Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Way It Is

Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation.

And that's the way it is, at least according to Walter Cronkite.

It's also what one person wrote today on the beam that was the centerpiece of the topping off ceremony at VCU's Cabell Library. Part of the allure was to get to leave your name on the beam and part was the enticement of using professional-grade Sharpies (can withstand heat up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit!).

When I arrived, the beam was already almost completely covered in signatures and drawings, but once handed a Sharpie, I managed to leave my marks in more than a few places.

I was bound to run into a musical friend who works at the library, finding her on a mission to schmooze donors. Before she left for that, she let me know that despite our expectations, not a single student had left the expected drawing of male genitalia on the beam.

We were perplexed. Isn't this an art school? Haven't kids been leaving drawings of penises in inappropriate places for centuries? What was wrong with this student body?

She asked if I'd had my picture taken in front of the green screen, but it had already been taken down. I'd missed my opportunity to have a photo taken standing in front of VCU's library of the future. Drat.

After she moved on, I found a seat on a sunny wall from which to watch the human comedy that is college students. Two pimply-faced guys were having a conversation.

"I told her, like, you need to text me back more. You need to, like, answer me."
(in an awed voice) "Damn, you own that relationship, man!"

Kids walked by in shorts and tank tops, shivering, and apparently unaware that today's temperature is 20 degrees chillier than yesterday's. At a table set up for collecting signatures for Amnesty International, one oblivious guy stood there eating all the cookie incentives meant for signees.

I spotted a music friend who works at VCU, looking far different in a suit than he does in jeans at a show. Two women moved through the crowd pushing a cart on which enormous flower arrangements sat.

Finally the Broad Street Brass band began playing and I stood on my brick wall perch as three speakers led off the ceremony. One explained that he monitored the library's Twitter feed which was rife with students complaining that there was never enough room.

"VCU needs this building if only to shut up the Twitter feed." Don't kid yourself, sir, they'll find something else to tweet complaints about.

He was also the one who shared the Walter Cronkite quote written on the beam. I wonder, though, how relevant Cronkite's quote is anymore. Once out of school, do adults even bother with libraries in 2015?

Once the crowd was instructed to move back, the crane looming above us slowly turned and dropped the hook with which two construction workers attached the beam and pulled it skyward.

With the band playing and the American flag on top of the library blowing briskly in the wind against the bright blue sky, the yellow beam was hoisted to the rooftop and pulled into place accompanied by applause.

My scrawlings now reside somewhere no one will see them to know what I wrote.

From below my lofty perch, a film friend spied me and observed, "I thought you'd be here." Of course, it's my first topping off ceremony.

While chatting about film and music, he mentioned that he'd recently gone to the library to get a book about Black Mountain College. They hadn't had what he'd come for, but he'd checked out four other books in the meantime. A subsequent trip to the Main library had yielded the book he sought.

Yes, Virginia, people do still use libraries. Or at least people over 40 do.

My library friend interrupted us to announce that after further inspection, she had indeed located a drawing of a penis on the beam just before it was hoisted up.

Praise be to the gods of pimply-faced college students everywhere. Assuming it never gets hotter than 500 degrees, their legacy will reside in the bowels of the VCU Cabell Library for all time.

Go, Rams!

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