My roommate Felice is neither a typical Harvard student nor a typical pastry maker. When I first saw her, she was powder pale, with a green mohawk, combat boots, and no eyebrows. This will be interesting, I thought. Maybe we can do each other’s makeup.
We lived together entirely by accident – my roommate and I at the time were looking for some more people to make a room of 5. She gamely agreed.
Felice turned out to be the brainy lovechild of a punk rock Betty Page and The Odyssey’s Homer. In between translating ancient Greek texts for her senior thesis and poring over orgo homework, she watched a constant stream of L-word spinoffs and brutal slasher flicks.
One day, she’ll be a surgeon, a programmer’s wife, and proud mommy of the cutest pet rats ever.
Felice and her boyfriend, Yuvi Masory, hacker extraordinaire
Felice ended up being my favorite roommate my strange, wild junior year. The five of us in that doomed rooming group were an unlikely melange of misfits – “a flophouse” she aptly described it – and it wasn’t long before chaos swept our cinder block duplex.
One by one, like an Agatha Christie mystery, the room fell apart.
One girl left, amidst a swirl of unanswered questions. And then there were four.
For the rest of us, latent problems became crises. Annoyances became vendettas. I was literally scared to return my room, and when I did, I locked the door and braced myself for collateral damage. By spring semester, the bickering reached a fever pitch.
I spent most of my semester either in class or hopping from one food event to another, spending more time in Boston in a month than most Harvard undergrads do in all four years.
And then there were three.
Felice ended up being the mediator; her room was the bunker, the common room was no man’s land. After she listened to everyone’s problems with saintly patience, we laughed about the black comedy unfolding. In between complaints, I wrote my anthropology essays in her room decorated with 50’s pinups and queer icons as she Skyped her long distance boyfriend.
In a school where people frequently hide their insecurity beneath a shiny veneer of ambition, Felice was refreshingly genuine about both. She didn’t dye her hair funny colors because of some calculated counter culture attempt. She just liked dying her hair.
And she understood, perhaps better than anyone else I’ve met, about what it means to feel profoundly, deeply different without apology. She was silly and joyful about her quirks and didn’t bother to hide them.
She doesn’t collect business cards. (While I have so many lining my tote bag.) She has the same insecurities like everyone else, but doesn’t fall to unwitting flashes of cruelty when she feels down. It’s refreshing.
So when she takes a stab at baking, it is infused with an equally individualistic sensibility.
Yes, that’s a birthday candle betwixt her rouged lips.
For her programmer boyfriend’s birthday, Felice made her favorite stalwart Linux enthusiast a cake shaped like the operating system’s logo. Earlier, we had dropped by IHOP for dinner while he showed me his flashcard generator program, executable via the command line interface.
Different can be beautiful, and delicious.
Ten minutes before Science of the Physical Universe 27 — better known as the food/science extravaganza that’s bringing in Ferran Adrià (El Bulli), Wylie Dufresne (wd-50), and José Andrés (minibar, Jaleo) to campus — the doorway was already mobbed. See the press release about the food science class here. .
There’s a seven minute rule at the school. Classes never start on time; students always arrive at least a few minutes after the hour. But this was something different. By the time Applied Math and Physics Professor Michael Brenner pushed his way to the door (see video below), anxious students were ready to charge through the doors.
Finally, I managed to run over to a seat, but not before almost being trampled over. People were sitting in the aisles, standing in the back, and between the seats. Some ended up just leaving in defeat.
The class sounds amazing. You can read through my notes after the jump. Except… it’s being lotteried with no preference for seniors! Even though it’s probably going to be offered again next year (albeit, with different speakers). I’m crossing my fingers that I’ll get in, but will be pretty upset if I don’t. Sigh. I’m sure taking intro to Computer Science will take up enough of my energy…
Anyway, if you’re curious about happened in that first lecture, check out my notes.
Notable events: Brenner made some insta-gel using Calcium Chloride. He also fried an egg, had students whisk up some mayonnaise, and promised that we’d make custards, sous vide eggs, molten chocolate cakes and use MEAT GLUE to make shrimp noodles. Man.
Also, there were some bizarrely actor-like chef photos that caused the audience to explode into giggles. Dan Barber of Blue Hill, I’m looking at you.
The very talented Lynne Guey of CampusTweet interviews me on video. Dinner was at Woorijip, a Korean fast food place in NYC’s Korea town. She’s also written up a lovely and insightful blog post about meeting someone you’ve been following through the Internet.
There are some embarrassing photos in there. Yes, I wore a spike bracelet and red zebra print tank tops. I thought I was pretty badass.
Thanks to mutual friend Mindy Z. for the introduction! (and Danielle for the introduction to Mindy.)
A reader, Vivian, emailed me to ask for advice to incoming Harvard freshman, particularly in regards to writing. This is my response, with the caveat that it’s aimed towards a particular personality type. (i.e. if you’re hyper driven and prone to biting off more than you can chew.) A lot is applicable to college students in general.
My first year of college was divided into first semester (good) and second semester (bad). The first few months I spent living in The Crimson’s newsroom, banging out news stories at blistering speed. I would obsessively refresh my email to be first to respond to story pitches. I rose fast. I drank the (gently spiked) Kool Aid.
Along the way, I made a friend who seemed motivated by the wrong things, or at least, things that I didn’t want to motivate me. We had a falling out, and second semester, my social life took a serious nosedive. I panicked. I had no friends to block with, it was like being picked last for gym teams all over again. I won’t even get into details of what happened. It worked out, but not without a lot of rejection.
At the same time, I cooled down my Crimson involvement, struggled in my classes, and removed myself from campus as much as possible.
So what happened?