocolate and dark rum would be more appropriate).

But your checkbook says otherwise. You turn to that entry in your records from two months ago that reads, “Hunt check- $125.”

“What the F?” you mutter. “I reserved a spot on the bus, a ticket, and my access to our Hunt spots on August 28th??”

And therein lies the rub. The Hunt is too expensive to walk away from at these prices. Sure, in the whole scheme of things, a buck twenty-five is nothing. You lost that in Vegas six months ago in 12 minutes at a $5.00 blackjack table. You spent that amount before even leaving the Parker House before going to Leggett’s over the summer. You wasted that much on matinee Broadway tickets for a girl who cheated on you three days later.

But this was different. After all, there is a 99% chance that your friends will call you that “P” word for the rest of your life that your grandmother used to use in front of the word “cat” if you decide not to go. And if you stick around Hoboken, you’ll likely start drinking, albeit in a warm and dry setting, at O’Donohughes at 11:00 AM just to spite everyone else who went, which will lead to the loss of another $125.00 and most importantly, a sense of dignity.

So after doing the same angry, key-tossing, arm-flailing fit that Cameron Frye does before reluctantly getting into his car in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, you shower (for no good reason at this point), get dressed in a t-shirt, Under Armor, sweatshirt, windbreaker, leg warmers, jeans, boots, two pairs of socks, gloves, winter ski hat, scarf and jacket. You’re ready to go. Sure, you may be walking as stiffly as Dr. Evil, but at least you’ll be cozy while all the other suckers who haven’t gone through this before will be shivering for eight hours without an indoor facility in sight.

9:00 AM: You walk to the private buses that your Hunt organizer arranged for near the PATH station. Along the way, you see others dressed similar to you, all with that, “I must be absolutely insane” look on their faces. Some already look like they’ve been drinking; as it is rumored there are pre-Hunt-bus parties at 7:30 AM around town. You then begin to wonder how the unemployment rate among college graduates in George W. Bush’s America is only two percent with all of these functional alcoholics running around.

You arrive at the bus. Somebody hands you a Mimosa before you get to your seat. Bagels and Munchkins are being passed around the half-empty bus. Eventually it will fill to about 70% capacity, with the remaining 30% electing to punt and stay home.

Woody Allen once said that, “Showing up is 80% of life.” After an hour ride, three Mimosas, two bagels and already establishing a beachhead with a friend-of-a-friend whom you’ve never met before, you feel like Lance Armstrong after winning the Tour de France. You showed up. You made it. You overcame the odds and sat on a bus and drank at 9:30 in the morning!

“Who says our Grandparents were The Greatest Generation? The Depression and World War II were walks in the park compared to this,” you declare to yourself.

Then you step off the bus and right into a puddle the size of Lake Michigan. The icy water goes straight through your foot reinforcements and right to the bone. A salty discharge wants to roll from your eyes, but it’s time to be strong, you think, and shake it off (literally).

Walking from the bus to the inside of the track on the farm, you see more “Am I absolutely insane?” looks on more faces…like 10,000 of them. What are usually exquisite corporate tents are barely holding up in what is starting to feel like a Category 3 hurricane. The fall foliage is usually one of the esthetic highlights of Moorland Farms, but the rain and clouds don’t allow the hills of trees surrounding the event to sparkle like it would on a decent day. Even the horses looked pissed off, as if they were just transferred from Saratoga to the Meadowlands for harness racing.

The first human spill of the day occurs, and of course, it happens to the best-dressed girl at the Hunt. Her feet, like out of a cartoon, go right out from under her. She seems to fall in slow motion, and as her boyfriend tries to catch her, he goes down to. They both get up slowly, mud on their faces, likely already freezing. Their MBAs can’t help them now.

The walk is only about a mile, but it feels like a 10K, as each step is taken carefully. People are beginning to have shoes get caught in the sludge, their feet continuing but the shoe somehow staying behind. You witness this sort of thing 10 times before finally arriving at your spot.

The liquor and food is all neatly laid out on the tables, and the bartenders hired to work look none to pleased they only asked for $200.00 each to perform in this nonsense. You want to tip them, but left your wallet on the bus to avoid losing it during the inevitable blackout or mud-induced accident later.

The affair always starts out a bit awkward. For the first hour or so, polite, somewhat sober, intra-Hunt-spot-only conversations rule the roost. But the day, rain or shine, always changes complexion around 2:00 PM.

Don’t ask why or obviously how, but suddenly people get urge to walk around, visit other spots, and talk to complete strangers in general. This is when the Hunt in any kind of conditions is worth the trip. For all of the posturing to outsiders and incest that goes on within our respective circles on any other day, the Hunt is the one time when we’re free, to do what we want, any old time…Free, to be who we choose, any old time (C’mon…who else quotes The Soup Dragons in their columns?).

So suddenly the party has gone from miserable, to OK, to utterly entertaining and unpredictable. The buzz resulting from consumption for five hours makes the cold feet and raindrops disappear. Watching the well-dressed go down on the field like Drew Bledsoe has gone from sympathetic to downright hilarious. Ah, this is why you paid that $125.00 for in the first place…to have that rare ability to successful start a conversation with anyone you wish, at any moment.

Those who criticize the Hunt (although most who do have never attended) can’t understand that this aspect is what makes the day so brilliant. For once, everyone, all 40,000 of those there, are friendly, generous, and engaging. No attitude, no preconceived notions or ulterior motives. Even on lines at the hundreds of portable toilets lined up, the conversations, flirting, drop-of-a-hat-PDA and/or invites to other spots between strangers can become the highlight of the day.

The Hunt during its final three hours is controlled, civilized, social mayhem. But just as slowly as 2:00 PM seems to come at the Hunt, 5:30 PM comes just as quickly.

So just when you think you can’t have any better of a time, when you’re having the best conversation of your life or are ready to embark on another adventure to somebody else’s spot, the dream comes to an end.

Your organizer tells you again (he’s already informed you five times, which you likely heard but chose to ignore) that it’s really, really time to start heading back to the bus or you risk taking the train home. You reluctantly march through the mud as the skies begin to grow dark, realizing that a long winter of indoor activities waits. It’s a bittersweet journey…kind of like your favorite team winning a Super Bowl, but at the same realizing that football doesn’t kickoff again until next fall.

 As you wander aimlessly towards where you believe your ride is located, you suddenly see the tips of your boots. Yes, after eight hours of laughing at others, it’s your sorry stump that’s on the brown ground.


You eventually get back on to the bus, which now resembles High School after a weekday night ski trip to Vernon Valley. You ask the organizer if he demanded boy-girl seating only, but he denies it. Witnessing at least three newfound temporary couples canoodle on the way home from the Hunt is nothing new, as is seeing 20-25 people sleep like they just swallowed a bottle of Ambien.

The ride home is long without your (insert drink here) fix. You’re ready to continue your journey upon arriving back in Hoboken, but others are weary, shot, and ready to hit the hay after a day in the hay by 8:30 PM.

The bus finally gets back to its original spot near Texas Arizona. You can’t believe you were in this very same place nearly twelve hours ago…when you were still contemplating whether a jaunt to another Hunt in miserable conditions was worth the effort and money.

You climb into bed, pleased with the day’s results. Whether it’s a new phone number or three in your cell phone, an impromptu kiss at the Port-O-Johns (can it get any more romantic) or just a fine day catching up with the old friends and meeting more than a few new ones, you realize that the Hunt is worth twice the money.

No matter what God or the Weather Channel says is in store…