If you've ever been intrigued by rites of passage among obscure tribes in New Guinea, if you've ever wondered about coming-of-age ceremonies among Indians in Brazil, let me offer you a chance to embark on a true and wondrous anthropological experience without ever leaving your native land.
You can become the parent of a high-school senior.
Don't worry if you don't have a senior of your very own. We here at the American Anthropological Agency have a list of several perfectly decent seniors who may be available any day now.
What are the advantages of this all- American adventure as opposed to, say, our Margaret Mead Special to Polynesia or the Frequent Flyer Prize to central Africa? As the parent of an American Senior, you will have the opportunity to witness the one truly unique rite of passage in the world. It is called "Getting into College."
For nearly a year, on a full-or part- time basis, you will be able to observe the ingeniously, one might even say devilishly, devised ceremonies that mark the corridor out of the ordinary American home and into the wider world of academia: campus interviews. SATs. College essays. Envelopes fat and thin.
As a mere tourist to another culture, you would be barred by tradition from watching the young performing their feats, such as wrestling grizzly bears. But as family, you will see "Up Close and Personal," your very own young wrestling meaning out of the College Board's multiple choices:
Bat is to Mammal as (A)Pine:Tree (B)Pup:Seal (C)Butterfly:Insect(D)Starfish:Clam (E) Ram:Sheep.
Similarly, as a foreigner to a primitive land, you would be banned from the scene of tribal endurance tests. The adolescents must enter the jungle for their two-week trial alone. But as a native of our civilized culture, you will be able -- this we guarantee -- to share in the agony of the long-distance writer who spends long weeks composing answers to the essay question put together by a council of elders:
"If you had an opportunity to interview any person living or deceased whom would you choose and why?" (Ronald Reagan? Mikhail Gorbachev? The person who thought up the essay question?)
But we do not want to give you the impression that all the thrills you will experience as a Parent of High School Senior will come solely from observation. Yes, there is a viewing opportunity: See the ritual markings appear on the young -- bitten nails, furrowed brows. Watch personalities change before your very eyes. But we like to think of this particular offering as a participatory trip. Hands-on anthropology if you will.
You see, in primitive cultures that dot the obscure reaches of the Earth, elders merely cheer their young through the rigorous rituals and into adulthood. In ours, parents have a special role of their very own.
All fall, parents congregate at special ceremonies across the country at places known as campuses. Many parents arrive at these "campuses" after pilgrimages of many miles and many hours. Some go from one to another, like campus followers.
At each spot, they are privy to secret ceremonies where magical numbers are spoken. Just last month, one of our clients, visiting a "hot" Eastern school, heard the mystical number $65,000 emerge from the mouth of a college shaman. It was a round figure for four years of college.
Such numbers are designed to bring Parents of Seniors into a state of religious awe for education. Some have compared this awe to the runner's high that precedes "hitting the wall." Others have compared it to the catatonia that follows "breaking the bank." Our parent stayed seated, without giggling, for a full 60 seconds, thereby passing the hardest test for admission into elderhood.
Admittedly, the price of this anthropological adventure seems a bit high. But we here at the agency promise you that this is rock-bottom. Never again will it be so cheap. Why wait until l995 to become a parent of a high-school senior? Get in on the ground floor. Consider it an educational experience.