MARTY RUSSELL: Back to school used to mean packing a lunch box

I walked into the local discount store the other day and was greeted by the usual greeter who apparently gets paid to stand there and slightly smile at you as you walk in while also presumably evaluating you as a potential shoplifter, competition spy or terrorist packing Skittles. But in addition to the creepy scrutiny, I noticed something else – a rack of papers listing the required school supplies for area schools.

My first thought was where has the summer gone if the stores are already gearing up for back to school? But then my curiosity got the best of me and, even though I don’t have kids, I decided to pick up a few to see what was required these days in terms of school supplies.

I was relieved to see that “gun,” “ammunition” and “parents’ debit card” were not among the required items, at least among those classes I picked up.
But there were some strange requirements. All required the obligatory No. 2 pencils most of us had to provide in school although growing up the nonconformist in me always managed to sneak in some No. 1 and No. 3 pencils just to stick it to the man.

I was, however, surprised at how many pencils some classes required. One second grade class requires each student to bring 80 No. 2 pencils to class. What are they doing? Feeding beavers? I used to get by on just a couple of pencils per year, although that may be more a testament to how little work I did as opposed to frugality. I don’t think I’ve owned 80 pencils in a lifetime.

One seventh grade class requires boys to bring a box of Kleenex and a bottle of Germ-X while the girls are required to provide a container of Clorox wipes and a roll of paper towels. I’m not touching that one with a 10-foot pole, or a bottle of hand sanitizer.

I decided to take a stroll through the school supply aisles and see what was new and, to my dismay, there was not a single metal lunch box with some TV character on it like we had back in my day. How do kids make a statement these days?

How do they make friends? I mean if you had a Batman lunch box you automatically gravitated toward the kid with the Superman lunch box.

Apparently backpacks have replaced lunch boxes these days as the way to make a statement. I found plenty of those with Batman, Hello Kitty, World Wrestling Federation, etc. emblazoned on them. (Note to self: avoid the kid with the World

Wrestling Federation backpack). But none of the old tin lunch boxes we used to covet.

I guess that’s progress for you. No more lead poisoning from the rusty tin, no more BPA in the matching Thermos bottle and some of those backpacks looked like they came equipped with a microwave oven and a small refrigerator.

MARTY RUSSELL writes a Wednesday column for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at

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