Bench Plaques and Thoreau

I make myself cry probably once a week. 

To be clear, it’s not because I’m sad (usually). It’s because I find myself so intensely hilarious that I will laugh until I’m crying profusely at my own joke—a joke that I often don’t even say out loud. I will tell myself a joke, in my head, and then sit there shaking with laughter while tears (and sometimes snot) stream down my face. It’s a sight to behold.

All of this is to say that I truly enjoy my own company. I find spending time with me to be great fun—a hoot and a half, even. I am perfectly content to spend hours alone with my thoughts, mulling over my running list of million dollar ideas or wondering how munchkin cats climb stairs, or replaying every conversation I’ve ever had and cringing. The sort of solitude necessary for quality time with myself is hard to come by at college, though. I live with seven other equally chatty women, so I don’t typically experience “silence.” For a while there, I started to think it was a myth. 

Yet, my love of my own company has come in handy recently, as my skunk-investigation co-conspirators (Gabi and Molly) rudely rejected my request for companionship on my new investigative venture: The Bench Plaque Mystery. 

If you’re keeping score at home, you know that my investigations have spanned butter packets on Mac’s ceiling, a two-part search for skunks, and a somewhat lame foray into the world of procrastination (procrastinating my columns, as it turns out, drastically reduces their quality while simultaneously improving my quality of life. It’s a catch-22). This week, I asked myself what key issue I should tackle next. The grad student union? The Koch donation? The BC Belfast case? No—it had to be bench plaques. 

When I interrupted Gabi and Molly’s date night to tell them this (behind being a columnist, my primary occupation is third-wheeling their relationship), and that the investigation would require reading every bench plaque on BC’s campus, they, in unison, expressed their complete disinterest in helping me realize my bench-related dreams. They cited silly reasons like “having homework” and “not wanting to walk around aimlessly in the cold” and “visiting every bench is too many benches.”

Their hearts, it seems, are icier than the weather that kept them from joining me. 

Rather than interpret their refusal as confirmation that bench plaques are not the most exciting or reader-friendly topic (a conclusion I arrived at in my last column, but have since written off as invalid due to my exhaustion at the time of said column’s composition), I walked away more determined than ever, fully prepared to venture out alone. 

And venture I did. 

I began my investigation under the cloak of darkness, using my phone’s flashlight to make out the plaque inscriptions. Was this the result of poor planning? Was it an aesthetic choice? Did I fear seeing the judgment in my peers’ eyes in the light of day? The world will never know. 

Actually, the world will—it was all of the above. 

Anyway, you really would not believe the suspicious vibes I exuded while aggressively searching for the bench to end all benches—the bench that could save this column from its current free-fall—in the middle of the night. I scampered around campus leaping over fences and channelling my inner Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez. I looked high (double entendre unintended, but accurate). I looked low. I sat on a few benches. I laid down on one. I recalled having emotional breakdowns on more than I would care to admit.  

Ultimately, I cannot lie: The plaques weren’t that great. I should’ve known that it would be impossible to beat the Misery Club discovery of last week’s column. (If you’re behind on my columns, last week I found a bench plaque that reads “THANKS Fr. B – The Misery Club,” and it changed my life.) As the woman who ran around in the cold, at night, evaluating benches instead of doing her homework, I can promise you that no one is more disappointed than me— but also, I have no regrets. I had a good time getting up to some wholesome shenanigans on a Wednesday. I laughed at my own jokes. I danced to ABBA. I found the quiet I had been missing. 

I’ve never read Walden, but I think that what I experienced with those benches was right up there with Henry David Thoreau’s whole woods experiment. (Yes, I just reduced Walden to a “whole woods experiment.” Again, I have no regrets.) I didn’t realize how much space college took up in my mind until I was left to nature, if you can call the quad nature (you can’t, but just go with it), and my own devices. Taking time to be alone, even if it’s just to goof off around campus at midnight, is an incredibly restorative and underrated practice. Find your own Thoreauian bench plaque experience, kids—your peace of mind will thank you. 

At the end of the day—and this may come as a surprise—I’m no Thoreau. One night of alone time with benches fulfilled my solitude quota for easily the next few weeks. I’m returning to the person-filled, seven-roommate lifestyle just like the rest of you. In fact, I’m taking applications for the Watson to my Sherlock—the second wheel to my investigative bicycle, if you will. Email me your thoughts on obscure, intense scavenger hunts and you might just find yourself the next infamous guest star of my column. Silly (but serious?) (but silly?) inquiries only. (FYI: Thinking oxymorons are fun is a mandatory quality for this position.)