First, Do No Harm
To be honest, I was beginning to wonder about harm reduction when I first
met Fred. Maybe my enthusiasm about it had just been more proof of the
that I really don’t understand anything about anything, a repetition
of my brief freshman-year flirtation with Students Against Sweatshops.
had come in to get some clean needles and some condoms. He also took a
bag, the “kit” that everyone who comes to the van gets. It has
rubbing alcohol, bleach, gauze pads, band-aids, antiseptic, and a
to tie drug users’ veins so they are easier to find and harder to
Fred came to the Bridgeport Needle Exchange van all the time, every day it
was open, he said. He’s been shooting crack for ten or fifteen
and does it every day. “It’s nothing to brag about. When I
money, I do it every day. When I don’t, I don’t. It
nothing to brag about,” he explained. Fred has two kids, who live
their mom. He has no job. How does this help anyone, I was beginning to
But then I asked Fred what he used to do before the van existed, before
“I shared a lot of needles. I used to shoot up a lot more often. I
shared a lot of needles,” he said. I asked him if he was scared of
getting aids. “Hell yeah I’m scared,” he answered.
why I come every day. I get needles and rubbers. Yes I am scared.”
I asked if he used to be as scared. “I just never thought about it
so much then. I just had no reason to think about it,” he answered.
This wasn’t any Students Against Sweatshops protest. This was
real and true and it was saving people’s lives.
The Bridgeport Department of Health has a mission with its Needle Exchange
Program: to stop the spread of hiv among Connecticut’s fastest
group of victims—intravenous drug users. Maria Melendez, an Outreach
Educator for the Bridgeport Department of Health who runs the van, has a
similar mission: to hand out condoms and clean needles and love; to keep
people sober as much as possible; to stop the spread of aids.
a misconception that needle exchange is just about needles. It connects
to all kinds of services. And it connects them to people,” Maria
Martha came in next. She asked for some clean needles and shuffled around
for a few seconds, hiding inside her big black puffy jacket. Mark, a harm
reduction worker, asked her how she was doing. She rolled up her sleeves
and held out both of her palms to Mark and Maria. “See, I
know what these are. The doctor said it was nothing, but I didn’t
him about the crack. It really hurts,” she said quickly, pointing to
conspicuous, oddly shaped bumps on both hands and a strange-colored patch
on her face. “Do you think it’s fungus? Or bugs? What is
she asked anxiously. Mark and Maria examined her hands carefully. I
believe that they were actually touching the bumps. What if she were
“Is it a tingly pain or a sharp pain?” Mark asked.
a pulsing pain,” she said. Maria interrupted. “Honey,
shooting up all wrong. That’s why you got those bumps. You got
Maria said. She patiently explained that Martha had to stop using vinegar
to break the crack down, or she would start to get abscesses and fungal
She grabbed some packets of powdered citric and ascorbic acid from the
lining the wall and explained that Martha couldn’t use food products
like vinegar and lemon juice to dissolve the crack because they contain
the powder is safer. Mark took Martha to the back of the van to talk
to her more about her skin and how to make it better.
I asked Maria why Martha’s doctor hadn’t helped her.
she didn’t go to no doctor,” Maria explained. “They
go to the doctor. They treat them like shit at the hospital.” She
Dave told me how sometimes people come in with huge abscesses and high
but say they are ine and absolutely refuse to enter the hospitals.
just have to say, ‘Honey, you goin’ to the hospital.’
talk in no formal English. You have to talk in street talk. If you talk in
street talk, they listen. All those people at the hospital don’t
know how to talk to these folks,” she exclaimed. “And they are
terrible at the hospital. They treat them so bad.”
But what if someone is really sick? What if someone has hiv or pneumonia
or something that Maria’s big heart and warm soup just can’t
fix? “Sometimes I take them in,” Maria explained. She told me
about Cindy, who she had been close to, who had come to the van for clean
needles every day. She was a “working girl,” Maria explained.
Maria noticed that she smelled terrible, so terrible that it filled up the
whole van. “I knew it was coming from down there,” she said.
Maria took her in to the Bridgeport Hospital. The nurse was scared of her
and the smell. She wouldn’t touch her at all without gloves.
treated her like a leper. She gave her a hospital gown holding it by two
fingertips. She wouldn’t talk to her. She would only talk to me. I
said, ‘She’s not contagious. You don’t have to
She said, ‘I know what these people are like. I’m a
Cindy wanted to leave, but Maria stayed with her, felt her humiliation
her. Cindy turned out to have Hepatitis B and began receiving treatment.
“Sometimes you have to make them go in,” Maria said.
Maria glows because she loves so much and so well. She has bright purple
nails and bright fuchsia lipstick, worn New Balance shoes, a gold tooth,
and a necklace with a large, dangling crucifix. She shines. She cooks for
the clients and hands out the vitamins and condoms and crack pipe screens
with a gusto I could never have imagined. “You gotta have
she explains emphatically. “If you don’t have that tender
care, you’re never going to get anywhere with them.”
Each year, come early May, the Yale Law School transforms into a
Lines are drawn, students and faculty take sides, and fancy rhetoric spews
forth from the mouths of soon-to-be litigious twentysomethings. Words like
“democracy” and “tyranny” are thrown around with
the same conviction and gravity as they were in Franco’s Spain.
But what is at stake has less to do with the fate of nations than with the
egos of a smattering of the school’s students. It is in early May
the Yale Law Journal, the student-run law review of the nation’s
law school (membership in which, according to some, is a prerequisite for
important clerkships and job offers from big firms), culls the top of the
very top of the student body for membership. And it is the test that does
the culling that causes the Law School’s yearly turmoil.
The test consists of two parts. The first asks students to compose a
to the author of a submission to the Journal. The second—the part
annually causes the brouhaha—is a test of students’
ability. The Law School blue book bears little resemblance to the beloved
Yale College Programs of Study. To get an idea of what the future Supreme
Court justices of America are subjected to, think of the mla Handbook
by a Senate subcommittee. Page upon page of the blue book—and,
hour upon hour of test-takers’ study time—is spent on the
of comma placement and italicization. Major Supreme Court decisions are
and less complex than the guidelines that answer the pressing que
when a comma should be italicized and inside the quotation mark. Or
and outside of it? Not italicized and outside of it? Underlined? What,
tell, do the gods of jurisprudence say about the ever wily umlaut? Do we
cooperate, or do we coöperate? If you’re perplexed, ask any one
of the scores of law students clutching their blue book as a fanatical
might grasp his Bible. Be sure to approach them gently in the dining hall
as they rack their brains to engage in what one law student affectionately
calls “the utterly mind-numbing, useless memorization of thoroughly
It is the stupidity of this exercise, coupled with the mythical importance
of being on the Journal, that, according to dissenters, engenders the
and cynicism of each year’s nay-sayers. Meetings at which students
lodge complaints against the Journal editors are announced. The infamous
Law School “Wall,” the permanent site for the airing of
of all sorts, plays host to endless pronouncements of “Why I’m
not going to try for the Yale Law Journal.” The Law School’s
comedy troupe, the Law Revue, scarcely lets a year go by in which they do
not lampoon the Law Journal for its ridiculous admissions practices. Last
year, as the testing season approached, a group of progressive students
mugs emblazoned with the encouragement “Make love, not Law
It seems that none of the dissenters is really wrong. Is the memorization
of ridiculously minuscule details the best way to distinguish the best of
the best when admissions committee after admissions committee has already
placed its imprimatur on these students’ resumes? The procedure for
electing students to membership on the Journal has less to do, some would
argue, with the students’ intellectual ability than with their
to jump through yet another flaming hoop in order to prove their
Couldn’t they devise a more reasonable way to figure out who would
contribute most to the
The unfortunate answer from Journal supporters—who by and large
how ridiculous the admissions process must appear—is a resounding
Simply put, bluebooking is what you do your first year or so on the
so you have to be competent. If the explanation is so rational, then why
the constant and vehement dissent? Perhaps it is because these students
danced the standardized-test-meritocracy two-step for so long and have
tired of it. Or perhaps they are finally frightened of it. One Journal
explained, “Yalies want merit badges, and too many of them just
win this one.”
Smoke on the Water
On September 18, 1992, at 4:35 a.m., residents on East Shore’s
Avenue were awakened to find the back of a neighboring house ablaze.
minutes of their arrival, investigators were certain the fire was the work
of an arsonist hoping to prevent any former residents of the predominantly
black Elm Haven housing project from moving to the neighborhood. The
was repeated twice in the next six weeks. In 2001, as New Haven prepares
to complete the demolition of Elm Haven, East Shore has incorporated these
new arrivals, but the success of efforts to change its residents’
East Shore sits across the Quinnipiac River from the rest of New Haven, an
awkward and sometimes troublesome appendage. Part of East Shore once
to East Haven, but was sold to New Haven and finally incorporated in 1918.
Since then, East Shore has had a troubled relationship with both cities,
sharing New Haven’s tax burden while socially resembling its more
neighbor. The East Shore of a decade ago is described as having its
in the Hill and in Wooster Square. It is a homogeneous neighborhood. About
75 percent of its people are Italian Roman Catholics and most of the rest
are Irish Roman Catholics. A large number of residents attend Saint
Church on Townsend Avenue.”
In the summer of 1991, with the demolition of 366 units of the
Elm Haven housing project, the federal government ordered that New Haven
find housing for half of those who had been displaced. The government
further stipulated that this housing be
in areas zoned for low-income housing developments, but in middle-class
In the city of New Haven, this left little choice but East Shore.
The New Haven Housing Authority purchased eleven homes in the area in
of 1992. The reaction in East Shore was immediate. Homeowners expressed
about property value, knowing the Housing Authority’s dismal record.
They were also concerned about the gap that would be left in tax revenues
when those homes used for the scattered-site program were taken off tax
The news came on the heels of a jump in real estate taxes.
Seven months after the program was instituted, some of the
fears had been realized as these properties stood vacant and uncared for.
Then the fires started. While a plaque on Saint Bernadette’s Church
reads, “Saint Bernadette Parish Community Welcomes You,”
was sending a different message to the families who would soon occupy
homes. The fire on Townsend Avenue was the first. Within six weeks, two
fires were set and tempers flared.
Opponents of scattered-site housing grew more vocal and defensive, its
more vehement and embittered, and the issue quickly became polarized by
In response, the Reverend Howard J. Nash, a pastor at Saint
Church, organized a series of interfaith meetings centered on acceptance.
“At the time we had no idea who might have been doing this. I just
didn’t want to see any violence or any acts of hatred,” Nash
said. Morris Cove resident Edward Flynn recalled, “The meeting
on brotherhood. ‘We’re all members of the human
that was the message, and the audience was a mixed one, over 500
Despite these efforts, tensions continued. John Daniels, recently elected
New Haven’s first African-American mayor, organized a rally of his
own on the site of one of the burned homes. While the rally was designed
to express outrage at the seemingly racially motivated arson, East Shore
residents saw it as an accusation. For months the Register and Advocate
pages rang with heated talk from both sides. “Race Not
“Tax Revenue Lost.” “It’s Mayor’s
Daniels and the local naacp saw racism in other letters to the editor such
as one that begged, “Who wants a slum next door?” Another
citizen urged, “Leadership Needed.” Indeed, leadership was the
missing piece, as each faction had its supporters but few were
to bringing all sides and all points of view together.”
Tensions over the scattered-site housing began to dissipate as agreements
were reached over the care of property and private management was
for the homes. Yet, in 1993 continued economic trouble combined with
tensions instigated a movement among East Shore residents to secede from
the city. Their reasons included high taxation, low quality social
and lack of representation. The movement had strong support from some, but
it became clear the secessionist effort would face an uphill legal battle.
Though signs reading “secede for survival” remained on local
roads until recently, the effort was soon abandoned.
In the time that has elapsed, property values have been reconfigured and
the economy has long since recovered from the recession of the early
East Shore itself has changed. There are currently 153 scattered-site
in the East Shore area, all inhabited and incident-free. Former Fire Chief
rsquo;Connor views East Shore as a place where “diversity
has been achieved without mandated busing or court orders.” He
Lighthouse Park as being full of entirely white faces in 1979 and now a
where one hears four different languages in one visit.
After the divisive events of the past, residents resist talking about
stressing instead good neighbors and property values. However, East
demographic changes have not come solely through addition. Reverend Nash
notes that, among his parish, funerals are beginning to outnumber
Many of his newly married congregants are moving to the lower taxes and
homogeneity of the suburbs. For these second- and third-generation
the financial benefits of suburban life outweigh the social benefits of a
newly diverse neighborhood.
School of the Americans
“Puzzled by American culture? What is an American and do you wonder
why they do the things they do? Space is limited, so hurry if you are
urged the e-mail that found its way to my inbox mid-February. Clearing the
papers off my keyboard, I responded with as much American gusto as I could
muster. A day later, with a welcome warmer than Mom’s apple pie, I
was cordially invited to participate as a “genuine American
in Yale’s first us culture workshop. Great, I thought, an
As I prepared for the panel, I considered how to present myself as an
American. Why did I ever agree to do this, I fretted in a high-pitched
Jewish white girl whine, pacing back and forth across my common room.
“American Woman,” I decided that I might as well look the
I frantically rummaged through my closet, searching for the perfect
Where were my miniskirts and pom-poms? Forget it, I thought, settling for
my red, white, and blue pajamas. Already late, I grabbed a cup of coffee
and set out on my way.
Following the pink signs through the labyrinthine basement of Rosenfeld
I was greeted with open arms and an information packet by Elisabeth Mead,
Assistant Director of the Office Of International Students and Scholars.
Now here was a real American: blonde hair, blue eyes, and business casual.
Mead, who left her job teaching esl to start the program two years
her first trip outside the United States at age 35—was eager to get
under way. Nervously twirling her hair and chirping, “I’m so
American—what time is it? What time is it? When are we going to
as she passed out agendas, complained about tardiness, and wondered
we should watch the movie first or eat pizza.
Akemi, a Japanese housewife married to a doctor at the Medical School,
towards me to talk. Shy but confident, she told me she had come to the
States two years ago but had just perfected her English. On my left,
a local minister, was chatting in a thick Southern accent with Yong
Zha-Ma, Elisabeth’s assistant for the afternoon. Clapping her hands
to get our attention, Elisabeth introduced herself. To make everyone feel
comfortable, she decided to share her experience visiting Italy and her
shock.” “Here I was, coming from the nation of all nations,
I had no idea what to do. Can you imagine?” she asked. Soon, it was
time to introduce ourselves, because we were going to learn so much about
ourselves and each other. Pointing a lacquered nail around the room,
named them. In the corner was Heidi, a researcher from “where they
make bmws.” Heidi smiled back thinly. Next, Professor Maira, a
scholar in psychology from Kazakhstan. Then, Raquel, a pharmacist from
whose husband was writing his dissertation. Across the room was Mukhtar,
a Somalian graduate student in International Studies who had left his
in an Eritrean refugee camp to come to New Haven. I had hoped to hear more
of their stories, but Elisabeth was getting anxious.
Soon, we were split up into groups. “Look, you four, you are the
group,” she explained, pointing to a symbol on Tony’s name
With majestic hand gestures and short sentences, Raquel, Tony, Maira, and
myself were herded into the corner to tackle questions like “What is
your idea of culture shock?” and “What is the American
“Just signal if you need me,” she called over her shoulder,
over to help the others find their groups.
Exactly fifteen minutes later, Elisabeth interrupted and started the
boasting that the “all-American pizza” was on its way.
us for the “simply wonderful” discussion, she reminded us that
if we ever felt the need to talk, we should go to our friendly local
“All Americans do,” she assured. “I used to go every
Then, she flipped on the video. Elisabeth would stop the tape every few
reminding us that “culture was like an iceberg,” our actions
the result of deep, hidden values. “See,” she explained,
the packet up like a story-book, “sometimes [values] are under the
water and we can’t see what makes us act that way.” But once
we understand how Americans act, we can learn that it’s “no
for us to “just all get along.” We bonded over pizza and then
said our good-byes.
Later, when I chatted with Elisabeth about the program, she spoke of the
limitations of her fledgling enterprise, but was confident that she was
people “resolve [their] cross-cultural issues.” It was only
first workshop, after all. Even though not everyone “loves people
new experiences” or “operates on the basis of compassion,
and open-mindedness” the way she, an American, does, we can all
to the ideal. Leaning back in her chair, she admitted that she
expect to change them into a mini-me.” But it was only a matter of