In the daily Harvard grind, some loftier
aspirations get permanently sidelined. In honor of the Class of 2003’s final collegiate moments FM ensures that instead of “what if?” fifteen seniors can ask “remember when?”
The Sky's the Limit
L. Patrick “Pat” Noonan ’03 has been waiting all his life to come this close to death. While many of his classmates opted for more mundane—and less life-threatening—wishes, Noonan’s fantasy was to be dumped from a small jet some 10,000 feet in the air.
With Noonan’s brazen confidence, trying to land some real reason why he is so eager to sign his life away proves a little difficult. Sure, the Massachusetts native, who grew up sailing and skiing, is a true outdoorsman. “I absolutely love the feeling when you lose control just a little too much and keep on going faster and faster,” he says. But surprisingly, he rejects the label of thrill-seeker: “Never do anything that falls on the wild [side],” he declares. And roommate Daniel R. Fish ’03 corroborates that Noonan doesn’t keep the most exciting of schedules: “[You’ll] find him Sunday night in the common room, asleep with the opening credits of a movie rolling,” Fish says.
Yet Noonan’s no stranger to the skies. He calls his lifelong relationship with flying a “love affair.” The six-foot tall, blond-haired, all-American-looking Noonan’s closest brush with aerial death so far took place in his uncle’s small plane. “The plane was too high up and so the propellers froze,” he recalls. “Thick ice covered the wind shield. Everybody in the plane started screaming. That was my scariest moment.”
For Noonan, apparently, it’s not scary enough. After reading the densely-worded four-page liability agreement that any would-be sky-diver must accept—“like signing away your whole life,” Noonan says—the Second Class Marshall still shows no fear of taking the plunge. “This is going to be awesome,” he grins.
Noonan’s dream is deferred four hours due to overcast skies. He waits in the backyard of the skydiving center, looking wistfully at the landing strip he hopes to hit on his way down. Finally, the skies clear and up Noonan goes in a six-person jet, sporting a full bodysuit, a Harvard T-shirt and an extra pair of shorts to ward off the possibility of chafed legs.
After a 15-minute ascent in the cramped six-person plane, the pilot levels off at 10,000 feet and looks for a two-mile stretch of cloudless sky through which Noonan can jump. When suitable sky is located, a professional skydiving instructor attaches himself to Noonan’s back with a network of straps and four metal clamps strong enough to tow a car. When Noonan says he’s ready, the instructor leans off the edge—and down they go.
Noonan’s first sensation, he later remembers, is the painful pressure of the wind against his cheeks as he descends. “The wind came on really strong,” he says. Yet as he grows accustomed to the feeling—and the near-freezing temperature—he begins to feel the rush of freefall. “If I could imagine the most amazing drug, that’s what it felt like,” he says. “Everything was just so beautifully clear. It was almost like a roller coaster but so much more fun.” Halfway down, the instructor pulls their parachute cord, and they coast down the rest of the way at a relaxed 25-miles-per-hour descent, after topping out around 120. “Landing was painless,” he says after touching down. “I just sat down.”
Noonan is, unsurprisingly, exultant upon landing. “I felt free,” he says. Later, he clarifies, “I didn’t actually feel free until [the instructor] took off the straps. It hurt like a bitch until [then].” But overall, he finds the entire English language insufficient to characterize the experience, save for one dictionary entry.
“I have one word for you,” he says. “Dope. That was dope.”
—Jasmine J. Mahmoud
Everyone's A Winner
Michael D. Cornish ’03 and Paul M. Tselentis ’03, both varsity athletes, were the finalists in an intense tournament this spring, but it didn’t take their athletic prowess to reach the top. All they needed were their shining smiles, flawless features, alluring accents—and their athletic bodies didn’t hurt, either. Cornish and Tselentis were the champions of the first-ever Crimson Chaos competition, a website set up to rank senior boys at Harvard by their physical appearance. Starting in a single-elimination bracket of 64 attractive seniors, Cornish and Tselentis, both chosen for FM’s fifteen hottest freshmen four years ago, advanced all the way to a face-off in the final round, where Cornish eked out a victory. Yet there were no hard feelings among the two as they worked together to grant the parting wish of one lucky senior, Olga P. Yevglevskaya-Wayne ’03, an anthropology concentrator in Quincy.
On a rainy Sunday afternoon, the three meet up at John Harvard’s for a late lunch. Cornish is the first to arrive, unzipping a sporty red jacket to reveal a coordinated, preppy ensemble. The lady of the hour shows up next, carefully put together in an outfit she admits she had been meticulously planning. She says she met Cornish freshman year when both worked as Crimson Callers, soliciting alumni for donations. She recalls her time spent across the table from Cornish at work. “I was like ‘Wow,’” she says. “I will sit here and make my phone calls and enjoy the view.”
While it was good looks that initially attracted her to Cornish, she says that she found he was more than just a pretty face. “He’s actually really sweet and really friendly and always says hello when he sees me,” she says. Tselentis arrives in a gray Harvard T-shirt, and before sitting down, the boys, who both grew up in South Africa, recount the drunken details of the preceding evening. Yevglevskaya-Wayne doesn’t mind overhearing the charming tones of their exotic accents. “So hot,” she says. “Accents are sexy. Girls like it when a guy has a nice voice. And they enunciate well, too.” While she orders a dark beer, the boys request large glasses of water to rehydrate, and when Tselentis requests coffee to wake him up, Cornish does the same. Talk of career plans breaks the ice, but discussion of the more immediate future, including the impending senior Booze Cruise, heats the conversation.
Satisfied with her wish being granted, Yevglevskaya-Wayne asks the boys if they have any cravings before leaving Cambridge. They say that they wanted to run in the Boston Marathon before graduation and did so in April. “We didn’t really train for it,” says Cornish. Yet despite a lack of training, his good looks carried him through the marathon. Tselentis explains that Cornish ran, cell phone in hand, with a tank top that said “call me” on the front, and posted his digits on the back. Cornish appears a little embarrassed by Tselentis’ detailing, but admits that he did receive several calls over the 26.2 miles.
Yevglevskaya-Wayne says she appreciates how comfortable the boys made her feel. “It’s not just about having a meal with a hot dude,” she says. “They are also really nice and genuine, which made the lunch really enjoyable.”
—Faryl W. Ury and Wendy D. Widman
As Easy As One, Two, Three . . . Penne Quattro Formaggi
A self-described food fanatic, Helen K. Ahn ’03 says her high school in New Paris, Ohio was “literally surrounded by nothing but corn.” She remembers that her neighbors ate casseroles, meat and potatoes and that her mother had to drive an hour and a half to find Korean ingredients. It was not an auspicious beginning for a girl now in love with the creativity and variety that preparing food allows.
“I hate going to the local grocery store when I’m home,” Ahn says. “Tofu is still exotic there.” Even worse, although her mother is a versatile cook, her father’s more traditional “rice and kimchee” diet defined the family palate. Exposed early on to simple Midwestern tastes, Ahn was unexcited by the idea of cooking.
But in the fall of her junior year at Harvard, Ahn discovered her inner gourmand by joining the Dunster House Culinary Team, a group of students that prepares food for events hosted by Dunster House Masters Roger and Ann Porter. Ann Porter describes Ahn as “a little dynamo in the kitchen. She’s everywhere.” This year Ahn was one of the leaders of the Culinary Team, often spending as many as twenty hours a week in the kitchen. This consuming extracurricular is put to productive use—to the reluctant pleasure of her parents—in her New Paris kitchen. “When I’m home, my mom loves my cooking,” says Ahn, “but at school, they think I spend too much time on it. They might be right.”
While a lot of that time is spent on experimenting with her own dishes and creating new recipes, Ahn’s culinary interests extend beyond the kitchen as well. She enjoys eating and thinking about eating almost as much as cooking, and she can recommend a dish at a particular Boston restaurant for any occasion. Ahn is a faithful FoodTV watcher, an epicurious.com visitor and, most of all, an avid reader of Cook’s Illustrated, the magazine devoid of advertisements and devoted to informing its cult-like foodie following of the best products, recipes and in-kitchen procedures in a no-frills fashion.
So when Ahn discovered that Cook’s Illustrated and its acclaimed “America’s Test Kitchen” public television program are both produced in Brookline, she tried to finagle a way into their offices to check things out. She bought Cook’s Illustrated cookbooks and practiced their recipes. She looked for internships and contacts on the inside, but didn’t get anywhere. Finally FM was able to arrange for Ahn to view the last week of filming for the 2004 season of “America’s Test Kitchen.”
Ahn arrived on set just in time to watch Christopher Kimball, “America’s Test Kitchen” host and Cook’s Illustrated chief editor, pull a pan of macaroni and cheese out of the oven. This was not any ordinary collegiate Easy Mac or tired Midwestern casserole; Kimball’s take on the American classic includes four cheeses: Fontina, Gorgonzola, Parmesan and Pecorino. Ahn oohed and ahhed when given an off-camera chance to sample. Soft and fluffy blueberry pancakes followed and Ahn picked up a few tips: substitute lemon juice and milk when out of buttermilk and put the frozen blueberries right into the cakes on the griddle, not into the batter.
The high point of the morning came when, in between shoots, Christopher Kimball introduced himself to an ecstatic Ahn. The two made foodie small-talk for a minute before Kimball’s assistant arrived with a bag of treats: three autographed “America’s Test Kitchen” cookbooks and an apron and chef’s hat embroidered with the Cook’s Illustrated logo. Ahn toured the actual test kitchen, where employees in white lab coats experiment with dishes and test appliances and revise recipes until they are manageable even for a novice. With medical school in her near future (she is a biological anthropology concentrator), Ahn cites the “sciencey” approach that Cook’s Illustrated and “America’s Test Kitchen” take to cooking as their most attractive aspects for her. “The thing I like about cooking,” Ahn says, “is that a lot of times you can just wing it and put in your own creativity. But with Cook’s Illustrated, I love their anal perfectionism. It appeals to that side of me.”
Does a culinary career lie ahead? Ahn doesn’t think so. “It’d be fun to go to culinary school just for kicks,” she says, “but as far as making an actual profession of it—no.” She plans to live in Boston next year while she works in a medicine-related field. Although fellow culinary team members express disappointment at Ahn’s decision not to follow her passion for food, Magali A. Fassiotto ’05 sees a connection. “If she goes into surgery, that’s really culinary, all that cutting,” Fassiotto explains. “Helen would make a good surgeon.”
—Mark W. Kirby
Aaron R.S. Rudenstine ’03 constantly seeks ways to make his own big bang, and not just celestially speaking. Concerned about socio-economic inequality, the government concentrator plans to work on the presidential campaign of Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., after he graduates to get his “feet wet” in politics. “Politics [is] the one way that people can have immediate impact,” he says. “That possibility is extremely appealing to the extent that I can have an impact.”
But before he culminates his college career, Rudenstine wants nothing more than to look through one of Harvard’s high-tech telescopes. “I always regretted not taking advantage of this resource that Harvard offers,” the Quincy resident laments.
Rudenstine’s regret seems even more understandable considering his life-long love of the night sky. The New York City native has harbored a life-long curiosity for the mysterious expanse of the evening heavens. Rudenstine spent his childhood summers on Cape Cod where the calm, clear skies fed his fascination for the cosmos. “I’ve always loved laying back and watching the stars,” he says.
Unfortunately, New York City’s bright and bustling terrestrial nightlife kept the celestial nightlife unintelligibly murky. But the city’s hazy skies could not deter the Quincy House resident’s passion for the stars. And so he read about what he could not see. The summer after 10th grade, Rudenstine dove into some heavy reading on astronomy, devouring 400-page scientific tomes with vigor. Since that summer, Rudenstine has been officially hooked on star-spotting. Rudenstine’s fondest memories of traveling through the Himalayas during his year off after high school are of his nighttime sky observations. “There was this unbelievable meteor shower,” he says. “We just sat out there on the top of this enormous mountain and just peeped [at] the stars for an hour.”
Rudenstine attempted to coddle his cosmology fascination during his undergraduate career. Sophomore year, he took the ever-popular Science A Core: “Matter in the Universe,” taught by Clowes Professor of Science Robert P. Kirshner, but missed the telescope viewing sessions due to bad weather, conflicting schedules and general laziness.
Just a week before graduation, fate (a.k.a FM) wouldn’t let Rudenstine part Harvard without scoping the skies. Harvard’s expert on galactic distances and movement, Doyle Professor of Cosmology John P. Huchra, graciously offered a few hours of his nighttime to show Rudenstine around the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astronomy, located at 60 Garden Street, just a few minutes walk past the Radcliffe Quad.
Six stories high, the view from the roof of the observatory revealed the velvety navy-blue sky seemingly dipped in the surrounding trees and farther-off Boston skyline—a view which left him star-struck. With Huchra’s help, Rudenstine observed Jupiter and its four moons, a “truly amazing” experience. “The coolest part was seeing [Jupiter’s] bands, seeing details,” says the former telescope virgin. “It brings it to life.”
Rudenstine followed his observation with a near-hour long conversation with Professor Huchra. The two talked about conflicting theories of the universe’s contraction and expansion, escape velocity, the furthest distance satellite probes have traveled (for the curious: Uranus) and the movement of the Universe following the big bang. Clearly enthralled with the entire experience, Rudenstine says that after four years, looking up at the sky still gives him the greatest reality check.
“The stars remind me that we are just one part of a larger system. We often forget that. I don’t want to forget that.” With this experience, he is destined not to.
—Jasmine J. Mahmoud
Ticket to Transylvania
Once upon a Saturday night, two senior girls from middle America joined men in corsets and women in fishnets at the Cambridge Loews midnight screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
“Oooh, you’re one sexy mama!” Helen K. Ahn ’03 shrieks as Samantha A. Goodwin ’03 applies black eyeliner and multiple shadow colors to her lids. Neither has seen the show before—“It’s something about transvestite aliens, right?” asks Ahn—but they’ve heard enough to know that attendance requires made-up faces and the appropriate accoutrements: namely, Goth-inspired garb. “Basically I just pulled whatever black I had out of the closet,” says Goodwin. Ahn, who hails from rural Ohio, even dyed her hair back to its natural dark hue for the occasion.
Neither wears makeup often. “I found some sparkly goop, but I haven’t used it since freshman year,” Ahn says. “It’ll probably give you fungus if you put it on your face.”
Goodwin grabs her brush from its “Hello Kitty” container. “That’s O.K.,” she says. “Fungus would go with the whole alien thing.”
“I think I’m going to need a drink,” Ahn says, as she sizes up her reflection.
The girls follow a woman carrying a coffin-shaped purse and a man dressed like a cow into the theater, where they are greeted by a loud-mouthed woman wearing a ripped tank top bearing the word “Security.”
“Come on, people, you move like old people fuck,” hollers Madame Security. “Slow and sloppy!” As everyone takes their seats, it is time to sell each audience member an aptly named “Bag of Shit.” The soon-to-be graduates raise their dollars high for one of the brown bags filled with Rocky Horror essentials: rice, party hats, toilet paper and noise makers.
The house lights dim and the pre-show begins. Actors lip-sync and act out various bad songs. Then a Tim Curry lookalike makes his way up the theater, stopping right by Goodwin’s aisle seat. “Imagine this was your last night to have fun,” his ruby red lips whisper. “Does anyone here want to kiss a perfect stranger tonight?”
Ahn laughs, “I don’t know. I’m feeling kind of lazy.” The seniors stay seated, but other female members of the audience, six clad only in black bras, one wearing a sheer black top, and one with nary a thread covering her breasts come to the front of the theater and pair off. Goodwin and Ahn watch as the girls gyrate to electric music, strip each other’s clothes off and engage in tongue-heavy kissing.
Not even the girl wearing electrical tape over her nipples fazes the seniors. “It’s going to hurt when she takes that off,” Goodwin snorts.
Then, the half-naked women head to their seats and Bert and Ernie come on screen singing a pre-film song about throwing away your trash and turning off all cell phones and pagers. “Girl-on-girl action and then ‘Sesame Street?’” Ahn asks. She is not impressed.
But soon enough, two large lips fill the screen and it’s time for the legendary “late night double feature picture show.” Wedding bells ring in Rocky Horror’s opening scene and the crazies begin to fling rice at other audience members. The girls cover their heads.
Live Rocky Horror is viewed “Mystery Science Theater”-style, and many audience members know every time to call Janet a slut and Brad an asshole. The seniors get a huge kick out of some of the comments. Better than Crimson Key’s Love Story? No contest, but the painted-on special effects leave something to be desired. “Gee, how could we see The Matrix after this?” asks Ahn sarcastically. Overall, though, they’re enthusiastic and willing Rocky participants, pelvic thrusting with the best of them during the Time Warp.
At the close of the movie, Goodwin gets a tearful embrace from the live Frank-N-Furter as he leaves Theater Four. Both girls applaud the actors enthusiastically, Bags of Shit in hand.
Outside on Church Street, the future grads are on a Rocky high. “Absolutely fabulous,” gushes Goodwin. “I’d totally go next week.”
Wish granted, she’s ready to graduate. But do fishnets go with a mortarboard?
—Kristi L. Jobson
Posing in the Pit
My roommates and I found unlikely inspiration late one night sophomore year, while sitting on a wooden bench in the park outside Peet’s Coffee. As we passed around a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, we began to cross and uncross our legs in unison. Passersby eyed us curiously as we crossed and uncrossed with theatrical flourish and we saw the hint of potential in their stares.
The memory is hazy but that night, I know, we resolved to one day turn our talents to performance art in the Square.
And so it is that last Tuesday, Grainne M. Godfree ’03, Angela E. Kim ’03 and I spend 45 long minutes posing in front of the Pit by the Harvard Square T stop as a bride, a groom and a priest.
We had debated our act off and on for weeks. We’d considered donning multicolored body paint, organizing a participatory mural and even playing three wise men—but vetoed all these options to indulge our shared fascination with the Square’s living statues.
That morning, we decide that Angela will wear a bride costume she designed earlier in the year: a floor-length strapless gown with a train made from fuchsia cotton and maroon silk from Pakistan sewed over a fleece blanket. She covers her head with a matching tulle veil and burgundy wooden mask.
If Angela is the bride, Grainne has to be the groom. I debate whether I should play flower girl, priest or reporter until Grainne ties a white ribbon around my neck and proclaims it the perfect priest’s collar. With a borrowed Bible in hand, I’m ready to go.
After another brief bout of indecision over our choice of location, we select the pit as the most potentially lucrative site. We set out our sign, “Please Give $ For Wedding,” the small basket christened with dimes and pennies by a few kind friends, and assume our positions. Grainne and Angela settle on the concrete blocks just outside the pit and I stand on the ground in front of them. I struggle to replicate the expressionless gaze I so admire in the Square’s bride and angel living statues. I stare straight ahead and try not to smile, not to make eye contact with the countless cruel passersby who ignore us or—even worse—approach us and then reconsider. One woman gives us the thumbs up; another comments to a friend that the performance art was better in Paris.
After ten minutes, my hands are frozen and my lips and eyes dry. I feel the pressure of one stiletto digging into my heel. Up on the concrete block, Grainne is fighting a cramp in her left toe and thinking how she would like to do a documentary on living statues. Angela, meanwhile, is singing “Christmas in Kilarney” both in her head and out loud and making herself as menacing as possible.
“I was trying to stare people down, moving my eyes behind the mask while keeping everything else still,” she says. “I made them really uncomfortable.”
As my roommates continue to battle involuntary muscle twitches, a woman begins snapping pictures of them from every angle. My time as a living statue had come to a close, so with my notebook in hand I approach the woman furiously photographing the bride and groom. Marie-France Studnicki-Gizbert had arrived from Canada two days before to visit her son at MIT, and is walking through the Square after a day-long tour of Harvard’s museums. She drops a dollar in our basket and tells me that we are hardly her first encounter with living statues.
“I know about this. It’s all around,” Studnicki-Gizbert says, pointing to my roommates with a broad gesture that links our relatively brief act to a tradition spanning continents. She remembers a performance artist in Spain who was so still that she touched him to make sure he was actually alive.
“It’s even a little scary sometimes,” she admits. “You know they’re people, but you have to make sure.”
How did we compare? Studnicki-Gizbert is honest: we were moving a little too much, particularly me.
So perhaps this is not our calling, we conclude as we walk back down Dunster Street with complaints of stiff legs and cold shoulders.
“In the end, I don’t think any of us were so into the idea of the performance art,” Grainne admits to me later. “It was more the idea of doing something odd together that would be memorable.”
And $4.57 for 45 minutes isn’t so bad either.
—Daniela J. Lamas
Continued in part 2.