Vital Purchases

Continuing our theme of College Life, I am about to bust wide open the retail world of the student with a suggestion that will probably sound insane: more than tuition, books, “fees” (an ever-changing – and ever increasing – value in the equation of school) and food, you can survive your entire college career through purchasing only three things.  You only have to buy these things once, and they should last you the entire time you are in school.  These are the only expenses that are absolutely required, and should not be “skimped” on.  You need good, high quality products that will last you at least four to six years, possibly longer, and most importantly, things that are durable.  They will be beaten to shit by the time you graduate.

The relationship between money and students, and that of material goods and students, is a very tenuous one.  If you’re like me, and you were already poor before you started going to school, then the idea of living on a very tight budget is not new.  It is easy, when you start adding up the costs and fees that goes into even the first term at school, to eliminate any and all unnecessary expenses.  Goodbye cable, goodbye subscriptions to Hellboy and Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and that case of Ginger Ale that you were drinking every month is now a mere can or two when all is said and done.  You soon learn to make huge bags of potatoes and rice last for months, and every dollar becomes a useful commodity that must be considered before being spent.  In a lot of ways, going to school is like a very quick economics course for people who are terrible at budgeting money.  You either learn quickly, or you end up dropping out and getting a job instead.

However, there are three essential items that you need that are invaluable to every student.  These may seem like no brainers, but I was consistently shocked by the number of students who were missing one or two of these three things.  My recommendation, before the first day of class, is to get these items instead of your books.  You can always copy pages of a book you don’t have from the library or a classmate, but you can’t miraculously cause these items to show up without cold hard cash.  While you are in school, you will end up spending a lot of your college funding on things completely unrelated to school (see: beer).  But before you do, you must buy:

1960's Rucksack, Available At Most Army Surplus Stores
1960’s Rucksack, Available At Most Army Surplus Stores

1.) A Bag Of Some Kind.  While backpacks and whatnot are not exactly uncommon College Student purchases, it often astounded me to see people with cheap or stylish bags, that ultimately last no longer than your interests in the Communication Program your school offers.  This is a bag that you will need to fill, to the brim, every day you go to campus.  It will contain a ridiculous number of heavy books, a pieced-together lunch wrapped in some sort of protection, various writing implements / rulers / calculators / erasers / etc, something to write on, your gym clothes, a sweater or coat, and everything else that you can’t bear to part with for more than a couple hours.  Regardless of your best intentions, you will live out of this bag the entire time you are in school.  Cheapness and stylishness will not do you any good when your bag splits open after a few weeks of use, or when you realize your bag is exactly one book smaller than you need it to be when you’re trying to rush out and catch a bus.  Considering all of these, any bag that you purchase for school must be large, sturdy, have a number of pockets and compartments for storage, and must last you several years.  A messenger bag, or something custom-made that you bought on Regretsy, will look great when you meet up with your friends at a bar after school.  But for the day-to-day functions of being a student, you will need something a little more reliable to get you through.

Music Soothes The Savage Student
Music Soothes The Savage Student

02.) Some Device For Listening Purposes.  Weather you are a commuter, someone who lives on campus, or just someone trying to ignore your fellow students as you curse and rush between classes, you will need to invest in some kind of technology that helps entertain you during these moments.  There are a number of reasons.  If you have substantial travel time between home and school, there is only so much reading you can do before you will either go crazy or will need to pay attention to the road to prevent a major accident.  Listening to music is not only relaxing, but offers a good distraction from your studies that you are mostly likely freaking out about, depending how far into the term / how close midterms or finals may be.  Not only does music offer you an excellent way to regain focus, momentarily relax, and in many cases put a huge smile on your face, but it gives you a chance to mentally “break” from the work you’re doing in class.  Additionally, there is a tremendous amount of down-time being a student.  Regardless of the schedule you plan, the homework you may have to do, and the usual everyday elements of being immersed in an institution, there will be large blocks of time that you will need to find things to do.  Having something to listen to in these moments may be the difference between “Very stressful day, need booze now!” and “Dude, Cee Lo fuckin’ rules, I’m totally ready to ace this French final.”  While iPods are the currency of hand-held listening devices these days, and win out in the “durability” category (in my experience), there are hundreds of other products on the market that work just as well at a much more reasonable price (durability, of course, may not be part of the price point).  Shop around; there are incredibly deals to be had for the truly patient.  These days cassette Walkmen and Discmen are incredibly affordable, and for the price of a high-end .mp3 player, you could very well buy a crate of these and trade them out every month or so as they break down.  So long as you have access to music, your day will be almost 95% better, guaranteed.

You Need This.  Really.
You Need This. Really.

03.) A Thermos & A Water Bottle.  This one took me a while to figure out.  If you drink warm or cold beverages throughout your day, or are the kind of person that brings soups with you for lunch, then you absolutely need both of these items.  It is entirely true that water is free and plentiful on nearly every College Campus, and furthermore, coffee is in no shortage regardless of where you happen to be standing anywhere in the United States.  However, your body will soon thank you when you start carrying a water bottle, if for no other reason than the fact that you will will now have endless opportunities to meet new people in restrooms, and by allowing you to study harder and feel less like crap when you have to bang out a paper in the two-hours before class.  Usually, you can score a free water bottle (go for metal if possible) during the first weeks of each school year, as various orientations and whatnot often hand them out for free.  In terms of a thermos, I cannot stress how wonderfully useful this item is.  Before I got one, I spent an inordinate amount of money on coffee, and while very happy while doing so, I kept thinking I was getting ripped off.  And, usually, half-way through a cup of something I bought on campus, it would go cold, and suddenly you could taste exactly how much you got ripped off.  Buying a thermos changed all of that; I had delicious, home-made, warm coffee all day long.  Afterward, there was not a single day I did not use it.  I highly recommend the Stanley Brand of thermos.  I initially bought a very chintzy, off-brand thermos, and while it was functional, it would leak, it didn’t keep the coffee particularly warm, and became dented very quickly.  Pouring coffee became a challenge that could result in you, and everything around you, getting soaked.  The following year I bought a Stanley, and it served me flawlessly until I graduated.  Stanley is not only a company that has been around since 1913 (and has thus worked out all the kinks in their product), but offer replacement parts in the event that you loose the lid or break the stopper (which happened to me).  The replacement parts are reasonably priced, and will increase the longevity of your thermos for years and years.  While Stanley is not paying me to say this, both my father and myself swear by the product, and it becomes incredibly useful on camping trips, too.  Plus, you can feel good about not contributing to landfill waste and whatnot, which can sometimes impress the ladies and seems terribly important to a lot of people on any given campus.

There were other items and devices that I did use during college, some of which served me incredibly well during the terms that I used them.  But these three things wound up being used daily during the entire time I attended school, and quickly became absolutely necessary to my success as a student.  I can make no claims as to improved grades, obtaining student government positions, impressing faculty, or anything that will actually lead to you getting As and getting laid.  But I can say that with these three items, you will always be prepared for every situation a student regularly finds themselves in, and that can go a long way in the economy of life.

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No Restroom For The Weary

I'll Take Door Number Three
I’ll Take Door Number Three

College Life offers you many chances to experience things that are either entirely new, entirely familiar, or entirely uncomfortable, often all during the same 60 minute interval.  Having spent many long hours on a College Campus – with the expressed purpose of pursuing an actual degree – I found myself in a number of situations where I needed to find a solution to a recurring problem.  It isn’t that being a student is particularly hard, and most certainly any advice that I could give isn’t isolated wisdom that can only be gained from a College Guru like myself.  Over time, just about anyone who pays attention to the world around them will be able to solve these particular conundrums on their own.  Still, this advice is meant mostly to capture my experience, some things that I learned that I did not expect, and how you can use these experiences to your benefit the next time you find yourself in College, pursuing your own degree.

Eventually, no matter how well you try to plan around it, you will need to use a public restroom on a college campus.  There is just no way around it; as a student, you will find yourself in the same collection of buildings for up to 16 hours a day, for years on end.  Unless you can afford it, chances are you don’t live nearby, either.  So, short of marking the fringes of the campus as part of your territory to ward off predators, you will need to drop your pants in a tiled room full of strangers and stranger smells.

As we all know, public restrooms are disgusting in ways that science is only just now starting to understand.  Entire college’s have been granted research money to look into the problem, and appropriately, since students follow research money, those schools tend to have VERY bad bathrooms.  But on any campus, you can count on some constants when it comes to commodes.  Any bathroom found on the ground floor of a building, particularly ones that are near entrances or exits, will absolutely be beyond use.  Conversely, a bathroom found on the top floor of any building, inaccessible by elevator, and requires the furthest amount of walking possible, will appear to be more or less unused by modern man.  Bathrooms that exist between these two points will be in varying degrees of disrepair, more or less on a spectrum that ranges from “unholy” to “unused.”

Given this relationship between “filth” and “distance you must travel within a building,” a certain amount of math is required to calculate how far will be “good enough” to handle your business.  Obviously, there are a lot of X Factors that can affect your decisions, not the least of which are limited to: “location of building,” “location of your next class,” “how bad do you have to go,” “how heavy is your bag,” “is this a pit stop or will you be spending a little time on the throne,” “how many floors can you walk in your current condition,” and “are you carrying a coffee beverage with you at the moment you need to go.”  All of these elements are at play in this math-room equation, and like any kind of fact-based science, you’ll either need to hire a fellow student to do it for you, or practice doing it quite a bit until you fine-tune the formula.

Modern campuses have a number of unisex bathrooms, and due to thousands of years of previously existing gender politics, we can reap the benefits in the form of locks that appear on the doors.  While unisex bathrooms are not common, even on big campuses, there are usually a handful of them scattered throughout.  Usually, these kinds of bathrooms exist because a student group has been campaigning for them for quite some time.  Because of that, administrators put these rooms in the most inconvenient locations imaginable.  These rooms, while not exactly cleaner, offer a little more privacy, and are worth seeking out, or at least being aware of in emergencies.

Any administrative building, human resources department, presidential office, and any place that students ignore or avoid because you can’t smoke pot or watch girls from there, have much cleaner bathrooms by default.  (These offices actually have things like “janitors.”)  Whenever possible, try to plan your bathroom trips around these buildings, even if you have to develop bullshit excuses for going to these out-of-the-way locales.  After a shitty class, it is often necessary to unload in a room with air-freshener, guaranteed TP, and the sounds of suits and ties discussing policies that act as the perfect bowel loosener.

As you will be spending a lot of time on campus, I recommend spending an afternoon locating bathrooms that are the right combination of clean, near where you need to be, regularly stocked but less used than others.  This is time consuming at first, but ultimately will save you a lot of time.  It is also good to have a reserve list of “Plan B” facilities for a number of reasons.  Most likely, because you are on a College Campus, at any given moment there are a number of students who all need to use the bathroom at the same time, and thus every stall and urinal are already being used.  Having a few back-up plans that are also nearby can become a necessity.  Any school staff who have been on campus for longer than a few months have often done all of this legwork for you.  I suggest watching administrators and professors, and follow them.  They have often located bathrooms that are isolated, clean, and relatively unused on a daily basis.  If it is good enough for a fussy and insane person with a PHD who can’t remember further back than 15 minutes, let alone to the days of when they themselves were first in College, then it should be perfect for someone who still has full control over their faculties.

While this may work at home, I do not recommend reading material while perching on porcelain at school.  Usually, these are hit and run missions anyway.  You have been spending most of your day studying, reading, digesting, and otherwise considering lots of information, anyway.  While reading on the throne might seem relaxing, what you really need to to clear your mind as well as your body before your next class.  If anything, I recommend the campus paper, as it not only makes an excellent laxative, but can come in handy if you happen to run out of toilet paper.

The law of averages and statistics dictate that it is unlikely that this term’s perfect bathroom will continue to be so the entire time you are a student.  Be willing to do some legwork every three or four months, to re-evaluate the relative pros and cons of different facilities, to see what has and hasn’t changed over time.  Some people may discover your secret, but that also means that other locations are being depended on less as this new one is being used.  Do not be afraid to adjust your plans as needed.  It will not take long before this process is fairly automatic.  By the end of your tenure as student, you’ll have become an expert bathroom locating, along with bar locating, drug locating, and hopefully, the focus of your Major.

As with many things, the modern world has offered people the opportunity to turn the most mundane and pointless daily human exercise into an exquisite art with nuances and complex theories that can only be mastered by the truly dedicated, and fortunately for us, taking a shit in public has risen to just such a level.  There are many skills that you can develop while in school, and many of them will pay off in the years to come.  Don’t let a lack of workplace-relevant skills get you in the end.

Doody now for the future!