BESSLER: The lone bugler

Two weeks ago, I scrambled up the steps of Harkness Hall, triumphantly found WLH 117 and sat myself down amid the MacBook-toting, highlighter-wielding masses for my first section of introductory microeconomics.

On an undisclosed date, somewhere between watching me take my first steps and dropping me off at Yale, my parents had decided this was the subject for me. But it wasn’t until the drive to New Haven, sitting in a compact car with a lampshade protruding into my left shoulder, that I grasped the full extent of my economics-entwined fate.

“Abigail,” my dad said as we drove past Philadelphia, “We really think you should take microeconomics your freshman year.” It went downhill from there.

Truthfully, I would have taken economics without my parents’ prodding. I’m interested in politics, and a better understanding of finance would be helpful. Plus, it couldn’t hurt to get a basic understanding of how consumers and firms interact in a market.

Okay, I’ll admit, I got that last one from the textbook.

Once I decided to take the class fall semester, though, I encountered my first of many existential BlueBooking crises. I had a choice: Christopher Udry’s large lecture, ECON 115, or Katerina Simons’ smaller one, ECON 110.

According to the shameful number of online evaluations I pored over, the small lecture gives you a deep understanding of economics but has a tough curve. The large lecture, which one student described as “like being in a herd of cattle,” depends more on self-motivation.

The first Wednesday of shopping period, I attended both classes, back to back. I didn’t have any idea which one to take by the end of the day, but I did have a very solid understanding of opportunity costs.

If you haven’t taken economics, an opportunity cost is the value of doing the next best thing you’re giving up by choosing to do something. I couldn’t believe how applicable it was to my dilemma. With each pro-con list I wrote, I felt increasingly doomed to an existence of never-ending opportunity costs. The incessant tolling of church bells outside my dorm window didn’t help.

A week later, I still hadn’t made my decision. Luckily, it was made for me. On the walk between Udry’s and Simons’ lectures, I reached into my bag to check for new emails (thank you, Independent Party) and realized I had absentmindedly left my phone in the lecture hall.

After a frantic “Find My iPhone” search on my laptop, an awkward conversation with a Yale Security Officer in which I asked him what I should do and he replied, “Seems like a real heist,” and my first trek to science hill, I retrieved my phone from a kind student.

By the end of the whole ordeal, five Chinese tourists had taken my picture. I’d also missed the seminar entirely. But thankfully, I still had time to get to my section for the large lecture. I raced back from science hill, one hand gripping “Microeconomics and Behavior” and the other cradling my rescued phone.

I was a mess when I finally got to WLH 117. Students around me looked weary, but I was elated to have made it there.

The teaching fellow calmly drew supply and demand curves on the chalkboard, then the graphs with a tax. Suddenly, I was lost. The supply curve confounded me, the equilibrium points muddled together, and I didn’t understand why firms were selling 5/2 units of corn.

Then, I heard it. A bellowing noise from the window, growing higher pitched by the second. I looked around but no one else seemed to hear it.

I turned my head, and there he was. A lone bugle player. His horn held up in the pose of a champion, a large group gravitating towards him as he huffed and puffed his way to harmonious glory. Dressed from top to toe in black, the sun glinting off his instrument, he showered his audience with note after radiant note of his own tune. To this day, I have no idea what possessed him. But there he was, mere yards away, while I struggled with taxation.

I couldn’t help it. I laughed.

It’s easy to feel Yale’s weighty past in its Gothic architecture, large libraries and accomplished alumni. It’s harder, especially as freshmen, to keep a laugh-at-ourselves distance from our various “hardships” — the motorcycles that roll noisily down College Street every night, the line out the door at the post office, the incomprehensibility of tax graphs.

Maybe I’ll love economics. Maybe I won’t. But regardless, a bugle player will remain, somewhere out there, trumpeting a merry tune. And I will always be grateful for the brief reprieve from the laws of supply and demand.

Abigail Bessler is a freshman in Jonathan Edwards College. Contact her at abigail.bessler@yale.edu.

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