Goal: Stay up for 24 hours in the basement of VP.
Sub–goal: By the end of the 24 hours, achieve a free coffee from Mark’s Café. If I get a coffee every three hours, then with the punch card this should be possible.
10 a.m. Sunday Morning: I get to the basement of VP with a bagel in hand, grapefruit juice, multiple bars, a pillow, my computer, a toothbrush, some essential makeup items, headphones, and a box of tissues. I immediately head over to the cafe to get my first latte, along with the handy dandy punch card that will prove essential to my free coffee at the end of the night—only to discover that the café is closed until noon. This is clearly a bad omen.
I grumble audibly and set up camp in the back and get comfortable, arranging my tissue boxes around me and cursing myself for never getting a flu shot. Studious and hung–over students alike shoot me furtive glances. I smile blandly and munch loudly as I observe the scene.
There’s no one particularly interesting here at 10 a.m. There is a small girl with jet black, cropped hair wearing bright pink glasses and a matching sweater who looks like she’s been here all night, typing furiously on her bright pink computer. She has a half–eaten bar next to her and three separate, empty coffee cups littering her workspace. On Sundays we wear pink? My heart breaks slightly for her fuchsia, rapidly typing fingernails.
Another girl sits across from her with an iPad propped on a stand next to her MacBook (what is the point of that? Is that a Wharton thing?). Her hair looks freshly blow–dried, her nails well–manicured, and she is wearing gym clothes.
11 a.m.: My favorite person so far in this dungeon is the guy sitting with his back to me who has been watching New Girl for the past forty–five minutes. I sense a kindred spirit. He sometimes pauses his show to flip to a PowerPoint presentation, but gives up quickly and returns to the drama of Nick and Jess. We actually are watching the show together, because I have a perfect view of his screen, so I feel we are sharing a true moment together. (Shout out to New Girl Man—if you’re reading this, I am very single! Also witty and cute.)
12 p.m.: The library basement is pretty much filled up by this point, and I have been contemplating how basements are about as physically (and in this case, emotionally) close to hell as you can get without dying. It seems to me that my fellow library basement mates have all reached the same conclusion. They seem to be in various victims–of–torture positions and have assumed the facial expressions generally appropriate for a deathbed of a close friend. (Except my New Girl go–to. He is quietly chuckling.) This basement has such a unifying effect, a painful equality.
12:20 p.m.: The barista at Mark’s Café gave me my chai latte for free. Not sure why this happened, but @cute barista, you da real MVP. My sub–goal has already been fulfilled. I am vaguely disappointed. Also wired (I’m a caffeine lightweight).
2 p.m.: It’s past lunchtime and I am getting hangry. I survey the growing crowd in the library with increased pissy–ness and the incessant clacking upon shiny computers is not helping my mood. The sound seems to grow and echo around the room until there is a single typing monster boring into my skull. Every table is filled. The girl dressed entirely in pink is still here, her coffee count up to four; New Girl Guy has buckled down and is typing furiously on his computer. There’s someone in a blue sweatshirt who has been asleep for the past hour. I cough subtly. He doesn’t wake. I think about poking him slightly with a pencil and then pretending it was the guy next to me. I hold myself back and inwardly applaud myself for showing such remarkable self–restraint. Everyone sits in various poses of abject boredom. I am fleetingly reminded of prison TV shows.
4 p.m.: I am sitting here munching sushi from Mark’s and feeling vaguely warm towards my fellow occupants of the Dungeon. Every table is filled, and the back room is packed with freshmen wearing white baseball caps decorated with glitter paint, discussing in whispers last night’s pool themed party (sans pool) and why there was a flowered bikini top found in a pot outside an off–campus house. How could this possibly have occurred? they wonder. I wonder right along with them. This is very concerning. It is winter.
The girl in front of me is eating a chocolate and vanilla ice cream. My stomach growls audibly. I pretend it wasn’t me and look around for the culprit in exaggerated disgust.
5 p.m.: Random friends of mine have trickled in throughout the day and stayed at my previously lonely table, and suddenly VP is rowdy. Other onlookers have, with increasing annoyance, inched away from us with overt throat clearing and angry glares. My friends all brought snacks, and for that alone I let them stay—they’re ruining my rep in the VP hotspot, but at least I’m not hungry.
Blue Sweatshirt Boy has stayed where he is, presumably because he is so engrossed in his work that nothing short of an elephant stampede would interrupt his concentration. There are a handful of others who have remained. A grad student (I assume grad student by the impressive size of his beard) has stayed, shoe shopping on eBay (people still use eBay?). His Vitamin Water Zero is empty in front of him, and he’s been here at least as long as I have. Hipster oozes out of him as he looks at trendy but retro Oxfords, his beard twitching in anticipation of his newest pair of beat up shoes.
Shout out to the girl dressed in all pink with the pink computer who has not left her seat once. Does this girl never need the bathroom? Does she have super powers? How does this miracle woman exist? Where do I get a bladder with such vast capacity?
7 p.m.: It seems that VP basement is the SABSiest place on campus on Sunday evenings. As twilight trickles in, so do increasingly attractive people. A cute frat boy saunters to a chair by Mark’s Café. Girls walk in two’s and threes towards the remaining empty tables, taking their laptops out of their bags and gossiping loudly.
9 p.m.: The library has slowly emptied out, and I have been reduced to playing Angry Birds on my computer. The girl dressed in pink finally packs up her bags and departs, tripping slightly in her dash to freedom. I glare enviously at her. In an even greater insult, New Girl Man is also packing up. Who does he think he is?
11 p.m.: A group of boys dressed in half–zips or jean jackets with beige hoodies underneath stand in front of my table chatting loudly about a video game i will never understand. Cute Frat Boy is still there, headphones in. This is mostly annoying because his cologne has somehow, miraculously, wafted all the way across the room to where I sit. Quite a feat.
Students continue to type furiously on laptops or stare into the space in front of them, waiting for answers to problem sets to magically bloom in front of them.
1 a.m.: Everyone here rubs their eyes and looks vaguely pissed off as they readjust their ear buds and pound their laptops with vigor. There are only a few people left. Our friendly group of local nerd–jocks have disappeared, leaving a few forlorn faces eerily illuminated by their screens dotting the various desks. A boy in a white sweatshirt is slumped literally over his computer, breathing heavily and down for the count. The back room is entirely empty and lonely looking. A girl who has been here since noon finally packs up her bags, looking relieved and slightly manic. She passes me on her way out and looks at me sideways, probably concerned that I have not touched my textbooks or read any notes in the past multiple hours and instead have been staring into space and texting every single person on my contact list. Very sweet.
The second hand of my watch seems magnified in sound as time inches forward, so slowly I could swear it wasn’t moving at all. Everyone in the room seems to agree.
2:30 am: I have relocated to the couches and am struggling not to sink into their lovely cushiness and close my eyes. I finished my work hours ago. I am stretched out on the sofa taking snapchat selfies and then immediately deleting them. I have also downloaded the Learn Italian app on my phone and have been teaching myself basic greetings for the past hour. (Side note—I am not taking Italian, nor am I Italian, nor have I ever been to Italy or even really know anyone who has been to Italy. Why this desire possessed me, I do not know.) Everyone is either fast asleep or staring morosely into their computer screens.
4 a.m.: I look up, bleary eyed, from my makeshift coat pillow (having left my real pillow next to my backpack on the floor) and check the time. There are only a few sad and overzealous students left in the library. One, a boy with thick glasses and a bowl hair–cut, is stretched out on the other couch, softly snoring. He rolls over in his sleep, knocking a stray paper onto the floor. He doesn’t seem to notice. Two other girls sit slouched low in cushy chairs by the window, looking murderous as they flip through books or stare blankly at their computers. One girl has two cans of Red Bull next to her, empty on their sides. The basement is pretty much empty otherwise, and it’s just as oppressively quiet as it was in the middle of the day—except worse, because it’s 4 a.m. and dark outside, making the basement feel miles under the ground. Silhouettes of Penn Police roll ghostly by on their bicycles outside the windows, and the guard flips through his second hand copy of the Bible. My head pounds.
5:30 a.m.: I’ve been watching New Girl, in sad tribute to my long lost New Girl Guy, for the past hour. The Basement is empty save for the guard, who is slumped over the guard desk with heavy bags under his eyes and earplugs looking glued into his ears. He looks friendly and smiles, but I’m too tired so just stare stonily back until he looks away awkwardly. It’s still mostly dark outside and there are Red Bull cans littering the floor from the girl who was here until half an hour ago and then slammed her computer shut and stalked out. She didn’t even notice me as I sat taking up an entire couch and watching Netflix in a daze. I set my alarm clock for forty–five minutes and let myself close my eyes.
6:30 am: I wake up and there are already a few brave souls littering The Dungeon. Most are still shivering from the cold and the brutal shock of their workload literally burying them beneath the ground, without anyone cool to even notice them. One boy, zipped in a white hoodie and looking like he has just escaped from the back of a MERT ambulance, rubs his bloodshot eyes and coughs continuously.
Ugh. Germs are everywhere. I subtly cover my nose with a tissue and take care to breathe in the opposite direction.
I think vaguely of the computer science lecture I will be attending in a few short hours and continue studiously avoid the coding assignment I pushed off all night. A few girls trickle in looking mournful, clutching mugs and wrapped in scarves. Their puffy, matching jackets rustle against their chairs as they grudgingly shrug them off and sit, morose, facing blank screens.
They type slowly as the sun rises.
8:00 a.m.: I have been drifting in and out of sleep as the basement slowly fills up with unfortunate overachievers and procrastinators. My stomach is grumbling and I slowly place my laptop inside my bag and stand up to stretch. I put on my coat and walk out, waving to a new guard, and face the bright sunlight and frigid air. The campus still feels empty and ghostly, and I will never step foot in the basement again.