It's been a few years since I took the printed list of back-to-school items to the store and wondered for the 10th time why glue sticks play such a prominent part in the educational process.
Not once did I ask Daughter, "What did you do in school today?" and heard, "We stuck one thing to another thing for seven hours."
Still, at the end of the year there were no glue sticks in the bag of locker detritus. Perhaps the teachers collected them all on the first day, sent them off to be melted down and poured into an enormous silo somewhere in the country that was painted like a glue stick, and on the teachers' conference week in October they danced around it in a pagan ritual, making sacrifices to Elmer, their elder god.
Well, it's possible.
Anyway. Last week at Target I wandered into the back-to-school aisle, and found it well stocked. Why? Because I needed nothing there.
I can't find paper napkins, because apparently every tree in North America was repurposed to make bathroom tissue. The frozen potatoes section made you want to sing a sad Irish ballad. The orange juice section gave you a preview of what would happen if someone sawed off Florida and let it float away.
Hopefully I just had bad timing and the paper napkins, potatoes and orange juice would be restocked by morn. But the thing that got me was the racks full of backpacks and the shelves full of lunch kits.
I'm thinking sales of those are down this year.
Part of the fun of a new school year was getting a new backpack or lunchbox. The cheap ones in grade school had to be swapped out after a few years, because the kid had outgrown the theme, and what was the coolest thing in the world in second grade might be cringey by sixth.
Ah, but distance learning is good! No more dragging a heavy backpack to school! You just get up and spring over to the computer and everything's digital and noncorporeal. No.
Backpacks, lunchboxes, locker combinations, pencil boxes, glue sticks — it's all part of a culture that defines the school day. Anyone who had a quarantined kid stare at a screen all day and perform the ritual simulation of "learning" knows it's inadequate. There's no gossip in the hallway, no passed notes, no faraway moment on a winter day when you look out the window and dream for a spell, no radiator clanks and schoolhouse aromas.
We didn't think it would be like this, did we? Also, no.
The back-to-school stuff occupies the seasonal department of the store. After Labor Day, it'll be time for the next 2020 event to be observed with cranky, diminished enthusiasm: Halloween.
You wonder if the skeletons in the Halloween displays will have masks. There are no studies that support a skeleton-to-person transmission, and the only way a pumpkin is a "super-spreader" is if you drop it from 6 feet while it's still full of seeds.
After Halloween, it should be ho-ho-ho galore in seasonal, and again: Will Santa wear a mask? Anyone want to lay odds on that? Cupids in February? Bunnies in spring?
Can't say, but here's the thing: We all know that the seasonal department of Target lives six weeks in the future. Like the groundhog, the aisle can predict the future.
If Santa doesn't wear a mask, it means we'll soon be past this. And if Santa has a bag full of paper napkins, I'll be the happiest man in town.