When I saw him, he was outside Payne Whitney. Nothing about the tall, gray façade suggests it is the university gym, unless there is a new trend of contractors housing athletics departments in Gothic cathedrals. You wouldn’t guess by looking at the frosted glass panes and arches that the third floor hosts the world’s largest suspended indoor swimming pool. It is a work of art, like the rest of Yale’s buildings.
Marcus was smoking by a bench, his face jaundiced from three packs that day. This is atypical for Yale students—most abstain from smoking. There was no reason for him to smoke so much, just as there was no reason for me to ride around campus on a blue Razor scooter. But Yale students tend to have such quirks. His suit-jacket was dusty and smelled of sweat—he didn’t mind lifting weights in a dress shirt and trousers if that meant more time to read Nietzsche alone at the bar.
When I hugged him, he felt skeletal. I asked if he had eaten today. He assured me that his earthly requirements were limited—no need for anything other than alcohol and cigarettes. “I can buy you a sandwich.” He refused. I insisted. A nice one. Bacon and egg. Or steak and cheese. I was testy now. “GHeav is right there. I’ll be back in six minutes.”
He turned his face towards me, warm with friendliness—and with one sentence, he changed our relationship forever.
You know I’m rich, right?”
“You know I have a trust fund, right? I can buy my own sandwich if I wanted it.”
This is the moment when after three years of friendship, Marcus sat down and told me his life story. His cottages in Norway. Sneaking into the family study. Learning about the cost of hardwoods and hearing his boorish, critical father sulk in 5-star hotel rooms.
Marcus did not act this way out of anxiety, grief, stress, or because he had nobody to tell him his habits will kill him. He lived as a starving writer not out of necessity, but for the aesthetic. Out of some desire to imitate the Bohemian 19th century writers. Out of artistry. Style. Intentional choice.
In terms of income at Yale, I was in the bottom 2%. And the people to whom I extended my generosity did not need it, whatsoever. This is mildly entertaining, but not the point. This is not a story about me, or about Marcus, or about our amusing adventures at Yale.
This is a story about an institution and an elite that have lost themselves.
Here’s a really important essay by Natalia Dashan, a recent Yale graduate, who says that “the real problem at Yale is not free speech.” It’s an essay about her alma mater, but really it’s about the moral collapse of the American elite. Dashan came from a poor family (they were once on food stamps, she said), and was shocked to find so many truly rich kids at Yale pretending to be poor.