It's "Back To School" season once again (and has been since mid-July in advertising world), which means, if you were an 80s or 90s kid, showing off your new "designer" Trapper Keeper (you spent an hour picking out) was part of the first day reality. Because who said school supplies can't be fashion statements? What you wrap your studies in said a lot about how cool you were to sit next to, because there was a big difference between coming in with the cutesy sunbathing penguin and coming in with the radical pinball machine-like design.
When you get right down to it, the Trapper Keeper (whatever that was supposed to mean), was just a binder. What made it special were those ultra-radical designs on the covers, those computer generated floating polygons with neon, purple, and turquoise sea and sky scenes like something from another planet. The girls had their Harper seals, pastel rain forests, rainbows, horses, and butterflies, and the boys had their racing Ferrari V8 designs, neon laser-lighted spaceships, and this awesome Sonic the Hedgehog merchandise. Thanks to Mead, I had one of those Wyland-esque masterpieces of leaping dolphins to drag out in my day. It didn't really matter what the design was supposed to be, so long as it was colorful, it was pretty sweet. And dolphins were rad.
Open them up and you might find compartments for your equally awesome multi-colored folders, or decked-out arty ones (always with the times tables, weight conversions, music notes, and "timezone map of the world"... none of which you ever needed for reference but at least made you feel smart). It might also come with a clipboard on the back, and my clipboard even had a built-in calculator that worked for two minutes! By the end of the year the Trapper Keeper was always jammed packed with a hundred crinkled papers in a grabasstic disorganized mess, but at least it was all sealed up in an artful package.
These were ubiquitous in my elementary school, because back in the times before smartphones and tablets took over the world and all that is cool, we actually liked "stuff." It didn't need to be touch-activated and loaded with games about sling-shotting angry pigeons or whatever, it just had to be solid, like a wall. Case in point, if we were taking a test at our tables, the teacher would have us stand our Trapper Keepers and binders up as dividers to make sure we kept our eyes on our own papers. The move never stopped us from launching pencils and erasers over the barricades at each other. "Missile launch countdown: 3, 2, 1..."! "Ready the catapult!"