I remember back to school shopping as being exciting, dare I say even pleasant. My most recent experience would more accurately be described as “cruel and unusual punishment.”
My rare attempt at investigative reporting got off to a bad start when I found myself at the same big box store with everybody and their mother because it was the only place I was assured of getting all the stuff I needed.
First I had to pick up a first grade supply list, which I stupidly assumed would be found in the same vicinity as the school supplies. After sprinting around those aisles several times, I learned from an associate in another department that I needed to be in the Money Center at the front of the store.
The first item on the list I selected was copy paper.
I found the handy dandy endcap and was just about to check that off the list when I noticed the price. I thought it was a bit steep, especially since I would be getting two packs.
So I made my wisest decision of the day and walked to the office supplies aisle in the back of the store in search of cheaper copy paper. Sure enough, I was able to save $1 per pack just by getting out of the school supplies section.
Now that I was on to the store’s little game, I started playing one of my own by shopping for what I needed in any section except the one with the big cardboard school bus in it.
My next challenge was finding pencils.
I learned while browsing through a few of the supply lists that the Dixon brand is not acceptable in most classrooms because they break easily and don’t sharpen well. Of course, almost all of the pencils in the pencil section were made by Dixon.
Just when my blood was starting to boil, a halo of fluorescent light shone on a pack of pencils in the center of the aisle that not only weren’t of the Dixon variety but also had the advantage of being made in the good old U.S.A.
I was surprised at how easily I found the plastic, two-pocket and pronged folders that I needed. I was feeling so good about the progress I was making on the list that I failed to notice the folders I had picked up bore the Five Star emblem, the Cadillac of school supplies.
Once I got my head back in the game, I found two different brands of plastic, two-pocket and pronged folders for less than $1 before I shelled out nearly $2 for the Five Star ones.
I was not so naïve when it came time to pick up a zippered pencil pouch. After scanning row after row of cute Disney characters that would have cost me between $4 and $5, I found a simple black pouch for 97 cents that would serve the student who ended up with it just as well.
Of the nearly two dozen items on the school supply list, the one that gave me the most fits was something called a primary journal. This is not to be confused with the more well-known marble composition book, which I also had to buy.
According to a note on the supply list, this journal must have the word “primary” on the cover. I spent 45 minutes searching every square inch of the notebook aisle and found no evidence to suggest that this so-called primary journal exists.
I would have asked an associate for help, but not one ever came anywhere near the school supplies and every one I encountered in nearby departments gave me a look that I interpreted to mean, “Don’t. Even. Think about it.”
I didn’t have the heart to ask any of the frazzled parents standing next to me if they knew where I could find a primary journal. Most of them had their kids with them, which meant my stressful shopping experience was a walk in the park compared to theirs.
Just as I was about to head for the checkout counter, I heard one mother telling another how the school supply lists for her son keep getting longer and crazier every year.
“This year I’m going to send him with what he needs, and they can forget about all that other (expletive deleted),” she said.
I hear ya, sister. And if you know where I can find a primary journal in a few years, please let me know.