"Please describe, in detail, the effects of parental alcoholism on the family unit. Use at least 7 peer reviewed sources and make sure to avoid personal attacks. Remember, this is an empirically based research assignment, so use of anecdotal evidence is not permitted. 5 pages minimum. This paper must be stapled or no credit will be received."
He had been staring at the assignment for the past hour. His desk lamp cast a yellowy glow on his face, dewy with the sweat of academic stress. He glared down at the paper again, hoping to see it again with less anxiety. But reading the sentence for the fifteenth, sixteenth time was not going to change it. "This paper must be stapled..." It was interesting how the simplest part of the assignment posed a greater challenge than the 7 pages he had already spent days researching and writing, revising and citing.
His desk was messy; which is normal for a college student, some would say. However, this particular clutter was of a different nature. It wasn't energy drink cans and residence-life fliers, or snack bags and to-do lists. His paper, all 9 pages (including the cover page and references) sat in a neat stack in the middle. His chair was lined up with his assignment, perpendicular to his desk. What made the desk so disordered was the staggering number of futile staples coating the desk and his red Schwinn stapler, unhinged and hostilely abandoned, near the edge. Each staple was different. Some had closed around an imaginary stack of papers, the arms bent inward like a friend giving a hug. Others were bent in the most bizarre ways, while some had even broken into two (or three) pieces. He hadn’t even known that was possible.
Frustrated, he put his elbows on the desk and thrust his hands into his hair.
Staring at it wasn’t going to help either.
He reached for the stapler again, not entirely defeated, it seems, and the staples stuck on his elbow fell to the desk to join the others. He bent the stapler back to its usual state, opened the back, and placed one more line of ammunition inside. He picked up the papers, angled them back into their neat stack, and held them steady together in his left hand. His right prepared for one more shot.
His right hand hovered some three inches above the page. Not even close. One more time.
This time the staple had mysteriously shot out of the stapler, ricocheted off the wall by his headboard, and missed his ear by millimeters. ‘Ok, this is getting dangerous again,’ he thought. He put the stapler back down, gently, afraid it might spit out another one. He decided to abandon the attempt for the time being and return to the project in the morning. In the meanwhile, he paper clipped the pages together, slid it into his desk drawer, and carefully swept the multitude of failed attempts into his waste basket.