Upon returning to high school for my junior year, I found myself in the unique (to me) position of being something of a known commodity. I had spent two years maneuvering my way up from being a friendless and awkward nobody from a nowhere middle school to rubbing shoulders with folks in letterman jackets and cheerleader skirts. I was by no means a member of the elite, the inside circle, but the elite knew me. I was no longer a cipher. In dramatic moments of adolescent self-pity, I still thought of myself as the neglected outsider, but I could no longer really play that card, even to myself. In the brutal high school social strata, I now outranked the morbidly obese, the harelipped, the bad-skinned. I had bit and clawed my way into the comfortable middle. Enough acceptance to keep me from slitting my wrists or experimenting with auto-erotic asphyxiation, but enough angst to keep my edge and feed my growing cynicism.
I was secure in a fairly tight circle of friends, I had a conspicuous (read: ugly) vehicle that announced my presence with noise and color, and was meticulously putting together some emotional armor thanks to some hard lessons. Shelby? I was one of about fifteen boys that she expressed an interest in that month. Gina? She liked reform school boys. (May eventually have stopped liking boys altogether, if her mullet and Toyota 4X4 were any indication.) Amanda? Didn’t like me. Never did. Never would. But liked the fact that I liked her, and shamelessly played upon that for over two years whenever she was bored with the thousands of other things she had going for her. She was my Ideal Girl, from the first week of high school when I saw her in Introduction to Physical Science (IPS) to halfway through junior year, when I met…well, wait for song #41 in the next installment.
We all have our Ideal Girl. The one who epitomizes everything we want in a mate. Physically, at least, I had had an Ideal ever since Kelly N. in elementary school. (Wanna get treated like Superman treats kryptonite? Just be me attempting to talk to Kelly N. in 6th grade. That girl avoided me like the plague.) Light brown or red hair, perhaps with a bit of permed or ironed curl. A slight dusting of freckles. Pale to the point of luminescence. Blue or green eyes. This was the Ideal. I was young and dumb enough not to let personality or intelligence interfere with the Ideal.
Although The Spin Doctors’ Pocketful of Kryptonite album was released in August of ’91, it had no impact on me (or the general listening public) until almost a year later. When I heard it, I was reminded of my sense of relief and the weight off my shoulders when I finally gave up on Amanda, and simultaneously, the dream of a physical Ideal. Been a whole lot easier since the bitch left town/Been a whole lot happier without her face around…
But there were others. Oh, Lord, there were others. I had girl-fever, and I had it bad. The sheer size of my stainless-steel balls as I introduced myself and chatted up lady after lady is a thing of wonder to me now. Who was that confident guy? Sometimes I was able to play out the string for a few weeks, other times I was cut dead in a moment. No matter. On to the next doomed attempt. If any of you Gentle Readers out there feel I treated Mushroom Girl somewhat shabbily, rest assured, my sins were revisited upon me tenfold. No one can cut you dead like Holly Vanstone declining your invitation to the Christmas dance. (But I get ahead of myself…)
Much like the new Death Star in Return of the Jedi, the armor I was donning was piecemeal and incomplete. Unlike the new Death Star, it was in no way “fully armed and operational.” In short, under a thin veneer, I was still kind of a needy open sore. But I had learned much, and would continue to learn.
Speaking of learning lessons…my recent comfort in being a semi-someone would get a pretty good rattling not long after the school year started. What better way to demonstrate my new-found high school cachet than to go out on a date with Suzy, the Golden Girl of my podunk middle school? Sure, she might have been The Big Deal back when she was a goddess of a seventh grader and I was a lump of an eighth grader, but now the playing field was much more level. I asked her on a date, with the supreme advantage of Having A Car. If she had any other suitors at her grade level, I could trump them with the fact that I could actually drive down to Robbins, where she still lived (pop. 250), and pick her up. Ha, ha! Suck it, losers! [My Blazer still had a habit of dying at inopportune moments. The problem was traced to a rusty gas tank interior. Rust-filled fuel clogged the carburator. A filter was installed, which helped, but did not eliminate the issue.] Anyway, I asked her on a date, she accepted. We went bowling.
Don’t laugh. It’s where everyone went. The “new” bowling alley – as opposed to the “old” bowling alley (see earlier entry) – catered to teenagers on weekends. Reduced rates and a speedy snackbar. Any night that wasn’t a “league night” saw the Nu Generation bowling alley filled to overflowing with adolescent Lebowskis hurling bowling balls of neon blue, pink, orange, and green down the lanes to rack up scores of 85 or even a little higher. Beginning at 8:00, the place took on the vibe of a teenage nightclub as the house lights dimmed, the disco ball spun, and top hits blared from the speakers. Some of the songs we’ve already discussed, and many of the songs that will soon be listed below, provided the soundtrack.
Proving that chivalry was dead once and for all, I proceeded to soundly kick the snot out of her at three games of bowling. The entire time we joked, laughed, and reminisced about middle school. Such a shared history, such a bond. At dinner later, I was even comfortable enough with her to complain about the effects of Burger King onion rings on one’s kissability. Suzy was rail-thin, had cat-like green eyes, and a tiny mouth that puckered like Cupid’s bow. I never allowed myself to have a crush on her back in the old days, as she was totally unattainable, but now…well, it seemed like a foregone conclusion. We would start to leave notes in each others’ lockers. She would soon be driving, too. Go to a homecoming dance. Then prom. Then…
Then on the way home, she unburdened herself to me about her deep and abiding passion for Dave Barnes. How wonderful Dave was. What a smart, funny guy Dave was. Dave, I’m sure, was all of those things. All I knew about him at the time was that he was a head shorter than me and had a mullet that would rival Gina’s in sheer butchness. He even had stripes shaved into the sides. The only thing that echoed through my head as she informed me of the Awesomeness That Was Dave and my eyes stung in the darkness of the Blazer was why?
Why would she accept what she had to know was a date with me when she really wanted someone else? Why would she then think I’d be receptive to an endless spiel about him? My only conclusion was that girls/women were completely duplicitous, mercenary, and bloodthirstily opportunistic. She got a free round of bowling and a free Whopper Jr., and more importantly to her, a pretty good free ego stroke as I did not disguise my attraction. In the end, I think I got more out of it than she did. Lesson learned. My heart would no longer be on the sleeve, but tucked a few levels in. Still not deep enough, as it turned out.
It was pretty grim ride home after dropping her off, let me tell you. My cassette player blared my newly acquired copy of Metallica’s “Black Album.” This song in particular resonated that night. “Through constant pained disgrace, a young boy learns their rules…”
I wasn’t looking too favorably upon humanity in general at that point, but I was harboring particularly dark thoughts about the female gender. If they continued to fester, there would be little recourse for me but to channel my frustrations into the typical areas reserved for those who have given up all hope of healthy, young boy-girl relations: obsessively painting tiny pewter Napoleonic soldiers, perhaps, or becoming overly-skilled at computer programming. I had visions of myself as a thirty-year old virgin with Triscuit crumbs dusting my XXXL Garfield T-shirt as I propelled myself on my Rascal scooter to the model train shop.
No. No, I would not let it come to that. But fighting the good fight was getting increasingly hard. Even when it was supposedly a sure thing, I managed to snatch dating failure from the jaws of dating success.
My last class of the day was Creative Writing, a class which was harder than it sounds. I wanted my stuff to be good, and coming up with good poems or good short stories on a semi-daily basis was tricky. I was not content to slightly re-write Pink Floyd lyrics (I’m looking at you, Rob L.) or not-bother-to-slightly-re-write Dead Milkmen lyrics (I’m looking at you, Bryan From Nevada) and submit them as original poetry. The extent of my literary pilferage was titles, which was why the poem I was ostensibly working on was called “I Can’t Explain” (the title of a kick-ass Who single from ’65). I was, of course, not really working on the poem at all that day, but staring brazenly at the computer monitor of Christina W., whose back was to me. We were nodding acquaintances, had had a few nondescript conversations, but that was it. In the cramped computer lab of YCHS circa fall ’91, there were workstations in the middle of the room, and workstations lining the walls. I was in the middle, she was along the wall. By simply turning my head 45 degrees, I could get an eyeful of whatever was on her monitor and, as Oliver Hardy frequently said, “no one will be the wiser.”
Most of us were toiling to put spur and bridle to our out-of-control adolescent angst and channel it into works of literary art. Except Christina. (And, I suspect, Bryan From Nevada, who was probably writing something about badgers again.) Christina was writing a long letter to her friend. Basically, it was heartfelt cry to the heavens from a somewhat quiet, seemingly lonely girl, desperate for her loneliness to end, for a nice guy to come along and treat her decently, show her some attention, and simply be engaging and entertaining. It may not have been put in quite those terms (Christina couldn’t write worth shit), but the dating gods had just handed me a large caliber weapon and perched me in front of a barrel of slow-moving, possibly blind, fish. (“He doesn’t even have to be that great-looking” was a line in the letter that especially caught my eye.) It was like finding a copy of the enemy’s plans laying on the ground on the eve of an epic battle.
I got her phone number on some pretext, and waited a day to call her. (No sense tipping my hand too early, right?) After I had dispensed with whatever phony reason I had called her for, I asked her to the movies, with more confidence than I have ever had when asking someone out. The unsinkable ship hit the iceberg at about that moment. I was taking on water, and pretty much doomed, but didn’t know it yet. She was, of course, “busy” on whatever night I had selected. No problem. Take a rain check. We chatted idly for a moment more, then rang off. Busy. Can’t see a problem with that. We’re all busy, aren’t we? A day or two ticks by. I call her early on Saturday afternoon to cash in the rain check that evening. No, she says. I have a stomach-ache.
I have never heard a flimsier excuse to get out of a date. A year ago I would have bought it, and kept up the dogged pursuit. Not anymore. I just wanted to yell at her. A stomach-ache? Who gets stomach-aches? What are you, six? What was all that (poorly-written) drivel you were spouting to your friend? She promised she would call me later if she was feeling well enough to go. Did the phone ring later that night? Or Sunday? Did she say hello in class Monday (tummy all better), or literally never speak to me again? (No, no, no, and yes.) Once the initial wave of anger had passed, I could be more philosophical about it and try to learn from it (serves me right for snooping, there’s no such thing as a sure thing, etc.) To my relief and mild surprise, I didn’t really feel hurt. I guess that’s progress. Mostly I was just confused. Do girls not want what they say they want?
Anyway, November of ’91 saw the release of another “event” album (they would be popping up all over the place, at least to me, for the next 18 months). My loose definition of an “event” album was one that was hyped to the heavens, eagerly anticipated, delivered on its potential artistically, and was owned by almost everyone in my peer group. U2’s Achtung Baby certainly fit that description. “Mysterious Ways” was the album’s second single, but the first to really reach heavy rotation on MTV and radio. The title certainly summed up my confusion in regards to girls at that time.
November 14, 1991 – Another Television Event – the premiere of the new Michael Jackson video, broadcast simultaneously on MTV, VH1, and Fox and to a world audience of about 500 million. We were treated to a lengthy opening skit starring George Wendt and Macauly Culkin, then the video itself, which was most people’s first look at the CGI “morphing” effect. I remember being pretty impressed. Then the video’s bizarre dance coda. Back in the day before the ild-chay olestation-may charges, the worst thing Jackson was accused of was being a general weirdo, and grabbing his crotch when he danced. Well, I’m willing to be that he didn’t grab his crotch all through the 80’s as many times as he did in the four-minute ending to that video. And then he proceeded to beat the hell out of a parked car. And then he turned into a panther. Or the panther turned into him. I don’t know if this was all meant to be shocking, or artistic, or what. The ultimate effect was that it was just really, really, really stupid. The coda was snipped out when the video was put into heavy rotation.
I suppose it was not long after this that I asked Holly Vanstone to the Christmas dance. I thought she was flat-out the prettiest girl in my grade. (I am not alone in this opinion. You know who you are.) In a what-the-hell moment, I asked her to the dance. She just said “no” as if I had asked her what the opposite of “yes” was and went back to whatever it was she was doing. Ouch. Knocked out right after the first-round bell.