Opinion

At college, bookcases are ubiquitous obstacles

The other day I helped my son Adam move into the house he will be occupying this year with six other Gonzaga University sophomores, and the experience was an interesting case study in nonlinear behavior. By way of example, if you or I bought a bookshelf kit and brought it home and emptied the contents of the kit on our living room floors, we would probably feel inclined to put the kit together to get it out of the middle of our living room floor. We might even fill the bookcase with books, which, presumably, is the reason we bought the thing in the first place. I learned last week that neither my son nor any of his roommates are afflicted with such traditional notions of linear behavior.

Judging by the amount of debris on their living room floor, it appeared that each of the seven young men bought his own bookshelf kit and dumped it on the floor. But rather than clean up the mess they had made, one by one they each drifted off to do other important things such as hanging posters on their bedroom walls, logging on to the Internet to catch up on local news/gossip, running across campus to visit a friend who was busy depositing his own bookshelf kit on his own living room floor, taking naps, or making sandwiches. I fully expect that one day in about December, one of the guys will look up and see the seven unfinished bookcases under the accumulated pile of dirty dishes and empty Doritos bags and say, “Hey, I never got around to finishing my bookcase.” The other six will look at him and nod in agreement, and then decide that it’s a good time to go to the gym or begin writing that term paper that was due in November.

Walking into my son’s empty house seemed like an apt metaphor for the coming school year. The house is empty now (except for the aforementioned bookshelf kits and the boxes they came in), but it’s full of possibility and promise, and it will soon be filled with ideas and the energy of the young, assuming such ideas and energy can dig their way out of a semester of accumulated dirty laundry and empty pizza boxes. The experience reminded me of that morning nearly 35 years ago when I moved into my college dormitory.

As an incoming freshman, I was assigned to a dorm with the mellifluous and historically significant name of “Men’s Residence West.” The dorm opened about a week before classes started. The first day students could move in, I got up early and was first in line to get my keys and room assignment. After completing my paperwork and signing a statement promising not to throw anything out of my dorm window, including my roommate, I hustled upstairs to Suite 307, certain that I was the first of the eight guys assigned to the room to arrive in our new home. But when I opened the front door to the dorm room, I sensed a presence. I opened the hotel-sized mini-refrigerator that was to serve all eight of us, and there sat a six-pack of Olympia beer, which was surprising in that no one was supposed to be in the dorm rooms yet, and also because Olympia beer had not been available in most Southern California liquor stores for many years.

Although the dorm had technically only been open since 8 a.m., it turns out that one of my roommates had been living in his room for the better part of the previous week. It was never entirely clear how he managed to pull this off, or if the building management even knew he was there. I pride myself on traveling light, and I moved into my dorm room with just a small duffle bag of clothes, a few linens, some books and school supplies and a few personal odds and ends. But my meager possessions looked lavish compared to what my roommate brought with him – the clothes on his back, an extra shirt or two, and a bedspread. Because my roommate lives on the island, I won’t embarrass him by mentioning his name or describing how he managed to survive college with so few personal possessions, but believe me, it’s a good story.

Our house is quieter now that Adam has gone back to college, and that is both a good and a bad thing. Fall is always a bittersweet experience for me, and this year is no exception. But I know my daughter is very excited because, with only one child at home, Wendy and I can now focus all our attention on her and offer her a double dose of good parental advice, such as “always build your bookcases before you play Guitar Hero.”

Islander Tom Tyner is an attorney

for the Trust for Public Land. He is author

of “Skeletons From Our Closet,”

a collection of writings on the island’s latte scene.

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