This article is dedicated to those of you who think you aren’t afraid of anything. Let me bring you to a day not too long ago — last Wednesday, in fact — on which I experienced a fear that can only be compared to accidentally drinking whole milk thinking it’s fat-free. Let me recount to you, in detail, the night I found myself trapped in the lower dungeons of Firestone Library.
Upon reaching the B-floor, I immediately come across huge, eerie metal chambers known colloquially as “study carrels.” I peer in through the dirty windows into the gloomy darkness, but I can’t make out anything. The cold metal walls tremble on contact, and I wonder how anyone could have ever fit into this cramped space. Why the heck does it only lock from the outside?
Then I’m struck by a horrifying realization. All Princeton would need to do is add a Nurse Ratched and an electroshock therapy room, and Firestone could double as the insane asylum from an awful book I had to read in high school.
I spot an ominous painting of an Amish-looking hobo hanging next to the Scribner Room. I swear his eyes are following me as I walk past the painting, and I decide to take refuge in the reading room where his gaze can’t follow me. Immediately I come upon the disembodied heads of Walt Whitman and John Keats plastered on the wall, and a hysteric cry escapes my mouth.
As I regain control over my bladder, all I can be sure of is that the designer of the room must have harbored a deep and violent grudge against poetry.
I’m losing hope. I’ve been exploring the B-floor for four minutes straight, and I’m beginning to feel thirsty. I scout the study room, looking for a water fountain, a vending machine — anything. I spot a lonely can of Red Bull abandoned on top of a table. Remembering an episode of “Man vs. Wild” in which Bear Grylls squeezes water from elephant poop, I realize I can’t be picky about what I drink. If I desert this sweet nectar, I’ll be dehydrated within hours.
Closing my eyes, I flip the can over my mouth, expecting the saccharine flavor of the drink to embrace my parched tongue. It’s empty. I’m suddenly feeling so much thirstier than I was a minute ago.
Convinced that anything would be better than the B-floor, I descend to the C-floor, the world where ghosts wander and humans are but rare beasts. The flickering lights in the corridors make me believe that Princeton made Firestone for the sole purpose of housing all the shady criminals on campus.
Nevertheless, eager to discover what rare gems lie undiscovered in this mountain of literature, I crouch over to read one of the titles on the dusty bookshelves, only to realize that it’s too damn dark to read any of the books.
I catch sight of bookshelves seemingly moving on their own — clearly, some vengeful spirit is at work. I instantly drop to my knees and promise to never throw napkins into the food disposal bin at the Mathey dining hall ever again.
It’s then that I realize the shelves are being slid back and forth along tracks on the floor. I feel a sudden urge to slide the contraption, but I desist when I consider the likely probability of finding a body crushed many years ago by other students rushing to find sources for their Dean’s Date papers.
I notice strategically placed Purell dispensers located near the many dimly lit and isolated study tables. Clearly, these dispensers are for the murderers lurking on the floor who want to wash the blood from their hands.
Everything is beginning to look the same. Trying to steady my ragged breathing, I suddenly feel the urge to use the bathroom.
I follow the “Women’s Restroom” sign expecting to find a “Men’s Restroom” nearby, but to no avail. What kind of sick person would play this kind of joke?
My wandering has led me to the deepest and darkest corner of the C-floor. Just kidding, there is no corner. Everything in the northeastern part of the floor is a circle — be it a circular bench, a circular wall or a circular staircase. While I muse over the geometrical significance of all the circles, I’m hit by a sudden realization.
In a circle, there is nowhere to hide, nowhere to run, no corner to lovingly caress. I realize the cruel reality of these implications. I’m nothing more than a trapped existence within the claws of Firestone, sacrificing my youth and sanity, desperately wanting to leave and go to bed and yet needing to stay for the sake of graduating with a Princeton diploma. I don’t want to come back the next day, but I do anyway because there’s nowhere else to study — it’s an endless nightmare.
Wanting to escape from the C-floor as soon as possible, I rush up the stairs to the topmost floor, which I’m sure, by default, will be filled with human life and warmth. But I only come upon more empty carrels and sliding bookshelves.
This is a nightmare; I must be dreaming. It is only after repeatedly trying to slap myself awake that I realize I’ll have to spend the rest of my sad existence alone in this prison. I’m never going to get out alive.
I get out alive. Yes, after a deafening alarm, I am found by a gruff, middle-aged man who picks me up from the floor, weeping and emasculated, and takes me to the front entrance. But never mind that.
More importantly, I come to realize the Princeton experience is nothing more than a huge Firestone maze. There is a lot of wandering, there is a lot of unwarranted fear, and there is a lot of sketchiness. But that seemingly hopeless experience teaches you what you really value (i.e. my life) and what you’re really passionate about (i.e. my life). And when you finally get out alive, you realize your time spent in the great library of knowledge was worth all the stress and paranoia.
After convincing the lady at the front desk I hadn’t stolen any books, I step into the blistering October darkness, back onto a campus where even more nightmares await.