It all started, oddly enough, during the height of my French New Wave obsession. I was draining Godard and Truffaut films like diner coffee on a rough Sunday morning. These are films that are compact, usually only an hour to an hour and 20 minutes long, and action-packed with a capital ACTION. High energy: car crashes, shootouts, existential shouting matches about one’s place in society, infidelity and barely any plot whatsoever. One could tell Jean-Luc drank a healthy amount of caffeine while on set and writing scripts. I watched a movie entitled ‘Le Mepris’ (Contempt) four or five times, completely enthralled by the vices of the French moving picture.
This was a venture I took on alone. Friends — who weren’t that into film in general — weren’t going to sit down and watch a French one, that was for sure. Friends who did thought I was slightly pretentious in my selections, which was sort of understandable. I didn’t care. I just kept renting.
Finally, after walking into my apartment with another five movies of the francophonic persuasion, a roommate decided to ask me where I’d been obtaining and obtaining said films.
I said, “Askwith, man. I call it Five-Movie-Friday. They’re not due back until Monday at midnight. Isn’t that sweet?”
Outwardly not as amazed as I thought he should be, he merely blurted, “What is Askwith?”
“It’s the movie and media library in the UGLi. It’s free too. They have everything and a lot of it is on Criterion so you get all the essays and side stuff too. I joke all the time that I’m going to get my tuition back in movie rentals!”
Don’t worry, I’m aware of everything that’s wrong with this joke.
Then, my roommate made a most deep and existential inquiry (I think the most mind-altering that he’s ever relayed to me in our brief time living together). He said, “Why is it called Askwith? Like, what are you ‘asking with?’ I don’t get it.”
Truly, I was stumped. I knew it was only one word. Askwith. What does that mean, though? Like so many of you would while sitting on the couch on a Friday night, I Googled it on my phone.
It turns out Askwith was named after the man who supplied the funds that made the media library possible, Bert Askwith. Sadly, Bert Askwith recently passed away at the lofty age of 104 on June 1, but his accomplishments in life were lengthy. He was a University alumni and an editor of this very newspaper back in 1931. He started a transportation company in 1928 called Campus Coach Lines that helped University students get home during school holidays.
Bert, what a familiar name, I thought. Yes, Askwith’s contributions also helped create Bert’s Cafe in the UGLi where I just stopped to buy a coffee before I wrote this column on a library computer. With much gratitude, I am feeling Bert’s impact on the school with every sip.
But this was only the first domino to fall. Soon, every building on campus was subjected to this train of revelations and enlightenment. These words we use every day to meet up with our friends or to direct strangers looking for the spinning cube, these words are names of people who actually lived and more often than not, attended the University, just like us. The light bulb is popping on. This may seem like a trivial or obvious observation, but it was shocking at the time, if not only due to the frequency with which I utilized these titles.
Tappan, Angell, Haven, Hutchins, Hatcher, Shapiro and Duderstadt were all presidents of the University. Burton Tower is named after President Marion LeRoy Burton. William L. Clements made his fortune supplying equipment for the construction of the Panama Canal. Stephen S. Clark Library is named after the man who co-invented the manometer having dual pressure sensors (which kind of sounds to me like some sub-surface weaponry wielded by Spongebob super villain Man Ray in a battle against Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy.) These are just the things I know.
But please forgive me. I wasn’t even at the University when he got the patents for these inventions. For so many of these other honorable people, I wasn’t even born yet. Neither were my parents or grandparents. So, this is more than a fun fact. This is the unveiling of the pre-me history that surrounds us. Or at least a history of some sort.
When you tell me something new about the library — a place where I spend so much time, that’s a part of so many of my stories, that’s now a part of who I am — the information is going to matter. It will strike my interest.
While it’s such a good time to acknowledge the historical process, I must admit that I’m fond of going the opposite way, too. The brightly-lit future. The future of me, in particular. I don’t think it is at all unreasonable to spend time with the successes of all these brilliant people and then to reflect on one’s own pathway and journey in life. I can see myself now. I have no idea where my obsessions with the vices of French New Wave and laugh out loud oceanic animation will lead me, but I’m sure it will be to a very extraordinary accomplishment worth millions. Then I, little old me, can give back to the place that made me who I am.
I will most likely contribute towards a theatre or an auditorium. Sparkman Auditorium. Or better yet, a whole complex full of Sparkman auditoria that thousands of freshman will take chemistry finals and fall asleep in during their Introduction to Linguistics courses. Maybe an improv group on campus will host a Friday night roast of whoever the current president is. The future can make it grandiose and ornate or minimal and modern. I’m really, honestly sure I will love it either way.
Elijah Sparkman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.