Tag Archives: 1980s

Spring Break, Eighties Style

Scan“Don’t crush the groceries!” I yelled as my teenage son smashed the car top carrier lid closed. With everything for our family spring break trip packed, we piled into our salt-hazed minivan and hit the road.

I wondered if all this rigmarole was worth it for a few days of so-called vacation. I’d worked myself into a pre-trip frenzy, making lists, doing laundry, kenneling the dog, getting the oil changed, packing, double checking, and packing some more.

All that hassle just to spend military leave time stuffing ourselves like sardines into our minivan for eleven long hours. And once we get there, we’ll be unpacking, making beds, cooking, cleaning and managing the kids just like we always do. Same work, different location.

Is Spring Break really worth all this hassle?

As we passed through the Naval Station Newport base gate and headed south, I recalled an easier time. It was 1986, and I used my new credit card to buy a Spring Break trip with my college roommates. I was broke, but all those Citibank sign up ads around campus promised a $1,000 credit limit, and all I had to do was pay a little bit off each month. “Wow, what a great deal!” I thought in my youthful ignorance.

After curling our bangs, my roommates and I boarded a bus, chartered by Sigma Epsilon Fraternity, headed from chilly Ohio to sunny Daytona Beach, Florida. The frat brothers thoughtfully included a six-pack of Little Kings Cream Ale in the trip package price, just in case the passengers got thirsty on the fourteen-hour ride south.

“Ohmigod,” my roommate exclaimed halfway through Tennessee, “like, I totally can’t find Lisa anywhere!” “No way!” “Way!” They didn’t know that I’d crawled up in the overhead luggage compartment to sleep off those Little Kings.

On the day of our arrival, I promptly burned myself to a crisp laying out on the beach. Later at a Bud Light Belly Flop contest at the motel pool, I tried to hide the pain, sipping wine coolers with my roommates while dancing to “I’ll stop the world and melt with you” – a la Molly Ringwald in “The Breakfast Club” — in our stone washed denim and Wayfarers. We took note of one particular college boy moonwalking in checkered Vans, red Birdwell Beach Britches, and a blonde mullet. He was the kind of cool guy who probably drove a Camero.

The loudspeaker blared as he climbed the high dive, “Next we have Mad [expletive deleted] Mike from University of Maryland!” We cheered with the crowd, but in the end, his svelte torso was no match for the linebacker from Mississippi State with a gut tinged pink from multiple flawless flops.

By the time we boarded the bus for our return to Ohio a week later, I had sloughed off the first three layers of my skin, lost my Jellies shoes, survived on happy hour nachos, been totally ignored by Mad [expletive deleted] Mike, and maxed out my $1,000 credit limit, totally unaware that I would be paying off the debt for the next eight years.

And it was totally worth it.

There was something special about the Eighties. Was it the big hair? Orange Julius? Hackey Sacks? Mr. T? New Wave music? Shoulder pads? Hawaiian pizza? The Cosby Show? McDLTs? The Sprinkler Dance? Tri-color pasta salad? Parachute pants? Boom boxes? Frosted eye shadow? Deely-bobbers? Alf? Fried potato skins? A carefree state of mind?

Whatever it was, the Eighties was fun. A lot of fun.

“Honey,” I asked my husband as we entered the New Jersey Turnpike, “find that Eighties radio station, would you?” The kids groaned, and began arguing over whether we were getting lunch at Wendy’s or Chick-fil-A, but I leaned back in my seat, put on my sunglasses and said, “I think this might turn out to be our best Spring Break trip ever.”

Like, totally.

Scan 2

I found these in my basement. Note the girl in the red two-piece, or is it a one-piece? And that’s Mad [Expletive Deleted] Mike in the long red trunks with the mullet. That’s me in the cool faux Vuarnet shades – you can see my skin sloughing around my neck. Turns out, guys are not into that kind of thing. The last photo is a party on our motel balcony — Good times!

Scan 1

These are my Miami of Ohio college chums, looks like they’re doing the Van Halen Jump! That’s me piled on the bed with my roomies and their boyfriends – notice my stone washed jeans and shoulder pads! Ah, to be young and stupid again!

A Midsummer Night’s Scheme

At the Drive-In

Image by Jim Rees via Flickr

On any given summer night, the teens of our great nation take to the streets of their respective towns in search of something fun to do. They can be seen outside pizza joints, ice cream stands and movie theaters, doing what teenagers do best – hanging out.

Except for certain insignificant differences like parachute pants, banana clips and Pat Benatar, things were pretty much the same when I was a teenager.

After summer chores like grass cutting and weeding green beans, usually tempered with an hour or two of laying out coated in tanning oil, I was released by my parents to find whatever fun was available in our little town.

The first step in hatching a plan for the evening was a telephone call to my best friend, Patti (except for that boring summer when she had a boyfriend.) Such calls were always made from the candlestick phone in my bedroom. The second step was to confirm that neither of us was invited to a party (a rarity) or had a date (almost never happened.) The final step was to decide on transportation, which was almost always my dad’s enormous 1977 Chevy Blazer.

I picked Patti up at her house, and after applying copious amounts of lip gloss and making sure our bangs looked just right, we would cruise the town.

Our journey usually started with a drive by the local arcade. “Games 101” was a hangout of sorts, and although Patti and I didn’t really give two shakes about Asteroids or Ms. Pacman, we knew that the arcade was a veritable Command Center where all information on teenage social events was collected.

Sometimes we scored big and received word of a bonfire in Bennett’s woods or a party at the house of a classmate we all referred to as “Meatball,” but usually, Patti and I drove around for hours, all glossed up, trying to not look too desperate.

Some nights, Patti and I would scrape together a few of our fellow goofy girlfriends to pile in the Blazer and go check out the Drive In Movie Theater. The Palace Gardens wasn’t cheap; however, and we refused to spend our hard earned grass cutting/ice cream scooping money on overpriced admission. There were certain well-known strategies of avoiding the normal fees, and we employed them all at one time or another.

On nights when the Palace Gardens offered a one-price-per-carload special, we discovered that we could pack nearly a dozen teenagers, big bangs and all, into the Blazer. On regular admission nights, we would stuff two friends into the dog crate my father had built into the back of the Blazer in order to reduce our expenses, and had a great time trying to keep a straight face while driving by the ticket booth.

If we were feeling particularly daring (or cheap) we would sneak through the woods surrounding the Palace Gardens, and crawl through an opening in the fence to gain cost-free entrance into the theater. On one such occasion, six of us made the attempt as a group.

We had heard the rumors that the management was cracking down on teens who refused to pay by lacing the fence with some kind of foul concoction made from watered down cow manure. We all knew that nothing could ruin one’s chances of getting a boyfriend like stepping in poo, so we were all particularly cautious that night

Using hand signals as if it was some kind of special ops raid on an Al-Qaeda compound, we snuck through the woods and permeated the fence without being hit. Or so we thought.

The nightly double feature included the new hit “Porky’s” but we weren’t interested. We headed straight for the large group of loitering teens near the concessions. Just before we reached the group, we realized that one of our comrades had been hit.

“What’s that smell?” Peggy whispered. Our sniffing noses quickly found the source of the pungent odor – Andrea’s Jordache jean cuff had been tainted by the enemy’s foul biological weapon.

Poor Andrea was a goner, but the rest of us had a great time mingling among the cars under the stars on that balmy summer night.

And now, when I see today’s teens acting out their own version of A Midsummer Night’s Scheme, I remember my youth, smile, and hope that all their dreams of summer fun come true.

Putting the Hammer Down

It was the spring of 1984.

It took the mercy of my brother and the desperation of his girl-starved friends, but the impossible happened: I got a real date to my Senior prom. 

My brother was three years older than me and was in his third year at the US Naval Academy. His friends seemed impossibly cool to me. They were all smart and fairly athletic, in other words, completely out of my league. One friend was a six-foot-four, 200-pound hammer thrower for the USNA track team. He was a New Yorker; the kind of guy that walks in your house, kisses you hello, then opens your fridge without asking. Everyone in my family seemed to think he was terrific and that we would make a good couple. I wasn’t so sure, but since I had no other romantic prospects on the horizon, I went along with the plan.

The Academy often hosted dances at Dahlgren Hall, which were pretty dismal affairs where lonely midshipmen wandered around with punch cups in their hands, looking for any thing resembling a female. With some urging from my parents, I got fixed up with the hammer-thrower and we doubled with my brother and his girlfriend to one of the Dahlgren dances.

The hammer-thrower put me at ease right away with his New Yorker charm and good sense of humor. Even when my brother and his girlfriend peeled off to be alone, the hammer thrower never came on too strong. He danced like a fool and challenged me to several matches of thumb wrestling, but never put the moves on. What a relief. 

That year, I went to more dances at Dahlgren. We always had fun, but the relationship never really progressed. It always seemed that my parents liked him more than I did.

When my prom rolled around, I asked the hammer-thrower to accompany me, and he was glad to have any reason to break away from the rigors of the Academy. I couldn’t wait to show my high school class that the person they voted “Class Clown” was worthy of a real date, and not just any date – a 20-year-old six-foot-four-inch hammer thrower in full dress uniform.

Just like last year, I swapped dresses with my best friend — I got the purple poofy taffeta gown and she got the mauve number with the droopy shoulders. Neither of us cared much, we were just glad to have any date at all. My best friend was going to the prom “as friends” with a boy who had the unfortunate nickname, “Goober.” But she had a serious boyfriend the year before, so this was her year to forget the romance and just have fun.

 I, on the other hand, had attended my Junior prom “as friends” with a boy known as “The Duke,” so I was ecstatic about finally having a theoretically romantic date for the prom.

The hammer thrower wore his dress blues, and despite the copious amounts of purple taffeta adorning my body, I thought we made a sharp-looking couple. At the prom, we danced and even smooched a little when the chaperones weren’t looking. I was totally caught up in the moment. I wasn’t necessarily in love with my date, but I was totally in love with having a real date to the prom, which was good enough for me.

After the prom, we went to Goober’s house for the after party. After party routines were simple: you change into jeans and stay up all night. I was exited to prolong the fun for as long as we could.

While Goober’s mom started making pancakes, we all sat in the family room yakking it up. The phone rang with scandalous news – One of the couples was late because they drove up to the Catholic church parking lot to make out and their car battery went dead. We all cracked up at the couple’s misfortune, and were excited by the dramatic turn of events. While Goober’s buddies jumped into a car to go pick the stranded couple up, the hammer thrower slouched on the couch with his gold cummerbund askew, and offered only a huge yawn.

After the boys returned, the girls gathered in one of the bedrooms to change into jeans, probably stone washed with pleats. When we returned to the family room ready for a long night of laughs and horsing around, I noticed that the hammer thrower was laid out on the couch, sound asleep. He stirred, sat up, and discretely asked me if we could leave so he could get to bed. 

I was disappointed and annoyed that my supposed perfect date cut my big night short. Back at home, he crashed on our living room couch. As I resentfully hung my purple taffeta gown in my closet and climbed into bed, I suddenly realized that he had been totally bored with the whole affair and only agreed to be my date out of pity. He had his Senior prom years ago. Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt.

But being a cup-is-half-full kinda gal, I laid in my bed and tried to not let my resentment ruin my teenage right of passage.  I realized that I should be grateful that I was not home alone on prom night eating a half gallon of chocolate chip mint while watching Footloose.  No doubt about it, a sleepy hammer-throwing mercy date is better than no date at all.

The Duke and Duchess

It was the spring of 1983. 

I had only been asked out a couple of times since my first disappointing kiss during my sophomore year, and none of the dates were anything to write home about. Despite the unfavorable odds against me, I couldn’t quell my teenage optimism and believed that I would soon meet the boy of my dreams and he would ask me to my junior prom.

I was not above desperate measures, and in one act of recklessness, I threw a note with my name and address on it out the bus window when we were leaving a track meet at Kiski Prep all-boys boarding school. I actually got two letters the following week, but the boys were not the athletic studs I was hoping for; they were a couple of pitiful geeks who had fished my note out of a mud puddle on their way to the library.

Finally, a couple weeks before the prom, a boy in my science class followed me to my locker and dropped the bomb. He was a nice guy for sure, but had hair like a Brillo-pad and a seemingly perpetual sinus infection. A mouth-breather, the bottom of his upturned nose was always red and chapped. Speaking in a nasal tone through a full set of metal braces, he asked, “Woodyu wan do go wid me do da prom?”

I was caught off guard, and stuttered, “Uh, wow, great, but I think I might be going with someone else, I am not sure, I need to check with him, and I will let you know….”

I had no idea what I was talking about. I had to come up with another date fast unless I wanted pictures of me and Mr.Crusty-Nose arm in arm under the balloon arch.

As soon as I could, I found my best friend and we scrambled to formulate a plan. 

Plan A was to be as cute and charming as possible to attract another suitor. But by the end of the week, it was clear that this was a losing battle; we needed to flex to plan B. I knew a football player, well, actually, he was the water boy who got promoted to 3rd string lineman, but that’s just splitting hairs. He was a husky kid with a jolly disposition. Not popular with the girls, but the popular boys had accepted him almost as a kind of mascot and had nicknamed him “The Duke.” He seemed like the perfect candidate – not popular enough to reject me, but way better than Mr. Crusty-Nose.

One day, I cornered The Duke in the halls after school and proposed that we go to the prom together “as friends.” He responded with an affirmative smile, “Sounds excellent.”

The next day after science, I broke the news to Mr. Crusty-Nose. I felt like a total schmuck lying to him and all, but good thing I did, because he asked another girl who ended up becoming his wife. I guess you could say that he owes me.

My best friend and I swapped dresses – I gave her a violet taffeta monstrosity with huge puffy sleeves, and she gave me an off-the shoulder mauve taffeta gown that wasn’t much better. I informed The Duke of my color scheme, and he happily agreed to rent a tux that would coordinate. 

On the night of the event, The Duke showed up in his rental tux – a mauve poly blend with a matching band of velour around the cuffs and collar, a ruffled shirt edged in mauve, and an enormous mauve bow tie. He felt like a million bucks, and seemed hopeful for a fun night. Although I knew there would be no romance in this arrangement, I was hopeful too and excited to be with a fun guy.

We met up with his crowd of friends, who were all popular football players and their dates, for dinner. They had always intimidated me, and I was glad to have The Duke as my buffer. I knew one of the girls from her unpopular days as a skinny little nerd. But during our junior year she “blossomed” and her newfound cup size skyrocketed her to the top of the social scene. At dinner, she bubbled out of her dress as her date and some of the other guys ogled her chest.

Suddenly the attention turned on The Duke and I. A few playful insults were exchanged, a few laughs, and then suddenly, one of the boys shouted, “Hey, it’s The Duke and Duchess!” Everyone laughed except me. Does this mean that the popular crowd accepts me or does it mean they are making fun of me?

Later at the dance, The Duke requested his favorite song, “You dropped the bomb on me” by The Gap Band, and we danced a mauve streak. I did my best to overcome my reservations about the popular group, despite the fact that I was now being regularly referred to as “The Duchess.”

Many dances and a balloon-arch portrait later, we were ready to go to the after party at a friend’s house. Amazingly, her dad gave us permission to stay up all night in their rec room, with a refrigerator, stereo and all the chips we wanted. I was a bit concerned that the scene might turn ugly, but the only one who got out of hand was the busty girl, who made out with her date, started crying for some reason, then abruptly fell asleep.

 All in all, my Junior prom was a pretty good time. I dodged Mr. Crusty-Nose, hung with the popular crowd, and just had fun. I might have sacrificed the romance that all teenage girls dream about, but not everyone gets to be the prom king and queen – some of us have to settle for being The Duke and Duchess.

[Stay tuned for my Senior Prom story, "Putting the Hammer Down," coming soon!!]


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