Cooper Chronicles: I.8

(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.)

last sunday night, i had to do some research for a presentation.  i faced a major dilemma.  the cooper library was closed, and anyway, i was looking for some very specific books written in the early 1900s that i didn’t think they’d have.  i knew what i had to do; just go to the NYU Bobst library and check them out.  it’s open 24 hours a day; the facilities are spacious, with a marble-floored lobby; and there are 14 floors of volumes, countless cushioned chairs, and plenty of studying cubicles.  it sounds great, right? 

the thing is, i have this hangup with going to NYU, the land of 30,000 students.  the fact that they let cooper students use their facilities seems to me a condescending pat on the head: “well, until you guys get your *own* library, you can use ours.  try not to get lost in it.  we know you’re not used to such opulence.”  

they have reason to act so superior.  the cooper union has one dorm; NYU has one on every corner in the east village.  we have “frankie’s kitchen,” a little privately-owned restaurant that serves everything deep-fried; they have a huge four-star cafeteria with thousands of choices ranging from vegetarian to kosher to ethnic meals.  our “school spirit” consists of two different t-shirt designs and an ugly bumper sticker that no one uses; they have a whole store clad in purple and white, and huge NYU flags flying from all of their buildings.  heck, they even get their own stop on the subway. 

the funny thing is, we *still* think we’re better.  “money can buy state-of-the-art gym equipment, but not intelligent students,” we say. “how many of *their* students are on full-tuition scholarships?”  we mock their “trendy” school colors and collegiate attitude.  and we take every opportunity to boast about what our school has that theirs doesn’t. think of an american and a canadian holding a conversation:

A: well, i was listening to the radio during breakfast this morning, and i heard alanis morisette —

C: alanis is canadian.  you knew that, right?

A: noooooo … so then, this advertisement came on for that great john candy flick —

C: john candy is canadian too.

A: okay, that’s great.  can i finish?  anyway, i’m eating my pancakes —

C: did you know that the guy that invented pancakes is canadian?

well, maybe not.  but you get the point — massive inferiority complex.  (incidentally, i hope i’m not offending my darling canadian friends here.  i love their country.  even if they are a little too polite.) 

well, dear readers, i haven’t much to report.  school is relatively the same.  i have shakespeare’s plays to read, pericles’ buildings to ponder, and paper to scribble on.  (our art teacher tells us that we need to scribble for a few pages before drawing anything.  it loosens “both the arm and the mind,” apparently.)

and then there’s studio … and more studio … and more studio … raquel and i decided that our main problem was that we kept listening to our professors.  every time we say, “well, you said to —” they respond with “but it doesn’t matter what we said!  it’s not about what we think!  it’s about what you know to be right!”  high-sounding talk, but i like the principle.  they offer advice; we accept or reject it, but we’d better have a pretty good reason for either.  they use enough abstract language to make your head spin, too.  it takes at least two hours to recover from a conversation with them.

we decided to stick the same idea as the last joint, but alter a few little things and do new drawings (of course — they *always* want new drawings.)  so we’re making a new model, incorporating the alteration, which means more aluminum (we’re going with a smaller, and cheaper, version this time), more wood, and more sanding, sawing and filing.  this weekend was spent almost completely in working, except for friday night — when i escaped from the general clamor of Pasta Night (the RAs set it up; there were 5 different kinds of pasta and sauces in different rooms, and you just wandered around the building with a plate and fork, sampling) to seek solace in a nearby starbucks with a book.  i really needed it.  our next big crit is on tuesday, when we will decide on the final model of the joints and start work on the full-sized cube (9 feet on each side.)  the professors are famous for encouraging you one week, making you the scapegoats the next — so our rave review last time is inspiring fear now.  prayers on tuesday would be appreciated.   

wednesday was one of those days when i was late for everything, and every time i was late more things seemed to pile up to delay me even more.  sara and i went grocery shopping before class and got stuck in the Slow Little Old Lady Line (family: think of that Mr. Bean episode).  one of them wanted to know if we were getting ALL THOSE GROCERIES, and could she please get in front of us, since all she had were these two bags of frozen ravioli?  then the checkout lady, philanthropically feeling for our state of college-student-poverty, decided to take a few minutes to tell us about their coupon-card program.  it’s so easy; why don’t we just go and register right now?  no, we explained, we were late for class … of course, we had to walk home, and the crosswalk lights were decidedly not in our favor; then we had to put our perishables in the fridge, and i tiptoed guiltily into architecture history about 15 minutes late. 

after class, raquel, raphael and i went uptown to fulfill our drawing requirements.  that was an adventure in itself; first we tried to go to the natural history museum, and found that it was on the *other* side of central park (tip: central park is a LOT wider than you think, especially when you’re walking) and up 15 blocks or so.  after finding it, we entered (curiously) without any sort of payment or admission and asked where the monkey skeletons there.  the receptionist at the information desk acted a bit like the woman from groundhog day (“i don’t even know how to SPELL monkey skeleton!”) and referred us to the wrong floor.  by the time we found them and got through one drawing, the museum was closing — two hours early.  an extremely angry investigation on our part revealed that there was a party going on in the evening, and (for our convenience) ONE sign to that effect had been placed in the building, *behind* the huge display at the entrance.  we huffed and puffed our way out and to the central park zoo, where we drew monkeys for 40 minutes, much to the amusement of the other patrons.  as our teacher had promised, there were plenty of stares, impudent questions, hoverings, and whispers; the only way to get rid of them, she had cautioned, was to look and act “fierce”.  there were certain rules to avoiding unwanted contact:

1) volunteer no information.

2) answer “no” to anything they ask.

3) mutter to yourself constantly.  try a foreign language; if you don’t know any, try something that sounds like a foreign language.

4) if all else fails, look desparate and snap, “i’m not a REAL artist, okay?”

it worked — here’s a vignette:

Lady With Grocery Bags: ohhhh, you’re drawing!!

Emily: (no response, wishes she had her book of Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions.)

Lady With Grocery Bags: are you from an art school?

Emily: no.

Lady With Grocery Bags: ohhh.  how nice.  you two just decided to get together and draw, then?

Emily: no.

Lady With Grocery Bags: well… when *i* was in art school … (here she realized she had no audience but the said Grocery Bags, and marched off telling them the rest of her story.)

despite our audience, the monkeys were extremely cute and we finished in high spirits.  we were then late to drawing class and had to scrounge for our own easels.  but we had a great story …

i’m starting to go to bed and get up earlier than in my first few weeks; the result is more “me” time, precious moments spent sipping tea and reading quietly in the morning before the commotion starts.  it’s these times that i miss home the most — i miss my mom, who would have sat there with me — and i miss the soft, cushiony chairs in the living room — and i miss looking outside at the green trees and green grass and blue sky.  the sky seems so much closer there.