Dorm Rooms: A Compare/Contrast Essay

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If you just finished high school and are going away to a big university next month, you had better listen up: College. Is. Tough. You’re going to need motivation to keep your head in the books, and the most powerful motivation will come from your own greed and covetous. You’re so wet behind the ears that you don’t even know what the Jones-es have. How will you ever know how to properly struggle in vain to keep up with them? Here is how: Pottery Barn.

Nobody sets a tableau for how just-so a home can (but never actually does) look quite like Pottery Barn. In the beginning their catalogs were more general, but at this point they have a special edition dedicated to every room in the house: Pottery Barn Kids, Pottery Barn Teen, volumes exclusively for the bedroom or bathroom, even a Pottery Barn Baby, because it is never too early to feel inadequate.

I was delighted to receive a PB Dorm catalog in the mail this week. I have pored over every glossy page, and since you’re readying for the big move into the dorm, I strongly urge you to do the same. It is a great guide to what you should strive pointlessly to have. As a graduation gift, I have outlined some of what I learned about dorm room decor from PB’s special college edition, and as an additional gift, since I know you will be writing lots of compare/contrast essays in English 101, I have written my blog thusly – comparing/contrasting the rooms in the catalog to the dorm room in which I lived while a freshman. Enjoy, and you’re welcome.

“Coordinate your bedding with your roommate – from colors to prints, mix and match your styles,” PB Dorm suggests to upcoming college freshman. I would love to hear this planned out in real life; an 18 year old boy on the phone with his soon-to-be roommate saying things like,

    “I could get the solid brown duvet, you could get the duvet cover in Cascade Plaid, and then the beds will coordinate. What do you think? Ah man, that’s gonna be cute as hell!”

For $135, each of our boys can get a needlepoint throw pillow adorned with the college’s mascot to top off his neatly made and coordinating bed. A Kilim rug in vivid hues can be laid between the beds so that our boys’ feet don’t get cold when they step out of bed and onto the wide-plank, heart pine floor of their dorm room.

My first college roommate was a girl named Molly. Neither Molly nor I had thought to bring a Kilim rug for our dorm room (or a rug at all, for that matter). Our floor was not wide-plank heart pine like the floor in the catalog, but black industrial tile – the kind of thing they put in elementary schools and hospitals. It was cold in the winter, and it did need a rug; Molly and I agreed with PB Dorm on that one. We discussed pooling our funds and getting a rug from Wal-Mart. In the end, the cheapest, most disgusting and most juvenile solution to our problem was to steal the floor mat from the foyer of a Wendy’s restaurant, so that is what we did.

Molly’s comforter had a Laura Ashley-style floral print. Mine was jewel-toned and plaid. We tried not to let our friends sit on one another’s beds and spill cokes. Sometimes we forgot. The rug was, well, you’ve been to Wendy’s before, so you know; it was red and had a picture of Dave Thomas’s pigtailed daughter on it. It coordinated with both of our comforters equally in that it matched neither of them at all.

All of the art and accessories in the Pottery Barn catalog are beautiful: a miniature statue of “The Thinker,” a bronze globe, colorful butterflies that have been pressed neatly behind glass, a vintage metronome that doubles as a paperweight, an old typewriter that is used to display photos and postcards…

I would never have gone to class if I had lived in one of these rooms. I would have lounged on my duvet sipping imported tea, reading leather-bound editions of the classics, and congratulating myself on the aesthetically pleasing room I’d managed to pull together. Your art work says a lot about who you are, after all.

The “art work” on my half of the dorm room consisted of just this: a poster of Quentin Tarantino in a blue, ruffled tuxedo shirt holding a glass of white wine. It wasn’t much, but it did tell visitors who I was as a person. It said, “The girl who sleeps on this side is kind of a nerd, watches too many movies, and didn’t have more than $8 to spend at the campus ‘art sale.'” I didn’t have many accessories, for there was a dearth of counter space, but I did keep my childhood teddy bear on display.

Molly’s walls were adorned with these framed prints of young children dressed in over sized clothing and posed like adults. Do you remember these things? They were everywhere in the early 90s – little girls in dresses and too-large pumps next to little boys in loose suits. The pint-sized couples were to look as though they were courting. You are too young to remember these. The boy would be extending a bouquet of flowers to the girl. (Aw…how sweet) The prints were in black and white except that one element in the picture (the girls high heels, for example, or maybe the flowers) would be tinted with a pastel color.

The freshman in the PB Dorm catalog have come up with all kinds of inventive things to serve as bedside tables: vintage steamer trucks trimmed in ivory leather, old typewriter stands, you get the idea. They have the cleverest rolling boxes for under-the-bed storage. They have a rolling wooden ladder on thier bookshelves like the one Belle used in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. The beds have iron headboards that have been carefully restored.

Molly and I had cots that were slightly smaller than twin sized mattresses. My bedside table was Molly’s bed. Her bedside table was my bed. This was a small room.

There was a counter along one wall which we divided. The right half was mine, and that is where I kept my computer. Molly’s half housed a basket of make-up, a mirror on a stand, and 37 bottles of Bath and Body Works body spray. The room smelled of mango, bubblegum, pomegranate, and peaches at all times. It may also have smelled faintly of Wendy’s hamburgers, if I am to be honest.

We used garbage bags for under-the-bed storage containers. This is where we kept dirt laundry and dishes. The girl in the room next door kept an empty Gatoraid bottle under her bed. When her boyfriend stayed in her dorm room overnight, which was against the rules, he used this bottle for a urinal lest he venture out to the visitor’s bathroom downstairs and be discovered. An obese girl down the hall stored a fry daddy under her bed because sometimes she liked to make onion rings in her room, which was just as against the rules as an overnight male visitor (and probably more dangerous).

This wont take long. Flat screen Apple desktop, iPads, and iPhones. This is what the kids in the PB Dorm catalog have at their disposal. Their iPhones are swaddled into Collegiate phone cases, their iPads in leather cases.

I had a computer. Molly, like most of my friends, did not, but I did. My Dad built me a computer with cloned parts he had purchased at computer shows, because he is a genius and a bit of a mad scientist. Dad also hooked me up with a small TV that had a VHS player built in. Molly and I had 3 VHS tapes between us: Heathers, Forrest Gump, and an incomplete collection of Kids in the Hall skits. We knew some boys in the next dorm over who had a copy of Back to the Future, and sometimes they let us borrow it. We had a land line phone and no email. No one had a pager until sophomore year, and we didn’t get email accounts until graduate school.

PB Dorm sells 20″ refrigerators for about 200 dollars. They are available in stainless steel, navy or pink. The students in the catalog have three white bowls, three drinking glasses, and a cloche jar of French pastries to be enjoyed during a study break. All of the dishes are clean and neatly stacked on the 20″ fridge.

I had small fridge that my parents had used in an office. It was brown, and the door had a wood grain veneer. A small microwave sat atop the refrigerator.

My mother did not give me a box of breakable hand-me-down dishes, would not until Sophomore year when I moved into an apartment, so Molly and I had to invest in a set ourselves. We bought a few bowls, plates and cups at a discount store. They were hot pink and made from the kind of plastic that we now know is full of BPA. For utensils we used disposable spoons which Molly stole by the handful from the Olive Garden where she worked on the weekends. Our dishes were never cleaned in a timely fashion. Molly would say I didn’t wash them. I would place the blame on her. In the end, neither of us washed them. The dorm kitchen with it’s double sink was 2 floors down, and it was gross to wash them in the small hand sinks of our communal bathroom. Oh, and we were slobs, so there’s that. By the end of the first quarter, mid-argument, we decided to box up all our dirty dishes, throw the box in the dumpster, stop eating in the room, and never fight again.

The bathroom in the PB Dorm catalog is walled with pristine white subway tile. The grout is spotless. I cannot tell you what the toilets are like in this magical dormitory, because there are none pictured. PB teens don’t have time for such unpleasantness. Though there is no evidence that these girls ever use a toilet, we know that they shower, because they have towels. Lots of towels. All of the towels are monogrammed. The robes are monogrammed. Everything matches.

Molly and I did have lots of matching, monogrammed towels. We were loved and southern, and it was important to our mothers that the world knew this when they saw us dry off. The similarities between the PB Dorm bathroom and the one I was forced to use as a freshman start and end with the towels.

The communal bathroom that Molly and I shared with the other girls on the 3rd floor of Watson Hall (“Twatson,” you’d call it if you were juvenile and fond of nicknaming things, which we were and did) had three sinks, three toilets, and two showers. At any given time, at least one of the sinks would be unusable, clogged with spaghettios or cereal. I can remember watching the custodian cleaning it out in disgust, wondering what kind of 18 year old girl could be smart enough to get into a 4 year school, but still dumb enough to think it was okay to pour a bowl of fruit loops into a hand-washing sink.

The toilets all worked fine, but we never used the one on the far right. One of the girls had caught crab lice from a boy over Christmas break. She told us so herself. Molly and I, in our compassion, took note of which commode she used most often, and then avoided that toilet at all costs. I know they say you can’t catch crabs from a toilet, but we wanted to hedge our bets.

The shower on the right worked fine. The shower on the left sprayed with a force that broke skin. No one used it twice. There was always a line for that shower on the right. There was a bench where you could theoretically sit while you waited, but no one ever sat on it.

That is about all I remember about the dorm, freshman friends. Have fun looking at the beautiful pictures in the Pottery Barn catalog, and know that your real college dorm room will be in sharp contrast, quite unphotographable, but memorable beyond compare.

college room
me circa 1995 with aforementioned Tarantino poster and bear

23 Comments on “Dorm Rooms: A Compare/Contrast Essay”

  1. Oh Ginger!!!!!!!!!!!! This, my dear, was HYSTERICAL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Love reading your blogs!! Keep it up!

  2. EXCELLENT! I received my PB Dorm and PB Teen catalogs this week too. Payton pores over the PB Teen telling me how she’s going to decorate ‘her’ house and how nice ‘her’ house is going to be. I just tell her I can’t wait to visit her in never-never land. Love the blog!

  3. Great, Ginger. One day I will write about moving into Creswell Hall at UGA in 1964, 1000 girls under one roof.

  4. I very much enjoyed reading this, Ginger! Here are two things that crossed my mind while reading: 1) I am glad I lived at home while in college; and 2) Did you walk barefoot on that Wendy’s rug?

    • Will you still be friends with me if I say, “yes, all the time.”? Never mind, I am just going to say, “no.”. No I didn’t.

  5. LOVE THIS! I really need to write a post about my room because it really does make my time at college so much more enjoyable 🙂 (I better stay away from the PB catalogue though, because I’ve definitely invested enough of my money into my room haha)

  6. Great post. I just wish I had been smart enough to swipe a Wendy’s rug. Those linoleum floors are cold and the carpet I got was about three times too small for even the small space of the room. Plus the added bonus of the subtle smell of burgers, Wendy’s rug great idea.

    • Some parasite has probably been dormant in my brain for 20 years – something I caught from walking barefoot on that Wendy’s rug. And I deserve it.

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