Ever tactful, the Freshman Dean's Office had sent out little cards early in the summer before my first years to inform members of the Class of 1996 that a select group of us would not live in Harvard Yard but would not live in Harvard Yard but would (drum roll, please) instead be put up at a posh Harvard-owned apartment building near the Radcliffe Quad--a nameless building located at 29 Garden St.
So the day our housing envelopes were due to arrive, I made a bet with two of my friends (who were also going to Harvard) that I'd end up you know where.
I'm no pessimist, but I had a bad feeling about the whole thing. The folks up in Cambridge had been kind enough to let me into their fine institution, so they probably figured I owed them one. I mean, they probably let only the really smart people live in the Yard anyway.
My instinct was correct.
My two aforementioned friends hit the jackpot: one in Mathews and Weld because of renovations; the other in Straus.
I crapped out: a year in purgatory at 29 Garden St.
Living in Harvard Yard is one of the world's great traditions--one in which luckily you will get to participate thanks to the multi-year, multi million dollar Yard renovation (the cause, indeed, of my dislocation).
You can't rent an apartment in Harvard Yard: no amount of money can get you space there. In fact, the only way to live in the Yard is to be admitted to the College or to be University official, neither of which is an easy task.
But, according to the housing form which I had just received in the mail, I would not get to participate in the decades-old tradition of living in the yard. I would not be allowed to rise each morning to the tolling of the Memorial Church bell or to look out my window at the splendor of Widener Library. I was fated to be unlike the rest of my classmates. I had been singled out. They knew that I was one of the "mistakes."
So no Yard for me. Instead, I would be quartered up Garden Street near the Quad, in what used to be a hotel located at the intersection of several very busy streets.
Fortunately, I was not alone. There were about 150 other students there too, and it seemed as if we were all in the same boat. Administrators told us that we had been placed at 29 Garden because of certain special "qualities" we allegedly possessed that somehow made us fit for the place. We were to read into this: independence, self-reliance, a good sense of direction, street smarts, etc.
The truth was probably closer to: rejects, kids whose parents wouldn't withhold large donations if not placed in the Yard, assorted mixed nuts and admissions office mistakes.
The day everyone helped us move into "29 G": (as our home affectionately came to be called) we all received free T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan: "29 G: Every Yard Needs a Garden."
What a crock. If I had been living in the Yard I would have heckled the daylights out of anyone wearing such a foolish shirt. How about something a little more realistic, O Harvard administrators? How about: "I got screwed during my first year at Harvard"?
Life at 29 G was, however, not all bad. Residents generally seemed to appreciate the spacious singles and the kitchen facilities in each room. Everyone liked the continental breakfasts catered in our funky common room during reading period. And the quick walk to the Quad for dinner (instead of the trek to the heinous Union and its interminable line) was a delight.