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Published: Thursday, 7/28/2005

In my day, cleaning was dorm-room makeover

So when do you know you're truly growing old?

And I don't just mean "growing old" as in, a touch of arthritis in the knees every now and then.

I mean "growing old" as in, gravely out of step with the wider culture.

For me, the epiphany arrived earlier this week.

It came to me while I was sitting on the couch, thumbing through the latest issue of one of the newsmagazines.

Toward the back of the magazine - after the more important stories about possible Supreme Court nominees, Iraq suicide bombers, and Karl "Leaky" Rove - I stumbled across a small, illustrated article about high-design dorm rooms.

Before I knew it, I found myself snorting derisively.

"Spend anywhere from $1,200 on up to decorate a room in a college dormitory?" I muttered to myself in quiet indignation. "How ridiculous! Why, back when I was in college "

At which point I froze.

Another thought scampered through my brain:

"Didn't I just say a 21st century equivalent of, 'Do you know how many miles I had to walk to school each day, youngsters?'‚óŹ"

The worst part is, I'm not much inclined to change my opinion, even though I realize the necessary price I pay is a creakier, more crotchety persona. But, still.

C'mon - why does any college kid need a dorm room outfitted with a $7,000 plasma TV?

Even Newsweek's lowest-cost decorating option came in at $1,200. Not to rain on anyone's parade, but wouldn't that money be better spent on textbooks?

Besides, going away to college is supposed to be something like the academic equivalent of going off to live in Manhattan - which is to say, why bother with such a notion as bourgeois as decor if nobody spends time in their apartment, anyway?

Personally, thank God, I'm a few years away from dropping anyone off on a college campus, so I grant you, I have no real basis for saying any of this.

But doesn't anyone else consider it odd that parents would be expected to hand over thousands of dollars to prettify a dorm room to the very people we'd just spend the last several years yelling at specifically because, ahem, they wouldn't clean their bedrooms?

Hey, I'm just saying

I dunno, maybe college students have such high expectations because so many of them have spent their summers coddled at all those childhood-robbing speciality camps we've read so much about.

Probably when you spend two weeks at computer camp, a week at nature-science camp, then another week at violin camp, odds are, you get fairly decent digs at these places.

For whatever reason, marketers are on to all this. They understand that college students are just ripe, low-hanging fruit waiting to be picked.

Some home-products stores even have special registries just for people heading off to college.

The National Retail Federation reports that college-bound students managed to shell out $1.2 billion to outfit their dorm rooms.

Almost makes tuition seem cheap, no?

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