Thursday, July 15, 2010

Suzy Dorm-maker

It seems to come earlier every year, doesn't it? We're only in mid-July, but this week I got to indulge in one of my most favorite and hallowed annual traditions: perusing the current Bed Bath & Beyond flier, College Prep edition.

I've been analyzing my deep fondness for this publication all week, trying to sort out why--twenty years past outfitting a dorm room--I remain hypnotized by the exhaustive matchy-matchiness. The matching! Everything coordinated with everything else! Stuff bundled together in thematic sets: the towels that go with the duvet that complements the desk lamp, shower caddy, and collapsible laundry hamper. Plus two reversible accent pillows!

Maybe it's because we didn't do that, when I went off to college. Do people do that, now, collect the entire striped or polka-dotted Dorm Room in a Box and ship it off? (Did they do then?) I trundled off to Sarah Lawrence with a particle-board footlocker and the Laura Ashley knockoff comforter my mother gave me when I was 13. I hadn't chosen it: she and my grandmother had gotten a wild hair, I guess, and redid Sis's and my rooms with new linens one random afternoon. I remember that I found the cornflower-blue quilt with its teensy garlands of flowers a little twee; I was jealous of Sis's set, which had grids and squares in different grays, with deep burgundy accents, very modern, Totally 80s.

Everything else, I amassed piecemeal: milk crates, the obligatory Indian bedspread, a wooden rack from the Village Tower Records (!) to hold my cassette tapes (!!). That very first night in the dorm, I realized that I hadn't even packed a pillow. I bought one during a tour of SoHo the next day, and managed to get it shut in the doors of the 6 local on the way home. Stand clear of the closing doors. Yeah, honey, that means you. Yes, it's a wonder I survived.

At any rate, I didn't (and don't) really need a pink chrome wastebasket, let alone one that matched my blowdryer. I was perfectly content developing my own sense of style, instead of buying it in a kit. So why do I find the damn catalog so compelling?

Maybe it's the idea of starting completely fresh, acquiring a room and a life and a personality ready-made for your a Witness Protection program of housewares. I occasionally dream about college, still, and in most of these dreams I'm not even taking classes or racing to some forgotten final; I'm moving in. I'm putting my books on the shelves, finding a sunny corner for the Venus flytrap I bought at the Woolworth's. It's all about the anticipation, nesting while I wait for My Future to begin on Monday. that I've said that, I realize: a Venus flytrap? (Yes, I had one!) Strands of Christmas lights, a carved incense burner? Even in dreams, my stuff, my self, deliberately doesn't match. It might be easy to purchase a coordinated fantasy to inhabit, an identity in a color scheme...but even in my deepest subconscious, I'm not actually doing it. Better, after all, to keep fiddling with it all through the decades, building myself brick by brick by red sofa by thrift-store picture frame.

Where can I get a Venus flytrap, these days?


mike said...

This might (??) be something akin to what Caitlin Flanagan describes as the appeal of Martha Stewart, at least as represented in her magazines:

"he photography in her various publications seems to reduce all of female longing to its essential elements. A basket of flowers, a child's lawn pinafore draped across a painted rocking chair, an exceptionally white towel folded in thirds and perched in glamorous isolation on a clean and barren shelf: most of the pictures feature a lot of sunlight, and many show rooms that are either empty of people or occupied solely by Martha, evoking the profound and enduring female desires for solitude and silence. No heterosexual man can understand this stuff, and no woman with a beating heart and an ounce of femininity can resist it. I can unpack a paragraph of Martha Stewart prose with the best of them, but I also fall mute and wondering at the pages of Martha Stewart Living."

There's more as well:

Anonymous said...

Have you forgotten about the Elmer Fudd sheets? How could you?

Kim said...

HA! I edited Elmer out of this, but now see the error of my ways. God, after 20 years of washing those were more comfortable than any bajillion-thread-count sheets money can buy. They finally disintegrated my senior year.

Okay, your anonymity is titillating, Anonymous. Who are you and how do you know about my sheets? (And if that's you, Mom, AWKWARD.)

David V Wong said...

Funny. That very catalog arrived in my mailbox a couple days ago. I wondered if my address was on the mailing list as it's a studio just off-campus I'm subletting while attending summer courses. Thankfully, I managed to avoid the Indiana University dorms.

I admit that I did flip through the catalog, but didn't pore over it the way you did. Perhaps I have less interest as I actually am living the back-to-school dream this term?

I could still retrieve it from my recycling pile, if you need extra copies for your collection. :)


Seth said...

The Village Tower Records? Wow, I haven't thought about that place in ages. R.I.P.

astruc said...

I used to feel similarly about the Seventeen Magazine back-to-school issue.

Kim said...

Oooh, Seventeen B-T-S! Yes. If they'd told us that Friar Tuck haircuts and covering your blemishes with scratch-n-sniff stickers were the hot new trends, I'm sure I would have at least given it grave consideration.

Kim said...

Oh, and, @Mike--how true, the BB&B layouts don't feature any people either. No one vomiting into your color-coordinated popup hamper, or TYPING. SO. FREAKING. LOUDLY. AT. TWO. A.M. IS THAT REALLY NECESSARY, GOD!