Tag Archive: Scenic Views

  1. A Scholar and Gentleman

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    One hundred years ago, Owen Johnson’s novel “Stover at Yale” was published. An American version of “Tom Brown at Oxford,” the book recounts Dink Stover’s transition from the Lawrenceville School to Old Campus. As expected, his classmates, professors, and coaches groomed him into the Yale gentleman — a class leader, a football star and a member of Skull and Bones.

    On the surface, we have come a long way since Dink Stover’s day. Yale admits women. Men don’t all rush out to the gridiron. LGBTQ students have institutional support. Yale College’s mission statement reflects these changes; it states: “The aim of [Yale’s] education is the cultivation of citizens with a rich awareness of our heritage to lead and serve in every sphere of human activity.” Yet, there is something old-fashioned about this mission statement. Note the words “our heritage to lead.”

    Below the surface, you can still find plenty of heritage that represents Dink Stover’s Yale. Just look at the rituals of Mory’s, the formal dinners hosted by Grand Strategy, or the tuxedos worn by the Whiffenpoofs. At the “bourgeois” corner of York and Elm, two stores cater exclusively to men. (Though women can buy scarves at J. Press, I am told.) If you want further proof that this culture is worthy of conversation and perhaps light mockery, just take a look at Jack Schlossberg’s satiric column “How to be a gentleman,” which appeared in the March 2 issue of WEEKEND.

    Although I try to resist the gentleman’s Old Yale, I am involuntarily sucked into it. Once, at a birthday party, I struck up a conversation with a sophomore that led to our discovery that we both went to school in the D.C. area.

    “So you want to Episcopal? No way, I went to St. Albans! Do you know this kid Gift Maworere who played on the soccer team?” he asked.

    I nodded my head, though I never felt comfortable with the old boy network, even if it’s merely a cocktail conversation. When people at Yale ask me whether I enjoyed boarding school, I usually shrug my shoulders, as if saying, “Hey, let’s talk about something else.” Yet upon arriving at Phelps Gate, I heeled the Yale Daily News, joined Grand Strategy and wondered about senior societies. Even though I am a girl and a feminist, I clung to the old ideals of being “a scholar and a gentleman.” Since then, I’ve wanted to shrug off that “Stover at Yale” identity.

    My gender troubles started in high school. For many of us, during those adolescent years, we wrestled between developing our own identity and following the herd. I had an especially difficult time because I was an Asian and a scholarship kid at a Southern prep school that had only started coeducation in 1991. Although its faculty and administrators tried to “empower” girls, a smog of patriarchy pervaded the student culture.

    “Weren’t students at your school all members of the Southern aristocracy?” a wisecrack once remarked. My smart-aleck friend is partly right. Just as the liberal elites of New York sent their kids to Dalton or Trinity, the not-so-liberal elites of Richmond, Charlotte, and Charleston sent theirs to Episcopal.

    Many of my female classmates were expected to become latter-day Southern belles. They would go to decent — but not top-tier — universities, where they would join sororities. Afterwards, these polished young ladies would marry promising young gentlemen. They would work to support their husbands through law school, medical school, or business school, and once their husbands launched their careers, these women were expected to become homemakers/socialites/charity-fundraisers.

    Since I didn’t have the pedigree or luxury to become a Southern belle, I resolved to become a “scholar and a gentleman.” I was competitive in ways girls were not expected to be. I took hard science classes, I was outspoken on political issues and I refused to wear high heels. Rumors spread that I was a lesbian, which I’m not.

    Some of these old “masculine” habits followed me to Yale. I still wear boys’ clothing, an aggressive competitive strike occasionally surfaces in me (like the time I raced my Yale-PKU group to the top of Mount Tai to only realize I had left my friends behind), and at the Yale Daily News I often (playfully) threaten to punch our city editor. Perhaps my drive to join the “boys’ club” led me to study international security, a field that has historically been dominated by men.

    But at Yale, I also learned to question the supposed virtues of manliness. During the first weeks of Directed Studies, my professors praised the heroism of Greek warriors and the glory they achieved in battle. Even Odysseus, who rejected the life of adventure for his hearth and home, marked his return to Ithaca with revenge killings. Why was such violence necessary? Even these days, I still question the books and articles I read in Grand Strategy (shocker). While I appreciate Machiavelli, Hobbes and Clausewitz as much as my classmates, I often wonder why the emphasis on the state’s security sometimes renders human rights or social justice unimportant.

    Slowly, I came to realize I don’t have to be a gentleman to be a serious scholar. “Gentleman,” though meant to praise someone’s sophistication, is a constraining social construct. The original definition of “gentleman” in the Oxford English Dictionary is “a man of gentle birth, or having the same heraldic status as those of gentle birth.” It gives off an air of elitism and demands a rigid social code. In short, it evokes the “wholesome,” heterosexual, bourgeois male from Stover’s days.

    At its extreme, masculinity on college campuses can turn into misogyny, as seen in the DKE’s offensive chants on Old Campus in 2010 or the numerous reported and unreported sexual assaults and harassments that have occurred in our community. But the idealization of the “Yale gentleman” has more subtle consequences. It compels some of us to wear suits when we would rather wear sweatshirts (or hoodies); it drives some of us to high-power corporate jobs when we would rather go into public service. Inside the ivory tower, some of us cling to our elitism and forget the poverty and injustice felt by our New Haven neighbors. In short, some of us become self-important, looking at the world nonchalantly through a monocle like Eustace Tilley, the New Yorker mascot. Yale College’s mission states that its students should “lead and serve in every sphere of human activity.” Perhaps more emphasis should be pleased on the second verb.

  2. We’re sexy, and you know it

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    My “Big Sib” freshman year told me coming in that I might have a problem with romance at Yale because I’m black. I was like nahhhh, racism is so passé, but after three years at Yale, I had lunch with her and I was like, man I’ve given up. I’ve actually given up. And she was like, yup. She doesn’t know any Black women in her six years around this campus who have had relationships that haven’t been long distance. I do, but the numbers are still so saddening! And somehow we both do fine as soon as we leave campus. This phenomenon that has been corroborated by Latina women, Asian men and women, Indian women, Arab women, etc. (I can’t speak for most men, so yeah.) Racial preference in dating exists everywhere. But somehow it feels closer to home here.

    I’m writing this article because many people — not just me, and not just black women — feel like they are being judged sexually and romantically because of their race. Being intimate with someone involves some introspection about what you like and what you don’t. It also is a good indicator of how much prejudice is forgotten in a deep dark place inside you, because nothing better signifies your true worldview than the people with whom you will and will not become intimate with.

    So I just discovered the OK Cupid blog. If y’all don’t know, it is a blog of statistics based on the profiles, dates and dating preferences of the OK Cupid clientele. For some reason, the statistics really bother me. In various studies on ethnicity and dating, Asian men and Black women were found to be statistically less “desirable” mates than any other ethnic/gender group. I could maybe understand if the statistics showed that people tend to date within their own culture or religion or something like that, but that is clearly not the case. I have heard so many Asian men of different sexual orientations say to me, personally, that they feel it is harder for them date/meet people because of their ethnicity.

    There’s something to their concerns. On the OK Cupid blog comments, an Asian woman justified her unwillingness to date an Asian man because she was born in a liberal place and Asian men are conservative and want their women to stay at home and cook for them. I’m sorry, but that doesn’t sound like any Asian guy I’ve ever met, and I’ve encountered more than a few in my lifetime. I have also heard from people, “I don’t find Asian men attractive,” or “Asian men are ugly,” and I find that blatantly false, racist and ignorant. Anyone who has ever seen a Korean drama can tell you that Asian guys can be, and are, way hot and more importantly, can take part in a loving and fulfilling relationship. But these claims and their validity are not the problem here. The biggest problem by far is the fact that people find it okay to make these broad generalizations about a billion people based on their ethnicity. And don’t think that because Yale is so “liberal” that claims like these haven’t been made, because they have, and who knows why it’s acceptable.

    My next case is the romantic plight of the modern day Black woman. You wouldn’t think it, but there is an entire canon of studies, books and Essence articles dedicated to this very topic. I’ve seen books entitled “Why Black Men Choose White Women” and other such shockers, but shall we look at the statistics? According to OK Cupid (which of course is the dating statistic holy text), Black women are sending out more messages than any other group, but they are also getting the least responses of anyone. This kind of effort — with very little outcome — inspires the commonly accepted statements, “Black women will die alone,” “The standard of beauty is based on women of European descent and that’s why nobody will date Black women,” and other depressing things that Black women tell ourselves. With the rate of Black women enrolled in college far exceeding that of Black men (who many women think are choosing not to date Black women anyway), Black women are looking elsewhere for love, and being rejected most of the time.

    I just regurgitated a bunch of stuff I read in books and whatnot, so let me take this to a personal level. When I was researching a paper about Black women and relationships in modern day, I interviewed my daddy, an über-white guy, about whether he thought these findings were true. He told me that as a white guy, people assume he is married to a white woman, blah blah blah, and people say some pretty awful and racist things about Black women in front of him, including at his place of work. Or course, my dad then chooses not to do business with them (HA!), but his observations led him to one conclusion. “I guarantee you many, I don’t know if it’s most, American white men would have a problem marrying a black woman. Date ‘em and well, you know, sure. But I bet you they wouldn’t take them home to meet the family.” Well that’s dismal, right? But you may be asking, “What does that have anything to do with Yale?” There is not a single Black lady here that I have ever talked to about this (and I talk about it far too much), who has not felt that race has affected her ability to date, flirt, hook up, whatever.

    In my years here, I have talked to a rainbow spectrum of people and so many people have had some gripe with race in dating — but somehow, there isn’t any kind of discussion about how pervasive these feeling are. We talk about hook-up culture and sex, but not about how excluding or exclusively dating (ahem, Yellow Fever) someone based on their ethnicity is the last bastion of accepted racism. I challenge you Yalies out there to think about what you find attractive versus who you are actually willing to date. Think about maybe stepping out of your comfort zone and trying someone different on for size. Maybe you’ll find that you had a misconception about them for whatever reason, and that you have way more in common than you ever thought you would.

  3. A tale of two

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    I live in an old apartment building on the corner of Elm and Howe called the Elmhurst. This means several things. The first is that my radiators are very noisy. Sometimes in the night, it sounds like they’re trying to communicate with me through a long-lost language of whinings and clangings. The second is that things don’t work a lot of the time, in what I like to think is a charming, old-building kind of way. Plaster chips, faucets leak and nothing is close to new. The third — and the one I’d like to talk to you about right now — is that within a one block radius there are not ONE but TWO establishments that serve pizza: Alpha Delta and Brick Oven.

    Most people are more familiar with Alpha Delta, I think, largely because of their famous sandwich, the Wenzel. I’ve never really cared for it, to be honest, but I can see the appeal. Since I live literally next door, I tend to order their garlic bread with cheese on cold nights. I take it up to my room and squirt on Sriracha sauce and watch a movie or something.

    But here’s the thing: while I enjoy garlic bread and the occasional sandwich from Alpha Delta, I much prefer the pizza from Brick Oven, which sits just across Howe Street behind a parking lot near-filled to capacity with lumber (presumably for the oven). This routinely presents a problem, since in order to return safely home with my pizza, I inevitably have to pass by Alpha Delta, unless I want to cross Elm Street for the short stretch between Brick Oven and the Elmhurst, which would be unnecessarily evasive even for me.

    The other night, as I was returning from Brick Oven with pizza stuffed into a paper bag (it was clearly pizza — no doubt about it), I encountered one of the men who works at Alpha Delta outside smoking a cigarette. He was facing me as I crossed Howe, and as I passed by his place of employ whilst checking a very important message on my phone so as not to make eye contact, he remained an obstruction on the sidewalk for what must have been about half a second longer than was comfortable but felt to me more like two or three seconds longer than was comfortable. Then again, maybe even that half a second was my own invention. Either way, I felt guiltier than usual.

    Never before has one of my simple everyday choices as a consumer felt so weighty; every time I order pizza from Brick Oven, I feel a little like Daisy Buchanan from “The Great Gatsby”: “I loved you too!” Theoretically, it’s my right as a citizen in a capitalist democracy to pick and choose which products I eat and from where. So what if I want pizza from one and sandwiches from the other? Supply! Demand! Let the best deal win! But the space encompassing my apartment, Alpha Delta and Brick Oven isn’t a capitalist democracy. It’s a single block. Before coming to Yale, I had never lived in a city, so this phenomenon wasn’t an issue, but it matters to me what the guys at Alpha Delta think of me, even if, in reality, they don’t think of me at all. (Given the amount of business they bring in on an average night, they probably don’t.)

    If I’m honest with myself, this thought started out as an act of repentance, an absurdly self-indulgent apology. But the fact that I put so much stock in my imaginary relationships with these local businesses isn’t just evidence of my neuroses, though it is surely that as well. It’s not that I can’t make a choice between the two establishments, shuttling back and forth between the two like an indecisive lover. The fact of the matter is that not choosing has become increasingly significant as my attachment to this otherwise insignificant lot has grown. The realization I’m having, I think, is the acceptance of the Daisy Buchanan phenomenon. When I leave here in a few months, the notion of missing one or the other of these pizza places will be nonsensical. I’ll either miss neither of them or, more likely, both of them, completely.

  4. Playing off the Beat

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    Oh, 2011, it’s been swell. You’ve brought us one miserable New Haven winter (complete with some weird weather phenomenon we New Mexicans can only describe as raining ice), an Arab Spring, Tot Mom summer, and an #Autumn of #Occupation. Between raiding compounds in Abbottabad, managing to get the country to take seriously your pizza-themed campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, and getting everything ready for your unreasonably high-profile marriage to a British prince, you were one busy, busy year.

    I’m sure you were overwhelmed in an absurdist sea of CNN ticker-tape, unmoored to any trappings of culture into which you could escape. What even was music in 2k11? You might have wondered, but certainly you couldn’t take enough of a break to find an answer. Sure, you might have had time to hear Bruno Mars croon about various ways he could demonstrate his love via mangling his own hands (catching a grenade, grabbing a blade), and maybe you could recite the Official 2011 Color Pair of the Year (black, yellow). Eek! You could use some quality year-end music. Here are a few wonderful feel-good releases of the past year. You’d be forgiven for having missed these, but hopefully they’ll help you forgive the onslaught of yet another crazy year. 

    It has been a year of bittersweet endings, from the War on Terror as we know it to the marriage of Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore. Kelly Crisp and Ivan Howard, the two members of the indie rock/pop duo used to be quite feverishly in love — to the point of naming their first album “The Rosebuds Make Out.” The next eight years brought several albums worth of elegant and often danceable songs celebrating love, and their divorce this year didn’t stop them from creating yet another. This is an album of slow-boiling cleansing, the sutures of healing. There is nothing angry here — resigned, maybe, but not bitter. The two slip gracefully between styles, from folksy singer-songwriter confessional (“Worthwhile”) to heartbreakingly laid back, lounge-ready plea (“Come Visit Me”) to cathartic, blast-the-speakers guitar rock (“Woods”). For a world in transition, perhaps nothing is more inspiringly apt than the ex-couples’ commitment to create something beautiful out of pain.

    On the topic of catharsis, maybe nothing feels quite as good as jumping around carelessly. Cloud Nothings have perfected the art of tossing off the snotty two and a half minute noise pop gem on this late-night basement show of an album. As concise as it is messy, the album contains all the fuzz, distortion and whining these little punks can muster. But at the same time, the guitar riffs and vocal lines are immediately arresting, worming their way deep into your body’s own rhythm. For me, these songs were the epitome of the willful amnesia of escaping on a summer road trip, but will sound just as good in the equally biting winter air. “I feel better/nothing’s wrong!” frontman Dylan Baldi cries over and over again on the surprisingly titled “Nothing’s Wrong.” Even when everything is wrong, it’s all okay if the guitars are jangly enough and you yell real loud.

    As the lion’s share of the indie music-consuming demographic sinks deeper into their twenties, this seems to have been a year for nostalgia. By this time, listening to that 400th self-produced EP of bedroom pop is becoming a tedious exercise in spot-the-culturally-irrelevant-sample (I see you, Teena Marie!). San Francisco’s one-man band, Part Time, self identifies as owing “a debt to 80s movie scores,” but man, he does it just right on this understated but infectious cut from his 2011 album “What Would You Say?” The drum machine is as lithe as the cute goggles-wearing boy in that outdated chemistry VHS from middle school, and the giggly synth is the Brat Pack kid smirking in the corner. “The sunset’s falling down/we’re picking it up with our hands,” he exclaims just before a super-sultry guitar solo, and after all that you’ve got no choice but to join in how good it feels.

    So in the coming weeks, as 2011 ends in a flurry, try to set some time out to listen; just maybe, instead of feeling like you’re under a pile of the past year, you’ll find a way to dig a little deeper in the direction of the bright new year ahead.

  5. Stiff Questions: Hot gossip and the PMS Martini

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    Have you heard? This week’s Stiff Questions Panel addresses everything you wanted to know about GOSSIP: the good, the bad and the unbecoming. To spice up a spicy topic of conversation, the ladies have selected a cocktail with a bit of heat: the P.M.S. (pear meets salsa) martini.

    The contributors for this week’s column are Miss Lucy Lippes, Miss Lia Bell and guests Miss Bea Yotch and Mr. Neville Tell Jr.

    Ms. Lippes: I cannot help but start every conversation with some ground rules. And indeed, gossip has its categories: the good, the bad and the unbecoming. Good gossip for example, might sound like…

    Ms. Bell: “HAVE YOU HEARD that Harold and Cynthia are engaged and have you SEEN the ring? It’s practically the size of a lemon tartlet!”

    Ms. L: Quite right. Now bad gossip is the purely informative humdrum.

    Ms. Yotch: (under her breath) Did you know that the dining room at the club has changed its supper hours from 6 to 8 to 6 to 7:30!

    Mr. Tell Jr.: No! It cannot be!

    Ms. L: And finally, we have the unbecoming.

    Ms. B: A lady should never gossip unbecomingly.

    Ms. L: Unless she comes across a particularly burning piece of information such as a view through one’s kitchen window of Mr. Kent trying on … Mrs. Kent’s lingerie!

    Ms. Y: But are you sure it was … Mrs. Kent’s?

    Mr. T: Hush!

    Ms. Y: Now how should one convey gossip, be it good or bad or unbecoming?

    Ms. L: One shouldn’t underestimate the power of the hushed, excited whisper — which allows you both discretion and a means of drawing in your audience.

    Ms. B: I like it yelled. Into my hearing aid!

    Mr. T: Keep in mind, ladies, that gossip should ideally be received with a grain of salt!

    Ms. Y: But only if it’s the finest, pinkest fleur de sel from the coasts of Brittany.

    Ms. L: HAVE YOU HEARD that Bertha uses … my, I can barely utter it aloud … Morton’s salt for her scones!

    Mr. T: No!

    Ms. Y: Scandalous! What’s the juiciest piece of gossip your ears have ever been privy to?

    Ms. L: Surely that constitutes gossiping?! And is it becoming to gossip in print? Oh, I’m sorry, there’s already a publication for that, isn’t there?

    Ms. B: Gossip journalism aside, what are the most favorable arenas for partaking in gossip? The locker room at the country club? Public transportation? A café? The boudoir?

    Ms. L: Well, I certainly never take public transportation, nor do I use any kind of public laundromat, but I would imagine that both of those locales would be ideal.

    Mr. T: I would like to bring up an important issue: that is, spreading gossip about oneself. The person whom you select to tell your piece of information to, with the hope or intention of their relaying it on to someone else, can be vital.

    Ms. Y: Could this be information of a personal, even romantic nature?

    Mr. T: It could. Romantic gossip — more than any other kind — spreads like wildfire (particularly under the influence of spicy alcoholic beverages).

    Ms. Y: I fail to see how talking about oneself is gossip at all!

    Ms. L: Perhaps not in its germinating stages — at this point, one is merely confiding in a friend — but one has definitively sowed the seed of gossip. One has thrown the lighted cigarette out the car window into the dried, summer landscape of society.

    Ms. B: But one needs the wind to blow.

    Ms. L: Indeed. One must be aware of which direction the wind is blowing.

    Ms. Y: And any blowing in general.

    Mr. T: On the nose Ms. Yotch! Male gossip is of particular interest, because gentlemen have the tendency to not think themselves capable of gossip, which adds another layer of insincerity and deceit to what is said to other men in the locker rooms of the world. Now, for instance, if out shooting quail on the estate with Gilbert, I should say something casually to him, perhaps of a romantic nature, say, an interest in a married lady.

    Ms. B: Well I think the only true confidante a lady has is her terrier.

    Mr. T: And a man, his gun.

    Ms. Y: Only her hairdresser knows for sure. To that, I would add: gossip is like a cocktail — the spicier, the better.

    Ms. L: I would say: gossip is like a cocktail, in that it is best when shared.

    Mr T: I would say: Life is gossip. That is all.

    You can look forward to Stiff Questions on December 2 with a new and similarly scintillating topic of conversation.

  6. Revelation on Elm Street!

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    Are you thinking of going to India to find yourself?

    Congratulations. You are among a surprisingly large cohort of perplexed Yalies who probably read/saw “Eat, Pray, Love” and took it a bit too seriously.

    I’m not sure where you left yourself last, but let me guess: You are having difficulty answering any question for which there is no authoritative primary source — important questions like “what should I do with my life?” or “what really makes me happy?”

    And there’s this incredibly anxious feeling that you won’t know until you have spent four months traveling on budget airlines to stare into the face of an old, wrinkled guru in some remote sacred land. There, between the lines on his forehead, you will see everything you wanted to see. You will realize the answer to all of the things you question about life, yourself and ~the meaning of it all~. And then you will drink from the fountain of youth, come to terms with your mortality and somehow find value in your incredibly frivolous art history degree. With nothing but some dirty clothes and a rucksack full of spiritual souvenirs, you will emerge a reinforced, self-actualized you — a happy, fulfilled adult.

    I know how you feel because, to some extent, I have been feeling the same way too. I really can’t help it — so many people in my life have been talking about the potential of applying for a fellowship to disappear into a far-off mountainside for a summer, a semester or a year on a mission to discover something about life. ‘I want to take a gap year to go to South America and reflect.’ ‘I need to take spring semester off and go think by myself. Maybe in Israel.’ ‘I want to spend next fall in Italy and just … do me.’

    But the more I mull over the idea, the more frustrated I become. Why is it necessary to get lost in a jungle in order to figure out what’s important in life? Am I meant to believe that a major part of my personal development can only happen in some foreign, unplanned experience that is inherently arbitrary?

    Don’t get me wrong: I love the idea of spending four months hopping around an unfamiliar place with nothing more than a change of clothes and a slightly mangled passport. I just heard about a friend’s plan to get a car and drive from Tajikistan through Russia and I couldn’t be more jealous. The difference between his trip itinerary and the “Eat, Pray, Love” plan, however, is that he isn’t thinking about stumbling on some great revelation in a cold yurt.

    What adds to my frustration is the notion that you can only find the opportunity for clear self-reflection away from this campus. The rationale that I often hear is that one needs to escape everyday life in order to have the necessary perspective to think well. But if I can’t stop worrying about my schedule long enough to think about life’s bigger questions here, then I’m probably not going to be able to tackle those problems while trying to avoid food poisoning abroad. And what about when I get back to the real world, to my job and apartment and errands and bills? Self-reflection shouldn’t end when my trip comes to a close, or I’ll likely find myself mired in another existential crisis before long.

    I’ve realized that I need to be able to find the capacity to think about these questions here, in my ordinary life, rather than dream about the romantic notion of falling into a cold river in China and drawing a grand metaphor about the harms of physical/moral impurity.

    And frankly, I can think critically about those questions here on campus, just by sitting by myself in the Beinecke and putting aside my banal concerns for a moment. I really don’t understand how the sight of a cypress in Tuscany will help me come to those conclusions. And to spend four months, six months, a year in the hills waiting for that epiphany to come — maybe I’m being naïve, but I just think life’s too short.

  7. Music when you least expect it

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    Two weekends ago, New York celebrated the madness that is the CMJ Music Marathon, an enormous music festival whose scores of official and unofficial showcases mean hundreds of shows going on all over one of the biggest cities in the world. And, coincidentally, there I was! In the city! Dressed in my estimation of a good, all-black New York outfit (in hindsight, a bit more similar to my witch-themed Halloween costume than I might have hoped), achingly underage and pathologically jittery in the face of clipboards containing guest lists, I was ready to kill it. As someone who attends concerts on a pretty regular basis, I was sure the whole affair would be a big neighborhood of live music and I’d be trick-or-treating from venue to venue late into the night.

    But this was New York, and sometimes nightlife ain’t a breeze. I realized this after being turned away from a chi-chi rooftop party in Brooklyn, and then a show inside a bookstore (a bookstore!), and then, embarrassingly, the picnic tables at a farmers market. In a dramatic turn shockingly reminiscent of fruitless freshman year nights spent party-prowling, I found myself walking down Kent Avenue in Williamsburg in search of absolutely anything to do.

    Until I noticed a door.

    Super suavely, I overshot the distance to get there, squinting over my shoulder surreptitiously to gauge if the flat, brown thing in the doorman’s hand was one of those hallowed guest list clipboards or just a clipboard of the regular sort. It didn’t seem to matter to him; the door was wide open and his cigarette proved more enthralling than doing his job. I slipped on in. Twenty-somethings dressed reassuringly similar to me were dancing vigorously between an elevated bar and a DJ spinning beneath a billowing white canopy that looked like a lumpy cloud. I recognized this place; I had somehow unwittingly made my way into Glasslands Gallery, and this was the CMJ Yours Truly showcase. That DJ was Araabmusik. I had — through no fault or merit of my own — arrived.

    The show was fantastic and the dancing lasted until four in the morning (just kidding, parents!) and the whole time, the only words I could manage were, “How did I find myself here?”

    This is more than a mildly alarming question that might signal cause for panic. Some of the most sublime musical experiences are those that we simply stumble into. The Russian critic Victor Shlovsky describes art’s necessity as stemming from its capability to yank its audience from the unconscious slog through ordinary life, to “impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known … to make objects unfamiliar.” While music itself falls into a category beyond the ordinary, music that takes a listener completely by surprise, sneaking up from behind or hiding in a trap door in the floor, is perhaps the most jolting and most satisfying.

    Literally stumbling in the night’s high heels through an unknown door isn’t the only way that discovering entire worlds of music happens. It’s why people spend hours and hours in the dusty basement barrels of record shops, looking for the odd gem. It’s why people keep going to heart-meltingly earnest local band shows and open mic nights. It’s why people who care about music seek it out wherever it hides, not just on Top 40 radio or established indie music blogs.

    Long before I read these blogs or kept up with releases from labels, I was religiously devoted to Purevolume, a Soundcloud-type website for bands (mostly, now that I revisit, with tags of “Rock / Emo / Pop Punk,” but what did I know) to post singles for download. I would stay up way past bedtime on the family PC, clicking the random band page button until I landed somewhere I liked. I trained myself to love the thrill of chance. The trust I had in paying attention without guaranteed reward allowed me, a couple years later, to stumble onto Of Montreal — and, in turn, my beloved Elephant 6 Collective — in the ambient music playing over advertisements before the previews at a movie theater. I’ve been exposed to the strangest and greatest music discovered in grocery stores, in scrawled lyrics inside secondhand books, in dumpsters.

    Discovery isn’t dead. We might have expanded westward and (creepily) Google Street View-ed every nook and cranny of my childhood street, but tiny victories of exploration lurk where we least expect. It takes a certain faith that pursuing an inkling that something stumbled upon will turn out to be worthwhile, and a lot of the time it isn’t. Sometimes you stumble through doors in the Meatpacking district, and sometimes you find yourself in an actual butchery. But those euphoric moments when chance presents us with something wonderful are worth the extra work in seeking. This is where true personal connection to music develops.

    Switch off the hype machine and go explore. You never know what dance parties lie in the warm glow emanating from that door down the street.

  8. BERNHARDT: Boring white men pay for your lattes

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    Unless you have a Google alert for “circular, symbolically valuable pieces of metal,” you probably didn’t know that the likeness of Rutherford B. Hayes, 19th president of the United States, is now available in coin form. In fact, since Aug. 18, his mug has been stamped on several million coins, each worth exactly one U.S. dollar. This means that circulating at this very moment are millions of dollars’ worth of pictures of Rutherford B. Hayes.

    I didn’t know this either until last Sunday, when a vending machine in the Fort Lauderdale International Airport spat three of those gleaming portraits into my outstretched palm. My first thought — and one informed by years of getting saddled with those little golden bastards — was, “Just what I need: dollars, in coin form!” But after examining the notable and peculiar resident face, my second thought was, “Say WHAAATHERFORD?!”

    A few moments of browsing the web of interconnected tubes revealed that 1) there is a clip on YouTube of a centipede that eats bats (!!!) and 2) this particular coin is part of a whole program of “Presidential $1 Coins” initiated by the U.S. Mint in 2007. They’ve been covering four presidents a year for the past four years. I know you probably have a lot of questions (heck, I know I did), but rest assured: the mint prepared an FAQ page on their website that includes such gems as, “How can I get Presidential $1 Coins for the business I run?” and “Is the Presidential $1 Coin Program similar to the 50 States Quarter Program®?” On the former: don’t, unless you want your customers to think your business is pirate-themed. On the latter: of course not, you idiot. It’s TOTALLY DIFFERENT!

    A question they don’t address on the website is, “Hey U.S. Mint, why are you making more of these stupid coins?” It’s true: nobody uses dollar coins. In fact, legislation has recently been proposed that would halt the program early. “Why?” you ask. Because the Federal Reserve Banks currently have over ONE BILLION DOLLARS’ WORTH of these shiny suckers in storage. This all makes sense if you think about it. If coin usage overtook bill usage, making it rain would be incredibly painful and God knows our politicians love their debauchery. But you guys: these coins cost less to produce and last about seven times as long as their cotton-blend counterparts; it would make so much more sense to use them instead of those flimsy pictures of George Whatshisface.

    Still, I have some questions for the Mint that aren’t answered on their website. The first one is, “Why are we honoring all of the presidents?” No offense to Rutherford B. Hayes, who, scoring between 13 and 33 in a series of expert rankings, was actually kind of decent, sort of, I guess, but on Nov. 17, the mint plans on releasing coins honoring James Garfield, 20th president of the United States and a man whose only notable action in the White House was getting shot four months into office (SWEET!). They’ve already produced coins honoring such winners as Franklin Pierce, 14th president of the United States and an outspoken proponent of the Fugitive Slave Law (AWESOME!). Come 2016, there will even be one devoted to that paragon of transparency and virtue, Richard Nixon (TRUTHFUL!). And, not to be a dick about this, but how many more faces of Founding Fathers do we need on our money? I like Lincoln as much as the next guy but to be honest, Abe, I see your face every time I use a fiver or glance at the pile of unused pennies on my night stand. You know who I don’t see? Non-white, non-male people who probably contributed more to our country than, I don’t know, Rutherford B. Hayes. With the exception of Sacagawea, who’s been suspiciously absent in my recent transactions, we don’t really honor anybody who wasn’t a white guy in a suit who happened to hold an office for even a few weeks that wasn’t particularly important until the 20th century.

    Where’s the Frederick Douglass $1 Coin, you guys? At the rate we’re going, the next time you pay for coffee with a Lincoln, you’re going to get back two Washingtons and a special edition Fillmore.

  9. ANGEL: The Mac and Cheese Blues

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    Family Weekend could not have come soon enough.

    Not because my parents were visiting (which they weren’t), or because my friends’ parents were visiting and I thought I’d at least get a good meal (they weren’t; I didn’t), but because at that point I really just needed a break.

    Last Saturday it took hours to get my feet on the ground. After celebrating the almost end of midterms with hot cider and rum, I was in no hurry to get out of my bed in Swing Space the next day. I was also freezing since Drunk Kalli had decided to open a window.

    It being the first day all semester that I was neither out of town with the shotgun team nor particularly stressed about upcoming due dates, my original plan had been to wake up early and get some leisurely studying done before my friends’ Family Weekend performances.

    Yeah. Right. I know. Even Drunk Kalli had suspected that the only thing I wanted to do last Saturday was absolutely nothing.

    I’m going to be completely honest with you: this semester has not been easy. Sure, over lukewarm Berkeley mac and cheese I will laughingly complain with you about our workloads and compare extracurricular obligations and we will joke, “We’re going to be up so late tonight! Haha!”

    But in my head I’ll be thinking, “NOT FUNNY. I’m almost 21 years old and I spend most of my time procrastinating, whining, engaging in occasional narcolepsy, and studying? This is not okay.”

    Mostly I’ve been missing the summer. Just three months ago I was living in Manhattan, working two publishing internships and maximizing my savings so I could explore the city and still eat dinner. I found that it sucks to be poor in New York but it rocks to be young in New York. Where else can you wave to drag queens, hear nine languages spoken on a single city block, stumble into a bar with a live jazz band and craft beer options in the thousands, and consume a bacon-wrapped hot dog smothered in coleslaw and jalapeños, all in the same evening?

    In New York I felt like an integral part of something bigger. It was addicting.

    No more addicting than my warm sheets last Saturday, which at this point I had burrowed under, tucking my quilt up to my chin. It didn’t help my mood that I could hear the rain outside. Until I couldn’t hear it anymore because it had turned to chunky flakes of snow.

    “Why do I need to be here for four whole years?” I thought, for easily the 207th time. “Why does Yale need ME for four whole years? I could be an adult already! Ramen tastes better than dining hall food anyway …”

    But by then it was 2:30 in the afternoon, and the Rhythmic Blue show started at 3, so with super-human determination I convinced myself that it really wasn’t that far from Swing Space to the basement of Morse, that I wasn’t a bad friend, and that I would be there, no matter how much I wanted to pretend that I was anywhere but New Haven.

    I did make it to the show. Though my hair was still dripping from snowmelt and my hands were still numb, in the middle of the first hip-hop number I started to feel a renewed faith. These guys were FIERCE. Not because they broke it down like pros (which they did), but because they were facing the same midterms and terrifying life questions that I was and they were still out there dancing their asses off.

    I ended up at a lot of shows last weekend. I’ll admit, it was addicting.

    By Saturday evening, I was happier than I’d been all semester. Because where else can you see professional-quality spoken word and gospel and orchestra music and dance, all by full-time students, all in the same weekend? And where else will people forgo their toasty beds to bundle up in a record-breaking snowstorm and pack the house?

    I can think of one place.

  10. THE EZ PASS: The Lindsay I Once Knew

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    In the early 2000s, the good old days of the Hilary Duff versus Lindsay Lohan tabloid cage match, I was always team-Lindsay. Though both were manufactured by the Disney machine, Hilary was the pop-tart for people who liked Pop-Tarts. She was all sugar, no edge. Lindsay, at least in the way I conceived of her, was the starlet for girls who had a more refined palette. The same year Hilary was living the tween version of a fairy tale in “A Cinderella Story” — a movie which I refused to see and still haven’t — Lindsay was reciting immortally sassy lines in “Mean Girls.”

    It’s not my fault you’re like, in love with me, or something!

    Fast-forward seven years. Hilary is pregnant and in a seemingly stable marriage with a hockey player. Meanwhile Lindsay was handed yet another jail sentence Wednesday. Both barely appear in movies, but Lindsay is going to appear in Playboy. Hilary tweets pictures of pumpkin pies she makes with her tagalong big sister, Haylie; Lindsay tweets about doing her court-ordered community service.

    In the grand scheme of being a successful human being — if that success is measured by your ability to be healthy and stay out of jail — team-Lindsay lost.

    It’s tempting to think of Lindsay as just another side-/shitshow. But before she partied with Paris and broadcast her whoziwhatsit to the world, the persona she created through her film roles was one I wanted to identify with. Lindsay was talented and unusual (if red hair can be deemed unusual) and her fame meant that you didn’t have to be a standard blonde ingénue, which I certainly wasn’t. Lindsay was praised in the adult press. Hilary, I assumed, would slog away in goody-two-shoes tales until she began to wrinkle. Lindsay might win an Oscar.

    During a girls’ night in viewing of “Freaky Friday,” shortly after it came out, my mom asked me if I wanted to get a second piercing in my ears. I did. It was something I had wanted but never thought I could ask for. The emulation of Lindsay — making herself over in the body of Jamie Lee Curtis, it should be noted — was a sign that fashion-experimentation could be condoned and encouraged. Meanwhile, as I was nursing my freshly poked lobes, I was listening to Joey Ramone on the movie’s soundtrack along with Lindsay’s fabulously catchy ditty, “Ultimate.” (Seriously, I sometimes still listen to that song.) A year later “Mean Girls” gave me an appreciation of Tina Fey, a head for witty dialogue and a “never conceal your brain for the sake of a guy” message that I always knew was true, but but was rarely confirmed in Seventeen or Teen People.

    Then the movie Lindsay with the spunky intelligence disappeared, and the real-life Lindsay with the penchant for cocaine benders took over. I remember feeling actively disappointed when I read the early rumors of her boob job. Girls like Lindsay — or rather girls like the ones Lindsay portrayed in her movies — would never do such a thing.

    It’s now hard to remember the Lindsay that I admired, and in retrospect that Lindsay probably never existed. She was a product of an over-imaginative 13-year-old mind that assumed actors acted like the characters they portrayed. Still, as we analyze the sorry state of Lindsay’s teeth, I can’t help but think that Lindsay’s defeat by Duff was ultimately a loss for originality. The fairy tale heroine won. Those bitches always do.