Similar to my last post, in this second of three excerpts of my book Lists, Life, and Other Unimportant Details (taken from the Life section), I decided to post something that’s somewhat relevant to Danger Peak, since my novel takes place (mostly) in 1989. Some astute readers may observe that there are two short lists included in this blog/article/essay/piece/whatever you want to call it, but I’d argue the lists themselves aren’t the main thrust of the blog/article/etc., unlike last week’s blog about “Stand By Me” (and the other entries in the Lists section). Here we go…
1989: Best Year Ever?
“You know the good ol’ days weren’t always good, and tomorrow’s not as bad as it seems.”—Billy Joel, “Keeping the Faith”
Most people who know me well know that 1989 is considered “my favorite year.” Sometimes the universe comes together for someone, and everything seems to gel. For me, that special time was 1989.
- My favorite show, which I still watch to this day, “The Simpsons,” aired its first full-length episode: “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire,” otherwise known as “The Christmas episode.” If you’ve ever visited my house, you know how obsessed I am with this show: board and card games, a clock that spouts pithy Homer quotes every hour, a phone that announces even more Homer phrases when it rings, posters, and even animation art signed by Nancy Cartwright (Bart Simpson herself!).
- One of my favorite albums of all time, …But Seriously by Phil Collins, came out, and I literally wore the tape out playing it over and over again. It has now thankfully been replaced with the more frequent player-friendly CD. “Do You Remember?” indeed, Phil.
- I ate at Taco Bell, my favorite fast-food restaurant, for the first time. Yeah, I know the “Taco Hell/Smell” jokes, and I realize it’s Grade Z meat (if that), but damn it all if it ain’t tasty! As my friend once enthused after a big, enthusiastic chomp of his chalupa (whatever the hell that is): “Taco Bell is amaaaaazing.”
- I had my favorite summer of all time, being really the last time I could just be myself and play like a kid in the woods behind my house with my best friends. It was the last time I was really allowed to be silly and childish, like having stick fights or spotting “Big Foot’s” impression in the dirt, and could still get away with it.
- My favorite movie at the time, “Batman” (the original, baby!), came out in theaters, and I saw it twice, something I never did before. I even had to lie about my age when I saw it a second time with my aforementioned best friends. After all, it was rated a then-shocking PG-13! Lock up your kids, folks! And sorry Val Kilmer/George Clooney/Christian Bale/Ben Affleck/or even Adam West fans, for my money, Michael Keaton will always be the only Batman (and I’m not saying that because we share the same first name).
- I won almost every award at my “Moving Up” ceremony when I graduated elementary school—all but “Most Improved,” as even then, I wasn’t a big fan of change. (There is an oblique reference to this in Danger Peak.) I actually felt bad getting up and down from my seat to collect the awards as other parents reluctantly applauded and my somewhat jealous peers applauded even less. My 6th Grade teacher even hollered, above the applause: “You’re going to wear your shoes out!” (Incidentally, he’s the last person I thank in the Acknowledgments section of Danger Peak.)
- Finally, I had my favorite Christmas of all time, visiting my cousins, Aunt, and Uncle in Cincinnati, Ohio, which, to a kid like me at the time, was as exotic and foreign as Fiji. It was my first and only time I spent Christmas somewhere other than my home in New York, and it didn’t hurt that Santa was especially good to little Mikey that year. “Paula Abdul’s Forever Your Girl on tape? You shouldn’t have!!”
But more than just a list of highlights and/or accomplishments, 1989 represented something more special to me that I quickly lost the next year. From a simple decade shift into 1990, my class went from grade schoolers into middle schoolers, from children into teenagers (we turned 13 that year), and from the ‘80s into the ‘90s. All of a sudden, we noticed girls, which of course always leads to complications. Playing with toys got replaced with “playing rough” with the boys, as in after-school fights and showing off for the ladies (but at least we still had our video games). Charlie Brown and Garfield lunchboxes got replaced with brown paper bags, lest someone think you’re “uncool.” One teacher was replaced with eight (nine if you count homeroom) and approximately eight times the homework. People in school went from calling you by your first name to calling you by your last one. Oh yeah, and to top it all off, we got zits, more physical reminders that things were never going to be the same again—and not necessarily in a good way. Even then I bemoaned the unfortunate timing that just as we were finally self-conscious of our outward appearance, our faces decided to turn against us to ward off any member of the opposite sex who might actually have some fleeting interest in us.
We weren’t kids anymore. The innocence was lost and wouldn’t return ever again. And we knew it. Christ, even Don Henley was singing “The End of the Innocence” on the radio.
I remember watching “Vice-Versa” (with Fred Savage from T.V.’s “The Wonder Years”!), “Like Father, Like Son” (with Kirk Cameron from T.V.’s “Growing Pains”!), and “Big” (with Tom Hanks from T.V.’s “Bosom Buddies”!) and relating to them even then—“Big” being the “Casablanca” of the the late-‘80s, age-reversal movies. I deeply identified with the main characters, who were basically little kids trapped in big, adult bodies, and remember thinking I was probably going to be like them when I grew up, simply because I didn’t want to grow up. People with Peter Pan Syndrome had nothing on me. Now I’m in my 40s, over a decade older than Tom Hanks was in “Big,” and still sometimes feel like that 12-year-old who just wants to play with sticks in the woods with his friends.
But my older friend once said something to me that still resonates today. After I told him all this (well, a very brief summary anyway), he immediately laughed and said: “Mike, do you know what my favorite year is? This year. Do you know what my favorite year is next year? Next year.” At first, I thought he was just dismissing me, as big brother-type people tend to do, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized he was right. Taking a look at my life now, things aren’t so bad. In fact, in some respects, they’re better than they’ve ever been:
- I don’t have to ride my bike for miles to go to the stationery store or bug my Mom for a ride. I own and drive a car.
- I don’t live with my parents anymore. I have my own house.
- I don’t have to save up my $5 weekly allowance for months at a time—only to splurge it on Toys “R” Us in a Saturday shopping frenzy. I have a respectable income, very decent savings for someone my age, and, as Winston Zeddmore from the first “Ghostbusters” said: “A steady paycheck.” In other words, if I want a CD or DVD, I just go to the store and buy it (or download it from the comfort of my home).
- That’s another thing we didn’t have back then: the Internet. I used to have to wait over a week to get a letter from my pen pal in Florida, and now I can send a message to someone in Zimbabwe in 5 seconds—not that I know or will ever know someone from there, but I digress…
- I don’t have to worry about the future and what I’ll do with my life. I’m already living my dream job as a Senior Editor—and on Park Avenue, no less (sorry, had to throw that in there).
- I don’t have to sing or play my sax by myself in a locked bedroom anymore. I got to perform in a kick-ass ska/punk band that played on Long Island and in New York City.
- Most importantly, I don’t have to be anxious about those awkward first dates and trying like hell to figure girls out. I’m married to the most wonderful woman I’ve ever known who each day makes me feel happy to be alive.
But again, even more than just a “Best-of” list, there’s a wisdom far more significant in my friend’s words. You can’t change the past. You can’t really change the future. All you can do is worry about today. That’s all there is. Like my favorite musical “Rent” once sang: “No day but today.” We only have the power to affect the outcome of today’s events—for good or worse. What could be more exciting than that?
So after decades of being lost in reminiscence, maybe it’s time to finally bid adieu to 1989. So long Oquenock Elementary, “Batman,” Phil Collins, and yes, even you Paula Abdul. We’ll always have our memories (and you’ll always have reality shows).
P.S.: If we were allowed to include quotes in our senior yearbook in high school, the Billy Joel quote above would’ve been mine.
P.P.S.: Next week’s blog: An Excerpt From the Other Unimportant Details Section
P.P.P.S.: Danger Peak is now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble: