My high school lifelines

I was at an estate sale this afternoon, killing time while my daughter was at her gymnastics class, when I came upon a stack of old-school Cliffs Notes. I wrote about Cliffs Notes a few days ago, and since then, the company that I work for has acquired the Cliffs Notes titles. The ones that I found were listed as being copyright 1960 by C.K. Hillegrass (I think I know what the C stands for), and they were all for Shakespeare’s works.

I love the way Shakepeare strings words together, and I have a big volume of his plays that I pick up on occasion and flip through, looking for an interesting turn of a phrase. But I never have, and likely never will, understand the stories that are being told. I can follow them well enough onstage, since that is the medium they were written for in the first place. But they just don’t read very well to me, and that’s where “Old Cliffy” always came in.

I’m very pleased to be connected with Cliffs Notes, if only in a very tangential way. And because I’m feeling nostalgic, now it’s time for the all caps disclaimer that was on the inside cover of every Cliffs Notes that I ever used:

READ THE ENTIRE LITERARY WORK. THESE NOTES ARE NOT INTENDED AND HAVE NOT BEEN PREPARED TO SERVE AS A SUBSTITUTE FOR THE TEXT ITSELF OR FOR THE CLASSROOM DISCUSSION OF THE TEXT. STUDENTS WHO ATTEMPT TO USE THE NOTES AS SUCH ARE DENYING THEMSELVES THE VERY EDUCATION THEY ARE PRESUMABLY GIVING THEIR MOST VITAL YEARS TO ACHIEVE.

I can see their point, all these years later. But then again, there were no annotations in Cliffs Notes, either. And that, to use one of Shakespeare’s many phrases, is the long and short of it.

Yes I’m back

At the end of a long and uneventful commute to work this morning, I had to stay in the car for an extra minute or so. I was in the middle of listening to AC/DC’s Back in Black¬†on the radio, and nothing I could find in the office would be any better than that.

It’s funny what you can remember sometimes. This morning, once I turned the car off and headed into the building I work in, I recalled the very first book I ever read as part of a class. It was 1981, and I was struggling to get through eighth grade. I was a geeky, awkward kid, and I was transitioning into¬†adolescence. It sucked to be me back then.

But I was beginning to get into music a little bit, and AC/DC was a big part of that. Back in Black was, and probably always will be, the album that I could always put on and listen to, start to finish. I wonder if, in the thirty-plus years since the album came out, that there’s ever been a day where a rock station like the Loop in Chicago hasn’t played at least one song from it. It wouldn’t surprise me if the answer to that was “no.”

So back to the geek-boy for a moment. My 8th grade teachers had assigned us all to read “The Good Earth” by Pearl S. Buck. I’m not sure how I learned of the existence of Cliff’s Notes, but I acquired a copy to help me understand the parts of the book I didn’t get. Cliff actually helped me get through high school, now that I think about it.

But on the cover of my Cliff’s Notes for “The Good Earth” were dozens of handwritten AC/DC logos, including the lightning bolt between the letters in the middle. I just thought that looked especially cool, so I made sure to include it. Somewhere on this planet there’s a Cliff’s Notes covered with AC/DC logos, courtesy of a confused and awkward young kid in Springfield, Illinois. I actually smiled at the thought of this, too.

So whenever one of the songs from that album, or any other song that AC/DC ever did, comes on the radio, I make sure to listen to it. And I’m glad that music takes me back, not to a time that I would ever want to re-live, but at least to a time and a place that I can still remember, while appreciating all that’s happened since then.