(An ongoing series for the month of January, these are letters written to my family and friends during my college years in New York, when I discovered my love of writing. Introduction here.)
wednesday night at eight o’clock, the entire freshman architecture class filed into the lobby of the third floor. one was missing from among us — the first dropout, a chinese student named wei chang who had decided that architecture wasn’t for him. thirty-eight faces stood silently, waiting. the cube lay in pieces on its base; eight pre-assembled joints and twelve beams, each labeled at the ends with a numbering system that would facilitate assembly. hours and hours of work had been put into cutting, sanding and drilling the pieces — for the second time, after the first attempt failed last week. this round, there had been a “foreman,” as he was affectionately referred to by the professors — adrian, whose natural leadership skills were evident when he took over without stepping on anybody’s toes.
the two woman professors circled the crowd, wielding video cameras, and recorded our actions (for future laughs, probably.) our drawings were pinned up all over the walls together with the blood, sweat and tears that went into them; our models of various joints stood beneath them, the metal glittering under the fluorescent lighting and the wood smooth and straight. their extensions jutted out at ninety-degree angles, like tentacles of an extremely tense octopus. we all felt the seriousness and gravity of the situation, but an atmosphere of lightheaded giddiness prevailed. after months of work, we had arrived at a conclusion, and that conclusion was about to rise up thirteen feet in the air.
adrian broke the silence. “okay,” he said simply, and moved forward. we began lifting the pre-assembled joints and setting them down, finding the matching beams and fitting them into place. two boys took charge of electric screwdrivers and began drilling, as students on both ends pushed against each other to ensure that the screws went in straight. it went like clockwork — like any good cast of actors, we had rehearsed this. we finished the first square and lifted it high, rotating it and placing it against the wall. adrian stood at the back,
yelling instructions: “higher! higher! okay, slowly … slowly … ” we finished the second one and began attaching the squares together with the last four beams. finally, finally we gathered around and lifted the massive structure, rotating it onto the corner and sliding it into the hinges that were bolted to the base. then we let go, slowly, reluctantly loosing our hold on the object that had become so important to us. we stood back and looked. the cube rested on one corner, eight and a half feet to each side, quivering ever so slightly in recovery from our touches. then it was still. we regarded it with wonder — the product of two and a half months of sketches, drawings, ideas, models large and small, and many frustrations. we had become real students — students who stayed in the studio often on friday and saturday nights, students who fell asleep during drawing crits because they had stayed up all night working, students who knew how to work together and still retain their individuality. we didn’t know whether to laugh, or cry, or run screaming from the room. we just stood.
and then professor abraham, the scary, intimidating professor abraham, the one who hadn’t yet burned any of our models or threatened to kick some of us out just because the class was too large (although these might come later) began clapping furiously. we all joined in, hooting and hollering like junior-high delinquents, releasing the tension and nervousness of the past few weeks in an applause that was like a giant sigh of relief.
after the exhilarating experience of erecting the cube, we had the new assignment to look forward to. it involved dealing with the space inside the cube — “interventions” in the space that didn’t touch the cube. even more abstract and art-like than our last assignment, but i think it will be even more fun. our group underwent a change, as well; after several uncomfortable confrontations, we decided that it would be better for all concerned if the third member of our group, raphael (that’s “haahtbeat” to all of you), went his separate way. raquel and i will continue to work together, though. we’ve already filled pages of our sketchbooks with ideas for the next phase of the project.
i had the experience of coming down from my weekend high at home, which wouldn’t have been nearly so bad had i not contracted a virus while riding home on the greyhound. not a pleasant experience. it was good, though, to unpack all of my new stuff and get re-settled in my homey little apartment with my friends. i realized i had missed them.
it has gotten colder and colder in the city. adding to the confusion is the fact that my apartment is always very hot, so often i dress for much warmer weather than is present. as my dad so wisely put it when i was at home last weekend: “the secret to keeping warm is LAYERS.” he had stood holding a jacket in one hand and a polar fleece in the other, with that father-knows-best look on his face. i listened meekly as he explained the geothermic reactions that caused body heat to be trapped under layers of clothing, and why it was the superior method of dressing. *after* this lecture, he explained that the coats were for me … i had thought that maybe he just felt it necessary to give me a sermon because i wouldn’t be around for awhile to hear one. :)
well, mom, you remember how you worried about the type of company i’d be keeping while living among the baser forms of humankind? i’m glad to report that i’m becoming friends with “naked bill”, the resident nude model. after hearing some of his john cage-like “modern” music at the party, i asked who was playing — only to be subjected to a long discourse on his music, his philosophy on beauty and many other things. as i tried to slink away, he asked me if *i* was a musician, and upon learning that i played the piano, promptly proposed to bring some of his piano music for me next week. he was true to his word, and at the next class when he did give it to me, it had his phone number written across the top. help …
here in the world of endowments, the school can afford to be generous with aspiring young students who want to start clubs. more and more freshmen are discovering this, and i went to one of the “meetings” of the cooking club last week. it was great: fun people, creative minds, and — you guessed it — free food. we cooked fresh fettuccine with made-from-scratch sauce, loaded with vegetables and garlic and spices. we also had spinach salad with baked beets (although the beets held the whole process up quite a bit, as the oven wasn’t as powerful as we had hoped.) it was hard to refrain from uttering, “good times, good times,” as we chopped onions and washed zucchini.
went to see “arsenic and old lace,” the cooper dramatic production which my stressful major denied me the time to partake in, on friday night. mistake. years of being in my own plays and having mrs. bonnell’s caviling eye upon every performance have made me into quite a critic — it was all i could do to keep from jumping onto the stage and *fixing* all of their mistakes. many of them did the “give-my-line-and-STARE-at-the-person-whose-turn-it-is-to-speak-next” thing, and some even answered questions before they were all the way out.
i continue to sing with the choir each sunday. i’m even getting the knack of the romanian “Lord have mercy;” it’s pronounced “dom-nih-me-lu-yesh-teh,” if i’m hearing it right. it’s still pretty much a whirlwind of sight-reading from start to finish, but i’m picking up some of the tones. the other members, and especially the director, are very sympathetic and understanding, though.
i spent saturday night in the studio — only taking a break to run to ben and jerry’s — and must go back tonight. i’m really liking this school right now, thanks to all of your prayers and words of encouragement. and, even though i’ll probably feel differently tomorrow, i can enjoy myself today. :)