When I was in junior high school, I took Latin because “I’m going to be a lawyer.” Perry Mason became my favorite TV show; he always outsmarted the “bad guy,” and usually they confessed of their “evil ways.”
Most of us had many ambitions when we were children: policeman, fireman, nurse, teacher, doctor, nurse… but did any of us want to be the author of the book “The Essential Guide – Research Writing Across the Disciplines”?
Did any of us dream about ellipses, in-text citations, works cited pages or annotated bibliographies – let alone how to use [sic]? We did not. We do not. We will not.
But for Mr. Lester and his son Mr. Lester, it was a different story. They had one goal: to write a new edition of this book every year of their lives. In fact, when Mr. Lester the younger was born, Mr. Lester senior began right away with the proper training. No baby books with funny rhymes; no Dr. Seuss with ridiculous unusable vocabulary; no Mother Goose. No, indeed.
For the younger Mr. Lester it was “A is for abstracts,” “B is for bibliography,” “C is for citations,” “D is for documentation” and on it went.
By the time the younger Mr. Lester reached kindergarten, he presented a serious dilemma for his teacher. When she led “story time,” Mr. Lester the younger set his laptop on his knees and began “googling” and “Snope”ing to verify such information as whether or not wolves really eat pigs. He continually checked the validity of the stories his teacher read, and at the end of the day, he would present her with a printout (duly organized in alphabetical order, with perfect in-text citations and a worthy Works Cited page) of the errors of the stories she read.
“Real bears do not eat porridge,” one printout read. “They do not sleep in beds, nor do they sit on chairs.”
And — for this one he printed the title in all capital letters: “CATS DO NOT WEAR HATS!”
Mr. Lester the elder was so proud of Mr. Lester junior, but the same can’t be said for Mrs. Lester. She was tired of having to organize her kitchen pantry, her linen closet and her bedroom closet in alphabetical order. She was tired of having to verify the “source” for any comment she made to Mr. Lester the elder or their son. And she especially hated talking about something in more than four lines, because both Mr. Lesters insisted that she indent those lines 10 spaces.
Mrs. Lester finally could take it no longer. She took the other little Lesters and moved to a deserted island, where no one ever did anything in alphabetical order; no one ever had to verify a source; and no one had to concern himself or herself with the proper way to write in-text citations. They lived happily ever after.
But Mr. Lester the elder and Mr. Lester the younger didn’t seem to mind being left on their own. They reveled in their work: creating new editions of their book every year, discussing prospective changes, and looking forward to the monumental income that would be theirs as pathetic college students spent bundles of money on the required “new edition.”
“What do you think?” Mr. Lester senior asked his son. “Should we continue to put spaces between the periods in ellipses – or should we dispense with that?”
Their discussion on that issue lasted several days, but neither noted the passage of time.
They spent their latter years seeking sources, drafting documents, manipulating manuscripts and rejoicing in the confusion their readers had trying to decide whether to use a thesis, an enthymeme or a hypothesis.
But all’s well that ends well, and as long as their followers double-spaced their Works Cited Pages, indented all but the first lines, and didn’t put commas between author’s names and page numbers in the in-text citations, Mr. Lester and his son Mr. Lester lived happily.
Life was good! And it remained good right up until the end – when their final endnotes appeared on their tombstones:
Here lie the Lesters,
Father and son.
No more will they publish.
Their life’s work is done.
Their MLA guidebook will fade away soon,
And jubilant students will sing a glad tune.