1. Trying to stonewash my own jeans, using bleach, because buying the real thing was too damn expensive. (And failing miserably with the home-school fashion update, reducing the denim to the consistency of mosquito netting.)
2. Playing “Quarters” with my college peeps, never pausing to consider that it was probably the most-unhealthy drinking game ever invented (aside from Russian Roulette), and then not understanding why we all got the flu at the same time. (Of course, the hormonal slap-and-tickle that often followed the drinking didn’t do much for the immune system, either.)
3. Wondering if Madonna will ever be able to do anything to top the “Like A Virgin” performance at the MTV Awards, where she rolled her ass around on stage in a wedding dress. Little did we know that she was just embarking on her mission of world domination, incessant hairstyle changes, and a burning desire to show her uncensored burning desire in the metal “Sex” book that surfed coffee tables for a few years there. (And no, the carpet did not match the drapes.)
4. Wearing a polo shirt inside a button-down Oxford shirt, flipping the inside collar over the outside collar, and thinking I was beyond cool, even though I was actually burning up and sweating to death. Adhering to high fashion required a lot of low self-esteem. And required extra trips to the laundry room, since I only owned three shirts in the first place.
5. Watching “16 Candles” and thinking that the scene where Molly Ringwald gets both the hot guy and the birthday cake while sitting on a dining room table, as a Thompson Twins song plays in the background, was the most romantic thing ever. Of course, this completely doomed the satisfaction prospect of any relationship I would have from that point forward.
6. Watching Tina Turner and her enormous hair suddenly become popular again, managing to pick up several awards and a mystifying British accent somewhere along the line. On a related note, Ike Turner continued to be completely worthless.
7. Learning, courtesy of Michael Jackson, that excessive amounts of hair product and shooting flames don’t work well together, especially if people are dancing and singing about drinking Pepsi and some fool does a high-kick at exactly the wrong moment.
8. Listening to the “Purple Rain” soundtrack for the 712th time, unaware that my relationship with Prince would one day change when he decided to wear those butt-less leotard pants. Pushing the envelope is one thing. Opening your personal envelope onstage is another.
9. Watching the Wham! video for “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” and really, really wanting one of those “Choose Life” t-shirts. Of course, this was before the phrase was given a completely different meaning by the anti-choice contingent.
10. Running as fast as I could away from anyone sporting a mullet, although many of my relatives were felled by this horrible grooming choice. (“Business in the front, party in the back” is a slogan for a whorehouse, not a hairstyle, write that down.)
11. Wondering why people were still watching the “Dallas” TV Show. Didn’t they already shoot that one guy? And he lived? That sort of lowers the bar for any future plot developments. Then again, they eventually had an entire season that was just a dream while Bobby was in the shower, so what do I know about TV.
Useless trivia: I actually own a “Who Shot JR?” t-shirt. I bought it many years after the TV frenzy, but still. And I wore it when I wrote and hosted a murder-mystery shindig for my partner’s Fortieth. He was the victim, one of the guests was the surprise killer, and the weapon was a giant dildo. I am SO not making this up. Steely Dan, anyone?
12. Listening to Chaka Khan’s “I Feel for You” and being surprised that she could feel anything after all those drugs.
13. Still suffering emotional after-effects from watching the glorious “Grease” duo of John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John re-team in that wretched “Twist of Fate” movie mess that disappointed everyone in the bleachers at Rydell High. Somebody, at some point, should have said no, and they didn’t, which is why I never trust anybody.
14. Wondering how in the hell voters could have re-elected a Republican president who lied about things, re-directed huge amounts of money to his rich buddies, tried to decimate the middle class, and had a questionable past relationship with a cinematic monkey. Little did we know that, deep in the heart of Texas, a drunken shrub thought that sounded like a lot of fun and was taking notes. And a decade or so after The Shrub Years, an orange-hued cinematic monkey made both Reagan and Bush the Younger look like Mother Teresa in comparison to Trump’s amoral, despicable attempt to destroy the country.
15. Learning how to do all the “Footloose” choreography, so I could be just like Kevin Bacon and rescue the music-deprived youngsters of a small town via the wonders of interpretive dance. Sometimes we forget to dream a little bigger than we should.
16. Sneaking our underage asses into the only decent gay bar in town, because all the hip people knew that they played the best music. And there would always be pretty lights, clever bitchiness, and the illicit thrill of waiting for the bigoted police to raid the place. (“The po-po just pulled up. Somebody call Kevin Bacon!”)
17. Learning, courtesy of Vanessa Williams, that if you want to keep your crown as Miss America, you probably shouldn’t be waving your hoo-hoo around in artsy black-and-white photos.
18. Watching Mary Lou Retton win 400 gold medals in gymnastics at the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, and watching Torvill and Dean at the Winter Olympics in Sarajevo as they made ice-dancing the coolest thing on the planet for a few weeks.
19. Ignoring some of my friends as they babbled about this little movie called “Ghostbusters” that I should go see. I chose instead to sit through the 46-hour “Amadeus”. All I remember is Tom Hulce giggling, lots of powdered wigs, and the subsequent hit song released by Falco. (“Rock me Amadeus. Rock, rock.”)
20. Sitting around and watching the news, stunned that Elton John had just married a woman. That worked out really well, eh?
21. Getting fed up with those idiots that were still running around bellowing “Disco sucks!”, ignoring the fact that disco had already flat-lined years before. It took, and still takes, a long time for current information to reach people who sport mullets and spend too many of their formative years in a barn.
22. Watching my friends plan exciting and exotic vacations and then staring glumly at the jury-duty summons which effectively neutered my first official college spring break. Of course, this was not the only time in my life that a courtroom interfered with, or was the result of, ill-advised social activities.
23. Wearing nylon parachute pants that had more pockets and zippers than I had sense.
24. Discussing with friends this new-fangled music thing called a “CD”, and all of us agreeing that the format would never make it because it didn’t come with a really big album cover that you could stare at while recreational drugs kicked in.
25. Getting all gussied up (polo shirts and button-downs and chemically-altered pantalones!) so I could head over to a frat party on campus, only to discover that a prominent feature of said event was a thing called a “beer bong”. If you wanted any kind of street cred at all, you had to partake. This express-lane social drinking would soon lead to poor decisions and a confirmation that you might need to rethink your life strategy.
First, your pinky-swear fake friends would ditch your ass as soon as a really cute guy wandered in wearing loafers which had pennies shoved in that odd little pocket over the toes. Next, you would trip over something stupid, probably a phone cord, because nobody knew squat from wireless back then and there were coiled rubber lines stretching across all public spaces. (Nothing says true sophistication like the inability to maintain your own balance when everyone else doesn’t seem to have an issue.)
Finally, you would unceremoniously wander into the “mood room” (translation: Hook-Up Central) of the frat house, where someone had rigged up some of those black lights, bathing everything in a purple glow. This glow was fun for about three seconds, until you horrifyingly realized that said glow was making a prominent display of your bleachy crotch. (Guess you didn’t get all that mess out of there, huh?)
As if they had choregraphed this in anticipation of your nerdiness, all the cool people gathered on the various second-hand couches scattered about the crowed room would give you the same look, one that was mostly disdainful but had a shimmer of pity, which was even worse. The look said three things: One, ew. Like, for sure. Two, you might need to get yourself checked at an STD clinic, pronto. “Dude, why is your Johnson phosphorescent?” (Hey, it was a private, somewhat-competitive college. You didn’t get into this place without a measurable vocabulary.) Three, you should never be invited to anything, ever again. And the faceless DJ, tucked away in a remote corner behind the beer bong extravaganza on the main stage, would choose that particular moment to slap the Eurythmics’ “1984” on the turntable.
I turned to fumble my way toward the nearest exit, my firefly crotch lighting the way, intent on escaping this place that never felt right, heading back toward my people, those who loved ice-dancing and the Thompson Twins and choosing life and didn’t care if you wore two shirts at one time or not.
Ah, memories. I wouldn’t change a thing about that year. Except maybe all of it.
Previously published. Revised and updated with extra shame for this post, but the essence of the bleach remains the same. And thank you, long-ago cool people on black-light couches. You made me stronger when you really meant to weaken, and the songs I sing have lyrics that include everyone, even if they only have three shirts. Rock, rock.
Categories: The Journey