What I Miss About Cornell (The Cornell Daily Sun 09/28/06)

Let me get this straight right off the bat. I love Cornell — as it is. And yet–and yet–

Background: four years ago I did something I never thought I would do: I came back to Cornell to spend a year as artist in residence — or guest suite artist, as it was called then — at Risley Residential College for the Creative and Performing Arts, or Risley to you.

One of the reasons why I thought I would never come back to Cornell is because my original experience during the five years I was enrolled here — first as a stuent in the College of Art, Architecture and Planning, then in the Kafkaesque netherworld known as the Division of Unclassified Students, then in the College of Arts and Sciences, before I finally graduated in 1973 — was, to say, the least, a mixed one.

That was then, thought. Now I decided that the GSA fellowship at Risley (one of Cornell’s best-kept secrets, incidentally), under which visiting artists come to live at Risley while they are working on a project — in my case, a book — in exchange for room and board, was the ticket for me. And it was. I only intended to stay for a year. That was the deal. The deal changed. The students were generous enough to give me another year, and so I continued to do my writing and photography thing for another year. In the meantime I realized something — that I did my best work here. And something else: I loved it here.

And so I decided to stay. Now, well, I am (somewhat to my surprise) still here, working out of Sibley, under the same, great, karmic dome where I first cracked the books (after a fashion) all the way back in 1968. As an alumnus working on campus and using the university faculties, I feel very blessed to be back here (occasional nightmares about not graduating on time notwithstanding), and I have tried to show my gratitude through my various works for the university, as well as this wonderful paper (hoo-ah!).

OK, cut to the chase. As much as I love Cornell, and consider it an infinitely better and more humane place than when I was here my first time, in the aggregate, I wouldn’t be honest if I also did not confess that there are still some specific things and places which comprised the “old” Cornell, i.e., the Cornell of 30 or 40 years ago, that I still miss very much and that, if I had truly had my druthers, I would bring back. Such as–

The “old” Temple of Zeus. I don’t know whether you’ve noticed, but for a great university, Cornell has very few great interior public spaces, i.e., commons-type spaces which simultaneously serve as places for all types of social and intellectual activity. Well, it used to have more. One of them was the “old” Temple of Zeus in Goldwin Smith Hall, now the site of Kaufman Auditorium.

Now, I have nothing against the “new” Temple of Zeus. But it just doesn’t seem to compare to the elegant, sculpture-adorned “old” Zeus across the all. The “new” Zeus is, essentially, a room, and a crowded room at that. The “old” Zeus was a space — a place where one could spend the afternoon talking or studying or doing absolutely nothing without being bothered. It was the soul of Goldwin Smith Hall and the College of Arts and Sciences. The “new” Zeus is a good place to make a bagel. The “old” Zeus was a good place to make connections. Big difference. As long as we’re talking about great “lost” spaces, let’s not forget the late, great–

Noyes Lodge. You probably know this woefully underutilized facility — if you know it at all — as the Language Lab. The Cornellians of my generation knew it — and loved it — as Noyes Lodge, a romantic place where you could while away the afternoon with your babe or muse upon the eternal verities while gazing out at ever-wondrous Beebe Lake. Talk about romantic: it even had a fireplace! I am sure that Cornell needed a Language Lab, but did they have to put it in Noyes Lodge?

The Ivy Room jukebox. Once upon a time, the Ivy room had a great jukebox, and I mean a great jukebox — the kind of jukebox that played all kinds of music: rock, jazz, soul, everything. You name it: the Ivy Room jukebox had it. That jukebox was the soundtrack for generations of Cornellians. Now, for some reason that escapes me, it has been replaced by a giant television, which is perpetually tuned to ESPN. What was once a zone of joy is now a dead zone. Big loss. Big mistake.

Students who were not raised by wolves. Cornell has a secret: it has been admitting an increasing number of students, particularly male students, who were raised by wolves, i.e., students who have little or no respect for property, or their fellow students, for that matter.

Want proof? Check out the men’s rooms of Olin or Uris Library. Count the unflushed toilets. You got that right: unflushed toilets. I began to notice this two years ago, about the time of the 2004 election: people stopped flushing toilets! Was there a connection? I don’t know. But it’s the truth. (I assume the trend is confined to men’s rooms; I have not had time or inclination to investigate the distaff side.)

Other than that, I love Cornell! Thanks! And thanks for having me back!

P.S. And hey, guys, as a special favor to me, as well as the rest of us who use the facilities: next time you go, as it were, for crying out loud, PLEASE FLUSH!

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