Peircing Memories

by Molly Willow '00

I was never cool enough to eat in Peirce.

I was a Dempsey diner. The less-majestic Dempsey Hall seemed to aid the self-perpetuating student class system, in which jocks and dweebs sat separately to avoid watching each other eat. (Have you ever seen a linebacker devour five hamburgers? It's scary, even at a D-III school.)

The impressive remodel of Peirce, and the transformation of Dempsey into the sleek and welcoming Thomas Hall, have ruined all that.

And that's not the only time-honored tradition recent changes have destroyed: gone is the opportunity to bitch about the food. Students now not only have their choice of two grand, equal-opportunity dining halls in which to nosh, they also get a Mongolian grill. And a "wellness bar" and nightly burgers and quattro formaggio pasta.

In my day there was a casserole on the menu—I kid you not—composed of bread crusts, broccoli, and a sea of goopy cheese. I believe we studied its twin under the microscope in my intro bio class. Were it not for the cereal bar and the nutritive qualities of Lucky Charms, I might have gone hungry. Or worse, gone deeper into debt than I did buying pizza. Now, they give the stuff away.

And that's not all.

The addition of bathrooms on the main floor would have been particularly useful for me during the time I spent on crutches my senior year. I risked dehydration for two months out of fear that filling up on liquids would necessitate a precarious hop downstairs to the restroom. Now, a Peirce pit stop doesn't mean bivouacking into the building's bowels.

Yet rest assured that some things remain the same.

The seal in the Peirce entry, and the tradition of not stepping directly on it, live on. (I wouldn't be surprised to learn this ritual originated after the release of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: "Elsa! Don't cross the seal! The knight warned us not to take the grail from here!")

There are still dudes who wear flannel pajama pants to dinner. And why not? Elastic waistbands are pragmatic given that donuts, potato chips, and soft-serve are as easy to find as a squirrel on Middle Path.

Extendo lunch, that block of time from 1:15 p.m. to 4:45 p.m. when students can tide themselves over before dinner, still exists, bless it. Extendo is a late-afternoon dining option I have adopted in my personal life and, in college, was the scene of my most ingenious cooking. My roommate, Mary Kinner, and I made MacGyver-style grilled cheese sandwiches at the omelet bar using the bread for toast and shredded cheese. (The trick was to use a plate as a lid and set the heat on low to let the cheese melt.) It took patience, but on days when that broccoli-cheese experiment was on the dinner menu, it was worth the wait.

I always loved the openness of Kenyon's campus, particularly the fact that anyone could stroll into the dining hall without showing ID. It made me feel welcome and was useful when broke college-aged friends would visit if, hypothetically, you were the kind of person who didn't mind sticking your school for a few bowls of cereal.

Although there is now a cash-register setup in the atrium entrance, the open-door policy, in effect, continues. As I recently learned, if you look young enough, every night can be all-you-can-eat pizza night. (Yes, this is my subtle way of noting that, at least to a middle-aged cafeteria worker, I still pass for a student. Thankyouverymuch.) Nowadays, however, it's actually worth sneaking in for the free food.

On a recent visit, I was heartened to see both the changes and the constants. (There's something reassuring about the fact college students still drink chocolate milk.) But Peirce is no longer the plum dining locale—not with Thomas erasing any doubt that separate, at least when it comes to chow, can be equal.

And so, on a recent dinner visit, I took my tray into Peirce and enjoyed a side of refurbished nostalgia with my mashed potatoes. Both were just gravy.

Molly Willow writes about television for the Columbus Dispatch.

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