A Diary of a Lonely Librarian, Part 4

Chronicles of sadness and strangeness in the time of COVID-19

The myLab space where grilled cheese night is normally held.

Tuesday, April 28: Tonight would have been grilled cheese night.I think I’ll miss you most of all.” We have been doing grilled cheese night in the law library for about ten years. During each Fall and Spring exam period, we pick a night shortly after the first 1L exam and make hot grilled cheese sandwiches for any law student in the library. We usually serve about 130 or 140 sandwiches in an hour to the students in our myLab space. By 6:00, when we start, we have a line of students out the door of myLab, reaching all the way to the reference desk. This year, myLab is dark and the line is gone. I’m really sad about it. I miss the grilled cheese team: Micheal, who started it all with me and works the griddle right next to me; Tim, who manages the line and has never failed to catch a grilled cheese that we flipped to him; and Rebecca, who helps with the line, stands in at a griddle and does the social media stuff the rest of us don’t understand. I miss the students, who are always so polite and appreciative, even as they have to wait 20 minutes for a “grilled cheese WITH tomato” or a “grilled cheese withOUT tomato.” I miss Carol Sue, who always works late and is there every year to help us clean up at the end and sample a sandwich. I miss doing the shopping in the morning with Micheal at our local grocery store, where we always have to figure out how much cheese, bread, chips and tomatoes to get from scratch because we never write it down. I miss spending part of the afternoon with him as he prepares the cheese slices and I slice the tomatoes in our breakroom while we listen to music on his phone. I miss our outfits: aprons and matching t-shirts that my wife, Lisa, made years ago. I miss “Grilly,” our giant, grilled cheese sign that we always hang up on the window to announce the event.

Micheal and I came up with the idea a decade ago. Like most of our ideas, it was spontaneous and we committed to it 100% without thinking it through. Our original thought was to make comfort food for the students during exams, and we first decided that pancakes, bacon and sausage would be the best—breakfast for dinner. We had the foresight to realize that cooking twenty pounds of bacon and sausage would produce a lot of grease, so we decided to pre-cook them at my house and then just reheat them on the griddle that night while making the pancakes for the students. We did not anticipate just how much grease it would produce, though. In my small kitchen, we had pans of sausage and bacon going in the oven at the same time that we had several pans cooking on the stove top. In just a few minutes we were overwhelmed by hot grease. We could not find enough containers for it. Soda cans, jars, milk cartons—we filled everything we had. My house still smells like bacon grease. We also did not realize how much grease the bacon would produce even when just being reheated that night in the law library. We had one griddle going for fresh pancakes and another for reheating the sausage and bacon. We soon had a steady drizzle of boiling bacon grease pouring from the side of that one griddle and had to start running back and forth to the break room to cut up metal soda cans to catch it. As soon as we set down a quarter soda can, it would fill up and we would have to replace it. Micheal and I both ended up with cuts and burns on our hands. But it was fun and the students loved it. After that, we switched to grilled cheese and never had the same technical problems, other than the two separate occasions that we blew an electrical fuse in the library. We hope to be able to do it all again soon. I love it.

Wednesday, April 29: My library gymnastics coach says that a good developmental progression would be cartwheel, roundoff, back walkover, and then roundoff back handspring. I’m not sure. I’ve been practicing my cartwheel on the one day a week I’m in the library now, and the spots in my eyes are getting smaller, so that’s good. I think I may have done a roundoff during my life. I don’t know about a back walkover, and I am frightened about the roundoff back handspring. But I guess that’s what makes a good library gymnastics coach—they have the confidence that you don’t yet have. Plus, everyone needs goals I suppose. And at the University of Virginia, I know they are supposed to be S.M.A.R.T. goals, so here goes: (1) Specific: “Cartwheel to roundoff to back walkover to roundoff back handspring.” (2) Measurable: “Judges? ‘Ten!’ ‘Ten!’ Ten!’ ‘Eight point five.’ What!!??! You never liked me anyways.” (3) Achievable: “Don’t doubt me.” (4) Relevant. “Well. . . yeah! [eye roll]” (5) Time-based: “Camera-ready by the time our doors open back up.” Cool.

Thursday, April 30: It really is remarkable what a nice job the landscapers and grounds crew do here. I’m not in the library today, as our onsite skeleton crew is on a one-day-at-a-time rotation, so this picture is from the other day. Normally, I could not take this picture because, on any other day, there would be students at these study tables from the time I arrive to the time I leave and I wouldn’t want to bother them. When the library is empty like it is now, sometimes I notice things that I haven’t necessarily noticed as fully in all of the years that I’ve worked here. Some of our second floor study tables really do feel like they are in the middle of a forest when the light is right.

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Ben Doherty

Ben is a research librarian and Head of Instructional Services at the Law Library. He has worked at the Law Library since 2004.

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