Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Dawn of the Braindead

The view from my desk,

It's impolitic to type this, and I've kept my typing fingers quiet on the subject until now, but today was Day Four of Book Rush, and they were out in force, wave after wave of them, the Born Yesterdays and the Never Had A Clues and the Think I Know Much More Than I Actually Do's.

Yes, it's true: most college students really do have all the brains of a tapeworm.

I can cut the freshmen some slack. They're on their own, probably for the first time, probably feeling overwhelmed. I can sympathize. But the upperclassmen -- they have no excuse! They've done this before.

The most common question I get asked, roughly on the order of a couple hundred times a day during book rush, is "Can I buy my books down here or do I have to go upstairs?" Even the parents sometimes ask that one.

I want to know what it is about my workspace that reminds them even vaguely of a cashier's station. Could it be the chest-high wall surrounding me that so discourages that kind of activity? Could it be the total absence of those cheery cash register sounds? Could it be the barricade of notebooks currently stacked in front of the space, making it virtually impossible for anyone to get close enough to conduct a transaction?

The ones I like the best are the ones who don't even ask. They just come up here and stare at me expectantly, then cautiously raise their books and try to hand them over.

Hmm. Yes, I see you have books. Pretty ones. Nice.

I like to let them stew a little bit before I ask, "Can I help you?"

They have to go upstairs anyway to get out of here, so what's the big deal?

Beside me here is the Emergency Exit. It's got two Big Red Signs right at eye level that read, "EMERGENCY EXIT ONLY -- ALARM WILL SOUND." Just in case, there are two more signs just above the handbar that say the same thing in big red letters. Yet on the first day of Book Rush, no less than three  students and one adult went barreling through that door, yes, setting off the alarm. It is a really loud and annoying alarm by the way. In order to make it stop I have to walk around the front of the booth, stand directly under that noise, and key it off. Did I mention that it gets louder and louder the longer it screams?

And someone did it again today. I was right in the middle of going through a pre-order box with another student. I'm afraid they knew that I was pissed. It's kind of hard to hide in the initial wake of jumping right out of your skin.

My question is, "If you can't read, what the hell are you doing in college?"

There's also the phenomenon, not limited to the students, of turning easy, simple questions into a novel by Dostoyevsky. "Once upon a time there was this and that and the other thing and my grandmother's second cousin on her father's side recommended a book to me, it's a red book with spots and it's about an inch think, I don't know what it's about or what the title is or who the author is, but it's for some class, I don't know the course number." All bookstore people are familiar with this. The challenge is to filter out the extraneous and figure out what the person is really asking for. This can be made extra-difficult when they speak in a halting, roundabout way, or if they speak in a monotone, or in a whisper, or as if they have a mouthful of marbles. In short, the way most students speak.

My favorite Idiotic Question so far this semester is: "I bought this book at Amazon but it hasn't arrived yet. Is there any way I can just borrow this one for two weeks?"

It wins for being a Double Play: not only is it a Very Deeply Idiotic Question Indeed, but it shows that the student really was raised in a barn and has no moral compass whatever.

This morning another student made a point of bragging out loud that she got a lot of her books "for cheap on Amazon."

Our textbook program is structured to break even, not to make a profit. I wish that we could put a sign up to that effect, broadcast it to the students. The bookstore is not ripping you off. There's no doubt that textbooks are a Racket, but it's the publishers and wholesalers behind it, not us. Amazon is selling the books at a lower price than we have to pay for them. Who knows how they make a profit?

The students stand on the stairway and have conversations, blocking the way for people who need to get through.

They walk sloooowwwly  two and three abreast, blocking the halls. 

The personal hygiene of many of them is definitely in question.  It's hard to answer student questions when you're holding your breath.

We bore ourselves silly making the same speeches over and over, trying to drill into their thick heads, "Keep your receipt! You can't return anything without your receipt!" And yet today, just four days in, a student came up to me and said: "I need to return my books and I don't have my receipt."

Enjoy the books, Chumley.

They don't moan or drool or eat human flesh, but sometimes it seems as if they are intent on devouring one's Immortal Soul.

Like today.

Go forth, students! Go forth and PLEASE don't multiply.

-- Freder.

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