a daily publication
profile of michael raitor fiction by sachie weeber on fear & more...
issue n˚1’ volume n˚1”
Hello. Welcome to West. You have no idea how long it took us to decide on that name. West. Weessssst. Cardinal directional, monosyllabic, uncontroversial, West. It beat runners-up Frank, Amasa (Leland Stanford’s real first name), Margin, and Fast and Furious 7, which is still a point of contention between us. We argued over how to begin this letter—Hey, Hey there, Hello, Welcome—so many options, so many connotations. We argued about whether to include that argument in this letter. (We eventually decided to switch off typing every letter, for the sake of equality.) So why force these clearly incompatible people to work together? Why make them fjord their obvious differences to discuss the virtues of various colors, fonts, column sizes, and literary devices? Clearly for the sake of something greater, something awesome and amazing and monosyllabic.
West is a new Stanford publication, a general interest magazine with a focus on arts and literature. In this issue, we asked ourselves, What do we put in a new Stanford publication with a focus on arts and literature? (What does general interest mean? Adam begged Josie to tell him.) We answered ourselves: a lot of really good writing and art with little to no common thread between them. We explore this thread in our profile of Michael Raitor, the coolest legally blind wakeboarder you’ll ever meet, essays on fears of robots that love, two stories of mental health issues at Stanford, and fiction by Sachie Weber. We hope you enjoy it, or at least tell other people to like it. N˚1’ 2014” WEST
Thanks for reading. Adam and Josie
N˚1’ 2014” WEST
KANYE the stranger
ON FEAR (ir)rational fear
FEATURE mental health
INFORGRAPHIC dorm storm
ESSAY a NYC drive
PROFILE Michael Raitor
FICTION & two poems
HUMOUR times two
OVERHEARD by us
POEM seven ways to meet
FRACTAL a short film
NAMES WE CONSIDERED AND THEN DISCARDED FOR THIS FINE PUBLICATION:
The Francis J. Amasa Quarterly Magazine Ignatius Dylar or Dylarama Foil Amasa Carl Friedrich Gauss Windom Earle Frank Booth The Sherilyn Fenn Quarterly The Frank Silva Rescue Mission Fast and Furious 7 Ketchum Fauntleroy Edward Red Robert E. Lee Ulysses S. Grant Odyssulyss Underwater Fracking Flock of Seagulls
Baywatch: The Magazine Gluten Cereal Potent Potables Pasteurized Milk Milk Minetta Attica Winston Churchill Square Muriel VINCA VINCA MAJOR JUNIPER Margin Frank Oak The Pacific Ampersand Zeugma Mode Postulate
N˚1’ 2014” WEST
INTERVIEW’ 2014” WEST
Caleb Kumar Caleb Kumar is a freshman at Stanford. He is also a stroke victim. Also, he graduated from college when he was fourteen. He has developed numerous apps (his most recent being a news aggregator app called Nexus), and feels confident saying he has ”a good relationship with Apple.” When he was fourteen he discovered a new way to detect bladder cancer, and he likes to count cards in casinos with his friends. He’s also really into Pink Floyd and he plays the harmonica. WEST sat down with the Renaissance man: WEST: You had a stroke when you were fourteen that left you partially paralyzed. What got you through the period after the incident? KUMAR: That’s hard to say. I think it’s definitely a combination of many different things. I did a lot of music therapy. Can you explain what music therapy is? Listening to music, playing music; it wasn’t very structured. I used to play the piano and the drum set; I played that for like twelve, thirteen years at that time—most of my life.
Specifically? Only once you lose something can you understand how much it meant to you. A lot of people take walking for granted.
When you had your stroke, you were working on a program to detect bladder cancer. How did that project come about? Why bladder cancer? Well, when I was nine, I started going to a college to take some math classes, and I branched off into some other subjects; eventually, I had enough units to graduate. It happened in a weird way—I hadn’t expected to graduate. Around fourteen-year-old I started working for a startup—I remember distinctly needing to be at least sixteenyears-old to work for a lab— so I just worked for a friend of mine. It was a molecular diagnostics company and they did a lot of diagnostic tests which had been phased out because of newer tests; so there were all of these extra images of bladder cells from urine scans lying around At some point I just got the idea to, um, if we could be objective and the computer could look at these images, it could see which cells have cancer. I was really interested in
INTERVIEW’ 2014” WEST
Could you still play any music? That’s why I said I used to play. I don’t play anymore. There were a lot of things I had to face because a lot of things were different.
I spent six months learning how to walk again. And a lot of my doctors—just from the procedure itself—told me I had a five percent chance of survival. […] I remember the first physical therapist I had—I had a really great team—I distinctly remember that this physical therapist came in and he took me up off of the bed and said “Stand up.” I couldn’t even stand up, because there was an issue with weight bearing; all of the muscles in your back that keep you erect when you stand—none of that was working. The muscles that controlled my eyes weren’t working either, so I couldn’t see.
INTERVIEW’ 2014” WEST
Very logically speaking, $100,000 is not a lot of money to live in the Bay Area for two years. The one thing I didn’t like about the program was that there weren’t very many success stories. And if I want to drop out later I could always do that. Is that something you’ve considered? I did kind of consider it.
great time. I just really loved applying math to real life situations. What’s the wildest thing you’ve ever done with your computer science skills? If I told you I’d have to kill you [laughs].
After we finished the interview, WEST received two e-mails from Caleb. They are reproduced Already? You’ve only been here for one below: quarter! Just so that I could focus on the current startups First Email: that I already have. It’s really hard to juggle Hey I just remembered my motivation during those things. my rehabilitation. It was the fact that I was so lucky, there were so many people I met So, how have you stayed so motivated? Do during my hospital stay who were worse off you ever just want to veg out in front of the than me but still had hope. I couldn’t give up TV for a couple of years? when there were people with more pain still Not really…[long pause]. Oh boy, I’ll have to trying. think about that. [Long pause] I guess a lot of things kept me motivated. I had a pretty good Second Email: childhood and I really liked…where am I Oh and I have done hacking type jobs for going with this? I don’t know, maybe I just like and against the US government, both legally life too much to give up. A lot of doctors told and illegally. That’s about all I can say for me that I would never be able to walk. I just that. love doing crazy things too much to just give it up and go and sit in a wheelchair all the time. Like, I got into computer programming from Edited and Condensed by Josie Hodson learning how to hack first. I did a lot of crazy things in my childhood, I guess. Like what? Me and my friends sometimes would sneak into casinos and count cards and I just had a
THE STRANGER By Olukemi Lijadu
ew listeners—or even human
characteri- Kanye West, the artist we love to
beings—would deny the obvi- zations may miss the essence of hate, and the character Meursault,
ous success of Kanye West’s musi- Kanye’s real persona. His identity the protagonist of Albert Camus’ cal career. Yet many have expressed is complex and ambiguous: while famous work The Stranger. Nameconsternation, if not outright he seems to be beautiful, dark, ly, they have both lost their mothdisapproval, at his intemperate twisted, and self-obsessed, he also ers. Their reactions to this event, outbursts, outrageous statements, deeply loved his mother. This de- however, are very different; Meurand at times shocking lack of tail disagrees with the rest of his sault’s story of denial and indifmodesty. Controversial, bombas- personality; Yeezus, the self-pro- ference provides an illuminating tic, egomaniac—these words often claimed deity, is a mama’s boy. commentary on Mr. West’s public find their way into conversations He dedicated songs for her and bereavement. about Kanye. “I am a God,” the often took her as his date to award
For both Kanye and Meur-
rappers repeatedly asserts on the shows and galas. His love for his sault, in very divergent ways, track “I am a God” of his latest mother, Donda, was most public the death of their mothers repalbum, Yeezus. Conceited? Defi- after her early death in 2007. nitely. Vain? Of course. Over-confident? Without a doubt.
resents a turning point in their
Consequently, I see parallels lives. Kanye’s public outpouring between the events in the lives of of grief and disorientation follow-
KANYE THE STRANGER ’ 2014” WEST
10 ing his mother’s death was a deep philosophy, it is also highly val- described the sound as uncomsign of humanity that endeared ued in our modern western soci- fortable, but it is an unapologetic him to both fans and critics. For ety. The virtue of respect and love reminder that he is not willing to Meursault, it marks his alienation for one’s parents holds enormous conform to the norms of genre. and rejection by society. He is power. It holds a power that is The pain-ridden vocals of Nina condemned to death as a result of able to either cast out individu- Simone on the track “Blood on his failure to grieve appropriately als from society or redeems them. the Leaves” leave many listeners at his mother’s passing.
The esteem placed upon caring feeling uneasy, yet they serve to
The opening lines of Camus’s for the older generation means reinforce the fact that Kanye West novel are, “Mother died today. Or that
unemotional is not afraid of unsettling his
maybe yesterday, I don’t know.” reaction alienates him from his audience. To a large extent, with The detached and flippant man- peers. Whereas for Kanye West, Yeezus, he risked isolating himself ner in which Meursault addresses his display of compassion is able from many of his initial fans, inhis mother’s death immediately to reassure society that the same deed leaving many to lament over challenges the reader’s idea of so- man who rudely interrupted Tay- the “Old Kanye”—a non-face mask cial norms. This stands in sharp lor Swift at the 2009 Grammys wearing, less unsettling version of contrast to Kanye’s raw, touch- also has the capacity for compas- Mr. West. ing, and very public reaction to sion. West challenges our social
He may be a vitriolic egoma-
the death of his own mother. The norms in nearly every way except niac, but his impact on pop culfollowing year Kanye attended the in his reaction to his mother’s ture is undeniable. He represents 2008 Video Music Awards with death, which was anything but de- a person unconstrained by norms “MAMA” somewhat bizarrely yet tached and flippant. affectionately inscribed into his
both in the artistic and person-
The comparison between Mer- al sphere unembarrassed to talk
low-cut afro. Furthermore, in a re- sault and Kanye doesn’t end with about “mommy” on a hip-hop cent interview he admitted, “There their maternal relationships, how- track and unafraid to unsettle his were times [after her death], I ever. While the former is impris- established fan base. Like Meurwould put my life at risk.”
oned, literally, the latter breaks sault, Kanye’s self-expression is
Kanye and Meursault are both out, metaphorically. He’s Kanye, not always consistent with socondemned by a society that pun- and prison bars do not control ciety’s norms and he too stands ishes those who do not conform to him. The first song on Yeezus, alone as a “stranger.” its rules. There is however a great “On Sight,” begins with the disoridifference between them. Though enting blaring sound of Internet the concept of filial piety is one static, included to purposefully of the cornerstones of Confucian shock his listeners. Kanye himself
HE MAY BE A VITRIOLIC EGOMANIAC,
BUT HIS IMPACT ON POP CULTURE IS UNEQUIVOCAL. 11
FEARS’ 2014” WEST
N FEAR 13
RISK AVOIDANCE, AND OTHER PERILOUS ADVENTURES
When I was younger, my parents would pile my little sister and me into a car and make the three-hour car ride from our suburban home in the Bay Area to a little town in Nevada County called—I kid you not—“Rough and Ready.” For miles and miles, there would be only stretches of windy road ahead of us, the brush and woods broken up on occasion by farmland, or orchards, or—to my sister’s and my great delight—horses and goats and sheep and pigs. During summer, the holidays, and most weekends, our play world was enclosed within our farm’s property. There was a pond—with blackberries to pick and a canoe to paddle, and an apple tree for climbing, and a pool to swim in, and part of a forest where there were plenty of fairies who played with us too. I think when I was around eight or nine one of the neighbor’s dogs was killed by a mountain lion. They were a big problem in the area, especially for people with domesticated animals. So my father predicated every excursion we had with “be careful of mountain lions—bring a whistle to call us if you see one!” This was followed by my mom being bitten by a snake. I watched her chase it around with a shovel, finally killing it, while I screamed from inside, “Make Dad do it! Make Dad do it! I don’t want you to die!” Women’s rights, honey, she told me. The deer on our farm were not afraid of people. They used to come right up to the big glass French windows on our porch, so my sister and I could practically touch them. This happened until I overheard a terrifying conversation between my dad and the plumber about how deer in mating season would buck little kids with their antlers to impress their mates. Later, a giant tree branch broke off the tree on the front lawn and
nearly crushed my dad to death. I then found a wasp nest near my favorite tree. Although I don’t remember any particular reason for it, it was around that time that I started asking to go to the library a lot. I started reading more. I started staying inside. Of course, visiting a farm became a lot more boring when you limit yourself to a living room. So I started throwing tantrums every time my parents planned to go up. Eventually, we stopped going. I remember all this, years later, when I’m up at Lake Tahoe with my friends. They’re yelling at me to jump off the pier into the lake. But I’m thinking about the rocks at the bottom, and the undercurrent (do lakes even have an undercurrent, I wonder?), and the possibility of sinister fish, or drowning, or worse, getting a splinter. “Come on!” my friends are yelling, “Just jump! Get the fuck over it, and jump!” Get the fuck over it. But I never did end up jumping.
By Alina Utrata
SOME OF MY FEARS, SUCH AS TIDAL WAVES
When I was nine, my elementary school decided it was time We Became Leaders and began teaching us all the necessary acronyms, mnemonics, and handshake procedures. It was a busy time in my life. We learned to memorize, ideate, smile, trust, and most notably, Handle Fear. To Handle Fear, we had to categorize our terrors by the handy acronym FEAR (Failure Embarrassment And Rejection). Nine-year-old me was resistant. I wasn’t scared of Failure—the possibility never occurred to me. Rejection was intangible and sounded like what happened when you needed a job. My fears seemed more aptly categorized by the slightly less convenient PTDCMMAO (People, and Things the Discovery Channel Made Me Afraid Of).1 On People: I was afraid of people because they didn’t seem to operate under any set of rules that I could discern. They behaved at me and then expected me to behave back at them in some very specific way. This was scary. I therefore tended not to behave back at them, and would instead opt for Flight. My flight strategy worked pretty well, so at least I had an accurate fear-management plan. Things The Discovery Channel Made Me Afraid 2 Of: These fears included, but were not limited to: bridges, box jellyfish, snakes, rats, general animal life in Australia, mega-quakes, parasites that crawl across your eyes, and statistically improbable diseases only contracted in Sri Lanka. Rats, I assumed, dwelled malevolently in all
heating ducts. Eels would flail out of their coral homes at the scent of my skin, their jaws capable of ripping my hand from my arm like it was the end of a baguette. I probably had that statistically improbable disease only contracted in Sri Lanka, despite the fact that I had never been to Sri Lanka. I had eye parasites because I couldn’t see the whiteboard. All these fears, however, had nothing on tidal waves. My Discovery Channel knowledge of tidal waves was extensive and fear-mongering—I had seen all the shows. My dreams and pre-sleep imaginations were colonized by waves. Tidal waves would rob my beach of its cyclical crashing and pull back the sea, then hurdle towards me. I could never picture them crashing. The terror was never in trying to find the surface, or avoiding the thousands of sharks that undoubtedly traveled by wave. Nor did I ever think about being endlessly tumbled and mixed, about compacting my brainstem or being impaled by a stray umbrella stake. The terror was all in the presence. It was A Wall of Water. A voluminous abnormality and a vertical ocean, tearing towards me as if on liquid wheels. And I would stand, toes curling in the sand, not running or bracing or screaming, because that’s all the Discovery Channel ever showed—a huge, clear CGI curl of water coming and coming and coming. By Sara Altman
1 I would argue that PTDCMMAO’s phonological inconvenience lends it authority in a world where acronyms often seem to be conceived of before their components, such as with FEAR, or DARE, or AA. 2 Note that the Discovery Channel of my childhood was the late ‘90s, early 2000s Discovery Channel. Before the Great Shift turned what had been an informational, science-y channel with a penchant for sharks and dangerous things into a reality channel featuring Men Going to Work.
MY FEAR OF ROBOTS AND THE PROBLEM WITH CUTENESS
It was the year 2002 and I was seven years old. I relaxed into my mother’s arms as we sat on her bed and turned on the television. Neither of us was aware of the impact the film A.I. Artificial Intelligence would have on me. He was cute, seven or eight years old—a child just like me. His name was David and he had a brother and two parents who loved him and he loved them back, just like I loved mine. Except he was not really like me: instead of a warm beating heart inside a fragile body, David’s insides were a cold combination of wires and hard metal. He was a childlike android who had been programmed with the ability to love, and he was irresistibly, unequivocally cute. In addition to his loving nature it was this precise characteristic, his “cuteness,” that was very problematic, not only for the human parents and brother who adopted him into their family, but also for me, a fellow seven-year-old also programmed—though in my case by nature—with the ability to love. It was impossible not to fall in love with this boy, who resembled a human boy in almost every outwardly way. The ability for human beings to form deep emotional attachments to machines simply because they look and act human is terrifying. Yet I found myself tumbling into that trap. Despite knowing he was a robot, as David’s mother fell in love with his caring and tender nature, his sweet blue eyes and cherry tinted cheeks, I did too. “I’m sorry that I’m not real, Mommy. If you let me, I’d be so real for you,” David pleaded as confused tears streamed down his angelic face. The decision to
abandon him in the forest had been made after David’s self-defense programming had been mistakenly activated, displaying the dangerous potential of his hard wiring. For the sake of the family’s safety, David had to be abandoned. Though he has been told he is not real, David seems to always have a sense of self, despite his cold hard wiring. At the age of seven I was brutally plunged into an existential crisis. This film forced me to confront the ever-pertinent questions—namely, what if I’m really a robot? What if my parents and the world around me are just waiting for the right time to tell me? Perhaps, the scariest thing about humanoid robots is not merely the relationships we can form with them, and the way those blur reality, but the way in which they makes us question what makes us human. What is that special spark, that magical ingredient that allows you to be sure that you are truly a human being? Indeed, philosophers have addressed and will continue to battle with this age-old question, but I am no closer to a satisfying answer than when I watch A.I. all those years ago. Had I been left in the forest I felt that I would be thinking many of the same thoughts as David. What if there is some essential human characteristic others have that I do not have and could not comprehend? How would I ever know? At times we are all like little David in the forest grappling with our quiddity. But that is a lot for even one species to deal with, so until I understand myself a little bit better, my fear of humanoid robots lives on. By Olukemi Lijadu
Recess. Morning tea. Afternoon tea. Dinner. Desert. Breakfast. Brunch. Lunch. Conference call snacks. Party bags. Cocktails. After-dinner-treats. Snacks. Samples. Testers. Wine-tasting. Supermarkets. Juice bars. Munchies. Pit stops. Picnics. Pocket gum. Holiday meals. Cinema popcorn. Three a.m. drunk McDonald’s. Chocolate Easter bunnies. Shitty chocolate in cheap wrapping paper as a thank-you. Hunter-gatherer, Hunger Games style, middle-of-the-forest foraging. It’s everywhere: the chewing and champing of stick gum, the mangling of greasy fast food, the slurping of purple lumpy blueberry protein shakes, the slipping and slapping of Pho at the local dingy Vietnamese restaurant, the grinding of metallic plastic chip bags slicing through my ear drums. Surrounded, enveloped, consumed: there’s no backing out of it, there’s no exit strategy. I’m phoning home to say, “Mission abort, mission abort,” and all I get on the other end is white noise and the occasional, unconcerned “Hello, are you there?” It’s Tuesday night, it’s a school night. Dinner’s finished. Dad’s at the head of the table, silent and off in his own head; who knows what he’s thinking? My sister’s across from me, ranting as per usual, this time about her colleagues at work—“and then Sarah put the paper on my desk, and I was like, ‘What on earth am I supposed to do with this?’ I asked Sam like three days ago to deal with it, but he wasn’t taking responsibility, of course, you know how he’s such a”—and Mom’s listening and I’m half-listening and slowing twisting the frayed edges of the vibrant Mexican tablecloth around my fingers. It hurts my eyes with its bright colors. Mom’s getting antsy about the cleaning up; she can never sit and relax.
Dad picks up the plates, and Mom starts to drop hints about us doing the dishes. My sister keeps on talking, my dad fidgets with his napkin, I start the dishes, I finish the dishes, I slowly back out of the chorus of plates and forks, and spoons, and dishes, clinking and clanging, the food overflowing from the pantry and the shelves. I head to my room, grotesque, feeling mangled, full to the brim. There’s a hurricane inside of me, winds gnawing at my insides, churning up the furniture and bricks and hardware of my housing; turquoise rivers stream from my eyes laden with golden fish that swim at high speeds, the river surrounds me, envelopes me, consumes me, I am surrounded by water, my insides are melting—who am I? Am I here? This is not me anymore. The darkness is navy rather than black, acid slowly drips downwards, in its acerbic arc, all matter moves to make way for it, it burns through my throat, my tongue, my teeth, my black leggings, cotton clothes, the carpet. I close my eyes and the rivers disappear, and I feel the weight of my head spinning in circles, way too fast, like a doped-up merry-go-round. I wish my door had a lock; maybe I should buy one. I wish the trip to the garbage outside wasn’t so far—it’s fine, I’ll do it early in the morning. I wish I didn’t do this, and I could be healthier, skinnier, fitter. It’s alright, I tell myself, no one knows, there’s nothing wrong. There’s nothing wrong; there’s nothing wrong; there’s definitely nothing wrong.
THE WORST POSSIBLE THING
In tenth grade, I started to have panic attacks. Vicious panic attacks. The first one was on the way to school. I got fixated on the topic of death while on my subway ride to school. Soon enough the idea that inevitably I would cease to exist began to consume me. I could feel my body rotting away. The passengers that surrounded me began to suck on my energy like leeches. I stumbled to the door. I needed to get out. Soon I was on the street but I wasn’t walking to school, I wasn’t walking anywhere, I was trying to escape. My breathing accelerated and tears ran down my face. The light from the sun seemed to push back against every step I took. Eventually, I just stopped. Kept hyperventilating until the panic attack was over. From that point on the idea of death stayed with me. It was a virus. The attacks continued. Most of them happened in class or before I went to sleep at night. I think they occurred then because I had the most time to think. During class I would ignore teachers as all good teenage boys do, space out, and soon enough an attack would ensue. I always had a similar reaction: heavy breathing, out of body, claustrophobia. Sometimes I’d politely ask to go to the bathroom, other times I’d just walk out. Better to get out, than to make a scene. In the hallway I’d let the attack take over. I walked down the hall with one hand on the wall. Touching its tiles and sensing its cool temperature reminded me that I was still rooted in reality. I moved on to the down escalator. The rhythm of the moving metal stairs and the rumble of its mechanic parts calmed me down. By the time I went back up, the attack was over. At night, the attacks were different. They were self-in-
flicted. I played a cruel joke on myself. I called it the Worst Thing Possible Game. I still play it. I’m addicted. The game is simple: think of the worst thing that could happen in your current situation. For example, right now I am sitting at a hipster café on the Lower East Side with a friend. I’ll call him Jeremy. We’re having a lovely time sitting outside, sipping on our overpriced beverages, writing our essays. Soon enough, we might come to understand ourselves: our personalities, tendencies, shortcomings. We’re about to move on with our lives, content with our place in this universe. Just as that climax is approaching, a car approaches with two lovers inside. A man named Henry is driving with his girlfriend Diane. In fact, they are about to drive to where they had their first date. Henry plans to propose on the spot. He has it all planned out. He looks over to his beautiful love. She frowns, “Henry, I have to tell you something.” “What is it?” “I don’t love you.” “What?” “I never loved you.” “Where is this coming from?” “I fucked all of your siblings” “What? I thought you were a Catholic.” “I’m not. I made that up. I’m an atheist. And Diane isn’t even my real name.” “What the fuck?” “It’s Susan. Also, I loathe you. I think you’re an idiot.” “But I love you. I was going to propose to you to-
-day” “Love doesn’t exist. And at our first date spot, really? That’s fucking cheesy.” “It’s romantic.” “It’s not romantic. It’s nauseating.” “Is this a sick joke?” “No. But you are. Pull over. I’m going to go fuck your sister.” Henry pulls over to the side of the road and lets Susan out. “Is this really over?” “Yes. I’m looking forward to never seeing you again.” Susan walks away, pauses on her way down the block to spit on his car. Henry begins to drive away. Soon, he begins to hysterically cry. It’s a real messy cry. Not even worth sympathy. There’s snot everywhere and he’s making obscure animal sounds. The tears affect his vision. He can no longer see the road. Meanwhile, Leopold and Jeremy are simultaneously approaching their respective epiphanies. Jeremy turns to Leopold, “I have my life figured out. It’s all so” Slam. Henry’s car veered off the road, onto the sidewalk, straight through Jeremy into the coffee shop. Jeremy’s body is torn apart. His limbs fly out onto the sidewalk. His beating heart falls onto Leopold’s computer, ruining the stainless steel. He’s dead. Gone. Leopold can’t believe it. Henry exits the car unscathed. He walks outside, takes the heart, and throws it in the garbage. At the corner he takes a moment to light a cigarette as he begins to load a gun he was keeping in his pocket. Leopold’s bike is five feet away. It’d be an easy escape from the
madman. But stupidly he stays to finish his cup of coffee. He paid too much to only drink half of it. Soon enough, Henry is back. He mistakes Leopold for his older brother Jerry. “You fucking bastard Jerry. You fucked Diane. I mean Susan. How could you?” He points the gun at Leopold’s head. Leopold throws his hands in the air. “I didn’t do anything. I’m not Jerry.” Henry doesn’t want to hear it. “I hate you Jerry. I hate you!” He’s still pouring snot. It gets all over Leopold. “You’re coming with me.” He grabs Leopold and throws him in the trunk of the car. As he backs out he knocks over the unfinished cup of coffee. Henry drives Leopold to his apartment and proceeds to rape, torture, and eventually kill him. As soon as this is over, Susan returns, says she was joking and hopes he didn’t do anything rash. She confesses that she loves him too and couldn’t live without him. They begin make love. It’s the best sex anybody has ever had. As she’s about to have an orgasm he kills her. She goes to Atheist Hell because she actually was a Catholic.
By Leopold Spohngellert (University of Virginia)
FEATURE’ 2014” WEST
S ITTING by niuniu teo and irene hsu
the way I was.” The first three weeks of winter quarter were filled with binge eating from Grove’s kitchen and holing herself up in her room. Her mother, whom she called that day and who had also suffered from depression before, told her that she just had to get through it, that the only way to do so was to continue on with her daily routine. And that was what she did. Stanford’s campus has been hailed as an “American Versailles” of sorts, and the analogy isn’t hard to understand. Memorial Church, lit up in gold at night, preceded by Palm Drive, makes for an entrance so grandiose it borders on the ridiculous. And yet, students whiz around campus with their bags and bikes, dressed in typical California casual, blithely oblivious to their golden haven, backlit by an eternally blue sky. The fact that they exude buoying optimism at all times is a phenomenon commonly known as the “duck syndrome”—Stanford students lounge around on the grass in the day, party in the night, and somehow squirrel away the hours in between buried in their work and extracurriculars. Perhaps it’s because, despite appearances, they are aware of the impossible happiness that surrounds him, and feel pressure to live up to standards.
It’s a place where it almost seems impossible to be sad. So much that it sometimes could feel like it’s not allowed. And that’s where the problem of depression comes in. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), depression is “the leading cause of disability in the U.S. for ages 15-44.” The World Health Organization currently ranks depression as the fourth leading cause of disability worldwide, and projects the disease to become the second leading cause of disability worldwide by 2020. Depression is beginning to affect societies around the world on an unprecedented scale, and, despite appearances, Stanford is far from immune. After all, having to somehow thrive in a high-stress environment that likes to pose as the happiest place on earth may be one of the last things a doctor would prescribe to someone struggling with depression. Eventually Tan climbed out of what she described as a “bottomless pit,” and she began to actively look for methods of self-improvement. She came across the application for Bold Academy, a life accelerator focused on self-discovery. The questions rung true with the ones she had herself, and by the end of the summer, she had picked herself back up. The ten day program taught meditation, offered workshops, and organized activities, all of
FEATURE’ 2014” WEST
utside of Grove on Stanford campus are two cherry blossom trees that, on this particular day, were dripping with golden light. It was evening, and the sun was setting. The lawn and the rest of campus were illuminated and saturated, a beautiful evening with which Sharon Tan, ‘14, as she walked out of Grove winter quarter of her sophomore year, felt an immense disconnect. Her unhappiness seemed to stem from various surface factors. First, she was suffering from reverse culture shock after spending a relaxed fall quarter in Moscow. Second, she was living in a social environment that she described as “less supportive” compared to freshman year. Finally, she was under pressure to choose a major by the end of her sophomore year. In reality, though she was undergoing all the above, these issues only revealed a greater unhappiness—a feeling that her life was unauthentic. They shook her at the very core of her life philosophy. “I felt that all my life, I wanted to be somebody I wasn’t at all to meet abstract expectations and ideals,” she said. “I didn’t have clarity about what was really important to me—even if I had some inner knowledge, I wasn’t ready to take ownership of it because it wasn’t part of the norm.” More simply, Tan put it: “I couldn’t understand why I was
FEATURE’ 2014” WEST
22 Tan had with herself: “I didn’t know which major I was going for, I didn’t know what I loved, I didn’t know what I wanted in the world, I didn’t have an answer.” Though Bold Academy didn’t give her an answer, she had already felt better by day one of the program. Day one was a PechaKucha, Japanese for chit-
Coming back, however, there is one thing she wished happened differently—though she had known of the resources that Vaden Health Center offered, she said that they “didn’t speak to her personally.” “I wish Stanford could have taught me all of this,” she said of what she learned
you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.” And indeed, through a gradual process, Tan has found herself that much closer to her answers.
“THERE’S NO REAL CHANCE TO SLOW DOWN HERE. THE STAKES ARE TOO HIGH.”
chat. Each participant created 20 slides on their own lives and presented for 20 seconds each slide. “There was an authenticity that I had never felt before,” Tan said. “It was so intoxicating to just be myself, to be ourselves.” Via meditations and workshops, Bold Academy helped Tan reframe her doubts. “It forced me to think about love and what it meant to be a loving person,” Tan said. “It helped me realize what kinds of fears prevented me from being a loving person, and I was able to come clean to myself about what I was afraid of.”
from Bold Academy. “But really, there’s no real chance to slow down here. The stakes are too high.” Today, Tan continues to meditate at least once a week, something that she finds beneficial for self-reflection and self-love. When asked about what kind of advice she would give to students going through the same thing, she gave me the fourth letter of Rainer Maria Rilke’s “Letters To a Young Poet,” which her pre-major adviser had given her when she felt depressed. One passage has stuck with her throughout her college years: “Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because
Elisabeth Dee had always wanted to go to Stanford. It would be a fresh start. The silent tension of keeping the sexual assault a secret from her parents, not to mention her sexuality—she could leave it all behind in Salt Lake City, and start anew in the California sun. “I thought Stanford was going to solve all my issues and be a shiny beacon on the hill of perfection—that I would get there and it would be fine and all my bad stuff from home would just disappear,” she said later, a wry smile twisting up on one side of her face. “Which did not happen, obviously.” But at first, it almost seemed like they did. It was fall
I’ve never met before—I just to take Stanford on again. didn’t know how I felt about “It’s not going to be easy it. I’m sure it works for some when I come back to school,” people. But also the lack of she said. “But it’s going to be continuity would be weird, I think, starting from scratch every time you had a conversation with someone.” By spring quarter, things had fallen apart. She was failing classes, suffering from panic attacks more than once a week, and could barely get out of bed. At that point, she finally asked for help. A referral from a professor got her the three appointments with Vaden, after which she was referred in Palo Alto. By then, there were only a few weeks left of the quarter, and she decided to tough it out. “I think the main hiccup was Vaden,” she said in hindsight. “That was the only thing I really had an issue with.” “But I totally understand why their policy is the way it is,” she continued. “They’re just cycling so many students through there.” She’s come a long way since then. After going to regular therapy sessions, with the temporary help of medication, she’s established a daily routine that keeps her going. She has a UV lamp in her room that wakes her up by gradually turning brighter at a scheduled time. She runs four miles a day, meditates, and has her days planned out to the minute. She’s planning on taking the Human Biology core upon returning to campus. She’s ready
INTERVIEW’ 2014” WEST
quarter of freshman year, she had a whole floor of new friends, she had a research position with a professor, she was enjoying her classes. However, when winter quarter rolled along, things began to turn sour. Her PTSD manifested itself in the form of panic attacks; the once-contagious happiness of everyone around her began to make her feel isolated. “I felt like everyone else had their [stuff] together all the time so I didn’t talk to anybody about it, which made me really anxious and eventually led to me getting really depressed,” she said. “It’s the whole duck syndrome thing … and I felt like I was just sinking,” she said. “Like I was just tied to a brick.” She finally decided to ask Vaden for help. She found, unexpectedly, that reaching out was only half the battle. Her problem was apparently too large for the school to take on. “They wouldn’t give me a single appointment winter quarter because they said my problem was too big, so they decided just not to give me any at all. They gave me a list of names and numbers, so that was nice, but that was as far as I got. “ She didn’t want to seek council from the BRIDGE, either—“I never went to the BRIDGE. I don’t know. Something about the peer-to-peer assistance—talking to someone
Avenir Next 115 pt. The letter “D.” The title of the article.
We asked four students to give us a tour of their rooms. Our goal was to see how their rooms reflected their personalities, interests, and experiences. This is what we got.
Aligned left. 25
daniel “I used to build skateboard ramps when I was a kid because I was a big skater, so that’s where the construction side of things came in—plus, I ran a woodworkig company back in Boulder [Then] I went to Bali to study woodcarving [and] I went to Argentina to learn initially leatherworking, but it ended up being knife making.”
“I thought I’d bring a li room.”
This is a projector.
“The 3D printer I use for little prototypes [...] I designed the quickstand, which is a smartphone or tablet stand that folds up into your wallet.” Daniel’s inventions are advertised in posters under his bed.
ittle bit of nature into my “There’s something enjoyable about just owning your space. The more you can make it your own, the more you can personalize it, the homier it feels.”
nicole “My freshman roommate introduced the Tiben prayer flags to me and I loved what they represented, which was to me, happiness, prosperity, and a natural positive energy.”
“I started playing when I was in 9th grade. [Ever] since then I’ve been composing music.
“Everyone makes fun of my collection of hats because they think it’s uncharacteristic of me. [...] I like wearing a drab outfit with a fun hat.”
The wall over Nicole’s desk.
“My aunt got me this when I was going through a really hard time [...] She bought me this to remind me that I can be good on my own.”
Nicole made a glitterand-pom-pom diagram of a vulva for her sexual health class.
“[My friends] got it for me [for] my birthday because they think I’m sassy.”
megan “[The gnome] is my roomate’s. She comes from a long lineage of Stanford people. They gave that to her when she got into Stanford. Sometimes she puts notes on him for me.”
“I’d like to say the reason my room is so messy because it was my birthday [...] but I usually just throw my stuff down and leave. I only use my room to sleep in.”
Giant mess with soccer cleats somewhere under the pile. “I’ve played soccer since I was five and I’m on the club soccer team.”
“I’m an avid music listener. [...] The records are some of the ones I collect. I probably have twenty more at home in New York.”
“The [Russian] dolls reminded me of my family and home, and then over winter break I realized my roommate probably needs a set too, so she has them on her shelf now too.”
“The leaves get made fun of quite often by my friends. They just look cool. I found them on Amazon and thought, ‘Our room needs these leaves.’”
“I bought this instrument with the help of one of my good SPOT friends, Kevin. It was my first time going off campus and he drove me to San Mateo and we went bass shopping. It was probably one of the nicest days I’ve had so far.” Anna plays bass in a jazz ensemble on campus.
e m ho for the s y a d i l o h
he first time I drove a car since coming to college was on my first trip back to New York, for Thanksgiving break, when I went to pick up my friend Izzi from the airport. To Izzi’s face I call her Isabelle, just like I call Dilly Cordelia and Ellie Eleanor, even though Ellie’s name really is Ellie. I also do the reverse and give nicknames to my friends who usually go by their full names: Leopold is Leo, Xanthe is Xan, Whitney is Whit, and Eli I call E, though I guess his mom does that too. I don’t usually pick people up from the airport. What had happened was, a few days earlier, I asked Izzi when she’d be back and she said Monday and I said cool. Then she said that her parents wouldn’t be home until the morning after her plane arrived and I expressed some sort of sympathy. She then jokingly asked me to pick her up instead and I, not jokingly, agreed.
Her flight came in around 10:30 p.m. and, after dropping some of her stuff off at her place, we took my parents’ car uptown to Columbia, where she’d spend the night at our friend Catalina’s dorm (Cat or Catita, depending on how Latino and/or homosexual I feel). We hung out with our Columbia friends for a little—it was the first time we had all seen each other since the summer— and we were curious to gauge how much we’d all changed. I had been bracing myself for this confrontation-slash-examination (the undergrad’s version of grandma’s “Oh my, look how much you’ve grown!”), but after the initial shock of “You talk like this now?” and “What happened to your hair?” I was surprised at how much everything was the same. As if each other’s presence was enough to force us back to some previous and, as it felt in my case, lesser it-
sch ori n
eration of ourselves. (A high school teacher recently compared it to traveling back in time.) I used to feel that way in high school when I’d hang out with friends from middle school; the same old jokes came up, the same routine, and I’d feel like I was thirteen again, dealing with insecurities I thought were already dead and buried. Around junior year in high school, though, my relationships with the middle school friends I continued to see had developed enough since eighth grade that we didn’t fall into the old material anymore, except to make fun of how we used to be or what we used to do. It’ll happen eventually with Catalina and Izzi and everyone from high school—it’s already started—and it’s just the early steps of that transition that feel strange, like we’re all straddling two personalities at once. I found throughout the rest of the 35
break that I got along really well with some friends I didn’t know too well in school, that we were talking much more on our own than we would’ve in previous years, and that it took one of my best friends, also named Adam, and me a much a longer time to hit the old rhythm, like we were figuring out what we could still say to each other. Anyway, I left Columbia at 1:55 a.m., which I know because I had to sign out in the logbook, because Columbia is a dangerous place with first-rate security, and walked the block-and-a-half back to the car. We hadn’t done any of the illicit dorm room activities that would have impaired my driving ability—these were Columbia students, swamped with work, not even on break yet, and sort of constantly bitter about their living arrangements. I’m sorry, I’ve made fun of Columbia twice in only three sentences and I feel like I should explain myself. When I have the How’s College Going for You? conversation with high school friends—which I had many times over this break and the next—I usually come out on top, much more enthusiastic than friends at Duke, UVM, UVA, Columbia, Colby, other schools, etc. I’m happy here, confident, well-adjusted. Something I’ve noticed recently though, and I’m not sure how I feel about it: I’ve become much louder at Stanford, which has meant, in part, much cockier (always jokingly) and much more ready to tease or make fun of friends. (Maybe because that’s the culture I’m from at my New York City high school, whereas sarcasm barely even exists in California?) Sometimes I catch myself behaving like a [some word that encompasses douche, clown, tool, and asshole] and I’m surprised by it; I feel kind of like a seven-yearold told off for acting out in class,
suddenly aware of his behavior. Recently a friend actually called me out on being an asshole and I was confused—I’m the sensitive one! I wanted to say. I have feelings!—this being the first time, really, I’ve been that kid. But I was getting into my car, placing the key in the ignition. My apartment building is nearly forty blocks from Columbia, which usually takes about ten minutes by car. But when I unparked the Volvo (midnight blue, seven-seater, classy, family-friendly) on Broadway, the only other vehicles on the road were a couple of taxis sweeping the streets for late-night fares. Monday night, two a.m., and I found myself on one of the busiest streets during the day now practically empty. To say I took advantage of the non-traffic would be an understatement. The speed limit in the city is thirty-five mph, though the average commuter speed is probably much lower with the constant congestion. I went down Broadway at fifty, sixty, seventy miles per hour, hitting green light after green light. In those forty blocks I was stopped by one red—the whole trip took under four minutes. The Macklemore that had been on my iPod when we arrived at Columbia (“Can’t Hold Us,” an excellent song for driving and, apparently, Microsoft Outlook ads) ended in the first minute of the trip and switched to something more indie-folksy, probably the Fratellis, maybe pre-Yusuf Cat Stevens. I turned onto my block and pulled in front of the garage. I didn’t go in. I waited for the song to end and looked down the block at West End, also empty. I wasn’t tired. I had been enjoying myself, the open window, the music, the satisfaction of green, green, green, green, green. I let the thought expand in my head. It
wasn’t that late, really—what reason did I have to rush home? I switched the car out of park and looped around the block back to Broadway, heading downtown again.
y about 76th Street I started to understand how the lights work. There are two basic types. First are the ones that start turning green in the distance, ten or eleven blocks ahead, and once the light on your block changes you have to go as fast as you can to catch the rest before they turn red again. These feel like the countdown at an auto race: the green lights approach, block by block, and it’s three, two, one, go! Eventually, and for no apparent reason, the lights start changing in the opposite direction: the ones closest to you turn green first and then advance into the distance. For these you have to time it right, not exactly killing it, so that as you approach each stoplight it turns from red to green and you never have to touch the brakes. Hitting the greens is the essence of the late-night driving experience, and the brakes are the only thing fucking with your vibe. I made it in this way from the eighties to Columbus Circle, at 59th Street, occasionally vying for the front row at red lights. At Columbus Circle the cabs appeared. I don’t know where they came from but all of a sudden they were there, following me around the roundabout, fifteen, twenty taxis, fare lights ablaze. I made a full loop of Columbus’ statue, as I considered turning around and heading home, and my comet’s tail of taxis grew longer and wider. But then I continued down Broadway, the buildings rose up again on both sides, and the cabs disappeared. The fifties took me from the casualness of the Up-
per West Side into Midtown, Wall Street’s younger, high-riser-ier cousin. As the street numbers decreased, the eeriness of the scene before me grew more apparent. During the day the blocks above Times Square would be flooded with pedestrians, mostly tourists who had gone to Times Square, realized Times Square is a shithole—a sweaty backto-school-frat-party-but-with-morecameras-and-Asian-tourists kind of shithole—and then meandered north in search of cleaner pastures. Even late at night it’s usually hard to get through the mesh of comedy clubbers and post-theater bar-leavers, but this late on this particular Monday, my biggest obstacle was a garbage truck pulled over to side of the road. Fifty-second, 51st, 50th, the indiscreet buildings—dentists’ offices, law firms, hedge funds—are replaced by the loud and glitzy: The Sheraton! Hershey’s! M&M’s World! In the windows the displays are lit up but the moving contraptions, conveyor belts and plastic factory pumps built to rival the Toys“R”Us Ferris Wheel a few blocks down, are lifeless with no one to see them perform. Forty-ninth, 48th, nearing the Disney Store and the dot on Google Maps that hails Times Square as the “Bright, bustling heart of New York City.” In ninth grade we were given an assignment to attempt to answer a difficult or rarely asked question about New York, the inspiration being Holden’s question to his cabdriver in Catcher: Where do the Central Park ducks go in the winter? Kids wrote about topics ranging from horse carriages (recently made illegal in New York, by the way) to the trains in Grand Central Station. One student’s question was, “What is the real Original Ray’s Pizza?” Mine was about finding the best pickle on
the Upper West Side. (We get it, my teacher said, you’re Jewish.) But in the year before us a girl asked, “Do the lights in Times Square ever turn off?” For some reason that stuck with me, more than the other essays I read and have now forgotten. The image of Times Square, the city’s “bright, bustling heart,” in the dark seemed extraordinarily beautiful and a little bit sad, like a circus after the audience has cleared out or the morning after a birthday party, half-deflated balloons still hovering at waist-height. The girl actually found an answer to her question. She and her mother drove to Times Square one night and sat in their car waiting for the lights to go out. I don’t know the exact start and end times of their stakeout, but the girl reported that the lights did in fact turn off, for about ten minutes between three and four a.m. This was only 2:15, so as I approached 47th Street the lights were still on. The effect is overwhelming at any time of day, but picture this: I’m driving quickly, the streetlights and window ads are a blur through the side windows, the tall buildings around me block out any other light. Then all of a sudden Broadway takes a slight turn, I slow down, and it all shifts into view, the lights, the flashing advertisements, the jumbotrons, and the wraparound newsreels—they spring toward me as I hit the brakes too hard, like they weren’t even wearing their seatbelts. The Ball-Drop/ Cup of Noodles Tower is half-obscured by a semi-circle sports ad sticking off a building a few blocks down. I learn it’s thirty-six degrees out from a CNN LED screen positioned over an unnecessarily glitzy sign for a RadioShack. Any free space in the scene is punctuated by ads for Once, Wicked, Mamma Mia!, and The Lion King, musicals
that most New Yorkers will lie about and say they’ve never seen. American Eagle, American Hustle, Nike, Toshiba, Lenovo, Ramen, Bank of America, McDonald’s, Bud Light, DKNY, and Virgin America round out the rest of the ads fighting for my attention. Everything is faster, newer, lighter, better—more glitz, more neon, more light, more, more, more, more, more. But aside from the construction workers blocking off the street in front of me, the square was empty. No cars, no passersby, no one bundled up in the cold. It felt a scene out of George Saunders: All these lights and ads and attractions with no one there to enjoy them, to be told what to buy, which musicals to see, where to go, and how to get there. I sat for a few minutes in the car enjoying my private view until one of the construction workers waved me on and I made a right turn and looped back around to Broadway. On the way back uptown I hit both kinds of green lights. I drove quickly, but sat back in the seat, feeling more relaxed, though that may just have been the Sonny Rollins that was coming through my very unorganized playlist. At a red light a block east from the garage a song by Spaceman 3 came on, something I had only downloaded after a high school English teacher played it for us. The light changed and I went slowly down the street and pulled into the garage. I had about thirty seconds left in the song so I sat in the car, waiting for it to end. I don’t sing, so I didn’t sing out loud, but I thought it, the words of the song, the melody, following along in my head. When it was over, I blinked a few times in my seat, got out of the car, walked home, and went to sleep. 37
RIGHT EXPOSURE 'ver
A PROFILE OF MICHAEL RAITOR
reshman Michael Raitor leaned in toward the mirror on the inside of his closet door until his nose almost hit the glass, touching what looked like, to the casual observer, his perfectly-coiffed brown hair. He examined his face closely and continued explaining his daily morning routineincluding taming his unruly hair and choosing his clothes largely based on color. “I’m a total girl about my outfits,” he said, as he paced around his firstfloor Rinconada dorm room in burgundy pants, black leather loafers, and a white long-sleeved shirt with Ray-Ban aviators hanging off of the front. Impressive effort for a Saturday afternoon, I thought. Even more impressive for someone who is blind. Michael has Stargardt disease, a form of inherited juvenile macular degeneration that causes progressive blindness throughout adolescence. The disease is rare, and usually inherited as an autosomal recessive trait, meaning that two carriers—who are unaffected by the disease—must each pair one disease-carrying gene with one normal gene. Michael defied the genetic odds, and since grade school he has dealt with rapidly deteriorating eyesight that has left him with almost no central vision, and 20/250 vision in his peripherals. As a result, he perceives mostly patches of color and light through his outside vision; while lines and shapes are beyond his reach. According to Michael, “It’s like looking all the time at an impressionist painting.” The disease causes an over-accumulation of lipofuscin, which is a fatty byproduct of the cell function in the eye. A normal eye reuses and removes the lipofuscin, but Michael’s eyes do not, leaving the byproduct on top of his retinas. This
kills photoreceptors in the macula— the central part of the retina—which in turn leads to continually diminished central vision and zero depth perception, since he can no longer process visual information as well. “You could think of it as my eyes are dying from the inside out, but that’s really morbid,” Michael cheerfully explained to me while we sat pow-wow style on the floor of his double. With Michael, though, that sort of positive outlook is par for the course, despite a series of setbacks that would leave most people emotionally destroyed.
ichael grew up in Buffalo, Minn., a rural town forty miles northwest of Minneapolis, which populates about as many people as Stanford’s entire student body. As a kid, he couldn’t see another house from his own, and he spent his childhood playing outside in the surrounding fields and lakes with his brother Patrick who is three years his senior. The whole Raitor family was very active and outdoorsy: the two boys started water skiing almost as soon as they learned to walk, and spent winters skiing and snowboarding when they could. The two began entering water skiing competitions at a young age, and Patrick even got good enough to compete at nationals. Throughout this, their mother, Carleen, worked as a stay-at-home mom, taking care of the boys and shuttling them to and from activities while their father, John, worked as a commercial pilot for Northwest Airlines (which has since become part of Delta). The whole family did its best with John’s unorthodox schedule, and he made efforts to be around for important things like
birthdays and sporting events. “Time was allotted differently,” said Michael, “but I feel like it was the same amount of time [as a normal dad].” Without John around, Michael spent all of his time with Carleen and Patrick. He was extremely shy as a small child, refusing to leave his mother’s side most of the time. He would hide behind her legs in lieu of meeting new people, and preferred watching over participating. “He liked to take things in and kind of assess and move forward, and I think he still does that today,” Carleen recalled. “I think he likes to take in his situation and then run with it.” Meanwhile, Patrick⎯who is now a senior at St. Cloud State University—was the polar opposite. The instigator of the two, Patrick spent his time making trouble and mentoring Michael, who never made trouble of his own after seeing his brother’s escapades. Eventually, Patrick began instructing Michael to take some risks of his own. Without bending the rules, Patrick said, Michael would never have any fun. But Michael continued to be a quiet kid; he was advanced for his age, but still struggled with social interactions. By second grade, it became clear that he was well above average. Sitting in class, he often already understood what was being taught, so instead of paying attention to his teacher, he preferred playing a math game he had invented. The game worked by putting combinations of numbers and symbols on either side of an equals sign and rearranging them to figure out the value of each symbol. His teacher eventually figured out what he was doing, and the following day a person from the Buffalo-Hanover-Mon39
pendently, devised algebra. Excited by this, the district representative recommended that Michael attend an intensive program at the University of Minnesota for highly gifted mathematics students. Unsure of whether or not to do it, Michael turned to his brother for advice. In an incredible display of wisdom and maturity, Patrick advised Michael not to go through with the UM program, and instead to focus on developing a normal social life at school. It was a risk for Michael, and for the first of what would be many, he chose to follow Patrick’s counsel and continue regular elementary school. In fact, he actually started exploring a little more, picking up piano in second grade, and continuing to water ski competitively. For the next several years, life for the Raitor family remained relatively constant in quiet Buffalo.
hen, when Michael was in fifth grade, he noticed that he could no longer read the board in class. He went in to see an ophthalmologist, and was told he needed glasses. Carleen and John weren’t worried at the time; they both wore glasses, so it wasn’t surprising that Michael would need to, too. For about a year the prescription seemed to help. By sixth grade, though, the glasses no longer worked, so Michael was given a new prescription. This one only worked for six months, at which point the Raitors began to suspect that something was seriously wrong. “The next step was to figure out, ‘Why can’t he see the board?’” said Carleen. They proceeded to visit multiple specialists, who promptly began assessing whether Michael was making it all up for attention, or if he was actually visually impaired. This frustrated Michael, who
felt horrible that his parents might think for even a minute that he was faking it all. “They couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me, so they decided it was my fault.” Carleen felt a similar sense of irritation; she knew Michael wasn’t doing it for attention, but still had to face a barrage of doctors’ doubts. “I can’t get him to break down,” one doctor told her at one point. “I asked him, ‘Breaking down for what?’” said Carleen. “‘Because [kids] this age lie,’ he told me. And I said, ‘What?!’” Finally, when Michael was in seventh grade, the Raitors were sent to new specialists after the first ones had determined that Michael’s problem was real. They did imaging of the inside of his eyes, and eventually came back with the diagnosis: Stargardt disease. There’s no known cure for the disease, though the eyes usually stop deteriorating around the time a patient reaches eighteen- or nineteenyears-old. For such dedicated parents like Carleen and John, discovering this was difficult, especially given how quickly it had all come about. Eventually they realized they had no options but to hope that Michael’s eyesight would stop declining and that researchers would eventually find a cure. “You think you’re going to draw straws and be the one to find this thing to help your son,” Carleen explained. “Well, that’s not the case.” For Michael, accepting the diagnosis came a little more quickly. In typical fashion, finding out he had Stargardt didn’t make Michael all that upset. Patrick also helped his younger brother keep his spirits up. When we spoke over the phone— an eerie experience since Patrick’s intonation and voice mirror Michael’s
almost exactly—he told me, “I always kind of poked fun at him just enough to make it like ‘Hey man, just relax. It’s all going to be fine.’” Ultimately, Michael did just that, and getting a diagnosis barely slowed him down at all. Even before putting a name to his disease, Michael had begun adapting to his lack of vision. Toward the beginning of middle school he was still water skiing, but as he realized that he could no longer see the buoys he needed to turn around in his slalom events, he began timing his turns by counting down in his head instead of by seeing the buoys themselves. After misjudging his timing during a competition one year and hitting a buoy, he decided to end his water skiing career. In its place came a succession of other sports and activities. In seventh grade he started getting serious about running cross-country, he began diving competitively, and he played trumpet in the school band. By the time he started high school his activities were stacking up; Michael had finally taken his brother’s advice to break out of his shell, and he did so even as he had to constantly adapt to the constraints of Stargardt. Eventually realizing that he could no longer read music, Michael switched from the trumpet to singing, which began his theater career. He also got to a point where a combination of coaches’ safety concerns and knee issues forced him to stop playing sports, so he took up a variety of leadership activities at Buffalo High School. He joined the student council, participated in Boys State, and helped organize a week called Respect and Value Everyone (RAVE), which celebrated differences and showed support to veterans, cancer survivors, and the LGBT commu
nity, among other groups, which “frankly, in rural Minnesota, was a bit of a shock to people,” according to Michael. Frankly, much about Michael was a shock to people in Buffalo, from his colorful clothing to his firm—but respectful—refusal to do anything he didn’t consider right, he told me just after he explained his wardrobe. “I’m pretty sure most of my high school thought I was gay because I didn’t drive a truck and I dressed with a little more color than that which Midwestern men typically wear,” Michael said with amusement. “I also didn’t get drunk and chew dip and hook up with random girls. Zero fucks given.” Michael attributes his broader worldview largely to his family’s extensive travels throughout his childhood. Since his dad is a pilot, the Raitors get free flights when there are available seats on planes, so Michael has been everywhere from Europe to Hawaii, which he considers almost a second home. “I was fortunate enough to get out and see that there was more to life than just a small town,” he said.
s fortunate as his childhood was—even as he became progressively blinder—there were significant setbacks as well. Middle school is rough for everyone, but to find out you’re blind at the same time requires a significant lifestyle change. “Everyone else was learning to flirt, English grammar—seventh grade stuff—and I was learning how to navigate around my school without getting lost.” Michael also had to relearn how to study, how to take notes, and how to have conversations with people as part of adapting to Stargardt. It takes him about twice as long as
a person with normal eyesight to read anything since he has to focus so hard, he had to learn to read by recognizing the general shapes of words, and taking a test required an inordinate amount of studying, since he couldn’t necessarily rely on having seen everything he needed in class. To compound those problems, one effect of Stargardt is extreme light sensitivity, so any activities involving a computer make his eyes tire out quickly. Watching TV or movies is almost out of the question, and exposure to a bright headlight flash or a strobe light sends pain shooting through his eyes and back into his head. Hence the Ray-Ban aviators he always wears or carries with him, which help control his exposure to light and have the right prescription to maximize his vision through his peripherals. In California the glasses don’t strike many people as strange, but in the Minnesotan dead of winter, they drew a lot of attention. In general, people tended to treat Michael differently after they found out about his diagnosis, so he had to adapt to that, too. He learned to position his eyes to give the appearance of eye contact, even though he can’t use the center of his vision. He finds it makes people more comfortable, especially before he gets to know them well. “You meet someone for the first time and you look them in the eyes,” explained Michael during our first conversation. “That’s what our culture dictates.” At this point in his life even he is more comfortable pretending to make eye contact; when I asked him to look at me so he could actually see me at one point while we got lunch one January afternoon, he was noticeably uneasy doing so
in the middle of the Stern dining hall. In the past, he’s had experiences with thinking people were his friends, when in fact they just felt bad for him. That type of pity is exactly what he strives to avoid, and he has learned to conceal his blindness remarkably well in order to do so. At Stanford, Michael has had the opportunity to form new relationships in a place decidedly different from Buffalo, and he gets to set the terms of who knows or doesn’t know about his eyes. And the people he does tell at Stanford are less judgmental than many at home; he’s met with far less pity and far more acceptance than he had been used to before. Still, going to college has been yet another set of adaptions for Michael, but he has handled his transition as gracefully as—if not more so than—any other college student, all while becoming increasingly relaxed and confident. This attitude was evident as we sat on the floor of Michael’s dorm room, and the change has been even more marked to Patrick. “[Michael] used to be extremely structured, and I think that’s been whittled away since he’s been gone, which is excellent,” he said. He also had the good fortune to land a fantastic roommate, Stephen Ting. They are remarkably compatible and their schedules work fairly well together, which is good for Michael, who needs a lot of sleep to rest his eyes. At one point during our floor pow-wow Stephen came into the room and offered Michael some white chocolate Toblerone, then took his homework and left to let us finish talking. Even Stephen, who lives with him, finds it easy to forget that Michael has Stargardt. He found out on the first day of NSO when they
sat on their beds and told each other their life stories. “I was like, ‘Oh, well shit,’ [when I found out he was blind]” Stephen said. “But he copes pretty well with that. A lot of times you don’t really remember he has his vision thing until you bike past him and say, ‘Hi’ and he doesn’t say ‘Hi’ back.” In fact, without knowing anything about Michael, he seems like a completely ordinary kid. He’s plan-
When I accompanied him to Math 53, his current math class, he still didn’t have a note taker two weeks into the quarter, because he hadn’t yet trusted one to do the job. Instead, he followed his lecturer through the tiny scope of his magnifier, taking breaks every once in a while to get a broader view of the board and to re-locate his professor. The OAE also gives him double time for exams, which means that fi-
‘fuck you’ to nature for making it difficult.”
hat Michael self-describes as his stubbornness is one of his keys to his success. He realizes he has certain limits now—he probably won’t work in a computer science job, which would require staring at a screen all day— but he also doesn’t use excuses or allow his vision to stop him from
“IT WAS MORE JUST A GIANT ‘FUCK YOU’ TO NATURE FOR MAKING IT DIFFICULT.”
ning to major in mechanical engineering, or maybe do pre-med, and he’s just as busy as the rest of the Stanford student body. Michael also has a special place as the default caretaker for Rinconada; the night before welcoming me to his dorm room, his relaxing Friday night had been interrupted when a dorm mate needed help after a party, which Michael was all too happy to provide. “He’s definitely the kind of guy who will watch your back and make sure you’re doing okay, make sure you don’t get into too much trouble,” Stephen said. “He’s the kind of guy to get you out of rough situations.” Despite the mostly positive experience he’s had in college so far, some things are still hard. He has to use magnifiers in all of his classes in order to read the board, and he has a special computer monitor set up in his room that allows him to read off of the screen more easily. In math, where it’s almost impossible for him to listen, read the board, and take notes, he gets a note taker through the Office of Accessible Education.
nals week leaves him sitting at a test for six hours. By the time he’s finished, his eyes don’t function well enough for him to bike, so he has to walk home. In general, the school has been very accommodating, and teachers have been very open to meeting his needs, though there are times when it gets overwhelming. Michael can recall very few times when Stargardt has genuinely brought him down, but one was after a Math 51 midterm during fall quarter. He felt a lack of control having all of his notes from someone else, which made it hard for him to know if the information he received had been completely accurate. By the time he got to the test, he was so flustered that he left half the test unanswered and began to seriously consider whether or not he could handle college. He went and sat on top of one of the grass domes in the engineering quad and thought about it for a while, processing what had just happened. After a bit he got up and decided to just keep going. “Basically it came down to the fact that I’m just super stubborn,” he said. “It was more just a giant
trying anything. “If he sees something and he knows he can obtain it, he will, and he’s always done that,” said his mother. “He just decides on something, and then moves forward with it. He won’t change his mind just because someone says ‘I don’t think you can do that.’ He perseveres, he moves forward, he’s a self-advocate.” Patrick calls his little brother his hero. “I don’t think I can narrow down one thing about him that is more impressive than anything else,” Patrick said. “His entire entity is kind of appalling, to be completely honest with you. I mean, the last time he was home, we wrestled, and I got my ass handed to me.” Michael isn’t holding out for a cure—in fact, he’s comfortable enough with handling his impairment that he’s not even that interested in a cure. He fully intends to work, raise a family, and live out his life with as much tenacity as he has for the past eighteen years. “You can live your life and let things like [Stargardt] stop you from doing stuff, but frankly, that’s really boring.” 45
linda and larry by Sachie Weber
he opened the cabinet and took out a water bottle, as she did every day, and put it in her bag. She rooted around in the bottom of her bag for her lipstick as she stood by the door. “I’ll be home late tonight,” she murmured, quietly enough that it sounded like she was talking to herself, which she was, and loudly enough that if someone were standing across the hall, in the bedroom, which they weren’t, they would have heard a gentle hum coming from the foyer. She applied her lipstick (1), grabbed her keys (2), took a pill (3), and walked out the door. The weather was cloudy today. She enjoyed it. She never enjoyed the weather, she did not care for the weather, but she didn’t think about that today. Today she thought about how even though she hated her boss, yesterday he had told a very funny joke, and she had, despite her best efforts, broken into a choked, stifled, guffaw at her desk that made Larry, her cubicle neighbor, look over the walls to see if she was all right. It was all right. Sometimes horrid people tell funny jokes. She boarded the M train with ease and got a seat that a pregnant woman had just vacated. Usually she stood, and today she spent her time on the train as she would if she had been standing, trying to find a space with her eyes that wasn’t already occupied by somebody’s feet, or his crotch, or his face. People could get so unsettled when you stared at their feet. She almost tripped over some-
one’s dog while getting off the train; the city had too many dogs. But there was a small line at the coffee shop, which was grand, which was an e short of the size of coffee she decided to order that day. She paused for a moment to choose the correct type of creamer; lately she had been drinking soymilk, but she had read an article that had put it in a bad light. She wanted half-and-half, but they were out. She decided to do away with creamer altogether and opted for Stevia instead. She caught the green light on her way across the street. When she woke up this morning everything had felt pretty much the same. Her alarm went off and she lied in bed for three minutes more, thinking about how she had to wash her hair. She saw that the man had left the bed. They always did. She didn’t remember his name. He didn’t have her number. Relief had bloomed in her chest for a moment and then quietly excused itself as she had stripped to take a shower. She had sung in the shower. She never wanted to, but she always ended up humming Frank Sinatra with a raspy morning voice. She had never been one for memorizing lyrics. Perhaps it was the Morning After pill she had taken this morning after. She hated needing it but she had realized while she was dressing by the mirror that she had no recollections of the previous evening after 9:30. She remembered that he had paid for the cab and that maybe, at some point, she had served him some peppermint schnapps she found in her
pantry. She couldn’t even remember the man’s face, though she was almost sure he had brown hair. Either way, she had read the side effects of the pill on the side of the box: dizziness, nausea, some lower abdominal pain. She felt none of these. What she felt was very different. It was a sort of endless warmth, like the heater turned on at Christmas morning. She felt like she had when she was young and would sit in the back of the car while being driven home from school, the sun slanting in through the window. It was so unexpected. She felt like everything was right with the world, like nothing could go wrong. She did not feel the need to laugh aloud; she did not feel the need to do anything. She couldn’t remember the last time she had been so well. The elevator doors opened and she stepped off. The office looked as drab and full of ghosts as it always had, but today she cared even less than she usually did. Maybe she just didn’t care in a different sort of way. People whom she had once only endured now lacked any ability to affect her; they existed beyond a glass wall, a layer of saran wrap. Of course, they always had. Though she carried the same, careless, vacant smile she had every day, today, for the first time, she felt like she could take it from her exterior and cup it within her guts, letting it steep through her system. Today was a good day. She sat down at her desk chair just as she saw Larry round the corner from the canteen. He saw her and tried to pretend he hadn’t, like 47
he had not been waiting for her arrival since 7:55 in the morning. She of course did not know exactly how long Larry had been anticipating her arrival, but she did not need to because she was quite aware that he loved her. She sometimes had a bad habit of attracting unwanted attention from male colleagues, but Larry had chosen to do her one better. She did not know why he loved her, or what about her he loved, only that every morning he pretended not to see her when he did. Once, during a holiday office party, when he had gotten especially drunk, as she knew he would, he roped her into a conversation that she politely sustained with replies that occasionally exceeded four words. He was desperate to know her and she saw and pitied that; she gave him what she thought were generic answers to his very imploring, generic questions: Her favorite season was summer because she hated school. She had been to Prague, once, she had taken pictures. She liked the rain when she was inside. She had never had any pets. Even as she spoke she saw that her answers didn’t matter. His face had taken to a look of hopeless stupor that he visibly suppressed, though not fast enough thanks to the three cups of peppermint punch he had consumed within the hour. It was too late. Larry was like a tunicate, soft and desperate to find a permanent foundation on which to root, and upon finding it, there he would sit and dissolve his brain—well, perhaps she was being harsh. “Hello, Larry.” Sometimes she liked to greet him first, just to be kind. She was feeling especially kind today. “Hey, Linda.” He sat down at his desk, the partial partition between them cutting off his hands from his
body as he turned on his computer and put down his second coffee of the day. Larry was not terribly bad looking, but he wasn’t terribly good looking, either. He was tall, but his jaw was a little weak and he had never learned to dress himself well, though it was obvious that he wished he could. Unfortunately for Larry, Larry was very kind. He turned his head towards her. “Hey, what time is the financing meeting today?” She paused briefly. “Hm, I think it’s at eleven,” just as it was every Wednesday. “Oh, that’s right.” He took a sip of his coffee. She opened her computer to look at an email her mother had sent her that she had yet to read. It was untitled, which had been bothersome to her, and so she had not opened it. Her mother lived in Florida and was rather old. “Larry, did you forward the client’s email to Carol?” She liked to buffer the beginning of her addresses to Larry with his name. Some people thought that saying somebody’s name often could be somewhat romantic or even intimate, or so she thought she had heard. She used it to discourage; she said it like she had to remind herself at the beginning of every sentence to whom exactly she was speaking. She hoped it was working. She knew it wasn’t. “Uh, yeah, I did this morning. I think she got it, but I can go ask her and check.” He made a movement to get up. “No, Larry, thank you, I just wanted to check.” “All right.” He tried to say it mildly. She smiled at the intonation because yes, she was feeling all right. At 10:58 she got up and grabbed her notepad, something she knew she would not use but nonetheless took to every Wednesday meeting at
11:00. On any other day she would have picked it up with forced carelessness. Today at 10:58 her mind had suddenly fixated on the pleasurable realization that it might rain, and as she grabbed the bottle she did not notice how habitual and careless the moment was. A while later, while wrapped in retrospect, she would wonder at how little sense it made, the accidental inattention she gave it on that day of all days. Today the topic of the meeting was budgeting policy for the coming quarter, for which she had neither interest nor administration. Usually she used this time to decide what she was going to eat for dinner or whether she should read that email from her mother that had no subject, but today her mind haphazardly rode the flow of words that melted from her boss’s mouth, not catching the meaning, stopping several paces behind to pick apart the thin rounded sound of “analysis” and “contribution.” The second half of that word, “-bution”; she, for the first time, thought it over, and was struck by it. She again thought of what an anomaly it was, how she could not have predicted this bliss that had so thoroughly melted her. She was almost afraid of how irrationally happy she was. She took a small sip from her water bottle and put all her efforts into not retching it onto the fauxwood table. Her boss turned to expense report requirements. She held the water, which was not quite water, in her mouth for a moment, her mind blank. Nobody had noticed the spasm that had taken hold of her jaw, and her initial convulsion of her body turned into a languid crossing of one of her legs at just the right moment. Somehow, even with the ethanol and laudanum floating in her mouth she still caught Larry, sitting at her side, watch her
legs overlap. She swallowed. Looking back, she would always like to say, today, of course today would be the day. She had always expected to feel surprise at this moment, which she had been anticipating for nearly the last year, but right now her mind was circling around the unbelievable bitterness that coated her mouth. She took another sip and swallowed quickly, the burn coating the corners of her mouth and burning her throat. Her eye started to water as she held in a coughing jag. Her mind was still blank, absurdly blank, but in the back of her mind she knew she should register what exactly was happening. This is what she had planned. Simply because her mind had been reeling with happiness today she had had no idea it was coming. It was just as she wanted. Everything had worked out perfectly. Except today she woke up happy. She took another sip. The bottle was still over three quarters full. Someone somewhere said some jagged word—“break”—and people were getting up, stretching arms above their heads in a sickeningly cliché manner. She hated clichés. She hated that hating clichés was a cliché. “Linda. Hey, Linda.” “Yes, Larry?” “I was going to go get some water, do you want to come with?” he jerked his head to the door conspiringly, like he was trying to be subtle. He had noticed something was wrong. This was unfortunate. “Oh, no, Larry, I have a drink.” “Nah, come on. Come with me.” She found it sad that he thought he was helping her. He was touching her shoulder gently. She would cause a scene if she resisted. She got up. She followed him to a spare room down the hall. Larry was walking very fast. They entered the room.
Occupying a Crevice There is more breath in this crack of magenta sidewalk tiles than blankets of cottonwood. Fleeting winds whisper vital f r a g m en ts, shadow of the reticent bench a rescue. Asphalt life buds with eastbound dragonflies, wheeling constellations. Requiting with presence: cognition of one another’s being there. -Sera Park
She took another sip. He closed the door and turned around. “So, what’s wrong?” Nothing was wrong. Everything was supersaturated. “What do you mean?” “I think I saw something back there, and I’d like to know what’s going on.” “It’s nothing, Larry.” “You can tell me. You can tell me, Linda.” She wasn’t going to tell him. “Larry, I’ve done something.” He nodded. He was trying to have no expectations, but at the moment his mind was reeling over the fact that he was in a room alone with Linda and she was confiding in him. He had noticed right away her spasm in the meeting room; if he had reflected on the situation he would have realized that he had been waiting for something out of the ordinary, for something non-routine to give him an excuse to confront Linda; it had presented itself and he had taken it, almost automatically. Larry had no idea what had caused the spasm, but he sus-
pected health issues, or perhaps she was experiencing emotional, perhaps familial trouble. Larry had seen that unread email from her mother. It had been sent three months ago. He felt slightly honored, and inevitably hopeful, in light of what he expected to be a confession. “It’s going to be fine, Linda, just start from the beginning.” “Larry, today I took a water bottle from my fridge and it’s full of laudanum, and now I’m drinking it.” He was silent. His brain was rapidly trying to process her words and form some sort of offended outburst. His mouth opened and closed ever so slightly. She waited, staring at the small mole next to his nose. He blinked, comically. “What do you mean?” “Well, Larry, laudanum is an opiate.” He didn’t speak, so she added, “It’s a very strong opiate.” He made a wide motion with his arms to alert her, in case she didn’t know, that he was shocked. “What do you mean?” He brought his arms out in front of him, like he want 49
ed to grab her shoulders but didn’t quite get there. She waited. She didn’t understand. Surely this wasn’t that shocking to even someone as simple as Larry. She uncapped her water bottle to take another sip. His brain started working again. “Stop!” He grabbed for it and she pulled away. She capped it. “Is that it?” His breath was coming fast, and he was trying hard to bring himself back to earth. “Why do you have a bottle full of laudanum?” She had had the water bottle for a while. She had, about a year ago, talked to a friend, a nurse. She had showed up at her work. She had followed her friend through the hospital as she made her rounds, listening abstractly about the nurse’s recent divorce, and eventually they had made their way into a storeroom on the third floor. Her friend had been wiping wet mascara onto her scrubs as Linda pocketed the one 4 oz bottle of deodorized opium tincture. She couldn’t remember why she had chosen laudanum; she just remembered how the bottle had brushed her fingertips before she had even read the label. She had never expected to be struck by such serendipity, and so she saw no way she could have left it. She had gone to Costco with her mother and bought several packs of water bottles in bulk. It was bad for the environment, her mother had told her, but it was necessary, she had not told her mother. She went home, and she took a water bottle, cut off the top, and submerged it in boiling water in a glass bowl she had at home. She waited, and thought of all the PET toxins that were being exhaled from the bottle cap. She took another water bottle, and she drained the water, refilling it with 200 mg of
laudanum, 300 mL of vodka, and 291 mL of water. She took some calculations for sport. The dosage was about four thousand drops of laudanum. She took the bottle cap from the hot water, still sealed, and fixed it onto the uncapped water bottle. This all was, of course, to ensure that the bottle looked new and un-tampered with. She had made sure she had bought Dasani; their bottles were tinted blue. She put all the water bottles in a basket in her kitchen under the sink. She took one to work every day. “It only has 200 mg.” “Is that really enough to kill you?” One hundred to 150 mg was enough to overdose. “Just enough.” Larry was coming to a conclusion. Larry had been ready to quit his job before he met Linda. He was planning on going back to school before he saw her walk to the cubicle next to his, a cardboard box full of her new office. She had no pictures of family. Despite the fact that she had only done her makeup on one eye, she was beautiful. Because she had done so she was beautiful. Larry had known a girl like her in elementary school. Her name was Candice and she would walk along the tops of the monkey bars while the teachers begged her to get down. One time she had left class, saying that she had gone to the bathroom, but she had told Larry that in reality she was running away. He had wanted to follow her but when he asked to go to the bathroom too the teacher said that he had to wait and he sat back down. Candice didn’t come back. There had been an investigation. And yet here she was again. And so Larry had been waiting for this day. Larry had been waiting for Linda to open up, to overflow, to crack and melt and find him. Lin-
da had confessed to him about her crisis; Larry now saw the reason in it. Larry had heard that women are more likely to attempt rather than commit suicide compared to men; Larry knew that this was a cry for help. She, Larry decided, was not going to die. Larry would help her. Larry would save her. Larry was here for her. Poor Larry. Linda waited during Larry’s rather long pause in reaction. She often thought Larry was like an aquarium; all the dramas and actions of his interior were visible and refracted from the outside. He was the sort that would read directions out loud, look upwards and to the side, making calculations in the air, and be very bad at politely excusing an insult or an awkward exchange. Larry could be such a spectacle. “Linda, you need to give me the water bottle.” She smiled. She found that her smiling often helped alleviate tension in awkward conversations. She wished she didn’t have to say it. “Larry, I can’t.” “Yes, you can, just give it to me.” “No, Larry.” “Why not?” She was aware of the arbitrariness of her insistence. Her dancing neurons begged her to follow Larry, to trust him, to love him, to give him the water bottle. But she had come so far. She knew, in the more heavyset, repeating, and integral regions of her brain that she had a good reason for purchasing and preparing the laudanum. If she gave him the water bottle he would dump it down a sink in the men’s bathroom two doors from this room. He would come back, try to hug her, and they would walk back to the meeting. The talk would turn to PR. The meeting would end and she would send emails that would not be read until
II wait wait feel those lucid greens and acid browns and taste that macabre grey. who knew the creamy colours would be so tasteless, and the sharp ones so tight and wounding. -Whitney McIntosh
5:05. She would go home and she would call the man from last night. She would go to bed and she would go to work. Linda had a tendency to think of the future. “It’s just the way of things.” He was silent. He was contemplating taking the water bottle gently, but by force. “Larry, I think our break is over.” She turned to leave as she heard him call her name. He was caught off guard; he needed more time. She left the room and walked back to the meeting. People were just sitting back in their seats. The sad mousy woman who worked in PR was standing up and shuffling papers, wondering if she should take off her glasses or keep them on. She sat down. She unscrewed the cap of the water bottle and took a sip, a small one, one that burned through her mouth with an intensity she had already forgotten. The bottle was still nearly three quarters full. Larry sat down next to her, his shoulders rigid, his eyes trying to grind into the sides of her temples. She ignored him. She turned to the speaker and thought about how she only wished she had read that email from her mother; perhaps she would have time before she started feeling the effects. She had not before considered the 300 mL of vodka that swam along the tincture; she hoped she did not cause a scene.
Larry was sweating next to her. She could hear him breathing and thinking. She reached for the water bottle on the table, but he reached it first with a fluidity she had not expected. He unscrewed the cap, took a sip, and coughed. People looked up. The woman at the front reached for her shirt collar nervously. He apologized, eyes watering. For the first time she looked straight at him. She was confused. He drank more. He finished half the bottle in a few seconds; head tipped back, parched, eyes staring at the buzzing fluorescent lights above the table. She stared. The water bottle was now back on the table, droplets holding on the sides, falling under the logo sticker, leaking onto the table leaving drops like diluted coffee. At this moment, she could have reached for it. Larry was recovering next to her, just managing to keep his appearance under control, above scrutiny; Larry would not have time if she reached for it again. She knew that she should reach for it again. She stared at it. Now that she saw it more clearly, now that she allowed herself to explore the grooves and innards of her Dasani water bottle, she saw tiny scratches under and around the bottle cap where she had forced the sealed cap over the filled bottle. She saw how off-color the liquid was; she saw how apparently alien the viscosity was in the droplets on
the side. She had never allowed herself to look too closely at her daily water bottle. She couldn’t believe she hadn’t noticed. She had fooled herself so thoroughly. She was still transfixed while Larry took it up again to take another drink. She did not understand. Larry drank with fervor, with intent he had never before possessed. Linda was surprised. Larry always seemed so sated, a lamb put out to pasture, but as she heard the water bottle crunch around the sides as Larry took the last gulp she could not imagine anything else that Larry could have done at that moment. He set the water bottle down, triumphant, retching slightly in his mouth but containing himself. The man next to him thumped him on the back absentmindedly. The sad PR woman moved to her polls. She watched him sit back in his seat. He seemed jubilant, victorious, and he glanced at her side for a moment with a bravado that he had never deigned possess; he was not afraid to look her in the eye, he was not afraid to see her as an equal, and she did not know why. Perhaps the tincture, perhaps death, had given Larry new courage; perhaps Larry thought, now or never, perhaps he wanted to go out having done what he had never dared do. She passed fifty-nine minutes staring into the face of her boss. He tried his best to avoid eye contact, sometimes giving her affronted, nervous glances, but she did not look away, she did not see him, she did not notice where she was looking, because she was listening to the breathing of Larry next to her. Twenty minutes in he started to wobble in his chair, thirty-two, to giggle under his breath, forty-one, to breathe heavily. She herself had been seeing in half time, but she knew 51
she was the only one who saw what was happening in the seat next to her. Expenditures had never seemed so fascinating to the drones in the room. She did not look at him, because she knew he was staring right at her. At 1:07 the meeting ended. People shuffled papers, people got up. Larry grabbed her hand and she followed him out the door down the hall, to the room they had been to before. He let go and stared at her, leaning against the wall, breathing like he’d run a marathon, beaming at her with very white teeth and the smallest pupils she had ever seen. He grabbed her hands again and squeezed. “No one’s going to let you go that easily,” he heaved. She guessed that he had heard that in a movie. “Larry, you should not have done that.” “I had to. I wanted to. I really wanted to, Linda. I—” He breathed like he was blowing up balloons, like his lungs were being tied up with rubber bands. His mouth tried to form the words he had always wanted to say, that he had to say because this was the moment, this was the time, he was on top of the world, he was immaculate, she was his. “Larry, you’re dying.” She had said it too quickly, or perhaps he just hadn’t been listening, but he was stumbling towards her, his mouth no longer had the capacity to form words but he knew, he knew he must tell her. For a moment, by the copier, he kissed her, and because she knew she must, she endured it. Her mouth still burned a little from the water but the taste of his tongue overwhelmed her and for one moment she felt something like sadness. Imagine what bliss Larry could have felt throughout his life. She broke
away gently. He could not have imagined why she had chosen laudanum, of all things. So archaic, he thought, and not only did his mouth burn but his vision sloshed and he was having trouble breathing and remembering exactly what he was doing here. At this rate he would pass out, maybe even go to the hospital. He hadn’t really thought it through when he had grabbed the bottle, when the acrid taste had only fortified his sense of justice, of conquest. It was fine, he reminded himself, as black spots appeared around the room and his balance favored the left wall; there had been only enough, just enough for one, and they had shared this burden, they would share this journey. “Goodbye, Larry. I’ll think of you.” She was pretty sure this was the correct form for these situations. She doubted she would miss him so she did not say she would. His brow furrowed as he gulped for air, as he searched her eyes with pinpoint pupils, as the aperture closed and he suddenly realized that everything was not going to be okay. She was again confused by his surprise, and she watched in puzzlement as he sank to the floor, wheezing, clawing at her heels, pleading, pleading, and she thought, wasn’t this what he wanted? It dawned on her. “Oh, Larry, I understand,” she told him from above, as he stared, as his face sank to the side, as he tried to breathe in the carpet. “And I’m sorry,” she said, because she realized now that she had told him just enough, that’s how much was in that bottle, just enough when really, because she was careful, because she was thorough, there was enough, there was more than enough. The water bottle had been three quarters
full. About 150 mg remained for Larry, about 3000 drops; just enough for Larry. Again she saw through Larry’s thoughts: what if he drank part, just enough to get a little sick, just enough to get drunk with Linda, just enough to touch death’s fingers together, to save and find each other. What a story it’d be, she thought, and giggled. A few minutes passed before she looked down and saw that Larry had stopped breathing. She was unsure of what to do now, what the proper etiquette would be. Perhaps she should scream. She remembered the water bottle. She walked back to the meeting room, but it had been swept away with the rest of the debris careless employees had left over; no doubt the sad PR woman had swept them up. The PR woman hated lunch breaks. She stood there, breathing in the air-conditioned air, wondering if she should go, wondering who would find Larry, wondering if she should read that email, wondering why on earth today had been such a good day. She should have seen this all coming, but she hadn’t. And how wonderful that was. For the first time, standing in the meeting room, standing in the office, standing in her blank linear existence she had no idea what was to happen, she had no idea what to do. A satellite had been kicked out of orbit and she was spinning, lost, free. She walked out. She went back to Larry. She looked at him, his face pressed against the side of the copier, his mouth halfopen. She smoothed out her blouse, fixed her hair, then opened the door to the rest of the office and screamed the joy of new life.
THE GERT FRÖBE APPRECIATION PAGES LESSONS IN FUTILITY by dylan fugel • The ghosts of my haunted past surround me. I can feel them in the walls as they come ever closer, a force unbidden and perilous. Shades of viscous orange, pink, blue, and yellow inhabit the nightmarish dreamscape of my mind. There is no escape; I know that now. No recourse but the panicked digestion of cherry stems and tiny round capsules of nothing. We are but men, alone in a world that has nothing for us. Damn you and your ilk, Clyde. You and Blinky and the rest of them will be the death of me. Right, right, up, left, nothing. (Pac-Man) • Captain’s Log, Jan. 9, 2045: Space is mere endlessness, missions but mere playthings. We have been trapped in this godforsaken field for eons, equipped with nothing but the barest of cannons. Asteroids surround us, floating by like the detritus of an uncaring deity. The ship is facile; it’s a goddamn triangle. Who built this, a mathlete? Shoot or move, tremble at the sight of the huge masses of mysterious stone. I have nothing, am nothing, sense nothing but an onslaught of meteoric power. I hit them, and they split into smaller, broken pieces. There but for the grace of God go I. (Asteroids) • Adventurer’s logbook (Mar. 24, 1982): Einstein said that the definition of insanity is doing things over and over again and expecting different results. I think I am starting to hallucinate. I dreamt I was in a land with no pits, no crocodiles, and no vines hanging from the sky. I was back home, sipping a cup of freshly brewed tea and listening to the newest Haydn concerto.
Then I awoke, with an abyss in front of me, and suspiciously rectangular crocodiles swimming in the mire. I knew I should have quit and accepted that office job. I should have been an accountant, not some Indiana Jones lookalike. (Pitfall) • Dear Diary, I fucking hate my brother. Mom always made me take him along with me when I was going to see Peach and he always copied my style. He’s too thin to make it look good, but he insists. He couldn’t be anymore of a third wheel if he tried. I fantasize every day about dropping him into the mouth of a piranha plant, but then I remember he has five lives left. I make sure to steal all the mushrooms though. The twat is slow as shit. You wouldn’t think that because he’s gangly and freakishly tall, but he—Sweet! I just got an ice power-up. Time to spend an hour freezing him for shits and giggles. (Mario) • My legs ache. The heaviness of a Technicolor world has worn me down. I can never stop or rest. I am trapped in a blinding world of slopes and jumps with only an echidna for company. I don’t even know what the fuck an echidna is. He won’t stop telling me about it, though. My other friend, if you can call him that, is some sort of flying rabbit who will not shut up. What sort of name is Miles, anyway? He sounds like he should be running a coffee shop. They always need my help, because they are infantile and don’t have a hedgehog’s natural ability to turn into a giant blue ball. Morons. (Sonic)
THE GERT FRÖBE APPRECIATION PAGES CONFESSIONS OF A WHITE PLAZA SAX MAN GROUPIE by dylan fugel
Sometimes I see tiny morsels of food in his bushy, majestic beard, and all I want to do is inhale their sweet odor. Other times I just want to crawl into the warmth that must exist deep in its snowy crevasses and lie down, rocked to sleep by the smooth sounds of his alto saxophone. His beard is Qunkempt like those of our ancestors must have been, a wild ferocity that mocks our passive society. I think I love him. I am always blinded by the dazzling nature of his eyes. They are startlingly blue, like an Adonis or a Jackman, and they are never still, scanning the lush lawns for a student to converse with. Would that it were I and that I could see the lips that make sweet music move, or see those nimble, tapered fingers press softly against the brass. He looked at me once, or through me, and I couldn’t sleep for a week. I tossed and turned, thinking about the sunken sockets like limpid pools, knowing that he could never be mine. We come from different worlds, of course, I from higher education and he from possible homelessness. But we are not so different. We share an appreciation for the saxophone and voting theory and I am sure I love him. I’ll be honest, I don’t even care about voting theory. Then I see his eyes light up as he hands out a sheaf of papers. “Ooh yeah, tell me about the cyclical nature of voting trends,” I’ll think, because I do not have the courage to say it aloud. The red states look like they are blushing at his chiseled features, the blues ashamed
of how much they love him. He could do some in-depth analysis of my states, I’ll tell you that much. He is an intellectual. You can see it in the way he plugs away at his laptop, fingers leaving the barest trace of sweet saxy odor on the keys. I wonder what he writes? In my mind, it is always love poetry, a message to a girl who is willing and able to receive it. Though it is probably another voting theory pamphlet. I think I know every song he’s ever played. Sometimes he improvises, and I think back to the first time I listened to “Kind of Blue.” And I sit there, entranced by the music, and hope that he will lift me into his arms and carry me away, the sweet horn playing all the while. Even when I was younger, I had a crush on bad boys. Alex MacDonald use to push me over by the monkey bars and I thought he was the coolest boy in town. Later, Vlad would whisper softly into my ear that, “Women are lower than bear in my eyes,” and I’d gaze upwards into the majesty of his big baby blues. George would playfully punch me on the arm, and I’d pray the imprint of his hand would never leave. Mere memories now. I see Sax Man’s wild fury, his impassioned sounds, his willful ignorance of society and I know he is waiting for someone to unlock the key to his heart. I know he can see me giving him the seductive eyes. He just is too focused on making his music. We’ll get there though. I’ll follow him to the ends of the Earth if I have to. Fortunately he never leaves White Plaza.
Overheard: “I only hate three people: Blake Robbins, Abby Goldberg (my archnemesis), and Hitler.” – Natalie Webb “Stay away, I’m drinking sake.” – Freshman male on his first ski trip “They’re terrific fishermen, the Portuguese.” – Elderly woman on campus “And I’m like, [it’s] Chekhov, you dumb cunt!” – Ouree Lee “It tastes like a mint julep.” – Girl at COHO, in reference to a kale smoothie “I fucking love when girls pee in the woods.” – Male undergraduate “Lost Treasure of the Incas? What could he want with a book like that?” – Batman (Adam West), in reference to The Joker “Women tend to overestimate.” – The A Game, given to some incoming freshmen as a form of alcohol education
seven ways to meet i when you first met me you told me I was pretty cool, for an asian I blushed, defensive, indignant a little flattered ii there’s no trace of me in the bronze glowing skin of denim-clad blondes and brunettes or the poison-dipped hair pins of austere pale dragon ladies pulsing magnetic on the silver screen but the off-beat humor and the curly brown hair of the main guy’s little brother reminds me of you a bit and the light flickers blue and white on our skin as if we are the same iii when you call me things like hot and sexy words that smack of shiny tabloid covers it feels like you’re talking about someone else someone who looks a little better naked and smells a little less of pork and onions after dinner iv the rough denim made in america that leeches the sweat from my palms until my fingers tingle the threads stretching taught across my thighs those little plastic toys made in china that come tumbling out of cereal boxes coated in a layer of lead and genetically modified corn v when I try to explain who I am or where I’m from I think about certain things like the wrinkles on my grandma’s hands, falling loose and slow around her brittle wrists, her house that smells of mothballs and medicine and jasmine tea wafting across the red cloth couches
or how the white powder from dumpling skins inevitably ends up in my eyebrows and how the stuffing always escapes so when I try to press the edges together they slip apart and sit disheveled next to my motherâ€™s sitting fat and proud or how I grew up knowing there was a whole world directly beneath my feet and sometimes when I didnâ€™t want to go to bed I would imagine burrowing through the planet with a shovel and some tenacity and that way it would always be daytime and I wouldnâ€™t ever have to sleep but I am worried that if I try to explain the hands the dumplings the shovel dreams it will translate all wrong bursting brassy bronze and oriental from soft round american mouths, like: crouching pot hidden lotus golden tiger opium warrior good fortune tea dragon vi. it must have been awhile ago but at some point, someone for you must have also decided to sail across the glinting ocean with a few pennies and a dream and perhaps an english dictionary to this dusty golden island vii. I look at you your hairy legs, your toothy grin, the glint from your thick-rimmed glasses you only speak english you get too drunk you fling yourself at the world with a recklessness that makes me both jealous and disapproving but you are ok, for a white guy -Niuniu Teo 57
Editors in Chief Josie Hodson Adam Schorin Features Irene Hsu Niuniu Teo Profiles Fiona Noonan Miscellaneous Sara Altman Olukemi Lijadu Whitney McIntosh Fiction Molly Gerrity Poetry Sera Park Humor Dylan Fugel Copy Alec Glassford Chris Rodriguez Art Witt Fetter Photo Ben Suliteanu Business Peter Ballmer Stacy Chun Keyur Mehta Layout Cordelia Sanborn-Marsh Lilly Phillips Chief Projectonist Audrey Juliussen
Inside cover collages and features collage by Witt Fetter, photos of Caleb Kumar and Michael Raitor by Ben Suliteanu. Essay photo courtesy of Natalie Webb. Cover illustration by Witt Fetter and Lilly Phillips.