I think I have lost count of the number of times my wife and I have been walking around Target, looked at all of the “dorm gear” that’s on sale and said, “I wish they would have had this when we went to college.” I mean, every single time, without fail, as we wheel the cart past the school supplies or toward the granola bars and spot a mini-fridge or stackable storage containers or three-pack of Old Spice body wash, we scrunch our noses and remark how good kids these days have it.
Too bad the economy is so fucked that they won’t have jobs when they graduate. BWAH-HA-HA!!!
Okay, that was rude and probably uncalled for. But I have to admit that I’m kinda jealous that everything the kids in my area who are attending college need (and then some) can be found at Target of all places. I didn’t have the convenience of a Target when I was heading off to Loyola back in the summer of 1995; instead, Sayville had a K-Mart that was so hectic and disorganized that I once nearly had a panic attack when I stepped inside. And I’m not the type who is prone to panic attacks.
I don’t know, I just find it kind of both genius and funny that Target and other stores like it have latched on to going away to college and turned it into a shopping season of sorts, the kind of thing that you throw in to the back-to-school sales on July 5 and take down the day after Labor Day because the Halloween candy needs to be shelved. If they did this fifteen years ago, I completely missed it, as I had to deal with schlepping out to Linens and Things on Sunrise Highway in Patchogue about a week and a half before I headed to Baltimore. They could have been running a sale, but I was completely oblivious to it and I don’t remember seeing commercials about outfitting me with a laptop and all sorts of wireless wonder so that my life was complete in the dorm.
Then again, it was 1995 and my graduation present was a Packard Bell desktop PC with a 2400 baud modem and HP Laser Jet 4L printer, which took up half of my parents’ car and my friends were all carrying beepers around in their pockets. So … yeah.
Anyway, looking around the store today, I thought of how much money they were raking in from this and thought it was kind of funny that the posters and signs and other “Hey, kids, get this awesome thing for your dorm room” paraphenalia was all about making one’s dorm room his/her own. That, and mini-fridge technology seems to have moved beyond the brown pieces of crap that always seemed to cause brown-outs at the most inconvenient times.
Most of the “individuality statement” products seemed to be aimed at girls. Not that college guys don’t try to do anything with their dorm decor, but girls always seemed to put way more effort into the walls and desks of their dormitories than the guys I hung out with in college. Maybe that’s because the guys I hung out with and lived with in college were complete slobs, although I don’t think we could have really done it up even if we tried.
Because even in the mid-1990s, our options as males were limited. When we called each other to introduce ourselves we found out who was bringing a PC, who was bringing the stereo, who was bringing a television, who was comfortable or uncomfortable with 20-person bong sessions on a Wednesday night (or maybe that was just my roommate Phil), and some general likes and dislikes. And I think we all hit Linens and Things and then K-Mart or the supermarket for the same four items:
- a trunk, or “foot locker” as my father kept calling it, that could be locked with a padlock and store personal items, bottles of liquor, and massive amounts of pornography
- the least-feminine looking set of extra-long twin-sized bed linens possible
- a giant bottle of Pert Plus that would last three semesters
Really, that was it. The idea that I had to buy some sort of chair or crazy-looking wall clock was completely foreign. I kinda just packed away as much as I could (left the comic collection at home), shoved it into my parents’ car, had an incredibly long and teary conversation with my girlfriend, and headed to college (stopping only at the Grover Cleveland Service Area on the New Jersey Turnpike, where I threw up my breakfast in the parking lot … I guess you could say I was a little bit nervous about leaving home). When we arrived on campus and I got all of my keys and forms, I unpacked, made my bed, and that was about it. Sure, I put up a few pictures of friends from home but you didn’t exactly see me hanging up tapestries and collages. That would all evolve organically as I wound up putting posters, pictures, and what was probably a few hundred pieces of paper filled with “important” quotes all of the walls of the back room of room E-110 in Wynnewood Towers.
Which kind of makes me an exception to the rule as far as dorm decor goes, because I think that if a guy is putting any effort into decorating his dorm room, he is looking to do two things: maximize the amount of time he can sleep, and get some. I never really had to concentrate on the latter, which is probably why I made massive “quote walls” during my freshman year, but I totally understood the former. And I give credit to my freshman roommates who all erected “bed tents” under which they could sleep the sleep of the undead while those of us who actually had classes (and were attending them) could head in and out of the room without disturbing them.
Otherwise, the converted one-bedroom apartment we lived in for a year saw its walls decorated with a few mementos from home but mostly with whatever Star Wars/Quentin Tarantino/pot-and-beer-themed posters that we picked up for $5 apiece at the poster sale held outside McManus Theater in September (although I can’t knock it too much — I did pick up a kickass Return of the Jedi poster one year). Then again, it was never supposed to be “inspired” as far as decorating goes, even if building a pyramid of King Vitaman boxes was totally awesome. As long as it didn’t smell like last week’s vomit or last month’s spoiled milk (which our kitchen did for about a week junior year and nobody could figure out why … well, until we, you know, cleaned it), it was very likely that a member of the opposite sex would stick around long enough for one of us to clumsily try something (read: thirty seconds).
If you don’t believe me, pop in the 1998 movie Dead Man on Campus and watch the first twenty or thirty minutes. Sure, the sets are a little too “there’s no way this is actually a dorm” but look past Mark-Paul Gosselaar playing an R-rated Zack Morris and Linda Cardellini in a bra (okay, maybe look at that) and you’ll see so many little things that are typical of the first few weeks of college. There’s the guy bitching out his parents, who are “trying to help” but really driving him nutes. There’s the “Drunk Student Crossing” and “Shot Recipes” posters. There’s the one guy who had the foresight to bring his blender. There’s the other guy who’s been spending a little too much time looking at the freshman facebook. Even going beyond the dorm scenes there’s that feeling of being completely behind in your classes until you have sex for the first time and throw caution to the wind (at least until you fail your midterms). Then the plot kicks in and the movie goes downhill quickly, but it’s worth at least trying to stream on YouTube (if you can find it).
Anyway, I’ve rambled on for the last 1300 words or so about dorm decor because moving into college and the few weeks that follow are some of the weirdest times one person can experience; furthermore, the rite of passage has been done and done again in our popular culture it can’t just be ignored. I mean, even I took a shot at it once in a novel that I wrote, rewrote, and then abandoned during a third rewrite (it just wasn’t working). Called College Ruled: A Completely Fictional, Totally Unauthorized, Yet Utterly Necessary Guide to College Life, it was an attempt at … well, the title’s kind of self-explanatory (even if half of it does come off like an episode of Saved By the Bell: The College Years). Anyway, I actually did an entire chapter on decorating
wherein a girl tries to redecorate a guy’s room:
When she finally came around to judging our room, we had already littered the floor with so much crap that the room was not only dank but inaccessible. Standing at the front door, her arms crossed and brown hair hidden under a backwards cap, she said, “This isn’t a room, it’s a fire hazard.”
“This entire building is a fire hazard,” I replied.
“Whatever. I can have this room girl friendly in 20 minutes.” She smiled and adjusted her baseball cap, then put her hands on her hips as she examined our walls. “Totally uninspired.”
“Huh?” I asked.
“Could you guys be more generic dorm room with your décor?”
“Oh come on, there’s nothing wrong with it.”
“Brian, please. Everyone has that poster of different shots.”
“Okay, so we all went to the same campus poster sale.”
“But the dank …”
“You’re not the first guys to think of that. In fact, I’m surprised you haven’t created some sort of bed tent with a dark sheet to completely minimize the light in the room,” she said before glancing at Scott, “Don’t even think it.”
“Whatever, Alison. Just because we didn’t decorate the place as if a crew from Better Homes and Gardens was going to walk through the door at any minute.” I complained.
“Do they have a college issue?” Scott asked.
“Oh yeah. It’s actually quite interesting. There’s this one room at Princeton…”
“Shut up,” she snapped, “You wanted to know if I liked your room and I’m telling you. It’s not my fault you have no taste.”
“And I ask again, what taste? It’s a dorm room.”
Alison glared at me, then opened her mouth to speak. A sigh came out, and she folded her arms again, taking a couple of steps back and looking at the wall above my desk. She leaned forward, her white T-shirt brushing the edge of my computer monitor, and took down one Far Side cartoon.
I rolled my eyes and began to speak but was shut up as she held out her hand. “You see,” she began, “there’s an art to making rooms like yours work. You have to achieve a balance between the typical college guy crap and something that is welcoming, especially to members of the opposite sex. The Empire Strikes Back, Reservoir Dogs, that Belushi poster—you have this dumbassed fixation with guy movies that I’ll never understand.”
“It’s not dumbassed,” I muttered.
“I’m telling you, it is. A girl is going to come in here and she’s not going to see the room of a guy she wants to go out with, she’s going to see the dump where that meathead she hooked up with last weekend lives.”
“And I suppose I don’t want to be that guy.”
“Well, I’m not taking this stuff down.”
“Whatever,” she said, giving up, “At least clean this place up. It is a dump, and it’s starting to smell really bad.”
… and there’s a reason shit like that remains unpublished.
Anyway, it’s been more than a decade since I was spent nine months out of the year violating fire codes with several other guys, and looking around at my nicely painted bedroom with matching dressers and a queen-sized bed that’s got fresh sheets (and no bed tent), I wonder how we ever lived the way we did in college and how we ever survived.
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