This past weekend, with its influx of parents, families and pets, was probably a very lucrative one for area businesses. It’s times like these that give restaurateurs and retailers big dollar signs for irises; if you walk into Target around closing time, I’m sure you could see the manager standing there rubbing his hands together and cackling demonically at the thought of the day’s profits. It’s all for a good cause, though: Parents help their studious progeny by taking them out for nice, sit-down dinners and buying them all the necessary dorm room comestibles. School supplies abound, too. They also buy a lot of random College-oriented junk, and it’s this junk that piques my interest.
p. You’re probably well aware that our college’s insignia has been branded, printed, embossed, silk-screened or otherwise festooned on every variety of purchasable good in existence. Shops around town offer more than just College apparel. There are also cups, mugs, stickers, license plate frames, commemorative lithograph plaques, lapel pins, drink koozies (or “foam can huggers”), customizable checks and stationary, wallets, cufflinks, mouse pads, putting cups, sweet hot stone ground tailgate mustard from Barhyte Specialty Foods, teaspoons, plastic cutlery, sterling silver money clips, dog-sized sweatshirts, College label sparkling cider, College label chardonnay, umbrellas, car mats, paperweights, mirrors and a “handsome wood caddy” designed to hold your remote controls. That’s just a smattering of the officially licensed merchandise you can discover out there.
p. Granted, we might not be as bad as other colleges. Pennsylvania State University, whose student body thoroughly dwarfs our own, sells a rain gauge with the Nittany Lion on it. A Penn State alum can look out the window to check moisture accumulation and simultaneously remind himself: Oh, yeah — I went to Penn State. There are also Penn State golf tees and gloves. In fact, most college shops have a small department devoted entirely to golfing accessories.
p. Wait. Just checked. Turns out we’ve got College golf tees, too (they come in a four-pack for $2.99). Best to round things out with a set of College golf balls, too. And don’t forget your golf club head covers, available in faux leather or faux fur.
p. It’s a sad fact that at least one member of our class will end up owning a lot of this stuff. It’s a sadder fact that there is such a thing as excessive Tribe Pride — that purchasing, say, an official College Pez dispenser could signal an unhealthy obsession with your school. The motive behind buying things like that is presumably to celebrate your alma mater, to announce to the world that you are a graduate of the College.
p. Where is the line drawn? It’s seemingly acceptable to drive a car with a College sticker on the back window. But when you get out of that car and wipe your feet on a College doormat, open the front door bedecked with a Wren-shaped knocker, kick off your shoes and put on your College slippers and enjoy a dram of scotch from a College tumbler while petting your dog in his College pet hoodie, is something maybe just a little bit wrong?
p. The pursuit of collegiate tchotchkes is always entwined with bragging, in a way. Even the innocuous car stickers are intended to advertise your education. Anyone who chances to drive behind you is instantly aware of the fact that you or someone you know is associated with the College. Isn’t this at least mildly pretentious? Attending college is a privilege unto itself; where do we get off forcing other people to notice and appreciate our success, much of which is attributable to plain old luck?
p. That College Pez dispenser doesn’t actually exist, to my knowledge. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s available soon, though, along with Wren Building cookie cutters, Jell-O and cake molds, Gene Nichol masks, Sam Sadler action figures, green and gold neon lights, College-themed aquariums and ant farms, duvet covers, golf carts, plastic baggies, hubcaps, tires, infant car seats, some sort of funky contraption that gives your car’s exhaust a green and gold tinge, “handsome wood” grandfather and cuckoo clocks that play the alma mater every hour on the hour, sneeze guards, toolkits, multivitamins, croquet sets, fine china, shower curtains, puzzles, jock straps, luggage, condoms, pocket watches, glasses cases, temporary tattoos, permanent tattoos and the like.
p. If owning any of these things truly makes a person happy, I’d never want to prevent that happiness. I can’t see how that’s possible, though — the pleasure one gets from using College golf tees must be one of the most empty, ephemeral pleasures around. I guess the big ontological question is: If the golf tees were discontinued tomorrow or if the rain gauge never existed, would anybody care?
p. __Dan Piepenbring is a Confusion Corner columnist. His Gene Nichol bobblehead doll collection is a wobbling reminder of his excessive Tribe Pride.__