Jessai Flores

It’s a beautiful September day. The first hint of autumn chill has crept into the morning air, but the sun shines, giving a warmth to the afternoon that feels like the freewheeling spirit of summer. Campus is bustling, teeming with start-of-the-semester excitement. Birds chirp, babies laugh, a fairy gets its wings. Insert other descriptions of a Disney movie opening scene here.

If this sounds like an exaggeration, ask the dozens of tourists flocking to campus everyday. It’s pretty damn close to Disneyland.

Yale has, in my (not so) humble opinion, one of the most beautiful campuses in the world. And there really is something here for everyone to see. Perhaps the luckiest are fans of Gothic architecture, with a plethora of buildings to revel in and a view of Harkness from many spots in town. But worry not, enjoyers of Brutalist, Modern, Florentine, and neo-Georgian styles! There’s plenty here for you too.

There are also plenty of spaces for you if you prefer to avoid beauty, sunshine, fresh air and happiness. 

And apparently there are a lot of you freaks, because I’m sitting in the Elm at 10 a.m. and it’s packed. 

Why I entered the Schwarzman Center in the first place, and then descended into the Elm — its bowels, the underworld of campus — is beyond me. Perhaps I was beckoned by the last cries of unfortunate souls who got confused about how course registration works as they crossed the River Styx.

But regardless, here I am, spending my last eight dollars on an iced vanilla latte and a chocolate croissant. Honestly, that’s less expensive than I expected, but there was no way to tip the baristas in berets. And the croissant was tiny. Like miniscule. I needed a magnifying glass. It was also stale and the latte was too sweet. Not terrible overall, but I can think of a lot of other ways to spend eight dollars that don’t involve putting more money into the corporate machine that is Yale. 

I found a seat at a narrow, tall table so I could sit perched above the action and observe. Honestly, it’s a different crowd than I expected. I was prepared to find myself among a more corporate version of the heavyweight rowers, lacrosse bros and other athlete types that haunt the lower level of Bass at night. I thought it would be guys that “would have been D1, but I got injured and now I’m focusing on my tech start-up.” 

I mean how could a person with any sense of taste enjoy sitting down here? It’s atrocious. I’m looking at a sea of clashing orange and green tables sandwiched between two U-shaped seating areas, dimly lit and framed by dark wood. Mysterious figures lurk in the shadows, even this early in the morning. It kind of looks like if you were running a preschool out of a strip club during the day.

I would expect this liminal, sterile space to appeal to Brian, from Greenwich, junior in Berkeley, spent the summer at Deloitte, uses “dude” pronouns. It probably reminds him of his dad’s office.

And there are a few Brians, Brads and Bennetts that have set up camp in the Elm today, but mostly it’s filled with artsy, humanities-major-looking people with lots of stickers on their laptops. I fit right in with my thrifted shirt, clunky Doc Martens and “Ski Mississippi” decal. 

I want to stand up and shout, “What’s wrong with you people?”

I expected this from Brian. But you? I thought you were better than this.

And I won’t exempt myself from this either. Why the hell am I still down here? I came, I ate my microscopic croissant. Let’s go, already.

Somehow an hour has slipped away, yet I’m still here. My heart rate has steadied into a pace fast enough to keep me typing without switching tabs to google “can 20 year olds have heart attacks,” as the ice cubes in my latte melt away. The ceiling seems to have lowered five feet and weighs down on me. I know my eyes have the same glazed look that I see in the other faces around the room.

Something holds me to my seat, makes me ponder a second croissant. I even start to forget why I thought it was so bad down here in the first place. I mean being crushed by the ever lowering ceilings and the weight of millions (billions? bazillions?) of dollars from Stephen Schwarzman to build them is kind of comforting, right? Like a weighted blanket?

Schwarzman has almost finished casting his spell on me. I’m nearly convinced that I should stay in the Elm forever. Why leave? Everything you need is here. Coffee, wifi, a bar, a place to work and socialize with other people that are “going places.” 

All Schwarzman asks for in return (it’s really pretty minor and he promises it will have a good return on investment) is your soul.

Oh yeah, that’s why I think willingly spending any amount of time in the Elm warrants a visit to an inpatient facility. Schwarzman is, like, easily one of the top ten most evil people in the world and this room is fucking ugly. 

Maybe hating so much on such a tiny part of campus is a waste of time, but it’s sort of a combination of all the things I hate the most about Yale condensed into one suffocating space. It’s windowless, isolated, makes you forget that anything beyond Yale exists or matters. It’s overpriced, putting more money in the hands of people who already have enough of it. And it’s full of people who came here wanting to save the world, now working on their applications to work at Blackstone. Or Blackrock. Or Blackwater. Whatever, no escaping the Elm now.