Emanuel at Yale

Emanuel at Yale

Lowell High School is considered one of the best public high schools in the United States. Without any doubt it maintains that status because the large number of Asian Americans who study there. These students are the children of hard working Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Vietnamese parents who came to the United States and put the highest value on education for their children. Those immigrants are now starting to send their children to schools like University of California, Berkeley, Stanford and increasingly (but not so much in 1983) to Yale, Harvard and Princeton.

I was a product of a previous generation. My father was the ambitious young man from a middle class Jewish family, his father was a pharmacist who was able to enter Yale through his remarkable academic ability. By the time I arrived at Yale, there were already plenty of people like me around with similar backgrounds. I was no longer the first generation to make the leap into the establishment. I was the second generation after that leap had been made.

At the same time, I was not old money. Yale’s core has been, and still is, WASP (White Anglo Saxon Protestants) who have been at the center of power for the last two hundred years. Yale is a university with a strong orientation towards England. The museums at Yale focus primarily on English Art and the study of English history is most popular. The Yale Center for British Art is one of the great collections on campus. If not England, than France, Germany and Italy are of interest to Yale undergraduates and graduate students. Asia was very far away place from the Yale that I entered in 1983. There was a Yale in China program, but it was a novelty. Yale undergraduates saw learning about China an amusing aside in their education. Few indeed were serious about learning the language.

My father had gone to Yale and I had a multi-generational relationship with that institution. Yet I was far from feeling at home in Yale culture for other reasons than the study of East Asia. Many of the students that I met were from established WASP families and they kept a certain distance from me. Part of the problem was perhaps that I was off the established track at Yale. I was not heading towards becoming a lawyer, or a banker or a doctor.

Yale is a smaller university than Harvard or Stanford, or even Princeton. Founded in 1701, it has concentrated on educating a small elite group of students. Graduates of Yale are often deeply committed to the institution. Yale is without any doubt the best undergraduate education in the United States. Yet it is not a broad education. I do not think I could have found a better environment anywhere else to learn how to think. Yale is famous for its drama school, its school of architecture and its school of Law. The sciences are well covered, but they are not an overwhelming power on campus, as was the case at University of Illinois. The attractive campus of Yale features gothic buildings covered with ivy and quiet courtyards that makes for a most enjoyable walk. Walking around campus and enjoying the changes in season was one of my great pleasures at Yale.

Each student at Yale is assigned a “residential college.” The residential dormitory is not simply a dormitory 기숙사 .The residential colleges have long histories dating back to the 1920s when they were established, modeled on the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge. There are different personalities to the residential colleges and the designs and motifs of the buildings vary. If you meet a fellow 동창 the first thing you will ask is “which college were you in.” In fact most friends of mine at Yale were from Davenport College.

When my father went to Yale in 1955, most residential colleges were closed to all but the members of privileged families. In fact, when my father started in 1955, it was the first time in Yale University history that a lottery was used to assign some of the students from middle class families to the more elite residential colleges like Davenport College. My father as a middle class Jewish boy from Brooklyn was assigned to Davenport College randomly as part of the great post-war equalization of American society. The residential colleges have suites with multiple rooms. Now we have five roommates together, but originally those extra rooms were for the servants of student. A student like my father had never been assigned to Davenport College before, the most exclusive and WASP of the Yale Colleges. Both George W. Bush, President of the United States 2001-2009 and George H. W. Bush, President 1989-1993, were residents in Davenport College. And, because of the decision to assign students by lottery, my father Peter Pastreich entered Davenport College in 1955, and so did I in 1983.

Before I arrived at the campus, I spent a few days with my father’s family in New York City getting adjusted to the East Coast culture. I had a fascination with the East Coast in high school and had a map of Manhattan on the wall of my room. But I also made a special trip out to see my mother’s cousin, Uncle Charlie, who lived in New Jersey. Uncle Charlie worked at an engineer at Bell Labs at the height of their technological expertise worldwide. When I arrived at their neat house in suburban New Jersey, he showed me with great pride the trans-Atlantic cables he had designed in the 1960s. None of them are in use today. Like my mother, Uncle Charlie had come to the United States to take advantage of the tremendous opportunities that the country offered.

Uncle Charlie had a son also who was quite driven to succeed. That son had attended Yale and done well. But he had been involved in a gathering his freshman year at which he and friends consumed some drugs. Charlie’s son died as a result. Uncle Charlie never mentioned his son when I talked to him, but I could tell that there were volumes to be told about his son who went to Yale, but never graduated. The cost of going to Yale in terms of pressures and tension can be very high indeed.

I had five roommates at Yale my freshman year. Jason Reese, a future businessman who was best known as a lacrosse athlete. Steve Podos, a pre-med from New York, Kenneth Bernstein, a political science major who went on to play a major role in Los Angeles City policy and Jefferson Mays, a history major who has become an important professional actor.

We lived in a suite of rooms in the basement of the Davenport residential college. Jeff and I shared a room and the other students had their own, slightly smaller, rooms adjacent. Jeff and I were fast friends. I am not sure what bit of luck it was, but my best friend at Yale happened to be my roommate from the very first day. In fact I sat out in front of our dormitory the first day with Jeff and his family drinking lemonade and we were good friends. We are still quite close, although we do not see each other as much these days. Jeff was an extraordinary actor who would go on to win several awards as a professional actor. He loved to draw and write, and we were constantly making up stories to amuse each other and everyone else who was interested.

Early on in our time at Yale, Jeff and I broke into the Davies Mansion, an abandoned house far out to the West of Yale University. We climbed up to the top of its tower. We were gleefully watching the whole city when we saw a police car coming right down the street towards us. The police car was most likely out on a routine patrol, but we feared we would be arrested and ran away.

We also enjoyed wandering around in Yale’s massive Sterling Library, exploring every path and back hall of one of the world’s great libraries. One day, Jeff and I went down deeper and deeper in the basement, past rows of books and reading rooms. We came to a door that was blocked and we could not open. We pushed and pushed and pushed and at last it burst open. We found ourselves in the middle of the underground café of the library with the fire alarm blaring and a hundred students staring at us. We had burst through a secure fire door without knowing it. I said to Jeff in French “Qu’est que on va faire” (what are we going to do now), as if somehow speaking in French would reduce the humiliation because those watching us could not understand.

We climbed up in Battell Chapel, next to our dormitory. Battell Chapel had a substantial tower made of stone that looked out over the city of New Haven. We climbed that tower in secret through a door we had uncovered in our exploration of the campus. We lit candles, imagining we were exploring a haunted house. We made up our own rituals and created our own traditions. You see, at Yale there have been powerful secret clubs for a long time. We were obviously not members. But we did enjoy creating our own little secret club of two.

In the early morning on our first Yale autumn, we adventured out into the broad Hillhouse Avenue, and climbed over the wall into the Grove Street Cemetery. We admired the handsome brownstone graves and a delicate carved angel before hurrying along to have a cup of coffee at Yankee Doodle, a local café that has been there for many years. I came to enjoy meeting the local people of New Haven at the Yankee Doodle Café more and more.

Our roommate Ken could be rather difficult, whining at us all the time for making too much noise, and spending all his time studying without any social interaction with us. We played a series of little pranks on him to relax a bit. One day Ken announced to all of us that he had received a birthday cake from his parents that he was placing in the refrigerator. He told us that we were not to touch his birthday cake. Jeff and I immediately took the birthday cake and hid it in the refrigerator of a friend. We then bought some brownies at the local café and brought them back. I broke up the cookies, smeared them on the plates and left the plates littered around the room. Some of the cake’s silver wrapping was placed next to the empty box on the floor. Ken returned from his studies and was deeply shocked by this scene. He rushed around yelling at us, “I can’t believe you did that!”  We then revealed that in fact his precious cake was untouched. We all broke out laughing and sat down to enjoy the real cake together.

One day, bored with my studies, I wandered into the laundry room employed by all the students in Davenport College. There was a tremendous pile of clothes that had been abandoned there. I took all of them back with him to my room. Working together with Jeff, we built a person in 30 minutes. We sewed the pants together with a shirt and stuffed them with clothes. We added shoes and gloves, and put a white plastic bag on top for a head. We drew a face on the plastic bag and placed a hat on top. We then told everyone that we had a new roommate named “Howard.” We placed Howard in various places in our room, and throughout the dormitory over the next few days, and acted as if he were a real person.

One night, Ken was being particularly difficult. We seized the opportunity. Jeff dressed me up as Howard. I put on Howard’s clothes and even put a plastic bag over my head. Then I lay down on the floor in front of Ken’s room. Jeff knocked on the door and said to Ken, “Howard wants to talk to you.” Ken was just irritated. He came out of the room and looked with distain at the dummy lying on the ground. At that very moment, I jumped up and seized Ken. Ken was petrified for a moment as the dummy came to life. He soon recovered and we laughed about it. Slowly, through these pranks, we grew closer.

One day Jeff and I came home to find Ken on the couch acting very strangely. He talked in a manner that made no sense and he seemed to be deeply intoxicated. We had never seen Ken drink and we were deeply worried. We tried to get him to come with us to the hospital, but he fought us off. The whole situation seemed so terribly wrong that we grew quite worried. Then other students from Davenport College rushed into our dorm to get a glimpse. They smiled and giggled.  Jeff and I were angry that they could laugh about something so serious. And then we discovered what the other students knew all along. Ken was not drunk at all. He was pretending to be drunk and we had been completely fooled.

Jeff played pranks on me as well. One time, he made a long tape of about thirty minutes and surreptitiously placed it in my closet. The first fifteen minutes of the tape were blank, followed by a recording of malevolent whispers and laughter which built in frequency and volume. I was hard at work studying when this weird ghost in my closet started to make those strange sounds. It was a terrifying experience for me indeed.

Jeff and I also arranged several social gatherings for our friends to discuss current issues, literature and art. The meetings were always advertised in a rather unusual, even shocking manner. We had a meeting which we advertised as “The Lizard is your Friend” and another one “Emanuel says, ‘Help save me from my paranoid room.’” We would bring our friends for drinks, for conversations, and occasionally for little plays that Jeff and I had put together.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: