Friday, November 26, 2010

Gonga’s Thanksgiving

Gonga managed to Skype his family in from Congo on Thanksgiving day and spent a miserable time trying to imagine his Pumpkin Pie was half as good as the roasted termites his family so exuberantly enjoyed on the other side of the ocean.

After finally saying goodbye, Gonga mournfully pulled out a piece of paper and began drafting a list of the things he was thankful for.

  1. Publishers who update their editions every year. This means students have to choose between buying the new expensive editions, or choosing to buy used.
  2. Professors who require more than one textbook for their class.
  3. Publishes who pay professors to require more than one textbook per class.
  4. Students who drop their books in puddles of water.
  5. Students who sell their books back to The Textbook Game instead of giving them to a junior classmate.
  6. Students bored enough to stand and listen to Gonga’s accordion playing.
  7. Even better, students who throw money in Gonga’s hat for his accordion playing.

I felt the urge to add a few items myself as I gazed on Gonga’s handy-work later that night.

  1. A warm costume in which to mascarade.
  2. A mask which securely hid my identity.
  3. A mission much bigger than simply selling textbooks.

Overall, it was a good thanksgiving day. My superiors had contacted me briefly, confirming that they were actually paying attention to my movements and were please with my performance to date. I even managed to slip home for a quick bite of turkey and stuffing with my family halfway through the day. What more could I want?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

How To Not Lie, Cheat or Steal

Your mother has probably pounded into your head the idea that you should not lie, cheat or steal. If she has not, hopefully you have had several run-ins with the law and have now learned how not to lie, cheat or steal.

However, in the small probability that you have not yet learned those all valuable lessons, Gonga has a few suggestions to pass on to you.

If you are wearing a bright red T-shirt that says, “The Textbook Game,” do not walk into an insurance company’s headquarters and tell them you are from the IRS and they need to show you all their financial records. Your T-shirt communicates very quickly that you are lying. If you want to lie about being an IRS agent, at least wear a business suit and come with a posy of similarly dressed friends to try to collect bogus taxes.

There are ways to cheat, and there are ways to not cheat. One way to not cheat is simply Googling for the solution manual for your textbook and then neglecting to verify that the manual matches the edition actually used in class. At bare minimum, you should crack the textbook just enough to make sure the problems are the same. Also, do not copy and paste from the online format. Most html formatting is slightly different than word documents and if you submit the homework electronically, the grader will be able to tell that you copied and pasted.

Stealing is a whole different topic. The best example of a way to not steal is taking your room-mate’s textbooks down to The Textbook Game to turn in for cash, forgetting that your room-mate is working overtime as a cashier at The Textbook Game during finals week. Sneaking the books out of his room was one thing. Trying to convince him to give you the cash from the cash register, when he recognizes the doodles on the cover page, is quite another. At least find out which shift he works so you can avoid him!

Not lying, cheating, or stealing in these ways would be quite an accomplishment. And Gonga is sure that your mother would be proud of you. (Even if you totally ignored all her instructions and have just now figured it out.)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Gonga’s Financial Advice

Gonga had worked at The Textbook Game for quite a while by now, and the shoebox under his bed was beginning to overflow with crinkly new $20.00 bills.

He watched another handful of coins clatter into the hat sitting in front of him as he played his accordion down at Speaker’s Circle. The wind swirled past, picking up leaves and swirling them in on top of the coins. He was glad no one was throwing in dollar bills at the moment. They would just blow away.

The whirling leaves made him think of a book he had leafed over a few days ago while checking in at The Textbook Game before work. The wind was whirling the leaves away, just like inflation was whirling away the value of money.

The value of money!

Gonga sat up straight, his mind racing back to the shoebox under his bed. He could almost see inflation whirling through his room, picking up the dollar bills and swirling them out the door.

In near panic, Gonga finished out his day of accordion playing then rushed back to his room just to make sure the bills were still safely stacked under his bed. He shivered a little. He could still feel the invisible tendrils of inflation creeping in a stealing away his money bit by bit. How could he stop it?

Investments! That’s what he needed. Something that would earn faster than inflation could take away. He pulled up the browser on his computer and went to check his local bank for savings account rates. The best he saw was .0001%. Yes. That’s the same as .000001. Amazing. Next he checked CDs. Not much better. The money market accounts offered about 0.10%, or 0.001. Clenching his teeth, he pulled up the inflation rate tables. It showed 1.14%. He could feel the icy wind sweeping through the room, ripping bills out of his box, out of his pockets, stripping the warmth from his blood.

“A dollar today is worth more than a dollar tomorrow,” Gonga whispered to himself.

That was that.

He closed the browser and turned away from the computer. “A dollar today is worth more than a dollar tomorrow.” He smiled sardonically.

“So what do I do with it?” he mused. He chuckled slightly, “Spend it now while it’s worth something!”

Thursday, November 4, 2010

“I think, therefore I am.”

This is the sort of statement that Gonga discovered one day as he was paging through one of “The Textbook Game” books which he had been commissioned to advertise.

It made his scratch his head slightly. He didn’t have to think. He just knew he was. The whole idea of thinking hurt his head, so he pictured a big ripe banana and a tall glass of milk with Nilla Wafers instead. He smiled. That was better.

A few pages later, he realized the author was asking whether it was possible to be sure you were not dreaming even if you didn’t know if you were dreaming.

Dreaming? Was he dreaming right now? Maybe that’s why the book was so confusing. Gonga decided to put it down. He wanted Nilla Wafers really bad. Was that just a dream also? Maybe he was asleep and all he would have to do to get those Nilla Wafers was to wake up, and they would be sitting right in front of him.

I switched out of my Gonga mindset. He was a useful projection of my imagination, but he would never fully grasp philosophy. After all, he couldn’t even figure out that he didn’t really exist!

I, on the other hand, was fully aware of how the world operated. I put on the Gonga persona when it suited me, but always, in the background, my own mind was still thinking, still working.

Long ago, I had slogged through Rene Descartes’ philosophy as he questioned the existence of everything. He had concluded that he knew he existed, because he knew he was thinking. I thought that was funny. He spent reams of paper trying to argue logically whether or not he was really awake, or in a dream, and how he could know whether or not he was dreaming. I pondered it for about two minutes and then concluded that he must have been dreaming when he wrote all that stuff; which is why Philosophy class still seems so much like a dream to students today.

Gonga roused himself and closed the textbook. With a grin stretching from ear to ear behind his plasticized face, he went into the kitchen and pulled the Nilla Wafer box off the top shelf. Now he knew the answer. “I eat, therefore I am.”