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Duke after midnight: Perkins Library

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12:00 AM: Introduction

It’s almost 1 a.m. By Perkins all-nighter standards, the games have just begun. Will students finish their problem sets? Will The Link vending machine dare to break down? Only the next few hours will tell.

1:00 AM: Von der Heyden Pavilion—

While some latecomers are just beginning their nights, sophomores Attyat Mayans and Angie Shen are finishing theirs. Mayans and Shen were nestled in a back corner of Von der Heyden, surrounded by...almost no one. Late-night Vondy is a desolate place.

Mayans tapped away at her keyboard, bathed in the bright light of her laptop screen.

“‘I’m writing a paper due tomorrow,” she smiled, only to quickly correct herself. “I mean, I’m just editing it.”

The paper is about Medieval music, and Mayans is a music major. She’s also a night owl, so she’s no stranger to late-night Perkins.

“I’m most productive at night,” Mayans said. “It’s because I choose to, not because I’m forced to.”

Her friend, Angie Shen, had no set schedule. She was leaving Perkins before 1 a.m. to get some reading done in the morning.

Shen is a statistics major, which merited a “lol” from her. Right now, she’s taking a gender and political theory course.

“Stats is pretty hard, but it takes me longer to read,” Shen said.

Both girls were wrapped in thick sweaters and shivered to themselves. Is Perkins too cold, I asked, as Mayans pulled her grey fleece Patagonia closer around her?

“[The air conditioning] is a waste of energy,” Shen said.

* * *

2:00 AM: The Link:

With its cozy study booths and well-lit space, The Link is an ideal study spot for groups looking to talk. At 2:30 a.m., junior Jeremy Fox sat in an almost-private booth with headphones, laptops, Saladelia plastic boxes and coffee cups strewn around him. The piece could be titled: Portrait of a Duke Student in Stress.

Fox was switching between studying for an algorithms test and doing artificial intelligence homework. The Link is one of his preferred spots because he can talk freely and he tends to run into friends, he said.

Was he almost done with his work?

“No,” Fox laughed. But he’ll only stay one more hour.

* * *

3:00 AM: ...still in The Link, due to extenuating circumstances (read: a nap)—

By 3 a.m., the library starts separating the boys from the men. The hard-core studiers stake out their spots for the rest of the night as stragglers shuffle out of the library.

To stay awake, your humble reporter downed an entire bag of Fritos and is now working on a bag of Doritos. I’m looking for more chips ending in “-itos,” so if you work for FritoLay, let me know. The more orange the chip, the better.

In between consuming nearly half of The Link vending machine, I also committed the unthinkable in Perkins: I fell asleep. My “just a few minutes” turned into about 40. If there’s one thing this assignment has proven to me, it’s that I am a senior. Maybe I’m not up to this anymore.

Duke has aged me.

* * *

4:00 AM: fourth floor—

Allied Barton security guard Morton Slutsky patrols the halls of Perkins looking for mayhem. Most nights, he finds something less climactic.

“I see students sleeping all the time,” Slutsky laughed.

Slutsky has worked in Perkins for the past two years, from midnight until 8 a.m. When he comes home from a long night shift, he walks his dog, feeds his fish and settles into sleep during the hours of day when most people are just getting up. 

And Duke students make it worthwhile. Slutsky said some of the more frequent Perkins visitors call him “dad” or “pops.”

“They’re beautiful kids,” Slutsky said. “I love them all.”

* * *

4:30 AM: Homebound

After a long and eventful night, my editor has given me the go-ahead to leave this place. In her words: “Dunkin' Donuts opens at 4:30, so that’s as good an indication of the morning as ever.”

As I walk out of Von der Heyden, nearly empty at 4:35 a.m., I spy Janett Dunegan, a longtime Duke janitor.

Dunegan is a Perkins regular. She’s worked at Duke for 11 years and spent 6 1/2 of those working in the library.

She arrives at 3:30 a.m. and stays until noon. This gives her a more comprehensive view of Perkins, she said.

“I come in here to all the mess,” Dunegan smiled. “And I make it clean for the students.”

Dunegan said the students are always friendly to her and will often thank her for all the work she does.

But one phenomenon she will never understand—finals week.

“The students have so much work and they’re always freaking out,” Dunegan said. “But then they get it done.”

The Duke struggle, summarized.

* * *

All in all, I’d give my Perkins all-nighter experience a 10/10, would do again. I met some interesting Perkins friends that I know will be my best friends for life. I mean, I’m a senior. New semi-permanent friendships are everything I’m looking for.

But one thing I’ve always loved about Perkins: it brings people together. There’s a solidarity in seeing your friends up until the wee hours of the night, running the whole gamut of emotions, just trying to finish an assignment. When we all leave this Gothic Wonderland, we’ll no longer have the opportunity to be in so much mental anguish in one place as late as we want.

It’s a kind of magic.

This story belongs to a two-part look at Duke after midnight. Read the second part here.

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