SO I VISITED MY SON at college on Parents Weekend, which is a nice event that colleges hold so that parents will have a chance to feel old. I started feeling old the moment I got to my son's housing unit and saw a sign on the door that said: End World Hunger Today. This reminded me that there was a time in my life, decades ago, when I was so full of energy that I was going to not only End World Hunger, but also Stop War and Eliminate Racism. Whereas today my life goals, to judge from the notes I leave myself, tend to be along the lines of Buy Detergent.
I felt even older when I entered my son's apartment, which he shares with three roommates and approximately 200 used pizza boxes. When I was a college student, we also accumulated used pizza boxes, but we threw them away after a reasonable period of time (six weeks). Whereas my son and his roommates apparently plan to keep theirs forever. Maybe they believe that a wealthy used-box collector will come to the door and say, "If you can produce a box used to deliver pizza on the night of Sept. 12, 1999, I'll pay you thousands of dollars for it!" Because they will have that box.
They keep their pizza boxes in the kitchenette, which is also where they keep their food supply, which is an open jar containing a wad of peanut butter as hard as a bowling ball. You may be wondering: "What happens if a burglar breaks into the kitchenette and steals their pizza boxes?" Do not worry. They keep a reserve supply of pizza boxes in the living room, and if a burglar tried to get those, he'd trip over the cord that stretches across the room from the TV to the video-game controller held by a young man who is permanently installed on the sofa. This young man is not one of my son's roommates; for all I know, he's not even a student. But he is stationed in the living room 24 hours a day, focused on the video game, although he always gives you a polite "Hi" when you walk through the room and step over his cord. I'm not familiar with the game he's playing, but I noticed, as I stepped over the cord, that the screen said: "You have been awarded eight thunders."
After passing through the living room, I stuck my head into my son's bedroom. I was reluctant to enter, because then I'd have been walking on my son's clothes. He keeps them on the floor, right next to the bureau. My son assured me that, even though his garments appear to be one big intertwined pile, he knows which are clean and which are dirty.
"Like, this one is clean," he said, picking a garment off the floor, "and this one is clean, and this one is ... never mind."
There were no sheets on my son's bed. Asked about this, he explained: "They came off a couple of weeks ago."
I'm not complaining about my son's housekeeping. He is Martha Stewart compared with the student who occupied his bedroom last year. According to true campus legend, when this student moved out, his laundry was so far beyond human control that he simply abandoned it. As a kind of tribute, his roommates took a pair of his briefs outside, climbed a lamppost and stretched the briefs over the lamp. They remain there today, a monument to the courage and dedication it takes to put underpants on a lamppost.
Not all student rooms look like my son's. Some are occupied by females. If you stand outside the building, you notice that those rooms have curtains and pictures on the walls; whereas the males' rooms have all been painstakingly decorated with: nothing. The only designer touches are lines of bottles, and the occasional tendril of laundry peeking coyly over a window sill. We stood outside my son's building one evening, noting this difference; my son, looking at a female-occupied room, said, with genuine wonder in his voice: "I think they vacuum and stuff."
Speaking of which: During Parents Weekend, I took my son shopping, and we bought, among other things, a small vacuum cleaner. When we got back to his room, one of his roommates opened the box and held up the vacuum cleaner. We all enjoyed a hearty laugh. Then the roommate set the vacuum cleaner down on the floor, where it will be swallowed by laundry and never seen again. This is fine. These kids are not in college to do housework: They are there to learn. Because they are our Hope for the Future. And that future is going to smell like socks.