Last one out turn off the lights

The college year began about a week ago, and at the bookstore we have students coming in trying to find textbooks and other materials. It is at times rather depressing to have to deal with these budding scholars.

Two young ladies came in, obviously annoyed over an assignment from their American history professor. The assignment? Here’s how it was explained to me.

“I need you to look up a couple of books using the keywords ‘Little Big Horn’ and ‘Wounded Knee.’ I think it has something to do with the Civil War.”

Now, I’ve taught social studies. And that experience has encouraged me to dial down my expectations. But is it really expecting too much to think that on hearing those two “keywords” together, a bell should go off in the average high school graduate’s head and trigger the thought, “Gee, doesn’t this have something to do with the Indians?”

I’m not sure I should have gone out of my way to help them. I mentioned General Custer and saw not the slightest flicker of recognition on their faces.

This did nothing to improve my mood.

Not long after, a couple in their early twenties came in asking for the Spark Notes for Bodega Dreams, by Ernesto Quinonez. As far as I can tell, the book was not published before 2000. Let’s assume it’s a wonderful book. Even so, do these people not understand what Spark Notes and Cliffs Notes are all about?

I’m waiting for a customer to ask me for crib notes to Harry Potter.

These two examples are from one eight-hour shift. For the past two weeks we’ve had similar examples every single day.

Parents routinely come in to buy college textbooks for their little darlings, who presumably are home studying their class notes. I had one father proudly tell me that his daughter was pre-med — at Johns Hopkins, no less. Somehow, I spent nine years as an undergraduate (enjoy that bit of irony on me) and managed to shop for books all by myself. Perhaps that father’s friends were tired of hearing it, and he jumped at the opportunity to come to the bookstore to brag to someone paid to listen.

Whatever the case, I’m not impressed. And I want to stay out of the hospital the daughter ends up working at — since I’d feel a bit uneasy lying on an operating table with Daddy ready to hand a scalpel to his little girl.

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