The countdown is on.
No, I’m not talking about another billionaire blasting himself into the stratosphere, although, for the record, I’m all for shooting some of our more obnoxious tycoons into space permanently.
My countdown is for launching my firstborn into college. In less than a month, Ulysses will head off to the University of Memphis to become more educated and also throw javelin. I keep trying to remind him that should be the order of things — education, javelin, THEN fun. Just a small bit of fun. College isn’t about having fun!
OK, I don’t really have much room to lecture, as I had that order completely reversed (replace javelin with beer) when I started at Spring Hill College a million years ago. But my freshman GPA completely reflected that. Ulysses is way more together than I was at that point in life.
Of course, it’s a bittersweet time for us. We’re super proud of him for achieving his goal of being a Division 1 athlete, but sad we won’t be able to see him every day. But this is part of the path to adulthood. The baby bird eventually leaves the nest. Where he flies after that is the journey of life.
But enough sappy cliches! This isn’t a tear-jerker column about how much I’m going to miss my son when he leaves for college. This is a column about what a horrible job I’m doing gathering all the things he’ll need for college. Looking over the list provided by the school, I’m not sure I can get it all done in the remaining three weeks. There are 83 items the university lists as “What to bring.”
Going through the list, I saw a few items I could cross off immediately. For instance, I doubt my son really needs a loofah. Or a hair dryer, picture frames and throw pillows. But that still leaves a lot to get. I should probably send him out to collect these items, but I’m sure that would only lead to 10,000 texts and phone calls. Baby birds still need a lot of help even as they stretch their wings. I don’t really want to have a five-minute phone call about bed risers and shower caddies. Because, honestly, I have no idea what they are either.
I also know turning the list over to him would result in a decision process based entirely upon how much time hanging out with friends will be sacrificed to procure particular items, not how necessary they will be once he’s there. I can imagine a circumstance in which he might show up for college with no soap, pens or toothpaste. Yes, those can all be purchased at the campus store, but my memory of the campus store is that everything was about as expensive as it might be if you were on vacation in Hawaii or Paris. Better to load up at the Dollar Tree.
Perhaps as important as the list of things to bring is the list of things NOT to bring. It’s not nearly as comprehensive as the “What to bring” list, but it does contain a few really random things I can only assume made it onto said list via actual experiences. So Ulysses will not need a George Foreman grill, slow cooker, ceiling fan, deep fryer or firearms, and that cuts the shopping list down. Other strange items he can’t bring include a parachute, netting and martial arts equipment.
For some reason, he also can’t bring any large flags or “large fabric.” Animals are also forbidden, except for “approved service animals and fish.” I’m not sure whether all fish are OK or just service fish. He won’t be bringing either.
As with most circumstances, everything seems much more complex today than it did when I was younger. I left for college with the same old clothes I wore in high school, a couple of old towels, whatever sheets and blankets nobody used anymore at the house, and a 4,600-pound black and white TV where the picture squished down to about three inches tall after the tube heated up. I think my mother also bought me a weird chair that folded out into a bed.
I probably wasn’t the worst prepared student at SHC when I got there, but only because the foreign kids couldn’t fly with TVs and stereos. I also don’t think there were a tremendous amount of prohibitions as to what we could bring. I saw plenty of flags and large pieces of cloth and all sorts of cooking equipment. George Foreman hadn’t invented his grill yet, so none of those were present.
There were no parachutes either, although I think one guy did jump out the third-floor window at Mobile Hall and could have used one.
Like most 18-year-olds, Ulysses is extremely concerned about what food will be available, how much will be available and how often, so he was very excited by the all-you-can-eat meal plan. As an athlete, he’s supposed to gain weight when he gets to school. Of course, they have all the fancy offerings modern students require — a Chick-fil-A, Panda Express, Smoked BBQ and something called the Tigers of Memphis Restaurant. There’s also a sandwich shop and sushi.
Once again, it’s much more complex these days. SHC in the ’80s had the standard cafeteria slop-fest most of us enjoyed in elementary and high school. There were frozen pizza squares, lots of chicken swimming in gravy and carbs out the wazoo. The “Freshman 15” (really more like 50) was achieved in a few short weeks. Suddenly, all the girls were wearing sweatpants to dinner. Not yoga pants. Those also hadn’t been invented yet.
Once a week we had “steak” night, which featured a hunk of fat masquerading as prime rib. They rationed these out like gold, with each student getting one ticket for this culinary high-flyer. We all gave our steak tickets to one guy who ate five or six of them. The rest of us generally settled each night for a steamed bologna sandwich, which actually was pretty tasty. Not as good as Solomon’s, but close.
Certainly, I’m just engaging in the time-honored “up the hill both ways” tradition of an older generation telling each subsequently softer and more pampered generation how much harder they had it. I have no doubt 30 or 40 years from now, Ulysses will be complaining about how inauthentic the sushi was when he was in school and how nobody could make a decent mocha latte.
I can also just hear him now telling his son how I sent him off to college completely unprepared. “I didn’t even have a loofah!”
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