Tag Archives: English Major

Finals Week at the Library

The last short story of the year about Karl, who finishes his first semester of college facing a handful of final exams, papers, and a pack of ravenous Business students.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

papers

This week, I have so many assignments and tests! It’s crazy! I have a paper for my rhetoric class, a paper for literature with Dr. Corddry, a paper and a test for German (all of it’s in German! I can’t handle that much Deutsch!), a paper for my Honors class, and a giant test for psychology.
So Eddie, Vince, Abigail, Maxwell, Sam, the herd of cynics, and this person from Honors named Jill all went to Cline to study and finish our papers. It was packed! Everybody does last-minute studying in the library, and practically the entire undergraduate college was there. The library is open 24/7 during reading week, and I guess everybody at NAU takes advantage of that. We couldn’t get any of the private study rooms, so we found this table in a big room already filled with students. It was the last table available, and a bunch of Math students frowned and walked away slowly when we got to it first. The librarians started handing out snacks and water to keep us calm. Maxwell called it the opiate of the masses or something, but then he saw they had gummy bears, and he loves his gummy bear opiates.
We set up our laptops, notes, books, and everything else we needed for a study night and got to work. First Sam and Vince and I practiced some German words, then Abigail and Eddie worked on Honors papers, and Maxwell and the herd of cynics studied for Psychology. That was going to be the worst test, because the instructor told us that she actually made a bet with the other faculty about how many students would fail the test, and she bet that seventy percent of us would fail! Who does that?
A little while after we were into our study session, a pack of Business students in suits came to our table and asked us to vacate the premises. These Business students all looked the same. They talked like California surfer bros and had tans the color of cheddar cheese and had short military hair cuts, and they all had Starbucks food in crumbly paper bags. They all folded their arms trying to intimidate us into giving them the table.
Maxwell made some big speech about how we needed to stand up and oppose the man, and Abigail took out this flashlight/pen/screwdriver thing and threatened to remove their fingers. But these were Business students, and we’re in the Humanities. They have us outnumbered, they have suits, they have the Franke building (the Liberal Arts building isn’t named after some rich dead guy, I guess), and they have more job potential than us. The herd of cynics started shouting everything Maxwell said after he said it, and Vince pulled out a pocket knife and said he knew how to use it. Meanwhile, I just tried to write one more sentence in German.
Pretty soon, three librarians came up to our table. One of them had a cart of really huge legal books, one of them was armed with one of the legal books, and the third, who seemed to be leading them, was Autumn Bartlett. The other two were these tall, long-haired, bearded, gangly hipsters in plaid shirts and fuzzy beanies. I guess they would’ve been lumberjacks, but they had headphones in their ears and set their vente double espresso chocolate pumpkin cinnamon spice cappulattes on the library cart, and I don’t think most lumberjacks drink espresso.
The pack of ravenous Business students said the table was theirs.
“We got here first,” they said.
“We have our notes all set up,” Abigail said.
“But we saw it first.”
“We’ve been here for two hours.”
“We have important assignments due tomorrow! The teacher didn’t tell us what was due, and we had to look all the way in the syllabus to find it, and none of us have any syllabuses, so we had to ask our parents to call the teacher and send us a syllabus.”
Autumn didn’t pay attention to either of the arguments. Instead, she spent the whole time texting somebody else while the lumberjack hipsters stared down at us. The Business students started saying weird things like they were entitled to the table, they contributed to society, God was on their side, they weren’t hippies. I guess that part of their argument was kinda right. Vince wasn’t wearing shoes, Maxwell wore a shirt with a grumpy wizard melting people’s faces with an electric guitar, Abigail wore this red beanie and pajamas, and one of the cynics had a shirt with Karl Marx in sunglasses on it.
“Our Apple Mac iDevices are about to run out of battery power,” one said, “and we need the outlets. No other table in this room is close enough to the outlets.”
Autumn looked over to us. I stopped misspelling German words on my computer and looked up. The cynics were all shrugging and Maxwell was digging around in his backpack for proof that human existence had no meaning, and then I remembered that I still had Autumn’s book in my backpack.
“Hey, you’re name is Autumn Bartlett, right?” I said, reaching into my backpack.
“Huh? Hey, I remember you.” She stopped texting and started paying attention to us. “And Maxwell, you too.”
“I think I found a book you own.” I pulled out The Book Thief which still smelled like weird apple cinnamon pumpkin perfume, even after I had it in there for a few months. When I handed it to her, her eyes got really big. But when she opened the first page and saw her name and ENG 254 scribbled there, she almost dropped it.
“Hey! Holy crap, where’d you find this? I need it for my English class. I thought I lost this.”
“I just found it in the library. I thought about giving it to the lost-and-found people, but I guess I didn’t know if you would actually end up getting it back from them.”
At that point, one of the Business students started moving our stuff off the table, and Vince and Sam started putting it back on. Then all the Business students joined the first, then Maxwell and the cynics joined Sam and Vince. The librarians armed themselves with more legal books and the Business students put their Starbucks bags down and spilled crumbs all over the place. Autumn kept talking to me and flipped through the book as she did.
“So you haven’t sold this or anything? Were you just, like, waiting for me or something?”
“Well, I figured if it was for a class, you probably needed it more than some book store.”
“I actually do need this for my final paper. I was afraid I would have to borrow somebody’s copy or rent a new one or something. But this is really gonna help.”
“Oh, that’s good, then.”
She looked at the book, then looked at the librarians on either side of her.
“And you’re with these hippies?” Autumn asked me after a minute. I looked over at Maxwell and the herd of cynics, Sam from German, and Vince, Eddie, Abigail, and Jill from Honors. Vince smelled like hemp like all the time, Eddie was good at stealing things, Abigail went around in her pajamas, and Jill, who actually was a hippie, had this jacket made from recycled coffee cups or something. Vince had tried juggling his knife and dropped it, and Eddie handed Maxwell a hammer. Who just carries hammers with them all the time? But they were all willing to study with me, and they all weren’t completely doomed to fail all these classes, so what the heck?
“Yeah, I’m with these people.”
“Well, if you’re the kind of person who gives lost items to people, I’d say you deserve a study table.” She nodded to the lumberjack hipster librarians, and they used the legal books to remove the Business students, who complained that their dads owned the school and that Reagan was their uncle or something. We started cleaning up their food, until Vince got the idea of eating it ourselves.
“Maxwell,” Autumn said, “that extra joint you owe us is now paid for. Consider your debt balanced.”
“Really? Sounds like a trick, but really?”
“Thank him. . . whoever that one is.” She nodded at me, put The Book Thief on the cart, and rolled it away. Maxwell looked at me and shook his head. The cynics all shook their heads too. I went back to my German essay and we ended up studying the entire night. We finished writing all our papers, getting ready for the giant Psychology exam, and editing each other’s Honors papers. We also ate all the food the Business students left, so nobody had to brave the huge line to the library’s coffee shop. Anyway, that’s how I finally got Autumn her book back.
And tomorrow is the start of Finals Week, and then I’m done with my first semester of college. I think if I can survive the drug-dealing librarians, a Psychology teacher who actively roots against us, a pack of ravenous Business students, and everything else I had to deal with this wacky semester, then maybe I can survive next semester. Anyway, I’ve got a test tomorrow. Good luck with your own final exams. Have a happy New Year, I guess.

-Karl

Novels by Calgary Smith

More short fiction about Karl, who rediscovers his favorite childhood author and wonders why he ever read his books in the first place.

Bookstore October 21, 2011
So we all made it through post-midterms week without flailing around like a squid in soup. Dr. Corddry calls it suffering week. I guess all the professors go out to bars downtown on this Friday to celebrate the number of students dropping their class or something. I didn’t do too badly, but I really need to work on my grammar, according to Lindsey, in the Honors class. My paper was covered in red marks, like it was knifed.
I guess the thing to do on a Friday night for a typical NAU student is to go wander around downtown so I went downtown with Eddie and Abigail. We went out to this place called Heritage Square, where a bunch of hippies play music and sell magic crystals and beads and vortex passports. It’s a weird place on a Friday night.
We went into this tiny little bookstore that had classic volumes of books set up out front. At first, I didn’t think it was worth checking out, but I saw a first-edition copy of one of the great works of English literature, The Android City of Glariton 3 by Calgary Smith, sitting in the shelf. That’s when I had to go in and see if they had more Calgary Smith novels. Eddie and Abigail hadn’t ever heard of him. I was shocked! I thought everybody knew about Calgary Smith. He’s one of the greatest writers ever. I read almost everything by him back in high school. I almost got a signed copy of one of his other novels, Ginger Bates and the Crawling Brains, at a bookstore in Pocatello run by a drunk guy who plays guitar, but a goth from marching band beat me to it.
Anyway, we rummaged around the little bookstore. It was really compact, but the selection was pretty good. The guy at the counter sat reading a newspaper and drinking wine from a coffee cup. He had a big fat mustache and a perm, and looked like Kurt Vonnegut. He’s dead, right? I’m pretty sure he’s dead now. We looked at different books, and then found a door in the back that led to an alley sealed by brick walls with suspicious stains, and a door on the other end. There weren’t any cameras, but the door said “special patrons only.”
“We’re special,” Eddie said. “We’re very special patrons.”
“I dunno,” Abigail said. “We probably shouldn’t go in.”
Eddie said, “If Thomas Jefferson followed all the rules, where would we be now? Karl, I dare you to go in.”
“Are you living in the ‘50s? Who dares people to do things?”
“So you’re scared?”
That’s when I said I’m not scared of nothing, pushed the door open, and went into the place for special patrons only. Inside was this dimly lit room of bookshelves with all the super-secret rare first editions, editions with flaws, unauthorized reprints, and other books that looked more valuable than everything I’ve ever owned put together. We went in, and I found almost a whole shelf of used copies of Calgary Smith’s Ginger Bates series, and the Glariton 3 series. They even had a book I’d never been able to get my hands on, the cross-over novel he could never afford to publish because for some reason he went bankrupt at like a really early age and had to work in a coal mine or something. It was called Ginger Bates and the Rogue Spacecraft, which was published just before his death. I told Abigail and Eddie about it, and they read the first page.
“Whoa,” Eddie said. “He used the word ‘vigorously’ like forty-seven times in the first page.”
“His dialogue is really bad.”
“The hell are you talking about? This guy’s brilliant!” I said. I spent all of my allowance on his books and had them all lined up at home. Granted, I hadn’t read any for a while, cause I got into this other series, but I can’t remember the name, House of Thrones or Game of Cards or something like that.
“Karl, this is the worst writing I’ve ever seen,” Eddie said.
“Yeah, well, I guess you’ve never read any of your own papers, then.” I looked at the special patron books and saw a bunch of copies of John Steinbeck novels, some really vintage comic books, a copy of V for Vendetta signed by the author. If Calgary Smith’s novels were so bad, why were they here with all the good stuff? I grabbed the book from Eddie and read the first page. Then I read it again, then looked at the cover to see if it was the right Calgary Smith and not an evil twin with an identical name, then read the second page.
“Crap, you’re right. This guy’s terrible. Holy crap, my whole childhood is gone.”
“What about the comic books you used to read?”
“I guess I still have those. But still, I always wanted to be like Calgary Smith. What’s the deal? Was my taste really that bad? It’s not like I had a poster of him, but I was like really obsessed with this guy.”
I flipped through the book and found some notes in the margins. They were revision notes, I think. One note said “Plot hole 37, see page 109.” Somebody found 37 plot holes? At the very back, I saw a long paragraph about giving up on writing, and it was signed by Calgary Smith! That’s why it’s in the special patron section, because it has his own notes about how he’s going to give up on writing and live in a commune in the Yucatan with some escaped coal miners, or whatever he wrote.
“Well this is crap,” I said. “My favorite author turns out to suck, and then I find out he gave up on writing cause he sucked so much.”
Eddie and Abigail tried comforting me. It’s not like I was diagnosed with a terminal disease or anything, but I appreciated it anyway. We left the special patron section and wandered around the bookstore some more, and then to make me feel better they bought me this weird piece of local art at an art gallery next door. It was a little bust of John Steinbeck made of shells. I couldn’t tell it was him, but it was cool to look at. It actually looked like those aliens from that movie with all the aliens, whatever it was called, like Predator Vs. Predator or something. Anyway, that was my first time in downtown Flagstaff. I met like forty-seven hippies that night, too, and lots of hobos playing didgeridoos.
That’s my life now. I think I’m gonna start reading Autumn Bartlett’s copy of The Book Thief. It’s time I had a new favorite author. Good luck with your own Friday nights and creepy shell statues.

-Karl

Ecosystem

Construction in the Rain

More short fiction about Karl, who worries that somebody might bury him in the construction on campus.

October 12, 2011

It’s 72 degrees out and the snow is all gone. The other night we had like twelve feet of snow! Anyway, guess who got banned from the library? Some librarian woke me up Thursday morning where I’d slept next to a window on the second floor, and I tried explaining that it wasn’t my fault that I was there, that it’s really their fault for locking the doors before I could escape. But I got kicked out and banned. I still have the drugs, though. I figure I could use them to bargain my way back into Cline. Or maybe I could bribe the janitors into letting me sneak back in.

                A lot happened in the past few days. Firstly, Thursday night, I was sleeping in the Cowden lobby because my roommate Todd, or maybe his name is actually Tom, had one of his nine girlfriends up there, and I looked into this kitchen they have down in the lobby. There, I saw the person in the gorilla suit wearing an apron and baking cookies. They smelled delicious, but I didn’t bother to think about them too much. I didn’t want the gorilla to catch me, so I ran off and slept outside Lindsey’s office, which smelled like incense and tea.

                The next day, I found out that Maxwell is gone. His herd of cynics can’t find him, and haven’t heard from him for a few days, so now I’m starting to think that the lost-and-found people made him “disappear” in the construction going on around campus all the time at every imaginable point. This is really bad, especially for the herd of cynics. Without Maxwell, they don’t know how to be cynical. They’ve all been happy and positive lately. It’s horrible!

                We’re in a weird part of the semester, I think. Dr. Corddry came to class in clown makeup again, Dr. Flugstadtbahnhofplatz or whatever my German professor’s name is keeps swearing whenever something goes wrong, and my Psychology professors told the entire class that even if we get a hundred and ten percent on the midterm, we’re still probably going to fail the class. My rhetoric professor, Dr. Jerry Mathers, gave this long speech about how we’re never gonna learn to write good if we don’t pay attention to his comments, and that he’s our lord and savior, or something along those lines. In the middle of class, he took somebody’s paper, took out his lighter, and burned most of the paper, saying that the F the student got was for fire. The only cheerful teacher I have is Lindsey, and she’s a hippie, so of course she’s gonna be happy. She can just meditate at a commune in the Yucatan, and she’ll be fine.

                This morning, I found out that Tom’s nine girlfriends all found about each other when he got their names confused, and now Tom is extremely single. Apparently our RA Harington has put extra security on our room because the nine exes want revenge on Tom, and might try to use me to get to him. Maybe they’ll kidnap me or bribe me or something like that. But according to Harington, the nine exes don’t really like each other, so they’re having trouble working together to get revenge. They can’t agree on who should throw the water balloons or who should buy the lighter fluid or who should catch the scorpions or who should put them in the water balloons. So at least Tom is safe for now. Not that I condone having nine girlfriends, and not that I think he should get away with it, but I don’t wanna get hurt in the crossfire, or stung in the crossfire, I guess.

                All day, I’ve been hiding up in this lounge area in the Student Union where janitors and Student Union workers keep passing me. I’m sure they’re all part of the lost-and-found people. I don’t think they’re on to me. I still don’t know for sure what happened to Maxwell, and I don’t want to make any assumptions about what happened to him without any evidence to back them up, but I’m afraid I might end up murdered just like him. So I’m just quietly minding my own business and writing a paper for Dr. Corddry’s class about how Shakespeare predicted the colonization of the Yucatan in The Tempest, and another paper about Cannery Row.

                Out of all the books I’ve read in college, I think Cannery Row is my favorite. John Steinbeck writes really weirdly, I think, but the way Lindsey explained it was cool. She has this weird hippie way of making old literature by dead people actually fun. Steinbeck goes on and on about how the Row is an ecosystem and everybody is related like in the ocean, and there are predators and prey and other species all trying to survive on their own, even though stronger species keep getting in their way. I think NAU is like that. It’s a kind of ecosystem. I said that in class during a discussion, and everybody looked at me like I was high, cause I never talk in class. But I think NAU is like this crazy ecosystem. Maxwell and the herd of cynics are like a school of fish, and the gorilla is like a migratory killer whale, and the lost-and-found people are like the sharks, and everybody is interdependent. I wonder where that puts me in the food chain, but it’s probably pretty low. Maybe I’m just caught in the middle of everything.

                Or maybe not. I guess I could be wrong. But that’s where I’m at right now. Midterms are terrifying, the gorilla has moved into Cowden, Maxwell is gone, Tom’s nine exes want to murder him, and I still have Autumn’s book in my backpack. I need to find a way to get back into the library.

                Good luck with your own school of sharks.

                -Karl