On a Customer's Strange Request

A guy walks into the store. Black tee-shirt bearing a logo, trucker hat, mid-twenties, average height and build. He walks maybe ten feet into the store, stops, looks at the display fixture there. I greet him, ask him if he’s looking for something.

“I wanted something with pictures of angels and demons fighting.”

We sell video games. Artwork isn’t our specialty. “Can you be more specific?” I ask. Something he might say could spark a thought, point me in the direction of a game along those lines.

“I want a picture of heaven, and a picture of hell, and a picture of heaven and hell at war.” He runs his hand up and down his other arm. “I want a tattoo of that.”

A tattoo. He just wants artwork. Not our bag. I shake my head. I’m really drawing a blank.

There’s a Christian bookstore at the end of the building. They don’t carry the Buddy Jesus, so I somehow doubt they would have pictures of angels and demons fighting. I said as much.

He nods, disappointed.

I snap my fingers. Brainwave!

“All you need is artwork, right? Do an Internet search. Paradise Lost. You’re bound to find exactly what you’re looking for.”

His eyes brighten. “Paradise Lost,” he repeats, trying to fix the name in his memories. “What’s that?”

I blink. I count to three. I blink again.

Paradise Lost. Epic poem. John Milton. About a war between heaven and hell.” I pull out some paper, write down the title. “‘Tis nobler to reign in hell than serve in heaven,” I say, surely mangling the quote.

He leaves, happy.

What are they teaching in schools these days? I had to read Paradise Lost in high school, and I wouldn’t consider Barbour County, West Virginia to be at the bleeding edge.

Paradise Lost.

12 thoughts on “On a Customer's Strange Request

  1. There are so many “classics” that teachers have to pick and choose which ones to teach. Perhaps he got some books that your teachers didn’t include in the curriculum, just as you got some that his didn’t include.

    davidh

  2. He may have read it, but wouldn’t remember it as we now spoonfeed the information to the kids. And in this day and age of the answer coming to them on the internet, research is completely lost. They accept anything some third rate schmuck posted on his/her website as gospel. Kids have no reasoning ability whatsoever, which scares the hell out of me.

  3. Drewshi said: Kids have no reasoning ability whatsoever, which scares the hell out of me.

    What scares the hell out of me is that neither do most adults…

  4. Grayson,

    Sorry, I should not have made such an absolute statement. Most kids have no reasoning ability whatsoever, which scares the hell out of me. There are exceptions. I even have a few in my classes. I just let out my frustration over the fact that the roles are now reversed. Where you used to have kids in the classroom who were completely clueless, they were the exception, not the rule. Nowadays, they are the majority and those kids who can actually think are in the minority.

  5. John, I wonder how much of the lack of reasoning you decry stems from the way students are taught these days. It seems to me that with the emphasis on passing the many and varied standardized tests schools must now administer now–first for state accreditation, now for No Child Left Behind–that the easiest way to square the circle is to, essentially, teach the test. If schools know beforehand that students must know this much and no more, then there will be schools, likely many schools, that will take that as the maximum they will teach, not the minimum.

  6. Allyn,

    Agreed. That is a major problem today. We teach to the test. What is sad though is when a teacher does try to go beyond it and the students can’t grasp what the teacher is trying to do. I’ve got a selection from Emerson’s Nature slated for my sophomores when we return from break and I’m going to be shocked that any of it penetrates. We spent weeks on The Crucible back in October and when it came time for the mid-term, the kids wanted to review. I could understand them wanting to go over the characters and some of the finer points, but they had completely forgotten the plot! Many schools and teachers may teach to the test, but these kids also learn for the test. They don’t care about anything else, just was is needed to get them by. As a teacher who is trying to go beyond the test, it is very frustrating.

  7. As a high school guidance counselor in WV, I know what they’re reading. It’s all about “modern, multi-culturalisitic” writing. One of our Language Arts teachers had to BEG the office for the opportunity to teach the classics.

  8. There’s nothing wrong with modern writing as your literature source, provided you have a strong foundation from which to teach it. I’m looking forward to setting the record straight with my sophomores in May that “Their Eyes Are Watching God,” was not just a love story and that there is no swimming scene in the book.

  9. For the record, my education had a pretty heavy Humanities basis, and I don’t recall having read “Paradise Lost.”

    Should have shown the guy LucasArts Afterlife:D

  10. I was browsing the web for specific scenes of angels and demons battling war and was given this link with the keywords I put in. I was about to close the tab when I decided I would read it. I was put into thought. I too have never read this book, I wouldn’t call myself a kid although at times I feel it. Im 26, a single mom and a person who doesn’t find reading enjoyable. It is something I am working on. I not only have never read this book, but never heard of it either. I have lived all over the US, from Chicago to CO to CA to WI/MN to FL and now back to CO. I think it is important for the teacher to pick the right books for the students to read, it will shape their life as the stuff I recall has done to mine. Thank you for sharing this site and information. I have something I want to read now… šŸ˜€
    -Heather

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