The Game Theory of Love

Boys are like deodorant.

This unlikely equation came to me while I stood, as bumblingly confused as a pre-teen at a middle school dance, amid cosmetics and candy at the local drugstore. I was struggling to choose a new anti-perspirant.  The one I applied daily had ceased to make my underarms feel powder-fresh, and the rows and rows of deodorizing product that cluttered the shelves of aisle nine offered the elusive promise of product perfection.

Boys are like deodorant.

Deodorants come in as many permutations of fragrance, substance, and brand as boys come in shapes, sizes, and summer break plans.  I faced the burdensome boon of overwhelming variety.  Did I want powder or gel? Stick or roll on? Did I want a brown-haired boy or a blonde?  A baseball player or a bookish intellectual?  Maybe I didn’t even want a guy at all. Penelope Cruz is pretty smoking…

Please don’t hold such indecision against me. I’m the child of an educator, a lawyer, and the global rise of mass consumer culture. I am, to some extent, the product of products.  Like so many other American twenty-somethings, my daily life has been characterized by a staggering amount of choice and the corresponding promise of the perfect one. Gone are the days of, “If the shoe fits, wear it.”  The shoe also needs to go with the new pants you just bought.  The shoe needs to make your cankles look less cankle-y.  It needs to be cheap but not too cheap, stylish but not too stylish.  In other words, the shoe needs to fit perfectly in order to be worth wearing. American consumer culture has guaranteed us perfectly personalized products, and we expect no less of our romantic partners.

If dating in the 21st century is like shopping, Facebook is—a one-stop online shop for all romantic needs.   View Facebook photos to see if a crush is aesthetically appealing.  Check a crush’s relationship status to see if he or she is in stock.  Place an order with a message or a wall post.  Track your order’s progress on his or her mini-feed.

I’m among the last candidates for someone who’d come to consider love a consumer transaction. A hippie born too late,  I had a peace sign on my retainer, doodled daisy chains in the margins of my homework, and really, truly believed that all you need is love.

But something happened.

I never asked to consider love a commodity, but it’s hard not to.  Everything is marketable in the 21st century.  These days, businessmen sell property rights to stars so distant they’ve likely already supernovaed, and crazy eBay sellers auction off ghosts—that’s right, ghosts, which, even if they do exist, are impossible to ship.  Love is among the less outrageous commodities on the market.  When even the country’s political leaders (frequently, constantly) pay for romance, the notion that people approach love in the same way that a shopper approaches the deodorant aisle is to be expected.

The economy, it seems, is the bottom line.  So, it’s no surprise that the vocabulary of economics has crept into the language of love, that economic theories can explain today’s romantics.  We speak of “emotional investments” and of singles being “on the market.”  Econ 101’s law of diminishing returns explains that the divorce rate and hookup culture is an example of portfolio diversification.  Even the Beatles’ final proclamation of love—Paul’s assurance that, “In the end the love you take is equal to the love you make”—can be charted with a simple supply and demand curve.

The problem is, the capitalist economy as Adam Smith envisioned it is characterized by qualities that should be antithetical to romance.  Please follow along in your textbooks:

1. The ideal market is impersonal.

True for the market economy, but not so much for the make-out economy.  Still, random hook-up culture permeates college campuses, where the exchange of such basic biographical information as a first name does not necessarily have to precede Frenching.

2. The ideal market economy is efficient.

That’s okay if you’re interested in sales, not sex.  But sex aside, efficiency as an overriding principle for romance is counterintuitive. A quickie’s quick, after all, but the satisfaction’s transient. Passion should be love’s modus operandi. And taking the scenic route, spending time rather than saving it, or any number of other inefficiencies characterize passion.

3. The ideal market economy is transparent.

Public dealing is absolutely fundamental to a functional financial economy.  Privacy, on the other hand, ought to dictate interpersonal exchanges. Still, an acquaintance of mine recently got a divorce, and her Facebook friends discovered the news when their mini feeds alerted them that she was “no longer listed as in a relationship.”  A broken-heart icon appeared next to the announcement.

Economic perfection is for stocks and bonds, not studs and broads, studs and studs, or broads and broads. The perfect financial market is an imperfect romantic market.  In fact, the whole notion of perfection—of what classical economists call a theoretical ideal and modern lovers call a romantic fantasy—is precisely what inhibits so many of us from deriving satisfaction from relationships.

So, modern love isn’t that different from the love of yore and the love of lore after all.  No, not because girls still go for professors and boys still go for freshman—though that pattern is likely to be perennial.  The more important similarity is that modern lovers, like their parents and grandparents and great-grandparents, are questing after a quixotic ideal, elusive as the perfectly rational cunsumer.  The generation that first sat in theaters to watch Disney’s Cinderella surely felt the burden of finding Prince Charming.  The perfection of a fairy-tale ending has always been true love’s promise.  But perfection has also always been—and always will be—unachievable at any price.

The hope of “happily ever after” is as tempting and as unattainable as the thought of discovering the peerless anti-perspirant.  What we have yet to appreciate is that it’s also undesirable.  My parents, who will soon be celebrating their 29th anniversary, know more about love than even the most Petrarchan twenty-something.  Not every minute of their marriage has been happy. Still, when I’m at home for the ever-rarer family dinner, and my dad asks me with a dimpled smile “Doesn’t Mom look beautiful tonight?” I understand.  More than I ever could when faced with the limitless choices Rite Aid presents me, I understand the value of imperfection. This sort of value can’t be measured in GDP or GNP or in any other P, for that matter.  Its worth is too nuanced for even the most thorough economist to model, for even the most conscious consumer to appraise.

It’s also not something a twenty-one-year old can swallow.  Until I learn the lesson for myself, I, like the generation that I help form and that helps form me, will continue to shop around in the hope of finding that perfect someone. But, just between you and me: I don’t buy it.

Laura Zax is a senior in Silliman College and a Senior editor of The New Journal

Fortune Tellers

On September 26, 2007, a headshot of Yale’s chief investment officer and global investment god David Swensen graced the New York Times business section, accompanying an article about the Yale endowment’s 28 percent jump to an unprecedented $22 billion. On that same day, Washington legislators were also thinking about Yale’s endowment. In a morning hearing championed by the Senate Finance Committee’s Ranking Member, Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), a debate about college endowments was circling around one question: Colleges are earning a lot, but are they spending too little of it on financial aid for their students?

The coincidence was not lost on Lynn Munson, a critic of college and university spending and the hearing’s star witness. “Despite the fact that that very week the Senate Finance Committee, which sets the tax policy for the nation, had signaled a strong interest in college university endowments,” Munson says, “Yale went ahead and came out with particularly prideful announcements of its returns. They called attention to themselves even as the Finance Committee was calling these issues into question.”

There is certainly evidence that Yale is proud to be well-endowed. Snoop around the Investments Office and you might find a plush, stuffed bulldog wearing an already outdated Yale blue sweater that reads “YALE ENDOWMENT $13 BILLION” in stitched white lettering. More recent investment office paraphernalia includes a tote bag lined with fabric that states “The Yale Endowment $23 Billion October 2007” written over and over again in the Yale font.

The bag’s lining is loud; the office that custom-ordered it isn’t. For all of its boastful openness about the market value of Yale’s endowment, the Investments Office is remarkably close-lipped when it comes to disclosing information about its financial practices. “The Investments Office has no comment to offer concerning this subject,” the financial analyst contacted for this article emailed. During the full year that Thomas Kaplan, the current editor-in-chief of the Yale Daily News, covered the Investments Office for the paper, Swensen did not once respond to Kaplan’s requests for an interview. Swensen recently visited an undergraduate class to speak about the endowment in a downward-turning economy, but he began by asking that the students not talk to their peers about the discussion.

The reticence of the YIO—and of similar offices at other colleges and universities—is particularly problematic given their primary argument in the endowment spending debate: Endowments are complex and critics are uninformed. Armored in expertise, the offices retreat into a tight-lipped justification for their tight-pursed practices: “Trust us.”

Munson, on the other hand, is so loquacious that the endowment critic’s critics accuse her of being a talking head. She first became interested in what she calls the “endowment hoarding” of some colleges and universities while she was serving as chief of staff at the National Endowment for the Humanities, a federal grant-making agency. Reviewing applications for funding from colleges and universities across America, Munson was stunned by the size of many endowments. “I would tuck that information away in my head and read about the GDP of small nations in the morning paper and realize that’s about the size of some schools’ endowments,” she says.

When Munson left her post at NEH to start a family, she began to more seriously research the endowments at US colleges and universities—schools to which, she realized, she might soon be paying tuition. Since then she has become something of an unofficial expert on the subject and is currently an adjunct fellow at the Center for College Affordability and Productivity.

But Munson is by no means alone in her critique. Though she was one of the first voices to question the size of college and university endowments, others—from college alumni to current students, from college students’ parents to the parents of future college students—have joined her in a debate that has been gaining momentum over the past two years. This year, Senator Grassley teamed up with Congressman Peter Welch (D-Vermont) to draft a proposal for legislation mandating that colleges and universities spend a minimum of 5 percent of their endowments annually, a figure already legally required of all non-academic non-profits.

Administrators and Swensephiles for the most part dismiss these criticisms as ill-informed or simplistic. They emphasize that institutions of higher education already have their own complex, self-imposed spending rules—mathematical formulas that designate what percentage of its endowment a college or university spends during a given year. While these models differ slightly from school to school, all are designed to smooth consumption over time so that the university doesn’t have a drastically irregular budget—say, a budget that oscillates as much as the rate of return does—from year to year. Yale’s long-term average for endowment spending is 5.25 percent. But that does not mean that each and every year Yale meets the 5 percent minimum that members of Congress have proposed. Though in years with low returns Yale is likely to spend as much as 5.5 percent of its endowment, when blessed with high returns, it may spend as little as 4.5 percent. (While half of a percentage point may sound negligible, when talking about an endowment in the tens of billions of dollars, even fractions of fractions are values worth debating.) Many considerations go into the equation, but one of the most important factors is the spending rule’s ability to self-adjust based on the endowment’s past performance in the market. “The spending rule is based on sound economic analysis. It’s mathematical and it makes sense,” says a current Yale student and former YIO intern who wished to remain anonymous.

The spending rule requires such delicate engineering because it is designed to sustain a college’s purchasing power to perpetuity. Since Yale expects to be around indefinitely, the equation must manage the present not only with an informed sense of the past but also with a keen eye to the future. The phrase that financial officers at universities use to describe this parity between present and future is “intergenerational equity.” A stable endowment ensures that scholars in the year 3008 will have no fewer opportunities than do their 2008 counterparts.

“In general, endowments are biased toward future students,” says Ken Redd, director of research and policy analysis for the National Association of College and University Business Officers, which conducts an annual and highly respected study of higher-education endowments in which Yale takes part. Redd’s tone provides no hint of value judgment, either positive or negative, on whether such a bias is desirable. “That’s a subjective question,” he says blandly.

Critics, however, do not avoid the subjective, and their opinions are pretty transparent. “Where is the line between saving up for students of the future and asking today’s students to make sacrifices that are too great and actually kind of deprive them?” asks Munson, who believes that many institutions of higher education in the U.S. have already crossed this line. “The policy seems to be more for the sake of more,” she says, describing a keeping-up-with-the-Joneses mentality.

But in addition to the need to stabilize spending between the present and the future, administrators claim that, even if a university wanted to spend much higher percentages of its endowment, there are a number of factors that limit how much the university could spend. Though the YIO tote bags boast “$23 billion” in a repeating pattern, this number is not the whole story. “That’s the market value, but it’s not actually the amount of cash they have,” explains Redd. On average, about a quarter of college and university endowments are invested in illiquid assets such as hedge funds, private equities, and natural resources, which cannot be sold in the open market. Illiquid assets not only diversify a university’s investment portfolio, they also “prevent raiding the endowment,” says Redd.

Much of the endowment is inaccessible for another reason: earmarks. When donors give money to colleges and universities, they have the option of mandating it for a specific purpose. Restrictions range from well-known professorships such as the Sterling to the endowment for tulips at Jonathan Edwards, Yale’s wealthiest college. However, statistics from the 2007 NABUCO endowment study show that only a little over half of a school’s endowment, on average, is restricted and that of those restricted funds, 30 percent are set aside for financial aid. “Unless Yale could prove to you that they have a higher proportion of the endowment that is restricted than most institutions of their type, I simply wouldn’t let them get away with that argument,” says Munson.

Yale, she insists, could be more generous with its funds even under existing restrictions. But Harvard, Princeton, and Yale, the Holy Trinity of endowments whose piles of treasure stretch closer and closer to the heavens, are not the only schools that have, in Munson’s estimation, reached the other side of that intangible line. Naming names, she points out that not only private but also many public schools—the University of Texas, the University of Minnesota—are guilty of big endowments and little spending. Colleges and universities are nonprofits, but their endowments dwarf those of their not-for-profit peers. In fact, at least 26 American academic institutions have endowments larger than that of the nation’s wealthiest museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, whose endowment sits at $2 billion.

Professor Douglas Rae, who served in New Haven’s mayoral office in the early ’90s and who now teaches courses on capitalism and the city, believes that Yale has done its duty to its students, its scholars, and its city. In his estimation, the University has already paid the societal dues that Munson and friends demand the nonprofit begin to pay. Rae points to the tax revenues that Yale, as the largest owner of commercial property in New Haven, pays to the city, to the financial aid reforms of last year, to the institution as an engine of employment. “Yale is hands down the most beneficial institution in the city,” he says.

Munson claims that she won’t be able to assess whether Yale’s financial aid reforms and contributions to New Haven make up for its tight-fisted endowment policies until there is more transparency in the financial decisions of institutions of higher learning. Currently, schools are not obligated to disclose how they spend their budgets. “I believe it has really contributed to hoarding,” says Munson. Money management is made further opaque by the fact that, at Yale, the Investments Office is not obligated to make their investments public unless Yale accounts for more than 50 percent of a company’s stockholding.

Approaching the push for transparency from a different side, an undergraduate organization called the Yale Responsible Endowment Project has created a petition to encourage the University to reconsider its investments in a hotel management company whose labor policies are less than praiseworthy. The group is not officially recognized by the University.

Of course, there are other reasons for keeping Yale’s books under wrap. Because the University is a role model in the field of investments, other institutions clamor for the details of its portfolio so that they might mirror it. “If Yale were to disclose its investments, we could potentially be driven out of our own investments because people look up to us,” said the former YIO intern.

This kind of he-said, she-said debate seems to have come to a draw. In the past year, many colleges and universities—Yale included—have drastically revamped and greatly improved financial aid packages for middle-income families. In concession, the other side of the debate has shifted its proposed legislation to the backburner. After a congressional hearing with university administrators on October 8, Senator Grassley concluded that he would most likely not pursue the 5 percent spending rule.

Grassley’s decision was no doubt also influenced by the results of September’s economic downturn. The uncertain future against which university administrators insist that enormous endowments protect may have arrived. Fellow Ivies Brown and Cornell have instituted hiring freezes because of budget concerns. But with a minimum 5 percent payout like the one Congress proposed, Yale’s own endowment—which garnered only 4.5 percent in returns in the declining market—would have shrunk.

While college administrators point to decreased returns as evidence that these institutions need to protect themselves against an unpredictable future, endowment critics insist that these are precisely the conditions that call for universities to be generous. “Harvard uses the phrase ‘a rainy day fund,’ but it would have to be a rainy day of Biblical proportions,” says Munson. “There is simply no excuse whatsoever to be sitting on those funds in a time like this.”

With both sides claiming the recession as proof of their victory, the endowment debate has sharpened rather than settled. Financial aid, which was always a large part of the discussion, is now its core. “Students and their families need help,” says Munson.

Still, though some have suggested that schools such as Yale could offer a free ride to every member of each incoming class merely by spending its endowment returns, very few people actually argue that schools should pursue such a policy. “If a university could dip into its endowment and reward all the needy students that needed to be rewarded, eventually the endowment would cease to exist,” says Redd.

Translating Lehman’s terms to layman’s terms is not a priority—at least not for the YIO. Perhaps critics of endowment spending believe that the machinery of college and university finances have something to hide because financial and administrative officials often behave as though there is. With this in mind, the use of the word “treasure” to describe massive university endowments is less hyperbolic than it might seem. The money’s whereabouts—its uses and its potential abuses—are disconcertingly buried.


You don’t have to know much about topography to imagine that fighting for geography education is an uphill battle. Study after study has desensitized the public to American students’ geographic illiteracy, showing that two-thirds of Americans aged 18 to 24 cannot identify Iraq on a map; that six months after Hurricane Katrina, 33 percent of Americans in that age range failed to locate Louisiana; that nine in ten high school graduates in the United States do not know where Afghanistan is. These figures are just a few of many similar statistics that are both alarming and, to students who have been educated in geographically-ignorant America, entirely expected.

Yale is not exempt from this flaw in the American educational system. The University, which hasn’t had a geography department since 1967 and employs no geographers at the undergraduate level, offers a bleak landscape for study of the discipline. In this respect, the University reflects the Ivy League norm. Though most, if not all, Ivies incorporate geographic methodology—mapping and spatial thinking—in programs such as economics, area studies, urban planning, and geophysics, only Dartmouth has a department of geography.

This hasn’t always been the case. In the 17th and 18th centuries, when seven of the eight Ivies were born, “the study of the globes,” as geography was then known, was integrated into the founding curricula of all of them. At the turn of the 19th century, elite universities began to move away from the goal of forming well-filled minds in favor of forming well-made minds. As the focus on mastering specific knowledge waned, so too did the study of geography, which at that time was restricted to plotting and memorizing maps of the celestial and terrestrial spheres. Geography began to be seen not as a college discipline but as a grade-school subject. By 1830, only the University of Pennsylvania still offered a geography curriculum.

Later in that century, however, the work of an introverted English naturalist put Ivy League geography back on the map. Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution reignited interest in geography, this time as a study of “man-land” relationships. For a little under a century, geography thrived in many different forms throughout the Ivy League. Physical geography, a sub-discipline closely related to geology, was the strength of Harvard’s department; at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, scholars studied human use of natural resources, pioneering the sub-field of economic geography; and Yale led the area of human geography. By 1920, however, what Richard Wright, a professor of geography at Dartmouth, calls “the heyday of Ivy League Geography” had passed. Geography’s most recent fall was in many ways a victim of coincidence: In just a few years, the discipline lost many of its all-stars to death, illness, and retirement. While geography programs at each of the schools waxed and waned throughout the 20th century, only Dartmouth’s survived into the 21st. Elsewhere on the globe, geography remains an incredibly popular field—some argue that the discipline is especially relevant for former colonizing and colonized peoples. Even within the United States, geography thrives at many Midwestern state schools. But for most of the Ivy League, geography is little more than a memory.

The discipline’s struggle to regain its footing at the Ivies can perhaps be mapped to a struggle over the definition of the field. What in the world is geography, anyway? Despite the deplorable state of American students’ knowledge of the schoolhouse globe, the notion that mere fact-based mapping constitutes geography has proved the field’s biggest obstacle since academia did away with fact-gathering. It is all too easy to overlook the discipline’s theoretical component, focusing instead on its applications—the data collection side of geography. In this way, the near disappearance of geography from the Ivy League could be seen as just another case of Ivory Tower elitism. Critics with a disdain for the vocational question the discipline’s intellectual merit.

Their claims are not entirely unfounded. At Central Connecticut State University, a sub-discipline called the geography of tourism has become increasingly popular. “A lot of our students are different from Yale students in that they are thinking of college as job training,” says Cynthia Pope, a CCSU geographer who is teaching a medical geography course at the Yale Medical School—a vocational institution. And, of course, it is the conceptual, not the vocational, that impresses academia. “You find this in every field,” explains Haun Saussy, a professor of literature at Yale, who is currently teaching a humanities course called “Mental Geography.” “We talk about the theory of translation though we don’t reward people for doing translations. Translating becomes a technical thing.”

Pope objects to the view of geography as “sticking thumbtacks on a map to indicate places you’ve visited,” explaining her much more nuanced approach to the discipline: “The most basic definition of geography for me is how humans interact with their environment. The underlying themes are space and place—how place impacts humans and how humans impact place.”

Wright, the Dartmouth geography professor, offers an equally passionate defense of conceptual geography. “I want to emphasize that we theorize about these things,” he says. “It’s not a matter of collecting information about places or thinking about map projections. We theorize how scale works.”

Today’s theorizing revolves largely around shifting borders. In the age of globalization, geography is more relevant than it has been since the age of exploration. Many scholars believe that the boundaries separating today’s countries from one another—whether they be artificially or naturally drawn—are no longer the most useful way to think about humans’ relationships with each other and with the earth. “People are kind of taking it as faith that globalization abolishes distance,” says Saussy, but geography complicates that assumption. Geographers are interested in the nuanced boundaries that separate people, in more than just physical features like the Berlin Wall or the Atlantic Ocean. “If you’re a Haitian peasant, it’s very hard for you to get to Miami, but if you are a professional in Beijing you can very easily, by sending a resume across seas, find yourself in New Haven,” Saussy explains. “The potency of geography is that it’s kind of a corrective to certain illusions about globalization.”

That’s not to say that modern geography has done away with mapping. “Yes, we draw maps. And we’re pretty good at it,” Wright says. “But a lot of people think of a map as an outcome, and for me, it’s a starting position.” A map is to the geography student what textual evidence is to the English major: a tool used to prove a larger thesis. “Maps have important rhetorical potential. You can be very persuasive about a particular line of inquiry by using maps in different ways. They can be manipulated,” Wright explains.

Paradoxically, one of the most respected faces of 21st-century geography is also one of the most technical. Global Imaging Systems (GIS), a form of digital mapping, is one of today’s most cutting-edge areas of geography. GIS draws heavily upon satellite imagery, creating visuals of places and spaces for such varied applications as tracking polar bears for wildlife conservationists and spending patterns for marketing firms. If anything has made geography more accessible and appealing in the 21st century, it is GIS, to which procrastinators across the globe became addicted when Google Earth put the world at their fingertips.

The rise of GIS exemplifies the re-emergence of geography in a new form that fuses its technical and conceptual strains. Avoiding the word “geography,” Harvard opened a “Geospatial Library” in 2002, an online database that was crucial to the foundation of the university’s Center for Geographic Analysis. That same year, scholars at Brown created a program called “Spatial Structures in the Social Sciences.” S4, as the program has been futuristically nicknamed, was designed to promote spatial analysis by bringing Global Imaging Systems and GIS experts to campus to offer their expertise as spatial consultants to Brown’s existing departments and to train graduate and undergraduate students in GIS. Yet none of these programs are full-fledged departments.

At Dartmouth, meanwhile, the plainly named Department of Geography is remarkably successful. “We’ve got a pretty good reputation,” Wright says. This is an understatement: Last year, the department graduated a record high of 47 students out of a class of 1,100, while the historic average hovers around thirty. Geography ranks in the top ten most popular undergraduate majors at Dartmouth.

While any discussion about the formation of a geography department at Yale is, at best, on the backburner, the University is beginning to see geography as a hot topic. At the beginning of the fall semester, Yale’s American Studies program began a search for a cultural geographer to fill an assistant professorship. “We were asking ourselves, ‘Where are the areas of real excitement? Where are people really pushing the boundaries? Where are people doing work that will serve our department’s [needs] and not duplicate what we already have?’” says Matthew Frye Jacobson, chair of the American Studies Department. “Geography carried the day.” The theme of this fall’s Franke Lecture Series in the Humanities—distinct from Saussy’s course—is “Mental Geography: Mapping, Cognition, Appropriation, Inscription.” Its array of lecturers—a geographer, a professor of psychology and education, and an anthropologist—points to another underlying facet of geography that has hindered its fight for its own department: It is, at heart, an interdisciplinary study.

Yet geography’s interdisciplinary nature is also one of the qualities that put it at the cutting-edge of academia. “The interdisciplinary discipline is on the rise,” says Pope, whose work studying women and HIV in Latin America requires literacy in such disparate fields as epidemiology, gender studies, and area studies.

Julie Newman, director of Yale’s Office of Sustainability, is an advocate for interdisciplinary studies on campus. Addressing the “new challenges” of the modern world, Newman argues, will “require educational systems that allow—beyond allow, encourage—cross disciplinary ways of thinking.” Many schools, however, accustomed to the lines between academic fields—lines that geography jumps—are reluctant to support as interdisciplinary a department as geography. “There’s a lot of lip service paid toward them, without much structure,” Pope explains. Priorities boil down to dollars. “There are a lot of interdisciplinary programs, but they’re not their own proper departments, so many times they don’t have their own funding—if any funding.”

Some would say this is a good thing. Critics claim that the most useful aspects of the study of geography have been absorbed by other disciplines, rendering the need for a distinct department obsolete. “[Geography was] kind of swallowed up as area studies,” says Yale’s Jacobson. Symbolically, the former home of Harvard’s influential geography department is, today, its East Asian Studies Department. At Yale, the interdisciplinary Ethnicity, Race, and Migration major applies a geographic spatial awareness to discussions of identity but is only offered as a second major.

Still, proponents of geography defend the field’s right to its own department. “We are the only discipline that pays primary attention to scale, location, and space. No other discipline really does what we do. And it really does matter,” Wright pleads. There’s certainly evidence to support his claim. After all, geography is always becoming. No longer a discipline about drawing boundaries, geography is a discipline about pushing them.

Scene and Not Heard

Rock lives—or so I’ve heard.

But let’s face it: Original rock ’n’ roll—and all alternative music, for that matter, from pop to punk, emo to electronic—is as good as dead on the Yale campus. Naming even a handful of Yale bands (or Yale rock shows, or Yale alternative music venues) is harder than getting into Yale. That’s not to say that Yale is a silent campus. Concerts featuring classical music ensembles and a capella groups crowd Yale’s extracurricular calendar. So whatever happened to rock ’n’ roll?

It might be tempting to blame inherent flaws in our generation for a decline in campus music, much as our parents have pinpointed everything from our ambition to our apathy to explain today’s supposed lack of campus activism. But look no farther than Yale’s Connecticut cousin Wesleyan, whose Middletown campus is an experimental music hub, to dispel this theory. Wesleyan junior Ben Bernstein describes a “climate…[of] appreciation and openness to new music.” Bernstein transferred to Wesleyan from Colby College—where he says he had formed “basically the only band on campus”—specifically because he had heard “how great [Wesleyan’s] music scene is.”

The most recent Wesleyan posterchild was the duo MGMT (The Management), whose catchy but fresh synth tune “Time to Pretend” was this year’s de facto indie anthem. The indie afro-pop sensation Vampire Weekend, formed two years ago at Columbia University, just found mainstream success in the ample airtime their song “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” enjoyed during the Beijing Olympics. As Wesleyan and Columbia prove, elite college campuses can—and should—be sites of musical experimentation. And Yale College, with its creative student body and its world-class music school, should be no exception.

Enter Michael Waxman, Timothy Dwight junior, the singer-songwriter-entrepreneur who very well may be the change Yale’s alternative music scene has been waiting for. Waxman is the founder of the imaginatively named Yale Music Scene, a new organization committed to promoting original rock music on campus. The organization’s most significant contribution is its website, The site launched in early spring of 2008 with deliberately little fanfare. “It’s sort of a strawman,” says Waxman of the current site, meaning that it is a blueprint of sorts for his burgeoning ideas for Yale’s music scene. But shows no outward signs of being a work-in-progress. The site not only looks professionally rendered—it is. Waxman convinced buddies from Silicon Valley, where he relocated for 18 months after his freshman year in order to co-found an internet startup company, to design the site. “It was a low key deal because this is their passion,” he says.

The result is a website that is arguably in better shape than the music scene it promotes.  “It makes the music scene look more legitimate than it really is,” says Ted Gordon ’08, co-founder of the music magazine gunslinger., which was recently rechristened and reimagined as the glossy-fronted Volume. The site features cheeky band biographies, photos, a forum for listing upcoming shows, and even a music player that allows users to download Eli originals.  From the logo’s iPod-ad-esque silhouette of a badass with a badass guitar down to the trendy font of even the smallest headings, the site’s graphics are flawlessly professional. But bells and whistles do not a music scene make. The fact that, in order to populate his site with content, Waxman had to organize events—such as last spring’s Party Like A Rockstar, which featured performances by several of the ten bands included on the website—is a case in point.

It’s fitting that the home of Yale’s music scene should be on the World Wide Web, not only because of the central role the Internet plays in music distribution in the 21st Century, but also because of the centralizing role cyberspace can play to compensate for fragmented physical space. In fact, the website’s most promising potential is as a common forum where a scattered music scene could achieve some degree of unity, however small and however cyber. After all, the essence of a “scene” is a group of people coming together because of a shared interest. A music scene demands the interaction of musicians both with one another and with their fans. But at Yale, alternative music is disjointed by a residential college system that can make the logistics for staging a show—or even just a rehearsal—prohibitively burdensome. “You can try to get into the DMCA [Digital Media Center for the Arts] or try to get into a college that has whatever equipment you’re looking for, but there’s nothing centralized,” Gordon laments.

During his freshman year, Waxman also experienced the frustration of Yale’s fragmented music scene. After succeeding in reserving the Silliman common room for a show, he learned that finding a venue was only half the battle. “It was such an ordeal,” he remembers.

While every college has a music practice room equipped with a piano, only Calhoun, Silliman, and Timothy Dwight have drum kits. (A handful of others are home to students’ personal drum kits during the academic year, but whether any old Eli can use them is at the discretion of their owners.) Silliman and TD are the only colleges with recording studios. Though the studios can be reserved by students from any college, Yalies are denied access to the equipment and practice spaces of any but their own residential colleges. So if you want your rock band to have percussion, make sure you get a drummer in Calhoun, Silliman, or TD. Speakers are another issue. “The only sound system is in Calhoun’s basement, and getting it out is basically the bottleneck for setting up concerts,” says Waxman. The Undergraduate Organizations Funding Committee owns a PA available to any student group, but it’s a coveted resource. “It’s really hard to reserve—every organization wants to reserve it,” says Gordon.

While residential college red tape is a perennial problem for bands at Yale, construction tape will prove an additional stumbling block this year. The one dependably accessible venue for alternative music shows is the Calhoun Cabaret, an intimate space in the basement of Calhoun which can open up to incorporate the Buttery space for larger, louder shows. It’s a favorite partly because a drum kit and PA system are housed just down the hall in Calhoun’s music practice room, and partly because it’s managed by the inspiring David Kant, a senior musician whose band Lady Lovelace and the Calculator Death Machine is the most prolific and prominent current Yale band.

During Calhoun’s renovation, the experimental music scene will be exiled from its only reliable home and will have to improvise. College common rooms and dining halls are potential venues, but hosting shows in spaces not designed for them is a logistical nightmare, and it’s often a bureaucratic one, too. “People don’t want to have rock concerts [in their colleges] because they assume there’s going to be beer and it’s going to be loud and destructive,” Gordon explains. House shows are another possibility; Wesleyan’s music scene, for instance, is intimately tied to off-campus houses. However, because off-campus housing at Yale is anything but institutional, there’s no guarantee that houses that have been hosts to the alternative music scene in the past—109 Howe, for instance—will fall into the hands of tenants who want to have the responsibility of carrying on a tradition of loud music.

That’s not to mention the fact that off-campus shows do not benefit from Yale’s protective stamp of approval. On the Friday that the class of 2012 moved in, the semester’s first rock concert—a performance by Great Caesar and the Go-Getters at a house on Elm Street—was shut down by the cops only two songs into the setlist.

But Waxman has faith that the music scene will ultimately secure the institutional infrastructure it needs. At an event last year, he wound up brushing shoulders with Peter Salovey, Dean of Yale College and a musician himself. Waxman broached the subject of Yale’s nearly non-existent music scene with Salovey, who was effusive about the effect of Stanford’s music scene on his own college experience. From Salovey, Waxman learned of a proposed music café at the site of the new colleges. Waxman was delighted, but hardly satisfied. “That’s a 2015 thing,” he says. “Their time frame is on a much larger scale than mine.”

In the meantime, the music scene could benefit from even the most modest shared space and equipment. Forget, for now, a concert hall: The Yale music scene needs a closet. Indeed, Wesleyan’s music scene thrives in part because of such a closet—”a little shed,” in Bernstein’s words, that stores amps, speakers, and PAs. The shack also serves as the humble headquarters of Wesleyan’s Sound Co-op, a group that exemplifies the type of centralized and institutionally supported organization that Yale’s music scene lacks and that Waxman hopes to create. The Sound Co-op is exactly what it sounds like: a team of students trained as technicians who run sound at all student shows, alternative and otherwise. What’s more, the administration—at a school whose endowment is a mere 3 percent of Yale’s—pays the students to do so. Such administrative support exists at Yale for other undergraduate artistic endeavors. Theater thrives here and the a capella scene is, if anything, a little too vibrant.

Perhaps alternative music is simply too lowbrow for an institution as historically elite as Yale. The three R’s of the alternative music ethos are Rock, Rebellion, and Revolution. Rock ’n’ roll has always identified as the enemy of the establishment, and Yale is, well, the establishment. It’s not surprising, then, that, excluding Buddy Holly, rock’s nerdiest founding father, the purveyors and promoters of alternative music have looked very little like the four-eyed, penny-loafered types who end up at Yale. Three-fourths of the Beatles didn’t go to college, and 100 percent of them never graduated: The coursework that earned Sir Paul’s honorary degree from Yale last spring was a lifetime of creating rock music. In fact, perhaps the most famous alternative singer, songwriter, and innovator to come out of Yale made nothing more than a pitstop on campus: David Longstreth, the mastermind behind the experimental group The Dirty Projectors, dropped out of Yale before completing a B.A. in music in order to launch his successful indie career. Hence the argument that Yale’s lack of support for alternative music is exactly what the scene needs: “Would you really want it that the administration would embrace an alternative music culture?” Waxman asks rhetorically. “You can’t have a superhero without its foil. It’s a relationship created out of contrast.”

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


How would you like your steak cooked?” asks an employee at Gastronomique, and though it’s a question you’d expect to hear pronounced in a French accent at a fancy bistrot du coin, the woman taking the order is communicating with her customer over the telephone. “Come by in about 15 minutes,” she adds before returning the receiver to its cradle. When the customer arrives to pick up his steak frites, the epicurean entree awaits him on the small countertop that comprises most of Gastronomique’s surface area. It’s packaged in a styrofoam box, and, like every order here, it’s to go.

In front of a sizzling stove in a hole-in-the-wall shop on the corner of High and Crown, a man dressed in a white undershirt flips a succulent patty. His solid build and dark coloring make him look more mob boss than head chef, yet this could-be cousin of Tony Soprano is sweating at the fires of a double burner, not a double arson. Mark Woll, Gastronomique’s founder and chef, is in the middle of a job. And right now, his concerns are culinary, not convivial.

“A lot of customers expect me to smile and be nice to them,” Woll says, mopping his brow. “But a surgeon wouldn’t talk while operating.” Despite the unseasonably warm weather, it’s about ten degrees hotter inside Gastronomique than outside. Though the restaurant has only two chairs, it’s two too many for the space. The seats, like the tasteful black and white photos of the Eiffel tower that hang on the walls, are really just for ambiance. Gastronomique is take-out, gourmet take-out. Walk-ins are welcome, and slightly more experienced customers know to call ahead. But the Gastro addicts-the regulars, many of whom are off-campus Yalies, none of whom can exhaust the shop’s exhaustive menu-are on the meal plan.

Gastronomique’s meal plan costs fifty dollars per week for five meals, each defined as either one entree or three smaller dishes, such as soups, salads, and sides. For a single, crisp Ulysses S. Grant, enjoy five Crispy Salmon Steaks over creamy risotto. Any menu item is game, except for the 17-dollar, twelve ounce steak frites. A customer who ordered the Sesame Crusted Tuna, the menu’s second most expensive item, for each of his five meals could save $32.50-about forty percent-over the course of the week. Though the deal doesn’t compare to a Happy Meal (and the wait is substantially longer than under the Golden Arch), a Big Mac has nothing on Gastro’s popular Crusty Burger. “The Crusty Burger is one of the best burgers in town,” said Paul Schneider, a senior in Trumbull, who lives off-campus and is on the Gastro meal plan. Plus, the ten-dollar-per-meal deal easily trumps the rate of Yale University Dining Service, which charges $13.25 for dinner. “Compared to the Yale meal plan, it’s a lot cheaper,” said Schneider, who insists that his connection to Gastronomique “makes the neighborhood feel more cohesive.”

While all of the nearly thirty people on the Gastronomique meal plan this fall are Yalies-and the service is even billed as a “student meal plan” on the restaurant’s quaintly illustrated take-out menu-Woll emphasizes that the program is not exclusively for students; nor is it extended only to those affiliated with and employed by Yale; nor even only to those employed at all. “I once had a homeless person on the plan,” explained Woll, who would cash the man’s government checks weekly in exchange for five gourmet meals. “I’d feed him steak.” When the loyal customer was released seven months after ending up in jail mid-week, Woll prepared the meals the man had paid for but not eaten.

“I relate to underdogs,” said Woll, obliquely alluding to past struggles of his own. Yet the laminated newspaper clippings that decorate one of the bistro’s few inches of unused surface area belie the notion that Woll has ever been an underdog himself. In one he is pictured, debonair, seated at a table with New Haven’s most celebrated restaurateurs, owners of the swank eats Zinc, Ibiza, and Scoozzi.

Gastronomique is the first restaurant that Woll himself has owned, though his knack for nosh goes all the way back to his childhood kitchen table. “My mother would overcook the vegetables, overcook the meat,” he said. “I would tell her ‘You’re burning out all of the nutrients!” In his teens, Woll attended a trade school and specialized in culinary arts. He then studied at the Culinary Institute of America before doing an externship in Europe and working under esteemed French chefs in New York City. Mid-career, in the summer of 2001, a tragic motorcycle accident left Woll in a coma for three months. Woll slept through both planes hitting, both towers falling. When he finally woke up, a lot had changed. “I decided I didn’t want to work for anyone else anymore,” Woll explained. And so began Gastronomique.

Woll’s blueprint for the restaurant was very different from his final product. His initial vision was a modest one: to be a juice vendor on a well-trafficked Elm City street corner. “I got turned on by an industrial juicer,” Woll says, waxing poetic-even borderline pornographic-as he describes falling in love with the machine. “The concept of extracting a sweet liquid from a hard solid touched me.” The notion of being at the mercy of New England’s formidable climate, however, was less appealing. So, Woll scoped out downtown real estate and indulged his tendency toward ambition and innovation.

The very concept of Gastronomique, whose epithet “Gourmet take-out” is a seeming oxymoron, is a novel one. It’s high-quality output with a minimum of input, like acing a test without making flash cards or looking good in sweatpants and a t-shirt. The concept is ingenious for a university town, where many community members have elite taste buds but too much on their plate to dine out or cook in. From chicken cordon bleu to steak frites, Gastronomique offers an extensive menu of sophisticated dishes, all of them prepared in a space no larger than a Jonathan Edwards single.

“Restaurateurs come in here and say ‘Oh my God. This guy puts out a huge menu, and he’s in a closet,'” Woll says with a proud smile. And it’s true. Out of what Woll optimistically calls a “small-rent” and what others might label an aromatic shoebox, Gastro serves light and hearty salads, nearly ten kinds of sandwiches, make-your-own burgers, eight different entrees, a slew of side dishes, and a handful of desserts. Not to mention a page worth of fruit juice and energy shake offerings, the daily specials, and a chalkboard of crepes-both savory and sweet. Oh, and brunch.

A culinary trendsetter in many ways, Woll is not, however, the only restaurant owner in the area to offer breaks aimed at students. Many of New Haven’s eateries cater to college-aged clientele trying to live cheaply. Both Au Bon Pain and Atticus give free handouts of their leftover baked goods when the stores close shop at the end of the business day, and students enjoy ten percent discounts at a handful of downtown restaurants if they can endure the shame of having their waiters examine the universally unattractive close-up headshots on Yale IDs.

Yet Woll’s motives are perhaps the most humanistic: “I like people,” he says. “I feel obligated to feed them.”