Weenie Bin C62F is just like the 43 other weenie bins in Bass Library, except that it isn’t.
Like the rest, it is lit by an overhead bulb with a motion sensor to save energy in case the occupant forgets to turn it off or falls asleep. The oak desk in Weenie Bin C62F is labeled underneath with a number that is supposed to correspond to the room number but doesn’t — none of them do, a convincing testament to their interchangeability. This weenie bin, like the others, has one custom-designed Gothic chair, and only one. Before the library was renovated two years ago, the architects studied patterns of weenie-bin use and concluded that two-person weenie bins were almost always used by only one person — except when they weren’t. Generations of alumni recall weenie bin make-out sessions, and even Urban Dictionary defines the term with the sample sentence, “I was trying to study for my orgo exam while two freshmen were hooking up in the next weenie bin.”
But those who frequent these subterranean dens of drudgery for their intended purpose know better than to fall for the initial impression that all weenie bins are created equal. In fact, the choice of weenie bin is critical, and students take it just as seriously as the work they plan to accomplish there. For example, to work on her fluid mechanics problem set, one senior told me she chose C10A because it’s on the end, which reduces the chance of a noisy neighbor by 50 percent. There are, in fact, other subtle differences. The precise location of the power outlets varies. Each weenie bin has a different bronze plaque with the name of the donor through whose generosity it was made possible — that is to say, whose $50,000 bought some 250 cubic feet of premium Yale study space. And, according to one graduate student, the temperatures also differ slightly, which is why he always prefers to study in C62C.
Early in the term, he has his choice, since the library is not at all crowded. But during reading week, the competition for a weenie bin — any weenie bin! — will turn fierce. Some especially zealous crammers will try to claim one by leaving their belongings there all day or even overnight. The security guards in Bass Library say this practice, though common, is not allowed.
But the last weenie bin on the west side of the upper level, C62F, the special one, is claimed. Even locked. The guards know this, and they believe it’s supposed to be that way, although they don’t know why.
The reason is that every day, an 82-year-old man with thin white hair and soft blue eyes behind horn-rimmed bifocals walks 15 minutes from his house on Prospect Hill and enters the library, leaning on his wooden cane as he goes. The librarians all know and greet him, but to the library’s other denizens, all some 60 years his junior, he is a stranger. He occasionally notices their wayward glances; they are no doubt wondering what an octogenarian is doing there. But mostly he doesn’t mind. He treasures his anonymity.
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His name is Richard Selzer, and he carries the key to Weenie Bin C62F, which has belonged to him about as long as it has existed. Before the renovation, Selzer, who used to teach at the Yale School of Medicine, frequented a weenie bin in the old Cross Campus Library, dating back about two decades. After the renovation, the librarians decided to give him his own space so he wouldn’t have to keep carrying all his books and papers back and forth.
“It’s mine, and only mine,” Selzer says in a gentle, faded voice. “And I feel a little ashamed about that, but also very grateful.”
The space is extraordinarily cluttered, “just like my mind,” Selzer says. There are 27 books, two floppy disks, two videotapes, countless stacks of paper, a blood pressure kit, a backscratcher, a box of clothing, and a mounted marble sculpture of a boy climbing out of a wall holding a book (which is supposed to represent Selzer himself, according to the friend who sculpted it, though Selzer doesn’t see the resemblance). Four of the books are Selzer’s own, and one of the stacks of paper is the manuscript for another: his 16th book, Diary, which was published by the Yale University Press in February. It was originally composed longhand, on this very desk. Selzer uses a fountain pen — which he, as a former surgeon, prefers because it reminds him of a scalpel — on bound pads of yellowish paper whose lines he usually ignores, covering them with script that is taut and slanted, creating a clutter not unlike that of his weenie bin.
Some of the objects there he doesn’t even recognize himself, but his memory isn’t so good anymore. He finds books that seem unfamiliar until he sees his name after the blurbs he contributed to their back covers. He finds a strange flowerpot knickknack whose origin and use he can’t recall, until he notices the characters on its base and figures it must relate to his tour as an Army surgeon in Korea. That experience is the subject of a journal, which was the first thing he ever wrote and was finally published in 2009, in the form of a novel. He has also written about his stint in a Venetian monastery and about his hometown of Troy, N.Y., where he grew up listening to the moans of his father’s patients downstairs and the scales of his mother’s soprano upstairs. But here in his weenie bin, he cherishes the silence and, above all, the solitude.
Selzer is very much not alone. He has a loving wife, who runs a bed-and-breakfast in their home, and three children, all successful in their respective careers. He also has a dedicated following of readers, who flood him with letters, though he says he doesn’t know what they find so terribly interesting about him.
In the library, Selzer says, he can vanish, escape all the responsibilities and distractions of his world, and just write. The weenie bin is where Selzer can be with himself, and be himself. C62F is his weenie bin — not terribly unlike C10A and C62C, those other students’ favored weenie bins, but certainly not just any weenie bin.
“When I come into this little cubby hole, something happens to me, as if something descends on me and keeps me writing,” he says. “I’m at home here. It’s like a nest, or a scriptorium. Every writer should have one.”