Periodicals often gets a bad rap on campus. It’s the place where your Friday night went to die, the place where color evaporates from your skin under the pale mercury lights. It’s the place where all sound seems absorbed by the rows and rows of untouched magazines, journals and anthologies, periodicals that predate the Cistercian Abbey Church and seem forever fixed in place.
These prejudices are true – but only partly. Periodicals has another side, a happening side, a side that offers adventure and entertainment to those who sit through its duller moments.
Some of this excitement comes from the inside. Those students hunched over their rectangular tables seem diligent, serious, sober. And they are – generally. But everyone has his breaking point, and they do too. From time to time, one of them will shove his chair back, stand up and leap onto a friend’s table, pounding his chest as his friend blurts out the typical words of surprise.
Other times it’s not the students but facilities workers who provide the welcome distractions from studying. Ladders, tools, men, chattering walkie-talkies – in and out, in and out, in and out, always to the same spot, always right back out again, always unsure exactly what they’re working on. It’s kind of like an Agatha Christie novel: You just don’t know exactly what‘s going on – or what’s so special about that back corner.
But the real excitement comes from the outside, let in through the wall of windows and the gaps between panes and frames. Through these gaps and glass enters a world of sights often unknown to less-privileged students, a world whose main stage is the parking lot, its actors, the cars and the men in blue.
Think a few semesters back to the ice storm that glazed all of campus. Scccrrrrcchh! Sccccrrrrcchh! Tires spinning, a truck in the parking lot – one of those pimped-out, chromed-up Fords – skids side to side, fish-tailing wildly in place. Seeming to assume that if a little gas didn’t work, a lot would, the driver guns his engine. Scccrrchh! Bang! Crunch! The slide truck jolts sideways, smashing into the car next to it.
Enter CSO and facilities. Five blue-clad men begin to jump up and down on the back bumper, the engine roars, tires squeal and the truck lurches forward, hopping the parking block into the grass! Hand waving, wild gesticulations and yelling follow as the men in blue begin to argue about what just happened. They point, they gesture, they look at the truck from all perspectives, crouching, squinting, craning. No consensus reached, all walk off in different directions, some smoking tobacco, others puffing water vapor. Characters, conflict, resolution (in the form of a more successful effort later). A silent film, a two-minute diversion from Plato – for free and just for the Periodicalist.
But even more unusual – and spectacular – was the CSO squad-car incident. Perfect Periodicals silence – vrrrroooooommm! Students look up just in time to see the Ford Crown Victoria shoot up the steep grassy hill by the loading docks into the trees and bushes – in reverse! Everyone does a double-take, looks at his neighbor, then looks back to the car: Yep, that really just happened. A moment of whispering, and then back to that junior-seminar reading. The study break – Periodicals style – is over.
So take heart as we approach that time of the semester when studying in the Periodicals becomes a matter of GPA survival. Your studiousness might just earn you an unexpected treat. After all, you really never know what the cars will do outside – or the students and men in blue on the inside.