The Van Vechten Files

“This is it.”

Cut out of newsprint like a ransom note, the words sprawl across the top of the page. Below lies a large black and white photograph of a young, pale-skinned man wearing nothing but a garland. His lips shine; his pelvis thrusts forward in bold display. There’s no getting around the focus of the picture: The penis, standing proud at center stage.

I furtively scan the Beinecke reading room: Has anyone looked up from his medieval manuscripts? The coast is clear. I look back down to read the last words pasted on the page.

“Come on in, Sucker.” Welcome to page one of the scrapbooks of Carl Van Vechten, luminary of the twentieth century New York arts scene and notorious provocateur. The foremost white patron of the Harlem Renaissance, he brought Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston to publishers and white tourists to Harlem in the 1920s and 30s. Equal parts patron and partier, “Carlo” knew everyone and everyone came to his parties. One of the best-connected people of his era, he has also been one of the most neglected in its recent historical memory. Van Vechten’s scrapbooks, however, are reviving his legacy in ways no one anticipated. The books arrived at Yale, packed in three mysterious cartons bearing strict instructions not to be opened until 25 years after his death, which occurred in 1964. Patricia Willis, the soft-spoken curator of American literature at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, remembers when the albums were still a mystery. “They were in the stacks with rope around them that said ‘restricted,’” she says.

As the 25-year mark drew near, scholars assumed they were about to unveil Van Vechten’s diaries. “They said, ‘Of course, this is going to be exciting, and let’s open those journals and have a party,’ and the curator said, ‘Well, I don’t think so…’ It was a good instinct.” The few people who did attend the 1989 opening, including Willis, were shocked by what they found: 18 scrapbooks of graphic homoeroticism, full of mischief and devoid of explanation.

The scrapbooks take Van Vechten’s legendarily wicked humor to an outrageous new level. He had a knack for the fiendish double entendre, turning otherwise innocent phrases into cheeky captions for his images of conspicuous erections: “Such fine Meats at Low Prices!” “Learn to sip, not guzzle.” He reveled in the seductive tone of twentieth century advertising. Pitches like “Come say ‘HELLO’ to a GOOD BUY!”, “You’ll like it!”, and “Just taste this new kind!” become the sly subtitles to pictures of naked men. He was especially fond of ads in the second person, wielding an aggressively intimate you that makes the viewer feel strangely complicit in his vice.

Van Vechten collected newspaper clippings chronicling Harlem drag balls, early sex-change operations (“GI Who Turned Woman is a Happy Beauty”), court cases for “morals charges,” and abuse incidents. He assembled more restrained, if still theatrical, black and white photographs of male nudes, both Caucasian and African American, which most scholars think are mostly or entirely the work of Van Vechten. Nothing escaped him: Photos of ambiguously homoerotic Greek vases, labeled in childishly rounded handwriting, nestle against newspaper cutouts of male wrestlers locked in combat.

But as we—librarians, art historians, gender studies scholars, and the casual Beinecke browser—try to understand the Van Vechten behind these irreverent collages, we must confront the darker side of the scrapbooks. First, a persistent strain of pedophilia. “Do you want a baby?” says a clipping next to a photograph of an adolescent boy wearing nothing but Greek lace-up sandals; on another page, two boys hold each other’s erections. There is also a troubling strain of racism. A young, tall blond leers down at a shorter black boy, who grins broadly as he grips the other’s shoulders proprietarily; one of its four captions reads, “In identifying meat, color is our best guide.” Another page shows a French soldier sodomizing an Arab boy. Such scenes, numerous and shockingly extreme, are impossible to dismiss. They threaten to crumble an already shaky understanding of a complex man.

Van Vechten, scholars speculate, compiled the scrapbooks between the 19 0s and the 1950s. Participating in a trend of scrapbook sharing, he probably passed them around and received clipping contributions from a small and covert circle of friends. Since going public, the scrapbooks have gathered enough of a cult following among academics that they’re beginning to fall apart; they flaked as I turned the pages. Still, their current audience, like the first, remains small and under the radar. The albums form a mere fraction of the legacy of a man who worked tirelessly to preserve the cultural artifacts of his era and to showcase its biracialism. A fervent believer in cultural cross-pollination, Van Vechten convinced his white artist friends to leave their collections to Fisk, a historically African American university in Nashville, and his black friends to donate their papers to Yale’s own Beinecke, thereby creating the treasured James Weldon Johnson collection.

Van Vechten had a keen sense of his own role in history. He purposefully made himself an indispensable commercial and cultural link between Harlem and white New York. Jennifer Wood, the effusive dean of Ezra Stiles College and Yale’s inhouse expert on the scrapbooks, argues that the Harlem Renaissance would not have occurred as it did without him. “He really brought the power of the white publishing houses to the Harlem Renaissance,” she explains. “And that shaped it, for better or worse.”

In the 1960s, when the Harlem Renaissance came back in vogue, historians tried to forget Van Vechten, and, with him, the uncomfortable role of whites in the movement. In the past decade, however, he has reappeared in academia. “He speaks to some issues that we’re working out now,” Wood explains, “in terms of white fasci- nation with black culture and the many ramifications that can have.”

The scrapbooks lie at the heart of the Van Vechten dilemma, forcing us to consider how prejudice, even if unconscious, persisted in this cross-racial pioneer. While he was exchanging long, frequent letters with Langston Hughes, he was also collecting typewritten poems —scattered among the newspaper clippings in his scrapbooks—full of sexual sing-song rhymes unprintably offensive toward blacks. Even as his private scrapbook snapshots betray his erotic and exoticized fascination with black bodies, his public photographs of black artists, musicians, and writers show a profound respect for and will to document African American artistic production. These scrapbooks may be the last frontier of Van Vechten’s persona, a dangerous landscape that tempts scholars to pack it in unopenable boxes and return to the “Carlo” they knew and loved.

Wood, who is writing her dissertation on Van Vechten, knows firsthand the difficulty of verbalizing the contents of the books. “Nothing can prepare you for sitting down with them,” she says. Most scholars don’t even try. Yale’s own lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender studies website describes the collections as “a light hearted, ironic comment on homosexual men, lesbians, and masculinity and femininity.” Jonathan Weinberg, who wrote one of the first pieces of scholarship about the scrapbooks, a 1994 article titled “Boy Crazy,” celebrates how Van Vechten “found homosexuality where homosexuality had been suppressed… and he found homosexuality where it was not supposed to be.” Yet Weinberg fails to mention race throughout the first half of the essay, and by the end of the 25-page article the issue seems almost forgotten. The images reproduced from the scrapbooks usually show only photographs of whites or the least offensive images of blacks. Confronted with elements incongruous to a well-respected historical figure, scholars have chosen to turn away.

Wood agrees that academia has downplayed the most disturbing aspects of the books, focusing instead on their straightforward, easily celebrated components. Scholars have seized on the albums as an obsessively meticulous record of gay history, a discipline in which many documents have been lost or destroyed. “The archive in its own right is stunning,” says Wood. “I mean it’s one of the best, if not the best… of this period.” Combined with the Fisk and James Weldon Johnson collections, the scrapbook archive cements Van Vechten’s place as an invaluable historian.

Art historians, meanwhile, have concentrated on the less pornographic, more aestheticized nude portraits, those that coincide with Van Vechten’s image as a praiseworthy photographer. Some scholars avoid the albums entirely. “There are twenty books about him from the last twenty years that do not mention the scrapbooks at all,” Wood says. “There are people who are really steering away from them.” One of the reasons scholars may shirk from interpreting the scrapbooks is that, in his life and work, Van Vechten remained stubbornly unreadable. “It’s hard to say what he actually felt about really anything,” Wood confesses. “He has his tongue firmly placed in his cheek at all times.”

In a few months, Willis plans to launch an exhibit of Van Vechten’s relatively unknown color photographs of African American artists. This show is intended to broaden perceptions of Van Vechten, but no images from the scrapbooks will be included. In 2006, scholar James Smalls opened the scrapbooks to an in-depth discussion of race. In a book titled The Homoerotic Photography of Carl Van Vechten, Smalls argues that Van Vechten “needed” the biracial element of the scrapbooks to justify both his erotic interest in African Americans and his faith in cultural interracialism. This explanation seems inadequate given the aggressive and unhesitating nature of Van Vechten’s racial eroticism. The argument also neglects the fact that the albums, though private during Van Vechten’s lifetime, were eventually meant to go public.

“There’s a little bit of social engineering, there’s a little bit of control in everything he does,” says Wood. Whatever his personal feelings, Van Vechten never forgot about his public image. Still, Smalls hits something at the heart of the scrapbooks. Just as Van Vechten may have “needed” the scrapbooks to see his own life in a certain way, every viewer sees in them what he or she needs to see. Some see a simple historical archive, others a celebrated point in the history of gay rights, and still others an aesthetic contribution to photography. Van Vechten, the consummate manipulator, has become the object of our own manipulations.

When I view the scrapbooks, I squirm at Van Vechten’s assumed license to cross and re-cross the racial line. He would have underestimated just how unacceptable such an attitude would seem in 2008. Wood characterizes Van Vechten as “understanding himself as being able to transgress racial boundaries…he felt he had some sort of special dispensation to speak for and about African Americans.” He is, Wood says, “a projectory of Elvis Presley and Eminem, what have you. People have this white character who’s going to talk about race as an insider in some way.”

I once researched Van Vechten’s notorious 1926 novel Nigger Heaven, a bawdy “insider’s” view of Harlem life. While the book projects an innocent disregard for its own problematic nature, there is something knowing in its ability to capture the reader’s reluctant fascination. While much of Harlem railed against it, as historian Michael S. Miller writes in “Activism in the Harlem Renaissance,” his 2008 essay, it was the number one novel on the reserve list at a Harlem branch of the New York Public Library. Everyone read it—in private. When I read Nigger Heaven four years ago, I was ashamed to be seen with it and a little disgusted by it. But I have remained fascinated by its author. Poring over my Beinecke loot, I think that perhaps Van Vechten was right to address his scrapbook viewers as “you.” My fascination makes me feel as complicit in the making of the albums as the people who sent their sexual poems to “Carlo.” Wood calls Van Vechten “visionary;” he certainly planned for the albums to cause a scandal. “Yale may not think so, but it’ll be just jolly,” he promises on one page. “Carl had a penchant for shocking people,” says Willis. He would have loved to see me fidget in my stiff Beinecke chair.

Photo by: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Van Vechten Collection

Real to Reel

At 10 a.m. on February 15, precocious teenagers and under-employed young adults from across Connecticut began to convene en masse in front of New Haven’s BAR restaurant. Most of the women seemed to have applied Sephora’s entire make-up and perfume inventory prior to the pilgrimage. Some fumbled in handbags for tissues, while others smoked pink and turquoise packs of Camel ultralights. The fur protruding from their coats was on par with the décor of a Ukrainian hunting lodge. The smattering of men compensated for their low numbers with a variety of testosterone-dripping accessories: Energy drinks emblazoned with “No Fear” decals, abundant and unpredictably located facial piercings, pants covered in NBA team logos.

Arriving at the queue at half past noon, I felt a distinct lack of camaraderie emanating from the assembled masses. Though I had bleached and gelled my widow’s peak and thrown on a tracksuit, I was anxious. Fear and loathing hung like Axe body spray in the chill winter air. But this unease was understandable. We were all competing for the same thing. We all wanted to be cast in MTV’s The Real World, Season 21.

Every kid blessed with television access during the past ten years harbors some form of Jungian collective consciousness based on a clip montage from this show. We may go years without a relapse, but those images—scenes of hot-tub fondlings, of Ruthie collapsing naked in the shower during the second Hawaii episode —linger in the corners of our brains like kidney stones waiting to dislodge. When I first heard about the New Haven casting call, it had been years since I watched The Real World. But, right on schedule, some unchecked, histrionic af- finity for broadcasting myself into millions of American homes began to blossom in my gut. Fame was calling. I had to call back.

After waiting about an hour in the cold, listening to a GMC Suburban pulsate Hot9 while parked running on the curb, I was called inside. The space teemed with chatty people in hats. Sitting at a wooden table with a pack of girls, I was handed an application, a pen, and a beer cozy advertising Larry the Cable Guy’s new film, Witless Protection. Across from me, several ladies who appeared to have only recently hit puberty strategized about how to best fill out the form.

“What’s my best quality?” asked one. “You’re honest,” replied her friend. “What’s my worst quality?” continued the first. “You’re kind of a bitch.”

Finally, my table was summoned to the back of the restaurant for a group interview. “Tell us your most embarrassing moment,” demanded the casting director. Someone, apparently, had fallen off of a guardrail while trying to have sex with a homeless person. Another had peed in her pants before a stadium full of Lenny Kravitz fans. After another 15 minutes of heinous personal anecdotes, we were told to sum up our personalities with one word before leaving.

“I’m a freak!” declared the first girl. “I’m promiscuous!” yelled the second. Faced with the prospect of condensing my twenty years of life into one or two syllables, I choked. All around me, mascaraswathed eyes stared like bats in a damp cave. The casting director clicked her nails against the table.

Finally, the moment of truth: “I’m…single?”

Ben Lasman is a sophomore in Berkeley College.

The Family We Choose

On Sunday, December 2, at the Central Veterinary Hospital in New Haven, there are few patients and a lot of bodies. “It’s just been sad lately,” Danielle, a vet technician, says with a tired sigh in the open “Emergency Care” area in the hospital’s basement. “It’s ’cause the holidays are coming,” she admits, and, before I can open my mouth, she turns back to her computer. I don’t understand the connection.

Inside the bright, linoleum emergency care area, a silver boom box on a shelf next to a swaying test tube tray has been playing holiday songs, one after another, all day long. “Let Your Day Be Merry.” “Winter Wonderland.” “Let it Snow.” “White Christmas.” Outside, the first snow of the year—or freezing rain, rather—is falling in the early dusk. “Between Thanksgiving and Christmas we do a lot of euthanasia,” Dr. Kris Grau says, picking up on my confusion. “Every year.”

“Why?” I ask. Over the course of one day, I have seen seven hypodermic needles filled with a hot pink liquid, and seven dead pets carried (if a cat) or wheeled on a cart (if a dog) down the hallway. I’ve seen three of them euthanized myself: “Dusty,” “Kitten,” and “Celeste.” We seem to take more lives during the holidays, it occurs to me later. Our own, as suicide rates notoriously climb every year with the approach of the New Year, and—as I discover anecdotally—our pets’. Suicide statistics garner attention, I think, because we believe we understand them. The grating, unrelenting cheer of the season, the out-of-hand materialism, the stress of family gatherings, the weight of that annual charge to fix our flaws, hit us all in varying degrees.

But pets? During a lull in activity at the hospital, I demand an explanation, and nurses Linda, Mary, and Trudy gather around to offer a few theories. Visiting relatives make owners reevaluate the hassles of caring for an unhealthy pet. Big dogs do poorly in cold weather. “It’s the end of the year,” says Mary, shrugging. “On to new things.” No one can offer anything more certain than that. While human euthanasia floats in the realm of Op-Ed pages, political posturing, and passionate public debate, its animal counterpart is much more matter-of-fact, sitting in a box of vials under the syringes. And the blunt possibility of euthanasia in the pet world makes the discussion of death almost unrecognizably different. Right-to-die advocates portray human euthanasia as an alternative to the arrogance of the medical profession—the right to do what nature will shortly do anyway. For pets, the arrogance runs the other way, as we assume the duty of deciding when the suffering should stop.

For most pet owners, the first step to the animal hospital comes when they notice something’s wrong. Thomas Mason and his young son were walking their nine-week-old American Bulldog, Dusty, along Long Beach in Branford, when Dusty sniffed a mushroom and gobbled up another. Mr. Mason assured his son that Dusty, whom they’d brought home just two weeks earlier, would be fine. A day later, Dusty was shaking and couldn’t stand up. She started to have seizures in the car on the way to the hospital. Preparing to start on morning rounds with three other vets, Dr. Laura McKay asks, “Do you want to start with the sad or not so sad?” The consensus is sad, and Dusty is the first stop. Dr. McKay rattles off her stats. Activated Clotting Time (ACT) above 4000. Ammonia up. Glucose in the toilet. “This mushroom has fun nicknames,” she says, “like death angel, destroyer angel.” Dusty’s liver is failing. “A single mushroom can kill a small child,” she concludes. We look and coo once more as Dusty raises her wrinkly infant head. We move on.

A few hours later in a small office off the central ER area, Dr. Grau hangs up the phone with Poison Control and makes a pouty face. “In humans, we’d do a liver transplant,” Dr. Grau says, “but we haven’t gotten there for the animal world yet.”

The line between pet and child often blurs for the serious animal lover, and the Animal Hospital is one place where this feeling is understood. “I deal with the same thing with my daughter,” Dr. Grau says, commiserating with an owner whose pug, Brittany, has allergies. Brittany is wearing a rainbow sweater and has been dragging her “girly parts” across the living room floor. As she follows behind her daughter’s epileptic golden retriever, another woman half-jokes to me, “My granddaughter!” In the hospital files, patients are given their owners’ last names: “Ruby” Patterson, or “Braveheart” Fucci. “We began to long for the pitter patter of little feet,” reads a quote on a calendar hanging in the office, “so we bought a dog. Well, it’s cheaper, and you get more feet.” At home, I have caught my mom calling out my name to our ten-year-old Bernese Mountain Dog, Marilla, “by accident.”

The distance between this hospital’s patients and the human world, however, reveals itself in the ER. “Oh, man, this is disgusting,” Dr. McKay says as she lacerates a cyst on the back of a black cat. “You smell terrible!” she continues as she works, saying something no pediatrician would ever dare in front of a client. “Look, this cat’s been snorting coke,” Linda jokes, holding down a black cat with white flecks around its nose, as another nurse gives him a shot. Pets’ inability to communicate their hurts only makes their mothers and fathers more dependent on hospital staff. As Dr. Grau and I enter room after room to meet with shaken owners and their sick or hurt or dying pets, I keep expecting the owners to glare at me for intruding at such a personal time. Instead, as soon as we enter, I become invisible. The patients might patter over to sniff me, size me up, or wag a tail, but the eyes of the owners immediately seize on Dr. Grau, waiting to hear her words, as if from a prophet. “Pete does have plenty of stool in him,” Dr. Grau tells Frank Hardy, a middle aged man brimming with emotion. “I knew it!” he responds, throwing his hands up in the air. Dr. Grau speaks with the soothing voice of a kindergarten teacher. She explains what she has found. “He’s got keystones in his urine,” she says, “which means Pete has diabetes.” Next she offers her advice for treatment, ending by emphasizing that “right now we want to get Petey feeling better first, before anything else.”

“That’s wonderful,” Hardy nods, keeping it together, and follows her out of the room to look at Petey’s X-rays. dr. grau enters check-up room four, where my mother and I sit waiting. She closes the door gently behind her. She wears blue scrubs over a plump but sturdy frame, and her dark hair is pulled back from her warm face in a ponytail. Dr. Grau, as I find out a few weeks later, loves emergency veterinary work, lunch, and laughing. “I didn’t do it!” she exclaims, and then giggles, whenever a doctor or nurse calls her name from across the room. When it’s getting close to two and lunch hasn’t been ordered, she mock-shouts, “Never keep a fat girl from her lunch!” A heartfelt “that sucks” is her refrain for all the lows of the day, from discouraging blood test results to a cat just put down. She is the caring, competent elementary school teacher in the check up room, with an endearing penchant for naughty PG humor behind closed doors. My first trip to the animal hospital was on November 11, when I called my mom about an Othello paper and found her choking back sobs on the other end. “She just collapsed,” she said of Marilla. A neighbor had helped lift Marilla’s seventy- pound frame into the back of our Volvo station wagon, and my mom had rushed her to the animal hospital just a few blocks away.

In the parking lot, Marilla managed to get out of the car herself, and my mom wondered if she had overreacted. Inside, however, the vet technician lifted up Marilla’s black lips and pronounced, “She has grey gums.” Grey gums mean profuse internal bleeding. As the technician whisked Marilla away to the ER, the receptionist pushed a form in front of my mom. “Sign here,” she said, “to begin emergency treatment.” The news so far sounded grim. “I don’t know what to do,” my mom whispered over the phone. So I put down my paper and drove to the hospital a few miles away, to see Marilla for perhaps the last time, and, in a rare moment, to comfort my mom, instead of the other way around. “I need to tell you exactly what’s going on,” Dr. Grau says, her no-non sense tone powerful and soothing. “Then we can talk about what decisions you might need to make.” Dr. Grau delivers information in calm, digestible chunks. Marilla is bleeding into her abdomen and has a large mass there; the prognosis for these situations is never good. If the mass is confined to her spleen, the non-boardcertified surgeon on call can remove it. If it’s on her liver, “he won’t be able to deal with it.” But he won’t know until he opens her up, because Marilla’s internal bleeding blurs X-rays. An ultrasound would pinpoint the mass, but this hospital doesn’t have the equipment. We’d have to go to Norwalk, an hour’s drive away.

“But look,” she says finally, in a tried and true formula I later come to recognize. “There are some things we can do to just get a bit more of a handle. Get her stable. See where we are.” My mom and I nod, and Dr. Grau leaves. “Isn’t she wonderful?” my mom says hoarsely, and we are left sitting on the floor, stroking Marilla, who, besides breathing unevenly, seems perfectly fine. Marilla had the operation overnight, and the surgeon removed a grapefruit-sized tumor from her spleen. My mom did not blink at the $4,000 price tag of Marilla’s blood work, X-rays, surgery, and post-op recuperation. But many do. Money is a touchy, ever-present subject at the animal hospital. Less than a quarter of pet owners have medical insurance, and “most get it after they’ve had to spend a lot of money here,” says Tracy, a nurse who presents fi- nancial estimates to owners.

Dr. Grau does not hold back from judging owners’ tight-fisted behavior. “How would you like to get thrown twenty feet in the air and get sent home with some Tylenol?” Dr. Grau fumes to me when an owner decides to forgo treatment for a dog who has been hit by a car. But she also spends much of her time reassuring owners that sometimes euthanasia is the best—even if not the only—option. Around this time, I realize we could have put Marilla to sleep then and there and no one would have raised an eyebrow. “If you need someone to say, ‘Is this OK to do?’ I’m here to say—‘It is,’” Dr. Grau says quietly on the phone to Mr. O’Brien (whose name has been changed), whose cat, “Kitten,” has a bladder full of stones for the third time. O’Brien decided to operate the first two times at two thousand dollars a pop. Now Dr. Grau talks about quality of life, not only the pet’s but the family’s. She reminds him that medicine offers “no guarantee,” and then concludes, “I don’t mean to sound crude, but there are so many cats in this world that need a home that don’t have chronic medical problems.” Pets are the family we choose, as a common saying goes, and Dr. Grau understands the hardnosed truth about choosing as much as the part about family.

“Are you ready?” “Yeah.” George Mason wears a puffy vest and sweatpants and talks with tough guy attitude, but as Dr. Grau inserts the needle he looks up at the ceiling to hold back tears, stroking Dusty’s four-pound body. I keep my eyes on Dusty. She seems al- most prenatal, too translucent, wrinkled, and small for this world. Her eyes droop closed, and she looks like a Victorian image of death, peaceful and asleep, as if her time on earth were just a brief, harmless dream. Dr. Grau checks for a heartbeat.

“Okay, she’s gone,” she murmurs. “I’m so sorry.” Mason lowers his head and gravity takes over. The tears roll down his cheeks. Dr. Grau asks if he wants to spend more time with Dusty’s still-warm body. “No, no,” Mason mumbles, wiping his eyes and sniffling. “It’s not weird,” Dr. Grau says, piercing the strange air of transition from family member to dead animal that fills the room. “I know, I know,” Mason says a bit defensively. “But I’m fine.” He lifts his baseball cap up and down a few times and trudges down the hallway to the exit. Downstairs, Dr. Grau lays Dusty on a stainless steel table. “The cremation service does a pick-up once a day,” she says, and then walks away. With Dr. Grau gone, I run my hand over Dusty. “It’s not weird,” I think, and feel relieved.

The next day, a cat screams for his life. Mr. O’Brien and his 11-year-old daughter, Isabelle, stand in the check-up room. As soon as Dr. Grau enters, Isabelle starts bawling fiercely. Kitten sits on the table. He is a Halloween cat, his black fur so lustrous and dark it appears a silvery blue as it catches the light, and his eyes are two large yellow globes. He looks alert and vigorous.

Owners have several choices to make when putting down a pet: Whether or not to be present for the euthanasia, whether to cremate the body or take it home to bury. Bodies can be cremated individually and returned, or cremated en masse. As Isabelle continues to sob, Mr. O’Brien delivers his family’s answer: They don’t want to be present for Kitten’s death, but they do want his body to bury at home. “I just want to let you know, I treat each animal like it’s my own,” Dr. Grau says as she scoops up Kitten. In the hubbub of the open ER downstairs, a few nurses offer Kitten some cat food in a red and white cardboard container, a miniature version of the containers Cape Cod restaurants use to serve fried clams or steamers. Kitten sniffs the food and turns away. “Oh come on, it’s your last meal!” Dr. Grau begs. Kitten refuses. “Shhhh, pretty baby, it’s okay,” Linda coos as she holds Kitten’s body down. Dr. Grau inserts the needle, and suddenly Kitten spits and screams. Not a howl or a hiss or any other word we use to describe non-human noises, but a real scream, eerily high-pitched and otherworldly. He fights to turn his head back to his leg, where Dr. Grau is pushing the liquid through the needle. His body shakes. Finally, he goes limp.

Dr. Grau and Linda look weary. I am shocked. Trudy picks up the body. “Now, don’t you dare pee on me!” Trudy warns as her under five-foot frame struggles to carry Kitten’s weight. “Trudy, he’s not going to pee on you!” Linda says, leaning on the metal operating table. “Oh, yeah,” Trudy chuckles, heaving Kitten’s body into a cardboard box. “I forgot.” Kitten’s head flops over the side of the box. Trudy pushes it back in.

When I was in second grade, my parents got a divorce. In retaliation, I gave an ultimatum to my mom: We get a dog or I get my ears pierced. I wanted a dog— more than an-y-thing—but if the answer was no, as it had been for months and months, I just had to do something. This tactic did not budge her, so I threw a fit. I cried and cried and grew hysterical until finally I quieted down, and said, in the argument my mom still recalls as the one that shifted the tide, “Mama. You are thinking of this dog as just a burden. But the truth is, you will love her, and then she won’t feel like a burden at all.” I offered my own presence in her life as an example.

I brought Marilla into our lives, and though I still love her dearly, she now matters more to my mom than to me. I am about to graduate college, and I feel on the cusp of my adult life. Marilla is at home. After her surgery, Dr. Grau sent a chunk of Marilla’s excised tumor to a specialist. It was malignant. A rough prognosis gives Marilla another four months; with chemotherapy, perhaps a year.

When I am home for dinner one night, Marilla rests her chin on my feet under the table. We are trying to weigh, as a family, the pain of chemotherapy for Marilla against our own desire to have her around for as long as we can. And, of course, we cannot consult her in the decision. I lean down, stroke her ear, and her tail whaps against the tile floor. Her wishes are only as we imagine them.

All I can firmly glean from my time at the Animal Hospital is that I want to be there when Marilla is euthanized. I don’t care what happens to her body.

Sophia Lear is a senior in Ezra Stiles College.

Living on the Edge

Yale’s twelve residential colleges are arranged in concentric rings around the University’s core, each facing the central axis of Old Campus, Cross Campus, and Commons. The colleges along the University’s eastern and western rims, sitting with their backs exposed to the city, are encircled by waves of urban development. Morse and Ezra Stiles are overlooked by Payne Whitney Gymnasium from across the arc of Tower Parkway. Rows of Park Street student apartments, Lynwood fraternities, and Howe Street restaurants border Pierson and Davenport. Silliman and Timothy Dwight rest on a long arm of polished downtown office buildings and shops stretching up Church Street. On the streets surrounding every college, from every side, facades are maintained, stores abound, and the shared economic life of Yale and New Haven is, by any reasonable measure, thriving.

But even Yale’s most self-assured cheerleaders of progress do not expect this to be the case for Yale’s planned 1 th and 14th colleges. These colleges, slated for a large triangle wedged between Prospect on one end, Canal and the Grove Street Cemetery on the second, and Sachem on the third, will sit alongside an undeveloped corner of New Haven, an area which campus planners refer to as Lower Hillhouse, and which promises very little opportunity for economic growth. Heading past the corner of the destined triangle currently occupied by Mudd Library, onto a segment of Sachem that will be steps from a student’s room in future years, and across a desolate stretch of empty lots and chain-link fences, one encounters the only unit of retail within blocks: Paolillo’s Service Center, a claustrophobic blue automobile supply store advertising two varieties of antifreeze and several name brand coolants in its window. By the admission of Michael Morand, Yale’s dapper associate vice president of New Haven and State Affairs, “If you look at this area now, there’s not a lot of service retail.” And, if Morand is to be believed, very few shops and restaurants will be enticed to join Paolillo’s even after the colleges are completed. “I wouldn’t oversell the retail implications of the new colleges,” he says. “Students don’t have much purchasing power.”

This entire neighborhood’s negligible appeal for future businesses and students is something that Morand and the University have made little effort to deny. Instead, officials have ignored the problem publicly, perhaps because they realize that the truth may be a bitter pill for students and alumni to swallow: In the face of the University’s most important expansion in half a century, the strategies which, for 15 years, Yale and New Haven have jointly and successfully employed to attract wealth, revitalization, and investment to the city will, it appears, hit their limit. it is difficult to underestimate the in- fluence Yale is unwilling—or unable—to use to transform Lower Hillhouse. Yale’s engine of economic growth has no doubt been responsible for dramatic changes in the New Haven business-scape during the past decade and a half. Perceptions of town-gown conflict aside, the mayor’s administration recognizes the perks of hosting a world class university.

“It’s beneficial for us being in a college town,” explains Kelly Murphy, New Haven’s economic development administrator. “I think the relationship between Mayor DeStefano and President Levin is very good. What’s good for the city is good for Yale, and what’s good for Yale is good for the city.” Yale’s primary economic strength emanates from the fact that as a university, it is highly resistant to economic recessions. Yale attracts thousands of students, faculty, and staff to the city, bringing about half a million visitors to New Haven annually. The University, in turn, inoculates the areas around it, injecting local businesses such as support services, research, and particularly construction, with regular investments. University employees, who enjoy job and income security, spend their earnings on retail in the area. In 2000, the University estimated that it directly contributed almost a billion dollars to the metro area economy that year; its indirect impact was considerably greater. To New Haven’s benefit, Yale is a magnet for investment. “A lot of people outside of the area may not know New Haven,” Murphy says. “But they know Yale.”

National businesses, from the forthcoming American Apparel on Broadway to Pfizer in its immaculate $ 5 million clinical research facility next to the School of Medicine, regularly approach Yale to consider leasing University property. Yale frequently rebuffs such requests and, according to Karyn Gilvarg, a member of Murphy’s economic development team, puts its suitors in contact with the city. “When developers are interested, they send them our way,” Gilvarg says, explaining that this sort of “anecdotal” support can be extremely valuable. Sometimes Yale can catalyze a project merely by contributing its prestige. The Omni Hotel on Temple Street was redeveloped once Yale agreed to attach its name to the project, creating the Omni New Haven Hotel at Yale. “Something seemingly intangible like that,” says Gilvarg, “can have a major impact.”

Yale creates the greatest ripple effect, however, when it says yes to developers. On Broadway, the crown jewel of New Haven’s revitalization, Yale first started buying properties and upgrading the street’s physical appearance more than ten years ago. Working with the city, Yale used its business relationships and prestige to entice tenants such as J. Crew and Urban Outfitters. Scott Healy, executive director of the Town Green Special Services District, a semi-independent development agency funded directly by property owners, calls these national chains “retail anchors in downtown.” Once the first chains had signed on, the dominoes began to fall. A full complement of businesses quickly emerged in what the University now proudly calls its “retail district.” Change was felt as far away as the Marriott on Whalley Avenue. The hotel chain moved into a building adjacent to campus but not owned by the University. Morand refers to this type of development as the “catalytic impact.”

When Yale expands, benefits rebound back to the city. Property taxes from developments fill the city’s coffers and outercity residents come downtown to spend their money. Moreover, small businesses, whose role in the downtown economy has largely been slipping in recent years, have come to fill a niche created by the big business Yale brings to the city. Walter Esdaile, director of New Haven’s Small Business Initiative, explains that, though Yale development has prevented the rise of certain types of small businesses, it has opened the door for others. “It’s tougher for a lot of our smaller guys to step into the Yale standard, let’s put it that way,” he says, referring to locally owned shops in prime Yale areas. But for local construction contractors and support services, Yale provides a steady stream of business. This dynamic is one component of a powerful partnership that has achieved a great deal when President Levin and Mayor DeStefano have pointed it in a mutually benefi- cial direction.

Lower Hillhouse, it appears, is no such direction. Yale and New Haven’s current development plans include no mention of transforming this quiet and somewhat dilapidated residential area—“a good American neighborhood,” in Morand’s careful construction—into a new center of commerce that those affiliated with and attracted to Yale might actually patronize. New Haven is not prioritizing the neighborhood for development, and Yale has either kept silent about its dissatisfaction or is simply indifferent. Whatever the reason, “sustained cooperation” between DeStefano and Levin, which Morand and so many others credit with being the first step toward change in the city, is not forthcoming for this neighborhood.

Instead, the City and the University have more or less agreed to focus on an entirely different part of town. DeStefano recently laid out New Haven’s long term development aims according to a $1.5 billion agenda he calls the “Future Framework.” Bearing his PowerPoint gospel to City Hall meetings, DeStefano explained that he wanted to see “urban infill” around the downtown area by converting the unsightly Route 4 highway into an urban boulevard and connecting the Medical District and Union Station to downtown proper. Murphy later amplified the mayor’s philosophy: “New Haven is a fully developed city, basically, within our borders…the idea is stitching the city together.”

It is a bold and exciting mission, and one to which the University is also devoting much of its attention. Since April of 2000, when Yale published “A Framework for Campus Planning,” its blueprint for future development, the University has been looking to achieve a goal constantly repeated in the document: “improved connections among Yale’s three campuses,” identified as Central Campus, the Medical Center, and the Athletic Fields. Morand, echoing DeStefano, says the University’s aim is “extending the vitality of downtown” by connecting the University’s core with the train station and the Medical Center. Yale is doubly interested in fostering development around the Medical School in order to create a “thriving biotechnology industry in New Haven,” according to Jon Soderstrom, managing director of the Office of Cooperative Research. The OCR, which works closely with Morand’s office, is hoping that such an industry will help to attract and retain faculty by offering research opportunities. For these reasons, the area between Central Campus and the Medical School has been lavished with enormous attention.

The city is building a new high school and accompanying retail space, the University is leasing property at 00 George Street to fill vacant lots, and the dean of the Medical School is constantly negotiating with outside developers. The University has committed eight million dollars to a new Economic Development Corporation run jointly by the City and Yale to provide an independent impetus for downtown development.

The only area anywhere near Lower Hillhouse that attracts this type of joint attention is Science Park, off Prospect Street near Marsh Hall, a hub of technology businesses of interest to the City and Yale for many of the same reasons that Yale is encouraging biotechnology near the Medical School. Should development in Science Park begin to attract retail as Morand hopes, it will not do students in the new colleges much good; it is still far enough away that they might as well walk over to Audubon.

Even if Yale wanted to develop Lower Hillhouse itself, it is not clear how it would proceed. For one thing, the University controls little property beyond the ten million dollar corner of the Prospect- Sachem-Canal triangle it purchased from the City. “There really isn’t any that we own. The current space we have wouldn’t lend itself to [retail],” Morand says, referring to the Rose Center, a beautiful community education center run by Yale about a block past the proposed site of the colleges, a Yale police station, and a Bristol Street building even farther away which the University purchased, cleaned up, and sold to Beulah Land Development Corporation. These developments have resulted, in part, from a subdued push over the last several years to clean up an area that has served as an occasional student route between Swing Space and Science Hill.

That a rehabilitation project begun in tandem with the 199 construction of Swing Space has achieved so little tangible progress is perhaps indicative of the University’s minimal influence in the neighborhood. Since most of the remaining property consists of private homes, it is unlikely that Yale will be able to acquire much of it. Furthermore, the closest the third building on the proposed site of the colleges—which will likely be filled with classrooms and performance spaces—will come to retail space is a late-night café. “I think it’s doubtful,” Morand says of commercial development within the colleges. “It’s not a priority for anyone that the colleges themselves include retail.”

Those who accept that the University is unlikely to single-handedly remake the neighborhood—an undoubtedly dif- ficult goal, given that past developments have generally required cooperation with the Mayor’s Office—hold out hope that the market alone will spur development. Greg Morehead, the Ward 22 alderman who represents the area, explains that residents are almost universally enthusiastic about the prospect of the colleges. Many, Morehead included, hope that some modest development will follow. “I don’t think [it will be] necessarily attracted by the colleges,” he concedes. “But it’s going to be a plus. If there are no restaurants in the area, some will be attracted by the colleges.” Morand also believes, despite his doubts about student purchasing power as a draw for commerce, that businesses will respond in some way to the influx of several hundred new residents.

Healy offers a more damning assessment. “There are no commercial corridors close enough to the proposed site of the colleges to see any influx of new commerce,” he says. “It’s possible, though, that commercial demand will grow organically, providing incentive for the development of storefronts in the area.” But Healy guesses that the most probable commercial influx will be in the form of food pushcarts. perhaps, ultimately, development of the Lower Hillhouse area will be unnecessary for students in the new colleges. They will be three minutes’ walking distance from the nearest stores on Whitney, and President Levin has endorsed the College Study Groups’ recommendations that the University enhance security in the area and provide regular transportation between the new additions and the rest of campus (the center of which is, after all, only three blocks away). The University may even consider new retail on the first floor of the Becton Center.

But, in the absence of commercial development, life for students who live in the new colleges will be crucially different from student life in every other residential college. While the others are cloistered not only within the University itself but also within the most thriving and inviting parts of the city, the new colleges will jut into an area in which students will have little reason ever to set foot.

The new colleges might pierce the Yale bubble, placing students side-by-side with a good American neighborhood. In this way, the University may finally realize its 2000 Framework objective of “blending campus edges with surrounding neighborhoods.” But if students end up more isolated and inconvenienced than their peers, they might find themselves wishing that the University, somewhere in its Study Group document or official deliberations, had planned to place their new home somewhere they might actually want to live.

Mitch Reich is a junior in Pierson College.

Class Consciousness

It begins with a blue book.

Each July, reluctant hands flip through pulpy pages. Corners are folded, pages are marked, highlighters run dry. At the end of summer, every moment is bittersweet, but the arrival of the Yale College course catalog heralds the end.

Except for freshmen. I remember my first Blue Book, dog-eared within hours and scrawled full of marginalia within the week. I declined Directed Studies that summer, deciding I had too many choices to be directed.

Instead, I applied for a freshman seminar. A small class had three chief virtues in my mind: It would allow me to get to know a professor the way I’d known my high-school teachers, it would introduce me to freshmen with similar interests, and it would point me down a track toward a major, or not. I picked “Revolutionary America,” taught by Jon Butler, dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. A big name, a big topic, a big disappointment: I was rejected in August.

Butler, I learned this week, is short and grey-bearded. His voice is lilting, and when he’s excited, he giggles. He reminds me of my grandfather, except my grandfather is not a world-famous historian. Though Butler is “too busy dean-ing” to teach a lecture on religion and modern America, the topic that made him famous, he is teaching it as a freshman seminar. This is a major loss for the upperclassmen who would have filled his lecture hall. After all, his seminar garners glowing reviews year after year: “It was personal and real,” one effusive freshman writes. “Having an opportunity to learn with teh [sic] Dean of the Grad School is priceless,” exclaims another. “He truly helped improve my writing and has made me a better student in the process.” Asked if he or she would recommend the course to others, one freshman notes, “I already have. Unfortunately, none of them can take it because they’re not going to be freshmen again.”

To Butler, such accolades are the highest form of praise. He is not merely the professor of one of the most popular freshman seminars, but the person who catalyzed the program’s creation six years ago. Butler served as a member of the Committee on Yale College Education (CYCE), which convened in 2001 to “assess the adequacy of the current undergraduate program and to consider changes and improvements.” It was he who suggested that the College take a new approach to educating freshmen, and it was he who taught the first freshman seminar in the fall of 2002.

That seminar was “Revolutionary America,” the class I triple-underlined in green highlighter two years later. When Butler first offered it, he admits he was offering it as a test case to prove that the format could work. “I probably wasn’t the right person to do it,” he says with a laugh. “I had a bit of a vested interest.” After an underwhelming start in 2002, when only 1 students showed up for the first day of class—“no one knew quite what it was, so the registrar had assigned the course to a lecture hall”—the course developed a reputation. One year later, 55 freshmen crowded into a seminar room eager to sign up.

While no one doubted that Butler’s seminar would find success, a single stellar seminar does not make a program. Freshman seminars, however, have achieved success in their own right. Their small size and twice-weekly meetings nurture relationships among students and faculty. Their interactive dynamic encourages freshmen to engage in their own education. “This isn’t Math 112,” says Dean of Freshman Affairs George Levesque, who runs the program. “You’re having an actual conversation.”

Six years after Butler’s test run, as the program faces its first full evaluation, the freshman seminar experiment has only one glitch: too many freshman eager to take too few courses.

In 2004, the college offered 16 seminars, with room for just under three hundred freshmen to enroll. This year, there are 2—enough to seat one third of the class of 2011. Add that to the Directed Studies and Perspectives on Science populations —the three programs are mutually exclusive—and that figure rises to almost 50 percent.

Nonetheless, plenty of freshmen are left out. This year, over eight hundred freshmen applied for just under five hundred seminar seats, despite the dean’s office’s avowed desire to create a space for every interested student. At liberal arts colleges scattered throughout the country, the idea that only half of all freshmen take a single small class would be laughable. But first-years in the freshman seminar program, Directed Studies, and Perspectives on Science are not the only ones experiencing the intimacy of the classroom.

The English, mathematics, and language departments have offered small introductory classes for decades. A few years ago, even the economics department, which is not known for its attention to pedagogy, added a small, lottery-based alternative to its large introductory lectures.

Still, the overwhelmingly enthusiastic response from students in freshman seminars seems to indicate that the program is unique. “Among students, I think the satisfaction rate is probably 85, 90 percent,” Levesque estimates. Asked to evaluate the classes at term’s end, freshmen describe their seminars with exclamations like “awesome” and “TAKE IT!” Many freshmen ask their seminar professors to serve as second-year advisors. Associate Dean Penelope Laurans, who converted a longstanding poetry course to a freshman seminar in 2005, estimates that 1 of her freshmen students from last spring now come to her for academic advice.

Loyal converts include not just students but professors. Of this year’s 2 seminars, 2 are taught by professors who are returning to teach a second course or to repeat a first. These names, which include physicist Peter Parker and jack-ofall- trades Bill Summers, are among Yale’s most notable; almost all have tenure and several have won teaching awards. All agree that the program has become one of Yale’s finest commitments to its students. “The pedagogical value of these seminars to freshmen is very clear,” says German Professor Emeritus Cyrus Hamlin, who taught a seminar on German culture using the Beinecke Library’s collections in 2004. “In freshman year, a genuine intellectual transformation takes place.” Hamlin retired in 2005 but is considering returning in two years to teach another freshman seminar.

Butler is pleased. “Faculty have come up to me and said, ‘This is the best teaching experience I have ever had. Period,’” he said. “I think the program’s working.” The doubts expressed by CYCE members, which centered on concern that the expanding program would eventually run out of interested faculty members, have largely dissipated.

The program has also had a positive effect on first-year advising. “The advising system needs an overhaul,” says Levesque. “The hope for freshman seminars is that students and faculty develop long-term relationships.” Sighing, he continues: “I don’t think the freshman seminar program alone can solve that problem, but it’s seemed to provide a much more organic way for freshmen to get to know faculty members.”

Hamlin’s experience proves the point. His seminar, which required a reading knowledge of German, consisted of only eight freshmen—and he has kept up with many. “I loved the attention that we got, says senior Janice Wong, a molecular biochemist who took the class. Intrigued by the material, she continued to study with Hamlin as a sophomore and spent the following summer studying abroad in Germany. Hamlin’s colleague, German Professor Carol Jacobs, is just as happy to have contributed to the program. “My experience teaching a freshman seminar was exhilarating,” she says. “In no other seminar I’ve taught at Yale have I seen students grow as much as in that semester.” But the recent signs of stabilization portend difficulties of their own. Growth has slowed: Last year’s seminars were followed by this year’s 2.

“We’re at a plateau right now,” admits Levesque. Nevertheless, he is excited to shepherd the program into its fifth year. Several notable faculty will teach new freshman seminars, including John Gaddis, who will lead a course entitled “How History Teaches”; others will return. But as the program attempts to continue its growth, it faces the challenges that come with provoking entrenched academic structures.

One obstacle is the program’s reluctance to engage junior faculty members. The vast majority of freshman seminar professors are, like Gaddis, tenured or tenure- track faculty with long records of service to the University and reputations as devoted teachers. Such a teaching force is one of the program’s strengths, of course, and Dean Levesque’s office has resisted the temptation to fill holes with non-ladder faculty who might not be around for four continuous years to develop the sort of long-lasting relationships the program is meant to inspire. But the fact that only eight of this year’s 2 seminars are taught by ladder faculty still working to achieve tenure—a demographic which dominates the college’s teaching corps—suggests that the program’s strength also diminishes its ability to expand.

Junior faculty remain largely disinterested in the program. The primary culprit is the incentive structure created by the academy’s so-called tenure ladder. “Tenured faculty often have more flexibility in what they can do,” says Levesque. “For a lot of them, teaching a freshman seminar is a welcome opportunity to do something new.” Junior faculty, on the other hand, confronted with the pressure to publish, often need to gravitate toward large lectures and advanced seminars. The former require little in the way of course design, and the latter are more helpful in advancing one’s own research. Under a system that subordinates teaching skills to publishing prowess, the freshman seminar program is butting up against a teacher shortage.

Other challenges may not be intractable —just expensive. “I don’t know that we’ll be able to get beyond this plateau without significant additional resources,” Levesque states. Funding, which is beginning to stream in from committed alumni donors, could be directed to one of two areas: Either to a long-term investment in administrative support or to understaffed academic departments. The first need is clear: Levesque and a single assistant oversee not only the freshman seminar program, but also freshman counseling, pre-orientation programs, and first-year advising. Additional funding could hire a full-time seminar coordinator and build a training program for professors who wish to teach but do not feel pedagogically prepared to teach freshmen.

Donating the funds directly to academic departments is more complex and ties into an issue addressed in the recent report on Yale College expansion: The alleviation of pressures within individual departments, particularly in the social sciences. For example, the incredibly popular political science department has offered only three freshman seminars since 2004, and all were in the program’s first two years. “We simply don’t have the faculty,” said Political Science Professor Susan Stokes, the department’s director of undergraduate studies. Departments as strapped as political science must save their seminar resources for upperclassmen.

Still, Levesque suggests that an increase in freshman seminar funding could alleviate one deficiency while also helping to solve the other. “With more resources,” says Levesque, “we could work with departments to find creative solutions to staffing needs.” One approach—shared by several of Yale’s peer institutions—would be a permanent endowment that would compensate Yale departments for teaching time, allowing them to hire visiting or full-time faculty to fill programmatic needs. By contributing funding to the departmental pot, the program could secure a commitment from individual departments to offer a small number of freshman seminars each year.

Butler, for one, is skeptical. “I’d say we need to expand the faculty in political science,” he says. “If we can do that, we’ll have some room for freshman seminars. But I personally wouldn’t go for visiting people—and I think it’s most important that we grow political science to a decent size.” While Levesque prioritizes immediate challenges and Butler long-term obstacles, both agree that there are gaps to fill. The question is how—and when. yale’s peer institutions have grappled with, and largely resolved, similar problems. Harvard’s freshman seminar program traces its roots to the 1960s and has experienced something of a renaissance in the last five years. Its offerings have quadrupled in number, reaching 122 this year. “Departments were asked to look at giving freshman seminars as part of their overall curricular planning,” explains Sandra Naddaff, who directs the Harvard program. “That went a long way towards getting departments to offer seminars and to think about it as something that was part of their service to the college.” Roughly a third of Harvard seminars are taught by non-ladder faculty members, and another quarter are taught by professional school professors who are directly compensated by the program. “Harvard’s a bigger place—they have a lot more of those people running around,” notes Levesque. “We’ve always wanted to keep the program under departments’ control.”

Princeton’s freshman seminar program resembles a more developed version of Yale’s own. Most of this year’s 8 seminars are taught by senior faculty, including Toni Morrison, Joyce Carol Oates, and the college’s former provost, Amy Guttman. Moreover, since its inception in the late 1980s, the program’s financial structure has echoed Levesque’s ambitions. Roughly half of Princeton’s freshman seminars are funded directly by endowments, and the program reimburses departments for the teaching time contributed by their professors. Some of the endowment funds can also be used to subsidize activities like dinners, field trips, or summer continuations of certain courses.

If other Ivy League colleges can offer Yale’s freshman seminar program a lesson, it is the necessity of funding. Hamlin makes a blunt case: “Yale is rich. Lately, their endowment is doing so well that they ought to commit to staffing the freshman seminars in sufficient numbers such that any freshman who wants to take one, can.”

Four years ago, smarting from my rejection, I might have agreed. Though it would be nice to allow rejected applicants spaces in a seminar, the gap between supply and demand is not the only factor that influences scheduling. Students often drop classes they sign up for, leaving some seminars unfilled while others remain overbooked. Incoming freshmen who intend to pursue majors in science and math are particularly problematic, and those departments have resisted heavy participation in the program. The freshman seminar program may have expanded to just about its limit. Levesque, for his part, seems to be moving onto new challenges. “What would it be like to teach CHEM 114 in a thirty-person class?” he asks. In his eyes, freshman seminars are incubators of educational innovation rather than a one-size-fits-all solution.

“We have to accept that there is no perfect way to make every single freshman have a great experience,” says Laurans. Yale’s challenge in coming years will be to accept this reality, adjust to it, and still live up to the sky-high expectations of Blue Book-gripping freshmen in July.

Alex Hemmer is a senior in Morse College.

Espresso Self

There are hundreds of pens and pencils spread out on the table in front of Isaac Canady. They are a parade of plastic, of thin strips of color; some are metallic, and many look like they’ve seen better days. He stores them all in a large, battered Ziploc bag. These are his tools, collected carefully and painstakingly through the years, through homelessness and starvation, mental illness and hospitalization. He calls them tools because it is through them that he earns an income, unsteady as it may be. It is because of them that he has food to eat and a place to sleep. With these pens and pencils, he’s built himself a home.

Isaac’s work lines the windows of the Starbucks on the corner of Chapel and High streets. Simply rendered—almost primitive in form—the colorful drawings pique the interest of passersby. Isaac, a regular fixture at a corner table inside the store, is himself a curious sight, his long, thin body bent over his work as sunlight streams in around him, his fingers furiously dotting at the paper. His cheeks are sunken and his gaze is intense, focused. His clothes are drab but clean. He is completely, utterly engrossed in his work.

Isaac is 48 years old, but he started drawing just 15 years ago. He was in the hospital at the time—“I had a lot of…issues,” he says evasively, “a lot of anger and resentment.” Later, he clarifies: “I have a very abusive history—sexually, physically, emotionally. At the time, my mental health was falling to pieces, my marriage was falling to pieces. I had quit my job because I was so sick.” He and his wife owned a farmhouse on 99 acres of land in Oxford, Connecticut, but a few years after quitting his job he lost everything. His job, incidentally, was with the Connecticut Department of Mental Health. “I was in just as bad a predicament as the people I was treating,” he says, his hands tented around his mouth. So he had checked himself in. For four months, he had nothing but paper and a few pencils to relieve his boredom.

That drawing came naturally to Isaac was both expected and unexpected. He’d been involved in the arts since he was just a boy, but almost exclusively in the performing arts. He had started with piano, then moved on to sax, xylophone, and dance. But doodling during his hospital stay, Isaac found his passion. Sketching was also a way to channel and calm his anger. “I prayed to my higher power to help me with my issues, and little did I know he’d help me through my artistic ability. When I started doodling that’s exactly how the healing process took place,” he says. His art is abstract and organic, and wrought with symbolism: He uses pear-like shapes to represent women, roots for history and ancestry, and colors, lots of colors, to show the interconnectedness of people. “My work is not about blacks, it’s about all cultures. All of us have the same issues, the same problems.” Being able to safely express his emotions is therapeutic, but his art is also an exercise in self-restraint. “I do pointillism —my art form is pointillism—and it’s an art form that takes a lot of patience. And if you work hard at it, it develops patience.” Pointillism is a term he learned while homeless and drawing on the New Haven Green. “This woman came by one day and said, ‘You don’t know what you’re doing, do you?’ And I’m like, I’m doing art! And she’s like, ‘Yeah, but do you know what art form you’re doing?’ And I said no. And she said, ‘I’m going to write down a couple of things for you. You look it up. I’ll be by here again, you let me know what art form it is.’ And she wrote down Seurat, and a couple of other pointillists. Sure enough, I ran into her about a month later, and she said, ‘Did you find out?’ And I said, ‘Yes, it’s pointillism. Seurat is amazing.’ And he is!”

Isaac doesn’t talk much about his fouryear stint of homelessness. “I don’t want to say too much about it. Homelessness was…an inconvenience. It was frightening, because people view you as separate from society. It was sad at times—but I can’t say it was the most unhappiest time of my life. You know why? Because I’m so creative, I adapt to situations, I refuse to be miserable.” He carried his pens with him in a backpack everywhere he went, usually drawing on the Green, or in Starbucks if it was raining. Six years ago, Starbucks’ then-manager Rick Ford noticed how Isaac’s drawings drew people into the store. “I told him he could sit here and do his work, if he promised to get his act together. And he did,” Ford said.

Today, he has an apartment in Westville that he pays for by selling his drawings, and he’s thinking about going back to school. Maybe college, maybe art classes. He’s also considering finding another day job, although that possibility, he says, “scares the shit out of me.” In the old days, he was in Starbucks the minute it opened because he had nowhere else to be, but now he goes to museums every day, hangs out in other coffee shops (he particularly likes Koffee on Audubon), watches science fiction movies—and isn’t kicked out of a shelter at five in the morning. His daughter, Chiara Ocean Canady— just a baby when Isaac was in the hospital —goes to school at the Educational Center for the Arts and drops by Starbucks to visit him on her way home. She has long, curly black hair and a light, tan complexion—her mother is Italian—and though she moves with the shy awkwardness of a 15-year-old, she exudes self-con- fidence. “She’s so focused she scares me. I’m just waiting for all hell to break loose,” Isaac says proudly. “We talk a lot about how she can do whatever she wants, and doesn’t need a man for anything.” In a way, Isaac chose to be poor— chose, even, to be homeless. He recognized that he wasn’t happy with where he was in life and made a drastic decision to effect a change. Now, his art has begun to gain him recognition within the local community. He has sold drawings for as much as five hundred dollars and says that, because of the diversity of the people who congregate around Yale, his work has disseminated to countries all over the world.

But those sales are few and far between, and his prosperity is more psychological than financial. Still, though life is hard as a struggling artist—“I say struggling, not starving, although that’s part of it”— he’s happy. “If I die today, I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished. I thank God that I have the stick-to-it-iveness and the zeal and all that to keep going regardless of the money,” he says. “I truly believe that I will be a recognized artist one day, probably after I die. But I’m going to try to beat that, I’m going to try to do it while I’m living.” Digging his fingers into the pile before him, the plastic pens gently clicking in his hands, Isaac says, “I may be poor, but my work doesn’t have to look poor.” No longer collecting old pens off the street, he has added a few more expensive tools to his collection—India ink, some felt-tipped markers. But he still relies on his grimy ballpoints and gel pens and highlighters, because they are what he’s used to, because he knows how to wield them well, because he’s not the type to forget where he came from.

Laura Yao is a junior in Jonathan Edwards College.

Sketches of the Doodle

I picture the Yankee Doodle Coffee and Sandwich Shop as a predictably adorable American diner—it is warm inside, the coffee is oily, and a man in a paper sailor hat keeps refilling my cup. There are sticky leather seats and a chrome-lined counter and stains on the cook’s white apron. I eat French toast and drink chocolate milkshakes. There is music playing, and the background noises of a baseball game on the television. When I come in after class, the cook says, “Hey there, Rachel! How’re your studies?” In my imagination, I am a regular.

I have never been to the Yankee Doodle Diner and I guess I never will. I have passed it hundreds of times. The last time I walked by, the restaurant’s windows were covered from the inside with light blue paper. No one could claim its greasy food was good for the heart, but many believed it to be good for the soul. The Doodle was the sort of place that people loved to love, and it has become the sort of place that people love to save. Some Yale students treated a visit to its counters like a trip to a shrine or a temple. “Though I didn’t go a lot, when I did I always was glad of it and told myself I ought to go more,” says sophomore Joshua Silverstein, expressing the sort of guilt often felt by the sporadically religious. Like a sacred ritual, the Doodle represented a tie to the past. “It was so old school,” says Silverstein. “Pretty much the definition of old school.”

It seems that everyone has a Doodle story. “The first time was the best,” recalls Senior Ted Gordon. “My friends and I, freshman year, after pulling an all-nighter, vowed to eat breakfast at the Doodle as it opened at five or six in the morning. We walked over in the cold and ordered.” Others spin tales of gluttonous pride. On February 15, 1999, William Storbierski, who lives in the New Haven area, ate 25 hamburgers at the Doodle counter, earning a plaque on the restaurant’s walls. When another man beat his record several months later, Storbierski went back to the Doodle to reclaim his title.

But memorable and even periodic visits to the Doodle do not a regular make. Joe Gerhard, a New Haven resident since 1984 and a frequent fiddler at Anna Liffey’s, estimates that he’s eaten at the Doodle between one and two hundred times but claims that “if you do the math, you’ll see that number still wouldn’t be often enough to qualify me as one of the regulars.” Dan Jeanette, a New Haven native, ate at the Doodle at least once a week during his four years of high school. He sees the coffee shop’s closing as part of the ongoing transformation of York Square. “Yale seems to be striving to create more of a ‘college town’ feel where shops stay open later and the general vibe is geared towards the college clientele,” he notes. Although Jeanette recognizes the benefits of Yale-sponsored urban development, he also points out that “some of this change has been to the detriment of long-standing businesses. Barrie Ltd. Shoes, York Square Cinemas, and now the Doodle have all closed down.” While new businesses like J. Crew and Au Bon Pain may have revitalized the area, they “don’t have any history behind them.”

Not all locals are sentimental aboutthe Doodle’s closing. Storbierski has only casually followed the story in the New Haven Register and he doesn’t intend to become involved in the cause to “Save the Doodle!” “I’m working two jobs and really don’t have the spare time to try and help out,” he says.

According to Paul Cuticello, the owner of Paul Richards, an old-timey neighboring shoe store, local Doodle activists are less prominent than Yale-affiliated ones.

Even some Yalies who never set foot in the Doodle are rallying behind the little diner. Sophomore Marissa Grunes, who never ate at the Doodle, is nonetheless a member of the “Save the Doodle” Facebook group. Another group member, sophomore Brittany Golob, articulates what attracts her to the diner’s cause: “Traditions like cups and hanging out at Naples or Yorkside or Yankee Doodle speak of…what we do now that connects us to Yale’s past.” Perhaps students who are up in arms about the fall of a shoebox restaurant whose threshold they never crossed are simply appropriating another tradition that does not belong to them, just as Yale’s 1920s architects appropriated Cambridge’s spires and gothic towers.

Even students who claim to reject Ivy League elitism nostalgically embrace Yale’s material tradition. For these students, the Doodle represents a New Haven before cheap Chinese food or Starbucks. It stands for a time when twelve seats were enough and when trans fats didn’t have a name. It sits around the corner from J.Press, another bastion of “Old Yale” nostalgia, but it seems that no number of oxford shirts, cufflinks, milkshakes, or cheeseburgers will bring back the good old days. But perhaps the good old days—or our imagined version of them—are not worth preserving. After all, the idealization of “Old Yale” that the Doodle can inspire is not unproblematic. Grunes imagines the diner of yesteryear as “the classless little place that classy people would patronize, where the proprietor is behind the counter, and you know his name and he knows yours…and then of course you leave and become a high-power Yale man and reminisce fondly, but that’s pretty much the end of the love story.”

So, why save the doodle? Maybe Stobierski’s thoughts on his own career apply to the outdated diner as well. “I’m not as good as I used to be,” says the retired competitive eater, whose second record was surpassed in 200 . “My time has passed.” Still, maybe we want to save a vision of ourselves as old-time, scholarly Elis immune to grease and gentrification. As one terribly literary IvyGate blogger wrote, mourning the loss of the Doodle Ivy-wide, “I can totally imagine Franny or Seymour hanging out there!”

Rachel Engler is a sophomore in Ezra Stiles College.

Curl Talk

Dickie and I are flipping through an old edition of Playboy when his next customer comes in. I start with embarrassment as the door to Dickie’s second floor atelier opens, but he continues poring over the pornography. He turns a glossy page with his right hand while beckoning with the other to the middle-aged woman arriving for a trim. “Take a seat over here and Nancy will give you a wash,” he says, and in the same breath asks me to guess the identity of one particularly buxom bunny. Though I’m usually prepared for pop quizzes, this isn’t really my subject.

“That’s Pamela Anderson, right there, before she had any work done. What a natural beauty.” He ruffles through a couple more pages of the 1995 issue, which features an Ivy League spread showing off sexy Yale girls posing provocatively on Cross Campus. He arrives at his destination and points to a brunette on a love seat. “She’s a former client!”

Dickie, whose real name is Gaetano Ferriuolo, is the owner of The Workshop, a small, second-story hair salon on Chapel Street couched between Book Trader Café and Thai Pan Asian. The New Haven native and former hippie is an expert in curls. Young Dickie showed no signs of being a future hair parlor prodigy. He didn’t cut his siblings’ hair, nor did he style his stuffed animals. He did, however, grow up with severe dyslexia—a disorder he credits for his skilled hands. “It’s like being blind—you can hear better. I used what I had,” says Dickie, who preferred to get thrown out of class rather than read aloud.

Though Dickie now seems a naturalborn stylist, he didn’t choose his calling. Rather, a juvenile court did, after Dickie dropped out of high school with several friends to become a bookie. “We were any mother’s dream,” he jokes. He took bets on local sporting events until he was 1 , when he was arrested for bookmaking. The path to curl connoisseurship was born in court. “You have to tell the judge you’re doing something with your life. So my lawyer said, ‘Tell them you’re going to go to barber college,’ and the judge actually made me go.”

After receiving his barber’s license, Dickie went straight to work. His “hands of gold,” as he refers to them, were an immediate success. Dickie had clients lining up outside his shop waiting for their turn in the hot seat before he was old enough to buy the Playboy whose bunnies he would one day style. “I was a tender young boy—just the kind you like,” the tirelessly bawdy Dickie says, giving my knee a playful tap. As Dickie’s body matured, so did his professional interests. “All the pretty girls were going to hairdresser school, so I decided to go to hairdresser school,” he tells me. After graduation, his career skyrocketed. He went from trimming New Haven’s most coveted coiffeur’s hair to working at his salon. Soon he was in New York City, employed by a Fifth Avenue salon—a place so stylish that all of its employees had stage names. Dickie went by Mister Dick.

Soon it was the sixties. “I ended up with some genius non-conformists,” says Dickie, who later found himself hanging with a Studio 54 crowd. One of the innovators with whom Dickie worked was Paul Mitchell, whose brand is still king at upscale hair salons. “We were the first ones to really cut hair,” he declares. the phone rings. “this is vanna white looking for me,” he jokes before answering. “She thinks I’m a slut. She’s right!” Though a stylist who can handle unruly curls is a true gem, Dickie is a jewel still rarer: A professional with a personality. “I’ve never been known not to have personality,” he says proudly. In the face of cold and impersonal standards of professionalism, Dickie shares as much as he shears. I knew more about his love life by the end of my first visit to his studio than my freshman year roommate knew about mine when we moved out in May. As he chats through extended curl sessions, it becomes clear that Dickie’s notions of time and money veer from the norm. “I’m not trying to make any money. I don’t need to make any money. I’m doin’ this for fun,” he says. Still, despite all of these quirks, he is, and by his own account, always has been, a remarkably successful hairdresser. “They were banging down the door,” Dickie boasts of the clientele he drew even as a barber fresh out of vocational school. While businessmen around him worry about an economic recession, Dickie, who works just three days a week in his own salon, has the leisure to worry about a recession of passion.

“Passion is falling by the wayside,” he says in a rare moment of despondency. “The young people in all the arts are losing passion—passion to write, passion to make art, passion to cut hair.” But Dickie has faith in today’s Yale students. “You’ve got a good group now,” he says. “Let’s write; let’s sing; let’s do sculpture; let’s cut hair. It’s coming back.” Dickie’s passion is unadulterated. The intentions of this hairstylist, whose life’s only paradox is the irony of a balding man with a specialty in thick hair, are refreshingly uncomplicated. With the seriousness of a young boy asserting that he wants to be an astronaut, he says, “All I wanna do is cut hair.”

Laura Zax is a sophomore in Silliman College

Bills, Bills, Pills

On October 18, 2007, the office phones of Senator Christopher Dodd and US Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro started ringing off the hook. Yale students, upset at a sudden and dramatic increase in the price of birth control prescribed through Yale University Health Services were calling their Democratic representatives to protest. The 2005 Deficit Reduction Act (DRA), a law originally aimed at curbing Medicaid fraud, had simultaneously ended a long-standing tradition whereby pharmaceutical companies sold birth control to university health centers at deeply discounted prices. The arrangement had allowed schools to provide prescriptions to their students for as low as four or five dollars a month, but recently, prices have jumped to as high as fifty dollars. Participants in a phone-in organized by the Reproductive Rights Action League at Yale (RALY), the students calling in their complaints–every minute, for hours–had a simple demand: Fix it.

The group’s co-chair, sophomore Alice Buttrick, believes that the price hike was a legislative oversight. Susan Yolen, vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood, agrees. “It’s not our impression that this was intentional,” Yolen says, adding that Planned Parenthood is currently involved in lobbying efforts to reverse the bill’s unforeseen consequences. Yet more than a year after the DRA was enacted and six months after RALY’s well-attended phone-a-thon, many Yale women are still paying ten times more for their birth control than they were before the law went into effect. Despite both public mea culpas from legislators who support reproductive rights and the recent proposal of a bill that would allow universities once again to receive discounted drugs, the issue has taken the back burner to the war in Iraq, the presidential election, and a looming economic recession.

The question is not whether well-organized nationwide opposition will eventually win the law’s repeal through a war of bureaucratic attrition, nor whether Yale women can bear the brunt of the price increases. The question is whether, while lobbyists prod Congress to get around to correcting its blunder, the victims–low income women at universities across the country–can stand to wait.

Few people, even those directly involved in fighting the legislative snafu, understand exactly why prices for prescription birth control have suddenly skyrocketed. Both Yolen and Buttrick are fuzzy on the specifics, given the length, scope, jargon, and acronym-heavy language of the DRA.

Peter Steere, associate director of Yale University Health Services, offers a clearer explanation: Federal law mandates that Medicaid programs receive drug manufacturers’ “best price” for prescription drugs. Prior to the law’s passage, campus clinics and other “safety-net” health-care providers were excluded from the “best price” calculus so that manufacturers could sell discounted pills to universities without also having to lower Medicaid prices. The DRA closed this loophole for university clinics, while many other low-cost providers–such as Planned Parenthood and some community health centers–remained unaffected. In the New Haven area, low-income and uninsured women can still receive discounted birth control at the Fair Haven Community Health Center, the Hill Health Center, the Haven Free Clinic, and, of course, Planned Parenthood.

But when it came to universities like Yale, pharmaceutical companies were faced with a choice: Continue selling discounted prescription birth control drugs to student centers and see their profits plummet, or raise prices. They chose to raise prices.

The confusion surrounding the act has bred resentment and led some students to suspect that the DRA’s consequences were entirely by design. Though Buttrick is certain that the law was an “accident” and Yolen concurs that “it’s not our impression that this was intentional,” at the Yale Women’s Center, talk of the price hike among board members past and present quickly snowballs into a broader discussion of the Bush administration’s assault on the rights of women, especially poor women.

Isabel Polon, the Women’s Center’s political action coordinator, has her doubts about labeling the price increase an innocent oversight. “Whether it was an oversight, or whether it was intentional,” she says, “Congress in general doesn’t have women’s rights as a priority. We know where the administration stands on these issues.”

Chase Olivarius-McAllister, who served as political action coordinator last semester, is even more explicit. “It’s about breaking the backs of poor women. The legacy of this administration is going to be that they made poor women’s lives awful on every front.”

For these activists, the passage of the DRA, coupled with Congress’ failure to enact any timely corrective legislation, is not an isolated incident; it indicates the Bush Administration’s hostility towards women’s rights as well as a general, nation-wide complacency. “This is not seen as a necessary health service that women are entitled to,” Presca Ahn, a coordinator at the Women’s Center, adds. “[Congressmen] don’t want to talk about it until they get a call every second from Yale University students.”

Despite the high turnout at the rally phone-a-thon, it’s unclear how many Yale students have been tangibly affected by the act. While Steere has noticed that many women now buy their birth control one month at a time (instead of stocking up on four cycles), he hasn’t seen an overall drop in the numbers of contraceptive prescriptions. Although a Yale College Council committee has been exploring the issue, and Steere has heard “the occasional expression of frustration,” he observes that students have not been complaining “as loudly or frequently as some might have thought.

Polon attributes a lack of student response to the university’s socio-economic demographics. “On other university campuses there has been an uproar,” she explains. “Twenty dollars isn’t going to make a world of difference to the average Yale student, but that’s not the case in the country in general.”

Meanwhile, on campuses across the nation where the average student is far less well-off, student groups have held widely-attended rallies and protests. And while it may be easy to assume that the average Yale student won’t have a problem paying an extra forty dollars a month, Yolen notes that “it’s one thing if you’ve got parents who will willingly cover this cost, and it’s another thing if you’re a scholarship student.”

Even those whose parents can afford to absorb the price hike have an uncomfortable conversation ahead of them. “I’d probably have difficulty confronting my parents if I said I needed to go on birth control and I needed this money,” says Ahn. “I can’t afford it with the money I make for myself.” The assumption that the DRA has not affected Yale women also ignores the thousands of Yale staffers who are served by the Yale Health Plan. “This is not an abstract group of people you’re helping out of the goodness of your heart,” Buttrick emphasizes. “You have to do this to help yourself.” Unfortunately, whether or not Yale students want to help themselves–whether or not they even need help–there’s little they can do. Except, of course, wait.

Town Bicycle

Chris Shirley is determined to teach me how to ride a bike. A friendly Davenport sophomore who sports a black turtleneck over a pair of tight-fitting women’s jeans and a blue fanny pack in place of a belt, Shirley is one of the cofounders of the New Haven Bike Collective. The group, which is currently thinking of changing its name to Cyclismo, began last fall, with the aim of providing free bikes and bike repair training to local residents. Though the Collective has yet to move beyond holding organizational meetings, writing grant proposals, and securing a storage space, Shirley tells me that they hope to get the program in full gear by spring. I, who spent a bikeless childhood indoors, will be their first trainee.

The collective has set up shop in the heart of Fair Haven, where the median income of $10,084 is $20,000 short of the Connecticut state average. “We’re trying to capture an audience that’s not being serviced by high-end bike shops like Devil’s Gear,” Shirley says, “and empower them to learn new skills they can take home.” shirley hopes to increase the number of New Haven residents who bike to work. But once these new bikers hit the streets, they’ll face new difficulties: New Haven only has two miles of bike lanes, many of which end abruptly. Elsewhere in the Elm City, cyclists have to share busy, narrow roads with cars. For years, cycling advocacy groups like ElmCityCycling have cited the need for more bike racks, bike lanes, and increased rights for cyclists injured in car-bike collisions, but the local government has only recently started to listen.

In 2003 , the New Haven Mayor’s Office published a “Share the Streets” report that recommended adding the much-needed racks and lanes, as well as slowing down motor traffic by installing speed bumps and roundabouts to make roads safer for those on two wheels. So far, progress has been slow. Though a lone bike lane has been added to Orange Street and twenty bike racks have been sprinkled throughout the city, a recent New Haven Advocate article notes that City Hall officials are still unwilling to convert coveted on-street parking spots to bike lanes. Unimproved streets like Whitney Avenue still pose a danger to cyclists, including the bikers Shirley and his cohorts want to introduce to already congested roads. Shirley lists the many hurdles facing people who want to bike to work: “You have to be taught how to ride, have the energy to ride everyday, and live close enough to make the commute.” But if all three conditions are met—say, you’re a Fair Haven resident who works in the area and wants the exercise—riding a bike will help to reduce air pollution in a neighborhood still plagued by former coal plant emissions and also reduce the cost of daily transportation. “We work to undercut the financial burden,” Shirley explains. “Cars can cost thousands of dollars a year to maintain, whereas bikes are much cheaper. And if you don’t have the money to buy a new bike or pay a hundred dollars for a tune-up, you can come to us instead.”

In addition to its environmental and monetary benefits, the Collective’s “earna- bike” program will help the Fair Haven community by doubling as a mentor program. Shirley hopes to recruit youngsters from nearby schools and YMCA centers for a weekly after-school workshop, during which Collective members will work one-on-one with city youth, teaching them vocational skills so that can earn newly repaired used bikes. Shirley thought up the idea for the Bike Collective over a year ago. “I was at an activists’ conference in DC called ‘Power Shift,’ and one kid told us that he had a trailer full of bikes and didn’t know what to do with them,” he says. The bikes in question turned out to be unsalvageable, but Shirley and Collective co-founder Colin Bennett, a graduate student at Southern Connecticut State University, decided that New Haven could use a system for distributing free bikes. They began by collecting bikes from Freecycle. org, an online group that connects used bike owners with the bikeless, but it was fellow Collective member Paul Hammer who stumbled upon the real motherlode of free bikes: Yale. At the end of every spring term, Hammer discovered, a Yale Security team confiscates all bicycles left on student bike racks, shepherding them to the basement of the Payne Whitney gym. If still unclaimed after six months, the bikes become public property. When the group received permission from Yale Security to take the bikes, the Collective was born.

Over this past winter, the collective expanded to a core group of around twenty people, most of them Yale and Southern students mixed with a few bike activists from ElmCityCycling. Today, the Collective houses over 150 secondhand bikes in the basement of a red brick Fair Haven building donated by a local businessman. Shirley shows me the subterranean storehouse one Sunday afternoon. The room is dim and dusty, and an enormous rat paws a woodpile bordering a long string of bikes. Shirley hopes to repair bikes in the outdoor parking lot once the weather improves. Working outdoors will be the Collecive’s main advertising strategy, hopefully attracting local residents who happen to pass by on the sidewalk. But for now, the bikes are still in storage. Slips of paper have been stapled to all the handlebars—a “P” means a part is missing, most often a brake or a front wheel. A “Ch” means the chain isn’t working smoothly, and the most common label is “RU,” for rust.

Eventually, Shirley hopes to register the bikes in a computer database: “Say you come in and you’ve never fixed a bike before, and today you can work for four hours. We’ll plug in those stats to the database and match you up with a bike that meets your skill levels and time commitment.” He stresses that the group will be working on a system of sweat equity. “We have to get the message right. There’s a spectrum of free stuff, and this is not a handout. If you want a bike, you’ll have to help out the Collective first.” in order to fill the collective’s coffers, the group will also repair bikes to sell to people who don’t have time to fix their own, in the process training novice repairmen to re-inflate tires, fix brakes, and replace chains. After trainees have learned basic skills on the model bikes, they will be able to tackle their own bikes with the help of Collective volunteers. For those like me, who don’t know how to ride, free lessons will be provided once a bike has been repaired.

Back in the basement, I begin by checking out a glittery purple Taboo. The chain is rusting off, and when I swing my legs over the seat, my feet barely touch the ground. No good. Next, I try a child-sized Huffy with a white wicker basket and a half-deflated front tire. I sit down hopefully and put my feet on the pedals, but my legs are too cramped, so I exchange it for a brown and yellow Roadmaster Classic. This bike is practical, lightweight, and not too tall. Its only defect is a pair of semi-faulty brakes. Shirley and I haul it out to the parking lot.

Once outside, I climb on while Shirley grips the handlebars and starts running backwards. The first time, I pedal for ten seconds before steering too far left and running over Shirley’s foot. I remount and crush his right foot instead. “You have to find your center of balance,” Shirley tells me patiently. My third time on the bike, I pedal faster, and, gaining confidence, turn my head to grin at Shirley. Then comes the chain-link fence. Picking myself off the blacktop, I stare at the frame lying forlornly on the concrete. Serves me right for asking for a free handout.

Mai Wang is a sophomore in Timothy Dwight College.