The Back-To-School Supply Late 80s Flashback

Chairs that conform to your butt even after it's packed on the Freshman Fifteen...

Desk lamps filled with flirty pink pom-poms to make not-studying even more exciting...

Coordinated designer sheets, to match the designer curtains, to match the designer rug, to match your parents' designer wallet which they're going to need to pay for all this stuff with their designer money...

This appears to be back-to-school days for the college set in 2010.

I can't help but think it's changed somewhat since 1989.

Here were my main earthly Back-to-College possessions then:

  • Metal desk lamp. Mom herself used one like this back in the 60s, thus transforming it into an heirloom, though not of Antiques Roadshow caliber due to safety issues. Mine was actually pilfered from a dumpster. Turn it on for five seconds, and its metal shade would radiate enough heat to boil a can of Spaghetti O's. Turning it off after a study session required oven mitts or asbestos gloves.
  • Case of Spaghetti O's, which I discovered by Week Two of college had a strange alien cardboard cheese aftertaste not found in Chef Boyardee products. Thus, still making them preferable to dining hall food. Heated up nicely by radiation-producing desk lamp, or in coffeemaker coffeepot.
  • Coffeemaker. Prized possession among all, and also illegal contraband. We were not allowed electrical appliances like coffeemakers and microwaves in our rooms at this time. These were hidden from sight when wind of the random Dorm Inspections blew. I learned by Year Two that this coffeemaker also worked well as a hotplate, to heat up Spaghetti O's. Though some pre-Spaghetti O cleaning/preparation was required.
  • Six thrift store sweaters, which weren't used as much as you'd think in a 90 degree dorm with a metal roof in fall with no air-conditioning.
  • An iron. Presumably for the sweaters.
  • A curling iron, so hair could achieve maximum width, height and depth and no one would notice I was wearing a sweater in 90 degree weather. This was the most vital of all items.
  • The Trunk of Pain. A steamer trunk to put everything in because Mom felt she still needed her suitcases. Mom spun this that the trunk hearkened back to the romantic days of world travel, even though it came from K-Mart. It was so heavy and unwieldy even unfilled, it required 12 burly porters, but usually only got my attentions along with those of whichever roommate felt particularly ambitious on move-in day.
  • One garbage bag. It would be reused for four years. Ideal for laundry, or for transporting items instead of leveraging the Trunk of Pain.
  • Toshiba Laptop Computer. Early laptop technology rendered this computer fit for the lap of the giant statue of Paul Bunyan in Minnesota. My thighs still bear permanent indentations. To save on paying for software, Dad copied an early version of WordStar from work, which required a combination of elaborate key commands, sign language, secret passwords and Morse code to perform some of the more complex text formatting. Like quotation marks or paragraph returns. Unfortunately, those key codes were listed in the manual I didn't have because it belonged to Dad's work.
  • Two stolen milk crates. I acquired these beauties from a dorm dumpster one summer-- clearly hot merchandise ditched by the original thieves (you can read about that tale-- the Milk Crate Redemption-- here.). But they became really integral items for a more well-equipped dorm life. I enjoyed fine dining by turning one upside down and putting a sheet over it. I could use one for laundry when the garbage bag had too many holes. And it was ideal for storing things unrelated to milk.

So, today, as I pass through the Back-to-School sections of our local department stores, the mind just boggles over the pretty desk blotters, the colorful organizers, the cheery furniture that doesn't look like it came as hand-me-downs from a monk's cloister.

Now, not only are small appliances college standards, they are supplemented with gourmet knife sets, elaborate cookware and personal chefs named Anatole who, when not on-the-job creating culinary delights for young Justin and Emily, enjoy soaking in the in-dorm jacuzzi eating truffles.

The Spaghetti O's though, I understand, still taste of tomatoey cheesy paper.

I like knowing that at least some things come full circle.


So tell me, folks, what did you have to your name when you left home?


MikeWJ at Too Many Mornings said...

I liked college, but wish you hadn't mentioned Spaghetti-Os. I got sick on them once, and now the mere mention of them makes me nauseous.

Other than that, though, this was a funny walk down memory lane. Strangely, I don't remember having any possessions in college other than my bedsheets and maybe some paper and pencils. I must have had more than that, right?

Jenn Thorson said...

Mike- I can easily see where sickness could come in. I still recall the taste too vividly myself.

Regarding your belongings, possibly were you a nomad traveling by camel? Camels don't have a lot of storage space for stuff. :)

Deray said...

I lived at home during College and it's only now that I get to pick up my furniture from dumpsters (my dining table, chairs and a TV stand) or from IKEA :-P

Melanie said...

What a blast from the past! :)

I went to tech school, no dorms, so I had an apartment with two total strangers.
Left home in an elderly Mustang with everything I owned squished into it. Mostly, that was clothes, two cereal bowls, a couple plates and assorted silverware pilfered from mom's silverware drawer and a saucepan. I cooked a lot of store brand 4/$1.00 mac and cheese in that saucepan.
Honestly I don't recall even having sheets, but I must have (Lord knows, I'm sure mother wouldn't have let me leave without them), but I do remember having a quilt made by grandma which I cherished and still have these 25 yrs. later.

Jenn Thorson said...

Deray- Did you really find all that in dumpsters? I'm impressed. You're like Queen of Dumpsterama!

Melanie- Ah yes, that mac and cheese was a staple of one of my best friends in college. I love that you still have the cherished Grandma quilt!

Barry said...

The Spool? Cinderblocks for shelves? You did not require these items?

Anonymous said...

One of those newfangled comforter things, with old sheets from when my parents married. Lamp, posters, black metal trunk that my mom and then I used at camp, sheet music, music stand, easel, oil paints (the lead kind, thank you very much), and an am-fm radio. My roommate had an 8-track player. Shelving were milk crates that someone were left in the room when I got it. (wink)

C.B. Jones said...

I ate a can of Spaghetti O's this morning(had eggs in the fridge, but not ready to die from eating anything that came out of a dirty old hens private parts).

I can confirm that weird aftertaste. I still wish I had another can though. I think the aftertaste is addictive in some way.

Anonymous said...

I didn't know they had anything that would qualify as a " a laptop" back then. I had Commodore 64. Which was just a keyboard and floppy drive. I had a special switch hook up to the 13 inch T.V. I got with birthday money so I could use it as a monitor and T.V. I never owned a hot plate but did have this nice plug in teapot. I would make hot water for hot chocolate or tea. Which was great for the many cold days in Syracuse. I did get a cooler as a gift for my 18th birthday before I left for college which I used to pack up all sort of stuff. I was lucky that I had had my own set of luggage for a while since my parents like to travel a lot in the summer. Can't imagine lugging a big trunk for of stuff.
My mom would send me fruit and cookies to keep me going through the college year. Everyone thought I was wierd when they would see the big heavy boxes I would get in the mail and how excited I was that fruit was why the box was so big.
Funny thing about the big trunk though. I like the one my mom got when she got married which she called a "hope " chest. I ended up getting a smaller one for myself when I first moved out to Lancaster, Pa. It's a nice ceder one made by the Amish that I used for a coffee table for a long time before I finally got myself a real coffee table.