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Parents be aware of being victim of ‘dorm room shakedowns’

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“Three decorative pillows or just two?” my daughter Anna asked in front of a colorful display of bedding at a local Homegoods store. It was 7 p.m., and we had been shopping since the stores opened that morning.

The first place we stopped was the Apple Store, where I spent over a thousand bucks in less than 15 minutes buying Anna a new laptop that was required for her major. After that we hit Zara, H&M, Macy’s, J.C. Penny, Target, Walmart, Bed Bath & Beyond, JoAnn Fabrics,
TJ Maxx and Homegoods.

“What’s another $20 bucks at this point?” I replied to Anna in utter defeat and near starvation. “Definitely get three.”

Two weeks later, we pulled up to her dorm at Syracuse University, our minivan packed to the gills with fluffy new bedding, posters, a clip on lamp, school supplies, a throw rug, a shower caddy, towels, a desk set, a fan, pop-up laundry bins, six months worth of toiletries, various snacks, cases of bottled water, a microwave, a coffee maker, and yes, three decorative pillows.

Happy, helpful sophomores garbed in blazing orange, whose parents had been victims of “The Dorm Room Shakedown” the previous year, were awaiting our arrival with huge rolling bins to cart thousands of dollars worth of unnecessary products up to assigned rooms.

“Hi!” they shouted with rehearsed enthusiasm, shaking us out of our road trip stupor, “I’m Sean/Cassandra/Matt! I’d love to help you move in!” They filled two of the rolling carts to capacity, then guided us like sheep to slaughter to the dorm elevators.

In the newfangled coed hallway, Anna found her room, which was a “split double”—one room separated down the middle by a wall of closets and dressers. This gave Anna and her roommate their own private spaces within one room.

Anna’s roommate had already moved in, and her side was so spectacular, it looked like something straight out of a Pottery Barn catalogue. We stared at her shabby chic bedside table, complete with a vase of peonies and a trendy mirrored lamp. There were whitewashed faux ironwork wallhangings, cool enlarged letters, clear canisters filled whimsically with popcorn and pretzels. Her rug was larger, her bed risers were higher and she had way more than three decorative pillows.

Concerned that Anna’s room would look a cell at Rikers Island by comparison, we quickly unloaded everything we’d already purchased, and left to find the nearest Target. Two-hundred more bucks later, we added modern shelving, storage bins, two strings of twinkle lights, curtains, a coat rack, hangers, plastic drawers and a bowl of fresh fruit.

While Anna and I scrambled to decorate, Francis retreated to the busy coed hallway. “Eyes forward!”
we heard him bark in military fashion when passing boys tried to sneak a peak
at his daughter.

Before saying goodbye to Anna the next day, we all went to her dining hall to take advantage of the free lunch offered to new parents. I contemplated filling my purse with chicken tenders to supplement the beans and rice we’d be eating at home for the next six months, but selected a modest plateful of quinoa-spinach-mango salad and coconut shrimp instead.

“You know, Anna,” Francis said between mouthfuls of made-to-order chicken salad panini, “when I went to college, all I brought was the blue quilt off my bed and a Journey poster. And our dining hall only had things like casseroles and meatloaf. Do you have any idea how lucky you are?”

Looking confused, Anna chomped her gourmet veggie pizza, and said, “Want anything from the Froyo Bar?”

When it was all said and done, Anna’s room looked better than the hotel room we stayed in at the Syracuse Holiday Inn, and had much better coffee. But then again, our hotel was only $100 with our military discount. I guess the old adage is true: you get what you pay for.

Or in this case, your
college kids get what you
pay for. n