We called them ‘Houn bags, and launched them at night from the balcony of our corner suite in Calhoun, overlooking the cross campus. The bags – thin, plastic garment covers obtained from the dry cleaner – were perhaps four feet high, the opening at the bottom about a foot in diameter. We twisted two strands of the thinnest wire we could find into an X, and fastened the corners to the bag’s base. Then we melted a clutch of tiny birthday candles together and fused them to the X’s center. There were many failures, of course. We started with a single large candle – too heavy, the flame too small – etc. But one magic night it all worked. Two roommates – Tom Linden, Tim Ramish – held the bag over the edge of the balcony, I lit the candles, and physics happened. The bag inflated and drifted toward Berkeley College, a gossamer jellyfish bobbing majestically skyward.
Disbelief and consternation on the ground.
“What the fuck is that?”
“Oh, my God.”
We’d concealed ourselves from passersby, so the whole effect was of an independent, gravity defying, glowing something. Flying fish? Alien mothership? Who knew? The bags rose and rose, disappearing into the New Haven night. We never found their remains.
We had, in all, six or seven successful launches. Was there danger of fire? I guess. What did we know? It was said Sir Isaac Newton floated fire-balloons of tissue paper in his youth, and what was good enough for Sir Isaac was good enough for us. Excelsior! For better or worse, the ‘Houn bag inhabits, along with the first eighteen lines of Chaucer’s Prologue, an immutable place in my memory, among the first rank of accomplishment at Yale.
– Wayne Liebman