Edited by the incomparable "Wires" who once again has made my story better in every way.
Bob Trent finished his fourth beer in fifteen minutes. He belched and slammed the empty bottle down on the already cluttered table. The table top was as wet as if water had been poured on it, and already covered with empty beer bottles. Bob, sitting with his friend Simon, glanced at the other three young men sitting around the table. He changed his attention to Simon and glared at him, then he almost yelled as he once again complained vehemently about the assignment given by Professor Sheripati to him and Simon in their Early American History class.
Bob snarled, "That asshole is insane. I told you we should take a different class, but you insisted we take his. Now look what it's gotten us. Two weeks of class and he gives us this damn research paper with a minimum length of 100 pages. Crap, I have no idea how to even start to answer the question and he tells us it is HALF of our fucking grade! Then he says tests and class participation are the other half? That's BULLSHIT. There's no way we can do this. Did you ever hear of a more stupid paper in your life? He wants us to (he pulled a paper from his pocket and read) research—assuming cost is no objective, and transportation is no restriction—pre-1930 non-motorized, non-electrical tools, equipment, and supplies the early settlers could have taken into the wilderness to improve their chances of living well and safely. We are to give priority to 1850-1900 items that were improved, sold, and used pre-1930. He wants us to compare and contrast our suggested tools and equipment to those they did take. Crap, I have no idea what they took and what they could have taken to survive."
Simon sighed once again and said, "Oh, calm down, Bob. That's the point of the paper. He wants us to research the tools they took, how they were used, their quality and so forth, then suggest alternates, improvements, and additions. We know the original settlers couldn't have taken the items we suggest because many of them didn't exist at that time. The point is to show how invention and learning improved life and living through the period we are studying. You forgot the other part of the question as well. The suggested equipment cannot exceed the capacity of a Conestoga wagon (first built in about 1717 and 18 feet long, 11 feet high, and 4 feet in width, capable of carrying up to 12,000 pounds per Wikipedia). We also have to justify our selections and compare and contrast the actual progression of settlement and civilization with our projected progress using the items we propose the settlers take when they move further inland. If we do this properly we learn American History, manufacturing, farming, and living from colonial times up to 1900. That, after all, IS the scope of this class."
"Yeah, exactly. How the hell do I know how the civilization would grow? It's bullshit. I'd drop the damn class if we weren't past the drop date. I think he did this on purpose to fuck with us after it was too late for us to get away from him. Shit." Bob raised his voice, now slurring slightly, and yelled at the pretty bar maid, "Hey. Bring me another beer."
Paula Breckenridge, a classmate working as the waitress, pressed her lips together and glared at Bob. Without saying anything she walked angrily to the bar and ordered the beer for Bob. When the bartender handed it to her he said, "Paula, remember you don't have to put up with obnoxious assholes. He's been hitting them pretty heavy since he got here. Tell him he has to slow down or I'll cut him off. It sure sounds as if he is pissed about something. Woman problems?"
Paula sighed and grimaced then said, "No, he's one of those under achievers that want to take all easy classes and not have to work for a grade. His friend Simon wanted to take Professor Sheripati's Early American History class instead of one taught by someone else. Instead of taking a different class when he couldn't talk Simon out of Sheripati's class Bob signed up for it, also. Now he's pissed about the research paper he has to write and is taking it out on anyone that will listen. Heck, the requirement for the long research paper is listed in the course catalogue for the course. He should have known what he was getting into."
"Don't you have that class also? I haven't heard you talking about the paper."
"Yeah, I have it too. We just found out about the paper today. I mean, we found out the topic and length today. Some of the other classes have papers, but they're much shorter. Some even let the students do two or three instead of one large one. I don't know how I'm ever going to find the time to write it and do a good job with all the other things I have on my plate but I have to try. You know, my major is history and I really think I can learn a lot in this class. I am so looking forward to it. I rearranged my whole schedule just so I could take the class from Sheripati.
"I knew there would be a long paper when I signed up for the class, but I'm like Simon. I wanted to take Sheripati's class because of how great an instructor he is. I mean, you learn so much more in his classes if you work at it. I've heard it's a really fun class, too. Some of the class discussions can get really intense, or so I've heard. Sometimes a student is assigned a topic to research and present to the class. Then they lead the discussion on that topic. You not only learn about early American History but you learn about how people lived and worked back then. Most of the people I've talked to that took his class say it's awesome. It's really strange, though, every class there are a few that drop out after drop day and lose their money and take an F. Almost every year one of the best students seems to lose it and just disappear. They stop coming to class and no one ever sees them again. It's spooky how he gets to some people, but that's the price you have to pay for a good class sometimes. He never has more than ten or twelve in the class, either. Most students seem to steer away from him. I really don't know how Bob managed to get in."
Paula picked the beer up and carried it over to the table. She set the frosty bottle in front of Bob and waited for Simon to stop talking before she told Bob what Pete, the bartender, told her to tell him. As she waited for a break in the conversation she listened to Simon. He was saying " ... care what you think Bob. This is going to be a great class. I told you it would probably be best for you if you got your history credit in another class. I can't wait to find out about the tools the settlers used and how they worked with them. When we were young we camped out and pretended we were settlers. Now, we can see how they did some of the things we did and we can plan how we would do them using simple tools and materials. I think this will be one of my all time favorite classes. One of my hobbies is woodworking and I can see how the early settlers did that. I can see the difference between how they farmed back then and how we do it now. Can you imagine what one of the settlers would think if they came to our farm today and saw how Dad does the work? We do as much in an hour with our modern machinery as they could do in a season with their horses and hand tools."
"Whoopee. That's great, but you owe me asshole. I don't have time for this shit. I need copies of your research and I'll want a copy of your paper so I can change it some and turn it in. You got me into this shit and you're going to get me out of it."
Before Simon could answer Paula broke into the conversation. She relayed Pete's message, then, before she turned away from the table to check on her other customer's she said, "Bob, just chill. I agree with Simon. This is going to be a great class. I'm going to do my paper primarily on the things a woman took and used in the house and what she could have taken. I've already done a little talking with my friends and its amazing how little those early settlers had. Almost none of the things a woman or man used to work carried over to the other sex. The only medicine they had was a few herbs they picked. Think about what they could have done with some modern antibiotics and alcohol or other disinfectant. Many of the settlers actually carried their worldly possessions in a pack and managed to not only live in the wilderness, they prospered. Just think how much easier their life would have been with just a few good tools and some simple medicines! I just know this is going to be a great class."
Simon smiled at Paula and really looked at her for the first time. Oh, sure, he remembered seeing her in the class during the last several days, but she was just another face until she said what she just said. Now, he was amazed at how much she seemed to agree with his position. He said, "Paula, I agree with you. Would you like to meet and talk about the paper sometime? Maybe if I know what you're looking for I can point you in the right direction if I see something you could use when I'm doing my research and you could do the same for me?"
Paula smiled and said, "Thanks. I think that's a great idea. Why don't we meet in the library tomorrow morning about ten? It's Saturday so I'll have to work tomorrow night but maybe we can make a few plans."
Bob spoke up loudly, "NO. That won't work. I have to meet some guys at their house tomorrow morning. Besides the paper isn't due until the week before Thanksgiving. Crap, we have two months to do it. You'll have plenty of time to slap something together."
.... There is more of this story ...