June 19th - July 1st, 1998.
Everyone I know is super nostalgic for their childhood in a way that I am insanely jealous over. You see, for me, taking the Delorean back in time to my childhood largely reveals pain and cruelty. So generally I avoid doing that if I can. When I do venture there, a piece of my new, much more whole and happy self, gets punctured. But sometimes I can't help it. There are a few fragments of rubies to be found upon the rubble. And the most brilliant and shiny gem through all of that darkness happened the moment that I was handed my final 8th grade report card. All A's, making it a perfect year. The little Lisa Simpson. The bell rang. I took out my discman. And I walked out of that classroom blowing fucking fuck "Criminal" by Fiona Apple. Middle School, check.
I had a steady babysitting job watching two future emo kids. Cody and Zoe. They loved that I was weird and that I always talked to them like an adult. I really loved to read articles to them from my Entertainment Weekly magazines. I raided their fridge every day and ate all of their mom's weird vegan food. They paid me $90 a week for this.
And most importantly, they lived across the street from Ian. Ian was perfect. Ian's hair was blue. That would have been enough, but the rest of him followed suit. I still don't know how much older he was, but definitely already in high school. Any opportunity to play in the front yard I would take. I had been watching him all year in his driveway practicing on his skateboard. He never fell. He had come over a few times to talk music as we had similar dress styles, though I had to fake my way through my Get Up Kids knowledge. My heart would always begin pounding hard and then sort of stop. I'd feel things happen all through my body. These instances were too few and far between.
The bus dropped me at their street as usual and I begin trudging my way up the steep hill to their huge house in the blistering summer heat. Because it was the last day of school, I didn't give a flying fuck about the dress code, and wore my neon blue tie around the neck, backless shirt, with a little lotus flower over the boobs, paired wth my orange and black Pacific Sunwear skirt. My favorite outfit. I was sweating my ass off and just about finished the entire Tidal album. I see an object approaching me rapidly through my peripherals. There standing one inch in front of my face in Mr. Blue himself. The Adonis. He tells me to come over after.
I realize that my stomach will not be able to tolerate any fake chicken nuggets and broccoli crisps so I stick to water. Seconds felt like hours. And those three hours felt like a year. Did a full bush arrive in the time I was waiting for this moment? Did I finally get my boobies? This waiting game bullshit sucked. Rationally, I knew that he wanted to just hang out. Maybe talk more about crappy pop-punk. But I would get to see his dwelling. His room. His BED. Lest we forget, he was a teenage male. Functioning only completely with his erection. So it was slightly possible for more things to happen. I want things to happen. I've been ready for this for a long time. I needed to prepare for any and all scenarios. Staring at the TV did give me time to think. To plan.
I was last kissed in the sixth grade by Michael Whitney at the Halloween dance. I was a very sweaty giant Baby and he was himself. The last song was "Stairway to Heaven" and after flirting all night, we danced and kissed. It happened very naturally and beautifully and paved the way for my puberty to begin. What if Ian wanted me to come over to make out? That means he has some premeditated expectations. I definitely brushed my teeth using my finger.
I'd seen R rated movies, so I knew what heavy petting, groping, and moaning was all about. And I could definitely navigate my hands through very uncharted territory if I had the permission to do so. And I'd seen porn. I knew where to lick, suck, and how to fuck. I used their Mom's hippie dippy gel soap to freshen up my nether regions and armpits for any up close and personal action. I sprayed on some of her patchouli, applied animal-cruelty-free lipstick, and added a thick layer of black eyeliner. I felt like I could maybe pass for a cool kid. But still just a kid. I needed to show him I was mature.
I collect my usual fee and split. I didn't want to appear overeager, so I put my headphones on, and slunked my way up their driveway. I listened to roughly 60 seconds of "Superstar" by Sonic Youth. I felt the need to begin creating a mood. Maybe this shit was really going to happen. Ian, are you going to ravage my weird little body with yours? What do you look like under all of those oversized Nirvana shirts? I'm exactly what you've always been waiting for.
I must have knocked four or five times. By that fifth time, I was fairly certain that he had forgotten the entire arrangement, and wasn't even home. But then he hollered something inaudible from a distant room within the house. I assume this is my invitation. My eyes slowly scan the multi-picture, picture frame walls, until they meet with Ian's. He is sitting on the worlds smallest yellow couch. And conveniently, every other sitting surface is completely occupied by a large random object. He motions for me to come sit next to him by gently patting the half cushion beside him.
As soon as I sit down, he presses some button on his CD player, and "Rock and Roll Machine" by The Donnas starts. My body is ignited on fire. I don't wait one fucking second to see what his big plan is, I just climb on top of him. His hand reaches in my shirt where my breasts should be. Everything felt amazing for three seconds and it was over. Like some teen movie cliché, he quickly excuses himself to go wipe his cum off of the inside of his pants. Wah-wah.
Trying to wash and somehow dry one spot on your Dickies must be very difficult because he was gone for some time. In retrospect, he probably hoped I'd left. But silly old me found his taped-off-tv tapes and you know I gotta examine this shit. The one that stands out the most is a double feature of A Charlie Brown Christmas and Aliens. I think to this day I still pair them in my mind. And then, standing there, and maintaining pandemic distance, is poor Ian. Time for excuses. He informs me that his Mom will be home soon and shows me the way out. All very curt and courteous with no eye contact. I swear I saw him peaking at me through the blinds, but it's hard to say.
Walking home was dreamy. Everything was a little more colorful and a little bit sunnier. Sure my first somewhat sexual experience was rather quick with a sad widdle boy, but it had finally happened. And I initiated it. And I liked it. This was great! I was a major slut and you know what? Sluts rock! Take a look at history. The hottest ones liked to fuck. They incorporated it into their fashion and lyrics. They bragged about it.
I'm reeling on this new revelation when the SS pulls up next to me. It's Mom. Of course she would squash this moment like a bug. That's her job. Suck the joy out of anything positive. Apparently my quick brush with lust made me three or four minutes late home for our shopping trip. I needed to pick out - much to my demise - a "respectable dress" for middle school graduation the following day. Grandfather and Grandmother would be attending. Yes, that is what I called my grandparents, at their rich white privilege insistence. She was hoping I would find something to match the white shoes she had already bought for me. White shoes on my white feet to make sure I'm all white and alright. Puke.
This had been the first year I was able to choose my own clothes, and stop layering my body in L.L. Bean. And let me just say how fucking itchy everything is that they make. I primarily shopped at Hot Topic and Pacific Sunwear. I also ordered from the Delia's catalog. Whatever Melissa - Mom - had in mind was not going to be good. She gave me two choices, shop at Deb's or Rave. A coin toss really. Both had clear skull-and-crossbones over them and acid for blood spilling all over its patrons. I'd just assume go naked.
The Countess of Despair was quite cutthroat. When it came to choices where one result was immensely in her favor, she cut right through any shit, and presented me with no option. Her way was the only way that was going to leave me with any sort of livable future. And she could clearly see in my eyes a profound resistance to this activity: choose a store or die a terrible, terrible death. Or in this case, choose a store and a frilly nightmare, or no video rentals for the entire summer. A summer down the fucking toilet. I weigh my options. Deb is the cornerstone for tacky prom wear; way goddamn fancier than I was going to commit myself. So I choose Rave. Everything looked a little tighter. And let's not forget that I was just felt up. I think I was ok with tight now. I flip up my headphones and blast Ok Computer. My early philistine tune-out efforts.
Rave is bright and loud. The music is raping its way through my song that I had at nearly top volume. The entire ceiling is one gigantic florescent light bulb burning my corneas. I try to fix on any article of clothing, but I'm also trying to avoid a seizure. Mom pods are ramming into me left and right searching for alternate sizes for their Brookes and Krystals. This must be what alcohol poisoning feels like. Any minute then the vomit. I grab some dress off of the rack to my left and make a bee-line to the fitting rooms. I'm not fucking around either.
Waiting in line to try on this thing, I actually take a minute to look it over. It is largely soft blue with little blue and white flowers on it. The material is very itchy, rough, and spandex. It has little cap sleeves, which wasn't bad. Still not my first choice for fashion, but I would wear this for 90 minutes, if it meant I could sit and stare. The girl in front of me was definitely older. She had an arm full of skanky booty shorts and tube tops. In retrospect, I think I was just jealous that she could pull that shit off. That top would have just slid down my tube. I get to the front of the line and some ex-pornstar slides the black curtain enough for me to slip in. My turn.
If you're lucky and worthy, there a few moments in your life where the universe will lay down and reveal itself to you. My best advice to you, if you find yourself approaching the Aurora Borealis, is pull your car over. Watch it unfold. You're going to take this journey and keep the experience with you for your entire life. Absorb everything it has to offer you. And most of all, enjoy it. That's why it's happening. You fucking deserve this.
Time begins to slow down, and I immediately become aware of gravity, as I enter the changing room. Radiohead is wrong. Turn off the Radiohead. I am confronted with "Breathe" by Prodigy. The floor is a red shag carpet. The room is circular in architecture. And the wall was one long floor to ceiling mirror. The ceiling was a sun-sized light fixture overexposing the naked skin of approximately fifteen teenage girls. Now I know that my first sexual experience earlier isn't exactly how I imagined it going, but I think I was adequately grateful, and did not sound the alarm to receive something bigger.
Still though. Here I am. So don't stare. Especially not at the girl next to you - booty-shaking her ass in the mirror to make sure that her new thong beach bikini was going to be the summer thing to hit. Be cool. You have some sass. Ease it to the surface. You are trying on your dress just like the girl to your left that it lifting her breasts in and out of various black lace bras. With her huge pierced nipples. And the tiny red heart tattoo that her mother doesn't know about. Don't stare. Her legs are spread behind you. The one on the bench in the orange knee socks. Keep twirling in your dress. Take your time. This is for you.
I don't remember if the dress fit. It's not the point. They saw me too. I marched with a new confidence to the register and waited for her to follow. I smiled wide and thanked her loudly enough for the cashier to hear my gratitude. A perfect plan. If there's one thing that Missy Pissy could not stand, it was public humiliation. She paid for the dress, snatched the bag from the cashier, and fast-walked out of the store. I had no choice but to keep up with her and get home. Even better. I needed to be alone as soon as possible. No apologies.
I had a supposed best friend that I had made on the first day of school in 7th grade. We were always together. We both liked getting good grades and I liked that her single parent mom was never home. I slept over a lot as an escape. We would do homework and talk about boys. Only boys. You see, Jen was a very religious christian. She would openly pray a lot, wore a big cross, and sang Amy Grant songs by heart. I think I was the closest friend she'd ever had and she was always very clingy. I think I liked that about her. But it was around that time that I did start to hang around with a different group. The first generation of emo kids. And very rapidly, Eleece was becoming my new best friend. This was making Jen very jealous and extra lonely. She was calling my house a lot and making feeble excuses as to why she was just dropping by. I did feel bad, but what was happening was happening organically, and I can't control that.
I'm lying in bed after the physical pleasure moment. I was listening to "Nightswimming" by REM. I'm staring at my Titanic poster when my phone rings. My parents had installed a private phone line to my room after Jen kept calling after 10pm looking for me. So it wasn't unusual for my phone to be ringing at 11:15. She sounds super nervous and I can tell immediately that she's going to proposition me in some way. She usually wants me to meet her halfway in the morning so we can ride our bikes to our secret spot. A little square patch of long grass that didn't seem to belong to anyone. We didn't really do anything once there. I think we liked having something that we said was ours.
Nope not this time. Nothing quite so Norman Rockwell or Disney. In her very last attempt to thwart my blossoming allegiance to the punk kids, and the goth girls, she offered me drugs. Pot to be exact. Her misanthropic cousin was coming to her graduation tomorrow and said she had enough for us to all smoke. Now I've never done drugs before. I never even drank or smoked a cigarette yet. But the way things had been going lately, it just seemed natural. And so I committed to the event. She had me for the night with the promise of getting me high. And maybe her cousin was hot. I fell asleep dreaming of sugar plums dancing in my head.
My mom woke me up at 6am to make me try on the dress for her. She always won. Apparently, the moment we got home, she washed the damn thing. Mom code. Gotta wash every new garment to get rid of the lice and scabies. And now, modeling this damn thing for her, she gets two prizes: the joy of lording her win, and added disappointment. You see, the dress only worked now as long as I didn't move. The second I tried to walk anywhere, the back side slid right up my ass. And even then, as a mature kid, I had a lot to offer in that department. I was going to receive my 8th grade graduation diploma, in front of my white supremacist grandparents, practically in my birthday suit. Their future heir a damned shame. A skanky, sexual deviant, with drug seeking behavior. Oh yeah, with a big butt. That's not how a future lawyer presents themselves goddammit.
The arrival of my grandparents was nothing short of welcoming the President and the First Lady. Everyone line up, wait to be greeted, kiss their ass etc. And only speak when spoken to. Don't fuck that one up or you get the hose again. I decided to wait until just before the ceremony to put on the dress. I'm dressed down in cutoff shorts and my Spice Girls shirt. I kept that for as long as it could hold on. Their eyes are scanning me and I get a polite pass. It's my day after all. I can only hope all transgressions are all forgiven. Like my first public exposure. They hand me an unwrapped white box. Inside is a gold necklace with a diamond stud. Beyond not my style, and setting them back a cool grand, I return the polite smile and give them a well-acted thanks. Marijuana later. Maybe this is why people do this.
For a ceremony that means shit, half the population of the world decided to show up. And you throw a few thousand self-entitled dicks into one room, and you can likely raise the devil. Their solution to avoid the rapture was to only allow the parents and siblings into the ceremony. Everyone else would be able to view it on a projector from a lawn picnic outside. To make the less-superior guests from uprising, they offered them wine and cheese. 'Day drunk' fixes anyone with money that doesn't want to be where they are.
I have a million needless reasons why I hate my maiden name, but on this particular day, the reason I hate it the most, is that it comes near the end of the alphabet. And I get to sit through three hundred other unwiped butts get their piece of paper that says that they're no longer a big fucking baby. I practiced for an hour before we left on how to walk the cat walk to my principal. It became less about everyone catches a glimpse of my budding honey pot and more about not letting her win. Battle on, bitch. I had that walk down to a science. A whole lotta leg and no 'cheek leak' to be had.
But the funny thing about sitting for an hour and a half in the summer heat, with no air conditioning, is that you sweat and expand. And your clothes don't cooperate with you. And when my time came to make my pilgrimage across that stage, my dress was stuck to my fucking back. And Mike, the A/V kid, made sure to get a close up of me, so that all of my lawn viewers could share this magical moment with me. I looked toward the audience, which was mostly shadowed, but emerging from that darkness was her face. Fortunately my stepfather was asleep. I kind of respected him and would have been really embarrassed. Her eyes locked with mine and I could feel her laughter. And I could hear all of theirs. Just like Carrie. Only I don't care quite as much as a telepathic psychopath. I'm not gonna burn this shit down. I walk off and accept defeat. She always fucking wins.
I meet up with everyone in the parking lot. I get a lot of darted eyes and forced cheer. My friend Eleece walks over with her family. She had a severely sarcastic sense of humor. She offered me a hug in my time of great need. What a dink, but I love her. I love her spikey blue hair and her eyebrow piercing. And she never fails to make me laugh until I pee. And she has a ferret named Kiwi. Right at that moment both of our mothers hand us white envelopes. They insist we open them at the same time. It's gonna be a hundred dollar bill. Always so very predictable. And considering they are making us do it at the same time, she is getting the same. I didn't know our parents were communicating with each other, never mind in cahoots. I found the whole thing to be very unsettling. Please don't be friends with each other. I'm ready to fein surprise when I'm suddenly knocked on my mostly bare ass.
Inside is a piece of paper with some neatly typed text. It read:
YOU'RE GOING TO DISNEYWORLD! AND UNIVERSAL STUDIOS!
AND SEA WORLD! WITH THE GRANDMAISONS BEGINNING MONDAY!
This one gesture may have instantaneously made up for years of shaky mothering, if not for the fact that this was likely not her idea, and she was just keeping up with the Joneses, and she would selfishly be without me for eleven whole days. Some much needed private time with Gary, to which my very existence was in the way of. And she always vocalized her pride that all of their decisions were 50/50. That means this time it was his turn to choose and chose for me. So "hooray" for stepdad. He was sending me on my last hurrah of childhood. I was going to look back for a moment before everything got harder and more complex. Tea parties with Belle and bike rides with E.T. I wonder if Shamu is still alive. She's waiting for her over-the-top thanks. Some jumping up and down and maybe a few tears for the guests to soak up. Instead she gets more than she bargained for. She gets an awkward hug. Everyone audibly awes and her life's work - at least up until this point - is complete. And she wins, per usual.
My Grandparents offer to drop me off at Jen's house on their way back to Maine. On their way up the dirt path to her front door, they whisper to each other. The exterior of their little townhouse was in shambles. Paint stripping and sun bleached. Yard littered with neighbors' welfare kids. The small town equivalent of the projects. Grandfather narrows his eyes at Jen's Mother when she opens the door. She was unfortunate in that she was probably the most unattractive woman in the world. And my guess was that the only time in her life that she ever got laid, at the young age of 38, was when she got pregnant with Jen. She didn't have all of her teeth and the ones she kept were brown and black. And having worked two or more jobs her whole life, coupled with being a serious smoker, her body was beginning to fall apart. She was one of the nicest people I've ever known. She hid her sex toys - a dildo and a small bottle of lube - under her pillow. I don't remember her name, but she smiled wide at my Grandfather that day, and showed all of her tooth.
She takes her rightful place on her couch bed, resumes watching Jag with her sister, and sends me up to Jen's room. Jen is standing in her bedroom doorway, anxiously waiting for my arrival, and immediately makes me feel awkward being there. To add to the flavor, her room is about 1,000 degrees, and the room-sized fan in the corner is doing very little to help with that adolescent sweating thing. It smells like middle school dances and her Christian Rock feels inappropriate. Her walls are plastered with half-naked posters and pin-ups of 'famous rapper' Usher - at least, she says he's a big deal. That's her boyfriend. If not for this man spectacle, I would have bet money that she was very gay.
I finally get to meet her cousin, Casey: the black sheep of her family of bible thumpers. Poor Casey had other plans. She apparently wasn't ready for high school, so she got another year of 8th grade instead. It will make her sex with high school boys a little more interesting. She smoked her cigarettes with an art form that only women in old movies really accomplished. She taught me how to swear. Swearing is just being emphatic, and I'm fucking dramatic as shit. I was a little sad for her though. I don't know if Jen knew she smoked pot or if she just assumed she did based on her reputation, but there she was, sitting under her window, fashioning us a pipe out of a pen, carefully explaining the lighting process to a couple of virgins: hold it in for as long as I can. I've become very good at this, so I wasn't worried.
Casey gave us our pen pipe and left with her mom. Jen and I place two chairs facing each other in front of her window. We turned her room fan to be blowing out and stuffed a towel under her door. (All careful instructions from the professional.) I lit an orange scented candle to combat any lingering odors. I had two goals: don't do anything embarrassing - like get excited and masturbate in front of her - and don't burn down their house with these matches. As long I can keep focus, and not do those two things, I think this should be a relatively safe and fun adventure with a good Christian girl.
Jen looked nervous, so I tried it first, and handed it to her. The first thing I noticed, other than my continuing sobriety, was that I was unable to stop coughing. Jen puffed and joined in with me in the violent charade. We just kept smoking and coughing and nothing was happening. It tasted like tires and I wanted it to end. And then, pen pipe was empty. We had smoked our whole stash. And neither one of us felt a damn thing. Was I impervious to the effects of narcotics? More likely, that was just oregano. Or the contents of one of her cigarettes. Jen and I laughed about it through the night just like old times. She let me change the music, which made the environment a little more inviting, and so it still turned out to be a good night. Like a 7th grade sleepover. Maybe after all of my recent forward-leaps with puberty, I needed to take some steps back. Not a total failure then. One more day until my trip.
Needing to get home to pack was a great excuse to leave the next day. You could see flames of jealousy coming out of her ears, but she hid it behind her 'Summer Reading' book. Good little girl, starting her schoolwork early. That used to be me. If I had known that this sleepover would have been one of the last times we hung out, I would have been more attentive. But things just kept changing and evolving in ways that didn't involve her. Goodbye Jen. Stick to nerds and get good grades. You're perfect the way you are.
I had the biggest suitcase known to man. In fact, I think a fully grown man could have comfortably fit inside. This was from my Summer vacations to visit various relatives in their respective retirement condos. And considering this was still before 9/11, and I could have as much fucking luggage as I wanted to, I was going to bring everything that was important. I packed 10 pairs of jean cut-off shorts, and 10 black tank tops. The average Florida temperature for this time of year was around 106, so wearing something more than once wasn't going to be compatible with my sweat crotch and drippy pits. I still had the same bathing suit I'd worn every summer since 6th grade: tie-dye and a little more brightly colored than I was recently accustomed. Perhaps I could purchase a new one while there with some spending money.
And now for the fun part: time to choose the music. And since music was the soundtrack to my life, picking which CDs would inflate my Mickey Mouse experience was no easy feat. I couldn't take them all, and I wasn't going to bring a lot, so whichever I chose would also get overplayed. Hopefully that would be a good thing. I chose some new-to-me classics, booty bouncing/and or head banging, and my go-to maudlin.
Beck - Odelay
NIN - The Downward Spiral
Marilyn Manson - Antichrist Superstar
The Who - Who's Next
The Beatles - Magical Mystery Tour
Weezer - The Blue Album
Jock Jams: Volume One
I was spending the night at Eleece's tonight because our plane was at 5:30 am. Our plane could have been at 2:45 and I wouldn't have given a shit. I had adrenaline running through my teenage body like I'd never had before. I wasn't going to sleep. I might not sleep this entire trip and break some kind of world record. Eleece was excited too. We were laying on our backs applying stickers to the roof of her rainbow tent bed. Eleece was super cute. She had these super chubby Linda Blair cheeks and little brown squinty eyes. Her voice was wicked cartoonish, and when she laughed, you laughed. She had even less boobies than I did, which she made sure to completely cover in vintage cardigans. She always wore brown corduroy flares that were just a little bit too short, and exposed her adorably mismatched argyle socks. She had a look, a look that was all her own. And I was completely in platonic love with her.
No one was awake enough to talk on the shuttle to the airport, but anticipation filled the air. We got there a tad late and had to pull a Home Alone sprint. But as the story always goes, we were just in time. Light was starting to shine for us as we all found our randomly placed seats. Eleece and I jumped up and down when we realized we were sitting together. We pushed ourselves past the cliché half-asleep business traveler, and found our seats next to the window. Our agreement was simple: I had the window seat to, she had it from. Fair is fair. We pulled down our little plastic trays and assembled our Discmans (Discmen?) and CDs. I had extra batteries in my backpack just to be safe. I was very methodical in choosing certain music for certain moments. And I had planned to listen to "Flying" by The Beatles at take off.
In the past, flying in the airplane was always my favorite part of "vacations." I never took for granted the fact that I was soaring 20,000 feet above the earth at 1,000 miles per hour. It was the coolest carnival ride of all time. And you got to eat fish sticks and drink flat soda while you were doing it. I recently heard that some grownups actually had sex in those little bathrooms while in the air. Everything was go and we were moving forward. My song started and I shot forward toward the sun. Eleece then took my headphones off and had me lean in to one of the ears on hers. "Dammit" by Blink-182. It will be the flavor of the week.
The timeshare where we stayed was in Kissimmee. It had an Olympic-sized community pool which made the little fish in me giggle happily. It had two bedrooms, which meant we had to share a room with her 20 year old sister and her boyfriend. We each had to share a double bed. We were obviously their babysitters, which totally sucked, but then they managed to do their best to work around that. They waited until we were not-yet-asleep in our bed next to them to get it on.
The shuttle to Disney came at 8am and then we all rode the train to the Magic Kingdom. As we were walking in, her mom hands each of us our Park Hopper Passes and $60. We were to meet her right here at 7pm and everyone walked off in different directions. No adult supervision. In fucking Disney World. And I'm rich. She holds her headphones up to my ear. "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)" by Green Day.
Magic Kingdom was definitely the pick of the litter. I think we rode Space Mountain for 3 hours straight. There was this terrifying Alien-esque sensory experience called the Alien Encounter. I totally wussed out and screamed like a little girl. I've heard that it's since been altered to be less frightening, which is a damn fucking shame. I loved the capybaras at the Animal Kingdom and it did feel very much like Jurassic Park. Like they had the whole state of Florida to roam so I wasn't as sad and protest-y as I am about the super shitty zoo. MGM had the great movie ride, which had an actual Alien movie encounter. Scared the shit out of me when I was 6, and scared Eleece now. For a long time a hilarious action shot of us on the Tower of Terror existed. And of course Epcot had my stomach. And we spent that whole day eating. We both liked to eat, which is probably why she was a tiny bit chubby. And why adolescence was not kind to me - more explicitly, my hips and thighs.
Sea World was very sweet. The experience felt very much like visiting Storyland in Northern New Hampshire; it's definitely geared towards a younger audience. We did manage to find a super neat log ride that we rode over and over again. We had an opportunity to swim with dolphins, but at the last minute I chickened out. Dolphins are really smart. Possibly smarter than humans, which means they can't be trusted, especially up close and personal with my tiny body.
Universal Studios was way better. We had two whole days there, which definitely helped, because their lines were way longer. The heat was killing us, especially poor Eleece, who wouldn't show her legs above her knees, and had on Bermuda-style jean cut-offs. She nearly fainted while in line for King Kong, and we found ourself in the Park Nurses' Station administering fluids and applying cool compresses. The nurse was super hot in her candy stripe outfit.
Our last day of vacation was also our second day at Universal. And per my request, we saved the E.T. ride for that day, as the lines were always the longest, and I wanted to make sure it would definitely happen. Every person in that line was a superfan, and to pass the hours of standing in the boiling sun, we would call out lines from the film. It was always exciting once you made it to the line portion that was indoors. That meant it was almost your turn. I closed my eyes as we got closer because I didn't want to spoil my own experience. The time came when Eleece, myself, and several strangers were to climb onto our respective bikes. The universe still had my back, because I climbed on that bike and reenacted one of my favorite scenes in any movie ever. The score reaches its peak as you cross the big, beautiful, fictitious moon and land softly on the other side. I was unable to hide my emotions and had tears running down my face. Eleece gives me a big hug, and I am fully accepted into the emo club.
We make our way into the second Mecca. The E.T. gift shop. Being a megafan of a film that came out the year before I was born meant that I had no memorabilia to show for it. And since we hadn't eaten yet, or bought any other prizes, meant that I still had my full $60. Everything in there was perfect: t-shirts, keychains, jewelry - it was endless. But standing the top of a hill of trinkets were two giant plush replicas. Price? $50 each. There was a $25, cheaper version, where E.T.'s face was plastic, and his overall body was compromised by poor stitching. But this meant we could eat that day and potentially have money leftover for other souvenirs. Some sacrifices are worth it. And fasting for one day, meant that I got to have the fucking crown jewel of E.T. mementos. We each bought one and took our new friends with us for the remainder of our day. He is an antique that I am proud to say, that my son plays with on a regular basis. And one of the rare possessions I have remaining from my life before Paul.
Our E.T.s were almost real to us, in a way they would have been if were playing with them at 5 years old. There was no way that he was going to be able to breathe or be happy in our suitcases, so he needed to join us for the plane ride. There we sat, ready for lift off, with our giant reminders of the joy that we just had. And having really attempted that world record for no sleep, between her sister's nighttime boinking, and sleeping head to feet with Eleece, I flipped up my headphones, cranked up my Radiohead, and passed the fuck out.
Jen didn't call me much that summer and I spent most days hanging out with Eleece. I can't tell you how many times we watched Dirty Dancing or Beaches. Unfortunately, I could quote that shit for years. We walked everywhere. We even walked 7 miles to the house of a boy she liked, just so she could show off her new t-shirt with the tiny alligator in the corner. He had absolutely no interest in her or her silly shirt. Her parents more or less adopted me and even bought her a new twin bed with a trundle underneath just for me. Her mom was a manager of McDonalds and often brought home greasy satisfaction. So much better than the obligatory meat and potatoes dinners at my house. 7:30 sharp, everyone eats together, and I do all of the dishes. Her and I started smoking together. Marlboro lights, just like her sister. We built each other's confidence. We would have sexy boyfriends someday, despite our ever growing flab. She dyed my hair red, and we pierced our cartilage. We became inseparable. We were new best friends. And we were gonna rock out with our cocks out.
- Sarge (Babes)
Let's talk about sex, ba-by! This kinda stuff is the only reason for doing this site!
Ronald McDonald. Tony the Tiger. Mr. Clean. Sovereigns of Shill. Professionals of Promotion. These colorful characters managed to transcend their respective barking duties and become symbols of consumerism, as well as icons of popular culture. (Except for the Geico characters - fuck all of them.) But let's face it - we all get 'main-character fatigue' -- or maybe it's just me. Or maybe I just made up that phrase as a lead-in to what I really wanna talk about: B-List Mascots.
"B-List" not because of the quality of the character(s) or their ability to sell whatever, but because their existence and/or popularity is very much caught in a very specific time - and so, if you remember them, they become logos not for stuff, but for life. And as a member of a corporate-owned capitalist country, these characters didn't need syndicated storylines or three-dimensional depth for me to kneel and worship. (Some barely had names.)
I'm gonna forgo the history-lesson structure (which hopefully excites you as much as it does me), and just share my own thoughts/memories regarding these marvelous marketing maneuvers. And if I do my job well, you'll get strong cravings for cheese, toothpaste, and beer.
Kraft Macaroni & Cheese
I'll be honest, this is a pretty soft open; this is one instance when the product was considerably more interesting than the character. That's because macaroni & cheese already had (and has) a well-established fanbase, and I certainty wan't so persnickety to not be a part of it. That aside, this orange dinosaur was pleasant enough with a nice, warm look -- until it eventually became a monstrous 3-D experiment. But the thing to note here is: in the 90s, cheese was big. Everything became "cheesier" and "cheese-stuffed" and "now with cheese" and cheese, cheese, cheese - and more than any other demographic, they wanted kids to know that "more cheese" meant "more important." I certainly fell for it, and I'm still under that spell.
I feel like Mac is sorta the Waldo of Bennett Media; if you browse our archives, chances are he'll always pop up eventually. The reason for that is rooted in the strong, nearly-inexplicable draw I've had towards him since I was roughly 4 years old. McDonald's has had many faces, and most of them resided in the same McDonaldland that we're all so familiar with - but this bizarre creature of the night had his own agenda; a sort of "McD's After Dark" if you will (won't you?). I don't know if it was just an early fascination with the moon, or with sunglasses, or with exceptionally happy monsters, but when you put all those together, this guy was practically a Dick Tracy villain before I even knew Dick Tracy. Anyway, I have him tattooed on my right arm.
Crest For Kids
Big ups to Crest for fully understanding what they had; the biggest attraction about this stuff was its shimmery blue color & texture, so they literally used the gel itself to create a group of singing & dancing blobs. So it didn't matter that it was toothpaste, or even that it came out of the tube in the shape of a star(!) - this whole transaction was grounded in glitter and the hypnotic powers of blueness (because all the best drinks and snacks of that era were blue). Also, sunglasses.
Because of my age, this is most likely how I became aware of Elvira. Frequenting an endless parade of convenience stores, it was only a matter of calendar months before Halloween rolled around... and then she would arrive: 6 feet of cardboard and carnality, all in the name of Coors. But it was never really about the beer - in fact, this was working in the complete opposite direction of Joe Camel or Spuds MacKenzie; the combination of boobs and brew wasn't luring me into adult beverages, but rather legitimizing the idea that even adults could celebrate Halloween. And so I knew that, as I got older, I would never have to give it up.
The Handi-Snacks Guy
At some point in the late 80s (before Kraft acquired the product), a box of Handi-Snacks came with a sheet of Handi-Snacks-inspired stickers, and I still have them stuck to my toy box - one of which is this. To the best of my knowledge, this guy (I call him a guy because they didn't give him big lips and long eyelashes) didn't have a name. Honestly, I don't think he was even an actual mascot - but he sure-as-heck coulda been. I mean, he's basically a California Raisin with a cheese crotch, which is the simplest formula for branding: strip a product down to its bare ass, then take the Mr. Potato Head approach.
If anyone knows his name (or wants to give him one), please, lemme know: at which point, I will get him tattooed.*
*Who'm I kidding, I'm gonna anyway.