I was in my local big box store the other day looking for some late season garden supplies. But where the fertilizer, hoses and jugs of stuff you spray to kill things had reliably been all spring and summer, perused by guys with guts like me, were replaced by shelves of pens, pencils, paper products, backpacks, moms and whining kids.
Yeah, yeah, back to school time again. Are you telling me the backpack the brat used only a couple of months ago is no longer viable or the pens probably still sitting at the bottom of last semester’s backpack are already out of ink?
I can see maybe getting some new clothes because kids grow but honestly, and I get that some stationary products become depleted but backpacks pretty much remain the same size and style forever.
Of course, when I was a school kid in the 60’s we carried our books in a rubber strap and our writing implements in a pencil case, which you shoved beneath the strap. You lugged your strapped bundle on your hip and by the end of the day you had a nice red, painful welt, somehow proving you gave major flesh to your education.
There also weren’t any big box stores with a billion choices of notebooks. We got all our school supplies and Sol and Lefty’s Candy Store on the corner of 249th Street and Union Turnpike in Queens, a couple of blocks from Glen Oaks Village..the massive apartment complex where we lived.
Sol and Lefty’s was cool. It was our hangout. You bought your candy and comic books there or sidled up to the lunch counter for an egg cream or a fried egg sandwich or a burger birthed in the same ratty aluminum frying pan made long before the advent of no-stick Teflon.
Artie, the skinny, bald short order cook, was not friendly. When you called out your order to Artie, he’d often snarl and invite you to screw off–but in less polite terms. It was part of the charm.
Sol and Lefty and Sol’s sister ran the place which was always populated by a New York City cop or two..not for security..but to pop in to lay some wagers on the races at nearby Belmont, Yonkers or Aqueduct. I mean, how much dough can you make selling penny and nickel candy and burnt burgers?
Around school time, they tossed some boxes of supplies they thought the kids would need on the booths no one sat at anyway. Loose leaf binders and paper, memo pads, Bic pens, number 2 pencils, pencil boxes and for a bit, those groovy things called a Nifty–a combo of pencil case and loose leaf binder. I had a brown one.
It was awesome. Kids were jealous. Jealous kids showed their jealousy by punching you in the arm. It was OK. I had the Nifty, they had anger management issues.
We also didn’t buy our school supplies before school because our teachers were very particular. On the first day of classes, especially in elementary school, teachers would give us list of what type of everything they accepted. Some only accepted loose leaf paper with two holes, some accepted three-hole paper, some required paper with five holes. One of my teachers did care how many holes but firmly forbid us to use spiral notebooks because once you tore out the pages to hand them in for grading, there was no way to put them back, leaving you with dozens of loose pages with ratty edges.
One teacher was very adamant about what kind of memo pad we used. The only use for a memo pad was to write down our homework assignments. You couldn’t write down the assignment on loose leaf paper or in a notebook–it had to be on a memo pad. NOT A steno pad–a MEMO PAD. A real memo pad had the word “memo” on the cover.
Now Sol and Lefty and Sol’s sister knew all this. They only carried certified memo pads–not a steno pad to be found. They also seemed to know what color binders and rubber book straps kids liked. That’s why they were able to keep a pretty limited stock–no sense in being stuck with stuff kids would reject. If you asked for something they didn’t have, Sol or Lefty or Sol’s sister would give you a snarling look as if to say, “are you questioning our school supply judgement? Get outta here and never return–unless you’re gonna come back for a comic book or egg cream.”
When we’d return to class the next day, our teacher would scan the room making sure we had only sanctioned supplies. Any renegades or losers who showed up with a two-hole instead of three-ring binder or non-certified memo pad, or, worst of all..a number 3 pencil, earned a verbal ass kicking and time in the hall to “think about what you’ve done.” Almost certainly, the chastised school supply offender would be making a return trip to Sol and Lefty’s to make appropriate amends before showing up in class the next day. Noting the proper adjustment the teacher would paste on their puss a complacent look–a personal reward for displaying such paper supply power over a little kid.
Sure, times must change and I imagine it’s a lot easier to schlep one’s books and supplies in a backpack than wedged against your hip strangled in rubber strap, and it’s nice to have choices, but I will argue till my last breath, compared to my time as a school kid, today’s supplies will never, ever, be as Nifty.