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Rachel Schwartzbaum '19 Scarsdale High School, Scarsdale, New York

When people ask me what it feels like to perform a stand-up routine, I lie to them. I tell them that it's an incomparable experience. Using passionate imagery, I describe the rush of standing on stage to face a crowd of eager eyes. With alliteration and flowery language, I boast that I've bared my vulnerable comedic soul. And just to be sure that I sound as pretentious as possible, I'll recite my entire response in iambic pentameter.


My true feelings about performing stand-up are not nearly as poetic. If I were to honestly describe my pre-routine thoughts, I would use a very different set of literary devices. There would be repetition: "Oh my god! Oh my god! Oh my god!" Some innovative use of simile: "I can't do this, like, you literally don't understand." And, of course, a great deal of hyperbole: "I'm going to walk on stage, lose my notes, forget my entire routine, and then fall down on the floor and cry. And then spontaneously combust."


Junior year, as I paced backstage before my first routine, dangers such as spontaneous combustion dominated my thoughts. Armed only with a microphone and two pages of one-liners, I prepared myself to face a room of menacing teenagers. I began to wonder why I had arrived at this moment, hoping that my answer would allow me to rationally conquer my fears.


I thought of my younger self, a seventh-grade girl drowning in braces, acne and Pink Sugar perfume. There was nothing I wanted more than to be adored by my peers, and I had aimed to achieve that adoration through comedy. Unfortunately, my intentions were far better than my execution. In hopes of earning status through laughter, I would make poor attempts at telling jokes. The worst of which started with setting my watch two minutes slow, then, when someone would announce the time, I would shout, "Not on my watch!" I soon learned that it is immensely difficult to find respect through comedy — especially when you're bad at comedy. Not only was I consistently met with a sea of blank stares and the ever-dreaded "pity laughter," but the incorrect time on my watch would frequently make me late.


Backstage, as I made my fifth lap around the pacing track I had created, it became apparent that obsessing over my comedic origins would not provide me with the comfort I needed to perform. I began to wonder if pursuing comedy was even worth the effort.


My anxiety had now trapped me in a firm headlock. I rapidly began flipping between my two pages of notes, while reminding myself to breathe. Reading through the pages again and again, it struck me that nearly all of the jokes were at my own expense. "Self-deprecating jokes are always great," I smiled bitterly, "Well. maybe except for when I tell them."


But in that moment I realized that the self-deprecating jokes were there for a reason. When attempting to climb the mountain of comedic success, I didn't just fall and then continue on my journey, but I fell so many times that I befriended the ground and realized that the middle of the metaphorical mountain made for a better campsite. Not because I had let my failures get the best of me, but because I had learned to make the best of my failures. By the time my shaking legs arrived on stage, I had resolved to embrace my flaws, and use them to my advantage. After all, even if I did walk on stage, lose my notes, forget my entire routine, fall down on the floor, cry and spontaneously combust, it would make for one hell of an opening joke.


"Hey guys, my name is Rachel Schwartzbaum. I'm going to try my best to do some stand up for you tonight, but if it doesn't work out, don't worry. I do accept pity laughter."

Admissions Committee Comments

What I really love about the essay is that Rachel’s personality and sense of humor shine through so clearly. Not only does her personality come through, but also she doesn’t let the comedy of the essay detract from the quality of the writing. Though she takes a fairly self-deprecating tone, in keeping with her comedy style, her strengths as a writer and a storyteller are evident.

Morgan Elliot '19 Monadnock Waldorf High School, Keene, New Hampshire

The shop floor is always dirty. A century of grease and grit has been ground into the concrete beneath the shoes of men. Some of the last train tracks in Cheshire County are set in the shop floor from when it was a shoe factory. Years ago, someone poured concrete over the rails to level the floor, but the repairs crumbled away, leaving the tracks exposed in broken channels that quickly gather gunk and grime. The building's ancient, ugly bunker-like walls stand as proudly as ever, but rough, like the face of an old man, and the boarded-up windows give it an air of tomb-like secrecy, mysterious and lonely.


I began working at the shop at age twelve, and I have gone there on my bike almost every day since. It isn't far, but in the standard six-month New England winters, biking can be challenging. Imagine the fading light of a February afternoon: it's snowing, but I'm on my bike charging down unplowed roads as soon as school lets out. I can't wait to get to work. I love to fly along the asphalt with complete abandon; I keep a stopwatch fixed to the handlebars to time my rides, only stopping the clock when I've skidded to a stop at the shop's entrance. I enter through the door marked by the shop's only sign, a tiny peeling thing with the name "Fix" in black on yellowed plastic. I stash my bike behind the rack of windshield wipers, and I take it all in again: the air compressor's racket, the bitter scent of solvents, and the '75 Datsun 280z, its three shades of primer oddly resplendent in the flickering fluorescent light. I survey the work ahead of me while snapping on a pair of Black Lightning powder-free nitrile gloves.


I love working on a car, my arm thrust deep into its convoluted innards. I love a caked greasy Volvo 240 underside suspended above me as I remove a cancerous rusty hole before welding in a new piece of steel. In face shield and earmuffs, I saw out the disintegrated portion. With my real-life light-saber, I plasma-cut a piece of new sheet metal the size of the hole and, once it is hammered and trimmed into submission, it becomes one with the car by way of the trusty Lincoln Electric welder. Then I grind the seams until they disappear and the panel becomes whole. Equally, I love to build custom side-pipes or re-animate an engine — the roar of a newly modified Saab 99E 1703cc, that just last week was swaying on a chain like a stripped animal carcass, is sublime. But even the simplest tasks — changing a set of tires or replacing brake pads — delight me.


Outside lie some fifty cars on which I might ply my trade, some just waiting for an oil change, but many others lost in the limbo of passing years. Rot and decay consume them; eager knotweed bursts through their bellies. All around the building grasses and trees grow unhindered, an unsightly jungle, teeming with life. Crickets by the dozens hop aside as I walk through the waist-high grass, stray cats coolly ignore me. It is common to see the cats strutting down the dusty driveway, or to hear them fighting amongst the sea of cars in the untamed thicket.


Being at the shop alone in the evening is magical: looking out across the cars, as the sun silhouettes the dead treetops. At age twelve, I was sure I would be a mechanic but, having fulfilled that wish, I've come to realize that my intellectual and creative aspirations extend far beyond this gloriously dirty old shoe factory that I love so much. Even so, my time at Fix always seems too short, and, as I race home in the dark, I can think only about what I will work on when I return tomorrow.

Admissions Committee Comments

This essay appeals to me on many levels. The writer employs excellent use of alliteration and meter to make his sentences flow. By focusing on a topic that is mundane, yet personal, the beauty of the writing is not overshadowed by the power of the content. Voice and personality emerge eloquently and simply.

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Boston University

13

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University of California--San Diego

7

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University of California--Davis

5

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University of Florida

21

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New York University

8

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Carnegie Mellon University

8

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University of Southern California

13

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University of California--Berkeley

2

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Washington University in St. Louis

18

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University of California--Los Angeles

5

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Rice University

7

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Cornell University

4

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Brown University

3

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Northwestern University

6

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Johns Hopkins University

8

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University of Pennsylvania

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5

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1

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Columbia University

12

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University of Chicago

2

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Yale University

2

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