"IS THIS RUG worth keeping?"
"Are any of these clothes clean?"
"My back hurts."
If any of these laments sound familiar, then chances are good that you have recently extracted a kid from college. Although the duty can fall to either parent, it is often a household's elder male, as beast of burden, who appears on campus in the spring to bring his offspring home for the summer.
Or, as my son so accurately, if indelicately, put it a couple of weeks ago: "All of a sudden these balding, middle-age men started appearing in our dorm."
I wanted to clobber him when he said that. But I couldn't reach him. Standing between us were empty boxes and piles of clothes, most of them dirty. Moreover, I had to conserve my strength. The denuding of the dorm room was only partially complete.
Months ago, on parents' weekend, the kid's dorm room looked tiny. I wondered how a kid lived in so little space. On moving day, I wondered how the room could possibly hold so much stuff.
My son had assured me that by the time I arrived at his dorm room at Boston University, all his belongings would be packed and ready to go. When I got there neither his possessions nor his mood was in departure mode. He had a schedule of social obligations that would rival those of a candidate for mayor.
One night he was in Boston's North End. The next day he was riding the "T" rail service to South Boston. Somewhere in there was a trip to a museum of fine art. When his social schedule allowed, we packed. Originally I thought we might do this task in one day. I ended up spending the weekend.
Every move is unpleasant, but one of the more infuriating aspects of a college dorm move is knowing that in a few weeks, the whole process will be repeated. The mounds of material that you haul out of one dorm room will be hauled back 90 days later into another, different space as a new school year starts up.
Storage is a key concept. Entrepreneurs have figured this out. On the sidewalk outside my son's high-rise dorm, representatives of several storage operations had set up shop, offering students the chance to store their belongings in local warehouses for a fee.
I had another storage arrangement in mind. Namely freeloading off my relatives. My brother and his wife said we could store stuff in the attic of their house in the Boston suburbs. The good news was that the attic storage was free. The bad news was that getting up there required trudging up several flights of stairs. After a couple of hours of bounding up and down the stairs, the kid was ready to get back to his almost empty dorm room and continue his goodbyes. I, on the other hand, was ready to collapse, drink a beer and watch an NBA game on television.
At one point in the proceedings, my kid asked me what it was like long ago, when I moved out of college for the summer. The big difference, I told him, was that I went to college back in BC -- Before Computers.
Nowadays, packing and caring for the computer and its myriad accessories is the major component of the college move. Unlike a lot of dorm-room detritus, a computer has to be carefully packed, and handled gently. It matters if you drop it. So my son and I spent a fair amount of time nestling his computer into its original, specially padded boxes.
The other change I noted in the college haul is that the speakers are much smaller. I am referring to the speakers that play loud music, pieces of equipment no young adult can apparently live without. In my day the speakers were as big as bookcases and were connected to elaborate, heavy sound systems. Nowadays the speakers seem to be the size of books and are connected to the disc-playing computer. These speakers may be smaller, but they seem louder.
It took two days, but eventually the dorm room was emptied and long goodbyes were completed. I had to admit that the kid's grand-tour approach to leave-taking was a better way to say farewell than my toss-it-in-the-trunk-and-bolt approach.
During the long drive back to Baltimore, we began the delicate process of readjusting to each other's habits. We had an hour or so of good conversation, recapping his first year in college. Then we went our separate ways.
Rather than listening to the book on tape I was playing in the car's tape player, he slapped on headphones, listened to music on his disc player and napped through most of Connecticut.
When he took the wheel, I tried not to criticize his driving but soon found myself issuing directives. We were both happy to arrive home, eat supper and remove the 16 tons of dirty laundry from the car. By the time all those clothes get washed and sorted, it will probably be time for the return trip to college.