Lost and Found at Stata
The day I first saw the plans for our new building, the Ray and Maria Stata Center, called “Stata,” and pronounced Stay-tuh by us, its inhabitants, I was amazed, but not in a good way. Imagine a row of silver cylinders exploding onto a red brick floor, shards of brick splitting aluminum, silver rising from brick, reptilian teeth cutting through glass. We would be working in a building made of brick and crooked soup cans.
By the spring of 2004, construction was finally completed. Noam’s oddly shaped corner office was situated down a short hallway from mine, next to Morris’s. I arranged his desk to face a main window showcasing a spectacular view of the Boston skyline, a deliberate and thoughtful move on the part of architect Frank Gehry. But the office had big issues if you were prone to vertigo, as Noam was at the time of our move.
For an entire month after a fresh paint job in the old Building 20, Noam said hello when he arrived, then glared at the gleaming walls as if he had a score to settle with them, so I guessed that erecting a spanking new building in place of a perfectly good old one seemed a waste of revenue, and energy to him.
By the time of our move, I had been managing Noam’s MIT life for ten years, and we had worked together long enough to develop a solid, sometimes wordless communication style, so when the phone rang from an unidentifiable number when he was expected to arrive at Stata for the very first time, I knew it was him, and I knew he was lost. Any first-time visitor or resident could become confused in this building, no matter how otherwise bright, sharp, or knowledgeable.
I picked up the ringing phone. “Noam?” “Uh, Bev . . .”
“You’re lost, aren’t you?”
His trademark sigh blew through my end of the receiver. “Yes, I’m hopelessly lost. How did you guess? I’m calling from a library area on the 8th floor . . .” then a brief silence as a voice spoke to him. “I’m in CSAIL, in the Gates Tower.”
“At least you’re in the right building,” I reassured him, imagining he preferred the peeling asbestos-filled walls of Building 20, which he felt were more fitting of his politics and world view. He had enjoyed telling people that the MIT administration purposely keep its renegade, activist professors hidden away there.
“You took the wrong set of elevators. Return to the first floor, and I’ll find you.” “So Bev,” he sighed, looking up at the glass ceiling panels and brick half-walls hanging vertically overhead, “this is the new place.” He was smiling, but he didn’t look particularly thrilled, and we settled in for another fourteen years of adventures.
Happy Birthday, Noam! From my young age of 39 through my retirement at 63, you, a model of commitment and integrity, were my teacher, entertainer, and co-conspirator. You promised I wouldn’t go to hell for the white lies. I’ll let you know how that goes.