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MCCULLOUGH: Upscale dorm room an oxymoron

Nate McCullough

Nate McCullough

“There are fewer products purchased, but when shoppers do buy things, they want them to be a bit better in quality,” says NPD home industry analyst Debra Mednick.

That was the quote in a story this week about how college kids and their families are spending more money on upscale furnishings — for dorm rooms.

I’ve been a parent for six years, but I’m still trying to wrap my head around this idea of spending roughly a bajillion dollars every year for clothes, shoes, supplies for the student, supplies for the classroom, backpacks, school shirts, chorus uniforms and on and on and on. And the disparity in the prices of things is shocking, too. You can go to Walmart and buy 100 notebooks for like a dime or something. But three-ring binders are apparently stuffed with gold.

My wife and I have sparred more than once over the price of school shoes, particularly Nikes. My family is a Nike family (except for me, of course), and thus, the little swoosh adorns the side of most of the shoes in the house, to the tune of roughly $40 more per pair than what I spend on tennis shoes. And I don’t get it. All my school shoes came from Kmart and Sears, and I turned out OK.

I finally caved on her logic of buying one good pair for the year instead of a couple of cheap pairs. No matter what she says, though, I will never understand why we need a new backpack every year — this year a pink one, complete with a Nike swoosh.

But OK, whatever. We buy supplies and clothes for our daughter so she can get a good education and be comfortable doing it. It’s a cost of living and if we — and when I say “we” I mean my wife — choose to spend a little more for better quality and no one is going without other necessities, then so be it.

But upscale dorm furnishings? No sir. No way.

Let me describe my college dorm room for you. Picture it: Athens, Ga. September. 1989.

It’s hotter than the hinges of hell outside. My best friend Chuck and I are moving into Russell Hall — otherwise known as The Zoo — on the University of Georgia campus. The Zoo was still all-male back in those days — and it showed.

We were on the sixth floor, the Waterloo neighborhood. The hallway walls had black marks from guys putting cigarettes out on them. The carpet had tire tracks on it. Yes, tire tracks. Whether they were from a bicycle or a motorcycle I couldn’t tell you.

When we went inside our room, my mother was speechless. I’m pretty sure Chuck’s mom cried.

Dingy. Dreary. Beige. Hot. Funky smell. Worn out. The metal desk at the end of my metal bed had tick marks on it, and I’m pretty sure they didn’t stand for outlaws the last resident had gunned down. There was a pickle glued to the wall next to my mirror. A pickle.

Our mothers immediately started cleaning, and they didn’t stop until they could bear the idea of their babies spending the next nine months in that room.

We moved in. We got an education. And we had times so good they should’ve been against the law — and often were. (And no, I’m not telling, even if you torture me.)

Know what we didn’t have? Color-coordinated curtains. Monogrammed towels. Throw pillows. We didn’t have the first thing from Williams-Sonoma or Pottery Barn.

Apparently college kids today need “state-of-the art storage containers.” We had milk crates. They have cable and wi-fi. We had an old TV with an antenna that got one channel — from South Carolina. They have plush furniture. We had a ragged old couch that we sto-, er, borrowed out of the lounge. They drink craft beer and designer liquor. We, um, never drank and held prayer meeting every night. (Cough)

“Upscale” and “dorm” are words that don’t belong in the same sentence. Part of going off to college and being on your own is learning how to live in the same clothes for months while eating Ramen noodles. I don’t know what life lessons you learn when you eat gourmet meals off Lenox china while the maid does your laundry. Then again, these kids probably just ask Siri on their iPhones.

Just don’t ask her about those good times we had.

Email Nate McCullough at nate.mccullough@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Fridays. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/natemccullough.