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Shoulda, woulda, coulda

Observer Viewpoint | Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Quarter dogs cost a quarter; hence the name, “quarter dog.”

To understand this concept, you needn’t have fulfilled Notre Dame’s six-credit math requirement; instead, you simply needed a post-midnight Huddle trip.

By the end of your collegiate career, aside from accumulating a staggering 120 credits, you undoubtedly consumed many a quarter dog. And with mere weeks until graduation, the “what ifs” of the past four years inevitably creep into the consciences of the senior class.

If you could do college again, what would you do differently?

I asked some Notre Dame employees what they thought – what did they wish that the soon-to-be-graduates had done differently?

“Hot dogs don’t have barcodes. You can’t scan ’em,” one late-night Huddle employee advised. He said that it was not uncommon for you and the other post-midnight inebriated to stumble over to the register and wave quarter dogs in front of the price scanner, then wait for the cashier to announce the total. Aside from your obvious oversight that a quarter dog always costs a quarter, your continued attempts to scan a barcode-less item created quite a scene – one that could’ve been different.

One late-night Sbarro employee said she’d seen it all during her shifts, from flying pizzas to people dressed as Power Rangers. Yet what she saw didn’t disturb her as much as what she heard – chats chock-full of the “f-word.” So what did she wish that you’d done differently? She suggested, “If you can cuss somebody out without using one cuss word, then that shows that you’re an intelligent person.”

While Sbarro patrons littered LaFortune with their language, others littered the dining halls – literally. During a typical South or North Dining Hall lunch lunch, you and your fellow students essentially tablecloth-ed table after table with copies of The Observer or the Chicago Tribune. As one dining hall monitor said, “If the monitors didn’t recycle the newspapers, the dining hall would be buried under them.”

And the monitors weren’t the only dining hall staffers equipped with suggestions. “I wish everybody would stop eating mustard,” one plate-scraping dish cleaner said. According to this rubber-gloved worker, mustard is not the easiest-to-clean condiment. And what else did she wish you wouldn’t have done? Stuffed a napkin in your drink or stuck a fork in your apple.

And just as forks don’t belong inside of apples, banana peels don’t belong inside of books. Thus the advice of a woman on the Hesburgh Library’s book restoration crew: “Don’t use a banana peel as a bookmark.” Precedent has proved that it leaves behind a moldy yellow mush. For you of the Internet age, book research can be excruciating enough – let alone when there’s a putrid stench protruding from between the pages.

Throughout your past years, reading for class also proved excruciating. And don’t think that your lack of class preparedness slipped past your professors. One history professor said that while at the helm of the class, “You do see a lot of blank stares. It’d be nice to see the students engaged.” And how, in this hypothetical “next time around,” could you go about appearing “engaged”? This professor’s suggestion: “Well, stay awake.” He’d rather you nod along with his lectures, as opposed to nodding off.

But sleep is an integral part of college. And class isn’t the only unsuitable place to sleep; apparently, lofted beds aren’t the best option either. One Health Services nurse cited the obvious “germ-sharing” and the not-so-obvious “lofted beds” as two of the guiltiest culprits of your visits to St. Liam Hall. This nurse’s “next time around” solution to the ubiquitous falling-out-of-bunk problem – “just put some padding on the floor.”

Padding is key for cushioning a fall, and as a Notre Dame student, you probably needed some feathering to fall on. While fulfilling your math requirements, you also tottered on a tightrope; four years of college can throw you off of more than just your lofted bed.

In hindsight, you can clairvoyantly see those words that you should – or shouldn’t – have spoken. You can see what – or whom – you should’ve paid attention to. You even can see what you should’ve disposed of, whether it is those already-been-read newspapers or those bad-for-you relationships. If you could repeat these four years, you’d undoubtedly make some modifications.

But of course, there’s plenty that you wouldn’t change, regardless of how many chances you had to re-live college. You graduate with at least 120 credits, but to your credit, you leave with far more life lessons than could ever be quantified – or even paid for at the Huddle. And I don’t know about you, but I like mustard, especially on quarter dogs.

If college is comparable to tightrope walking, then wow – sign me up for the circus.

Liz Coffey is a senior American Studies major and Journalism, Ethics and Democracy minor. Her column appears every other Thursday. She can be reached at ecoffey@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.