Monday, September 3, 2012

Back-to-school reruns

Dr. Grumpy's Guide to Life: Shopping for school supplies

Today I'm going to focus on what I discovered to be a horribly traumatic life-altering experience: Back-to-School week at OfficeStaplesMaxDepot. There's one right across the street from my office, so I go there regularly for supplies. It's quiet, the employees are generally helpful, and I know my way around it pretty well.

I naively thought this would be easy.

So on to the lesson:

1. Do NOT volunteer for this job (flip a coin, or arm wrestle, or have a duel to decide instead).

Silly me. When Mrs. Grumpy was wondering when she'd have time to get the school supplies, I volunteered. I figured "How hard can it be? Hell, it's just some pencils and a bottle of glue". DUMBASS!!! The list is HUGE, and features items from the mundane (No. 2 pencils), to the specific (Expo dry erase markers, wide tip, in blue, green, yellow, and black) to the odd (1 Pringles can with lid, original flavor, empty). It took me 2 freakin' hours!

2. Be prepared. Normally there are 5-10 other quiet business-type people in there. NOT THIS WEEK! Holy Crap! An African street bazaar is an orderly affair compared to this! Deranged parents running on caffeine! Kids running amok! Store clerks running for their lives! And all the crazed parents are trying to read off a list, push a cart, yell at kids, text, and scream into a cell phone at the same time. Bring a water bottle, food, a map, a cattle prod, and a flashlight. A card with your blood type, hospital preference, and next of kin is also a good idea.

3. Do not leave your cart unattended. People will steal your shit out of it. I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP! I had my cart 2/3 full with the crap on my list, when I left it at the end of an aisle to go find notebooks (spiral, wide-ruled, 100 pages each, single subject, 1 red, 1 blue, 1 green). When I returned 3 minutes later about half the stuff I'd already put in it was GONE! I watched a few minutes later as it happened to others. Apparently, when you walk away from your cart, people think it means they can raid it for supplies they haven't had a chance to pick up yet. "Hey, this guy has those index cards (2 sizes, lined and unlined, 100 each) that my kid needs. Cool. I'll scratch that off my list".

If another parent asks you what school your kid goes to, or who their teacher is, DO NOT ANSWER. Ignore them. Pretend you're deaf, or that you don't speak English. They are not making conversation. They are casing your cart, and if they find out your kid is in the same class as their kid, they'll wait until you aren't looking to take your stuff (or just switch carts).

Best part was when I went to ask an employee for help finding something (Flair Correction Pens, in 4 colors). When I got back to my cart the box of 12 ultra-fine tip Sharpies I left in it had been opened, and someone had taken one of them. They'd even doodled on the shopping list I left in my cart to make sure they were taking a pen that worked.

Oddly, you can leave valuables in your cart. Your wallet, purse, and gold jewelry will be perfectly safe if left unattended, but the $2.69 box of high-lighters (12 markers, large tip, in 3 colors) will vanish.

My recommendation: bring a child to guard your cart, preferably one with an iron bladder and who's old enough to use a Taser or firearm if needed. If your kids don't meet this requirement, stop by Home Depot and hire one of the day laborers who hangs out in front looking for work.

4. Do not look for certain numbers of things. The people who make these lists have no idea how things are sold, so it lists things as "1 Expo dry erase marker, chisel-tip, red). Great. They don't sell red ones individually, just in boxes of 4. Or the Flair Correction Pens don't come in only 4 colors, but they do come in 8. Just buy it. If you aren't certain what item the teacher wants, just buy everything in sight and return the rejects later.

Alternatively, if the teacher only wants 1 of an item, such as, say, an ultra-fine tip Sharpie (which only come in boxes of 12), you can always look for an unattended cart with a box of them in it, and take one. If paper is handy, try doodling on it to make sure you are stealing one that works.

5. Hold your place in the check-out line AT ALL COSTS. Reserve it as soon as you walk in the store BEFORE shopping. Use a child (preferably your own) if possible. Other options include day laborers from Home Depot, mannequins, dogs, and aggressive Venus Fly Traps.

6. When in doubt, ask the bleary-eyed, terrified employees for help. If nothing else, it's fun to watch them try to convince you that they don't speak English as they run outside for a cigarette.

Good luck!


Mama D said...

Yes, but at the end of this process, the kids actually go to school and peace reigns yet again. ;)

Anonymous said...

I'm a teacher and I enjoyed reading this. School supply lists for my son, who would be starting kindergarten this year and thus making this our first trek, we're made available in June. My simply adorable but clueless husband made fun of me for making the school supply shopping trip in early July. I tucked this little nugget away for the weekend before the local schools started so I could exact my revenge on Mr. Know-it-all. When the time came, I sent him to Staples to fetch me a box of Pilot Precise pens, blue medium tip. He figured it would buy him 30 minutes out of the house and way fom the daily insanity of the bickering 3 and 5 year old children. I kissed him sweetly on the cheek, thanked him, and then settled into my easy chair to await his return...90 minutes later, rife with much cursing.

I'm evil. And someone learned a hard lesson that day.

Erin @ Sassin' Southern Style said...

Fingers crossed that by the time I have children, the school supply list will be:

1. MacBook Air 15" Infinite RAM
2. Tissues (or you may supply your child with his or her own bubble -- Medtronic only)

Elli said...

My favorite item was large elastic book sleeves, 4. At $4 per. Multipled by however many children you have.

Covering your books with brown paper bags is now the equivalent of flood pants. You're poor, dorky, loser.

Do the teachers get kickbacks? Gifts from visiting school supply representatives?

Anonymous said...

We did our back to school shopping in early August - as soon as we had the list. And some things we know will get lost/broken/used up we buy extra and have a box of school supplies at home. I have 40+ yo hubby in his last year of college and a 7 yo starting second grade. I am jealous of all their new stuff each year. I want a lunch box!

Crazy RxMan said...

I know you can miss the sales, but with a little planning you can do the bulk of this shopping ahead of time right after the school year ends in May or June. Then when school starts you just have to pick up the teacher-specific crap.

Naw, I'm just kidding. I have to race around like an idiot too.

ER's Mom said...

Anon @11:22,
Bravo. Well-played. I admire such an evil and cunning mind.

Anonymous said...

Why don't you just buy your school supplies online?

Better yet, buy them online and ship-to-store, then laugh at everyone else foraging for supplies as you pick up your box of freshly-picked stationery.

Mockingbird said...

I like the idea of just sending your kids to the most expensive boarding in your area.With a roll of postage stamps and $1.15.
Oh, how's Craig's hair?

Dr. Courtney said...

WOW! That is absolutely bonkers. I'm 22, so it hasn't been THAT long since I've been in JR/SR high and school shopping was never THAT bad. Luckily I was from a medium sized city in the south, that was separated by a river. You had only two middle schools, two high schools, and one Walmart SuperCenter on each side of the river. So two weeks before school started, the schools on my side of the river would give our Walmart their supply lists, the store would then changed their school supplies aisles, have copies of the supply lists at the door for the parents, and then separated the aisles by school systems: If you go to the Hillcrest Schools(Go Patriots!) go to down Aisle X. If you go to the City Schools(BOO!) go down this Aisle Y.

We would be in an out within 30-45mins with a lot of small talk and catching up with neighbors/classmates in between. I honestly thought that's how everyone did it, until I moved to Southern California for college and went supply shopping for freshman year..I quickly gave up the search and just got a bottle of vodka instead.

gin4407 said...

School supplies? Really? I am a retired teacher. When I learned I had students crawling through windows of their friends' bedrooms so they could sleep on the floor because they had no place to otherwise take refuge, I stopped asking for students to come to class prepared with a pencil or a pen? Instead, I begged for pens at my doctors' offices and kept the stash in my closet. Everyone always had a pen!

Mandy said...

Hahaha...I'm so glad I don't have to buy school supplies :) The schools here provide them for your child. You can bring supplies if you want--but it is not required.

Kristin said...

Oh, the dreaded empty Pringles can. When I paid for that inedible garbage & trashed the chips, I thought that a rocket or time capsule or SOMEthing would come home, but nothing did. I think the teachers build vacation homes out of empty Pringles cans.

Packer said...

Wal Mart on Labor Day to buy oil for oil change, have scars to show for it, cause you have to walk through the school supplies to get to auto supplies.

Chris said...

My daughter is in 4th grade now and I'm still astounded by the supply lists. Back in the stone age, when I went to school, you got some pencils, some paper, and a three ring binder - boom. Done. Now they color code the subjects - she has to have a different colored folder (with 3 center prongs AND pockets) for each subject. And a box of sandwich sized baggies. Every year. I have no idea what they do with them.

Elizabeth said...

I think your schools need to get with the times.. Here where I live in Nova Scotia we pay $25 at the beginning of the school year and all the school supplies except backpack/lunchbox are provided. The teacher gets everything and they are waiting in each students desk when they arrive... That's what I call school supply shopping..

Mike said...

Are you kidding Elizabeth? Here in America the tea party would claim that's a violation of parental rights, another example of government intrusiveness upon individual liberties, and a violation of Christian principles.

Tricia said...

I have 4 in school - 8th grade to preschool. What I do is get the list online early on and get the basics. The tissues, crayons, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, etc. I send mid-year when they are screaming for restocking. Even the preschooler needed a 2" binder with 12 dividers....And he only goes 1/2 days LOL!

Eileen said...

I sent this post to my daughter, who works for OfficeStaplesMaxDepot (and coincidentally quit teaching a few years ago). We both laughed until we cried, your description was so close to our own experiences. I think I still have several boxes of various supplies. Maybe I should stand outside the store and sell the leftovers to frantic parents!

Abigail Cashelle said...

It's so ridiculous especially since it would be so much cheaper for the school to buy things like white board markers in bulk. They should just have an extra "supply" fee and be done with it.

Andy Syms said...

@Tricia: Hand sanitizer, toilet paper? WTF!!! Don't US schools even provide basic hygiene products?

For what it's worth, when I was at school here, in the UK, pretty much everything was provided by the school.

As I recall the only major things we had to buy, apart from uniform and games kit, were a slide rule and technical drawing instruments (Oops that's blown the gaff on my age!).

foffmom said...

I will never forget desperately trying to get a specific brand of rubber cement in the list for our son's kindergarden class. We were in 3 major cities, and we looked in every city. The stuff came from Japan! Really! What possible difference could it have made? I think teachers laugh evilly when they make out these list.

Ms. Donna said...

Yes, paper, hand sanitizer and TP were on my kids' lists years ago when they were small and in New England. That was in addition to all the other school supplies.
Then I moved to Alabama. In this state, we have something called "proration," that allows the state legislature to tell schools that they are taking $$$ BACK AFTER the budget has been prepared and the school systems received the state funds.
Can you say, "We're Fu**ed?"
In Alabama, parents get lists or the option to pay $$ for supplies and schools beg for cases or boxes of copy paper, pencils, crayons, hand sanitizer and other staples. Teachers reach into their own pockets to get stuff for their rooms.

Andy Syms said...

Just been IM'ing with my son. They have to provide pencils and a ruler for their 7 year old; the school supplies the rest.

MDaisy said...

One of my all time favorite commercials. Haven't seen in awhile so thanks for allowing to me to smile once again.

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