Hit the Decks

There’s a scene near the beginning of The Paper Chase in which the protagonist, Timothy Bottoms, sneaks into a closed area of a library at Harvard Law School. He climbs through a window and down onto a type of configurable floor called a deck, where he intends to read law books that are not available to regular law students.

This is the south side of the Bizzell Library at Oklahoma University in 1984. During that period, the attic of the library was full of a littered mess of moldy documents and cold war relics.
This is the south side of the Bizzell Library at Oklahoma University in 1984. During that period, the attic of the library was full of a littered mess of moldy documents and cold war relics.

The scene is eerily similar to one in my own college life when I snuck into a closed section of my college library by squeezing from one floor of deck to the next where the flooring didn’t quite meet the wall. The decks there were made of thick, translucent glass, so you could see anyone walking on the deck above you, so I had to sneak extra cautiously.

I wasn’t there because there were forbidden law books to be read. I was there because it was forbidden at all. Like my infiltration of the subterranean maintenance tunnel system, my exploration of the forbidden decks was one only of curiosity. Here are a few things my friends and I found strewn about the library attic:

  • Survival biscuits and canned water.
  • Handwritten bank checks and statements from the 1890s.
  • Rusty file cabinets that seemed to contain banking or financial data.
  • Various rat trash scattered all around.

I didn’t take anything, and wouldn’t have even if I wanted any of it. I wasn’t there to steal.

I think my desire to explore places like maintenance tunnels and locked attics in my youth morphed into exploring ski trails and hiking trails as an adult. I’m sure it all harkens back to the notion of having a childlike curiosity that can never be quenched. At least I hope I never quench it.

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2 Comments

  1. I remember many experiences like this from my childhood — and a few from adulthood… At my college, there was an underground maintenance system that a couple of us explored briefly. It wasn’t as interesting as it should have been. :-/

    In my childhood, this trait was usually expressed in two ways: (1) exploring my grandmother’s canyons with cousins, including what we called “spelunking” — actually just crawling into tiny tunnels in the canyon walls, and (2) digging “dinosaur holes” in my parents’ yard.

    The latter started when I was about six years old; I wanted to find dinosaur bones. I’d gained the impression from a couple of books that ancient fossils were just under the ground everywhere, if only people would look for them. A few years later, my Mom asked me if I was still digging for dinosaur bones. “No, just digging”, I responded.

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  2. This is so weird. I had the exact same experience today. And I love your title — hit the decks. Very appropriate. Did you ever visit deck 7? It’s the top one.

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