Theme IV: Chance Encounters, Intro

In a city of over eight million, the possibilities for interactions with people of all ages and walks of life are limitless. Some of these intersections go by unnoticed or easily forgotten while others stay with us, sometimes for months or years. Whether happily serendipitous or unfortunately sinister, a great deal of our NYC education is gleaned from the knowledge we gain from the strangers who cross our paths. When we look up from our smartphones and unplug our ear buds, we learn as much on a park bench or a subway train as we do within a lecture hall.

This week, we offer chance encounters from across Manhattan, from Morningside Heights to Penn Station to Washington Square Park. Take your pick.

Happy Reading,

Emma Scoble

Under the Arch Editor



Midnight in Washington Square Park by Jordan Melendrez

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Theme IV: Chance Encounters, Midnight in Washington Square Park

by Jordan Melendrez

The first night of summer always has an air of magic to it. There’s a feeling of infinity that comes with pleasant weather and late sunsets. The summer solstice of 2014 was just warm enough to survive without a jacket but cool enough to walk at a New York speed without breaking a sweat. Perfect, if you will.

I found myself roaming the city around 11 p.m., with a cross-body bag, a camera, and no particular destination in mind. When approaching Second Avenue and Third Street, a flash of clarity struck:  “Washington Square Park,” I thought to myself. “Midnight in the park is always magical.”

The park was teaming with activity: people sitting on the fountain steps, playing music and skateboarding down the pathways. As I walked toward the arch from the eastern entrance, a man caught my eye. He looked uncomfortable, which made me feel uncomfortable. It wasn’t the way he was dressed; he actually looked like he had just come from a posh dinner, with his button-up shirt, dress pants and kempt hair. Something about the way he looked around seemed uneasy, but not enough to make me reconsider my decision to people-watch at the park.

I found an empty spot on one of the stone benches on the north side of the park, with the glowing, sepulchral arch at my back and the fountain sparkling in front of me. I sat there, people watching for some time before the curious man came over and sat next to me.

“Where is Eighth Street?” he asked me nervously.

He wasn’t intimidating at all, though he probably outweighed me by a solid 75 pounds and was taller by at least five inches.

“It’s just north of the park,” I replied calmly, gesturing in the direction. He didn’t seem reassured, and he looked down at his cellphone with anticipation.

“Are you meeting someone?” I asked, hoping conversing would ease his anxiety. I’m not sure what compelled my sympathy. Instinct, maybe.

He looked up at me with a different countenance than before. It was serious and determined, like he wanted to get something off his chest, to confess some bottled-up emotion. In one easy motion, he reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a small box. He opened it up, and inside sat a diamond ring.

“Oh, you’re here for THE meeting,” I said with emphasis.

Photo by Jordan Melendrez

Photo by Jordan Melendrez

Love is a strange concept, one that I don’t know if anyone can really define or understand. It’s also not my intention to marry any time in the near future, or even within the next decade. But I love a good story, and I was eager to know more about what was unfolding; I had unintentionally become a part of his park proposal.

He described the whole scenario: She was at dinner with two of her friends, and they were finally en route to the park. His lover didn’t know he was here, and he was communicating with her friends about their whereabouts. Then we saw them.

“She’s here,” he said, getting up tensely and ducking into the shadows of the park. Two women and a man walked through the arch toward the fountain, and when they reached the edge, the man and one woman peeled off, leaving the other woman alone. My benchmate swiftly made his way over to her, and though I could not hear their conversation from the bench, I took out my camera, waiting for the big moment. It didn’t take long.

He dropped to one knee, and she immediately put her hands to her mouth, possibly in an effort to suppress her tears. He stood up and they kissed. At this point all eyes in the park were on them. He hugged her, lifting her off her feet and setting her back down.

“She said yes!” he exclaimed, and the park cheered and clapped.

As I reviewed the shots, I contemplated whether or not I should tell the couple about the photos I had. By the time I looked up, they were out of sight, leaving me with just a few shreds of evidence of what had occurred. It almost felt as though it never happened.

Despite my curiosity about their backstory, I’ll probably never know whether that couple remains married forever, files for divorce or even walked down the aisle in the first place. But whenever I’m in the park at night, I always hope I’ll encounter them to find out.

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Theme III: Classes that Changed Our Lives, Undercover Reporting

J MelendrezheadshotBy Jordan Melendrez, CAS ’15

The task: You can’t tell them you’re reporting on this subject, of course. But try not to lie.

These were the instructions for an undercover reporting assignment in Ted Conover’s senior seminar called — rather obviously — Undercover Reporting.

I met Conover before the course even started in the fall of 2014, virtually, that is. I wasn’t even supposed to enroll in the class, as I had not yet taken all of the prerequisites, but after talking to my counselor, I sent him an email, providing some information about my background when he asked about my journalism experience. “Great. You’re in,” he replied. “Look forward to seeing you in the fall.” By some grace of the fall enrollment gods and Conover’s blessing, I had sneaked onto the attendance sheet for one of the most enriching courses of my college career.

We huddled into the library at 20 Cooper Square, a small conference room with a table with just enough seating for our class of 12. Conover is an unassuming individual, yet unforgettable. His actions are gentle, from the way he walks to his general posture. But his words and tone are deliberate. It’s odd, and when you first hear about Conover’s undercover assignments, you’re shocked. You think, “Really? You don’t look like an undercover reporter.”

And then you hit your face with your palm because you realize it — that’s the whole point.

That’s why he has been able to cross the Rio Grande and United States border. And he was able to become a driver in Aspen, Colorado, playing a chauffeur to the rich and famous. And he was able to ride the rails with homeless men and women in Missouri. And he worked as a meat inspector for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And he was able to work at Sing Sing prison in Upstate New York.

Conover’s countenance is just average enough to allow him to accomplish above-average feats, for any reporter. For any person, really.

My classmates and I stopped scratching our heads over Conover’s accolades after that first two-hour session. We left the room floored at his life experiences and humble demeanor.

He engaged us in classic examples of undercover reporting, from John Howard Griffin’s account of posing as an African-American during the ’60s to Kim Wozencraft losing sight of her assignment and becoming addicted to drugs in “Rush.” I was enthralled. These were the stories I wanted to read. And Conover relished the debates we started in class over whether revealing the real name of a character was “just” or not. In a sense, the undercover reporter is a character in their own story. They must maintain two personas — the half truth and their real self.

Conover’s coyness and guidance never faltered throughout the semester, especially when we all were tasked to embark on our own undercover reporting assignments or “Assignment X.” Though I won’t delve into my Assignment X, I remember feeling uncomfortable at times then completely in my element at other moments, from the reporting to the writing. I would often pause and ask myself, “How should I go about this? What do my morals tell me?”

Conover, while emphasizing our writing techniques and attention to detail, praised effort over word choice. He desired reflection, care, thoroughness and (somewhat ironically) honesty. If ever a class about juxtapositions and dichotomy existed, it was Undercover Reporting.

It wasn’t until I started writing this that I truly realized that Professor Conover wasn’t solely teaching us about reporting. He was asking us to reconsider what morals are — what they meant and to whom. And more importantly, why or why not.

There’s a fine line between telling the truth and telling the whole truth. For that semester, Conover helped us find that line, and he guided us as we walked along it.

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Theme III: Classes that Changed Our Lives, Entertainment Law

SpeilerBy Alexa Spieler, Steinhardt ‘17

Prior to matriculating at New York University, my family members and former teachers told me that in college, every student finds one course and one professor who changes everything. For me, the life-altering course was Entertainment Law and the professor was Richard Hendler. Before enrolling in Entertainment Law within the Stern School of Business, my intentions were to pursue a career in music journalism or public relations. However, after completing the class, the plans I once thought of as certain soon altered into the undeniable path that I knew I was meant to go along: entertainment law.

Professor Hendler not only revealed to me the world of copyright law and trademark law, but also pushed me to vocalize the confident voice that I always knew I possessed but never had the courage to exude. In one particular instance, during an optional, end of semester trial, Professor Hendler offered the class the opportunity to litigate in a mock trial at the Southern District of New York Courthouse. Both teams were assigned two cases that were previously filed but had not yet been settled. I litigated for a trial pertaining to the case of Frank Sivero vs. 21st Century Fox involving parody and fair use.

What ultimately proved most intriguing about the mock trial was that most of the day’s events were meant to catch one off-guard, to portray a realistic courtroom environment. None of the litigators knew who would be delivering the closing argument, and in the moment of revelation, I heard my name called to the stand to deliver the statement, something I would not have believed that I would be doing when I first started the course. During the trial, Professor Hendler instructed me to show off my newfound voice and confidence. All along, he had seen my potential.

Though I have a long-road ahead, I now know the path that I aspire to pursue. Without Professor Hendler’s assistance, my career path could have remained stagnant, but now, I confidently know where my future resides. Hendler always noted that my legal analysis was strong, and with his help, I found my voice. Most importantly of all, I discovered my unequivocal passion. As I move forward in my fledging legal career, I aspire to continue to demonstrate the confidence that Professor Hendler bestowed upon me.

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Theme III: Classes that Changed Our Lives, Photography I

555823_10151708824466731_342691389_nby Marina Zheng, CAS ’16

The fall semester of my sophomore year, I decided that I wanted to take some of the burden off my heavy course-load by taking a photography class in Tisch. I knew how to use a camera, how difficult could it be? There I was, sitting at a conference-style table on the first day of class as the professor passed around the syllabus. “Required items for class,” it listed. “Notebook, pen, manual camera 35mm…”

Excuse me, what? It was in that moment that I realized that I had signed myself up for a manual photography class, one that included dark room procedures and film developing in its syllabus. I was in over my head with this one — I didn’t even know where to purchase a manual camera. If it hadn’t been for the fact that I already paid a $300 fee for equipment use, I would’ve walked out and never looked back. But I stayed and I tried; what happened as a result was a shock in and of itself.

To this day, that photography class has been my most memorable and life-changing in the entirety of my college career. Yes, I was out of my comfort zone. Yes, there were many trials and errors that didn’t always end in my favor. I still remember the first time I tried my hand in the dark room, it resulted in 3 rolls of destroyed films and 2 cuts on my hand. But, I learned a lot about a subject that I had never been confident enough to even try to learn. And, I had a great deal of fun along the way.

I don’t want to say that photography became a lifelong passion of mine but for that semester, it did offer me a nice escape from the stresses of my other classes. There is a great sense of joy and pride attached to exceeding one’s own expectations. For me, this class was an opportunity to do just that. When we are so engrossed in the idea of getting good grades or finishing up our required credits, it’s easy to forget that college, at least from an educational perspective, is a period of complete freedom. But when a class like this comes along— one that is both challenging and stimulating— we really do develop from the negatives, as the saying goes.


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