Written by: Nicholas Nussen
I do not know why, when I wish to be alone with my books and thoughts, I continue to head to the third floor of Bierce Library: The refuge of cell phone yammerers, online gamers, vagabonds, proselytizers, pranksters, dealers, chucklers, snorers and sneezers and heavy breathers, lip-smacking snackers, wide-eyed wanderers, giggling hide-and-go-seekers, surreptitious smoochers, and, occasionally, diligent students.
The fact this floor is explicitly intended for silent study does not deter such incurably cacophonous and annoying folk; rather, they flock to the library like noisy geese — migrating through the smoke clouds of hipsters who loaf about the entranceway like the forgotten children of Jack Kerouac.
They squawk their way into the hushed sanctuary of the third floor, (and here I must abandon the metaphor) if only to wrangle with insurance agents and ex-boyfriends on the phone, or pop off Tupperware lids and release the redoubled pungency of reheated chili.
The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer nominated noise as the chief irritant to the thinking mind. He obviously did not have to contend with the armada of smells which assault the nostrils on the third floor.
I cannot blame one for eating lunch in the library — you can sometimes sniff me out by following the Mediterranean whiff of Street Treats’ lamb and yogurt.
But be warned: the moment you hit upon some miraculous insight, or are about to pluck the pearl from the clamped shell of some problem, some creeping stench, whether of tuna fish or body odor, meatball sandwich or flatulence, will slither into your nose like a thief in the night, strangle the mind, and steal its dearest thoughts.
Add to this the ruckus of someone’s munching on Pringles, slurping lattes, cracking nuts, stabbing croutons, chomping apples, the veritable wailing and gnashing of teeth — and thinking, let alone writing high-minded treatises on, say, the startling theological implications of Hamlet’s calling Polonius a fishmonger, becomes well-nigh impossible.
Witness the dramatis personae of the third floor: First, the sleeper sprawled on the floor, equipped with his own blanket and pillow.
Then the homeless man who finds the dusty books better company than the penny-pinchers and pavement.
Next, the weary graduate student imprisoned within a mountain of tomes.
Around the corner, two female friends, or “besties,” sharing a single chair and a single iPod and hoarsely crowing the unintelligible lyrics of some spectacularly illiterate multimillionaire.
Then, two dozen drones staring into the blue-and-white abyss of Facebook.
Finally, World of Warcraft fanboys ingesting enough Mountain Dew to banish pesky sleep for several days.
Once you happen to find a quiet study space of your own, you may (if you have chosen a certain carrel in the corner) be distracted by and slightly amused to find some hastily-abandoned literature on nudity in film (consulted for a highly serious dissertation, of course).
Or perhaps you may stumble upon an ongoing theological debate written on the desk, in which pencil-wielding disputants debate God, the meaning of life, and nihilism.
(A similar anonymous exchange could once be found on the cardboard which covered a broken sink in the third-floor bathroom: “Jesus saves,” wrote one righteous commentator, to which someone responded, “Jesus saves sinks,” to which another asked, “Who is Jesus?”)
Also, if you have found a vacant carrel, be discreet and act normal: the back of your head, and its unsightly bald spot, and the (perhaps embarrassing) graphics on your computer screen are being carefully watched by others who, as you were once doing, are now stalking the carrels.
Thus, even in the cloistered carrel, one is vulnerable and never quite alone, as was the case when a meek and mild intruder abruptly infiltrated my sanctuary and asked if I would like to join him for Bible study.
In a stroke of seemingly foreordained irony that only a mischievous god could devise, I happened to be reading Bertrand Russell’s “Why I Am Not a Christian” when the campus missionary, no doubt thinking I needed to be saved, made his futile attempt on my soul.
I hear the library at the Auburn Science and Engineering Center is nice.