1. Archive

Anger, nostalgia are found in search for school supplies

(ran NTP edition)

You might have noticed something new in your local department store, right about where they stock summer supplies and Halloween costumes and heart-shaped chocolates and holiday ornaments.

Folders, tabs, paper, rulers. Piles of them. Rows of them. Retail's response to yet another mini-season on which to peg a marketing blitz.

Back-to-school merchandising is in your face.

It makes me mad _ and nostalgic.

Mad, because I'd like to think summer not only begins, but lingers, which is a hard concept to grasp in a time and place that cuts summer short by pealing school bells long before September's Labor Day.

Nostalgic, because it forces me to feel that sense of order and tradition a freshly organized binder brings; the possibilities a blank notebook opens.

I catch myself, though, stealing a wistful _ and thankful _ glance at the black-and-white marbled composition book that still is there, albeit dwarfed by the concepts, designs and logos fresh to a new generation.

My child is among them, an incoming second-grader with her own thoughts on school supplies.

"I like shopping for them because you get to pick out maybe these neat kinds of pencils that you like," she said. "Maybe there's hot-colored crayons and maybe there's a cool crayon book and cool scissors and you can always pick out Elmer's glue."

Tradition lives in that white plastic bottle, but Elmer's today _ like everything else _ is more. Elmer's is a glue stick, a "no-run school gel," a washable school glue and a "glue-all, multipurpose glue," all of which is not to be confused with Elmer's glue in assorted neon colors, which is used not necessarily to adhere things, but to dry in visible designs.

Remember paste? That's still there.

And construction paper.

And folders _ just more of them.

"There's always different folders for you to buy. Lisa Frank. The Nature Company," my daughter, Zoe Nicole, said, surprising even me with her brand-name recognition. "There's even Disney ones with Pocahontas, Beauty and the Beast and that kind of stuff. And even just normal blank ones, but maybe it's a color that you like."

Right about now, Carlos Abella gets a bit color-blinded. He has been stocking the mini-seasonal section at the Target in Northdale.

"Within a week or two we'll be full on everything we're supposed to have in here," Abella said Friday of the six 24-foot runs in three aisles reserved for school supplies since July 7. "The sale in this (area) is phenomenal. Last year we did about $78,000 for the five to six weeks we had it up."

The first week of August is "a madhouse," he said. "The smart people come in now and buy early."

Count among them Nancy Machmer of Lutz, burned once, but not twice.

"Last year I started out too late and nothing was left," she said. Needed but not found were pocket-clasp folders, loose-leaf paper and Crayola crayons.

"Sure we could find Crayola crayons," Machmer said, "but the package of 24 that the teacher specified, that most teachers specified, was gone."

What takes so long to shop for school supplies?

Confusion, for one thing. Overheard to Abella: "When they say they want a secretary's notebook spiral on top, do you know what that is?"

Selection, for another. Overheard to Machmer: "I want that other blue book all the way up there because it does not have all the broken things that I can cut myself on."

"That's college-ruled," Machmer responded to her 8-year-old son, pointing to the lines in the spiral-bound notebook. "You need wide-ruled. So you have to find the color you want in wide-ruled. Here's dark blue."

"That looks too purpley," Brian Machmer said.

"It's either light blue, dark blue, dark green, light green, red or black," mom responded. "Oh, for heaven's sake!"

In lists sent home from teachers, parents get their shopping cues.

For kindergarten, Kasey O'Brien needed blunt-point scissors, a pencil box not taller than 1{ inches, two glue sticks, one black-and-white marbled composition book, a 3-by-5 file box and index cards, one roll of paper towels, one backpack and one mat or towel for rest time.

"This is an easy list," said her mother, Marisa O'Brien of Odessa. "The other one's worse."

But she said it good-naturedly and actually looked like she was enjoying lugging her three kids through Target for school supplies in mid-July.

Call it simple pleasures, best-described through a child's words.

Said Brian Machmer: "I like getting a nice, new fresh pencil to write with and it's not sharpened all the way down to the middle."