Archive: Mon Feb 2009

  1. Acceptance

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    There’s no hanging around after last bell for the 1,385 students at Wilbur Cross High School. At least a dozen buses idle in the parking lot waiting to cart students to their homes across New Haven. Administrators distribute bus tokens or bus cards to students traveling downtown. Other students stay at school to participate in any of the eighteen clubs on campus or the various sports teams. The only rule: no hanging around the halls after last bell. According to Ronny Rosabo, a security guard who’s been at the high school for 13 years, “hanging around causes mischief.” So far I haven’t seen any mischief from the few students who roam the hall past the bell, or from the small groups leaning against the front entrance’s glass exterior. Still, his point is well taken: Wilbur Cross High School is all about getting its students somewhere. According to the mission poster hanging outside of the main office, after the final bell, graduation, the school promises to prepare active citizens ready for higher education, the military, or the workforce. From the debate team to the track field, from an Ivy League school to a two year college to a minimum wage job, the options are endless. The danger, senior administrator Robert Anderson explains, is that any of Cross’ students will end up as “a major statistic: death, jail, or an institution.” For special needs students like the senior Louie Jones, guidance toward an appropriate post-graduation track is especially important because, according to Anderson, these students are at the greatest risk for these major three. Louie desperately wants to enroll in a four-year state university next fall. His struggle is to get accepted. Wilbur Cross’s struggle is more complicated. Ethically, the school must decide how best to support a special needs student who is in denial about his own limitations.


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    I first meet Louie while I’m working as a tutor for the GEAR UP Program at Wilbur Cross High School. GEAR UP is a Connecticut-wide college prep program intended “to help low-income students prepare for college, and to provide college scholarships for eligible high school seniors.” At Wilbur Cross, the program started two years ago and runs five days a week under the direction of Sara Thompson. To say that Louie participates in GEAR UP is an understatement. “He’s the first person here in the morning and the last person here at night,” Ms. Thompson says. She remembers Robert Anderson introducing her to Louie when she first started two years ago. “He asked me to help him,” she recalls. Louie’s guidance counselor, Nathan Wilden, knows Louie is determined to get a good education. “Truthfully,” he comments, “if more students had his desire, they would be better off.”

    Whether Louie can survive at a four-year university with his learning disabilities is unclear. Yet, whatever reservations Ms. Thompson has about this plan for Louie, she sees her job as straightforward. “I’m not in any conflict,” Ms. Thompson explains. “It’s up to him; he’s an adult. If he wants to go to college, we’ll help him with that.”

    When the last bell rings at 1:35 on the last Tuesday in September, Louie is the first student through the door: black backpack slung over one shoulder, dark jeans hanging off his narrow hips, and a bright yellow t-shirt announcing his entrance. A scrawny 18-year-old, Louie came to the United States from Jamaica to join his mother here in New Haven when he was five. That year, a speech problem landed him in special education. Now, 13 years later, his bright white smile and quick brown eyes completely mask an IQ of 76 — only six points above the cutoff for being considered “intellectually disabled” by the state of Connecticut. The Connecticut State Department of Education adopted the term intellectual disability as a substitute for mental retardation, but the definition has remained the same: “significant limitations both in intellectual functioning and in adaptive behavior as expressed in conceptual, social and practical adaptive skills.” This definition means that students like Louie suffer both academic and social handicaps. Fractions, essays, girls, parties — all aspects of life are affected by intellectual disabilities.

    Louie is reluctant to speak to others about his disability because he objects to his classification as a student with special needs. “I don’t really agree with a lot of the stuff that’s in my file,” he explains, referring to his IEP — the Individualized Education Program that Wilbur Cross has developed to adapt high school to his needs.

    According to Allen Solis, the special needs coordinator at GEAR UP and a Southern Connecticut State University student studying for a secondary degree in special needs education, the Individualized Education Program is part of the 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) which “required free and appropriate education” for students with disabilities under the age of 21. Referring to Louie’s disability, Allen admits, “I’ve worked with Louie on the college process, but he didn’t disclose it to me at first.” Still, he could tell immediately that Louie’s “verbal ability doesn’t match his intellect.” As a result of his speech therapy, Louie sounds normal when he speaks, but, as Allen explains, he has “problems following linear thinking.”


    My first time working with Louie, I don’t know about his disability either. He asks for help with a worksheet on converting scientific units and scientific notation, but the real problem quickly emerges that he doesn’t know how to convert fractions to decimals. After running through some quick conversions — 1/2 equals 0.5 — I ask him his grade, assuming he is a freshman and hoping to pawn him off on one of the regular math tutors. A literature major at Yale, I’m here to read college essay drafts, not embarrass myself by exposing that I have no idea how many grams to an ounce. “A senior,” he replies. I’m shocked — this material is not much harder than the math I encounter tutoring an eleven-year-old at the John S. Martinez Middle School. When I ask tentatively if he’s planning on college, he smiles and definitively replies yes. “Can you help me with that?” There’s something about his enthusiasm that I just can’t turn down.



    The college application consists of biographical information, a couple short answer questions, at least one long essay, two teacher recommendations, at least the SAT I test and often two SAT II subject tests, a high school transcript, a recommendation from the school’s college or guidance counselor, and often an interview with an admissions officer from the desired college. Only three years past my own experience with this process, I arrive at GEAR UP ready for Louie, armed with an intimate knowledge of this process that, although it often reduced me to tears, I ultimately conquered.

    Because the details of his disability are confidential and Louie himself doesn’t know — or accept — the extent of his diagnosis, here is an example of a question that tests the limits of Louie’s intellectual abilities. One of the sample SAT questions posted on the College Board’s website in early October reads:

    There is a housing lottery for the best room on campus. There are 200 sophomores, 150 juniors, and 100 seniors. Each sophomore’s name occurs once, each junior’s twice, each senior’s three times. What is the probability that the name drawn will be a senior’s?

    This question — an average word problem on the SAT math section — tests both reading comprehension and knowledge of basic fractions. Elizabeth McCarthy, Louie’s special education counselor at Wilbur Cross, explains that even though his reading skills are “higher than his math skills,” he exhibits “very low” math skills as a result of his disability. In solving this problem, both reading and math skills hold him back. With help he identifies the meaning of the question. With help he is able to set up the fractions in the problem. And, with help, he is able to compute the multiplication and fractions. By the time the answer 3/8 is scribbled onto the page, almost 20 minutes have passed.

    The emphasis is Louie’s need for help. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) outlines a comprehensive support network for students with special needs. Each of the 180 to 200 special needs students at Wilbur Cross has a specialized Individualized Educational Program (IEP), which describes the student’s needs, goals, objectives, and accommodations. Elizabeth McCarthy, who has worked in special education for 11 years, explains that there is a “huge range in modifications” depending on the disability. On the minor side, the IEP could call for use of calculators on tests, extra time, etc. The extreme side of the spectrum can place students in self-contained classrooms for “multi-handicapped students with really low cognitive functioning,” according to Melissa Pellino, the head teacher in Cross’s self-contained classroom.

    The problem is that there is not always enough time to follow the IEP. Even though there is approximately a one to 10 ratio of special needs counselors to special needs students at Wilbur Cross, Mrs. McCarthy says, still, “there are not enough teachers to provide the support.” Two years ago, Wilbur Cross moved to “full inclusion,” a policy of immersing as many special needs students as possible into regular education classrooms. Each student should be supported by a special education counselor in every class period, but this goal creates serious logistical problems. Earlier this fall, Mrs. McCarthy was responsible for 18 students, meaning she was supposed to attend 47 classes a day — an obviously impossible task. “The set up is really difficult,” she says. “Immersion has huge scheduling issues.” She believes “if students are put in a regular education setting with appropriate supports, it can be successful.” But if the support is lacking or students are resistant to the help, immersion allows some students to fall through the cracks.


    Throughout October, Louie tackles SAT prep books, preparing for the November 2 test date. For the college process, the SAT is virtually the make or break component. If the scores are too far below the average range of admitted students, college admissions officers won’t even consider the candidate. For Louie’s number one choice, Central Connecticut State University, the average SAT score for an admitted freshman is 1030 out of a possible 1600 points. (The Central admissions office doesn’t take the new SAT writing section into consideration.) Louie took the test during the spring of his junior year, but his score was only 480 — 210 on the math section and 270 on the verbal section. He scored highest on the writing section with 290 points, but this score won’t factor into his overall score for Central. Test takers receive 200 points on each section for writing their names, meaning Louie only answered a handful of questions right.

    This first score, however, doesn’t discourage Louie. “I had trouble focusing,” he says. Then he forgets the setback, showing up the second Tuesday in October proudly sporting two huge SAT prep workbooks. He e-mails me regularly about his progress, even committing some of his Saturdays for extra studying. “I like his spirit,” comments Nicky Perrault, his junior year English teacher. “Nothing stops Louie.” When I ask her to tell me about Louie, she dissolves into laughter. “You’re writing an article on Louie? What am I gonna say about Louie? I love him.” An energetic black woman, Mrs. Perrault explains “his attitude helped him pass” English 3 last year, a regular education class. “He’s always positive… any kind of criticism and he’s unfazed.” But Mrs. McCarthy has a different take on this attitude. “Delusional. I don’t know why I keep coming back to that word.” Mrs. McCarthy sees a different side of Louie, the side that resists help from the many services the special education department at Wilbur Cross can provide him. Ms. Thompson also shares some of Mrs. McCarthy’s opinion: “I’ve told Louie that I think his aspirations are perhaps beyond him.”

    My own thoughts on Louie waver somewhere in between unstoppable and crazy. All I know for certain is I’m nervous about November 2. To fall within range for Central, he has to more than double his SAT score. The signs of his disability are everywhere; even accessing his College Board account proves a problem. He forgets his password, and misspells his mother’s maiden name, the secret question that releases a forgotten password to the student. He has to reenter his social security number twice, three times, because copying long strings of numbers is difficult. “Focus on the questions at the beginning of each section,” I advise him in an e-mail the night before the test, knowing that the questions build in difficulty. “Don’t worry if you spend the whole time period working on the first half of the questions.” October is too late to learn new material; at this point learning better test taking strategies are the only option.

    An option to circumvent the SAT score problem is Central’s Educational Opportunity Program (EOP). This program functions as a back-door entrance for students whose SAT scores aren’t up to par. Mr. Carberry, director of admissions at Central, explains that this program will consider SAT scores in the low 700s to mid 800s. According to Mr. Carberry, the EOP program is a five-week, free of charge “academic boot camp” for 50 admitted students. Harry Pacheco, the associate director of the EOP program at Central, explains the rigorous schedule: “breakfast at 7:30, 8:30-5:15 in classes, six to 10 study hall. Typically students are getting to bed between one and two a.m.” Mr. Pacheco says the goals of the program are to teach “discipline, time management, structure” as well as “enhance the student’s skills in the areas of English and mathematics.” Everyone who works with Louie agrees that this program is a great opportunity for him. Mr. Wilden thinks he is a “good candidate for the EOP program” because “he needs some way to become accustomed to the quality and volume of college work.” Louie himself is enthusiastic about the program and promises to write EOP on top of his Central application in big, bold letters. Still, the program’s not a guarantee; Louie’s junior-year scores are more than 200 points below the range for the EOP program.

    The real option for improving Louie’s score is acquiring more time by registering for the SAT as a special needs student. But this gets to the heart of Louie’s problem: his resistance to self-identifying as a special needs student and accepting the help. “It’s not fair,” he says, “if I get more time and somebody else doesn’t and then, you know, I get into Central and they don’t.” I look at Louie and think he’s nuts. It’s not fair that I can read a short passage two — or three or even four — times faster than Louie. I try to explain this to him, but I don’t know how. “Everyone can do things at different speeds,” I venture. “That’s what’s not fair.”

    Ms. Thompson offers one explanation of Louie’s extreme opposition to identifying himself as special needs. “As students get older and become aware of subtle differences they become aware they are in different classes. It becomes a sticking point.” A visit to Ms. Pellino’s self-contained classroom for Wilbur Cross’s most severely disabled students offers another. Ms. Pellino has seven students, four of whom are in wheelchairs and only two of whom are verbal. When I visited the classroom, the students are just finishing Activities for Daily Living — the morning exercise that teaches the bathroom routine. “Only a couple of the students understand it,” Ms. Pellino admits, “but we do it anyway.” Ms. Pellino has been at Wilbur Cross for ten years now, and most of the kids she started with are still in her classroom. “That’s what’s hard,” she explains. “Do I see big gains in these kids? No.” Besides the television and the occasional moan from Vince, a light-skinned black boy with a habit of distorting his mouth, the classroom is eerily quiet. Marvin, whom Ms. Pellino calls a flirt and who stares me up and down with sharp black eyes, rocks his head back and forth, causing his wheelchair to squeak. Maria, a new student from Mexico who is deaf and mute but doesn’t know sign language, practices waving “bye-bye.” For Louie, who plans to study law or political science in college and eventually wants to be a senator, to identify himself even slightly with these students would destroy all his dreams. Still, at my insistence, he takes one step in this direction and agrees to register for the SAT with extra time. “Whatever’s going to get me into Central,” he concedes.

    Ms. Thompson thinks self-identifying as a special needs student for the SAT is a major step in the right direction because it will help admissions officers better interpret Louie’s score. If they know he is special needs, she reasons, the admissions office will cut him some slack. But Mr. Carberry, head of admissions at Central, disagrees. “We don’t look differently at the extra-time version of the SAT versus the regular version.” He continues, “SAT scores, GPA, we read them the same” for every applicant. And although he maintains that “no college can discriminate on behalf of special needs students” and Central does have “good support services and is navigable” he admits, “I don’t think it’s the best place” for students with disabilities.

    When Mr. Carberry addresses prospective Wilbur Cross students at the high school’s auditorium, he looks imposing: a well-built black man wearing a classy tan suit, brown leather shoes, and a gold tie. Louie is the first to volunteer to circulate inquiry cards, open house post cards, a book mark, and a glossy brochure. Most of the 50 or so students at the information session look bored or annoyed when an announcement over the loudspeaker asks teachers who see students with hats to confiscate them and “not worry about giving them back.” But Louie is busy at work: asking Mr. Carberry questions about campus clubs, jumping up to open the locked door for latecomers, and filling out his information on the inquiry card that takes him two tries before doing it perfectly. When some of the cards get handed back to me — I’m the only other white person in the room besides Mr. Carberry’s assistant — Louie shakes his head and points to the pile at the front of the auditorium. Louie smiles at me, and I can see that he utterly trusts that I’m on his side against the admissions office, against doubtful special-education teachers, against hesitant Cross administrators. For a moment, I’m terrified by this responsibility. Meanwhile, Mr. Carberry warns Wilbur Cross students, “I’m the one who decides if you get admitted to Central or not.” And in private, Mr. Carberry warns me, “I’m looking for students who can survive Central.” That means no special consideration for Louie if his scores don’t improve.

    Louie and his college counselor Mr. Wilden go ahead registering him for the SAT with extra time. But this paperwork should have been completed months ago and will only process in time to apply for the January test date. In November, he’ll have to take it with the regular time limits. And regarding January, for schools like Central with rolling admissions, Ms. Thompson explains that that test date might be too late.



    With the SAT test out of the way until scores arrive on November 20, Louie dives into the remaining parts of the application: the personal essay, the teacher recommendations, and the transcript. He refuses to stop and reevaluate whether jumping into a four-year college is the best idea. But everyone else has doubts. Louie’s mom, who did not attend college herself, strongly resists his plans. Back in September he explained to me, “I don’t think my mom’s really going to help, so I’m stuck right now with if I should let her get engaged in it.” He added, “I’m doing fine on my own.” Throughout the fall Louie has worked to obtain Independent Status from the state of Connecticut, which would give him money to pay for the college application fees on his own. By November, his mom has come around to the idea of Gateway, a two-year community college within commuting distance from his home. According to Mrs. Perrault, his junior year English teacher, “His mom said it’s Gateway or nothing.” His college counselor Mr. Wilden explains, “I’m trying not to get in the middle of a fight over Gateway between him and his mom.” Still, Mr. Wilden, Ms. Thompson, and Ms. McCarthy all admit that they think going to a two-year community college might be the better option for Louie — at least at first. “I’m not so sure he should jump right into a four-year school,” Mr. Wilden says. “I’m sure he has no idea what’s coming.”

    Senior administrator Robert Anderson is the most concerned about Louie’s future. “Without support he’ll end up as a major statistic,” he says bluntly. He informs me that means dead, jailed, or institutionalized. I nod gravely, remembering Louie’s dream of being a state senator. Those three places are very far from the senate floor. With a background in clinical social work and a 25-year career in education, Mr. Anderson has worked closely with Louie throughout high school. “He’s a very interesting individual,” Anderson says, “but you’ve got to understand what you’re dealing with.” He stares at me and asks, “Have you ever worked with a student like Louie before?” I quickly rattle off my credentials: I’m interested in educational policy, once I visited a school for autistic students, in high school I worked at a summer program for students who failed the MCAS — the Massachusetts state test one must pass to graduate. “And a lot of them didn’t speak any English, so I had to speak …” I trail off. “No.” I admit. “I’ve never worked with a student like Louie before.” I try to redeem myself. “But it seems like we’re making progress. We’ve been working a lot on SAT prep.” Mr. Anderson looks unimpressed. “With Louie, you always have to ask: show me the results of this progress.”

    Over the past four years, Mr. Anderson has witnessed firsthand how Louie’s disability has affected both his academic and social development. Mr. Anderson explains that, throughout high school, Louie has had a number of “sexual incidents.” When I look confused, Mr. Anderson clarifies, “like you’re in the dental chair with your pants unbuckled.” He continues, “masturbating in public, rubbing up on girls on the track team…after the first few I just stopped listening to his side of the story. He’s never owned it.” I can feel my face going hot, and I have trouble concealing my discomfort. This is a side of Louie I’ve never seen before. Feebly I suggest that Louie is just naïve and Mr. Anderson admits, “It could be naiveté.” But he points out that Louie is 18 now and, naïve or not, that type of behavior could get him into serious trouble.

    Yet Mr. Anderson is still optimistic about Louie’s future. “He could be a good father, a good husband, a good citizen,” he says. Mr. Anderson’s goal for Louie this year: “redirection onto a reality track by June.” He advises me to research career assessment tests and other alternative tracks for Louie.


    Completely blind to these “alternative tracks,” Louie spends November working away at his personal essay. “He’s been sweating over it,” Mrs. Perrault laughs. He’s chosen to write about the time his house caught on fire and how this experience helped him learn that life has “ups and downs.” I remember admissions officer Mr. Carberry’s warning to Wilbur Cross seniors last month: “I don’t want to have to read a lot of junk.” But with help from Mrs. Perrault and the GEAR UP tutors, his essay is polished. When describing a childhood memory of his aunt cooking back in Jamaica, the essay reads, “she would combine the different kinds of herbs and spices and let me approach the big black pot that seemed to me like a witch’s cauldron.” Louie admits that the metaphor of a “witch’s cauldron” came from one of the other Yale tutors. I didn’t need him to tell me that.

    Getting teacher recommendations, however, is not going as smoothly. Mrs. Perrault has agreed to write one of them, but Louie can’t find a second teacher. And even Mrs. Perrault admits that he had to hound her for weeks to get her to agree. Her problem: “I don’t know what to do about the academic part” of the recommendation. When it comes to the question of “describing the student,” Mrs. Perrault gushes that Louie is “confident, tenacious, inquisitive, quirky, helpful, respectful, and eager.” But she doesn’t have many positive things to say about his academic achievements. “I’m stuck… I don’t want to lie but I don’t want to hold him back.” In writing these recommendations, her own integrity and reputation as a teacher is on the line. Plus, she adds, “I don’t want to see him get in and then get kicked out.” For the questions evaluating his academic skills, she ends up giving him scores of two or three out of six possible points. As of the end of November, he still hasn’t secured a second teacher recommendation.

    The last element of the application is the transcript, which Wilbur Cross will send directly to Central. Louie’s GPA is a 2.11, which translates to a C average. Ms. Thompson comments that for someone like Louie, that’s pretty good. Still, Louie isn’t satisfied. “I hoped my GPA would be a 3.0.” A 2.11 might be good enough for Central; the admissions office requires a minimum of a 2.0 for incoming freshman. Yet, the GPA of a special needs student is trickier to interpret than the GPA of a regular student at Wilbur Cross. Mrs. McCarthy explains the modified grading that often applies to special needs students. “You’re not supposed to fail special education students in regular classes,” she says. But, she continues, this often creates a problem for teachers, especially when the special needs student has a lot of modifications that reduce the amount of work he or she is expected to do. “There’s the problem of giving special needs students C’s when you are failing others who are doing more work.” An 11th grade English teacher who overhears our conversation in the teacher’s lounge nods her head in agreement. So when you see Louie’s 2.11 GPA, really that means he has earned an average anywhere between a C and an F.

    With Thanksgiving quickly approaching, time is running out before Louie must mail in his completed application. When Mr. Carberry visited from the admissions office over a month ago, he was already advising that, “now’s the time to apply.” He warned that Central generally begins wait-listing people for housing as early as mid-November, because only 30% of students can receive on campus housing. Furthermore, the Central undergraduate catalogue on admissions advises “academically qualified students with special needs are encouraged to apply to the University early.” With Louie’s academic qualifications continually called into question, the earlier he mails his application in, the better.

    On November 20, Louie’s SAT scores from his second test are available online. Nervously, I log into his account to which he gave me access. I forget his log-in name and then enter his password incorrectly twice. As the red exclamation sign indicating a mistake appears on the screen, I remember the frustrating hour and a half Louie and I spent back in September trying to access his account. I wonder how much of his life feels like an encounter with this red exclamation sign.

    Finally, I access his scores from November 2. His math score has stayed constant at a 210. His critical reading score has decreased from a 270 to a 210. His writing score has decreased from a 290 to a 270. I am stunned. To the Central admissions office, Louie now has a cumulative score (math and critical reading only) of 420 — little more than half of what is expected for the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP). And that program is for the students whose SAT scores don’t make the cut.

    I know that Louie has another chance to improve his scores in January using extra time. Still, by then Central might not bother to look at his new scores, especially when confronted with a 2.11 GPA, a polished but somewhat clichéd essay, and only one ambivalent teacher recommendation. I think about Melissa Pellino, the teacher in Wilbur Cross’s self-contained classroom, working with the same kids year after year, seeing the same backward steps just after a student has mastered some aspect of Activities in Daily Living. “There’s always a regression over the weekend,” she explains. “I’m dreading Thanksgiving break.” The first time I visited her classroom, all I could see was difference between Louie and her students. “Louie is dedicated, motivated and,” I thought most importantly, “able to learn the material I’m teaching him.” But now, staring at Louie’s own regression — scores that are even lower after months of hard work — I begin to grasp the severity of his disability. Remembering Robert Anderson’s challenge: “show me the results of this progress,” I seriously wonder whether Louie has successfully learned anything from me this semester. Or, I rephrase, whether I’ve successfully taught him anything.

    When school resumes after Thanksgiving break, Louie stops coming to GEAR UP on Tuesday afternoons. The first time, Mrs. Thompson is confused when I ask about him. “He was here earlier today,” she replies. When I tell her about Louie’s scores, she shrugs. “He’s probably avoiding you.” For the first time, I consider why Louie would want to work with me, a college student with no real experience in education other than being good at her own. There was no way, I realize now, that I could have helped him more than a special education counselor like Mrs. McCarthy. Yet he resisted her help and sought out mine. I think about when he smiled at me at the Central informational session. It was a smile of alliance — the two of us against the educational world. For a while, his image reflected in my eyes was everything he wanted to see: the belief that he is dedicated, motivated, able to learn, ready for college. I guess he worries that now his new SAT scores have destroyed my belief in that Louie. He wouldn’t be right, but he wouldn’t be entirely wrong.

    A few weeks later, I receive an e-mail from him, informing me that he’s sent in the first half of Central’s application. He also hopes that my article about him went OK. He doesn’t want to read it, though, and he doesn’t seem to want to work with me anymore either. I keep coming to GEAR UP on Tuesdays, and when he’s not there I work with other students. They are often smarter, but never as determined. Maybe he’s found someone else like me through some other tutoring program, someone who believes in him. I don’t care as much anymore if Louie gets into Central because, honestly, I’m not sure that’s what’s best for him right now. Mostly what I hope for Louie is that someday he lives up to the image of himself that he sees reflected in other hopeful people’s eyes. I hope, ultimately, that he finds a place for himself where he doesn’t have to fight the odds to gain acceptance.

  2. My Yale – Breathing Color

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    Breathe turquoise to cure your arthritis, orange to alleviate your pain. Inhale green to strengthen your nerves, and blue to bolster your life force. Sniff pink to smooth away wrinkles. These strategies are guaranteed to work, according to the 1977 book Health, Youth and Beauty Through Color Breathing. Co-authored by a diminutive modeling school instructor named Yvonne, the book describes a meditative practice analogous to smoking. The practitioner envisions a cloudlike aura of color surrounding his or her body, and then inhales it. Breathing whitish gray helps with “bone mending,” while puffing on golden-white cures cardiovascular disease. Deep pinkish rose fosters a “loving rapport with others,” while pale orchid insures “spiritual attunement.” Grass green will bring monetary gain, but only if the color-breather says, “According to the will of the Father,” lest he appear greedy.

    Color Breathing forms a small and frivolous part of the Faber Birren Collection of Books on Color, itself a part of the Robert B. Haas Family Arts Library. The Collection originally belonged to the prominent color consultant Faber Birren, who presented it to Yale in 1971. Born at the turn of the century to a landscape painter father and pianist mother, Birren studied art both at home and in school. He dropped out of college after two years, opting instead to pursue a self-directed study of color. Later, he popularized the business of color consulting and labored tirelessly to demonstrate the breadth of its application. Working with industrial giants like General Electric and DuPont, Birren invented a sophisticated code to signal various types of danger, replacing the catch-all red with “yellow for stumbling, falling, or strike-against hazards, orange for cutting, brushing, burn or shock possibilities, blue for caution, green for first-aid equipment.” He took commissions from the Navy and Coast Guard, specifying colors for vehicles, structures, and clothing. These changes cut down on worker fatigue and helped reduce the Armed Services accident rate by over 85%.

    But Birren’s interest in color went past its merely pragmatic uses. He proved by self-experimentation that living in a room painted vermillion does not induce insanity. He also established that most virtuous women would never buy a green billiards table, since green was associated with seedy barrooms, but that they would happily shell out for a nice shade of burgundy. In addition to all this, Birren was a frequent editor, attaching his name to everything from academic texts on color systematization to pop psychology quizzes. He even consulted on Disney’s Fantasia.

    When Birren donated his collection to Yale, it consisted of just 177 items; today, thanks to Yale’s librarians, it contains over 2000. There is a first edition of Newton’s Optics, a manual instructing railroad surgeons on how to deal with color-blindness, a hand-colored guide to 18th century English insects, a treatise concerning “substantive dyestuffs on cotton piece-goods,” and a yearly Swedish serial that explains how to use lichens around the house. Strange color names abound. There is a box containing 55 paint chips, each of which corresponds to a different color stagecoach (Indian Red, Tuscan Red, Tacoma Red, Granate Red, Mars Red). A poster from the 1930s advertises such exotic food colorings as Peacock Green and Orchid Mauve. One artist’s book contains 179 watercolor swatches, all varying shades of the stucco walls of Bologna, Italy. Each swatch is paired with an address. Pool-tile turquoise is at 3A Via degli Orefici; split-pea khaki is at 35 Via Broccaindosso; rice-pudding brown is at 4 Via d’Inferno.

    The Collection also has forecasts from the Color Association of the United States, which each year sends out 12- by 29-inch charts covered in swatches of the freshest and most fashionable hues. Though the forecasts have no real authority, they encapsulate a given year’s personality — what the authors of Color Breathing might call its “soul color.” In 1986, the year of the Challenger explosion and the Iran-Contra affair, the forecast was a patriotic lesson in geography, with such colors as Tampa Toast, Biloxi Brick, Flint Chartreuse, and Pago Pago Green (even American Samoa got a nod). The colors of 1988 drew heavily from Greek mythology; they had names like Demeter Pink, Orpheus Red, and Circe Claret.

    Faber Birren died at the end of that year. Perhaps as a result, the color forecasts shifted from buoyant to crestfallen. 1989 was decidedly drab. The deep vinous red of Circe Claret disappeared, and in its place came the arid brown known as Nude.

  3. Up the Hill – Bare Bones

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    As I entered the Environmental Science Center of the Yale Peabody Museum, I couldn’t help but notice the tidiness. The ESC is a beautiful building with clean lines. There is barely any dust or grime — except, I found, in a special basement room. There, a tank of beetles devours the flesh of animal carcasses, preparing the bones for their spotless museum tenure.

    So far, beetles have cleaned the carcasses of over 24,000 birds, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals for the permanent collection. However, when specimens (gathered from road-kill, zoos, and research sites) first arrive on campus, they are mere carrion — a mass of fur or feathers, bone, muscle, skin. To be suitably prepared for the archives, these dead animals must undergo a rigorous cleaning process, the final step of which takes place in that basement room: the dermestarium.

    Recently, I met with Gregory Watkins-Colwell, the Peabody Museum Assistant, to discuss the preparation process of collected animals and, in particular, the work of the dermestids — the beetles kept as lab assistants.

    The process begins when a carcass, usually frozen, arrives at the museum. It is identified, measured, and catalogued. Then the animal is skinned. “It’s like taking a sock off,” said Watkins-Colwell. A skin and tissue sample is then placed in the museum’s databank.

    After the skin is off, the lab scientists remove as much muscle tissue and viscera as they can, and then leave the skeletons and remaining flesh to jerky. Only then is the dried specimen ready to meet the beetles.

    At this point in the conversation, Kristof Zyskowski, the Collections Manager of Vertebrate Zoology at the Peabody, joined our discussion. He brought me to the ESC’s storage facility — a sterile, chilled area complete with metal cabinets filled with products of evolution. The specimens there are mainly birds — passenger pigeons, ostriches, hummingbirds, and kiwis — and reptiles, but in West Campus facility, Zyskowski points out, there is a narwhale, an recently-extinct zebra known as a “quagga,” a giraffe, a walrus, and a set of champion dogs.

    Here are the end results of the collecting process: slightly yellowed bones — all neatly labeled — and various skins. But this is not where the bugs are. They, I discovered, were as far away from the collections as possible.

    “We’re working with the beetle everyone else wants to keep out,” Watkins-Colwell explained. So to reach the bugs, Zyskowski led me out of the collections room, through a labyrinth of halls, doors, and stairways. Behind the last door was the prep room.

    Immediately, the difference between this working basement and the sterile lab was apparent: it smelled. Humid, thick air greeted my lungs. On the floor, the carcass of a cape buffalo was half-hidden beneath black trash bags. Metal boxes housed preserved fish. In see-through boxes along shelves running the length of the room were small vertebrate skeletons ready for final labeling. Buckets full of bones in various stages of decay were stashed in the sinks.

    Still, however, no bugs.

    Turning right in the prep room, we came to a second series of doors that led to the beetles.

    Housed in glass cages with double-thick wire roofing, thousands of beetles swarmed over the carrion. During my visit, there were several small rodents from an expedition in the 1980’s, a few small lizards, and small birds in the cages. Each half-cleaned specimen, carefully placed in a labeled, clear-plastic tray had its own army of cleaners attacking whatever dried flesh they could find.

    Within a few short days or hours — depending on the size of the specimen — those rodents, lizards, and birds will be ready to be placed in storage. After the specimens are removed from the bug tanks, they are shaken to remove most of the bugs and frozen to kill any hidden larvae.

    The bugs — more commonly called leather beetles — have a strong affinity for jerked flesh and leathers. So much so, that back before effective pesticides were applied, they were a major fear for the leather industry.

    Seeing them with such healthy appetites, I asked Zyskowski what kept them from reaching the even larger feast in the permanent collections upstairs. The most basic deterrent, he said, was the screens on top of the cages.

    Even if they make it out of the cage, there is still little chance for escape. The air from the bug room ventilates straight outside the building and not into another room, a feature that also directs the room’s scent away from human offices. Additionally, the bug room is negatively pressured. This means that there is a bug-scale wind tunnel at the base of the doorframe that would stop any adventurous bugs. For good measure, there are also sticky traps in the corner.

    After checking to be sure no crafty beetle had hitched a ride on our shoes, Zyskowski and I headed back to the sterile offices above. The beetles, content in their cages, kept right on eating — unknowingly doing the dirty work to create the beauty of the specimens upstairs.

  4. Around Elm City – The Other Path

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    On a dark night in July 2008, a group of gang members from New Haven’s Hill district piled into three cars and drove downtown. Tensions with a gang from a neighboring district had escalated in the preceding two weeks, and the violence was beginning to claim innocent bystanders such as Antoinette Joyner, 54, who died after being hit by a stray bullet on June 29. Carrying handguns, the gang members drove to Winthrop Avenue, where they intended to meet their rivals and settle the score.

    Though they were packing heat, the gangsters, most of whom were adolescents, weren’t planning on another shootout, nor were they intent on seeing anyone die. Instead, they were going to talk. Reaching their destination, the cars pulled in next to a dimly-lit sidewalk, where members of the rival gang stood with four workers from the New Haven Street Outreach Program.

    The Street Outreach Program, launched in July 2007 by the New Haven Family Alliance (NHFA), aims to provide resources and guidance to the city’s “at-risk youths.” “These kids are disconnected,” explains Barbara Tinney, director of the NHFA. “Until we started our work, the only interaction they had with the city was with the police. They don’t know of any other lifestyle, apart from shooting or being shot at.”

    To show youths that other choices are possible, the Street Outreach Program gathered a team of workers who had been down the same path of street life, violence, and drug use, but ultimately chose to pursue education and careers. These workers fan into each district of the city from seven at night to three in the morning every day, building bonds with local youths so that they can ultimately serve as mentors, role models, and bridges to opportunity. “You can’t beat the streets,” says Tyrone Weston, supervisor of the program. “Our guys have seen it themselves. Some lost family and friends to gang life, and some lost ten years or more of their lives in prison. So they have street cred, and they use it to work hard and show that they’re honest and serious about helping their kids.”

    Despite the workers’ best efforts, Weston notes that obstacles remain. “Trust is important on the streets, and we still have to earn trust with a lot of people. They avoid us or turn away from us because we work alongside the city and the police, and they’re suspicious of that. We need to show that we’re not trying to get them arrested. In fact, we’re trying to do the opposite.”

    Nevertheless, progress has been steady. After a year and a half, the Street Outreach Program has identified over 300 at-risk youths, many of whom have pledged refrain from violence, enrolled in life-skills workshops, found jobs, or agreed to participate in community activities such as a basketball league organized by outreach workers. And although many youths have not fully signed on with the program, Weston believes the outreach is making a broad impact. “Even if some don’t listen to what we preach, at least they know we’re there. When they’re ready to make a change, they know who to call for help.”

    Weston recalls the July night when he received the call from one of the gang leaders whose escalating feud had claimed the life of Antoinette Joiner. “They were just as tired of the shooting as anyone else in New Haven. They said, ‘We want to stop this, and we want to stop this tonight. We’ll need your help.’” Weston assembled a team of several workers to act as mediators for the meeting.

    The situation on Winthrop Avenue immediately threatened to become another bloodbath as the arriving gang members climbed out of their cars. Both sides, accustomed to constant violence and danger, had brought weapons to the peace negotiations. But with the help of the outreach workers, discussions began. Representatives from each gang discussed their grievances, and while the atmosphere often became tense, both gangs eventually agreed that a truce would be in their common interest. “There was a lot of bad blood between them,” Weston recalls. “But they knew that there must be other ways to resolve those differences — that more people getting killed over a turf war was not the right solution.”

    A year and a half after its inception, the Street Outreach Program is building on its foundations. It has now mediated numerous disputes, provided guidance for hundreds of youths, and established a strong presence on the streets of New Haven. Finally, somebody is talking to the isolated, neglected, and at-risk youth of the city — and it appears they are ready to listen.

  5. The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men

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    I wasn’t prepared for the firebombs.

    It started with a simple one-line e-mail from a Yale researcher I had hoped to talk to: “I’m sorry, but given the recent PETA attacks on campus, I don’t feel comfortable talking about my research in a newspaper.” I had heard of PETA, short for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, but I knew very little of their actions, and as far as the relationship between PETA and researchers, I had never before stopped to think about it.

    [ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”312″ ]

    Agreeing to speak with me on the condition of anonymity, the Yale researcher invites me to her office on a weekday in mid-November. Apologizing for the cluttered space, she appears at ease, pointing out the view of nearby gardens and discussing her workload for the day. Yet minutes into our conversation, I realize I’ve stumbled upon something much bigger than what I anticipated.

    She shows me an online article about attacks in Santa Cruz, California on August 2, 2008. Unknown animal rights activists set off two firebombs, targeting scientists who conducted animal research at the University of California, Santa Cruz. One bomb destroyed a researcher’s car, while the other sent a researcher and his two children fleeing after the device went off on his porch, engulfing his off-campus house in smoke. At the time, the American Animal Liberation Press Office, which commonly posts messages from groups taking credit for animal rights violence, announced that no organization had claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack. But AALP spokesman Jerry Vlasak did comment on the incident: “It’s regrettable that certain scientists are willing to put their families at risk by choosing to do wasteful animal experiments.”

    The attacks were 3,000 miles from Yale’s campus and six months past, yet I notice that the researcher is still visibly shaken. “These are people who don’t value human life,” she comments. (PETA was not involved in the attacks, I later learned.)

    “These horrendous acts of terrorism have become common,” she continues. “It reminds you that there are people who really think that you should be harmed. When you see events like in California, and you read that they’re so misinformed, and know that some think it’s really OK for humans to die if animals live. You’re not free to talk about your work anymore. If someone learns you do animal research, they might come bomb your house.” She pauses.

    “I don’t want my kids being blown up.”


    On October 16, 2008, about five PETA activists wearing monkey masks held up a banner that read “Yale Murders Monkeys” and marched on Yale. In a press release, Justin Goodman, research associate supervisor in the Laboratory Investigation Department of PETA, alleged that over 160 primates “are locked up in Yale’s laboratories. The monkeys spend their lives confined to steel cages in which they are mutilated, injected with poisons, and forced to become addicted to drugs before they are killed — all at taxpayers’ expense.” The event, coinciding with National Primate Liberation Week, was one of many demonstrations that took place across the country, drawing attention to what Goodman called “the plight of the tens of thousands of primates imprisoned in U.S. laboratories.”

    Incidents like this one, coupled with more sinister efforts farther afield, have made the ethics of animal research a sensitive topic of conversation, especially at Yale. Two days after my initial interview with the Yale researcher, I receive a call on my cell phone from a restricted number.

    “Hi. This is Charles Hogen, Deputy Director of Public Affairs at Yale University. Do you have a minute to talk? I’d like to discuss your article on PETA for the [magazine].”

    I had sent out only a few e-mails to some researchers and doctors at the University. I had spoken to one in person. And somehow, the Deputy Director of Public Affairs had gotten a hold of my name and cell phone number.

    Convinced that Dr. Hogen will force me not to run the story, I am surprised when he tells me he only wants to make sure I have the University’s “official statement” on the issue. Eager to give a human voice to Yale’s research, he gives me a list of pre-approved patient advocates, or patients willing to talk about their illness, complete with their numbers and ailments.

    “There is a balkanization of the issue,” he tells me in a seemingly PR-free moment. “The PETA contingent believes that people are evil animal murderers, and researchers think that PETA throws firebombs and threatens children. It doesn’t lead to constructive dialogue; neither side is being heard. In some cases [PETA’s] actions have been violent — borderline terrorism, threatening children. It’s very concerning to faculty members doing research. It’s an important subject.”

    I realize that Dr. Hogen is perfectly right: in the conflict between researchers and PETA, drama and sensationalism make constructive dialogue impossible. Researchers see PETA members as violent fanatics, and PETA views researchers with parallel contempt. When I ask about PETA, researchers recount stories that seem too crazy to be true: for instance, one scientist tells me that the woman who founded PETA had a hysterectomy so that she would not give birth to a meat-eater. Meanwhile, PETA calls researchers “fear mongerers” who want to scare the public into thinking that their health hinges upon the use of animal “experimentation.” Hiding behind accusations, rumors, and fears, people don’t manage to address the real issue: whether an animal has the same rights as a human being.

    And so the challenge becomes transcending the accusations to grapple with the hard questions. What happens when the perceived needs of humans clash with the rights of other living, breathing creatures? On what moral grounds do we argue our position — in favor of humans, or in favor of animals — when the two sides oppose each other so forcefully?

    To put it bluntly, which side is right?


    Nationally, animal research is heavily regulated. Under federal law, institutions that conduct animal research must set up an Institutional Animal Care & Use Committee (IACUC), a self-regulating entity that enforces animal research regulations. At Yale, the IACUC serves to “provide assistance to investigators in fulfilling their obligation to plan and conduct animal experiments in accord with the highest scientific, humane, and ethical principles,” as well as to “ensure the humane and sensitive care and use of animals,” according to a Yale Web site.

    But while the IACUC regulations are grounded in good intentions, the Yale researcher who told me about the firebombings suggests that heightened sensitivity over animal testing is beginning to stunt research. “People are spending less time on research, and more on legal work,” she says. “We end up doing more legal work than actual discovery and care. I’m all for treating animals fairly, but now the regulations take up so much time.”

    The researcher accuses PETA of using the 1966 Freedom of Information Act, which allows people to view documents from public agencies, to obtain information from the NIH “to shut down research by finding discrepancies in grants, publications, and protocols.” Discrepancies can happen, the researcher notes, because “grants are not contracts,” and “scientists often change their experiments as science itself constantly updates.” She adds that she views PETA’s FIA advocacy efforts as “abuse.” Although Yale is a private institution, its research publications are available to the public because the research is often funded by NIH grants. “[PETA] is unaware of the vast regulations,” she argues.

    Though we spend a lot of time discussing the Yale researcher’s opinions on PETA, it is her comments on the importance of research that stick out to me. She twice mentions the idea that if all biomedical research stopped, we would go back to an age of plagues. Epidemic diseases like smallpox, polio, and scarlet fever are transmitted by pathogens that constantly evolve, she tells me solemnly. “Go into the cemeteries and you just see all the children who died — people had 10 children and eight or nine of them would die. If we stop doing research, we go back to that era.”

    As I collect my winter things and begin to bundle up against the imminent cold, she tells me, “I know people who are tragically ill, and who desperately need our research. I am e-mailed by them or their loved ones, and I’m constantly reminded of their anguish.” She shakes her head angrily: “I am appalled that PETA constantly says that research has never created new treatments. If you think of the world in 1930 and you think of it now, all advances in medicine were done through animal research.”


    It is difficult to contact PETA: I leave voicemails that are never returned, send e-mails to phantom addresses. Finally, I get in touch with Kathy Guillermo, Director of Laboratory Investigations at PETA, who says that PETA would be happy to talk to me and forwards my e-mail to Justin Goodman himself.

    As I prepare for my interview with Goodman, I can’t help but be nervous; I have spent the last few weeks gathering information from researchers too afraid to speak with me. I have read several articles on animal rights “terrorism,” including a horrific story in which animal rights activists stormed a researcher’s house during her young daughter’s birthday party, causing the researcher to hide in the closet with her child as the activists punched her husband. Gathering the accusations, miscommunications, gossip, and the waves of fear and caution that radiated from researchers and officials, I have set out to have the conversation with PETA that no researcher would have.

    So it is an utter shock that talking to Goodman is so smooth; there are no walls, no barriers. Words are not inherently dangerous, and an opinion does not have to be checked. There is a sense of freedom in our flowing conversation that was notably absent in the interviews I conducted with researchers. “I am very proud of my position on this,” Goodman tells me when I asked him whether I can use his name in my piece. And with the slightest hint of mockery, he adds, “I’m not afraid.”

    One of the first things I notice about Goodman was that whenever I try to say “researcher,” he is quick to substitute “experimenter.” About an hour into our talk, I ask him why he uses the term. He replies, “I don’t think what they do to animals should be considered research.” The Laboratory Investigation department of PETA, of which Goodman is the research associate supervisor, is in charge of investigating animal experimentation that is being done in institutions across the country. “We learn about animal experiments that are being conducted in laboratories or classrooms, read articles, or hear complaints from a student, and we’ll contact the university and try to work with them to replace the use of animals,” he explains.

    Because Yale is such a large animal research facility, the University has “always been on PETA’s radar,” Goodman says. The group’s involvement on campus began in April 2008, when PETA activists stopped a talk about animal research that was to be presented as part of Science Saturdays, a science education program for children sponsored by the University. “We learned that Yale had organized a presentation with Marina Picciotto regarding the importance of working with experimental animals for devising new ways to help people quit smoking,” Goodman tells me. He adds that Picciotto’s presentation was so brazen an attempt to indoctrinate children into approving of cruelty to animals that PETA decided to pay closer attention to research at Yale.

    When I later talk to Professor Picciotto, she has a very different take on the purpose of the talk. “It was about the biological basis of nicotine addiction, which kills between 300,000 to 500,000 Americans per year,” she says. “Because I do work with animals, there would have been data from animal experiments in the presentation, but the primary goal was about science, not about the justification of animal experiments.”

    This is not the first time that Professor Picciotto has come under attack from animal rights activists. PETA previously accused her of spending $15 million since 1996 on “cruel experiments” including “exposing mice and rats to nicotine by injecting it into their abdomens, placing it directly into holes cut in their skulls, or forcing them to choose between drinking water laced with the drug and dying from dehydration,” according to a PETA blog entry.

    Recently, Professor Picciotto has had to defend her work on home turf. On January 27, 2009, the Yale Daily News published a letter written by Alka Chandna, the laboratory oversight specialist at PETA. Chandna alleged that Picciotto, “bored holes into rats’ skulls, injected chemicals directly into their brains, and then decapitated the animals and froze their heads” as well as exposed mice to 360 inescapable shocks in a learned helplessness test.

    Picciotto responded in the same newspaper the next day:

    Alka Chandna and her associates at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) want you to live in a world with no new medications for cancer, pain, heart disease or addiction … Alka Chandna’s colleagues at PETA describe the research done in my laboratory as ‘useless’ because they say that smoking is a choice humans make, and because we already know that smoking is bad. But there is much we do not understand about addiction … At present there is no way to understand the scientific basis for what nicotine does to the brain, nor of testing whether a particular therapy will increase the chance for permanently quitting, without using animals in research.

    When I ask Picciotto about the blog entries and letters that attack her, she replies, with a steady voice, “I fundamentally believe that relieving human suffering or disease of children is worth the sacrifice of mouse lives.”

    Over the course of our conversation, I find out that Picciotto is a breast cancer survivor. The drugs that saved her life had been tested on animals.

    The day before, I asked Goodman point-blank if he wants a cure for cancer. “It’s completely irrelevant to me whether or not we can come up with the cure for a specific disease or test a specific drug without animal experimentation,” he said.


    Sometime during our weeks of correspondence, Goodman and I find ourselves on the topic of the Santa Cruz firebombings. Fingers shaking slightly as I skim my notes, I try not to stutter as I ask him whether PETA has assumed responsibility for the attacks.

    “PETA had no involvement in the Santa Cruz bombings, or in any firebombings period,” he starts. “We would never resort to threatening a researcher’s life. I speak for myself and I speak for PETA, you don’t need to threaten a researcher’s life in order for them to feel threatened.” Goodman adds that the experimenters’ accusations are “an excuse to not engage in dialogue about the issue. It’s a diversion. Instead of actually talking about the moral issues involved here, they want to divert your attention away from PETA and the issues we’re trying to address.”

    PETA’s objection to animal research is a moral one. “We shouldn’t imprison, poison or mutilate animals for experiments for the same reason we shouldn’t do it for human beings,” Goodman says. “The animals that are abused in laboratories — from rats to rabbits to monkeys — are thinking individuals who have the right to be treated respectfully, without being violently exploited for someone else’s benefit.” When I mention the federally approved IACUC, alluding to the “vast regulations” the Yale researcher had pointed out to me, he is quick to cut in: “No amount of government oversight or internal rubber-stamping by IACUCs changes the fact that animals are suffering and being harmed, for the benefit of others. It doesn’t make it any more ethical.”

    After our conversation, Goodman emails me what he claims are summaries of USDA reports from 2005 to 2007 that outline Yale’s violations against the Animal Welfare Act.

    Page 1: In August 2007, Yale was cited for a violation of the AWA related to an incident where a dog suffered burns to his chest after he was operated on and left underneath a heat lamp.

    Page 2: In October 2006, Yale was cited for a failure to perform an adequate search for alternatives to painful surgical procedures in animals. Yale was also cited for failing to identify and treat a pig and rabbit who were showing signs of illness.

    Page 3: During the October 2006 inspection, Yale was also cited for failing to properly care for and treat a monkey who was exhibiting “psychological distress presented by circling and pacing.” (I should note here that research shows that 90% of caged primates in laboratories exhibit abnormal, stress-induced behaviors like neurotic pacing, hair pulling and some even resort to self-mutilation. So this problem is not isolated and is almost certainly effecting [sic] other monkeys at Yale as well).

    Page 5-6: During the December 2005 USDA inspection, Yale was cited for performing an unapproved procedure on a rabbit, for failing to conduct an adequate search for alternatives, for failing to adequately describe experimental procedures in research protocols and for possessing outdated drugs.

    As we wrap up our conversation, Goodman tells me that the fears of Yale researchers are “completely irrational and unfounded. These people should be afraid that people will find out what they do to animals, and will be upset about it, but they shouldn’t fear for their physical safety. PETA has never done anything ever that should cause people to fear for their physical safety.”

    Goodman tells me that if experimenters were forced to sit down and debate their moral position on animal research, they would realize that their position is “indefensible, and they’d be terribly embarrassed.” In his mind, researchers fear PETA because “we’re effective in exposing what they do to animals. They’re afraid.”

    I didn’t know how to digest what Goodman told me. Was I, in attempting to uncover the truths behind researchers’ anger, fear, and misconceptions, about to face the same embarrassment? Having just heard PETA’s side of the story, how could I possibly support animal testing, when the only defense I had was that it would alleviate human suffering? If an animal life is equal to a human life, then how could I possibly argue with that?


    Three years ago, my aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer, a disease that killed my grandmother and has afflicted the women in my family for years, including my mother. At the time, my aunt refused mainstream medication and stuck to holistic treatments. Her cancer grew worse, and the doctors told us that she would soon die. When I visited her for Christmas, she had just arrived home from brain surgery. The cancer had spread, ten tumors attacking her brain. I was barely allowed in the room, because her weakened immune system had developed an infection during the surgery. As I stood watching her slowly lift her sickly frame to a sitting position, a thick scar caressing her bald head and sallow skin, I could not help but wonder how she was still alive. My uncle told us the infection was responding well to the new medication. That medication was tested on animals. As my aunt’s condition continues to fluctuate, I am thankful for every molecule that drips down her IVs. In each drip, there are minutes more to spend with her.

    A few months into researching PETA, the image of my bed-ridden aunt in mind, I contact Dave Menaker, one of the patient advocates on Dr. Hogen’s approved list. In February 2000, Menaker visited the doctor after discovering he couldn’t feel the toes on one of his feet. A few weeks later, after visiting surgeon after surgeon, he was diagnosed with an ependymoma, a tumor in his spinal column. Left to its own devices, the tumor would have slowly crushed his spinal chord, first leaving him paralyzed, then eventually killing him. The surgery that saved his life left him as a paraplegic, able to move only his hands.

    Menaker’s wife places the phone on speakerphone. “Our social life is still restricted,” she tells me. “We ended up with some friends that we’ve lost, and a few friends that we’ve gained. We can’t get into some of our friends’ homes, our relatives’ homes.”

    “It’s totally different,” says Menaker. “My bathroom functions are totally different and they take quite a bit of time. Clearing of the bladder is a major issue, being strong enough to be able to transfer easily from the wheel chair to the bed to the bathroom. I’ve been going to upper body exercising for the last eight years to strengthen my upper body. It takes three hours to get out of the house in the morning. Flying is not feasible — we can’t handle it.” Referring to his wife, he notes, “She has to do all the work — making sure I have all my medications to take.”

    The Menakers stress that they support humane animal testing. “We don’t want to see any animals tortured,” Menaker assures me. He argues that if there were no animal testing, treatments would have to be tested on human beings. “The same kind of issues that crop up with animals would crop up with humans,” he says. “Do you test on animals or humans?”

    As I prepare to hang up the phone, I ask the Menakers if there is anything else they would like to say. Menaker’s wife, her voice almost lost over the phone, tells me the family needs help. “We want a cure,” she says. “Tomorrow would not be fast enough.”

  6. Backpage – She’s Just Not That into You

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    After a special trip to see He’s Just Not That Into You on opening night, your Girl Guides decide that male Yale needs its own edition of the self-help book on which that sure-to-be blockbuster is based. Let’s reflect: Are you reeling in the girls? Are you reeling in even one girl? Are you more pathetic than that guy vomiting outside Toad’s? Probably. Because all your questions can be answered by our new favorite statement of fact: She’s just not that into you. Sorry, boys.

    If she says she doesn’t believe in dating within her residential college…

    If she says she doesn’t believe in dating in protest against the arbitrary construct of an oppressive patriarchy…

    If she says she doesn’t believe in dating… you…

    If she says she just really needs to work tonight because midterms are coming up way sooner than she expected and she totally resolved to buckle down this semester because micro is way harder than anyone warned her and she really did sleep through that lecture on Tuesday and well…

    If she says she needs to set aside time for “the girls”…

    If she won’t change her Facebook relationship status…

    If you’ve never been in her profile picture…

    If she says she wants to maintain the integrity of Freshman Screw by going not with you but instead with a blind date her roommate picked out…

    If she tells you your roommate is cute, and suggests you start to tag along on his trips to Payne-Whitney…

    If she tells your roommate he’s cute…

    If he is in her profile picture…

    If she keeps bringing up her “semester abroad”…

    If she keeps bringing up your “semester abroad”…

    If you’ve never even considered taking a “semester abroad” and don’t really know where she got that idea or how all those Center for International Experience brochures ended up under your pillow…

    If this article ends up under your pillow…

    …then, Yalies, it’s time for a little introspection. Facing the truth is difficult, but with our coaching, you shouldn’t need to dig too deep to uncover the obvious. The signs are clear, our calculations were easy, and your bros have already guessed: She’s just not that into you. Happy Valentine’s Day.

  7. Studio Space – A Tank for Art’s Sake

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    I’m sitting inside a tank with David Muenzer ’09. Above me, I can see the opening to the gun turret, but when I peer out the fine grate above my head, no war zone stretches before my eyes. Rather, we are in the center of a large empty room on the second floor of the Yale sculpture building at 36 Edgewood Avenue, where Muenzer, a senior art major, is currently housing his tank sculpture.

    The construction, called “Sometimes a Tank is Just a Studio,” was completed last semester in collaboration with Muenzer’s friend and fellow artist Tucker Rae-Grant ’09. As Muenzer explains, its resemblance to a military vehicle was accidental. After installing a tube through the top of the structure to accommodate the cord from a lamp inside, the artists first noticed its resemblance to a tank and then embraced it.

    This kind of evolution is typical of the way Muenzer works. “I like to have a really definite groundwork for the process,” he told me, “but I don’t necessarily want to know the output. If you can really guess how a piece is going to be, then you aren’t really going anywhere new with it.”

    A few minutes before, Muenzer had urged me to “be courageous,” lifting up the door and inviting me into the tiny art studio hidden within the tank. As I bent down and extended a tentative foot, I felt as if I were crawling into a metaphor.

    Inside, a light clicked on and music issued from a paint-splattered stereo. Muenzer shook a blue paint pen, and began to draw on a scrap of paper taped to the wall. From where he sat in the space — barely big enough to accommodate the two of us without our elbows colliding — Muenzer told me that being in the studio means being able to “put on your music, zone out, and make something creative.”

    About a week later, Muenzer is in the process of unpacking his painting studio in Green Hall. Boxes, an old table, and some paint-splattered stools are strewn around him in various stages of disorganization.

    He gestures at the mess as if by way of apology. “Most of art,” he tells me for the third or fourth time, “is moving large objects from point A to point B in public, in embarrassing ways.”

    His studio is part of a row that reminds me of office cubicles, each space arranged according to the needs and tastes of its inhabitant. Each is no larger than 15 square feet and is marked with a piece of yellow paper torn from a legal pad that bears its inhabitant’s name. Muenzer’s hangs crooked on the wall next to a stain of red paint left over from someone else’s creative process.

    Muenzer points out the stain to me, and leads me down the hall to show me notes he jotted on the wall of what is now the studio next door. The stain and the notes are symbolic of what Muenzer describes as the “accumulated history” of each studio that is passed unconsciously from one inhabitant to the next.

    Among the boxes and bottles in Muenzer’s studio are the artifacts of his process that constitute his personal artistic history: turkey basters stained with bright pink paint he inherited from a friend and a half-empty bag of Jello coaxed from the dining hall last year to tint a batch of paint. A toy soldier stands at attention on top of a cardboard box labeled “Clothes for Senior Year 1.”

    Muenzer begins speaking to me around a screw he holds between his teeth, as he prepares to drill a shelf into the wall. As he works, I can hear fragments of sound floating from the other sides of the mobile studio walls. An insistent female voice speaks of “a sense of all-over-ness at the edges” of an unseen painting; the water runs into the sink as another girl next-door rinses out her brushes. These artists, too, are hard at work, each in his or her own way.

    Sorting paint tints into a drawer, Muenzer speaks of “trying to find a logic for all this,” referring to tubes of deep green and pale yellow, but suggesting a greater goal. What is the studio, I wonder, but a place to find logic for the immense spectrum of colors, experiences, and people outside?

    Back inside the tank, Muenzer gestures to a bicycle tire sticking through the frame to my right. “Push,” he commands, and I do, rolling the tank across the floor. We pause, and David smiles, his profile casting a delicate shadow on the drawing he just made.

    He rolls the wheel of the tank gently forward again. “I like the idea of the studio not being a fixed place, but going out into the world.”

  8. Personal Essay – Ace

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    He was not attractive. We did not care.

    “He looks like a turtle,” said my friend Sara. “And I love him.”

    [ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”310″ ]

    The roundness of his head, the delicate beaky point of his upper lip — it was true. He also had rimless glasses, and a rust-brown mole the size of a jellybean nestled in his left sideburn. Adam Camden had arrived at the start of my senior year to teach upper school English at Castilleja, and Sara and Julia and I scoped him out from our many campus vantage points (as peer advisors, as newspaper editors, as club presidents) before taking 20th Century British Literature second semester. At the beginning of each class we would watch him unpeel: scarf, coat, jacket, maybe sweater. We ourselves wore scarves and jackets stupidly, ornamentally, indoors and out through the California autumn. He was from New York, a product of prep school and Columbia before the Stanford Ph.D. program: he knew how things were supposed to work. We were sold.

    “I’m not saying that I like him in spite of the way he looks,” Sara would later clarify. “Like, ‘Oh, he has a good personality, that makes him attractive.’ I mean I like that he looks like a turtle.”

    There were always rumors (there are probably such rumors at any all-girls school) that they wouldn’t hire attractive male teachers. If this was true, I’m sorry, hiring committee, because we spent a year making a mockery of your intentions.


    Castilleja wasn’t a Catholic girls’ school. The idea wasn’t to have lots of rules to prevent us from doing bad things. The idea was that we were all too smart and happy and cozy to do bad things, or anything, really, aside from learning. In this sense, it was a perfect extension of my family: I never had a curfew, because I never went out. Good behavior was assumed. I suppose this is why my parents felt few qualms putting me behind the wheel. I would not drink and drive, obviously. I would not have sex in the car because I did not have sex, nor did I know anyone with whom I might conceivably do so.

    My dad bought the Civic the summer before my senior year. “It’s a fun little car,” he said. “It’s like driving a roller skate.” And it was! The Civic was low and zippy. The outside was shimmering green; the inside had tan plastic moldings and foamy beige upholstery. I filled it with empty brownie trays from club meetings, damply crumpled homework papers, spare uniform sweatshirts. My detritus sprawled, but the Civic itself didn’t have a single thing more than was necessary. The locks were manual; there was no tape or CD player. It met my needs exactly.

    I drove fast; I drove distractedly; I drove hazardously. I remember thumbing through a French-English dictionary at red lights. My fender-benders and moving violations were the only encounters I had with the police during my teenage life, and while they terrified me, I was always confident that the officer would understand. Who could ticket a girl so eager to get to high school on time? Adam Camden and the open road became the twin liberating thrills of my senior year. Flying through the yellow hills of Los Altos at 85 miles per hour, in the privacy of my little Civic, I practiced saying his name: Adam Camden, Adam Camden, Adam Camden.

    Adam Camden talked about Barnett Newman’s zips, Frank O’Hara’s poems, the time Allen Ginsberg performed “The Tyger” at his middle school, the time his brother marched onto the Brown football field with a giant dildo, and the way he met his wife (she stalked him; we found this promising). He managed the class poorly: we spent weeks on Dubliners (“baffled desire” — this phrase from “Araby” rang in my head) and maybe two days on Orlando. But we were always goading him to tell us more stories, and besides, enthusiasm counted for a lot. If our lives had been movies, this would have been the part where we all began to feel inspired, flushed with the freedom to be our true selves, filled with excitement about 20th Century British Literature — a swelling of love for life, for learning. We did not. We primarily felt love for Mr. Camden.

    We studied him. This was the remarkable thing: we were allowed to stare at him! We were supposed to stare at him. In my limited experience, the default response to boys I liked was to ignore them, to make sure they didn’t suspect anything. But in class, we could be blatant. We could make eye contact at exactly the right moments, speak with sharp insight about Muriel Spark, catch the jokes that everyone else had missed, wear our uniform skirts at exactly the right length…

    Outside of class we sidled and scurried, coming up with excuses for a thousand tiny encounters that then crystallized into hoardable somethings. E-mails were especially prized: Mr. Camden reciprocated the just-shy-of-flirtatious banter, he punctuated with a profusion of dashes, and he signed each message “AC.”

    We would go to Siam Royal on University Avenue and talk about him endlessly. Sometimes Julia and I worried that Sara was his favorite. Sometimes we all worried that maybe he liked Rachel Bolten, a junior, the best. Sometimes, at night, we would drive by his house — in my Civic, or Julia’s Civic, or Sara’s Volvo station wagon. We groaned at ourselves, we laughed with hysterical mortification, but we did it anyway. In his front yard there was a flag with a pineapple on it, and somewhere behind the pineapple flag there was Adam Camden.


    In March Julia and I came up with a great plan: we would get Camden to chaperone the 24-Hour Plays, an annual event that involved writing, rehearsing, and performing one-act plays within a single day. We were the producers, which mostly meant that we had to buy a lot of food and sit around chatting with Camden all night. Or so we hoped. Our charming e-mail went through several drafts, but finally we sent it, and, gloriously, AC agreed. He would come Friday night, around eight.

    He showed up with a bag of bubblegum to contribute to our ration supply. Sara told a story about the Tony awards, and we all laughed very hard. Julia and I sprinted through Castilleja’s corridors until my shoes fell off and I tripped. The playwrights (Rachel Bolten included) were stashed in various classrooms, typing away. Camden stayed as long as we did — three a.m., maybe four. When the writing was finished, we returned home for an interlude of sleep. The performances would be the next night at seven; he should come then, we said, and see the show.

    The next morning, when we returned to campus, we were happily groggy. If only he could have chaperoned on Saturday, too. But his wife probably wouldn’t let him do that, we surmised wisely. She probably wouldn’t want to be stuck at home with the baby all weekend. We pressed through the day’s tasks (prodding directors and photocopying programs) fired with the anticipation of seeing Camden that night. We put on small floaty dresses and heels.

    And when Julia and I went to the podium to thank the audience and introduce the first play, we scanned the back rows of the theater. We were a good double act — charming, as always — but when we returned to the light booth we worried. Where was he? Maybe he would come late? We craned our necks and squinted against our own reflections in the booth’s glass. Maybe we should call him?

    There were three plays, and I think we held out hope through the last one. We were silly; we knew we were silly. It was perfectly understandable that he hadn’t made it. Still, when we left that night, we were listless.

    On the drive home, as I turned left off Churchill, my phone beeped. I had a new voicemail, the result of a call I had ignored while backing out. He had called! Maybe — to apologize for missing the show, to ask how it went. I reached past the passenger seat to the floor, and searched (fingers only) for my phone. No luck. I looked down.

    It felt at first as if something was clawing at my right hubcaps, grabbing the car and pulling it from my control. This, of course, was the curb. The curb caught my right tires and dragged the car away from Alma Street, up the embankment that separated the road from the train tracks, and over the gravel and patchy shrubs before letting it stutter back down toward the road. The Civic settled finally on its left side, its wheels helpless in the air and its driver in a cloud of airbags.

    Everything smelled powdery and explosive. Blue light hung on the particles in the air, but I didn’t understand where it was coming from. I screamed. It wasn’t a panicked, helpless scream, it was like a scream instead of breathing: a harder way of getting air out. I inhaled and screamed again. Get out, I thought. I have to get out of here. Wasn’t this the part when fires started, and people died? The passenger-side door was now above me; gravity prevented me from opening it. My window was flush with the asphalt. The windshield: do I have to break it? How do I break it? How do I know if I have to?

    Then there was someone someplace nearby speaking at me loudly and firmly.


    “Hi. Hi.” This was me.


    “I have to get out. How do I get out?”

    Hands reached through the shattered back window, which was now a vertical passage. I unbuckled my seatbelt and reached for them.

    As I stepped out into the night, the street sparkled with glass. I realized acutely that I was barefoot — I had taken off my heels to drive — and I walked carefully as I stepped away from my car. The police were already there, blocking off the street, floodlights trained on the wreck. There were no other cars involved. It was just me. I was fragile and miraculously unharmed (“miraculously unharmed”: I tried the words out in my mind). The people along Alma stood on their front lawns. One of them held a broom.

    I wasn’t frightened, quite. I felt like I was onstage. I wasn’t sure whether my life was ending or beginning.

  9. Profile – The Greenhouse Effect

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    Linda Greenhouse pulled a thick white packet out of her black leather bag. It was a recent Supreme Court decision, and for nearly thirty years, she had made cases like this one matter to millions of readers.

    “I am bemused to find myself back where I started,” Greenhouse said, flipping through the decision, evidence that her fascination with law has outlasted her tenure as the Supreme Court beat reporter for the New York Times.

    Greenhouse, the Knight Distinguished Journalist-in-Residence and Joseph M. Goldstein Senior Fellow at the Yale Law School, had arrived in New Haven just days before our interview. After four decades working at the Times and nearly three decades covering the Supreme Court, after starting a family and winning a Pulitzer Prize, Greenhouse has returned to her roots. From her office at the law school, where she earned her Master of Studies in Law degree in 1978, she flashed a wide smile as she recalled and recited a famous quotation by T. S. Eliot: “We shall not cease from exploration / And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time.”

    Greenhouse was born in Hamden, Connecticut in 1947. She attended Hamden High School and spent much of her time at Yale, the alma mater of her father, who worked at the Yale-New Haven Hospital. A summer internship at the hospital convinced Greenhouse to pursue medicine at Radcliffe, but her interests soon shifted as she decided to major in American Government and write for the Harvard Crimson.

    “At that time the Crimson was a very macho Harvard institution,” Greenhouse explained. She was the only female freshman elected to the Crimson after what she called a “grueling process” of training and testing. She recalls crying while she waited for a taxi back to the Radcliffe dorms, but despite the challenges of being a female reporter, she eventually became a Crimson editor.

    During college, Greenhouse also worked as a stringer for the Boston Herald, primarily reporting on Harvard student reactions to the Vietnam War and the draft. When she graduated, though, she could not get a job at the newspaper. “I naively assumed with this experience or exposure they might hire me,” she said. “But I was a woman.”

    When interviewing for a summer internship with the Washington Post, Greenhouse was asked whether she would prefer to cover Congress, the White House, the Supreme Court, or a small town in rural Virginia. Greenhouse answered that she would most enjoy covering the Supreme Court. “It sounded kind of distinctive and intellectual,” she said. “They said, ‘Wrong. If you really wanted to be a journalist, you would say a small town in rural Virginia.’”

    Instead, Greenhouse was selected for a New York Times fellowship that allowed her to work with famed columnist James Reston, who was based in Washington, D.C. at the time. “I got it I think because the Vietnam draft was on. A few of the guys he had hired got drafted. I think that opened his mind to maybe hire a woman,” Greenhouse explained.

    Reston later became Executive Editor of the Times, and Greenhouse followed him from D.C. to New York, where she stayed on as a staff reporter, first covering the New York Legislature and eventually becoming the Albany bureau chief. After nine years in New York, Greenhouse wanted to return to D.C. to report on Congress, but the Times was seeking a new Supreme Court reporter and decided she was the one for the job.

    The paper then sent Greenhouse to Yale Law School in 1978 for a program designed by the Ford Foundation to equip journalists with a background in law that would lead to improved coverage of the courts. New York Times correspondent Neil Lewis, who completed the MSL program the year after Greenhouse did, said his former colleague had unparalleled devotion to her subject. “The Supreme Court beat is relatively monastic compared to others in Washington,” he explained. “Linda spent many days simply devoting herself to reading briefs so she could be and was the best prepared reporter in the court.”

    But while most of her day was dedicated to the law, Greenhouse said she tried to leave the stress of her beat at the door when she returned home to her husband, her daughter, and her iguana.

    Her daughter, Hannah Fidell, 23, said she greatly admires the dedication her mother had to her craft. Dinner was always rich with discussion of legal issues and politics, and Greenhouse would often leave the newspaper on the breakfast table open to her articles.

    Fidell could not contain her amusement when I asked what other interests her mother has. She said her mother loves reptiles and even subscribes to a number of reptile magazines. She recommended that I read a New York Times piece by Greenhouse, and once I found the article I had trouble believing that the eminent Supreme Court reporter had written it. “The Long Tale of Madonna the Iguana” articulates the pain of love and letting go by describing the house pet that grew too big to keep. Greenhouse wrote, “A pet outgrew a girl. A girl outgrew her pet. And a mother tried, probably for longer than she should have, to hold on to both.”

    Fidell said she is now taking care of the new family reptile, a Russian tortoise, for the next two and a half years while Greenhouse commutes between New Haven and Bethesda. “She wants it to have a stable home,” Fidell laughed.

    Greenhouse added that horseracing is another one of her interests. Had she not been hired by the Times, Greenhouse would likely have become a racing journalist. Fidell explained that her mother knows horse racing statistics and her reptiles almost as intimately as she knows her court cases.

    Much of Greenhouse’s success, though, lies in the fact that she broke down those highly complex cases and identified the most important issues in an articulate and compelling way. Experience in political coverage allowed her to draw important connections between law and politics, between court decisions and their practical implications. She had a smart and swift approach to the articles she wrote from her cubicle in the marble and pillared Supreme Court building, and she never underestimated the intelligence of her audience.

    Judith Resnik, Arthur Liman Professor of Law at the Yale Law School, explained that Greenhouse “has the ability to put legal questions into the context of their own history and doctrine coupled with a perspective on their contemporary import and future impact.” Jill Abramson, Managing Editor of the New York Times, added that Greenhouse “knew the galaxy of sources in the legal field so well that she would only turn to the very best people in the field. Whether they were liberals, conservatives, moderates, she knew who the smartest legal thinkers were about any subject and had a wonderful depth of knowledge.”

    Greenhouse covered 29 sessions of the Supreme Court between 1978 and 2007 and received a Pulitzer Prize in 1998 for her beat reporting and “her consistently illuminating coverage of the United States Supreme Court.”

    Seven of the nine Supreme Court justices, all except for Clarence Thomas and Anthony Scalia, attended the farewell reception for Greenhouse in June 2008, where Roberts, who also went to Harvard, wished the reporter luck at “one of the best law schools in New Haven.”

    Harold Koh, Dean of the Yale Law School, approached Greenhouse in 2008 when he heard she would accept a buyout offer at the Times. He invited her to teach and conduct research at Yale Law as part of the new Law and Media Program.

    However, Greenhouse has also had her career bumps. For example, she has been criticized for being outspoken on issues such as abortion rights and religious fundamentalism. In a 2006 speech at Harvard, Greenhouse condemned the “law-free” nature of detention camps, the assault on the “reproductive freedom” of women, and the “literal fence” along the U.S.-Mexico border.

    After this speech, debate ensued over whether journalists should be able to espouse their ideology in public venues. “We’re in a very sanctimonious period journalistically where journalists are supposed to be extremely knowledgeable and have no personal responses to the things they write about,” Greenhouse said, begrudging the criticism she received after her speech at Harvard. “I thought I had the right to operate as an informed adult citizen in the world in the happenings of the day.”

    A Washington, D.C. Court of Appeals judge coined the alleged phenomenon that federal judges attempt to gratify and gain acceptance from reporters with some of their legal decisions as the “Greenhouse Effect.” Yale professor Fred Strebeigh, who recently published his book Equal: Women Reshape American Law, said that while there is debate over whether the Greenhouse Effect influenced the Supreme Court, the famed reporter has undoubtedly had an impact on the American public.

    “Whether or not there was a Greenhouse Effect that actually altered the way justices at different times cast their votes or saw the law, certainly on the nation there has been a Greenhouse Effect that has lifted our sense of how deeply informed and broadly contextualized coverage of the law can be and it makes us look for reporters who, like Linda Greenhouse, will really delve in the law and devote a career to deeply understanding the law, so that we can begin to understand it as well as we should.”

  10. Holy Ground

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    One Christmas eve, the pager attached to Dick Beattie’s hip erupted: pediatric intensive care unit. Beattie arrived within minutes and scanned the ward for his patient. It was a newborn, so small and brittle and blue, swathed in a tangle of tubes and encased in glass. Beattie baptized the infant quickly — sprinkled holy water, murmured a line of prayer.

    “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

    Eventually, when it became clear that the baby would not learn how to breathe on its own, the parents agreed to remove life support. Beattie sat with them for some time afterward — listening to them grieve, praying with them, holding their hands as they cried. He stayed long after the bustle of nurses had subsided, long after the doctors had gone.

    Reverend Dick Beattie has been a chaplain at Yale-New Haven Hospital for 15 years, performing emergency baptisms and visiting countless bedsides, offering communion and prayer. The notion of a hospital chaplain — engaged in a sort of spiritual triage amidst the chaos of medical crises — might seem secondary in an institution explicitly devoted to the mending of bodies. And at Yale-New Haven Hospital, it often appears that the only results are visible results: platelet counts up, fevers down, a deep incision sewn smoothly shut.

    As the daughter of an atheist physician father and a deeply spiritual mother, I’ve long considered medicine and faith to be as polarized as my parents’ religious ideologies. But Beattie believes that healthcare has changed in recent years. “It’s not just focused on the body anymore,” he tells me.

    A hospital used to be a quieter, simpler place. There were moments of idle conversation between patients and doctors, doctors and nurses, nurses and patients. “There were no pumps on the floor, little technology when I first started working as a nurse 25 years ago,” said Dale Copeland, a nurse in Yale-New Haven’s general medicine unit. “Back then, you had time to sit with the patient, hold their hand, and talk.”

    But now — as patients live longer and illnesses become more complex — hospitals are overcrowded and healthcare staffs are inundated. “We need chaplains to pick up that slack,” Copeland said. Today’s chaplains take time to listen, echo, and offer insights. They are a sounding board for patients’ fears and existential doubts. And while the medical community is, in Beattie’s words, entirely concerned with “expeditiousness,” chaplains help to humanize and personalize the cool protocol of hospital care.


    Reverend Peg Lewis — director of religious ministries at Yale-New Haven Hospital — has a smooth, gentle voice and a creased face that seems softened around the edges. Today, she is wearing a peach-colored blouse and small gold earrings shaped like ducks. Across from her, a woman with painted-on eyebrows and a blonde wig is seated in a big blue armchair next to a hospital bed.

    “My children grew up with a fire in their belly. All five of them.”

    “That’s because you are such a good mother, Carol.”

    Carol smiles. “Men are always harder to raise.”

    “Your children love you so much.”

    “I know. I know. My daughter called this morning. She’s calling again this afternoon, she says, so I’m looking forward to that.”

    A nurse sweeps into the room. “You need blood work done, Carol,” she says. “And your doctor wants to know what the stats are now.” She slides paperwork onto Carol’s nightstand.

    “This is the most efficient nurse in the whole hospital,” Carol laughs.

    When the nurse leaves, Carol leans back in her chair and reminisces. She talks about her mother, her grandchildren, her church, and the neighborhood where she grew up. Lewis listens intently.

    Finally, Reverend Lewis takes Carol’s gaunt hands in her own. “I look forward to seeing you again soon,” she says sincerely.

    And so Lewis drifts in and out of rooms in the oncology ward, stopping to sit and listen and nod. Sometimes the women discuss the cancer, the surgery, the horror of the treatments they’ve endured. But usually they speak of their families and friends, the smells and sounds of home.

    In one room, Lewis finds a woman dressed and sitting, waiting for her husband to pick her up. Her room is strewn with the evidence of a long hospital stay: discarded magazines, torn envelopes, a profusion of flowers turning brown on the windowsill. Her cheeks are flushed and her eyes are bright with excitement at the prospect of home.

    “I admire you so much, Jean,” Lewis tells her. “You’re in my prayers a lot.”

    “Thank you, Peg. Thank you.”

    “I’ve enjoyed having a chance to talk to you.”

    “I’ve enjoyed it too. But I don’t want to repeat it.” Jean laughs ruefully. “We’ll meet somewhere else, I hope. Please God, not here.”

    The last room Reverend Lewis visits is dimly lit and quiet, except for the drone of medical equipment and the steady drip of the IV. Esperanza Diaz — 82 years old, toothless, and engulfed in a too-big hospital gown — sits in a chair by the window. Esperanza is recovering from serious surgery. She is wearing red socks and her small feet dangle. A threadbare Bible sits on her nightstand.

    When Lewis enters, Esperanza’s face brightens.

    “Peg,” she says, “I saw Him.”

    Reverend Lewis is quiet, nodding for her to continue.

    “After my surgery. He came to me.”

    She was unconscious, Esperanza says. She saw an old man emerge from whiteness. “He had a graceful look on his face,” she remembers.

    “He asked me, Esperanza, where are you going?

    I don’t know, I said.

    Well, you have to go back.

    I don’t know the way.

    I’ll take you, he said. You have to go back. It’s not time for you today.”

    And then, with a jolt, she returned to her body.

    When she finishes the story, her cheeks are shining. “That was a beautiful experience,” she says. “Even though I was in outstanding pain, my spirit was at ease.” Her voice is steady and sure.

    “I am not scared. But I really want to stay with my family. Just a few more years before I go to Him,” she adds, her eyes fixed on the window as the clouds shift under the sun.


    Hospital chaplaincy has not always consisted of quiet, unobtrusive bedside ministering. In 1924, a Presbyterian minister and former mental patient named Anton Boisen became the country’s first hospital chaplain at Worcester State Hospital in Massachusetts. Believing that certain illnesses arose from “problems of the soul,” Boisen aimed to “break down the dividing wall between religion and medicine,” according to records from the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education.

    In 1930, Boisen developed the Council for Clinical Training of Theological Students, a system for educating chaplains that has now grown into a network spanning the United States. In a 1950 speech before the Council, Boisen said, “We are trying to call attention back to the central task of the Church, that of saving souls, and to the central problem of theology, that of sin and salvation.”

    Fifty-eight years later, about 60 percent of hospitals in the United States have on-site ministries. But crusading to “save souls” is no longer part of the mission; most hospital chaplaincies classify themselves as “interfaith” and make a concerted effort to bridge the ideological gaps between all denominations.

    Yale-New Haven’s chaplaincy currently includes two Episcopal priests, a Presbyterian minister, a Roman Catholic priest, a nondenominational Christian chaplain, and a Reform Jewish rabbi. “We are trained to link patients specifically to a person of their faith if they so wish it,” Reverend Lewis said. The goal of religious ministries, she said, “is to provide spiritual care to patients, families, and caregivers,” and “spiritual care” is not always rooted in any particular doctrine.

    “Oftentimes it has a transcendent quality — not just their one little life but their life in a larger context, which might be multigenerational, multi-religional, communal,” Lewis said. “Spiritual care means exploring with another person what it is that gives their life meaning.”

    The chaplains interact with patients in several ways: they perform bedside visits — listening to the stories of the critically ill, easing patients through a process of life review and exploration of what has been meaningful in their lives — and respond to the on-call pager. Pastoral students must endure 400 hours of interfaith training and five periods of 24-hour on-call pager coverage at the hospital before they can apply to be certified by the Association for Professional Chaplains, the national certifying board. Only one on-call pager circulates in religious ministries; it is passed among the full-time chaplains 24 hours a day. “You can never leave the pager alone,” Lewis said. “The medical staff calls it and we respond. Trauma. Death. Code blue when someone goes into cardiac arrest. When someone is dying and they want us, we’re there.”

    The hospital pays chaplains’ salaries, and — though they are considered part of clinical services along with the dietary, social work, and rehab departments, Lewis said — they work closely with nurses and physicians. And today, hospital chaplaincies and medical staffs are collaborating more than ever in patient care. According to the American Hospital Association, there were about 32 million inpatient admissions to community hospitals in 1998. By 2005, this number had reached 36 million. “Due to the pressure of rapid medical care delivery, staff is stressed to the limit checking numbers, data, and new findings,” said Thomas Stewart, a psychiatrist on the medical and surgery floors at Yale-New Haven. “Few people are in a position to find out thoughts going on emotionally with a patient.”

    The evolving role of chaplains in the medical sphere may be due to a variety of changes in the field of medicine. “Medicine has cycled from paternalism — where doctors assume they give orders and make all decisions — to an enormous stress on patient autonomy from the seventies until the beginning of this century,” said David Smith, director of the Yale Interdisciplinary Bioethics Center and author of Partnership with the Dying: Where Medicine and Ministry Should Meet. “Now, the limits of the great stress on autonomy and individualism have become clear. People do want to make their own decisions, but they also want support. A doctor today is more likely to ask a patient if he’d like to see a chaplain.”

    Lewis’s office has salmon-colored walls that are lined with spiritual relics: a Hebrew prayer, a picture of the Western Wall in Jerusalem, the framed message, “The glory of God is the human person fully alive.” She tells me, “I love my work. I fell in love with the privilege of being with people at important moments in their lives.”

    Lewis is curious about my background: she asks what I study and why I’m interested in it. Even though she tells me several times that being a chaplain means one must always be open to discussing religious matters with different kinds of people, she never asks me about my religion, and I’m relieved — because I’m not quite sure what I’d tell her. I’m Jewish, agnostic, skeptical, hopeful. My mother grew up in an Orthodox home, steeped in rituals and a blind, pervasive faith that she embraced unquestioningly. My father is a neurologist — a clinical, logical thinker who has never taken religion seriously. I’ve long thought of religion as a cultural rather than spiritual identification: a nostalgic fog of holidays and family traditions that I’ve come to take for granted.

    Reverend Lewis tells me that she was not particularly religious until she lost her parents, her grandfather, and her father-in-law within a three-year period several decades ago. She was then drawn back towards her church, ultimately attended Yale Divinity School, and is now an ordained Baptist minister. She had studied literature in college, as I do now, and she thinks this is why a vocation that involved hearing human stories appealed to her at first.

    “They were holy stories,” Lewis said. “It felt like holy ground.”


    Reverend Dick Beattie wears a clerical collar and a burnished metal cross around his neck. He has a pink face, deep dimples, and a wide, warm smile. In conversation, he winks frequently and tilts his head towards me in an impish, conspiratorial way. And as he strides down the halls of the hospital, calls of “Great to see you, Reverend!” and “Come visit more often, alright?” — from both patients and medical staff — echo in his wake.

    Before he became a chaplain, Beattie was a comptroller for a social service agency in Stamford, Connecticut. “On the side, I was doing workplace chaplaincy before that became a common phrase,” he said. His co-workers would come to talk to him to unload their problems and concerns. Beattie enjoyed counseling his co-workers more than being a comptroller, so he decided to go though the Episcopal ordination process. “I just had a gut feeling that I needed to be doing something else with my time,” he said.

    Reverend Beattie is now the chaplain for the geriatric ward at Yale-New Haven, and he spends his days listening to elderly people recount tales from their past. “Stories are often told in metaphor,” he said. “You have to unbundle the metaphor to figure out what’s wrong.”

    For instance, one man kept repeating a story about playing semi-pro baseball in his youth. He was the catcher. It was a sunny day. The batter hit a high foul ball. “I looked away,” the man said, “and the coach hollered at me for taking my eye off the ball.”

    The man was in the hospital because he had recurring congestive heart problems. He hadn’t been feeling well, but he thought he could deal with it himself and it would go away. Now, Beattie realized, he was upset because his daughter had become his coach — scolding him for losing focus on his disease — and he felt that he had failed her.

    “If you don’t understand the story,” Beattie said, “you lose a lot of understanding of the process. People are realizing that medical facts don’t give total insight.”

    Once, a woman was brought into the emergency department because she was showing signs of a heart attack. Her breathing was shallow and her heart was pounding. The cardiologist approached Reverend Beattie and said, “Why don’t you go talk to her to see if you can figure anything out?”

    So he did. Her son lived nearby, the woman told him. But he was going to New Jersey for the weekend. Beattie asked her if she was afraid. She wouldn’t have anyone to take care of her, she said. Her other son lived in Hartford and that was too far. So Beattie called her son in Hartford and explained the situation, and he gladly agreed to come stay with his mother.

    Meanwhile, the doctor motioned Beattie towards him.

    “Whatever you’re doing, keep it up,” he said. “Her vitals keep coming down.”

    As it turned out, pure anxiety had been causing the symptoms; the woman’s heart was fine.


    Sitting across from Reverend Beattie in his cluttered office, I find myself envisioning what it might be like to be a patient at Yale-New Haven — imagining how I, as a nonreligious person, might react to an interfaith chaplain wearing a clerical collar and cross. At first, the thought makes me a bit uneasy. But then Beattie says, as though reading my mind: “There’s a vulnerability people feel here. We have to be careful not to proselytize or evangelize. To do interfaith you have to be well-grounded in your own faith.” Beattie grins warmly, and I nod.

    Nurses routinely ask patients whether spirituality is important to them upon admittance to the hospital, and patients who answer “yes” are then referred to hospital chaplains. “But if someone says, ‘I’m not religious,’ it might mean they don’t go to church,” said Susan Asher, a chaplain and coordinator of pastoral education at Yale-New Haven. “It doesn’t mean they’re not sitting in a bed going, ‘why am I sick, I’ve been a good person all my life.’ That’s a spiritual question.”

    Some patients, however, are still wary of the chaplaincy and clearly want nothing to do with prayer or faith. One patient yelled, “I never asked to see you,” when Lewis entered her room. And an elderly Jewish man once told Beattie: “I can’t believe you didn’t try to convert me.” Chaplains admit that being truly “interfaith” takes practice. “In the beginning, it was a little hard to leave Jesus out of it,” one chaplain said.

    But the staff of Yale-New Haven’s religious ministries is trained in the art of neutralizing or shelving personal religious backgrounds when interacting with patients. “Though my understanding of the transcendent is Christian,” Lewis said, “that’s just the particular way I enact my spirituality.” Hospital ministry is more about listening and repeating, she says, than imposing any kind of doctrine.

    In fact, the origin of the word “chaplain” suggests a certain sacrifice or personal restraint. “Chaplain” is derived from the Latin capella, a reference to the cloak that St. Martin — in Christian tradition — once ripped in two so that he could give half of the garment to a beggar. The small remaining portion of St. Martin’s cloak was guarded in a sanctuary by priests called capellani, a term that eventually came to refer to clergymen who devoted their lives to a greater good but were not attached to any particular church.

    A few years ago, a local college student died from alcohol poisoning. He was found unresponsive in his bedroom the following morning. Later that day, Reverend Lewis was paged and asked to sit with the parents as they said goodbye to their son. They gathered in the hospital’s “bereavement room,” where bodies are arranged so that the family members can spend their final moments with the deceased.

    They all sat in silence for awhile, taking it in. The mother rocked in her chair.

    And then Reverend Lewis watched the woman approach her son and say — Lewis knew — what she needed to say:

    “How could you do this? How could you be so stupid? What did you do? What did you do?”

    Eventually, they all said a prayer together. Lewis helped them call their other child. “It was important just to be another human presence for them,” Lewis said.

    Through it all, sitting next to that boy’s mother as they prayed, witnessing her wrenching grief, Lewis could only think of one image: Mary at the foot of the cross of Jesus. But she never said this out loud. And when the boy’s parents left, Lewis took a moment to compose herself before her next visit. Then a nurse came to prepare the bereavement area for the next family, and the room was again quiet and clean.


    In early November, the Hastings Center — a nonprofit dedicated to exploring bioethical issues — published a report called “Can We Measure Good Chaplaincy?”. It included an essay entitled “Lost in Translation: The Chaplain’s Role in Health Care,” which said, “Chaplains often describe their work in health care as the ‘translation’ between the world of the patient and the world of hospital medicine.” The chaplain thus serves as a liaison between two worlds: the antiseptic orderliness of medicine and the emotional chaos that serious illness inflicts.

    Another chaplain in the Hastings Center report wrote: “What is happening to the body as the organs are shutting down? What do those lines and numbers on the monitor mean? Why does the breathing sound like that? Nurses and physicians know these things without having to think about them; the chaplain is often the one who observes what the family does not know, and who offers comfort by explaining what can be explained.” Since the chaplain exists outside the framework of institutional medical care, Dr. Stewart said, “his ministrations will be perceived differently than mine will be. I’m wearing a white coat. I could say the same thing but the meaning it has will be different.”

    Today’s chaplains work to bridge the gap between the daily procedure of hospital trauma and the staggering force of emotional response. “We work with sane people under insane conditions,” said Dr. Stewart. “People are just so hysterical here. They’ve lost many of the anchorages in their life, and chaplains help to reconnect people with their spiritual roots, which can be enormously stabilizing.” Ideally, chaplains offer some shred of solace to people left reeling under the grip of tragedy so total that all sense and structure collapse.

    “Doctors help people transition to death. But when you get to the point when you can’t help, we ask a chaplain,” said Dr. Jose Salvana, an HIV specialist at Yale-New Haven. “In a depressed patient, talking to a chaplain can be therapeutic. It’s sort of like another medical intervention.”

    Dr. Salvana remembers one instance in which an elderly man’s health had deteriorated so much that the patient was delirious with dementia and spiking fevers sporadically. The patient’s daughter was very attached to her father, but the medical staff ultimately convinced her that the least painful option was to ease him into comfort care. But the patient held on; though he’d been expected to die within 24 hours, he was still alive three days later. Dr. Salvana began to worry that he’d made the wrong decision by abandoning aggressive life support measures. He asked Reverend Beattie to come in and talk to the elderly man. The patient died the next day.

    His daughter, Dr. Salvana says, finally felt at ease. She left thinking that the chaplain’s visit was what let her father go, what he had been waiting for.


    It’s a beautiful November afternoon — one of those brisk fall days when the leaves explode in oranges and reds. The view outside the hospital windows is dizzying. You can see beyond New Haven, past the trim, glossy hospital buildings, past Yale’s imperial spires. The rooftops are sharp against an incandescent sky. I’ve never seen the city look so fresh and bold and bright.

    Reverend Beattie is on call today, and he’s chatting jovially with the nurses in general medicine when the pager rings.

    “Neuro ICU,” he says, and he’s off, taking the hallway in long strides.

    In the neurological intensive care unit, an elderly woman is dying. She has suffered a massive brain bleed, and her family is gathered at her bedside to turn off life support.

    Reverend Beattie walks to the foot of the bed and begins the pastoral blessing.

    “God the Father, have mercy on your servant.”

    The woman has thin white hair and is swallowed in blankets. Her chest rises and falls faintly.

    “God the Son, have mercy on your servant.”

    The room is dark and silent, except for the beeping of the heart monitor and the occasional shuddering breath of a brother or daughter or son.

    “God the Holy Spirit, have mercy on your servant.”

    Her cheeks are smooth and her face looks very calm.

    “…That it may please you to grant her a place of refreshment and everlasting blessedness.”

    A nurse enters quickly to adjust a dial. She squints at the heart monitor, makes a note on her clipboard, and leaves. The woman’s relatives put their arms around each other, murmuring softly. The air in the room seems to have settled. Beattie steps out into the hall and exhales.

    “As a chaplain,” he’d said earlier, “You are representing the presence of God.”

    It’s getting late, and Reverend Beattie has to head back to the geriatric ward to pay a few bedside visits. For now, at least, the pager is quiet. Beattie stuffs a prayer scrawled on loose leaf into his pocket and wishes me luck. Then he smiles — that melting grin that puts me, like his patients, instantly at ease.

    As I walk through the neuro ICU — past the rows of whitewashed rooms, past stretchers and IV equipment and family members clustered in the halls — I remember something Reverend Lewis had told me that morning: “Working here,” she’d said, “has made me more spiritual.” I step through the glass doors that open onto the busy street. I close my eyes, just for a moment. And I think of Esperanza and Carol and Jean in their hospital rooms, waiting for test results, or a phone call, or a visit from someone, looking out the window at the leaves and the roofs and the sky.

  11. The Affairs

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    Gustav and Leon met at Falafel King. Gustav was a closet smoker, Leon a nude model. They came to tolerate these alter egos, each secretly embarrassed by the other’s debauchery. They’d discovered, in line, that besides sharing a taste for baba ganoush, they both held the opinion that everyone at Jaundice College was a Marxist. Had they been gay, their lives would have been set, for they were truly perfect for one another. Gustav led seminars on Neorealist Cinema and biked; Leon lectured on Russian Literature and chased women.

    Their conversations went something like this:

    [ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”309″ ]

    I hate Visconti.

    Why don’t you drop him from the syllabus?

    I hate the syllabus.

    Why are you teaching this stuff, then?

    To be perverse.

    They were the right people to open up a corner coffee shop. Of this fact, Leon was certain. He wanted to make more money than the small pittance earned from nights of nudity at the local art school. Of course, they’d need a backer, to get started. But Leon was quite sure he could convince Gustav to go in on the venture, especially as a creative project. Their conversations went something like this:

    Gus, it’s a fail-safe plan.

    Business? I don’t have the time, the energy … the death wish…

    Don’t think of it as a job. Don’t think of it as an investment. Just imagine … shelves lined with every book you always wished was in a coffee shop, tables of feminists smoking over their latest novellas, students reading Dostoyevsky for the first time —

    And coffee.

    Yes, yes, coffee. We’ll host fireside chats. Hold Readings. Play Edith Piaf in the background.



    As bakers mix chunks of chocolate in cookies, so Leon dropped morsels of wisdom into silences. After pausing for effect, an interruption enduring almost the length of John Cage’s 4’33”, Leon would announce that the ancient Greeks had believed that it was enough to live an excellent life. He’d sigh and scratch his beard, eyes staring through the yellowing water stain in the top right corner of the classroom. The moments of drama, having nothing whatsoever to do with the arc of his lectures, having everything to do with Tolstoy, greater education, and the professorial persona, were essential to Leon’s lectures. He firmly believed that any interruption of War and Peace was a move to save the educational system. And the system, on the whole, was failing.

    On a particularly be-morseled day, a student approached Leon after class.

    This student was Oklahoman — about as much of a foreigner as a person can be while still calling himself American. His voice had a sing-song quality, oscillating like the pendulum of a bolo tie that swung from his rubbery neck. He took notes and smoked — a pack of pencils and a pack of Marlboros per day. The madman had surprising influence over Leon for two reasons. One: he was a product of Leon’s mind. And two: he thought the system reeked.


    You’ve got to meet this guy, Leon said one night through a mouthful of falafel. Gus, he’s practically a member of the lumpenproletariat — he has no stake in the economic system. I don’t even think he’s enrolled in the university.

    Gustav, however, was a bit more interested in talking about a student who’d been giving him the eye the other day.

    You’re starting to sound like one of those Marxists you’re always going on about. Leon, I’m sure he’s great, but I have a major ethical dilemma over here. It’s classic — I never thought it’d happen to me.

    What are you talking about?

    Selena. My student. She was flirting with me through my whole screening of Bitter Rice.


    Santis. What should I do?

    Listen, Gus. Let’s all get together — the four of us. We’ll see what they think about the coffee shop.

    The four of us? Listen, how many times do I have to tell you that I’m not interested in that plan? Anyway, I can’t take Selena anywhere.

    I’ll ask my student, you ask yours. We’ll have a good time. Just a meeting of professors and students.


    They met up in the neighboring town. The buildings were aligned on the road like browning, crooked teeth. The occasional empty lot gaped — a break in uniformity, a missing tooth. In one such empty space, a man walked in circles.

    The foursome entered a yellow pub. They sat in sync, wooden chairs clunking on a wooden floor. They consumed beer, the oldest, most widely consumed alcoholic beverage and the most popular drink after water and tea. Two present were well-versed in the art of seduction: the madman caressed Leon’s thoughts with his own while Selena grazed Gustav’s arm with her nipple. Each tantalized with calculated strokes. Each pushed just hard enough and then receded.

    They left the town in pairs. On Monday Gustav would croon about silken hair. Leon would nod, his mind on the madman’s ruminations. Gustav would sigh about what could never be. Leon would ponder what could.


    The affairs became obsessions.


    With a forked tongue, the madman bisected “the system” into advocates for and contenders against. He argued for revolution without cause. He called for contrariness. As their interactions increased in frequency, Leon began to realize that he no longer believed in the whole thing.

    What thing?

    The system, Gus. The fucked-up system.

    The university?

    I teach Crime and Punishment and my students think Dostoyevsky was a genius. They never question his authority. But what if Dostoyevsky was wrong? He uses his protagonist to prove that justice exists. But what if

    What if what? What if there is no justice, is that what you’re saying? Why don’t you go read Nietzsche with the rest?

    I’m saying that you have to kill off a character to figure out about justice. If Cain never killed Abel?

    Then they’d both be alive. You’re going mad. You’re incoherent. Why don’t you grow up and stop acting like my eighteen-year-old student.

    … Are you still seeing Selena, then?

    Gustav was still seeing Selena. No. It wasn’t right. She’s my student.

    Leon soaked a bit of pita in olive oil until it was saturated. This is what I’m talking about, Gus. Why not? Why don’t you just fuck her? It doesn’t matter.

    Gus winced as Leon raised the pita to his lips and took a bite, olive oil oozing from the pores of bread and dribbling down his chin.


    One day in his youth Leon had prayed and looked for a sign from God. That sign had not been forthcoming, although the sudden appearance of bird poop on his shoulder could have been deus ex machina of spittle upon his foolish request. Now he was looking for the non-sign, the anti-sign. The other day he’d been walking across campus and had encountered a couple having an argument. Faceds purpled, the kids were clawing the air. From what he could gather, the fight was about the exigencies of capitalism. Something about a poor miserable army. Faceless, jobless people. Later, one of the kids had appeared in his office to clarify a grade and had revealed that the fight had been part of a performance art piece. The kid, wearing sawdust-colored pants and a brown shirt, was in awe of nothing.

    Leon was through with the play-acting. Look, kid, art is born out of horror, he wanted to say.

    In his office across campus, Gustav watched Selena from his office chair. He was fascinated with the parts of her body that folded — the inner elbows and the backs of the knees. The hairs that grew in these places were microscopic in skin doughy like baby flesh. He wanted to consume her, not sexually but emotionally. He wanted every one of those hairs, a small army, to stand at attention when he passed.

    Leon didn’t have a brother. He needed to do it but he didn’t have a brother. And he wouldn’t be able to stomach it, at any rate. He hadn’t been pre-med in college, not because he hadn’t been career-driven — academia required certain professional aspirations — but because he’d hated blood. He’d hated blood so he’d studied literature.

    Regardless, there was something missing.

    Leon couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t read. He gnawed at the problem for days. He finally had to admit to himself, however, that fratricide only required a brother of sorts. “And he said, ‘What hast thou done? The voice of they brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.’” Genesis 4:10. And so, a week later, Leon bared his teeth at Gustav in a smile.

    I’m not in the mood for falafel tonight.

    What do you mean? Gustav was a little taken aback.

    I just mean that maybe we should try something new.

    There’s an Italian joint down the way.

    Or we could order in.

    Order in? Leon, what?

    Great idea, Gus. Let’s order in. You know, we could definitely order in.


    They sat in opposing chairs. Gustav thought that the open Chinese food boxes scattered between them looked like the mouths of silent baby birds. Bits of carpet fuzz clumped on the floor only served to further the illusion of a bird’s nest. To Leon, the boxes were more like a collection of pulled molars.

    The knife was weighty in Leon’s right jacket pocket. He tried to think about anything else that would distract him from the knowledge that in a few minutes, Gustav would be dead. He took a shallow breath and thought about the student in his office: the bland pants, bland shirt. The kid’s face. The overall impression of sawdust. “To stand in awe of nothing, Numicus, is perhaps the one and only thing that can make a man happy and keep him so.” Horace, the Epistoles.

    Leon stood up. He closed the distance between his and Gustav’s chair, crushing several takeout boxes in the process. White rice exploded at his feet. Gustav was talking about literature, drunkenly raving about one of his favorite books. Leon couldn’t make out any of the words. He crouched near Gustav’s feet, pretending to help himself to broccoli and garlic sauce. The knife was out, and fluids would soon pool in the Chicken Lo Mein. The madman was calm, collected, noting only that sweet and sour sauce had always looked a bit like blood jelly. As Leon slowly raised himself up, weapon clutched behind his back, he understood a little of Gustav’s babbling.


    Perhaps Gustav had just felt like talking about Dostoyevsky. Or, perhaps Gustav had understood all along what Leon had meant by “order in.” They both knew the name. Every student of Russian literature knew the name, feared the name, loved the name. Leon had based his career on the name.

    At that thought, Leon turned quickly and slid the knife back into his pocket. Shaking, he sank into the food. There would be no murder.


    After that night, Gus and Leon saw each other on occasion at Falafel King. Their conversations were stilted. Gus continued to see Selena until she graduated, at which point he started seeing another of his students. Leon avoided the madman but continued half-heartedly to plan his coffee shop. Occasionally he thought about an odd incident that had occurred while he’d been walking home the night of ordering in. He’d passed an empty lot across the street and had been able to make out a man walking in circles. At first, the man had seemed to look a great deal like him. Some squinting revealed that the man was, in fact, featureless, in every way. Leon had stumbled resolutely onwards, figuring it was time to sleep the alcohol out of his system.