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Around 420 million years ago, much of New York State and southern Ontario was covered by a large, shallow bay that opened to the south. During what geologists call the Silurian Period, this area was near the equator, and the combination of a hot sun and restricted water circulation led to evaporation and high salinity.
The water was so salty that the bay probably had no permanent inhabitants. But eurypterids—predators popularly known as sea scorpions—often entered the bay, seeking refuge at a vulnerable time. Here, huge numbers of eurypterids shed their external skeletons, waited for the soft skin underneath to harden, and then returned to open water.
Myriad eurypterid molts were fossilized in the rocks of upstate New York. The detail preserved is often exquisite, with the fossils showing evidence even of the sutures where the skeleton had split.
The specimen illustrated here is a member of the species Eurypterus remipes, the most common eurypterid in Silurian localities in New York State. In 1984, it was named the official state fossil. Though some eurypterids reached gigantic proportions, with body lengths around seven feet, E. remipes was only about 15 inches long. It was the first sea scorpion species ever discovered—in 1818—but scientists at the time thought it was an ancient catfish.
This fossil and many others are part of a collection amassed by Samuel J. Ciurca Jr., a former research chemist at Kodak who found his first eurypterid in upstate New York in the early 1960s. Ciurca was just a teenager when he noticed two small eyes looking up at me" from a pebble in a streambed south of Rochester. (Ciurca’s website is at www.eurypterids.net.)
By 2006, Ciurca’s eurypterid collection had become the richest and most diverse ever known. It also weighed about 50,000 pounds. Its owner, who had started out by storing his specimens at home, even under his bed, had had to rent space in storage facilities near his house in Rochester. Finally, last year, Ciurca gave most of the collection to Yale’s Peabody Museum of Natural History. He is still hard at work finding new material, so the collection will continue to grow.
As for the eurypterids, they became extinct about 250 million years ago. But their relatives, collectively known as chelicerates—after the claws (known as chelicerae) that are their most distinguishing feature—live on as scorpions, spiders, and horseshoe crabs.
Scene: A Typical New York Apartment. (Really.)
In The Sublet Experiment, a new play by Ethan Youngerman '99, traditional notions of public and private collide in a way that mirrors many people’s first experiences with life in a big city. It’s designed to be performed not in a theater but in someone’s apartment—a different apartment, in a different New York City neighborhood, every week. There are no house lights, no formal seating, and no stage or wings. These conditions mean that the audience, usually about 15 people, is on display as much as the actors (and the apartment).
Further mind-bending comes courtesy of Youn-german’s labyrinthine script, which starts with a man who sublets an apartment to a woman in return for sex, and goes on to explore themes of youth, deceit, identity, and the meaning we give to spaces. It’s a genre mash-up to boot: by turns a slice-of-life play, a romantic comedy, and a heist-driven thriller.
The Sublet Experiment just completed a six-month run, during which it was performed in nearly 20 different apartments in four New York boroughs (it has yet to play on Staten Island) and in Hoboken, New Jersey. The unorthodox production, Youngerman thinks, is part of the play’s appeal. People like to get an inside look at a world, to get behind the scenes,” he says. It’s a big part of what we want from entertainment.” And as it turns out, it’s a lot of what Youngerman’s characters want from each other. This desire to get beyond the surface of people, apartments, and situations gives rise to ethical dilemmas and quests for love, safety, and home in The Sublet Experiment. One central character constantly switches apartments in an effort to figure out how much of his identity is circumstances, materials, and surroundings, and how much is unchanging.
A constant for Youngerman has been his collaboration with director Michelle Tattenbaum '98. The pair worked together on plays and musicals at Yale, interned at the Manhattan Theatre Club together, and produced Youngerman’s An Archipelago of Clouds at the New York Fringe Festival in 2000.
After developing the rotating-apartments plan, Youngerman and Tattenbaum worked to make sure the script could be performed in any kind of domestic space. For example, every scene has to end with a character exiting or entering, since there are no curtains or stage lights to signify the end of a scene. Tattenbaum then looked for actors who would be able to adjust to unpredictable performance spaces and could handle having an audience up close for two hours. We talked a lot about film acting,” Tattenbaum says. When you’re acting for the camera, there’s a lot of stuff and equipment and people around you that you completely ignore. The acting style in the play is much more akin to film than it is to traditional theatrical acting.”
From a network of Yale friends and theater friends, Tattenbaum and Youngerman lined up initial performance dates in apartments in the West Village, Chelsea, Astoria, and Williamsburg. But for the play’s opening weekend, Youngerman volunteered his own apartment in Washington Heights. Looking back, he describes the performances as surreal. It was like my imagination had created this great party. These are characters who had been in my head, and now they’re in my living room.”
Though it was conceived with New York in mind, both artists believe the show could succeed in any place where residents are concerned with the boundaries of neighborhood and domestic identity. Says Tattenbaum, The job of artists in our culture is to break through boundaries for other people. This show gives people permission to violate social boundaries in a real way and in a pretend way.”
When I was in graduate school, I became a regular at the Anchor, the perpetual-twilight watering hole on College Street in downtown New Haven. Once the bartenders got to know my habits, they brought me a bottle of Schaefer and a glass of water when I walked in the door, and kept them coming, a beer and a water, at regular intervals. I went there at night to crowd around tables with friends and classmates, but I also went by myself in the early evening to sit at the bar. The place was mostly empty at that hour. I scrutinized every single frame of the funnies or watched carcinogenic TV or sat there lizardlike on my stool and thought about nothing much, the damp change from a twenty dwindling in front of me as fresh rounds periodically replaced spent ones. Sometimes I joined a conversation along the bar; sometimes I just listened. Somebody’s dumbass fiancé, somebody’s theory about what was wrong with Joe Piscopo—really, any subject would do. I was no more than a couple of hundred yards from Yale, but when I sat at the bar of the Anchor I could leave school at the office.
Every bar is different, but they're all the same. They’re like schools, libraries, or gyms in that each individual location, whatever its distinctions, is also a branch office of a world-spanning parent company: The One Big School, The Library of Mankind, The Universal Gym, The One True Bar. The mechanics of being a regular are pretty much the same in every bar. You create an identity for yourself with what you drink and how much, how you handle your booze and your money, when you come around, who you know, how you speak and what you talk about, how friendly or standoffish or irksome you are, what you wear, whether and what brand you smoke, and so on. You can’t become somebody you’re entirely not, nor is escape exactly the point, but as a regular you can be a variation on the theme of who you are at home or at work.
Sarah Stolfa, a first-year MFA student in photography at the School of Art, tended bar for nine years at McGlinchey's, a saloon in Center City Philadelphia that has a horseshoe bar, a certain dingy baronial quality, and a motley clientele. She had moved to Philadelphia because she played farfisa organ in a rock band, The Delta 72, that relocated there from Washington, D.C. After she left the band, which later ran aground on the usual shoals (ego, heroin), Stolfa got serious about photography while taking undergraduate courses at the Art Institute of Philadelphia and then Drexel University. While working at McGlinchey’s she shot the series of portraits that became “The Regulars,” which has won awards, had solo and group gallery shows in Philadelphia and New York, and appeared in the pages of the New York Times Magazine and the New Yorker.
Shot on film from head-on with a bounce flash in the bar’s crepuscular light, inkjet-printed large (about two feet on a side), each picture is simply titled with the subject’s first and last names. The uniformity of the series creates opportunities for individual distinction; all of the regulars have the same basic set of equipment to work with, but they do different things with it. Most look frankly, if guardedly, at the camera, but some look away. Some hold their drink, some don’t. The bottle of lager, pint of dark beer, or glass of wine stands proudly for its own portrait, a significant supporting character. The drink and other iconic props—a purse, a bag of chips, a book, money fanned or stacked on the bar, cigarettes and ashtray, a pair of gloves, a raised hood—seem as important as Saint Catherine’s wheel and sword, or the skull that Saint Jerome contemplates, in Renaissance painting.
But the props are not allegorical, nor are they imbued with the subject’s essence. Rather, they’re the building blocks of a public persona that incompletely overlies and expresses the private personhood behind it. There is a thin line in most of the pictures between the public face and the private,” Stolfa says. These unforced, unposed shots of the regulars' public poses, alive with the tension between naturalism and artificiality, show you both the act and the actor, but they don’t rip away the veil. Instead, they accord due respect to both, and to the play between them.
Her subjects may go to bars to gain a sense of commonality with strangers,” says Stolfa, but even amongst so many people, they can still be alone. There is a certain amount of social desire and wanting, but people can be very guarded at the same time. It’s an interesting conflict within an individual, to appear engaged and open but alone at the same time.”
Seen from within the U of the bar, each customer sits alone on its outer rim, but they also form a community—together in their separateness, like a string of small farms along a remote two-lane highway. The dignity of each sitter is accentuated by the company of the others. I don’t feel that I know them, but I feel that the bartender’s camera eye knows who they are to each other, and to her. I don’t know what Moira McFadden is saying, open-mouthed, cross-armed, head cocked in an attitude of what might be aggression or defensiveness, her blond hair streaked pink at the ends, but I’m pretty sure that John Barbetta, watchful and self-contained and perhaps equally vain about his own opinions, has heard it before.
There’s resonant, lonely distance in these portraits, and mystery, but none of the anonymous noir romance of, say, Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks. Instead, Stolfa’s camera finds a rough and ready courtliness in her subjects that’s of a piece with the setting. Her address to them is intimate but restrained. She says she was moved by the formal qualities in the way that the people hold themselves or present themselves to the camera,” but also by the timeless and even regal colors and tones of bars. The dark browns, blacks, reds, and maple colors pull the portraits out of the mundane. The colors create a formality to the sitter and relate the work back to painting, along with the size of the prints.”
I’m not the only commentator to note the resemblance of the series to portraits by seventeenth-century Dutch painters like Rembrandt, Hals, and de Keyser—rich but not overripe, realistic but not entirely natural. Like those Dutch portraits, Stolfa’s make the leap to a more general insight into human affairs, but they also create an affecting record of a specific place and time. I am fond of Pennsylvania, having lived near Philadelphia for three years after I moved away from New Haven, but it took me by surprise when the green bottles of Yuengling parked in front of several of Stolfa’s sitters caused my heart to turn over in my chest. I was seized by a sudden thirst for the acrid, hangover-inducing Pennsy brew, and by an acute sense-memory of the College Hill Tavern in Easton, Pennsylvania—its smoke-cured paneling, its variable closing time, the glare of daylight in the window at one end of the gloomy tunnel of a room, the sanctuary it offered to a novice feeling his way into his calling. Had I sat for one of Stolfa's portraits there, along the bar, you would see a Yuengling and a water and change on the bar; a college-affiliated non-local marked as such by his spectacles, lack of bodily heft or facial hair, and plain leather jacket that no hunter would ever wear in the woods; a guy who had just turned 30 and hadn’t yet figured out how to play the character he was becoming: professor, husband, father.
I waver when I consider which of the men in Stolfa’s portraits might be the exemplary male figure, the prom king, of “The Regulars.” Maybe it’s Arpson Bravos, whose up-and-away searching look, pencil mustache, long-fingered hand gesturing ambiguously at newspaper and bag of chips, and glass of port manage to convey both gentle decency and a measure of self-regard. Maybe it’s Robert Fleeger, stonily foursquare in his tie and V-neck sweater and dark jacket, cigarette held to one side, the other hand around his glass of dark beer, a shot glass in the foreground. He seems at first to stare directly at you with a lawyerly blend of candor and reserve—This is who I am, and you can take it or leave it—but the more you look at him the more he seems to be not quite meeting your gaze, at bay in his solitude: This is who I prefer to be … okay?
I have no doubt about who the prom queen is. Joanna O'Boyle drops her chin and closes her eyes to the camera, cigarette partway to her lips, beer half empty. Shadows pool under her cheekbones, setting off the paleness of the high forehead, the supple hands with their chipped dark nail polish, the scalp showing white like bone in the part that meanders through her red hair. A greater stillness lurks under all the implied action of drinking, smoking, effacing herself, and projecting her persona. I can’t decide whether the stillness is part of her private self or her public performance, or both at once, a Garbo turn. She can’t face the camera, but commands it; can’t carry off her act, yet delivers a bravura performance. Her mask is a refusal to wear one.
Sarah Stolfa has been traveling regularly this year from Yale to New York to teach classes as artist in residence at the Whitney Museum. On one trip to Manhattan, while walking to the Museum of Modern Art, she heard a voice call out, Can I have a Yuengling Lager?” It was a regular from McGlinchey's, driving by in a truck. No matter where photography might take her, she says, I’ll always be known as that surly bartender from McGlinchey's.” She has been taking pictures of landscapes and non-saloon interiors this year, stretching herself to try new things in graduate school, but she has also been shooting in New Haven’s drinking establishments.
The art of portraiture, at least as she practices it, is all about the thin line between public and private that she first began to explore with a camera at McGlinchey's. She’s not done taking pictures in bars because she’s not done taking pictures of people.
You Can Quote Them
Murphy’s Law”—If anything can go wrong, it will”—is the emblematic proverb of the modern age, explaining with one simple principle the doings of human beings, inanimate objects, and the largest social and natural forces. The standard account of its origin is in a 1978 issue of Desert Wings, the newspaper of Edwards Air Force Base in California:
This account is accepted by most authorities. I believe, however, that it does not hold up under the historical microscope.
The key fact is that the most diligent research finds no documentation for the Nichols-Stapp-Murphy incident until 1976. Neither the Los Angeles Times (Edwards is 100 miles from LA) nor any other online source has anything on the anecdote or press conference. Edwards historian Raymond L. Puffer tells me he can find no documentation. The etymologist Barry Popik read through all available 1950s issues of the base’s Desert Wings and No-Name News, as well as Aviation Week, American Aviation, U.S. Air Services, and works about Stapp. He found nothing.
The most significant negative evidence is in the 1955 book Men, Rockets and Space Rats, by Lloyd Mallan. Mallan talked extensively with Stapp and other aerospace figures for the book, a precursor to Tom Wolfe’s test-pilot epic, The Right Stuff. An entire chapter is devoted to Stapp’s heroic exploits at Edwards in pursuit of safety improvements. But although it mentions Colonel Stapp’s favorite takeoff on sober scientific laws—Murphy's Law, Stapp calls it— ‘Everything that can possibly go wrong will go wrong’” (the sole recorded pre-1976 link between the law and Edwards), it has no yarn about Nichols, Stapp, and Murphy where we would expect it.
In 2003 I interviewed George Nichols by telephone. Nichols, in his early 80s, was extremely sharp and his memories seemed clear, and he stuck consistently to the standard account. But he could offer no documentation to corroborate his memories.
The closest I can come to a refutation is an epigraph from a 1952 book about undergraduate mountain climbers, The Ascent of Yerupaja, by John Sack: Anything that can possibly go wrong, does.—Ancient mountaineering adage.” This early documentation casts a long shadow. It’s unlikely this phrase would have spread in under three years from an Air Force base to collegiate mountaineers, with its age and origins utterly misremembered.
Where, then, might the law have come from? A number of early thinkers had partially glimpsed its cosmic truth, from George Colman in 1763 (Accidents will happen”) to George Orwell in 1941, on the British government (If there is a wrong thing to do, it will be done, infallibly. One has come to believe in that as if it were a law of nature”).
But the strongest evidence I have found is several 1950s and '60s references in the New York Times to Murphy’s Law” as an old theatrical maxim. And recently, Bill Mullins, an Army engineer and amateur philologist and magician, searched an electronic archive of conjuring journals and found this:
My conclusion from the 1950s citations in show business, mountaineering, science, aviation, and business is that the Murphy tale is either an after-the-fact embellishment or, even if it actually happened, simply the transfer of an old proverb to a new setting: the men of the right stuff” paying homage to the eternal gods of wrongness and frustration.
A curl of heat tingles through your limbs as you confront the spinning rack of steamy paperbacks … yet something holds you back.
Is it worth the ridicule of your literary friends?
Well, in this case you can tell them the author is a Yalie. Ripped bodices abound in this spirited Regency romance, all belonging to the lovely and dangerous Siena, star pupil at Mrs. Merlin's Academy for Select Young Ladies. A Hogwarts for hellions, the academy teaches swordplay and martial arts, along with more seductive skills, then deploys its gorgeous graduates undercover(s) in the service of the British Crown. As the book opens, a classified dispatch has gone missing, and the suspects have been narrowed to the aristocratic members of the Gilded Page Club. Siena has a fortnight to strip the mask from the traitor, but will the enigmatic Earl of Kirtland strip her first? It ain’t literature, but there are snatches of Blake and Donne between sex scenes. If you loved Charlie’s Angels, try Merlin’s Maidens—Pickens plans a trilogy.
It is a fact that Ian Fleming worked in the British intelligence service before he created James Bond. It could also be true that in that job, he learned many unsavory things about the royal family. Silver’s taut thriller takes it quite a few steps further. It seems Fleming penned a manuscript in which he dishes some really devastating dirt on Edward VIII and the woman for whom he would abdicate the throne—everything from Edward’s Nazi ties to Wallis Simpson’s sexual peculiarities. Years later, the account, Provenance, turns up in an Irish safe-deposit box willed to Amy Greenberg, a literature professor at Yale. As soon as Amy flies to Dublin to claim it, people start dying. Gruesomely.
In one Bond-esque scene, a shadowy Englishman pursuing the young academic receives a call—which will terminate in exactly 45 seconds,” of course—authorizing the agent to do whatever is required to retrieve the material,” with the emphasis on whatever. A stiletto in the NYC Yale Club. A harrowing chase from Grand Central to New Haven on a Metro-North train and in a cab. A gun battle in the Sterling stacks and across Cross Campus. … Publish or perish takes on a whole new meaning.
Geneticist Alexandra Blake would really rather be in her lab developing lifesaving vaccines, but the imperious director of the Air Forces Institute of Pathology keeps diverting her. First, Alex is called on to identify a corpse found in a dumpster, then she’s asked to help trace trophy skulls smuggled home from the Vietnam War. If Alex plays her forensic deck right, a dignified return of the skulls to relatives would lubricate an oil deal with Vietnam. The story grows complex when she finds a note in one skull that points to a massacre in the past and links Alex with a charming (and dangerous?) Vietnam veteran who served with her late father.
At times Alex seems to be the formulaic blond heroine with good genes—er, jeans, nicely taut over her lean athletic curves.” But skeletons in the closet, political skullduggery, small doses of science, and the occasional Yale reference keep the pages turning in this second novel in the Dr. Alexandra Blake series.
Cross Dink Stover with Nancy Drew with Bridget Jones and you get Amy Haskel, the sarcastic senior at transparently disguised Eli University” who briskly narrates this winning mystery. When Haskel gains entry to the elite secret society Rose & Grave, she finds that its stodgy alumni are still cold as a crypt on the subject of women being admitted. Then erudite and threatening anonymous e-mails begin to fly around the society-only server, and naturally, Haskel investigates.
The mystery is twisty, but the real fun lies in Haskel’s tossed-off asides about Yale, oops, Eli traditions—from shopping period (during which undergrads weren’t hunting for good bargains, but rather, for gut classes”) to the annual Halloween concert, when students wear costumes aimed at inducing everyone around you to marvel at your brilliance and beg you to tell them what the hell you’re dressed as.”
It irks Lola Somerville that books by women are labeled chick lit whereas books by guys are lit. But it really rankles her that all her Brooklyn neighbors seem to have agents, book deals, or bestsellers. When a serial killer starts offing It Girl authors, Lola decides to crack the case and write a blockbuster. Will she be victim or hero, and will her loved ones hang in there during her reckless quest for glory?
Death by Chick Lit is a funny whodunit, ideal for beach, hammock, or plane. Even the throwaway lines are LOL. At a baby shower, Lola muses, Babies are the new husbands.” And her Manhattan friends rarely come to visit her in the section of Brooklyn called North Wayside and known as NoWay.”
Best of all are the made-up titles of the books in this book-world send-up: a friend of Lola’s reads A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius: The Original Unedited Manuscript, and an Ann Coulter-ish commentatress" writes Shut Up, Liberals: For Chrissake, Shut Up and La La La Not Listening. Lynn Harris is a former stand-up comic with heart, brains, and a wicked sense of humor.
More Books by Yale Authors
Dohra Ahmad 1993, Editor
Daniel Brook 2000
Stephen L. Carter 1979JD, William Nelson Cromwell Professor
Nayan Chanda, Director of Publications, Yale Center for the
Study of Globalization; Editor, YaleGlobal Online
David L. Clough 2000PhD and Brian Stiltner 1990MAR, 1997PhD
Jeannine Marie DeLombard 1991MA
Eric Jay Dolin 1988MEM
Charles Finch 2003
Stephen William Foster 1983MSN
Roy Freed 1937, 1940LLB, and Anne Freed
Thomas R. Frosch 1968PhD
Jennifer Galvin 2000MPH
John C. Gordon, Pinchot Professor of Forestry and
Environmental Studies Emeritus
Leor Halevi 1995MA
David D. Hall 1964PhD and Hugh Amory, Editors
Forrest Hamer 1978
Richard W. Hayes 1986MArch
Jeff Hobbs 2002
Terry Hokenson 1973MDiv
Paul Kane 1973, 1990PhD
Jill Kargman 1995
Kenneth Paul Kramer 1967STM
Lawrence Kramer 1972PhD, Daniel Goldmark, and Richard
Min Jin Lee 1990
Robert E. Litan 1977JD, 1987PhD; Carl J. Schramm; and
William J. Baumol
Paul W. MacAvoy 1960PhD, Williams Brothers Professor
Emeritus of Management Studies
James Nelson 1943
Howard T. Odum 1951PhD
Peter Van Osdol 1953
Tom C. Owens 1999PhD, Editor
Todd Papageorge, Walker Evans Professor of Photography
Chandra Prasad 1997
Arthur Rosenfeld 1979
Lawrence D. Schimel 1993
Bridget Stutchbury 1990PhD
Jeremi Suri 2001PhD
Elizabeth Wein 1986
Amy Werbel 1996PhD
Yale Daily News Staff, Compilers and Editors
Wildlife Photographer of the Year
Nearly 100 winning images from the 2006 international competition: the sun rising in Antarctica, a baby gorilla clinging to a tree, sea turtles swimming overhead, and more.
Rudyard Kipling: The Books I Leave
David Alan Richards '67, '72JD, began donating his Kipling collection to the Beinecke in 2002. Now he has curated an exhibition of some 225 items, including rare first editions.
What is a Line?
More than 60 drawings from 53 artists, including an original wall drawing by Sol LeWitt, make up this exploration of the role of the line in drawing.
Carillon Summer Series
Carillonneurs from around the world perform in Harkness Tower. The free concerts, on Friday evenings at 7 pm, are best heard in the Saybrook College courtyard, Elm and High streets.
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