Sunday, September 10, 2006

Back to School Chopping

This year, school shopping was done a little earlier, and with a little less stress than usual. I can say that, I assume, since I was not involved with it that much. I did however manage to get to drive 60 miles to buy a pair of volleyball shoes, then another three hours to try to find street shoes. But that wasn’t too ghastly, except for the price. Apparently, the huge profit margin on athletic shoes must persist in rising year by year. I just hope the little Thai children who make them get vacation and sick days now.

Now, from a wide observation, it appears that when there are school supplies to be purchased, cheaper is NEVER better. This is true for shoes, pants, shirts, backpacks, socks, more shoes, skirts, skorts, shorts and any incidental shoes. And quality of construction has nothing to do with it.

My experience, however, usually involves the SECOND DAY of SCHOOL shopping. Which is arguably worse. Mainly argued by me, since my wife takes herself out of the equation at this point.

One can (partially) forgive the superiority of wearables, when it comes to peer pressure. Girls are (I assume) far more susceptible than boys in regard to the importance of the origins of school clothes. Of course, not having a boy to buy for, I realize that this is probably an obtuse statement. In these days of image and mass media, the male is just as likely to be caught up in the dangerous storm of “have” and “have not”.

When I was a kid, guys wore Levi’s, and if you came to school with Roebucks or JCPenney Plain Pockets, you were looked at askance. Today, no doubt, you would be vilified in the gossip columns and celebrity tabloids and TV entertainment “news” shows if you don’t have the right gear.

OK, so the wearables get a “snooty pass”. I can live with that. I had owned a couple of pairs of Plain Pockets in my day. The most dire problem I have with the process is the preoccupation with “high quality” consumables. Yes, the filler paper from the Dollar Store is unacceptable because everyone will know from whence it came. The same goes for the erasers, pencils, colored pencils, index cards, rulers and the plastic compass. At least my kids aren’t so worried about the little things. But there are some things Dollar Tree just doesn’t carry.

In the crowded aisle of the local discount hangar, I moored myself by the endcap just out of the way of the school supplies row. My youngest had already gotten the required items, except for perhaps the odd folder or book cover (now you have to BUY them, nobody would be caught DEAD with the paper ones they give away at the school!). The supplies gauntlet was peopled by desperate teens mainly, since high school classes give their supplies list on the first day. So there they were, the mostly moms, dazed dads and vacant-eyed teenagers, pressed in a swamp of folders, binders, book covers, pencils, glue sticks, tape, composition books and filler paper. Of course, certain teachers require certain items that are not QUITE the same as what is in stock. But usually by 8:47 p.m., the pickings are a little slim anyhow.

So, with the wiser parents hanging at the passes of the aisles, and the students picking over the picked over supplies, I observed some universal reactions. FIRST, everyone is nearly exhausted by a full day of work or school. Everyone wants to be finished and leave. Which leads me to SECOND; the kids are willing to stay just a little longer to find the right products. THIRD, all the students have a unconscious “sneer” reflex when it comes to the admonition of the parents to “get one and let’s go”, usually after proffering one of the least expensive binders. If the house brand costs 97 cents, there is usually a more expensive and slightly cooler version for two or three times the cost. The suggestion that the bargain brand be chosen is met with a blank stare with head cocked to the side in an irritated snap of the neck. Hmm, snap the neck; what an intriguing idea at that point...

“NObody USES thoOose...”, or a variation thereof is the top response by 93% of students.

So now, in my estimation, the Christmas season is in danger of being supplanted by the Back to School season as the most lucrative time in retail, especially for the giant discount chain stores. I mean, with the criminalization of the “Christ” in “Christmas” these days, it’s easy to imagine the cooling of the giving spirit.

But everybody HAS to go to school...

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