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Richard Palmer:

Hey guys. Greetings from London. I’m the royal correspondent on the Daily Express and I wrote the story about Eugenie thinking about studying at Williams College. I didn’t discover this website until after the story appeared so, please, no more accusations of stealing your scoop!

Just to let you know, Eugenie is definitely NOT coming to Williams. She has decided she is going to study at a British university.

Her mother did take a tour of your campus, as you know, and has looked at other US colleges, just as she did for her elder daughter Beatrice. But after the family thought through all the options, it’s been decided that Eugenie will study in the UK.

This has come out because Scotland Yard has begun a review of the cost of providing round-the-clock bodyguards to the young royals and Buckingham Palace wanted to halt speculation about British taxpayers having to fork out for police personal protection officers to live alongside Eugenie in the US for four years.



An Eph Princess

100453_11Ever get tired of trying to prove that 2 + 2 equals 4? Me too! That’s why, in our previous discussion about the almost certain acceptance of Princess Eugenie of York into the Williams College class of 2013, I quickly gave up. Proving the obvious was likely to be as productive as demonstrating — to those without the eyes to see — that famous Eph girlfriend Rielle Hunter had an affair (and baby!) with Senator John Edwards.

But, now that the British press is reporting, shockingly, the answer 4, will my critics credit me with algebraic wisdom? Do not hold your breath. From the Daily Express (h/t to Jeff):

PRINCESS EUGENIE, who is touring the world on a much-criticised “party central” gap year with two police bodyguards, may be about to add hundreds of thousands of pounds to the taxpayers’ bill.

She and her family are remaining very tight-lipped about suggestions that she wants to study at a private university in the US.

The daughter of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, who achieved the Royal Family’s best A-level results with two As and a B, apparently wants to study at £31,000-a-year Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, according to sources there.

The Daily Express has multiple “sources” in Williamstown talking about Princess Eugenie?! And EphBlog has none! This makes me very sad.

More likely, they have no real sources in Williamstown. (Informed commentary on standards in the British press is welcome.) They read EphBlog. They read the story we linked to. They called up Williams.

Her mother went to the liberal arts college three weeks ago to discuss sending 19-year-old Eugenie there, according to the reports.

Which “reports?” I can find no other previous coverage of the Princess Eugenie-to-Williams connection other than what was published in EphBlog. (The article that Jeff found did not specify that Eugenie was the daughter considering Williams.) We broke this story! (Evidence to the contrary welcome.) How about a little love for EphBlog?

By the way, if you are the Record reporter assigned to this story, then you ought to cite EphBlog. What plausible excuse do you have not to since a) We first reported the story and b) You almost certainly read about it here first. And don’t we all agree that the Record should write about this?

But the choice of an American university, which could be seen as a vote of no-confidence in British education, would threaten to embroil the Royal Family in a political controversy.

She already receives police protection – at a cost of £250,000 a year to taxpayers – on the insistence of her father. The gap year reportedly adds a further £100,000.

A four-year course at Williams would add considerably more to taxpayers’ costs if British detectives had to stay with her.

Would the British taxes go to Eugnie’s Williams education? Why is that? I assumed that the British Royal family is independently wealthy.

Does Eugenie really need guards? I don’t know. But I bet those guards would receive a warm welcome from the Williams rugby team! Assume that the guards come to Williams. How would that work? One hopes that Eugenie would be able to live in a freshmen entry, but it is hard to imagine that her (male or female?) guards would live there too. Dean Dave has a lot of interesting decisions to make . . .

Eugenie has previously suggested that she wanted to study English and history of art at Bristol or Newcastle universities.

A spokesman for Williams College declined to discuss Fergie’s visit on April 22.

“I can’t discuss private visits,” he said. “If she had come here to speak at a public lecture, for example, then I would have been able to speak about that.”

20070111073841 Hey! How about a little love for Jim Kolesar ’72, Director of Public Affairs? He is more than an unnamed spokesman. He is a Williams graduate and Williams parent. By the way, wouldn’t you love to have a transcript of Jim’s conversation with the reporter from the Daily Express? Must be interesting to be badgered by a member of the British press . . .

See, Jim, EphBlog isn’t so bad . . .


By the way, at what point to the members of the class of 2013 become public knowledge? The College has 550 deposits. Williams either has a check from the British Treasury or it does not. At some point, all members of the class of 2013 get a list of all their classmates, don’t they? Keep us posted!

I can’t speak for other authors on EphBlog, but I plan in following Jeff Zeeman’s proposal:

Again, as I alluded to in a comment to my own post, I do think if a member of the royal family ends up matriculating at Williams, that would be a huge story for Williams (and undoubtedly it would receive a lot of media attention beyond Ephblog). I don’t see anything wrong with noting that here. However, if and when any such celebrity starts at Williams, this blog should not become a tabloid — we should in that case leave her be to enjoy her undergrad years in as normal a fashion as possible.

Exactly correct. Beyond reporting/confirming the news that she is an Eph, I, for one, won’t be writing about her activities as an undergraduate any differently than I will abiout the 549 other members of the class of 2013. Want bikini pictures or Facebook snooping? Look elsewhere.


Princess of York ’13

Jeff noted that the Duchess of York had visited Williams. Key paragraph:

“The scuttlebutt,” Abrams explains, “is that the Duchess of York had an appointment at Williams College to discuss the prestigious school for possible placement for one of her daughters. Since she was swept off the plane and driven directly to Berkshire County, Fergie wanted to freshen-up and change her outfit before going on to her meeting. The limousine driver was instructed to stop at a local hotel to ask if a room could be made available as a courtesy for that purpose,” Abrams notes.

The daughter would probably be Princess Eugenie of York


Attentive readers will note that she is wearing purple. A princess at Williams? What will my friends in Women’s Studies say? Previous famous female Eph matriculants have included a soap opera character, an OC resident and the President’s daughter, but all of these were fictitious.

I added the above as an UPDATE to Jeff’s post. After some discussion, we decided that it would be best to split off this photo and the associated discussion into a new thread. Please read the comments in the previous thread for full context. Comments:

1) Ronit points out that this is not really a photo of Princess Eugenie. More here:

Eugenie, daughter of Fergie and Prince Andrew and sixth in line to the throne, seems to have become the latest victim of computer retouching after posing for the cover of next month’s Tatler magazine.

Gone is her teenage puppy fat and awkward smile – replaced with the bone structure of a supermodel.

The Mirror’s health expert Dr Miriam Stoppard said: “It’s that arm that’s the giveaway because it’s the arm of an anorexic.

“I really feel sorry for Princess Eugenie because the aspiration to look so altered through airbrushing is really sad.”

And beauty expert Madeline Crisp added: “She has lost her youthful bloom.”

Eugenie, who will be 18 on March 23, isn’t the first to be airbrushed by a magazine. Kate Winslet was famously made more slender by GQ in 2003.

At least the princess is in right royal company then.

Indeed. Photo above from Google Images.

2) JG asks about the “posting a gratuitous pic.” Well, the context here is that adding pictures to posts is a good thing. I, and other authors, should do it more often. Having decided to add a photo of Princess Eugenie, which one should I select? Given the choices available from Google, I would say that the one I choose was, at first glance, the best since a) she is wearing purple, b) it is a posed, professional, high quality photograph and c) rather than a paparazzi shot taken without her permission, the Princess must have consented to Tattler using that photo. When in doubt, I prefer to allow people to present themselves as they wish to. What criteria would critics use instead?

3) InvisibleMom’10 writes:

If Fergie was under the impression that this idyllic, yet remote academic institution, would provide Eugenie with privacy, one look at EphBlog and she’d know the truth.

That’s right. Nasty old EphBlog is the sort of place that would republish the photo that you posed for and which appeared on the cover of a national magazine. We are eeeevil. As eyetoldyouso comments:

I am not sure posting a cover photo from a magazine with a 300 year history and a current circulation of around 90,000 constitutes an invasion of privacy. I think, but would not know, that you pose for covers because you want people to look at you.


4) sophmom adds:

Why is there a photo of the daughter posted? Because DK thinks she might be the one considering Williams?

The story is fun and amusing, but posting the photo is going too far.

My guess is that it is Eugenie who is considering Williams. Her elder sister Beatrice is already in college. The Princess seems to have the intellectual chops and interest in art history that would make Williams a natural fit. Since she the plan seems to have been for her to start college in the fall of 2009, she may already be a member of the class of 2013. You read it on EphBlog first.

What policy would Sophmom (or anyone else) propose for posting photos? The Princess is a 19 years-old famous public figure, 6th in line to the thrown of England. She has had her photo taken literally millions of times. She posed for Tattler. If I can’t use that photo, is there any photo that I can use?

Without directing this comment toward any reader in particular, let me just say that the whole discussion reminds me of the commentary surrounding the Vanity Fair photo of Erin Burnett ’98. In both cases, we have highly intelligent and attractive women who have chosen how they want to present themselves to the world. Why don’t we grant them the respect they deserve? Why attack me for posting photos that were clearly meant, by both women, to be seen far and wide?

Now, of course, there is some chance that neither Burnett nor Eugenie wanted to present themselves in this fashion. Perhaps they were tricked by the photographer. Perhaps they were misled by the publication. Eugenie, after all, was only 17 at the time the cover photo was taken. Yet, I highly doubt that that’s what happened. Burnett and Eugenie have advisers and staff. They almost certainly retained veto rights over the photos. It was almost certainly a collaborative effort. We are viewing the photos that they wanted us to view.

So why is everyone mad at me?


Royals at Williams

Definitely check out this wild story on Fergie’s (the Dutchess, not the singer — although I am not sure which would be more surprising) visit to Williamstown.  If anyone has any updates on the results of this visit, the readership of this blog would certainly love to hear them.

*(I am glad I beat DK to this one, because God knows what non-sequitor finances-related rant this would prove an inspiration for).

UPDATE from DK: Material formerly here has been moved to this post.


Lusting After the Female Presenters

How do smart people think about the Cramer/Stewart show-down? Like this:

Just watched the Jim Cramer interview on The Daily Show. It made me sooo fucking mad. What a dick. How full of oneself can one person be? And such a preachy loudmouth, too.

I’m talking of course of Jon Stewart, self-appointed mob leader, First Pitchfork. Of whom nothing ill may normally be said. At least 70% of the “interview” was him talking, for chrissakes. The rest of it was sandbagging, showing shady internet video from 2006 off where Cramer fesses up to, among other things, spreading vaguely dodgy rumours about Apple, and ramming the futures down pre-opening. Big fucking deal, and that never took a dime from the Great American Public. The whole point of his banging on about it in the video, I can only imagine, was to warn viewers that this sort of thing goes on, rather than, as was clearly implied by His Preachiness, to inform his viewers and the SEC that he is a semi-criminal financial mastermind. Whatever; this was less an interview, in no way a “showdown,” more a pre-planned evisceration in front of a hostile, servile audience. That audience is so sycophantic, it makes Jon Stewart uncomfortable, and rightly so. As a spectacle, it was disturbing. One of those Spanish festivals where they torture a donkey came to mind, or where they drop a goat out of the church steeple.

Asking CNBC to become some sort of “good citizen” financial journalist, exposing evil banking shenanigans, as Jon Stewart fantasises, would be like asking Paris Hilton to teach an Open University course in quantum physics. It is not a realistic proposition. In any case, which muckraking financial institution does he have in mind as a paragon? The FT? WSJ? The Economist? Boooorring. Bloomberg TV is probably the model he has in mind, or something on PBS. There’s no money in that, neither explicity predicted, as far as I know, our current difficulties, and no-one watches.
For most of us doing the investing, CNBC (and, most of the time, Cramer, for that matter) is absolutely irrelevant in investing, a backround hum on the trading floor, good only for finding out what the consensus is thinking at any one time and lusting after the female presenters (I like Erin Burnett). No-one I know takes any of it seriously.

Jon Stewart is surfing on rage, and unloading on the public face of stockmarket investing. Like most members of the public he doesn’t quite understand what has happened, and is sure they have all been somehow “gotten”. And of course they have been, but are all complicit in it the same time. Even if they didn’t buy overpriced houses with too much debt, I bet a lot of Jon Stewart’s audience remortgaged and bought an LCD TV, new car and a great holiday, or at least invested their 401ks into stocks and mutual funds. Get the pitchforks out and let’s get the bankers, anyway, it’ll make some good TV. Well, frankly it didn’t.

Contrary view from another smart person here. Who’s right? I’ll go with the guy who likes Eph women!


Jim Cramer, P ’13, on the Daily Show – Must See TV

Jim Cramer, whose daughter who will be attending Williams next year, was on The Daily Show tonight, after some back-and-forth over the week. It all started when Rick Santelli of CNBC canceled on Stewart, causing the same night this clip was aired. Cramer should get massive kudos for having the guts and gumption to do what Santelli could not, and had to personally represent the failures of Wall Street.

Video here.

The Eph connection is admittedly weak, though Cramer’s children are mentioned as Daily Show fans in this clip. However, Williams was also known when I arrived in Fall ’07 as a feeder school for the Wall Street titans. I recall several days when it seemed every senior I knew was in coat & tie for a Morgan Stanley reception in Paresky basement or a Merrill Lynch interview at the OCC, and this interview is not just about Cramer or CNBC; it’s about the nature of Wall Street and the business that so many Ephs went into. I don’t pretend to understand the underlying economics (though I feel good about my ECON 120 midterm), but the interview is valuable for both Stewart’s relentless prosecution and Cramer’s attempts to explain the forces at work around him.

I don’t often make blanket statements, but if you’ve never seen anything else on the Daily Show, you watched a single online video, watch this interview. It was the first three segment interview I’ve seen on the Daily Show, and still went 8 minutes into overtime. Two other clips of Stewart’s best are here (post 9/11 speech) and here (speaking against partisanship as entertainment).

Media coverage here. (to the tune of 533 articles so far) Once available, you can find the interview at the show website, or According to James Fallows, a longtime journalist for the Atlantic, “Jon Stewart has become Edward R. Murrow.”


A Tribute to Kirk Varnedoe ’67 – Part X


In this, the final segment, we have an encore of Boston College- Miami, “no Hail Mary” that one, instead, “one more work of art”…

…and a return to Williams College, a tribute in itself.

(Special thanks to Adam Gopnik for taking me on a journey I will not forget.)


The Last of the Metrozoids
by Adam Gopnik
Part X

By July, the doctors had passed him right out of even the compassionate trials and were into the world of guesses and radiation. “It’s a Hail Mary,” he said of a new radiation therapy that they were proposing. “But, who knows, maybe I’ll get the Doug Flutie of radiologists.” Then a slight ache in his back that he thought was a disk he’d hurt water-skiing turned out to be large tumor in his spine, and the end came quickly.

His wife, Elyn, had to be out of the city, and I spent the last Saturday afternoon of his life with him. In the old way, I went into his office to work on something I was writing. Kirk went to see what was on television. He had, I noticed, a team photograph of the Metrozoids at their last practice propped up on the coffee table. By then he could hardly walk, and his breath came hard.
But he called out, “Yo. You got to come here.”


“You won’t believe this. Boston College-Miami.”

Damned if it wasn’t. ESPN Classics had a “Hail Mary” Saturday, all the great games decided on the last play, and now, twenty years late, they were showing the game from beginning to end: the whole game, with the old graphics and the announcer’s promos, exactly as it had first been shown.

So we finally got to watch the game. And it was 1984 again, and the game was thrilling, even though you knew what the outcome would be and how it would happen. Kirk’s brother, Sam, came around, and he watched, too, the three of us just enjoying a good game, until at last here we were at that famous, miraculous, final Hail Mary, Doug Flutie dropping back and rolling out to heave the ball desperately downfield.

“Look at that!” Kirk cried, and the ball was still in midair out of view, up above the television screen.

“What?” I asked, as the ball made its arc and fell into the hands of Gerard Phelan and the announcers went wild.

“That’s no Hail Mary. Watch it again and you’ll see. That’s a coverage breakdown.” The old defensive-backfield coach spoke evenly, as, twenty years before, the crowd jumped and screamed. “Safety steps up too soon because he doesn’t think Flutie can make that throw on the run. What he doesn’t see is that Flutie has time to square around and get his feet set on the rollout, which adds fifteen yards to his range. Safety steps up too soon, Phelan runs a standard post route, and that’s it. That safety sees Flutie get his feet set, makes the right read, and there’s no completion.” Turning to us, he said, “That is no Hail Mary, friends. That’s no miracle. That is just the play you make. That is one gentleman making the right read and running the right pattern and the other gentleman making the wrong read.” And for one moment he looked as happy as I had ever known him: one more piece of the world’s mysteries demystified without being debunked, a thing legendary and hallowed broken down into the real pattern of human initiative and human weakness and human action that had made it happen. We had been waiting twenty years to see a miracle, and what we saw – what he saw, once again, and showed us – was one more work of art, a pattern made by people out of the possibilities the moment offered to a ready mind. It was no Hail Mary, friends; it was a play you made.

He turned to me and Sam, and, still elated by the revelation of what had really happened all those years ago, we began to talk about Ralph Emerson and Richard Serra. And then Kirk said heavily, “There is nothing in the world I would rather be doing than taking part in this conversation. But I have to lie down.” He died four days afterward, late at night, having spent the day talking about Hitchcock films and eighteenth-century hospital architecture.

Luke and Elyn and I went up to the football field at Williams last fall and, with some other friends, spread his ashes in the end zone, under the goalposts. At his memorial, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Renee Fleming sang and the violinist Arnold Steinhardt played and the art world of New York turned out and listened and recalled him. I think a lot of them must have been puzzled, in the slide show that Elyn had prepared to begin the evening, and which recapitulated his career, from Savannah to Princeton, to see toward the end a separate section gravely entitled “The Giant Metrozoids,” with the big figure surrounded by small boys. But I’m sure he would have been glad to see them there. The Metrozoids are getting back in business again, with an inadequate coach. I’ve thought about finally making the motivational speech, but I don’t think I need to. The Metrozoids don’t need to learn how to separate the men from the heroes. They know.

The End


A Tribute to Kirk Varnedoe ’67 – Part IX

(image of Torqued Ellipse by Richard Serra)

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in the rain. Time to die.

The line above comes from Blade Runner. It was quoted by Varnedoe in his final Mellon lecture, when he himself knew he was close to death.

I feel the need at this point to say very little, indeed, to speak in hushed tones, to give Gopnik’s words, the setting and reverence they, and their subject matter, deserve.

The Last of the Metrozoids
by Adam Gopnik
Part IX

If this story were the made-for-television movie that every story about early death threatens to become, we would have arranged one fiery game between the Giant Metrozoids and another team, a bigger, faster, slightly evil team, and the Metrozoids would win it for their coach. It didn’t happen like that. Not that the Metrozoids didn’t want a game. As their self-confidence increased, they kept urging us to find another team of eight-year-olds that they could test themselves against. I was all for it, but Kirk, I sensed, was not. Whenever the boys raised the possibility, he would say diffidently, “Let’s wait till the fall,” knowing, of course, that the fall, his fall, would never come.

I understood the hold he had on the Metrozoids. But when I thought about his hesitation, I started to understand the hold that the Metrozoids had on him. I had once said something fatuous to him about enjoying tonight’s sunset, whatever tomorrow would bring, and he had replied that when you know you are dying, you cannot simply “live in the moment.” You loved a fine sunset because it slipped so easily into a history, your’s and the world’s; part of the pleasure lay in knowing that it was one in a stream of sunsets you had loved, each good, some better, one or two perfect, moving forward in an open series. Once you knew that this one could be the last, it filled you with a sense of dread; what was the point of collecting paintings in a museum you knew was doomed to burn down?

But there were pleasures in life that were meaningful in themselves, that did not depend on their place in an ongoing story, now interrupted. These pleasures were not “aesthetic” thrills – not the hang gliding you had never done or the trip to Maui you had never taken – but things that existed outside the passage of time, things that were beyond comparison or, rather, beside comparison, off to one side of it. He loved the Metrozoid practices, I came to see, because for him they weren’t really practicing. The game would never come, and the game didn’t matter. What mattered was doing it.

At the last practice of the school year, the boys ran their plays and scrimmaged, and the familiar forms of football, of protection and pass routes and coverages, were all there, almost magically emerging from the chaos of eight-year-olds in motion. At the end, the boys came running up to him, and he stood in place and low-fived each one of them. “See you in September,” the kids cried, and Kirk let the small hands slap his broad one and smiled. “We’ll work again in the fall,” he said, and I knew he meant that someone would.

That Sunday he did something that surprised me. It was the last lecture of the Mellons, and he talked about death. Until then I had never heard him mention it in public. He had dealt with it by refusing to describe it – from Kirk, the ultimate insult. Now, in this last lecture, he turned on the audience and quoted a line from a favorite movie, Blade Runner, in which the android leader says, “Time to die,”, and at te very end Kirk showed them one of his favorite works, a Richard Serra Torqued Ellipse, and he showed them how the work itself, in the physical experiences it offered – inside and out, safe and precarious, cold and warm – made all the case that needed to be made for the complexity, the emotional urgency, of abstract art. Then he began to talk about his faith. “But what kind of faith?” he asked. “Not a faith in absolutes. Not a religious kind of faith. A faith only in possibility, a faith not that we will know something, finally, but a faith in not knowing, a faith in our ignorance, a faith in our being confounded and dumbfounded, as something fertile with possible meaning and growth…Because it can be done, it will be done. And now I am done.” The applause, when it came, was stadium applause, and it went on a long time.

(Part X, the final one, tomorrow)


A Tribute to Kirk Varnedoe ’67 – Part VIII

(for original post, please go here)

One of the things I truly love about this essay, is how beautifully it pays tribute, not just to Varnedoe, but to the mentor-protege relationship. Gopnik begins the piece with the back story of how he and Kirk first came to know one another as teacher and student, and seamlessly illustrates the transition into a deep and lifelong friendship.

It seems fitting at this point, to reflect on Lane Faison. In speaking of his mentor, Varnedoe once said:

“No single thing about Lane was so impressive, and so decisive in my life, as his pleasure. A sense of the obligatory, the routine,the bored – all those things that so often color a course taught for the umpty-umpth time, and all those things that can chill a student at a hundred paces – never intruded in anything he did.”

And Gopnik, in turn says of Varnedoe:

“[Kirk] loved life in its most tangible forms, and so for him art was as physical and pleasurable as being knocked down by a wave. Art was always material first – it was never, ever bound by a thorny crown of ideas.”

And so we have it. A handing down of what is learned, the nurturing of a way of seeing and living, a recognition of  the pleasure to be had in it, all qualities that make a life, a work of art in itself. Gopnik’s beautiful essay, yet more evidence of the value of this blessed tradition.

In this segment, Gopnik returns us to Metrozoid Field, and to the secret of great teaching.

The Last of the Metrozoids
by Adam Gopnik

That Friday, out on Metrozoid Field, Kirk divided the boys into two teams. “A team runs the play, and B team defends,” he said.

“But they’ll know what we’re gonna do,” someone on the A team complained.

“That’s okay. Most of the time the other team knows what you’re gonna do. That’s called your tendency. The key is to do it anyway.”

“But if they know-”

“Just run the play. Most of the time the other team knows. The hard part is doing it right even when you know exactly what’s coming.”

The offense boys ran their one play, the flea flicker, and the defense boys ran around trying to stop it. Standing on the sidelines, I was amazed to see how hard it was to stop the play even if you did know it was coming. The boys on defense ran around, nettled, converging on the wrong receiver and waving their hands blindly at the ball. The boys on offense looked a little smug.

Kirk called them together. “You know what they’re going to do. Why can’t you stop it?”

The boys on the B team, slightly out of breath, shrugged.

“You can’t stop it because they know what they’re going to do, but you don’t know what you’re going to do against it. One team has a plan, and the other team doesn’t. One team knows what it’s doing, and the other team knows what they’re doing, but it doesn’t know what it’s doing. Now let’s figure out what you’re going to do.”

He went to work. Who’s the fastest kid they have? Okay, let’s put the fastest kid we have on him. Or, better, what if each guy takes a part of the field and just stays there and knocks the ball down if it comes near him? Don’t move now; just stay there and knock it down. They tried both ways – man-to-man and zone – and found that both ways worked. The play lost its luster. The boys on the B team now seemed smug, and the boys on the A team lost.

“Maybe you need another wrinkle,” Kirk said to the A team. “Let’s work on it.”

Watching him on Metrozoid Field, you could see what made him a great teacher on bigger questions for bigger kids. Football was a set of steps, art a set of actions. The mysterious, baffling things – modern art, the zone defense – weren’t so mysterious or baffling if you broke them down. By the end of the spring practice, the eight-year-olds were instinctively rotating out of man-to-man into a zone and the offense audibling out of a spread formation into a halfback option, just as the grown-ups in Washington were suddenly seeing the differences and similarites between Pollock’s drips and Twombly’s scrawls.

One particularly bright kid, Jacob, was scared of the ball, the onrushing object and the thousand intricate adjustments you had to make to catch it. He would throw out his arms and look away instead of bringing his hands together. Kirk worked with him. He stood nearby and threw Jacob the ball, underhanded, and then got him to do one thing right. When he caught it, Kirk wasn’t too encouraging; when he dropped one, he wasn’t too hard. He did not make him think it was easy. He did not make him think that he had done it when he hadn’t. He made him think that he could do it if he chose.

It is said sometimes that the great teachers and mentors, the wise men and gurus, achieve their ends by inducting the disciple into a kind of secret circle of knowledge and belief, make of their charisma a kind of gift. The more I think about it, though, the more I suspect that the best teachers – and, for that matter, the truly long-term winning coaches may offer a charismatic model – they probably have to – but then they insist that all the magic they have to offer is a commitment to repetition and perserverance. The great oracles may enthrall, but the really great teachers demystify. They make particle physics into a series of diagrams that anyone can follow, football into a series of steps that anyone can master, and art into a series of slides that anyone can see. A guru gives us himself and then his system; a teacher gives us his subject, and then ourselves.

(Part IX tomorrow)


A Tribute to Kirk Varnedoe ’67 – Part VII

(image from painting by Cy Twombly)

Varnedoe, unlike many in his position, did not set himself apart as judge and critic. He connected with artists in the same way that he connected with their work.

Chuck Close said of him:

“As an artist it was thrilling to have Kirk describe your work. He was a dazzling speaker, but it was not just wordsmanship. He got to the heart of things fast. He had a genuine rapport with artists. He even married one.”

In the Mellon lectures, we see full evidence of not only this wordsmanship, but also in his ability to understand the experience of the artist in producing the work. Note the deference he gives his wife (accomplished artist Elyn Zimmerman) in this particular description of a painting by Cy Twombly. It’s worth mentioning that the work he describes (of which you see a tiny snippet above) is, in reality, approximately 13 feet by 21 feet.

“Drawn with what looks like chalk but is actually an oil crayon on gray ground, it is one of his so-called blackboard series; […]. In fact, it is not a blackboard, and this forces us to deal with what it is. But what is it? It is a kind of furious scribbling, a seemingly mindless repetition of the same hand-drawn gesture. But the gesture is repeated so often and on such a scale that it begins to vault into a different set of references. We lose sight of the arm or the wrist, and begin instead to be aware of the scale of the whole body. And then, because the overlays and densities begin to create a sense of space or depth that is nowhere cued by perspective but is suggested by the blurring, cloudlike structure, we lose awareness of the scale of the body as well. My wife, who is an artist, said of this picture that it’s so large and complex that it has its own weather. We sense that it has a kind of energy to it, a pulse like that of a cosmic nebula. And we keep reaching for analogies – weather, night sky, the impulsiveness – for a vocabulary that in the end describes nothing other than this picture, We grapple with the combination of things the picture presents: with minute, intimate, and grand scale; with flatness and depth; with huge energy and vast, dissolving serenity. And we continually wind around something that never becomes any particular thing but itself, that has all of the complexity and energy that only it has, and that did not exist before.”

In today’s segment of Gopnik’s essay, Kirk is in the final weeks of the Mellon lectures. And given his beautiful powers of description (indeed, art in and of itself), it is not surprising,  that the crowd was overflowing.

The Last of the Metrozoids
by Adam Gopnik
Part VII

By the fourth and fifth weeks of the Mellons, the scene at the National Gallery was almost absurd. People were lining up at nine in the morning for the two o’clock lecture; I met a woman who had driven down from Maine to be there. The overflow room had to be supplied with its own overflow room, and the museum finally printed a slightly short-tempered handout. (“But what if I need to use the restroom while standing in line?” “If you need to use the restroom while in line, ask your neighbor to save your place.”)


The fifth lecture would, Kirk thought, be the toughest to put over. He found it easy to make an audience feel the variety, the humanity, of abstract art, even an art as refined and obstinate as the art of Judd or the young Frank Stella. But it was harder to make people accept and relish that art’s perversity, and harder still to make them see that its perversity was exactly the humanism it offered. In the lecture hall, he explained that, as E.H. Gombrich had shown half a century ago in his Mellon Lectures, representational artists were always making forms and then matching them – taking inherited stereotypes and “correcting” them in the light of new things seen. Leonardo, for instance, had inherited the heraldic image of a horse, and he had bent it and reshaped it until it looked like an actual animal. Abstract artists were always making forms and then trying to unmatch them, to make sure that their art didn’t look like things in the world. Sooner or later, though, they always did, and this meant that, alongside abstraction, there was a kind of sardonic running commentary, which jumped on it anytime that it did look like some banal familiar thing.

Pop art was the most obvious source and form of this mockery: Roy Lichtenstein made fun of the abstract Op artist Victor Vasarely for making pictures that looked like the bottom of a sneaker, and Andy Warhol thumbed his nose at Barnett Newman for making pictures that looked like matchbook covers, and so on. But this countertradition wasn’t more jeering. It was generative, too: It forced and inspired new art. It kept abstraction from wallowing complacently in a vague mystical humanism. In the parody and satire of abstraction, its apparent negation, lay its renewal.

This process,Kirk explained, easiy visible in the dialogue of minimalism and Pop, was just as vital, if less obvious, in the relationship between Jackson Pollock and Cy Twombly, two of his heroes. Twombly’s squiggles and scribbles were not dutifully inspired by but actually parodied Pollock’s method: “Everything that Twombly achieves, he achieves by the ironic distancing of himself from Pollock. Everything that is liquid is turned dry. Everything that is light is turned dark. Everything that is simple and spontaneous and athletic is turned obsessive, repetitive, self-conscious in Twombly. By this kind of negation, he re-realizes, on a completely different scale and completely different terms, the exact immediacy of energy conveyed to canvas that Pollock has.” Negation and parody were forms of influence as powerful as any solemn “transmission” of received icons. Doubt led to argument; argument made art.

(Part VIII tomorrow)


A Tribute to Kirk Varnedoe ’67 – Part VI

(for original post, please go here)

Though Varnedoe seemed to recognize the value of a systematic approach to work, one requiring close examination and long hours, he also knew that real opportunity often came knocking in the random moment. Whether it be Richard Serra’s impulse to splatter hot metal on his studio floor, or William Web Ellis’s zany urge to tear ass across a soccer field, ball in hand, Kirk knew that after all was said and done, a fine disregard for the rules, and taking advantage of the unexpected, was the key to innovation. He chronicled this theory in his book (funded as a result of his 1984 MacArthur Foundation award) and he encouraged this practice in life, even on Metrozoid Field.

The Last of the Metrozoids
by Adam Gopnik
Part VI

“Okay, we’re going to learn a play,” he said the next Friday at Metrozoid practice. The boys were standing on Metrozoid Field in their Metrozoid shirts in a semicircle around him. He showed them the play he had in mind, tracing it in the dirt with a stick: The quarterback takes the ball from the center and laterals to the halfback, who looks for one of three downfield receivers, who go in overlapping paths down the right sideline – one long, one medium, one short. The boys clapped hands and ran to the center of the field, terrier-quick and terrier-eager.

“No, no. Don’t run. Just walk through it the first few times.”

The boys then ostentatiously walked through the play, clowning around a bit, as though in slow motion. He laughed at that. But he had them do it anyway, five or six times, at a walk.

“Now let’s just amble through it, same thing,” The play took on a courtly quality, like a seventeenth-century dance. The boys did it at that pace, again and again: Hike and pitch and look and throw.

“Now let’s just run easy.” The boys trotted through their pattern, and Garrett, the chosen quarterback, kept overthrowing the ball. Gently but firmly, Kirk changed the running back with the quarterback – Ken for Garrett, so that Garrett had the honor of being official quarterback but wouldn’t have to throw – and then had them trot through it again. Ken threw hard, and the ball was caught.

After twenty minutes, Kirk clapped his hands. “Full speed. Everybody run.” The boys got in their stances, and took off – really zoomed, The ball came nervously back, the quarterback tossed it to the halfback, he turned and threw it to the short receiver.

“Great!” At top eight-year-old speed, the ball had been thrown for a completion. The Metrozoids had mastered a play.

“Now let’s do it again,” Kirk said. I heard him whisper to Matthew, the short receiver, as he lined up, “Fall down!” They started the play, Garrett to Ken. Matthew fell down. Ken’s eyes showed a moment of panic, but then he looked up and saw the next boy, the middle receiver, Luke, waiting right in line, and he threw there. Complete.

“Nice read,” Kirk said, clapping his hands. “Nice read, nice throw, nice catch. Well-executed play.”

The boys beamed at one another.

“You break it down, and then you build it back up,” Kirk said as they met at the center of the field to do the pile of hands. “The hardest play you learn is just steps put together.”

(Part VII tomorrow)


A Tribute to Kirk Varnedoe ’67 – Part V

"The less there is to look at, the more important it is that we look at it closely and carefully." K. Varnedoe

"The less there is to look at, the more important it is that we look at it closely and carefully." K. Varnedoe

(image from a painting by Ellsworth Kelly)

In this fifth segment, Varnedoe delivers the first of his Mellon lectures (Pictures of Nothing). Gopnik writes that Varnedoe’s strength was in how he “walked people through.” That his methodology, whether he was coaching eight-year-olds at football, or lecturing an art crowd on how to look at an Ellsworth Kelly, involved “breaking it down” and “build(ing) it back up”; examining the seemingly simplest of things, “closely and carefully”.

The Last of the Metrozoids
by Adam Gopnik
Part V

That Sunday of the first Mellon lecture, Kirk walked to the lectern after an introduction. The room was sold out, and the overrflow had been sent to another lecture room. “Can I have the lights down, please,” he said, and I saw that he had kept his word: He had no text, no notes, just a list of slides. He began to show and describe objects from sixties American minimalism – plywood boxes and laid-out bricks and striped paintings. He didn’t offer a “theory” or a historical point. He tried instead to explain that a landscape  that looked simple – there had been Abstract Expressionist splashes, and then there were all these boxes – was actually extraordinarily complex: There was a big difference betweenthe boxes of Donald Judd, elegizing New York Canal Street culture,and the gleaming body-shop boxes of the West Coast minimalists, glorifying California car culture.

“The less there is to look at,” he said, pacing, as he always did, “the more important it is that we look at it closely and carefully. Small differences make all the differences. So, for example, the next time somebody tries to sell you on the mechanical exactitude of Frank Stella’s stripes, think again about the beautiful, delicate breathing space in these stripes, the incredible feathered edge of the touch of the picture, which has everything to do with its kind of espresso-grounds, Beat Generation blackness that gives the picture its particular relationship to its epoch and time.”

So he walked people through it. There were the bright Matissean stripes of Ellsworth Kelly, made from the traced shapes of Parisian shadows, and those dark espresso-bar simplicities of Stella. There was the tradition of the Bauhaus diaspora, all those German refugee artists who had been forced to go to South America and who had proselytized for a kind of utopian, geometric abstraction – which had then appeared in New York just as New York artists were using geometric forms to indicate a cool-guy stoical distaste for utopian aspirations, creating a comedy of misunderstanding and crossbreeding. An art that had seemed like a group of quadratic equations set by a joyless teacher had been revealed as a sequence of inventions thought up by people. Where there seemed to be things, there were stories. The audience, at the end of the hour, was riveted. Someone was breaking it down and then was going to build it back up. You didn’t want to miss it.

(Part VI tomorrow)


A Tribute to Kirk Varnedoe ’67 – Part IV

(For original post, please go here)

(image from A. Warhol’s Elvis series)

In 1990, while still fairly new in his position as Director of the Department of Painting and Sculpture at MoMA, Kirk launched a controversial exhibit titled “High and Low”. It was inspired by an article written by Gopnik, which traced the influence of caricature and cartoons on some of Picasso’s portraiture. In defense of  initial reaction, Varnedoe asserted to writer William Grimes in this March 1990 interview, that “the relationship of high art to mass culture is one of the great subjects crucial to what made modern art modern – and is still the source of high contention and interest with younger artists today.” He argued that “if you’re interested in Lichtenstein, then it would be hard to deny that his openness to comic books was important in what he did. If you’re interested in Cy Twombly you must recognize – I’m not inventing this – that there’s some connection there to the language of graffiti.”

 Gopnik elaborates on this, by writing: “[Kirk] thought that modern art was a part of modern life: not a reaction against it, or a subversion of it, but set within its values and contradictions…”

Whether it was Dylan he talked about, or Elvis… Picasso or Twombley, Varnedoe saw the connectivity between the individual and community, between art and life.

Today’s segment begins with the boys’ practice sessions at “Metrozoid Field”, and then segues into discussions Varnedoe and Gopnik had during the chemotherapy sessions that took place between these practices.

The Last of the Metrozoids
by Adam Gopnik
Part IV

“I think I’m going to make the motivational speech,” I said to Luke as we walked over to Metrozoid Field the next Friday. I had been working on the motivational speech for several days. I didn’t see a role for myself on the Metrozoids as a leader, and I thought I might make a contribution as the Tommy Lasorda type, raising everyone’s spirits and bleeding Metrozoid blue.

“Okay,” he said, relenting for the moment. “Tell it to me again.”

“We’re here to separate the men from the boys,” I said, stopping at the Miners’ Gate entrance to the park, at Seventy-ninth Street,  and trying to growl like Gary Busey as the Bear, “and then we’re going to separate the warriors from the men.” I paused to let this sink in. “And then we’re going to separate the heroes from the warriors – and then we’re going to separate the legends from the heroes. And then, at last, we’re going to separate the gods from the legends. So, if you’re not ready to be a football god, you don’t want to be a Metrozoid.” Long pause. “Now, won’t that make the guys motivated?”

He reflected. “I don’t know if they’ll be motivated. They’ll certainly be nauseated. Nobody wants to be motivated to play football, Dad. They want to play football.

Kirk ran another minimalist practice on this second week, and he missed the next because he was too sick from the chemo. I ran the session, and I thought ambitiously that it would be good to try a play at last, so I set about teaching them a simple stop-and-go. I got them to line up and run short, stop, and then go long. They ran it one by one, but none of them could get the timing quite right, and the boy who was supposed to be quarterbacking the thing couldn’t get the right zip on the ball. Everyone was more annoyed than motivated, so I stopped after ten minutes and sent them back to scrimmaging. They were restless for their coach. 

It wasn’t any surprise that he missed a practice; the surprise was that he made as many as he did. The chemo he was getting was so caustic that it had to be infused gradually,over sessions lasting three or four hours. Years of chemotherapy had left the veins in his arms so collapsed that sometimes it took half an hour for a nurse just to find an entry. He would grimace while being poked at with the needle, and then go on talking. He had the chemotherapy at one of the midtown extensions of the hospital, where the walls were earnestly decoratd with Impressionist posters, Manet and Monet and Renoir – the art that he had taught a generation to relish for it’s spring-coiled internal contradictions and tensions there as something soothing for dying patients to look at.

He would talk for hours. Sometimes he talked about the Metrozoids, and sometimes about Dylan or Elvis, but mostly, he tried to talk through the Mellon Lectures he was to give in Washington. He was, he said, going to speak without a text, just with a slide list. This was partly a bravura performer’s desire to do one last bravura performance. It was also because he had come to believe that in art history, description was all the theory you needed; if you could describe what was there and what it meant (to the painter, to his time, to you) you didn’t need a deeper supporting theory. Art wasn’t meaningful because, after you looked at it, someone explained it; art explained itself by being there to look at.

He thought that modern art was a part of modern life: not a reaction against it, or a subversion of it, but set within it’s values and contradictions, as surely as Renaissance art was set in its time. His book on the origins of modernism, A Fine Disregard, used an analogy from the history of rugby to illuminate the moment of artistic innovation: During a soccer game at the Rugby School, in England, an unknown young man named William Webb Ellis picked up the ball and ran with it, and a new game came into being. A lot of people thought that Kirk was celebrating a Romantic view of invention. But his was a liberal, not a Romantic, view of art. It began with an individual and extended to a community. What fascinated him was the circumstances that let someone act creatively and other people applaud instead of blowing the whistle.

That was what he loved to talk about when he talked about Elvis. He revered the moment when, in 1954, Elvis walked into a studio and played with Scotty and Bill and Sam, and everything suddenly came together. Had any of the elements been absent, as they easily might have been, as they usually are – had the guitarist Scotty Moore been less adaptable, the producer Sam Phillips less patient – then Elvis would have crooned his songs, no one would have cared, and nothing would have happened. The readiness was all. These moments were Kirk’s faith, his stations: Picasso and Braque in their studios cutting the headlines right out of the newspapaers and pasting them on the pictures to make collage; Richard Serra (first among Kirk’s contemporary heroes) throwing hot lead in a studio corner and finding art in its rococo patterns.

Toward the end of one chemotherapy session, as he worried his way through his themes, a young man wearing the usual wool cap on his head came around the usually inviolable barrier of drapery that separated one “suite” from the next.

“You are professor?” he asked shyly, with a Russian accent, and Kirk shook his head.

“No, you are professor. I know. We have treatment at the same time, every week. Same three hours,” and he gestured toward his cap with a short we’re-in-this-together smile. “I used to bring book, but now I just listen to you.”

(look for Part V tomorrow)


A Tribute to Kirk Varnedoe ’67- Part III

(For  original post, please go here)

From all accounts, Varnedoe was a talker, a gifted one. Many attributed this skill to his Savannah upbringing and the Southern propensity to spin a good yarn. Verlyn Klinkenborg puts it well in this NY Times Opinion piece written just days after Kirk passed away:

Nearly everyone who met Kirk Varnedoe felt his volubility, the sometimes astonishing flow of words and ideas at his command. There were set pieces in his conversation, favorite stories, well-trod paths. But mostly there was the feeling that a newly begun sentence could wind up going almost anywhere, crossing the plains into an unknown country or doubling back on a settlement that suddenly looked different than it did the first time we passed it. The great talkers — and he was one — are great because they are always embarked on a voyage of discovery.

In today’s segment, we get a sense of Varnedoe’s way with words, as well as of the work ethic he claims was largely shaped by his involvement in sports. And for all those who have experienced the little sacrifices necessary to the success of a partnership, do not miss “Boston College-Miami”, in the last paragraph. 

The Last of the Metrozoids
by Adam Gopnik
Part III

When I say that I began working harder, I can barely begin to explain what his idea of working harder meant: It was Bear Bryant’s idea of hard work circa 1955, it was General Patton’s idea of of being driven, only more military. It was coupled with a complete openness and equality, a vulnerability to his students’ criticisms so great that it was almost alarming. Kirk was working that hard, and was as eager to have you spot his weights as he was to spot yours. In what now seems like the halcyon days of 1984, a Saturday morning in winter would begin with a phone call and a voice booming, breaking right through the diaphonous protection of the answering machine, “Hey, folks, it’s Kirk. I got up early to walk the pooch, and I think I got some progress made on this here problem. What say we meet at eleven and trade papers?” I would curse, get out of bed, get to work, and be ready three hours later with a new draft of whatever the hell I was supposed to be working on. We would meet at the little island that separates Soho, where we lived, and Tribeca, where he and his wife, the artist Elyn Zimmerman, had their loft, and standing there, he would turn the pages, and I would turn the pages, and he would show me all the ways in which I had missed the boat.

Above all, he would insist, break it down: Who were the artists? What were the pictures? Give me the dates. Compile lists, make them inclusive, walk through it. You break it down in order to build it back up. What does it mean, why does it matter, for this artist, for art history, for the development of human consciousness? I would go back to work, and the phone would ring again at three. “Hey, folks, it’s Kirk. What do you say we meet and go over this new draft I’ve done and then maybe get some dinner?” And we would meet, and all four – or six or eight or ten – people would come together around him, and have dinner, and drink a good bottle of white wine and a good bottle of red wine and finally, exhausted, I would get to bed.

And then the phone would ring again. “Hey, folks, it’s Kirk. I got to walk the pooch one last time, and I was just thinking that I may finally have sorted out the locomotive from the caboose in this thing. What do you say…” And I would put a coat on over my pajamas and go out one last time, in the whipping cold of midnight, and he would open the envelope right there and start reading, signaling to me to do the same, while his black Chow raced around, and we would try one more time to clarify exactly why Picasso looked at African art or why Gauguin went to Tahiti, while a generation walked by us in Astor Place haircuts and long vintage coats on their way to the Odeon.

He gave football all the credit. He had discovered himself playing football, first at his prep school, St. Andrew’s in Delaware, as an overweight and, by all reports, unimpressive adolescent, and then at Williams, where, improbably, he became a starting defensive end. The appeal of football wasn’t that it “built character” – he knew just how cruddy a character a football player could have. It was that it allowed you to make a self. You were one kind of person with one kind of body and one set of possibilities, and then you worked at it and you were another. This model was so simple and so powerful that you could apply it to anything. It was ordinary magic: You worked harder than the next guy, and you were better than the next guy. It put your fate in your own hands.

I had always loved football, too, and we watched it together on Saturday afternoons and Monday nights for years. We saw a lot of good games, but we missed the big one. In 1984 we went up to New England to celebrate Thanksgiving, and we were supposed to watch what promised to be the greatest college football game of all time, Boston College – Miami, Doug Flutie versus Bernie Kosar. But our wives wanted to do something else – go look at things at a Shaker fair, I think – and we came home to find that we’d skipped the greatest college football game of all time, which Flutie had won by a Hail Mary, a long desperation heave on the last play of the game. We stared at each other in disbelief – we missed that? – and for the next twenty years, “Boston College – Miami” was code between us for something you really, really wanted to do but couldn’t, because your wife wanted to do something else. “You want to try and grab a burger at six?” “Uh – Boston College – Miami.” It was code between us also for the ironies of life, our great, overlooked game, the one that got away.

(look for Part IV tomorrow)


A Tribute to Kirk Varnedoe ’67-Part II

(For original post, please go here)

Phong Bui, publisher of The Brooklyn Rail, paid tribute to Kirk Varnedoe in this October 2003 piece. He remarks on Varnedoe’s unusual practice of drawing parallels between art and football:

Kirk loved sports, and drew on them for metaphors (an artist would “take it into the end zone”). People in the art world sometimes found this a little odd, as if art were something too serious and recondite to be compared to a popular diversion like professional football. But for Kirk football was something complicated and thrilling. I watched the Super Bowl with him once. To me, it was just a bunch of guys in funny padded suits, running around at random, and trying to throw the ball before someone jumped them. To Kirk, I realized, it was a game of exquisite strategy and skill, full of subtle stratagems, daring feints, missed opportunities, and narrowly averted catastrophe— much like a Jackson Pollock, in other words. In a world of specialists, Kirk saw life— and art— whole.

In today’s segment, the “Metrozoids” find their playing field . As P’12 commented yesterday, it was “just south of the Metropolitan Museum and Cleopatra’s Needle, as well as just east of Belvedere Castle & Delacorte Theatre, home to Shakespeare in the Park.” And as Gopnik writes below, “it was perfect.”

The Last of the Metrozoids
by Adam Gopnik
Part II

A quarter century later, he was coming to the same field from the hospital. He was a handsome man, in a big-screen way, with the deep-set eyes and boyish smile and even the lumpy, interesting complexion of a Harrison Ford or a Robert Redford. The bull-like constitution that had kept him alive for seven years, as the doctors poured drugs into him like Drano into a clogged sink, might have explained why the chemo, which thinned and balded almost everyone else, had somehow made him gain weight and grow hair, so, though he was a little stocky now, and a little gray, his step was solid and his eyes were rimmed with oddly long Egyptian lashes.

The boys came running from school, excited to have been wearing their Metrozoid T-shirts all day, waiting for practice: Eric and Derek and Ken, good athletes, determined and knowing and nodding brief, been-there-before nods as they chucked the ball around; Jacob and Charlie and Garrett talking a little too quickly and uncertainly about how many downs you had and how many yards you had to go; Will and Luke and Matthew very verbal, evangelizing for a game, please, can’t we, like, have a game with another team, right away, we’re ready; and Gabriel just eager for a chance to get the ball and roll joyfully in the mud. I was curious to see what Kirk would do with them. He was, first and foremost, a teacher, and his lectures still resonated in the halls of the institute. But how would he teach these eight-year-olds to play football? Orate at them? Motivate them? Dazzlethem with plays and schemes?

“Okay,” he said very gently, as the boys gathered around him in an attentive, slightly wary circle. “Let’s break it down. First thing is how you stand. Everybody get down in a three-point stance.”

The boys dropped to their haunches confidently.

Kirk frowned. He walked up and down the line, shoving each one lightly on a shoulder or a knee and showing how a three-point stance could be a weak or strong tripod, a launching pad or a stopping place, one that let you push off strongly or one that held you back. At last he got everybody’s stance correct. “Okay, let’s run,”  he said. “Just run the length of the field, from these cones to those cones, and then turn back. Last guy does fifteen push-ups.” Luke stumbled and was the last guy, and Kirk had him do fifteen push-ups. The point was made: no favorites.

Right around then a young park worker came up in one of those officious little green carts the park people ride around in. “I’m sorry,” he said, “you can’t play here. It’s ruled off for games.”

I was ready to get mad – I mean, hey, who was making these rules? We had been playing touch football here for years – when Kirk stepped in.

“We-ell,” Kirk said, and the Southern accent he brought with him from his youth in Savannah was suddenly more intense, an airplane captain’s accent. “Well, uh, we got ten young men here eager to play football. Where can we take them to play?”

To my surprise, the park worker was there for the enlisting. “Let me see – I’ll come back,” he said. We went on with the drills, and ten minutes later, the guy scooted up again in his cart.

“I think I’ve found just the place,” he said. “If you go off there, right over the road, and take the left fork, you’ll find this field that’s hidden there behind the parking lot.” He added almost confidentially, “It’s just opposite the toilets near the Ramble, but it’s flat and large, and I think it’s perfect.”

“Much obliged,” Kirk said, and he gestured to the boys, a big arm-sweeping gesture, and led them off in search of the promised field. They followed him like Israelites. We walked across the road, took the left, went down the hill, and there it was – a little glade that I had never seen before, flat and fringed by tall trees, offering shade to the waiting moms and dads. It had a slightly derelict look – I could imagine that in a livelier era, this field might have been a Francis Bacon mural, men struggling in the grass – but today it was perfect.

“Gentlemen,” Kirk said clearly to the boys as they struggled on, looking around a little dubiously at the tufts of grass and the facing bathrooms. “Welcome to Metrozoid Field. This is the place we have been looking for.” He set out the red cones again around the fringes.

“Okay, let’s scrimmage,” he ordered. He divided the guys in half with a firm, cutting gesture, and they began an intense, slightly nervous touch-football game. Kirk watched them, smiling and silent.

“Shouldn’t we teach them a play?” I suggested.

“No,” he said. “They’re off to a good start. Running and standing is a good start.”

The scrimmage ended, and the winning team began to hurrah and high-five.

“Hey,” he said, stepping forward, and for the first time I heard his classroom voice, his full-out voice, a combination of Southern drawl and acquired New England sharpness.

“No celebrations,” he said, arriving at the middle of the field. “This is a scrimmage. It’s just the first step. We’re all one team. We are the Giant Metrozoids.” He said the ridiculous name as though it were Fighting Irish, or Rambling Wrecks, an old and hallowed name in the American pigskin tradition. The kids stopped, subdued and puzzled. “Hands together,” he said, and stretched his out, and solemnly, the boys laid their hands on his, one after another. “One, two, three, together!” and all the hands sprang up. He had replaced a ritual of celebration with one of solidarity, and the boys sensed that solidarity was somehow at once more solemn and more fun than any passing victory could be.

He had, I realized on the way home, accomplished a lot of things. He had taught them how to stand and how to kneel – not just how to do these these things but that there was a right way to do these things. He had taught them that playing was a form of learning – that a scrimmage was a step somewhere on the way toward a goal. And he had taught them that they were the Giant Metrozoids. It was actually a lot for one hour.

(to be continued tomorrow)


A Tribute to Kirk Varnedoe ’67- Part I

This post marks the first of a ten part series from “The Last of the Metrozoids” , a tribute to the late Kirk Varnedoe ’67 by his friend and protege, Adam Gopnik.

The entire essay was originally published in The New Yorker in 2004, and more recently in Gopnik’s collection of essays, Through the Children’s Gate. 

As was Varnedoe, the essay is rich and varied. It touches on football, which Varnedoe played and coached while at Williams, and art, which made up the thrust of his career as a noted historian and curator.

I’ll refrain from telling you more about Varnedoe, because Gopnik does it so beautifully. However, if you have any anecdotes about him, or Williams’ beloved “holy trinity” (Faison, Pierson, and Stoddard) under whom he studied, please share them with us.

(special thanks to P’12 and LG for bringing Gopnik’s essay to my attention)

 The Last of the Metrozoids

by Adam Gopnik

Part I

In the spring of 2003, the American art historian Kirk Varnedoe accepted the title of head coach of a football team called the Giant Metrozoids, which practiced then every week in Central Park. It was a busy time for him. He had just become a member of the Institute for Advanced Study, in Princeton, after thirteen years as the chief curator of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and he was preparing the Mellon Lectures for the National Gallery of Art in Washington – a series of six lectures on abstract art that he was supposed to deliver that spring. He was also dying, with a metastasis in his lung of a colon cancer that had been discovered in 1996, and, at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, he was running through all the possible varieties of chemotherapy, none of which did much good, at least not for very long.

The Giant Metrozoids were not, on the face of it, much of a challenge for him. They began with a group of eight-year-olds in my son Luke’s second grade class.

Football had replaced Yu-Gi-Oh! cards and the sinister water yo-yo (poisonous) as a preoccupation and a craze. The boys had become wrapped up in the Tampa Bay Bucaneer’s march to victory in the Super Bowl that winter, and they had made up their minds to be football players. They wanted a team-“a real team that practices and has T-shirts and knows plays and everything”- that could play flag football, against an as yet unknown opponent, and I set about trying to organize it. (The name was a compromise: Some of the boys had wanted to be called the Giants, while cool opinion had landed on the Freakazoids; Metrozoids was arrived at by some diplomatic back formation with “Metropolitan.”)

Once I had the T-shirts, white and blue, we needed a coach, and Kirk, Luke’s godfather, was the only choice; during one of his chemotherapy sessions, I suggested a little tentatively that he might try it. He had been a defensive-backfield coach at Williams College for a year after graduation, before he went to Stanford to do art history, and I knew he had thought of taking up coaching as a full-time profession, only to decide, as he said once, “If you’re going to spend your life coaching football, you have to be smart enough to do it well and dumb enough to think it matters.” But he said yes eagerly. He gave me instructions on what he would need, and made a date with the boys.

On the first Friday afternoon, I took the red cones he had asked for and arranged them carefully on our chosen field, at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Seventy-ninth Street, just a couple of blocks from the Children’s Gate. I looked over my shoulder at the pseudo-Renaissance mansion that houses NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts,right across the street. We had met there twenty-three years earlier, his first year at the Institute of Fine Arts, and mine, too. He had arrived from Stanford and Paris and Columbia, a young scholar, just thirty four, who had made his reputation by cleaning up  one of the messier stalls in the art-historical stable, the question of the authentic Rodin drawings. Then he helped revive some unfairly forgotten reputations, particularly that of the misunderstood “academic” Impressionist Gustave Caillebotte.

But, as with Lawrence Taylor’s first season with the Giants, though we knew he was supposed to be good, nobody was this good. He would come into the lecture room in turtleneck and sports jacket, professor-wear, and staring at his shoes and without any preliminaries, wait for the lights to dim, demand, “First slide, please,” and, pacing back and forth, look up at the image, no text in his hand but a list of slides. “Last time we left off looking at Cezanne in the eighties, when the conversation between his code, registered in the deliberately crippled, dot-dot-dash, telegraphic repetition of brushstrokes, and his construction, built up in the blocky, stage-set recessional spaces, set out like flats on a theater,” he would begin, improvising, spitballing, seeing meaning in everything. A Judd box was as alive for him as a Rodin bronze, and his natural mode was to talk in terms of tension rather than harmony. What was weird about the pictures was exactly what there was to prize about them, and, his style implied, all the nettled and querulous critics who tried to homogenize the pictures into a single story undervalued them, because, in a sense, they undervalued life, which was never going to be harmonized , either.

It was football that made us friends. In that first fall, he had me typed as a clever guy, and his attitude was that in the professions of the mind, clever guys finish nowhere at all, That spring we organized a touch-football game at the institute, and although I am the most flatfooted, least-gifted touch-football player in the whole history of the world, I somehow managed to play in it. A bunch of us persuaded our young professor to come out and join in one Sunday. The game was meant to be a gentle co-ed touch game. But Kirk altered it by his presence. He was slamming so many bodies and dominating so much that a wary, alarmed circle of caution formed around him.

Finally, I insisted to John Wilson, the Texan Renaissance scholar in the huddle, that if he faked a short pass and everybody made a lot of noise- “I got it!,” “There it is!,” and so on- Kirk would react instantly and run t0ward the sound, and I could sneak behind him for the touchdown.

Well, the play worked, and, perhaps recognizing that it was an entirely verbal construction, Kirk spotted its author and came right over, narrow-eyed and almost angry. “Smart play,” he said shortly, with the unspoken words “Smart-ass play” resonating in the leaves above our heads. But then he shook his fist happily, a sign meaning okay, nice one. He turned away. He sees right through me,  I thought; he knows exactly what I’m up to. I began working harder, and we became friends.

(look for Part II tomorrow)


300 Ephs

Max Gutman ’07 writes:

While I haven’t really been reading EphBlog since my graduation in June, I found a question that I figure the master of “All Things Eph” would be eager to answer. Looking on the Wikipedia page for Zack Snyder, director of the films “300” and the upcoming “Watchmen,” I found this photo in which he appears to be wearing a “Williams Football” cap. Ditto in this video journal about the making of Watchmen that can be found on the Apple movie trailers site. From a quick search online, it doesn’t look like Snyder is an Eph himself, but considering I don’t usually hear many people demanding more Williams paraphernalia at their local Lids, I’m guessing there must be some Williams connection. So what can you find for me?

Stopped reading EphBlog?! Say it ain’t so, Max.

Alas, I have no idea. Perhaps via Peter Anthony ’85 who worked as a conductor on Snyder‘s 2004 Dawn of the Dead? Surely our readers will have some insights . . .


Jim Cramer learns to pronounce ‘Eph’

Congratulations to Mr. Cramer’s daughter, who was accepted ED to the Williams class of 2013. 

Hat-tip to reader “An EB Fan” (aren’t we all?)


Football Preview

Saturday, the 5-2 Ephs take on the 5-2 Lord Jeffs in a battle for second place in the NESCAC.  Amherst’s seniors will be particularly fired up after three straight blow-out losses to the Ephs; they certainly won’t want to graduate with a bagel.  Amherst is likely a slight favorite at home against a banged-up Eph team, which lost three of its projected starting front seven, as well as its top receiver, to season-ending injuries.  The Ephs are, however, riding high after a homecoming triumph over Wesleyan.  (Which reminds me, Eph lore question — do the Ephs perform “the walk” only after Amherst homecoming victories, or after Wesleyan victories as well?).

For those new to the rivalry, I posted last year a conglomeration of the best web links on Williams football and Williams-Amherst in particular.  Be sure, also, to watch last year’s awesome ESPN Gameday broadcast.  I will never tire of watching Corso don the purple cow head.

On an individual level, keep an eye on Brian Morrissey ’09, who after a monster season needs only 48 yards to break the Ephs’ all-time rushing record.

Also on tap this weekend in Eph athletics: the Eph women’s soccer juggernaut hosts the NESCAC championship, and Eph men’s soccer heads to Middlebury for the same.


Eph Serial Killer?

Now, this is taking the rivalry a little too far. In the latest novel from Amherst alum Harlan Coben, the villain is an Eph:

The detective comes into the story because there has been a particularly brutal, sadistic murder that, from all appearances, has nothing to do with all the other conflicts the author explores. And when a woman vanishes after a shopping trip to Target, the police wonder if a serial killer is on the loose.

The reader knows (but the police don’t, at least initially) that there’s a strong connection between the murder and the disappearance of the shopper, although the exact nature of that connection unravels slowly.

In the meantime, the reader learns a great deal about the backgrounds of the killer (oddly enough, a graduate of prestigious Williams College) and his partner, a woman who was traumatized by the brutality that accompanied the disintegration of her former country, Yugoslavia.

Perhaps it is time for Stephen Sondheim to write a sequel to Sweeney Todd set in the five college area?


Sisterhood of the Traveling Eph

Sisterhood_of_the_Traveling_Pants_book_coverThe things that you learn from WSO. Did you know that one of the characters in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is an Eph? Me either. Perhaps 41 year old men are not the target demographic? America Ferrera plays the role of Carmen.

Details on her Williams experience from the fourth book in the series:

Carmen, after a year of social transparency at her new college and a self-proclaimed loss of identity, has maintained only one new friendship and because of her is pulled into attending a summer drama program at college. Her new friend is Julia, the resident Drama Diva of the freshman year at Williams, one of the few freshman widely known in the social standings. Julia is glamorous, sophisticated, exuberant, and popular — the very antithesis of the new Carmen, and because of that Carmen is pulled along behind her new companion as she forges the road ahead. Julia is in the spotlight and Carmen builds the sets. However, after having been talked into auditioning for a part in the plays performed, Carmen outshines all the other camp attendants and lands the coveted role in the largest of the performed plays (that of Perdita in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale) and Julia becomes immensely jealous while Carmen gains back her identity.

I do not think that this Julia has anything to do with our Julia. Judging by stereotypes, shouldn’t the soccer player, Bridget, have been the Eph? Readers with more knowledge of the series are invited to comment.

UPDATE: The last reference to the book at EphBlog was as a part of this discussion, (cruelly?) mocked by Gawker as Sisterhood of the Traveling Safety School.


Long May She Reign

Although the quality of WSO has dropped off in the last couple of years, the kids still post some gems. Consider Long May She Reign by Ellen Emerson White (alas, not an Eph). What is the book about?

Meg Powers is the daughter of the President of the United States. She’s about to enter her first year of college. She’s living through the worst year of her life.

Last June Meg was kidnapped by terrorists – brutalized, starved, and left for dead. She was shackled in a deserted mine shaft and had to smash the bones in her own hand to escape.

Meg Powers survived the unthinkable, the stuff of nightmares. Her terrorist captor is still at large. But still she must live each day. Ahead of her is the grueling physical therapy to heal her broken body; the challenge of leaving the safety of the White House for her freshman year at college. But harder still than the physical and social challenges ahead are her shattered sense of herself and her family. Will she ever forgive her mother, the President, for her “can not, have not and will not negotiate with terrorists” stance – even when it came to her own daughter?

And more difficult still, can Meg forgive herself for having the strength, the intelligence and the wit to survive?

Sounds like my sort of Eph woman. Does the readership for this book overlap that of EphBlog? If so, give us some details!


Braddock an Eph?

We have long speculated that protagonist of The Graduate is an Eph. Does the sequel provide proof?

“Home School” by Charles Webb is the sequel to the popular novel “The Graduate,” written in 1963 and made into what is now a classic film in 1967, starring Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft and Katherine Ross — and directed by Mike Nichols.

The story focuses on 21-year-old Benjamin Braddock, a recent graduate of Massachusetts’ Williams College. He goes home to Pasadena where he meets Mrs. Robinson, the wife of his father’s business partner. When she tries to seduce him (nude scene and all), he is shocked — but returns later and initiates an affair with her.

(Actually, Hoffman was 29 at the time while the allegedly much older Anne Bancroft was 35.)

When he meets her daughter, Elaine Robinson, he falls in love with her. That ends dramatically when the affair is discovered. Elaine becomes engaged to a more acceptable young man, but Benjamin can’t get her out of his mind — so he drives a horrendous distance to reach the church in time to stop the wedding.

He is not in time to stop it — but he runs away with Elaine anyway — to the accompaniment of the also famous Simon and Garfunkel soundtrack (“Mrs. Robinson” was the hit single), and the marriage is annulled.

This is the first time that I have ever seen it stated as fact that Braddock, like Webb ’61, is a graduate of Williams. Neither the orginal book nor movie make that claim directly, although the book begins with a line about Braddock graduating from a small college in June. Previous speculation here, and note the part about Mrs. Robinson being inspired, at least in name, by an Eph mom. Was there a Robinson in the class of 1961? We need to get to the bottom of that story.


Williams Cameo on the Sports Guy’s Chat

For those of you who are fans of ESPN’s “Sports Guy” Bill Simmons, thought I would cut and paste this exchange with a Williams student (who, by the way, pretty much ended his chances of getting a date this year at Williams) during yesterday’s marathon chat to benefit the Jimmy V. Foundation. Dan forgot to mention that the Ephs beat Holy Cross the last time they played each other in hoops. (To be fair to Dan, Simmons is often cracking on the purported unattractiveness of NESCAC students, so Dan was probably just trying to catch his attention).

Dan Benz (Williamstown, MA): You mentioned in an article once that Holy Cross should consider joining the NESCAC, but as a student of Williams College I was just wondering if you’d also be okay with the fact that they’d be finishing no better than fifth every year? P.S. I know you’re familiar somewhat with NESCAC schools so maybe you can answer this for me–there are girls here right? I’ve been here three years and I’d just like to see one before my senior year.

Bill Simmons: I am totally fine with HC being in the NESCAC – that’s where we belong. We are fooling ourselves and I am not giving money to the school again until they address it.


Life Skills

This WSO thread between fans and critics of College GameDay participation got a little too heated for my tastes. Profanity is rarely persuasive. Read the whole thing if you have a lot of time on your hands.

There are so many important ideas and life skills to be gained from playing sports. Athletics can bring about just as much passion within a person as any piece of art. You gain a sense of competitiveness that is extremely necessary in many careers you might pursue later in life, and people who have never played sports just don’t have that drive to win or succeed. Also, people that are strong in athletics AND academics (most athletes at Williams) are the ones who go on to become CEO’s or political leaders, not the math genius who has never stepped on a playing field.

Great topic for a senior thesis! Is there are correlation, among Ephs, between athletic participation/success and further accomplishments in life. (I think that most of the below is true, but corrections are always welcome.)

1) The two Ephs who have probably made the most money in the last 20 years are both athletes: Bo Peabody ’94 (skiing) and Chase Coleman ’97 (lacrosse). Chase has probably made more money just this year then all the other graduates of Williams put together. Chase was captain of the lacrosse team.

2) In the last few years, three Ephs have been S&P 500 CEOs: Clarence Otis ’77, Mayo Shattuck ’76 (squash, captain of the tennis team) and Henry Silverman ’61. The alumni directory does not list any sports for Otis and Silverman, which probably means that they did not play. Can any readers confirm?

3) The most successful female Eph in business is trustee Laurie Thomsen ’79 (tennis and soccer).

4) Among political leaders, we have former Congressman Ed Case ’75 (rugby), Congressman and Senate-candidate Mark Udall ’72 (golf), former Governor Arne Carlson ’57 (football and wrestling).

Clearly, this is not enough data to draw firm conclusions. My sense is that, among male Ephs who are very successful in business and politics, athletes are more common than they are in the Williams population. But I think that the reason for this has nothing to do with athletics per se. Both success in business/politics and success in athletics are helped by common factors: competitiveness, ambition, work-ethic and so on. These factors explain the correlation, not anything that athletic participation itself produces.


GameDay on YouTube

The key GameDay clip is already up on YouTube. Pat Lucey as the Pontiac Game Changer, Corso in the purple cow head, it just doesn’t get any better than that.


GameDay Preview

Thanks to a reader for a link to the GameDay preview.

Ephs need only watch the first 30 seconds or so. Was that a couple of women soccer players with a cute sign about their game? Good stuff! Women’s soccer won 1-0 while football handled Amherst easily, winning 20-0. I missed both games so perhaps a reader could provide details.


GameDay Preview

I am having trouble seeing this on a Mac, but this link provides a preview of College GameDay, including an appearence by Erin Burnett ’98. (Thanks to an anonymous comment. All GameDay related posts are here.) Is there any way to display this video nicely on the blog? Perhaps some could place it on YouTube?

By the way, I was thinking of live-blogging this event, if only to avoid doing actual work . . .



There continues to be no mention on the Williams homepage of the forthcoming ESPN College GameDay festivities. The fancy new athletics page does mention the story and provide a link to the full description. Why no link on the main page? Perhaps Director of Public Affairs Jim Kolesar is waiting for permission from Professor Cheryl “Nike Camp with enrichment classes” Shanks. Just wondering! It is almost as if the College administration is embarrassed by the event . . .

Speaking of relevant quotes from our Quote Wall, I always like:

If you wish to be happy for an hour, get intoxicated. If you wish to be happy for three days, get married. If you wish to be happy for eight days, kill a pig and eat it. If you wish to be happy forever, beat Amherst. — Mens Lacrosse Coach Renzi Lamb

It is the object of the College to make men. — President Mark Hopkins ’24

L.L. Bean yelling at J. Crew — Williams official [describing the razzing between Williams and Amherst basketball fans]

Any of these would have made for a better Homecoming t-shirt than simple-minded double entendres on “endowment.”



One of Jordan Tacher’s friends should tell him to delete this WSO thread in which he asks the Moocow Band to “Please don’t embarrass us.” Wrong answer! The dialog continues:

Kim Dacres
: Dude…unnecessary. Don’t embarrass yourself any further.

Tacher: Even though I won’t be able to go to the tailgating/game, if other people can remark about not embarrassing ourselves with drunken escapades, then I feel it is necessary to remark about other things that could be embarrassing.

James Matthews: Yeah. Organizations that are completely devoted to school spirit and supporting student-athletes are awfully embarrassing. I hate that.

Tacher: While I am sure they are quite genuine in their school spirit, the record, surprisingly enough, is pretty accurate about the “cacophonous melodies.”

Andrew Goldston: You might want to put down that shovel, Jordan.

Sound advice! It warms my heart to see so many Ephs jump to the defense of the band, without a doubt one of the Ephiest of undergraduate groups. Jeffrey Kaplan writes:

I think that there is a deeper issue here that has not been bought up. What does it say about us if we are embarrassed by Mucho Macho Moo Cow Marching Band? What is it that one values if this marching band is something that one do not want associated with oneself?

You imply that the reason that they embarrass you is that there music is “cacophonous”–you think it is bad. But I don’t think that can really be the case. Are you honestly saying that the reason that they embarrass you is because they do not make pleasant music? that there are not talented or well rehearsed? No, that is certainly not the case. I suspect that really what might be embarrassing is that they are, as trite as this sounds, quirky…different.

If this is the case, then I think that is a fairly accurate definition of intolerance–malice towards that which is different.

Never mind that, what is there to be embarrassed about? They are good, fun, funny, well-meaning, entertaining, and all-around Eph-like. The kind of thing we ought to want as a reputation of our entire school.

Exactly correct. Comments:

1) Tacher does have a point about the double standard with regard to mocking on WSO. You can make fun of drunken antics but not of the band. The differences, of course, are: a) The band hurts no one while drunken antics often negatively impact the quality of life for other Ephs and b) The band is a well-defined group of individuals whereas most/all drunken-mocking does specify who the guilty party is. Now, if he could cite a WSO post in which someone mocked a specific group of drunk Ephs (football players?) who weren’t bothering anyone, he might have an argument.

2) Kaplan’s point about intolerance highlights for me another of the bad effects of the College’s endless prattle about diversity. The College acts as if the big problem among students relates to racial differences and the like, as if lots of, say, white students make fun of Asian students for being Asian. That barely happened 20 years ago! Now, such mocking has almost vanished, just as anti-Catholic sentiment had disappeared from Williams 50 years ago.

But lots of (mean) mocking still goes on. You can be certain that Tacher and his ilk mock the band, just as others make fun of athletes or (harmless) drunkards or, hard as it is to believe, bloggers. Why the hate?

Well, “hate” is probably the wrong word and a little bit of mocking never hurt anyone. But the problem with the College’s obsession with race is that it takes away from a more appropriate obsession with manners. (And, yes, I need to work on my manners as well.) The College has a limited ability to, in former Dean Peter Murphy’s phrase, shape the “hearts and minds” of her students. Instead of wasting that capital on another effort of stamp out racial crimethink, Williams ought to focus on better manners. If the College had done so, then Tacher would understand why his post was a mistake.


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