The harvard advocate
The harvard advocaTe Fall 2010 vol. 146 No.1
Fall 2010 $8
The Harvard Advocate
ART Emma Banay, Molly Dektar, Julian Gewirtz, Dana Kase, Rebecca Levitan, Anna Murphy, Anna Raginskaya, Scott Roben*, Madeleine Schwartz, Zoe Weinberg.* business Ankur Agrawal, Ben Berman, Sanders Bernstein, Sophie Brooks*, Skyler Hicks*, BeĂąat Idoyaga*, Andrew Karn, Temi Lawoyin*, Iya Megre, Jaron Mercer, Sasha Mironov, Anna Raginskaya, David Tao, Natalie Wong, Emily Xie
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Editorial Board President Publisher Art Editor Business Manager Design Editors Features Editor Fiction Editor Poetry Editor Technology Editor Pegasi Dionysi Circulation & Publicity Managers Librarian Alumni Relations Manager Community Outreach Director
DANA KASE Charleton Lamb Madeleine schwartz Benjamin berman Wendy chang Lauren Packard Jessica sequeira RYAN MEEHAN ADAM PALAY Jeremy FEng MATT AUCOIN MARK CHIUSANO SOPHIE DUVERNOY EMILY CHERTOFF SOFIA GROOPMAN DAVID TAO ANNA RAGINSKAYA EMMA BANAY IYA MEGRE ANDREW KLEIN
Board of Trustees Chairman James Atlas Chairman Emeritus Louis Begley Vice-Chairman Douglas McIntyre President Susan Morrison Vice-President Austin Wilkie and Treasurer Secretary Charles Atkinson Peter Brooks John DeStefano ESLIE DUNTON-DOWNER L A. Whitney Ellsworth jonathan Galassi Lev Grossman Angela Mariani Daniel Max CELIA MCGEE Thomas A. Stewart
design Charlotte Alter, Lucy Andersen, Isidore Bethel, Wendy Chang, Hanna Choi, Jessicica Henderson, Dana Kase, Charleton Lamb, Joseph Morcos, Anna Murphy, Lauren Packard, Sally Scopa*, Michael Segel*. features Sanders Bernstein, Eric Brewster*, Spencer Burke*, Emily Chertoff, Mark Chiusano, Rebecca Cooper, Eva DeLappe, Sophie Duvernoy, Molly Fitzpatrick,, Madeleine Schwartz, Jessica Sequeira, Georgia Stasinopoulos, My-Ngoc To.* fiction Sanders Bernstein, Emily Chertoff, Molly Dektar, Eva Delappe, Ricky Fegelman*, Erik Fredericksen, Carolyn Gaebler, Sofia Groopman, Seph Kramer, Michal Labik, Charleton Lamb, Max Larkin, Patrick Lauppe*, Charlotte Lieberman, Georgia Stasinopoulos, David Wallace, Scott Zuccarino. poetry Matthew Aucoin, Hana Bajramovic*, Ricky Fegelman*, Erik Frederiksen, Ted Gioia, Julian Gewirtz, Andrew Klein, Jennifer Nicole Kurdyla, Jake McNulty, Stephanie Newman*, Adam Palay, David Wallace, Joshua Wilson, Justin Wymer.* TECHNOLOGY Ben Berman, Dan Cole*, Jeremy Feng, Mark VanMiddlesworth, Lakshmi Parthasarathy, Anna Roth, Sam ten Cate*, Michael Segel*, Qichen Zhang. * The Harvard Advocate congratulates its newest members.
The Harvard Advocate will anonymously consider all submissions of art, features, fiction, and poetry. Submissions may be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, or email@example.com. Submissions may also be mailed to 21 South St., Cambridge MA 02138. All submissions should be original work that has not been previously published. If you wish to have your submission returned to you, please include a self-addressed stamped envelope. Questions about submissions may be directed to the individual emails above or to firstname.lastname@example.org. Founded in 1866, The Harvard Advocate is the nationâ€™s oldest continually published college literary magazine. It publishes quarterly from 21 South St, Cambridge MA 02138. Published pieces and advertisements represent the opinions of the authors and advertisers, not The Harvard Advocate. Domestic subscription rates are $35 for one year (4 issues), $60 for two years (8 issues), $90 for three years (12 issues). For institutions and international addresses, the rates are $45 for one year (4 issues), $75 for two years (8 issues), $110 for three years (12 issues). Payable by cash or check made out to The Harvard Advocate and mailed to the above address, Attn: Circulation Manager. Back issues are available for purchase at www. theharvardadvocate.com. No part of this magazine may be reprinted without the permission of The Harvard Advocate. Copyright 2010 by the Editors and Trustees of The Harvard Advocate.
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FEATURES Eva DeLappe - NOTES FROM 21 SOUTH STREET: Putting up Preserves 4
Georgia Stasinopoulos - Political Footnotes 30
Mark Chiusano - ENVOY: Dugout 44
CONTENTS Erik Fredericksen - Alba 13
Matt Aucoin - [Music finds me twenty miles down silence] 14
Julian Gewirtz - Blood Orange 16
Stephanie Newman - At the Estuary 22
Oliver Strand - [Two birds flew around a branch] 23 2
Cover: Wendy Chang, Lauren Packard, Michael Segel
Illustrations: Lucy Andersen (p. 44), Sally Scopa (p. 4, 31)
Matt Saunders - Interview (Hertha Thiele, 1975) #1 & #5 18
Sara J. Stern - Play Pen for JR Hair Balls 24
ART Molly Dektar - Untitled 25
Irina Rozovsky - Tent (with Watermelon) Neighbor at 2 am 28
Brandon Seah - Brief Reports 35
FICTION Sofia Groopman - Root Canal 41
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Notes from 21 South Street
Putting Up Preserves Eva DeLappe
INT. PAGE - DAY Extreme close-up: an eye? No. PENCIL. Camera shoots from within the paper. Pencil plunges and swerves across the frame. The lead leaves no mark but Pencil moves so fast its path looks like a curving line—an L, maybe a nose. Camera follows Pencil. Tracks right and zooms in until the lead obscures the frame. Black.
EVA (V.O.) The One-I’m-Looking-For isn’t here.
EXT. LEICESTER SQUARE - SUNDAY MORNING Establishing shot. Leicester Square: Times Square with Georgian architecture and a small central Garden (four dead-grass triangles crossed by two diagonal paths). 4
EVA (V.O.) (con’t) And this is not the real London. Traveling long shot. Camera dollies back the Garden’s northwest path. Shakespeare statue stands above a large fountain. Around it, a concrete-tile circle, a few benches and a few homeless men. EVA (V.O.) But Leicester Square tries its best to make you believe otherwise. Path lined with benches. Pan right: dirt with patches of grass, Reynolds’s bust, a wrought-iron fence. EVA (V.O.) This is the city we, the visitors, see. Iron bars slice the background into slats. A wide pedestrian street stretches before House of Gifts (50% OFF), CINEMA EMPIRE CASINO (TOY STORY 3), and Mermaid’s Tail Cafe (FISH CHICKEN RIBS STEAK). Three British flags and four red telephone booths mark the street’s end. Camera racks focus to the Garden side of the iron fence. Rests on a bust—sharp nose and jaunty cap. Plaque reads: “HOGARTH, William. Satirical Artist and Illustrator.” EXT. GARDEN BENCH - SUNDAY MORNING EVA, a tired American student, stress-eats a muffin and holds a large cup of coffee. She shares the bench with a Pret-A-Manger bag, a backpack, two Moleskines, and a pencil. EVA (to the camera, between bites) I’ve wanted to profile street caricaturists for a while now. Since Hogarth invented the art of caricature, and since I’m studying here for a few weeks, I thought this as fitting a place as any to do so. Camera swings down. Tilts past coffee stain, yellow shoes, path, rolling pencil, path, bench, iron fence, empty pedestrian street. Rests on CINEMA EMPIRE CASINO. EXT. LEICESTER SQUARE - SATURDAY AFTERNOON SUBTITLE: THE DAY BEFORE Low-level close-up: comfortable walking shoes. Keds, Adidas, loafers. Yellow shoes enter frame right. Camera tracks them as they move through the crowd. EVA (V.O.) (con’t) Caricature is the art of exaggerated reduction. The Harvard Advocate
CUT TO: CARICATURE ROW (HOGARTH GATE) From the wrought-iron fence hang Mick Jagger and Austin Powers—turgid lips and teeth like broken plates. Tourists come and go; caricaturists, eight men, compete to flatter them. CARICATURIST I (to an American couple) The Lady, she’s very beautiful. No sale. CARICATURIST II (to an Italian stag party) Guys! All together! Yeah boys all together! A very funny one. The caricaturists target groups. (More sitters means more money.) Some tourists pause to watch the few who sit. EVA (V.O.) (con’t) Your eyes have five minutes to learn a face well enough to satirize the person behind it. CUT TO: PEDESTRIAN STREET Yellow shoes enter a group of static feet and stop. Camera tilts up. Eva stands among a small crowd of ONLOOKERS. EVA (V.O.) (con’t) So caricaturists go for prominent traits. Shot of Onlookers—a German family, a Japanese tour group. The low angle enlarges and distorts Onlookers. Nostrils the size of fists. Cameras where their eyes should be. EVA (V.O.) You see what’s strange and you exploit it. CUT TO: ONLOOKERS’ POV CARICATURIST III sketches a young GIRL. He, a goatee and gel-stiff black hair. She, a chinny face with high cheekbones—like a turnip. Caricaturist III never stops sketching, even when he stares at Girl. Pencil always moves. EVA (V.O.) (con’t) Before I watched him work, I had this idea that street caricature satirized some contemporary truth. I thought it mocked our impulse to romanticize our own images. 6
Sketched caricature and Girl both wear fake grins. GIRL’S MOTHER is tickled. She documents the process with her iPhone. Close-up: Girl doesn’t know where to look. Girl’s Mother? Caricaturist III? Onlookers? Girl looks terrified. EVA (V.O.) But their work isn’t cultural commentary. It’s work. The sketch is done. Final product resembles Girl the way “Leicester Square” evokes a city, or “Girl looks terrified” a person. Caricaturist III quickly inks Big Ben in the bottom corner, signs his name and sprays plastic film over the sketch. EVA (V.O.) Street caricature, like any other tourist site, draws a character to be consumed. Girl leaps off chair. She looks at her image, she looks bewildered, she looks up at Girl’s Mother, who looks her in the eye and smiles. Girl relaxes. Girl’s Mother hands Caricaturist III a 10-pound-note and then takes her daughter’s hand. The two walk away. Night. A sequence of POV freeze-frames: Tourists on path. Tourists around Shakespeare Fountain. Ten thousand tourists in Trafalgar Square. Tourist buses by Embankment. London Eye and Big Ben—clouded by water within the lens. Blurred sun. Warm red interior of an eyelid. Black. EXT. GARDEN BENCH – SUNDAY AFTERNOON New bench neighbor: an un-eaten sandwich. Eva fidgets with her pencil. EVA (quiet) Truth is, Leicester Square really got to me. Pause. She scratches her neck. EVA I saw so much so fast the sights started to cheapen and it started me thinking. Maybe it’s tedious, maybe it’s a cliché. But I study movies, I watch movies, I travel, I read, I write and I, well, I— A face before breaking. EVA I’m not sure if eye-work has much use. Silence. An iris-out starts to obscure the edges of the frame. EVA Something drew me back to Leicester Square. Don’t know what. But I’m glad I returned. The Harvard Advocate
EXT. CARICATURE ROW - SATURDAY AFTERNOON SUBTITLE: THE DAY BEFORE Camera tracks across the row of men, sitters, tourists, celebrities. End by Reynolds Gate. Two women, PORTRAIT ARTIST and THE-ONE-I’M-LOOKING-FOR. EVA (V.O.) (con’t) Who knows why I didn’t notice them before. I probably just assumed they were caricaturists. REYNOLDS GATE Portrait Artist sits with a MAN in front of her. Eva stands, watching. No pencil movement. Portrait Artist measures his face, really stares at him. The Man looks uncomfortable. She starts with his eyes. Her pencil begins to travel his face, shaping gray shadows. The Man looks at the camera. We are obviously voyeurs. Eva walks away. Camera happens upon new face: 40 to 50 years old. Eastern-European. Thin nylon jacket and weary eyes. She sits at her stool. Her easel displays a portrait of a girl and a portrait of Cameron Diaz circa The Mask. Eva hesitates, then approaches. SPLIT SCREEN Left shot./Right shot. The-One-I’m-Looking-For’s POV/Eva’s POV. Eva paces back and forth amid the tourists./Backpacks and cameras and faces in every direction. Eva looks at camera and the camera rises to eye-level./The-One-I’m-Looking-For stands. EVA (doesn’t know how to begin) Excuse me. Uh, how much? THE-ONE-I’M-LOOKING-FOR Thirty-five. Eva winces./The-One-I’m-Looking-For needs a sitter. Badly. THE-ONE-I’M-LOOKING-FOR (con’t) Twenty-five. I can do twenty-five pounds. EVA No, it’s okay— 8
Eva looks like she’s trying to switch conversational gears./ The-One-I’m-Looking-For grows desperate. THE-ONE-I’M-LOOKING-FOR Fifteen? EVA No, thank you though. THE-ONE-I’M-LOOKING-FOR Certain? EVA Yeah. Sorry. Camera lowers its gaze./The-One-I’m-Looking-For looks down and sits. EVA (con’t) The thing is I’m writing an article about caricaturists. Do you mind if— Camera looks up quickly, then drifts to the right./The-One-I’m-Looking-For hardens. THE-ONE-I’M-LOOKING-FOR (points right) I don’t do caricatures. You should talk to them. Pan right to see Caricaturist I schmoozing with customer./Pan left to see Caricaturist I schmoozing with customer. EVA Portrait artists too though. Silence. EVA If you’re too busy I can go. I don’t want to interrupt your business. Eva looks down./Yellow shoes. THE-ONE-I’M-LOOKING-FOR I don’t know what you want to know, it’s not that interesting. But sure. EVA Really? Eva, excited./The-One-I’m-Looking-For shrugs. The Harvard Advocate
Eva opens her notebook./A set of who-when-what-why questions, numbered, with space to record the answers. EVA So. How long have you been out here? THE-ONE-I’M-LOOKING-FOR I came out here in, ah, ninety-six. Twelve, no, fourteen years. Eva writes in her notebook./”12—cross out—14 years 1996.” Pan crowd./The-One-I’m-Looking-For looks around. EVA Have you always been an artist? THE-ONE-I’M-LOOKING-FOR I’m qualified. EVA I mean, did you have any other jobs before this? THE-ONE-I’M-LOOKING-FOR I used to be a professional. Used to paint. EVA Great, great. Uh let’s see, could you describe a typical customer? Tourists./The-One-I’m-Looking-For surveys the crowd. THE-ONE-I’M-LOOKING-FOR What? Explain. EVA Is there a certain gender, age, country of origin? Women, men, foreigners, old, young? Eva looks expectant./The-One-I’m-Looking-For looks confused. Silence. Eva grows tense. Then, putting her pencil between the pages and folding her notebook closed, laughs./ The-One-I’m Looking-For relaxes. EVA (con’t) My bad. That was a messy question. Is there a certain type of person who tends to want to get their portrait drawn? 10
THE-ONE-I’M-LOOKING-FOR All types. I guess young, mostly women and children. Couples, too. EVA (sincere) Really. Huh. How many portraits would you say do in a day? THE-ONE-I’M-LOOKING-FOR Two, three, depends. Five on a good day. Today, nothing. Eva chews her lip./A math equation runs across the screen. 3 x 25 (if she always slashes prices) = not for profit. EVA Do you enjoy it? THE-ONE-I’M-LOOKING-FOR (surprised) Of course. EVA Why? THE-ONE-I’M-LOOKING-FOR (hesitates—then, softly) I like drawing, I like drawing people. There’s this... thing behind the eyes. I like looking for it. Eva looks into camera./The-One-I’m-Looking-For doesn’t look away. Then Eva begins scribbling feverishly./Pencil writes, “drawing people, there’s this thing behind the eyes…” THE-ONE-I’M-LOOKING-FOR It’s hard to explain. Eva glances up. Ecstasy thins./Cold, defensive eyes. Eva, confused, retreats./Camera quickly tilts down to pencil which pauses, then scratches hard short lines like jabs. EVA Thanks so much for your time. Yellow shoes move in and out as she exits, other shoes passing occasionally through the frame. EXT. LEICESTER SQUARE BENCH – SUNDAY NIGHT Eva sits beneath a street lamp. Behind her the cinemas blaze neon names. The Harvard Advocate
EVA Last night at the hostel I almost decided to give her a name. So my piece would have more credibility. Magda. Maybe Suzanne. No, I thought, that’s not fair. I have to go back. There’s just so much more to talk about. And I could get The-One-I’m-Looking-For to draw my portrait; it would be the perfect reversal in my piece. An atonement. So I came back today. But she’s gone, the caricaturists are gone. I don’t know where. Maybe they’re hungover, maybe they’re religious. I wait. I look at the tourists, I look at Hogarth, I look at three movie theatres and four hundred portraits. I take forty photos of the golden celebrity handprints that circle the Square, I fill one and a half notebooks with things like “why do we travel? to take the same damn photo everyone else takes” and “caricature v. portrait, tourism v. travel: possessing v. being possessed” but it’s eight o’clock and The-One-I’m-Looking-For still isn’t here— Suddenly Eva startles. Her hand squeezes quick into her pocket and fingers out a phone. 20:23. EVA Fuck! She rummages through her backpack. Grabs a crumpled piece of paper: NATIONAL EXPRESS COACH FUNFARE, VICTORIA STATION -CAMBRIDGE (CAMBRIDGESHIRE), 20:35. EVA Fuck fuck fuck what’s the fastest? Piccadilly? No. Victoria? Eva scans the horizon for a Tube sign as she swings her backpack around her shoulders but, before she hurries away, a final close-up. EVA (looks into the camera) At least this is honest. I’m always already late and I’ve never been good at exits. THE END
The cottonwood was snowing I laid the back of my head into the grass I thought grass and I woke up with pollen on my eye I waited for the wind to come into my hair, lift it like a pile of leaves I waited for the white blossoms to stop around me I waited until I heard gravel crackling on the asphalt Walking back down the road, the shovel I dragged along left a scratch I felt the trees around me stabbing up reaching up all up For a second, the sky could be torn from the earth
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[MUSIC FINDS ME TWENTY MILES DOWN SILENCE] MATT AUCOIN
Music finds me twenty miles down silence Where I burrow almost Cruelly, there it enters The recesses I have cut, it says see this is just Like anywhere I can fill it I say thanks music you are The final touch As you also were the first But please not too much you draw me Out of myself and all I am Is you cheerful In your soil under my blade Leaking into the vessels You fill before they were ever Empty, you my body, I am greater I wrestle you Under the border Below which is not your kingdom Though you were born there: The way you fall there Is like remembering I like this and keep digging You do not mind And moonlit nights you raise Your watersnake head out of the lower kingdom Into yours, there you resemble me Double and quiet, sharp for there is Not much of you, making an eye
Out of what you aren’t, Night’s inner face how Could it not examine you, Whitehead like bride’s hair In waves the color of waiting You wait expecting home And are gone And it is grander, Sky calling stranger, Waves you made uneasy In their stomachs, moon That almost answered, Even I have to thank you: for your spilling As if into my eye’ s unlit Socket expanded it And in your passing I am cold And larger, and the sky Never held such memory, So empty a moment, such Future to fill
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Blood Orange Julian Gewirtz
He went into the names and found the forms. He cut the long field low and let the light grid the grass. He brought two globes to compare. The uncommon color of the second won out. He would have peeled it, eaten it section by section, but he insisted he conserve the circle, because it is perfect. Skin and bitter flesh were not to part. The seeds were safe. He studied the perfusion. Then, in a tone like paper, said, â€œWe could never have crafted this. Artery, capillary, fiber, and pulp. The rind like a halo.â€? He made him slice it to admire the shape. Yet when he held the sliver up to the sun, it blazed and burned their voice.
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Matt Saunders Interview (Hertha Thiele 1975) #1 (opposite) & #5 (above), 2010 Black and white photographs on baryt paper (contact print from hand-drawn negative)
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At the Estuary
Eelgrass flowing from the surface of the ocean like the sea’s aqueous mane, threaded gold waving at each swell of tide now and then separated as though by fingers— or like fringe, on the blue-green silk of a scarf being shaken out. It is hard to think of the time when a hand, puny and limp, will no longer be able to hold a comb, or a new stem; when hair thins and in clumps falls, and something to have been proud of once is lost— Like the old egret who stiffens at the lip of the estuary, eyes naked and large, bare head and neck turning to salt, river and air meeting behind him.
[Two birds flew around a branch] Oliver Strand
Two birds flew around a branch. You saw this. You saw one, struck, fall into what is below and in that water stretched by strings it seemed out, feathers at strained and calculable ages, still in its geometry, fly in circles to the edge. We are all different with some people. In summer you found Loretta in a bush. She did not recognize you. Where was she going. At the edge, standing, you saw the bird step-nothing is going to happen to you--to where rippling breaks step from reflection, out of its depth and pivot down to float back out.
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Sara J. Stern Play Pen for JR Hairballs 28 hairballs (human hair, cut December 2009, rolled May 2010), Playpen 76â€? x 83â€? (9 pieces of scrap wood) 24
Molly Dektar Untitled Color prints, 4â€? x 6â€?
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Irina Rozovsky Tent (With Watermelon), 2009 Neighbor at 2 am, 2010 (opposite) Archival inkjet prints
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POLITICAL FOOTNOTES Georgia Stasinopoulos
I first heard about consulting in high school. One of my more serious compatriots casually said: “I’d like to be a speechwriter when I’m older. Or a consultant.” He nodded, his chin weighed down with the gravity of the task he imagined himself undertaking—consulting—and I nodded too. No idea what it meant. Piecemeal, as I took on consulting internships of my own, I would begin to understand. It meant questionnaires and donor requests, or opposition research for my boss Laura and one of her five or six clients; it involved hours on the phone with unwilling golf tournament sponsors and pages of unread grant applications. Still, that understanding was limited: as much as I grasped the mundane tasks and detailed policy briefs, the way it all added up remained fundamentally vague. Consulting has come to encompass an increasingly broad swath of tasks; every basic function of a campaign—organization, administration, management—has been co-opted by the label. The person who might once have been called a “finance director” or “campaign manager” is now often simply a “consultant.” The romanticism of the campaign, the hard work of volunteers, the adrenaline of the unknown before polls close: none of this is a myth. And yet the scheduled predictability of the daily grind shields a larger, more troubling mysticism. Rarely is there any doubt which client is going to win—or lose—come the primaries; there is no demand for people who might point out these uncanny truths. But the work continues regardless: adhering to the predictable schedules laid out by advisors, interns spend weeks learning just the right way to hold a client’s hand and make sure he 30
dials twenty numbers before lunch. There is always a demand for the consultant, and the consulting intern: a candidate will find you so you can start calling him a client. *** Despite having its own yearly awards ceremony (the Pollies), a license for practice (the New York City Lobbyist Registry), and the attention of thousands of ambitious college students (the Ivy League), political consulting lacks a history as well as a cohesive purpose. An obscure advisor to President McKinley was the first political consultant: his only other claim to fame is his potential status as Karl Rove’s personal political role model. (Karl Rove denies it adamantly.) Nevertheless, consulting constructs an identity founded less on its history than on its characters. The contemporaries of political consultants always seem to remember them fondly: the Pollies are a genial and bipartisan affair where most people leave with a prize, often for tacky videos or cookie-cutter direct mail advertisements. But as the years pass, consultants pass through history anonymously—James Carville, Mark Hanna, Joseph Napolitan—content with having risen from the footnotes of political campaigns to become body paragraphs. I had never worked on a successful campaign when I answered the call of my first Craigslist ad. Most of the consultants I encountered were hired out of college (Ivy Leagues, or tiny liberal arts schools) with one of two aspirations. Some were like Laura, my most recent sub-boss: independent and so waist-deep in student government campaigns and political rallies
that the workplace was an extension of her extracurriculars. Others were like Annie, or Blake—not sure where to go, but smart in all the right ways, good at dressing in business casual and professional enough that they figured they could coast for two years as consultants while getting a masters in something (Public policy? Administration?) before law school.
But we lost that campaign. My candidate—a slightly balding thirty-year-old—was not the incumbent, and this meant he was doomed to failure, something my high school sophomore optimism could not fathom until I sat despondently with the other volunteers at a bar and watched Paul tipsily thank all involved. Really, the journey had just begun, he
My new company—The Steinberg Group—was not really the company I wanted to work for. I wanted to work for a political campaign. I had done it once before and relished the afternoons spent jogging through the streets of Chinatown with flyers, moving up and down the fire escapes of Lower East Side tenements. I acquired six words of Chinese (enough to order dollar dumplings in groups of five) and about as much Spanish, which was more useful when actually campaigning. I hassled old women outside of supermarkets to sign petitions, and commuted two hours a day.
said; this was the first step to reclaiming the Lower East Side and we should all just drink and be merry. L’chayim! One of the volunteers ordered a beer and looked expectantly at his fellow underage drinkers. I left an hour later. Two years later, I stumbled across The Steinberg Group on Craigslist. It satisfied what I wanted, which was to have a win under my belt—to know what it felt like to see my candidate achieve a majority percentage on the TV screen. But instead of the feeling of unity I’d hoped for, I found myself with a group of The Harvard Advocate
clients who wouldn’t endorse one other, who fought incessantly in the Senate or Assembly. In fact, the only thing they did seem to have in common was that they’d all turned to us to help them with their campaigns. I started to realize that having a win might not be what matters most: that I couldn’t quite accustom myself to the idea of a Republican boss organizing for Democratic candidates. *** In an office strewn with messenger bags and bike helmets, the interns sat together in a conference room-cum-kitchen-cum-office. We had rotating shifts and usually two or three weeks of overlapping schedules. When the intern season was at its peak, there might be five or six of us at a table, laptops in front of us, typing up briefings or responses to endorsement questionnaires while trying to avoid the busy phones by appearing busier than we were. Daily, we were sent up and down the green and red lines, to nail salons or campaign offices or union headquarters to pick up checks: always checks, rarely any other form of paperwork. I saw the Bronx, Bay Ridge, Harlem, the Financial District—some familiar haunts, others only fleeting—through the eyes of a suited intern. I forgot how to be a New Yorker: my skin felt too big for me, my clothes always stuck to the small of my back, I was always carrying too much in my purse. I could still navigate subways. But when I had to walk, I stumbled in heels with dozens of envelopes, copies of ballots, and petitions under my arm as I grabbed lunch on the go. Caught in a rainshower and sprinting through Spanish Harlem to the safety of the 6 train—checks stashed under my suit jacket to keep from the damp— I imagined how much easier it would be to complete the same tasks in jeans and sneakers, sans the button down and faux-leather purse. I slipped five times on my way to work in one summer: the sidewalks around Penn Station are smooth and wide, and my heels almost always lost traction, sending me sprawling into the intersection. When I wasn’t stumbling my way in and out of subways, I was firmly a creature of the office. Most of the interns—who didn’t share my simultaneous enthusiasm toward the novelty of the daily tasks and ambivalence about their ultimate purpose—hated
the work. For me, dissatisfaction only truly hit when I interacted with my boss, Andrew. Andrew was a big presence, the kind that regularly embodied that adjectives that define consulting: loud, rude, demanding, sarcastic, sharp. After some grassroots success that hinted at unethical behavior, he started a consulting firm; the names and contacts he picked up in state and local races became the company’s primary clients. None of the interns quit because we didn’t interact enough with Andrew to care about his brass humor, the way the air conditioner was never thrumming quite loudly enough to drown out his shout for his personal assistant, the way our wallets bled money for the Metrocards and dollar-lunches our stipends could not cover because we did not have stipends, the way his son was the only paid intern in the office despite him never being around the office. We just filed disbursement reports, meticulously, looking at the money we weren’t making. His personal assistant did quit, though. Mousy, shy, face framed by enormous glasses, Danielle was sent three days in a row to attempt to recover Andrew’s impounded Chrysler, sent off with only a paid Metrocard and a bagged lunch. The fourth day she didn’t show up to work, and the fifth day I was told to write my own reference letter, since she wasn’t going to be back. *** The more that information is disseminated, and the greater the prevalence of media, the more important consulting becomes. Consulting satisfies our need for expertise—to hear sophisticated explanations for what we already know how to do—but it also reflects the way campaigns are changing. Now consultants sit and update Twitter feeds, create sleek websites from mass-produced templates that interns update daily, discuss strategy that boils down to where to solicit money from and how often. Their college degrees give them an acute sense of how to tell people what they already know. This was the consulting world, from my vantage point: an atmosphere encouraging an uncanny sense for what was predictable, particularly as it was already happening. That candidates could ignore details so brilliantly and with such flamboyance seemed more than just myopic. The Harvard Advocate
More frustrating was that really, at the root of it, we were still unable to figure out what made a candidate a winner. Once, my boss sat me down in an office with a client running for State Assembly and told me to hand him call sheets. “Just make sure he makes his calls,” said Lauren, his consultant. “He gets distracted.” Two hours later, the candidate—jovial, with a baby face and jerry curls—had completed a grand total of six calls before calling it a day so he could make lunch. The stack of call sheets he was meant to get through—at least fifty more—sat on my lap, unmarked. He went on to win his election. The other candidate whose work I did—he would lose. Tall, a little gangly, with a fluffy and poorly styled haircut, he would lock himself in the office for hours at a time, making dozens of calls in three different languages. His donors included Ed Norton and Matt Damon, but when I called unions, desperate to win their endorsement, they would point out the obvious: he was certainly qualified, but he wasn’t an incumbent. Didn’t have access to the Hispanic base. Laura’s trepidation whenever his future prospects were discussed was obvious: “He’s one of the ones you actually want to win,” she said to me over lunch, a month before he actually lost. Those were the minds behind the campaigns we managed. The consultants of my office might not have run fundraising events, but they were a constant
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presence, collecting checks and chatting up donors. Blackberries were a familiar presence, perched on tables within easy reach. I’m pretty sure the Blackberries weren’t company-issue, but boxes of phones sat in the supply closet of The Steinberg Group, next to standard FedEx folders and extra letterhead. They came with the territory of consulting: unnecessary, for show, potentially useful in a more successful future in which the clients who won weren’t established incumbents. Half a dozen phones lay individually wrapped in boxes, waiting for use. *** The only thing consulting does not lack is a paycheck. You won’t see it as an intern, but you’ll keep coming back, thinking it’s waiting for you, hidden in some desk. As such an intern, you might find yourself hired after the following exchange with an associate consultant: “Well, what do you think you would like to do here?” “Um, I like politics. I’m really familiar with New York politics.” That will draw a nod. “What really inspires you?” “Sorry?” “All of us in the office, we have something that just—just makes us tick.” He will wave a long arm in the direction of the ceiling, that place where all things that make people tick must come from. “Oh.” “Mine is labor relations. Working with unions. Labor-related protests and organizing are just incredibly compelling.” Expect an expectant look. “I like, um, education. I’m really familiar with education.” And finally, the telltale beam. “Great! We do some of that. When can you start working? And do you have any questions?” Happy to be offered a job, you will not think to ask at the time: so what do you actually do? When did you realize that this was what made you tick? But you will quickly become very good at asking other questions, when they sit you down in a conference room and tell you to answer the phones: “Advance Group, how can I direct your call?”
Brief Reports Brandon Seah
1. Suspicions of Starfish Suspicions of starfish brought us back to the waters off the oceanographic station in Bermuda, the place which Walter Garstang, borrowing the cadences of Tennyson, eulogized as the “…watch-tower of the Sargasso Sea! / Its coral cap twelve miles across, / On this one spot my treasure-house would be…” For us, it was literally a treasure trove waiting to be tapped. An expedition two years ago on the R/V North Wind IV had sampled animals from this very location. Back in the lab, one particular sample caught everyone’s attention. It was from a strikingly colored starfish - serum from their gonadal tissues was included in a standard biological activity screen, where we found that it had potent anti-proliferation activities against all the mammalian cell lines we tested it. The results were so dramatic that we ran it five times with all manner of control experiments just to make sure we weren’t imagining the result, or worse, that some kind of contaminant was spoiling our cell culture system. Out of all the compounds we had ever screened in our years of bioprospecting from literally every continent and coast, this one had the most potential as a drug for controlling tumorigenesis in cancer. It could make all our careers, and it could repay our venture capital several times over - if only we could get more serum to characterize the active substance. There were some unusual features, which we thought we could figure out in due time. At high concentrations, for example, it actually promoted proliferation and uncontrolled dedifferentiation. It caused fractal-like patterning of axonal branches when added to neuronal cell cultures. But that was irrelevant for now. We had to get more starfish, and figure out how to isolate the substance that was inhibiting the cancer cells. The starfish itself was difficult to identify, despite being so dramatic in appearance. Finally, a retired Smithsonian zoologist wrote to us, having seen the picture which we had privately circulated, stating that it was most likely a species which had only been collected once before in the 1870s by an Agassiz-led expedition. We found independent corroboration of this, and looked up the original description - although the atoll had remodeled somewhat over the years, the locality, as far as we could tell from the maps of the period, was almost exactly identical. The collector, one J.M. Hall, left no other notes or specimens. When we returned we brought along the one field biologist in the employ of our company, whom we all called Smithie. He was on the last expedition on the North Wind, and according to the collecting logs he was the one who picked up the starfish, even though he himself had no recollection of actually handling the animal. “It’s very odd,” he told us on the boat, while looking through the pictures in the file, “I would have thought that I would easily remember seeing something as colorful and charismatic as P. flabel latum.” The Harvard Advocate
Our small motorboat halted in seemingly open water. I looked over the gunwale and saw that it was teeming with life below. Corals like tinsellated boulders, fishes, worms, sea fans, and other creatures swarmed busily under us. “They’re supposed to be on the shaded faces of brain coral,” Smithie told us, pointing out a few possible spots to scan. The boatman puttered the engine and coasted us around slowly. “There!” Smithie gestured to him to turn towards where he was pointing. We came up alongside the coral boulder but it was just out of reach. Smithie leaned over and stuck his arm into the water, but the starfish was still too far away. There were so many of them, they seemed to be aggregating for some reason. The longer we looked the more we could see. It was a bonanza, an amazing haul if we could get even a fraction on board and on the dry ice we had carefully packed into a cooler. “This bloody thing is getting in my way.” Smithie took off his life jacket and passed it to me. It was at that point that I noticed his eyes were red. I watched as he stretched out again, but the boat tipped and he slid into the water, head first. The boatman and I caught his legs and started pulling him in, but it is surprisingly difficult to haul in someone who is not making any effort to save himself. He was completely still, arms half-floating, head completely submerged, barely a twitch. As we pulled, I tried grabbing his shirt and tugging him from there. But the water around his body started to become pink. Was he bleeding? My tugging twisted his body around and his face was turned towards me, and I could see that he was hemorrhaging from his eyes, ears, and nose. It wasn’t blood, though. It was the wrong color. The fluid was leaking at such a rate as to stain even the water lapping up against the hull. I pulled my hand out and found that it was coated in tiny pink spheres, like the eggs of a marine animal. I looked down to see if Smithie’s body was caught on something, and then we all saw it happen. The starfish were enveloping themselves in a milky white plume. It was mixing with the pink cloud that now surrounded our whole boat. They were spawning, and so was Smithie. Without a word we let him slip back into the water. 2. Hair My wife Sylvia passed me a square plate of glass, partly wrapped in thin yellowing paper, that was in the package she had just received in the mail from her cousin Emma. The paper was old and friable, so I gently pried it apart to pull out the glass. It was dark and smoky, and cracked diagonally across. There was something printed on its surface which I could not see clearly. I held it up at an angle to the light and was so startled by what I saw that I almost dropped it: an emaciated woman, eyes closed but with a permanently strained expression on her face, wearing a dress trimmed in lace, with long hair reaching down to her waist, lying on a cloth spread over a table in what seemed to be a parlor. It was a glass plate negative of a Victorian memento mori - a keepsake to remember the dead by. All the tones were inverted. The hair that should have been jet black was silvery white, as were the dress and the cloth. Her face was an eerie charcoal cast in this negative image. I set it down carefully on the remains of the paper wrapping. Sylvia was reading the letter that Emma had written and taped to the package. She chuckled, “I’m sorry, I should have read this first or you would have been spared the terrible shock. Emma says this is stuff from a decaying trunk in her attic, that her mother,” my wife’s Aunt Jennifer, whose funeral we had just attended a fortnight ago, “had left behind and she thought since I liked family history I should have. That woman in the picture is my great-great-grandmother, Maude. She was only 35 when she died.” The same age as Sylvia. I shuddered. “Here’s a locket which her husband kept with him all the time. Look at it, it’s got a lock of her hair in it. According to family lore this locket was brought over by Granny Maude’s own father when he made the crossing from Europe. One of the men in the family had found it on the field after a vicious battle in the 36
Napoleonic Wars, and pocketed it. So I guess it’s loot! That’s thrilling, isn’t it, dear?” “It’s kinda creepy, actually.” “Well, I’m gonna keep this on me. Did you know that Abner - that’s my great-great grandpa - never remarried? He raised his three kids all by himself. Never loved another woman. I’d like a love like that.” She smiled and pecked me on the cheek. “That’s some way to put pressure on a newlywed couple,” I kissed her back. Two weeks after the package arrived, Sylvia went to the hairdresser’s, who was surprised that she came in so soon after her last visit. Her bangs had grown out and started tickling her eyes, and she wanted to trim them again. Barely a week after that, they were starting to annoy her again. She pinned them aside with some hairpins, and decided to let it grow out long rather than go back three times in one month. It was surprising how fast it grew. From being around her neck it soon draped to her shoulders, and just kept growing and growing. She’d not had hair this long since college, and she had forgotten how heavy it was to carry it around. At the same time her appetite grew and she began eating almost as much as I did. I asked her one evening over dinner at home if she thought she might be pregnant, and she threw a fit because she thought I was saying she was getting fat from eating so much. But to the contrary, she was getting slimmer even as her hair grew in volume. Eventually Sylvia was trimming the ends herself in the bathroom every morning with a pair of kitchen scissors, just to keep it manageable. It would easily have reached to her waist otherwise. Surfing on the Internet for “what to do with lots of hair” she found out about the Locks of Love charity, and started sending her clippings to them. She was growing much less energetic, too. Walking would tire her. Her cheeks seemed hollower. She was hungry, so hungry, that she would snack almost continuously. My wife was wasting away, wrapped in a shroud of her own long hair. We finally went to see a doctor. “This is very strange,” the doctor said, “I’ve never seen anything like this before. It seems like the growth of your hair is sequestering all the metabolic resources of your body. That’s why you’re so hungry. That’s why it’s growing so fast. Let’s try fasting for a day or two. Do you think you can do it? That might stop the growth of hair and break the cycle. I’ll prescribe something to suppress the hunger pangs.” It didn’t work. Soon the amount she would have needed to eat was more than her gut could process. The hair was burning up her stored reserves, breaking down her flesh to make more of itself. It was not long before she had to be admitted for medical observation. Sylvia could barely speak now. I did not think the drips that went into her veins were of any use in sating that hunger which was consuming her. “It’s like a cancer – that’s the key to the one last shot we have at beating this,” the doctor said, “we’ll put her on a round of chemotherapy, and kill the active cells in her hair follicles.” Sylvia looked at me with fear and resignation mixed in her eyes. They were too weak to cry. I held her hand. She motioned to her neck. I kissed her, and saw the chain still around it. The locket. It was the locket. I unhooked it, pocketed it, and whispered in her ear, “I’m taking it away. It was this locket all along. It’s gone now, you’ll be okay.” She could barely nod in reply. The chemotherapy killed the hair, which fell away completely in less than a week. She made a brief recovery. The toxic shock was too much, though, for her weakened liver, and she died in the hospital. At the funeral parlor, I looked over her, at rest as if sleeping, in her bridal gown, which seemed to fill more of the coffin than her wisp of a body. I was startled to see a stubble of hair on her scalp and turned to the funeral director, who was beside me. He anticipated what I was going to ask, and said, “Don’t worry sir, it’s normal. The skin pulls back after death, and exposes more of the hair. It’s not really growing. If you wish, we can put a wig on her.” I looked at Sylvia again and dared not believe what he said. I put the locket in beside her body, and told the director, “No. Close the casket. Keep it closed the whole funeral and never open it again.” The Harvard Advocate
3. The Storyteller As a young student in the 1950s I was privileged to hear first-hand the famed pingtan storyteller, Zhang Daimin, whose version of the Alternative History of the Three Kingdoms (as opposed to the canonical Romance) was among the first recordings made in China on magnetic tape, a decade prior. He delivered his performance in a traditional teahouse (razed during the 1970s and now the site of an air-conditioned megamall) without any musical accompaniment, and with only a young boy in attendance to pour him innumerable cups of tea. Unlike most storytellers of the genre, his characterizations were not the most convincing or dramatic. There were others who could project a more martial Guan Yu, a more cerebral Zhuge Liang, a more calculating Cao Cao. What mesmerized us all were his long, rambling asides, in which he intimated to us revealing anecdotes about the personal lives of these characters - stories that were never committed to paper, but drawn forth seemingly from long personal acquaintance with each of these personages. He would talk about them as comfortably and even nostalgically as one would a long-lost comrade or childhood friend. He disappeared during the Cultural Revolution. Just before the violence became deadly, my grandfather sent me and my two cousins away to the coast, whence we were smuggled, via Macau, to Taiwan. Our family’s connection to the Whampoa Military Academy endangered us in the mainland, but found us protective patronage in the Republic. I was able to settle into a quiet, bookish existence on the outskirts of Taipei. Because of Zhang, one of my scholarly interests was the evolution of the art of the traditional storyteller. These performers could weave a tapestry of details out of the barest skeleton of a plot from an old promptbook. Being chiefly an oral art, these details were rarely recorded, and were either learnt from a past master or invented anew with each telling. Many storytellers borrowed anecdotes or the thematic elements of especially diverting plots from other artists, but Zhang was unique because he never seemed to borrow from anyone else. He claimed that he learnt all that he knew from his father, who had disappeared when he was just a child. I had always assumed that the little boy pouring tea for him was his son; I imagined that he would have been about the age his father was when he himself disappeared. My studies also brought me to the phonology of Middle Chinese. When I listened again to the recording of Zhang, I realized that what I had originally thought was the lilting Mandarin inflection of someone brought up speaking Cantonese was more akin to the articulation of someone habituated to long hours practising Middle Chinese trying to recover his lost Mandarin to function effectively in the modern world again. During the course of my research, I found a reference to a famous storyteller in my hometown during the waning years of the Yuan dynasty. I traced it to an unofficial gazetteer of 1387, written under a pseudonym (but by style attributable to the same retired official who wrote the actual gazetteer), that described uncanny and supernatural events that had occurred in the county over the past fifty years. One of the stories he recorded was of the storyteller Zhang Rong, who appeared in the town soon after the dynastic transition, explaining that he was the son of another famous storyteller who had been based there three decades before, Zhang Daimin. An old schoolteacher who went to listen to Zhang Rong could remember the stories told by his father (stories, incidentally, about the Three Kingdoms) and swore that the two were one and the same person. In terse, ambiguously classical prose, the chronicler reports that Zhang Rong replied to the schoolteacher, who was named Zhou: “The sameness [of him and his father] is the sameness of our story. My story is my memory [presumably Zhang Rong’s memory of his father, but the sentence could also be interpreted to mean that which he remembered of himself ].” I would not have worried too much about the coincidence of names - after all, there are millions of Zhangs and only so many words that are euphonious in a given name - had I not been told of a storyteller in his forties who had appeared in my hometown claiming to be the son of Zhang Daimin. His name was Zhang Rong. His specialty was the Alternative History of the Three Kingdoms, which he performed without accompaniment. 38
A photograph I was given showed him to look almost exactly as I remembered his father to be. I took the opportunity afforded by temporarily warming cross-strait relations to pay my first visit to my hometown since leaving it forty years ago. Zhang Rong was scheduled to perform at the megamall built over the old teahouse. The performance was part of a traveling show organized by the local Party’s culture bureau, and the acts before him included girls dressed in garish costumes balancing spinning bowls, and young children reciting Tang poems with earnest monotony. He finally came onstage, took a bow, and leaned forward to tell the audience about a conversation he had with Liu Bei, in the persona of the gardener who tended the peach trees in the garden of the famous Oath. Amplified by tinny portable speakers, his speech still had the same sing-song lisp that I remembered. The milling shoppers stopped to listen. But even the great storyteller was no match for the modern attention span. He abbreviated his story, leaving out many details that I remembered, and finished ten minutes later with the same crowd-teasing coda they all ended with: “and to know more about what he said, come back again for the next chapter.” He was politely applauded, and shuffled offstage to make way for three martial artists bearing ribboned spears. I pushed my way through the crowd to confront him. A stagehand passed him a bottle of mineral water, which he uncapped and sipped delicately. I called to him, “Zhang Daimin!” He turned around and faced me. Seeing my old, whiskered face, he smiled. “Old sir, it seems like you might have heard my father in his day. Is that correct?” “No, I heard you. I know who you are.” “My father taught me everything I know, sir. He taught me surreptitiously when we were in the country during the Cultural Revolution. I was born during his exile. People say we sound alike, because I grew up listening to the sound of his voice every day, and every night.” “Tell me, Zhang, do you remember Old Master Zhou? He was the schoolmaster at the Confucian Temple the last time you passed through this town. I know who you are, Zhang, I know.” “Yes, old sir,” he took on a soothing tone to his voice, “I remember Old Master Zhou. I told him exactly what I told you. The sameness of my father and me is the sameness of the story that we tell. My story is my memory of him, it is the memory that will remain of me.” 4. Tumor Fish Our fish was getting sick and we were sure that it was going to die. It was an ancient goldfish, almost as old as I was. When I was a year old, my favorite thing in the world was a densely illustrated poster of the freshwater fishes of the world. The origins of the poster, like that of all childhood totems, were unclear, but it happened to be taped to the side of an old bookshelf in my playroom, and I would sit in front of it for hours on end, babbling and pointing and staring at the closely stippled pictures. As my parents told it, they were worried that I would somehow lose my humanity by being fixated so strongly on an inanimate object - so they got me a real live fish to stare at, and put it right in front of the poster. A quarter-century later, it was still staring back at me, in its fifth tank since that first September. It outgrew the first two, the third broke, and the fourth was too big for the furniture we bought when Shirley and I moved into our new apartment. I set up the new tank in our living room, and Shirley insisted that we put up the fish poster behind it again “to keep the fish company.” By then, most of its golden glimmer was lost. Only flecks of color remained at the edges of its scales, like glazed counter-top tiles that have become worn down by too much scrubbing. The fish (I never gave it a name) was pouty, and had a knobbly head. We first noticed the symptoms (apart from its general decline over the years) when one of those knobs started swelling well beyond something decent, and it began to list towards the side of its tumor. To be honest, I wasn’t too upset that it was dying. I wasn’t the sort to be sentimental: when I moved out, I junked most of my childhood things, because my parents wanted to rent the room out. Shirley, though, The Harvard Advocate
was upset that I wasn’t more upset. “So if I were dying you wouldn’t be beat up about it?” “That’s not true. I’d be very sad if you were dying. But you’re not dying, the fish is.” “That’s precisely what I’m talking about. You’re ignoring it; you don’t want to confront the fact that people die.” “I’m not ignoring it - I’ve already accepted the fact that it’s dying. And it’s not people, it’s a fish.” In the end, I conceded the point. We set up a camera in front of the tank to take a picture of the fish each day, and planned to assemble those pictures into some sort of album or memorial. Those pictures would effectively be a memento mori, except that it wasn’t dead yet while we were snapping the pictures, and frankly that seemed more morbid than sentimental to me. Because we were compiling this album, I started to pay closer attention to the appearance of the tumor on its head, and thereby noticed the curious turn that its growth was taking. As it swelled, the growth became less a mere bulge than an appendage, and the scales covering it were new and deeply colored, but with a peculiar array of small black dots. This was the same golden orange that I remembered from the early days, when we were both much younger. The pattern of the new scales was distinct from that of the old, and where the two joined, the difference in color and imbrication looked almost like a seam. A week or so later I noticed a shift in the eye that sat just below the tumor. The downward pressure of the growth had first forced that eye to droop, but now it was looking upwards again. Within the span of a day, between the photograph we took on a Saturday and the one we took on Sunday, it then traveled an inch upwards and now sat in the middle of the lump. Simultaneously, the skull was caving in, as the tumor kept on expanding. The old fish was disappearing as a new one was being made. The fish struggled for a month as the other eye, then the gills, and then all the fins moved over to the new territory. The transposition of its fins was the most curious step, because it was unable for those few days to swim in any semblance of a straight line. Eventually, the old fish was nothing more than a whitish lump on the head of the new. That too soon disappeared. We put the camera away. Shirley was horrified by the fish now and refused to even come into the room, so I had to move the tank to a corner of my cramped study. When I came back to remove the fish poster that was still on the backing wall, I finally noticed on it what I should have recognized all along: the common goldfish Carassius auratus auratus. Our reborn goldfish was a picture-perfect copy.
After his father died, he started telling people he had to go somewhere, when he actually had nowhere to be. “Sorry,” George would say, “but I’m late. I really—I just have to go.” Then he would sit on the steps of Butler library, not really watching the people and not reading or anything. If people noticed the lies, they didn’t say anything. He had expected they would ask where he was going or why he was going, but no one did. They just said goodbye, they just watched him turn to leave, a little slouch in his step, which might well have been a compensation for his height. He stopped shaving, but his beard was patchy at best and it itched. All the time, he wanted to scratch his face, but sitting on the steps of the library he didn’t do anything about it. Sometimes, he had his organic chemistry textbook in his lap, but he didn’t really open it. He just sort of put his fingers in between the pages, like he wanted to remember an important passage. He did this on the subway home too, and sometimes an old lady would say to him, “studying to be a doctor?” Sometimes he would lie. He would say yes. He would say I go to Columbia Medical School. But that wasn’t true. Most of the time he would say, “not yet.” Maybe the woman would wish him luck, or maybe she would turn back to her mystery novel. He was the sort of boy older women liked to sit next to on the subway. They could loosen their hold on their bags when he was around—even now, when he was growing this patchy beard and looked kind of silly with his glasses sliding down his nose, maybe especially now. And when he got home, to the house, with the yard being mowed by the kid next door, and his mom packing everything up in that way she had of never inhaling, but always exhaling—an endless sigh. She said, “We’re moving to 168th and Broadway.” And his older brother, Bruce, didn’t say anything, except to remind everyone that that was more convenient for him, anyway, and he was only staying in the house now because of what had happened. Their sister cried for a long time even though she already had her own husband and her own baby and her own home, which looked like an overgrown gingerbread house plopped in the middle of the suburbs and always smelled like too much rice—because that was all she knew how to make anyway. She sat in the blue living room in their childhood home sobbing, and her baby just sort of sat on the fresh wall-to-wall carpeting and then their mother just said, “okay now,” several times. George didn’t say anything while this was happening. He just sat at the dining room table, with the brown boxes all around him, pretending to study organic chemistry. This bond works like this, he would say aloud and maybe Bruce would tell him to go get batteries from the grocery store, maybe Bruce would call him a pussy. The Harvard Advocate
George met a girl in his summer course named Anna who liked to eat quiet foods during class— berries, soft carrots. Anna’s food never crunched or anything, and George was amazed by how she could take this quiet food out of her bag completely silently—no rustling, suddenly it was just there and she was eating it, still taking notes. He wondered if Anna ate quiet food all the time, or just in class, and so he asked her if she wanted to go see Henry IV, Part I in Central Park and she finished her carrot and said, “okay, yeah, I guess.” They had to skip class that day, and sit in the park starting very early in the morning because the tickets were free, but you had to wait a long time to get them. He brought a big yellow blanket from home and some bagels, and she got coffee because—she told him—she lived on the Upper West Side anyway, so it wasn’t that far for her really. George tried to drink the coffee like he drank it all the time, but Anna could tell probably, he thought. She smiled and asked him about his beard. When had he started growing it? “Two months ago,” he said. Anna asked him if he had flunked his regular organic chemistry class, the one he had been taking at school, and he said no that something had just gotten in the way, you see, and he hadn’t had a chance to finish it up. Anna said that she had flunked hers, and her mother said that she should probably just be a nurse. Then it started to drizzle a little bit and they moved farther under a tree, but still on the path, still in line, and George put his arm around her and kissed her for a little while and she said, “it tickles.” After the play, when he was walking her back home, he asked her about the silent eating in class, and she said that in her house they always ate quiet foods, that if you dropped a fork while you were eating people all the way on East End probably heard it. Then she kissed him, and went upstairs to her apartment, and George noticed the doorman looking at him so he smiled and got on the subway, back home. When he got home George wanted to tell his brother about the quiet eating girl, but his brother said, “I’m not Bruce. I’m Mr. Smith” just like he did when they were kids and their parents went out and maybe he asked Bruce to turn off the TV and Bruce would suddenly lower his voice and get all glassy-eyed and say that he wasn’t his brother at all. “You’re an asshole, Bruce,” George said. “I’m not Bruce,” his brother said again. “Bruce is in the closet. I stuffed Bruce in the closet.” “You’re twenty-three fucking years old, Bruce.” “Who’s Bruce?” he said, opening his eyes wide. “You go to fucking Columbia Medical School, Bruce.” “Bruce is dead,” he said. “I’m Mr. Smith.” And for a second, in their silent house, with their mother pretending to be asleep in the room next door, George almost believed that his brother was suffocating in the closet. “You still look like a pussy when you’re scared,” said Bruce, being Bruce again. And then, “so she only eats quiet foods, huh?” “Not quiet. Silent.” Bruce didn’t say anything. “You know, you can’t say things like pussy when you’re a doctor,” George said. “Just to you,” Bruce said, and then he got into bed and turned out the lights even though George hadn’t even taken his shoes off yet. Later that summer, they moved to 168th street, to a two bedroom apartment with a living room and no dining room and maybe, if you stood in the kitchen at 7 a.m. you could get some natural light— that’s what the realtor who rented the apartment said, except she put it like “there’s such nice morning light, in the kitchen.” 42
But even after they had moved, sometimes without really noticing, George took the subway and then the train and then he was back in Long Island, in front of their house that wasn’t their house anymore. But it was never then that he thought about it, thought about how his father just collapsed about to give Mrs. Katzenstein a root canal, how he had been up at school and Bruce had called him real quiet and said that he should come home fast, just take the train. “What?” George had said, holding the payphone really close to his ear in the hallway, with his roommate behind him in line to call his mother about wiring him some more money. And George had told his roommate to shut up already, he was trying to listen but his brother was uncharacteristically quiet and just said that he should, he should take the train, which—of course—he did. It wasn’t then, standing in front of the house that wasn’t his, that had been sold to an Indian family who were making spicy smelling foods, that George thought about how the payphone had felt kind of soft in his hand, or about how his sister was probably still crying all the time in her gingerbread house, trying to learn to cook something that wasn’t rice. It was the moment when he told people that he had to go, that he had somewhere to be. It was then that he couldn’t help but think, or maybe he left because he was already thinking. He thought about his mother sitting in the kitchen light, searching The New York Times for a new place to be a dental assistant. He thought about how she could think about so many things at once, how she could turn away real quiet and make these lists in her novels every night before she went to bed. One: unpack boxes. Two: buy new dress for interview. Three: shovel snow, and then she crossed that one out because it wasn’t winter and they didn’t have a driveway anymore. George didn’t know about the novel lists until he and Bruce were unpacking boxes, and he was flipping through his mother’s copy of The Idiot and he found one. One: update address book. Two: file insurance claim. Three: pluck eyebrows. “Isn’t it weird the way she writes out the numbers?” George said. Bruce just said that their mom was like that, but George opened up all the novels and saw that they each had lists in them. “Isn’t it weird that there aren’t any dates? That she doesn’t date them?” George said. “Yeah,” said Bruce. “That’s definitely the thing that’s weird about this.” And there were so many “ths” in his mouth that he kind of stuttered when he said it. “Do you think,” asked George, more quiet than usual, “do you think she would make the list before or after she and dad…before or after they’d…you know?” George thought that Bruce might punch him or call him a pussy, but instead he said: “After. Definitely after.” But really, what George thought about, what he was always thinking about, even as he was watching Anna eat her quiet foods in class, was Mrs. Katzenstein. Mrs. Katezenstein just waiting to have a root canal in that big white office chair, with the smell of dentist office all around her, and the quiet hum of the waiting room right outside the door, and his mom typing up bills in the next room, and that extra silence of the now-empty house which cradled the office, where maybe, five or six years ago, you would’ve heard Bruce and George fighting about who should take the trash out downstairs. Mrs. Katzenstein didn’t walk by their house now, ever. But if she did she might’ve seen George standing there, smelling the Indian family’s dinner. Mrs. Katzenstein might’ve called out. She might’ve said: George! George! This won’t hurt Mrs. Katzenstein, his father probably said, right before he died. Trust me, Mrs. Katzenstein. You won’t feel a thing.
The Harvard Advocate
It looks just like a real dugout at first, until you notice certain things: the donkeys out in left, the patio where the mental outpatients sit, asking why you’re not allowed to kick the ball when it comes your way. The outpatients live in the psychiatric facility behind the third-base line, next to the stable sitting in homerun territory. Behind home plate is a refugee asylum, where little Eastern-European children ride tricycles out of their sandboxes toward the bleachers when there are games. One of the players brings a blowup tent that he puts over the stands, and there’s a plastic sign somewhere: Ballpark PZ Hard Embrach, 44
home of the Embrach Mustangs, second-best semiprofessional baseball team in Switzerland. It’s a perfect dugout, even if it is above ground. A banner hanging from the top says in garish font: Home of the Embrach Rainbows. (No longer the organization’s name—there was a change after the Americans on the team explained the insinuation— but old habits die hard). The bench inside is splinterfree; the section closer to home plate has bunkers for helmets and gloves. The concrete floor is spitted with sunflower seeds, happily strewn. You can pretend that you’re in some forgotten corner of America
where this plot of land was all that was left to build a baseball field on. You can overlook everything, the bumps at third base, the soccer goal in center—but it’s impossible to glance toward the first-base line and ignore the conspicuous lack of an away-team dugout. Baseball stopped being America’s urban game many years ago, overtaken by basketball and football. In inner city fields, in Boston and New York, Los Angeles and Austin, dugouts lie overgrown and neglected, filled with beer cans and shadows. Some dugouts are left without even a bench to sit on: just a little chain-link fence, no canopy to protect from the sun. Without fail, however, there will be two—one dugout for one side, one for the other. Because baseball is a symmetrical game. It’s why people don’t mind paying twenty dollars for a cheap seat thirty stories up—from there the diamond is laid out for you in all its night-game splendor. Baseball’s a fair sport, too. Everybody gets the same number of outs, and the home team has to stay until the away team’s done, no matter how long it takes. There are rules on how hot or cold you’re allowed to keep the balls you use in games, so no one has an advantage. Which is why it’s just not baseball, just not right, simply unsportsmanlike and downright un-American, to have no dugout for the visiting team. It’s something I never feel confident enough even to joke around about with Roger, our Swiss coach, ace pitcher and roofer-by-day, who discovered baseball at nineteen while on holiday in New York. He’s been pitching ever since. Everyone knows the legend of how he got three wins in a weekend, pitching three complete games. The day we played the Therwil Flyers, European Cup finalists and kings of Swiss baseball, he threw nine innings after spilling boiling tar on his forearms. He explained to us while we were stretching that you have to just let it cool on your arm, otherwise you’ll take the skin off along with the tar. People that competitive don’t necessarily care much about the physical comfort of the opposing team. No one else seemed to find the missing dugout odd either. True, one day while playing Bern in a near-constant downpour, our right-fielder ran to his car for umbrellas to lend to the Cardinals so they could keep their gear dry. But this was Carly, Australian-born, who shouted God Dahmmit after he
struck out, and he wasn’t quite Swiss anyway, though he’d lived here all his life. Switzerland is not an obvious tourist hotspot, unless it’s for financial transactions or enjoyment of the country’s physical beauty—the lakes that reach fingers out to mountains scraping snowy tops toward the clouds. The lifestyle blends with the outdoors. In Zurich there are no prohibitions against outdoor drinking, so the lakeside grass fills up with all agegroups, day and night, swimming next to sailboats when it’s hot enough and setting off candle-powered balloons in the dark. The summertime Street Parade brings millions to Zurich’s streets, which grow crowded with truck-drawn floats pumping trance music for hundreds of gyrating bodies. There are city-government tents scattered around where you can get drugs checked for safety. But look in the newspaper the next morning, and you won’t see any incidents of knifings or late-night assaults. The streets are swept clean by noon. Baseball in Switzerland conforms to Swiss principles. Nowhere else in the world, probably, do baserunners slide into second with their spikes politely down, to avoid injury to players from opposing teams.
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23:8!Dbncsjehf!Tusffu!! jo!uif!ifbsu!pg!Jonbo!Trvbsf The Harvard Advocate
After a game when some of our American players got into a good-natured trash-talking match with the Barracudas’ second-baseman, our coach received an email from the opposing coach saying that he should really talk to those unruly players, that such conduct reflected badly on them and the team as a whole. Still, there is something very Swiss about the awaydugout situation that is more revealing than neutrality and chocolate. They are a people who like things the way they are, on the left side of the infield or behind their portion of the mountains. If you don’t like it, you really will get out. Here, the visiting teams are visitors, made to feel not entirely at home—squatting in front of bleachers with their fans and supporters and bags of belongings. That attitude makes sense in a country where it takes twelve years to become a citizen, where you can give birth to a daughter who will never be Swiss, though Switzerland is the land her feet first touched. There is a marked separation between in and out, between foreign and not, in a place that doesn’t allow minarets in the same cities where Zwingli once pounded on vaunted, unornamented Grossmunster pulpits.
But baseball is baseball, wherever you go. People make errors on ground balls hit right to them, batting practice takes place two hours before gametime, teams sit on the sidelines while they watch the rain on the field. Seasons are won and lost. The smell of pine tar mixes with the smoke from the sausages on the grill. Baseball is apolitical. Teammates from Cuba talk about the price of beer in Berlin with Austrian nationals who’ve lived here all their lives. Switzerland has been the happy home of the Swiss National Baseball League—a vibrant, pulsing group of Americans, Dominicans, Germans, year-after-college-students, itinerant bums—for forty years, even though baseball is anything but a homegrown sport. And besides, what does the lack of one dugout say about a national character—how can you characterize a country, city to city, farm to farm, on the basis of a sports construction? Maybe they ran out of money before building the second. There’s the business of the name, the Rainbows. How many American dugouts, even if there were two of them, would have Rainbows painted across one top? It’s still there, on the Embrach dugout, the Swiss team-members refusing to take it down or paint it over. They like telling the story of how the Rainbows got their name; it goes like this: It was a hot day out in Embrach, one of the ones where you wear only a T-shirt to take infield before the game starts. The sort where you carry two pairs of socks and change them before the first pitch, wringing the water out of the dirty pair. It was a big game, vs. the Flyers, and the whole Embrach baseball community was out—the friends and family, the refugees kicking soccer balls in their compound, the outpatient who was our biggest fan who told us the scores of all the games in the country, the donkeys out in left. It was a close game until the seventh when a light rain started, and the Flyers put together three runs, on the basis of some bunt-hits and stolen bases. The bottom of the ninth came and Embrach’s cleanup hitter was up, with three men on, two out, a fastball on the upper outside corner, when the rain stopped, and--you understand. Under this sign conquer. The name was changed last year after a competition. Mustangs won out over Jets. Still, it doesn’t have the same ring.
Special Thanks The Harvard Advocate wishes to thank the following generous individuals for their support of our activities during the 2010-2011 academic year. They have made it possible for The Advocate to remain committed to publishing the best literature and art that the Harvard campus has to offer, four times each year. The contributions of the following individuals have not only supported the printing of our magazine, but have also made it possible for The Advocate to further our mission of promoting the arts on campus. Last year, our building at 21 South Street was home to a host of literary and artistic events, including visits from Jeffrey Eugenides, Denis Johnson, Forrest Gander, and several members of Wilco, to name only a few, as well as several concerts featuring local artists. We have expanded the Advocate’s presence in the neighborhood with a Community Outreach Program, offering a creative writing workshop run by our own members in a local homeless shelter. Advocate members have helped facilitate the creative writing curriculum of a second and third grade classroom at the William Blackstone Elementary School in the South End in Boston. We look forward to your continued support as we begin work on our upcoming winter issue, themed “Blueprint.” PATRONS David L. Klein Foundation, John Ebey, David Self, Anonymous BENEFACTORS The Meehan Family, H. Greg Moore, Glenn Schwetz, Anonymous DONORS Anonymous FRIENDS Mary Ellen Burns, Ann Eldridge, Jamie and Bobbie Gates, Jessica Henderson, Walt Hunter, Robert Johnston, Taro Kuriyama, Anthony Pino, Gregory Scruggs, Emery Younger Your contributions have supported the creation of our new website (www.theharvardadvocate.com), including features like video hosting and online subscribing. We are dedicated to improving and extending our web presence by expanding the breadth of the back catalog of issues available for purchasing and viewing online. However, digital development can be costly and, as we pursue this project of digital expansion, your contributions to The Harvard Advocate are more valuable than ever. Please consider supporting The Harvard Advocate! All gifts to The Harvard Advocate endowment fund are fully tax deductible according to 501(c)(3) non-profit donation guidelines. Gifts will be acknowledged in the four issues following receipt according to the giving categories of Patron ($1000 and over), Benefactor ($500 and over), Donor ($200 and over), and Friend ($50-$199). Contributors will receive a complimentary year’s subscription to the magazine. Checks should be made out to “Trustees of The Harvard Advocate.” Envelopes may be mailed to 21 South Street, Cambridge, MA 02138. Please email email@example.com with any inquiries regarding gifts to The Harvard Advocate. Thank you for helping to support Mother Advocate. The Harvard Advocate
contributors’ notes MATT AUCOIN is pastoral-comical and scene individable. MARK CHIUSANO can dance, sort of. MOLLY DEKTAR wants to be your friend. In 2040 EVA DELAPPE will build a house made of trampolines. ERIK FREDERICKSEN like(s) fields. JULIAN GEWIRTZ is the brother of Alec Gewirtz. SOFIA ERGAS GROOPMAN is a very good dancer. STEPHANIE NEWMAN hangs facts in the air as decorations. IRINA ROZOVSKY is a photographer between Boston and New York. Her book One to Nothing will be published by Kehrer Verlag 2011. She has been a Photography Teaching Assistant in VES since 2006. MATT SAUNDERS is a Visiting Lecturer on Visual and Environmental Studies. BRANDON SEAH is a pseudonym. GEORGIA STASINOPOULOS didn’t think twice, the second time around. SARA J. STERN is making a list.
The harvard advocate
vol. 146 No.1
The editors of The Harvard Advocate are pleased to announce that our annual special issue for 2011 will be themed “Blueprint.” In the issue, undergraduate work will be published alongside work by members of the broader literary and arts community. The content will examine several facets of the Blueprint theme, including explorations of design and architecture, lists, maps, manifestos, plans, works-in-progress, et cetera. To learn how to order an issue or for information on how to submit poetry, art, ﬁction, or non-ﬁction features, visit www.TheHarvardAdvocate.com.
The Fall 2010 Issue of The Harvard Advocate