Life’s Funny

Saving Some Dough

The Life and Times of UNCG’s Bindery Doughnut

 

By Maria Johnson

As everyone knows, 2020 promises to be a big year in Greensboro, owing to celebrations of the cultural touchstone that has finally put our city on the map.

I speak, of course, of the Bindery Doughnut, which marks its 40th anniversary in November.

The doughnut, a icon of durability, resides in the basement bindery of UNCG’s Jackson Library, which I visited recently.

I was greeted warmly by preservation specialist Audrey Sage, who  explained just what the heck they do in a bindery, namely fix broken book spines, install new covers, and mend brittle pages with delicate Japanese paper and rice-based paste.

I found the last part interesting because it involved carbohydrates and allowed me to say, “Soooo, about the doughnut . . .”

Audrey pointed behind me and said, “It’s right there.”

I whirled around, and sure enough, there it was, resting on a bed of black velvet, inside a glass box on a wooden table.

Oh.

I’d walked right past it, probably because I was expecting a regulation size doughnut. This thing looked like an overgrown Cheerio. It was dry and stoney, with little flakes of doughnut dandruff at its shoulders, and a few visible dings.

In other words, the Bindery Doughnut looked very middle-aged.

Naturally, it wasn’t always so.

Audrey recalled that in 1980, it was a plump young cake doughnut, one of a couple of dozen brought in from Dunkin’ Donuts for a staff orientation.

At the end of the session, a lone doughnut remained. Apparently, no one wanted to be a hog and eat the last one. I was astounded at this detail because I hang out with writers, and we don’t have that problem.

Anyway, Audrey explained that the bindery workers — who were clearly more starved for entertainment than food — hung the surviving doughnut on wires that formed a makeshift antenna for an old radio.

Presto! Reception of the college radio station improved immediately.

Mystical powers were attributed to the doughnut.

Even when the old radio was replaced, the doughnut was kept as a talisman and conversation piece.

If you’ve ever worked in a windowless office, you understand.

For five years, the doughnut dangled above the fray, a crystallized symbol of wholeness (holeness?) above the broken spines, and delaminated covers and silverfish damage below.

Then, one day, a student accidentally bumped into it, and the doughnut plunged to the linoleum floor.

“Everyone was astonished when it clinked on the floor like a piece of stoneware,” according to a doughnut history penned by former library employee Jack Stratton.  “It remained intact except for one small sliver that chipped off.”

Word of the doughnut’s invincibility spread.

Supporters founded a club, Friends of the Doughnut, with a membership card and a secret handshake. Bindery staffers started throwing a party for the doughnut every five years. Haiku and limerick contests were held in its honor.

There once was a doughnut uneaten,

Dunkin, a round and quite sweet ’un.

Avoiding the teeth,
The tongue and beneath,

It never became an excretin.

That jewel was penned by Jim Thompson, who for years shared doughnut duty with his colleague Stratton. Audrey joined the bindery guard in 1991. She helped throw a blowout party (by library standards) in the year 2000, when the doughnut had survived two decades. Newspapers wrote about the hullabaloo, and wire services picked up the stories. Radio interviews ensued. A syndicated cartoon feature, Ripley’s Believe It or Not, hailed the 20-year-old doughnut in a vignette that appeared above a drawing of Pope John Paul II, who had been named an honorary member of the Harlem Globetrotters.
THE DOUGHNUT WAS BILLED ABOVE THE POPE!

Also, The Chronicle of Higher Education did a story on the doughnut. Some said it was the most ink the journal had spilled on UNCG up to that point.

“I’m sure that made some people mad,” said Audrey.

Bow to the pastry, killjoys.

After the accident with student, the doughnut was enshrined on a velvet throne. Later, Audrey went to a hobby store and bought a glass case suitable for displaying basketballs and petrified snacks.

That’s where the doughnut rests today, in a temperature- and humidity-controlled room, which may explain how it has lasted all these years. That, and whatever preservatives were mixed into the dough 40 years ago.

Occasionally, when students venture into the bindery on tours or scavenger hunts, Audrey and her coworkers show them the doughnut and point out that, nutritionally speaking, it might not be a great idea to eat sweets with a half-life similar to that of uranium.

I take their point. On the other hand, if you want to last another four decades, with the main side effect being shrinkage . . .   OH

Follow the 40th anniversary of the Bindery Doughnut on its Instagram account, binderydoughnut. Maria Johnson can be reached at almost any Dunkin’ Donuts outlet or ohenrymaria@gmail.com.

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