As my writing improves in the narrative, a sense of the time period begins to come out of the dry facts. There are a few references to music that have the reek of ancient history. I made my modern self laugh out loud at a description of singing a parody of Sir Mix-A-Lot that went “I like big dogs and I cannot lie” and ended with the line “Lhasa Apso? Maybe if it’s dead”. One of my friends gets revenge on me by “taking back his Psychedelic Furs CD out of spite”. Even the mention of a CD is fossil. Streetfighter 2 probably gets more lines than my mother. I talk constantly about going to Blockbuster’s and watching MTV, both things that lingered on for a few more years and died around the turn of the millennium. It is only through reading my old journal that I can get a proper sense of how important those institutions were to us in 1992. The idea that they would die along with malls would have been difficult to comprehend. Anyone who lived in Northern Virginia in the nineties will remember the Multiplex Cinema in Merrifield. It was the most modern, most elaborate theater in the area. Today it has been bulldozed to make way for the Mosaic Shopping District, an entity I couldn’t have possibly imagined. When I went to Caboose Brewery a few weeks ago, I saw that they had salvaged some numbers from the old Multiplex marquis to make their address. A dominant cultural force of my youth has officially become archaeology. That’s sobering.
This writing is almost thirty years old so there is a bit of problematic language. I use the word “oriental” to refer to someone Asian at one point, but okay, that just wasn’t the rule then. As soon as someone pointed that one out to me, I made the change. I would have thought it was earlier in my life, but the historical record says otherwise. Much less defensibly, I use the F-word one time, and I don’t mean “Fuck”. I wasn’t calling anyone gay that word, I would never have done that, but well into the nineties that was just something people said. We didn’t examine the inherent homophobia of calling a friend that word when we didn’t approve of a friend’s behavior. Nor did we examine why we said something was “gay” when we thought it was lame. It wasn’t until college, when I first started having gay friends, that I realized what an asshole that kind of language made me.
Some of the picture I unwittingly managed to draw is mirrored in the movie Donnie Darko. It may not be clear from the California footage, but the movie is set in Fairfax, Virginia, the town I grew up in. A few stray shots convey this if you are watching. Donnie wakes up on the golf course near Fairfax High School, there are Virginia plates, and when his father watches football, he watches Doug Williams and the Redskins. The funny way that memory works led me, when reading about watching the Redskins with my father, to picture the Darkos’ living room rather than my own.
And memory really does work strangely. A painful episode where my mother forced me to go on a blind date with one of her friend’s younger cousin was burned into my memory as being in eighth grade, but there it was in my sophomore year of high school. Other events weren’t just warped, but completely deleted by my memory. One of the things I saw fit to memorialize was just what movies we were watching after those trips to Blockbuster. A few of them (Pure Luck, Permanent Record) left no impression whatsoever. I didn’t recognize the names as movies that exist, and furthermore, when I looked the movies up, even reading a full synopsis didn’t ring a bell. How is that possible? It calls to mind the fact that millions of people remember a Sinbad movie with a genie and swear that Berenstain is spelled with three e’s. Part of it must be the sheer fact of being inundated with TV and movies. It’s shocking how much down time I seem to have had, but I suppose a teenager who was a terrible student really did have a lot of time on his hands. I can’t believe how much school I missed. There isn’t a week that goes by where I’m not talking about staying home “sick”. It was so stupid, but until I met a girl who set me straight in eleventh grade, I would not only miss fifty school days a year but wouldn’t even do my homework when I was there. It’s infuriating to read. I really do think my life would have been completely different if they hadn’t insisted on starting school at 7:00am. To this day I ask myself what the hell they were trying to train me for, the army? No one’s job starts at 7:00. Still, I wish I had toughed it out a bit more.
On a sadder note, it’s hard to read about the people who are gone: my grandfather, my stepdad, some of the friends I had in high school. It hurt to read my complaints about shopping on Christmas Eve with my stepfather. Yes, it was a drag, I remember that, but what I wouldn’t give to do it again just once. It reminds me of how I always felt when my kids were babies and I was having a hard time of it. I would ask myself how much I would pay twenty years from now to spend an afternoon with my kids as infants. The answer is a huge amount, but it never made it any easier to endure the actual moment. Life is tricky like that. You never enjoy the torture of being with the people love as much as you should. Then they’re gone.
I couldn’t help but imagine my 1992 journal having a postscript like American Graffiti or some other nostalgic teen movie. This character ended up going to law school, that one died of a drug overdose, this one became a nudist in a gay republican commune in Vermont (true story). I know most of the stories of the characters who were in my life in the early nineties. The sad seems to dominate. Drugs ruined a few lives, laziness a few others. I can’t help but construct a postmortem on each friendship. Some friendships died from catastrophic fractures- a loose, stupid insult or argument- others due to the slow continental drift of life. A smile crosses my face though when I read about friends who I still know. At least three of them are people who I’ve seen in my most recent sojourn in Virginia. One of them introduced me to my wife.
I’m going to keep going with this project as long as I’m here in Virginia. So, since I had fun writing this little reflection, I’ll probably write again when I finish 1993. Here’s to the dimly remembered, prosaic past.