By the time you read this, I’ll have completed my first day of the 2012-2013 school year. The feelings I have experienced over the past few weeks are not altogether different from those I experienced when I was a student. Remember when your brain tricked you into thinking that you were basically bored of summer and getting back to school would be welcome in some way? Ugh. Stupid brain. There’s also the nervous excitement that you just can’t help, no matter how little you actually want to return. The biggest difference is preparation. When I was student, the only thing I really had to do was shop for school supplies. Only that phrasing is not truly representative of just how important new school supplies felt. All the way up through early middle school (at which point, school supply shopping became pen, notebook, and binder shopping), the experience was totally immersive, like going to a theme park, only the objectives are completely different. Other kids were leading their exasperated parents through cramped aisles, stopping every ten seconds to pull something off the shelves. I’ve always loved the feeling of facing a crisp, blank notebook while holding a really good pen (I can’t stress to you how much pen quality matters to me, even still), so these excursions to Wal-Mart (or Target, if we got lucky) were strangely thrilling. Thinking back on those days, I realize just how important it felt to get not just school supplies, but the right school supplies. (If this were a movie, this would be the place where the tinkling bells and wavy lines would come in, Wayne’s World-style.)
1. Trapper Keeper: Number one, without a doubt. Trapper Keepers probably debuted in the eighties sometime (I refuse to go to the Trapper Keeper wikipedia page), but their status as the single most vital element in a student’s back-to-school retinue was undoubted all the way through the nineties. It was like a binder, only better in every conceivable way. And like any brand that enjoys dominance, Trapper Keepers were soon copied and knock-offs started appearing left and right. In this way, Trapper Keepers became an incredibly powerful status symbol. A kid who showed up with a brand name black Trapper Keeper with a zip-up edge and mesh pocket was like the guy who pulls into the bank every morning driving the newly washed black Mercedes SLK. It was power. Later, I remember Nike coming out with their own version, which I now realize is probably the moment where my youthful innocence was ripped away from me. See, I remember being in Target with my mom and begging her for this green and black cloth Nike binder that probably cost twice as much as any other binder on the shelves. She tried to reason with me and explain how expensive it was to buy school supplies for two kids, but I just had to have the Nike one. I’m not sure if my parents were divorced by this point, but if they were, and my mom was in the financial situation post-divorce that I now know about, she should have smacked me for even asking her to buy that binder. In any case, I was an incorrigible, ungrateful little brat who had been totally sucked in by what I now understand to be horribly manipulative corporate sales tactics wherein people are made to believe that they actually need things that they could only ever want, but never actually require. Thank God no middle-schooler on earth had a cell phone at that point. My mom would’ve had to put me down.
2. Major League Baseball Pencils: This may have just been me, but every year, I wanted the set of MLB pencils (one for each team). I loved baseball and it always seemed like anybody who would buy normal yellow pencils (especially the ones with that awful soft lead) didn’t know what they were missing (remember how easily sucked in and corporately influenced I just told you I was). I think part of the allure was that I liked drawing when I was a kid, and sports team logos were one of my favorite things to draw. I would use the Padres, Brewers, Pirates, and Mets pencils first because nobody cared about those teams (my apologies to Tony Gwynn, Robin Yount, Andy Van Slyke, and, well, whoever was good on the Mets in the early 90s), give the Reds pencil away, and save the Red Sox pencil for last.
3. Lisa Frank paraphernalia: I may have been unhealthily enamored by brand names, but I’m thankful that I didn’t have to wage the personal war of temptation faced by female students during my childhood. The effect that dolphins, unicorns, and hot pink had in combination must have been powerful, because those folders never stayed on the shelves for very long.
Alas, the days of truly exciting school supplies are probably behind me for good. The materials list for my classes is three lines long, and none of those lines says anything about Trapper Keepers. It’s probably for the best, though. I have a hard enough time not being materialistic, what with Apple and Nike (those jerks are still at it) and crew. If I still had to worry about dulling my insecurity through purchase of the binder with the most compartments, I’d be in sad shape.