Merry Blockmas, and Other Potpourri

I’d like to lead this post off by wishing a happy 79th birthday to Lawrence Block. In the course of a writing career that spans six decades, he has inspired plenty of writers (including Your Genial Host), and through his books on the craft of writing he has mentored many others (including Your Genial Host’s students.) More importantly, in the years in which I’ve known him, he has been gracious, kind, and funny — as they say in his part of the country, a mensch. (Oddly, Yiddish loanwords are not common parlance in Mondoville.)

I’m delighted to know him, and honored to have met his amazing wife and daughters as well. Happy birthday, LB — thanks for the work, and for being who you are. Hope to see you in Toronto, and even after.

***

Yesterday was a full day at the college, the first of four Freshpeep orientations for the summer. In my case, this meant spending the morning with two of my departmental colleagues scoring placement essays for FroshComp, and then spending the afternoon setting up schedules and getting acquainted with about ten of the kids.

Historically, I haven’t done much advising — we’re a small major at a small college — and almost no Freshpeep advising, as English tends to be a major that kids discover once they get here, rather than one they had coming in. Add to that the fact that I’m not much for organization (I have a mind like the Collyer Brothers‘ junk drawer), and you’ll see that I haven’t thought of advising as a strength of mine. However, I was asked to serve as a mentor to some of our incoming students as part of a new program intended to strengthen our retention abilities, and so there I was yesterday.

I’ll be working with about a score of them this year, and as I said, I met half of them yesterday afternoon. They seem to be good kids, and it’s fun to see the mix of excitement and nerves on display — and theirs, too. I had put together tentative schedules for them a couple of weeks ago, and while some required tweaking (a couple of changed minds about majors, and some kids with AP credit), things were generally pretty smooth. It was a long day, but I think a rewarding one. I heard from one of the kids via e-mail this morning, and I closed my reply by saying “Welcome to [Mondoville]. We’re glad — I’m glad — you’re here.” And I am.

***

For those of you with an interest in such matters, or those who merely miss my dulcet tones (often compared to the HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey), I’ll be appearing on Greg Barth’s Noir on the Radio podcast this evening, as part of a panel discussing the work of Jim Thompson, one of the dark princes of crime fiction. I think it’ll be a good time, and if you want to, you can set up a pool to see how long it takes me to mention that Thompson and I share a birthday — I was born on his 59th. Whatever you pick, I’ll likely take the Under.

You can catch it live tonight at 9 Eastern time here; if and when it comes up in downloadable form, I’ll let you know.

***

Well, I have to dash to Real City to do a little research, which I’ll write up tomorrow for a bibliography to which I contribute. It’s not a glamorous sort of scholarship, but I think it’s a useful one. So I’ll leave you, but as usual, I give you a bit of music as I go. This one’s from Atlanta-based power popsters The Producers. They put out a couple of albums in the 80s, and two of their songs (including this one) were minor hits. The guys have gone on to different parts of their lives, but they reunite occasionally for shows, and I hear they remain a lot of fun. So here they are with one of their hits, “What’s He Got.”

See you soon!

Posted in Culture, Education, Literature, Music, Why I Do What I Do | Leave a comment

A Barber in an Orange Room

I get my hair cut two to four times a year on average, and when I do, it’s at one of those unisex salons down in Real City, part of a chain known for quickness and fairly low prices. But when I was a kid in Nashville, there was a very clear demarcation between hairstylists for men and women. Women would get their hair “done” at either the beauty parlor (for the carriage trade) or the beauty shop (for our class, most of the time.) Men and boys? We went to the barber shop.

The first barber shop I remember is the one I went to when I was about three, and it was called the Flat Top Barber Shop, which eventually became one of the salons I mentioned earlier. But in 1968 or so, it — well, it wasn’t that yet. I remember magazine racks and the smell of bay rum aftershave, and chairs with leather strops for sharpening a straight razor. I’d wait my turn, reading comic books my dad had bought at the J.P. Brown drugstore. Sometimes other adults would give me an odd look, especially when they realized I was actually reading, but I think they were mainly glad I was sitting quietly.

My barber was named Sonny, and in later years, Dad would say he thought Sonny looked like someone who would cut your throat for a nickel and give you back a dime in change, but he did a fine job of setting me up with the JFK-Jr.-with-bangs cut that was pretty standard for little boys of my era. He also would use that straight razor on the back of my neck, which made me feel like I was getting a shave like Dad. (A few years later, Dad grew a beard, which he kept for most of the rest of his life, but that hadn’t happened yet.)

When I was not quite five, we moved to my grandparents’ neighborhood in Hermitage Hills — the one I visit when I’m in Nashville. Probably just as well that I don’t visit the old one; I found out recently that my earlier home is now a scrub lot. Since we were now in a different part of town, we changed barbers, and that brings me to my actual focus today.

The Newport Barber Shop had three barber’s chairs when I was there. Again, there were magazine racks, which I recall as holding hunting and fishing magazines like Field & Stream, and a soda machine with a long, narrow door on the left side, which you would open to hand-select your drink. (On days when my parents were relatively flush, they’d let me buy an orange soda called Delish. After I finished, the empty bottle went in a nearby rack for deposit.) Out front was a motorized version of the traditional candy-striped pole, and the front window was painted with the shop’s name, its hours, and the fact that it was closed on Mondays — a fact I didn’t understand until Dad explained that barbers worked on Saturdays, so their weekends were Sunday and Monday.

My barber was Joe. In later years, I would learn his last name was Fitzpatrick, but as a kid, he was simply Joe the Barber. (Having been “raised right”, I’m sure I likely tried to call him “Mr. Joe,” but I learned pretty quickly that wasn’t necessary.) And when Mom would decide that I was looking scruffier than usual, she, or Dad, or my grandfather, would take me to the Newport, and although there were three barbers on duty, Joe would always cut my hair — again, the JFK-Jr. look, which I got until I discovered the Beatles a few years later. After that, I tried to grow my hair like Rubber Soul-era John Lennon, but somehow it kept turning out like Mamie Eisenhower.

But when I’d go to see Joe, even though I was a kid, and even if Mom was sitting in one of the waiting chairs by the magazine rack, I felt as though I was in a space of men. The paneled walls — at least that’s how I recall them — the magazines, the presence of other, older men all around; it felt very adult, and I remember being proud when I was tall enough not to need a booster chair, and again, when Joe would shave the back of my neck, I felt initiated in my own kid’s way.

And like all good barbers, Joe was a talker, and he was a listener. We’d talk about school, or about the treehouse in my grandparents’ back yard. I remember he was constantly amused by my idea of adding a bathroom to the treehouse, but if he was also amused by the fact that I almost never climbed up there — I was afraid of heights — he never let on. He was much kinder than that, and treated me with the dignity and courtesy that too few people realize a young boy can value.

And we’d talk about sports. I started playing football when I was six — tackle and full pads, because it was the early 70s in the South — and although I wasn’t particularly good at it, I read about it everywhere I could, on both the pro and college level. I’ve mentioned previously that by 1973, I had decided that Alabama was my favorite team — possibly because my team wore red and white, and possibly because they had a charismatic coach with a cool name — and I hoped to play for him when I went to college. As the years went by, I found other dreams, but I still cheer for Bama against anyone but my alma maters. So every year, I’d read the football previews published by folks like Athlon and Street & Smith, and when I’d go to see Joe, we’d talk about football. I’d talk about Bama, and he’d talk about his beloved UT Vols. Again, he took me seriously, which felt like a privilege.

We moved to Kentucky in late 1978. I wore my hair longer then, but when we’d go to Nashville, either for a visit or when my brother and I would spend weeks with my grandparents, I’d drop by and say hello, and as the years went by, the barber shop eventually became “Joe’s Barber Shop”, but I knew it really had been that all the time.

Of course, now that his name was on the door, he could make a few changes, and one of them brought him a measure of fame. As I said, he loved the U of Tennessee, and he decided to play that up. Specifically, he turned most of the interior UT orange, with pennants, schedules, and the various other bits of paraphernalia marking his allegiance to Vol Nation. One of the other barbers was a fan of UT’s in-town rival Vanderbilt, so that corner of the shop had some black and gold, but otherwise, it was all Big Orange, all the time. One of the Nashville papers did a human interest story on it, but the black-and-white photo didn’t do it justice. And until he retired, I’d stop by, just to say hello, because Joe had been as much a part of my life in Nashville as the posters on my bedroom walls.

I found out this morning (via Facebook, as one does these days) that Joe Fitzpatrick died yesterday. He joins his wife, and is survived by his daughters and their families. So long, Joe — and thanks for helping me grow up.

Posted in Culture, Family, Why I Do What I Do | 2 Comments

Housman and the Gaps

As I’ve mentioned, I live in the virtual buckle of the Bible Belt — about an hour from Bob Jones U, for example. And of course, I teach at a religiously affiliated institution — not the “required statement of faith” sort, but the “non-mandatory weekly chapel” type. So although I’ve been here long enough to know better, I’m always a little startled when I realize how little my students know about the Bible. I don’t mean that they can’t give me chapter and verse — I can’t do that myself. I mean that they don’t get references to stuff like Samson in the Temple, Cain, or the Woman at the Well. (Of extraBiblical mythologies, such as Greek and Roman stuff, we will not speak, save to observe that Northrop Frye wept. See? I just did one!)

Of course, as a teacher of early English lit — as someone trying to pass along the culture in which we live — this presents a problem, and not just when I’m teaching something like Paradise Lost (which the Spawn memorably described as “Bible fan fiction.”) These stories, and the allusions to them, are inextricably intertwined with Anglophone (with Western) literature, and to miss them — not to have them — renders readers blind to much of the content they encounter.

housman

No, it isn’t Terry Jones — it’s A.E. Housman.

And it would appear the problem is more widespread than I imagined. This morning I ran across Charles McGrath’s New Yorker review of Peter Parker’s bio of A.E. Housman (and I’ll admit that I envisioned the biographer doing line edits while fighting Dr. Octopus), and was somewhat startled when the reviewer threw this in [emphasis mine]:

[Parker] makes the provocative suggestion—which could equally well be applied to other Housman poems, including the strange one that recommends plucking out your eye and cutting off your hand or foot if it offends you—that not every line need be taken at face value and the whole thing might be meant angrily or ironically[.]

Yes, how odd! Where could he possibly have come up with such an image? The mind reels — or perhaps it Blu-Rays. That the reviewer goes on to compare Housman to Hardy (reasonably) and to suggest that he is responsible for a sentimentalized “Englishness” manifested in things like Brexit (less reasonably) may be interesting enough per se, but one wonders if McGrath is competent to hold opinions on Housman, given that he lacks the background that I expect (even if in vain) from my undergrads.

A tip of the Mondo Mortarboard to Helen Andrews, via Twitter.

Posted in Culture, Education, Faith, Family, Literature | Leave a comment

HeroesCon 2017: Addenda

Woke up at 8:30 today and thought I’d let the Spawn sleep in a bit, since we didn’t have to check out til noon. At ten, I thought I’d check and make sure I was right about the time, so I rang the front desk, the occupant of which told me that checkout was at 11:00. Oops.

So I woke the Spawn, tried to get my hair from Bedhead Level 2 to Presentable, and packed up while the Spawn got her stuff together. We made it out with time to spare, and I can now attest that both hotels in the building are quite pleasant. We walked over to IHOP once more, and although there was a bit of a Father’s Day delay, we had another very satisfactory breakfast.

By the time we were done, it was a bit past noon, and while we entertained the thought of heading back for another round, I have papers to grade for tomorrow, so we bade Charlotte adieu and headed back to Mondoville. However, I still have a few odds and ends I had meant to blog earlier.

***

One of the Spawn’s favorite parts of the whole business is checking out the cosplayers — she has been known to do a bit of that herself, although she remained in mufti this year. As usual, the effort and ingenuity that folks put into their outfits — and in some cases, their childrens’ outfits — was remarkable. I didn’t see Irving Forbush this year, but there were numerous folks from multiple eras of geekdom around. A favorite of mine was a young couple doing Namor and his consort — I’m always glad to see characters that require some experience to recognize. There was also a pretty good group of meddling kids I encountered at one point.

While the Spawn and I were taking a break yesterday, a quartet of young women arrived at the table next to ours. One was playing Emma Frost, but I noticed a statuesque woman playing Batgirl (Barbara Gordon edition). I was pretty sure I recognized her from previous years — if she was who I thought she was, she had played Phoenix on numerous occasions, so I’m guessing the auburn hair is her base color. We were sitting in an atrium, and looking down, the woman noticed a toddler in Batgarb, riding her dad’s shoulders, and looking our way with wonder. Our Batgirl smiled and waved, and the toddler blew her a kiss. When she turned back in our direction, I struck up a conversation.

She was telling some of her friends about the little girl, and I said, “That’s gotta be a cool feeling.” She agreed, and I asked her how many different characters she played.

“This weekend, or total?”

“Both, I guess.”

“Well, I’m doing four this weekend, but I’ve got 56 different costumes.” I mentioned a former student of mine who is something of a semipro cosplayer, getting invitations to appear at these events, and even snagging gas money on occasion, and I asked her if she did that sort of thing. Batgirl told me she’s a volunteer, and does a lot of her cosplay for Make-A-Wish and other charitable venues. She’s based in the Charlotte area, and spends a lot of her weekends in her secret identities. Unfortunately, I didn’t catch her name, but I’m sure I’ll see her again next year.

In fact, I think one of the coolest things about the cosplayers is their charitable side. Every year, I see Klingons, Stormtroopers, and Ghostbusters, among others, raising money for various worthy causes. Again, I’m always happy to see people doing things they love while showing love for others in need. The line “Not all heroes wear capes” has become yet another ironic meme — part of the currency of our age — but some still do, and others wear jumpsuits or Star Wars battle gear.

***

This was the sixth or seventh HeroesCon we’ve attended, and I’ve noticed that there seems to be a greater diversity of fandoms in attendance. During our early visits, zombies seemed to be the order of the day, both in terms of costumes and stuff available for purchase. This year I saw the usual bunch of Jokers and Harley Quinns, but I also saw fans of various webcomics, cartoons, live action shows and video games maneuvering through the aisles. A number of these evoked nostalgic reactions from the Spawn. “You’re twenty,” I said. “You don’t get to be nostalgic yet.” But then I remembered feeling like that from time to time even when I was in my teens, so I guess I’ve no room to talk.

***

As I mentioned in yesterday’s installment, the Spawn and I saw the Wonder Woman movie last night (Interestingly, the title is never used in the movie’s dialogue.) On the way out of the theater, I saw a family of four — Mom, Dad, and two girls who were likely in the single digits. Mom and the two daughters were all clad in WW gear. As the dad of a geek girl, this pleased me a great deal.

***

As was the case last year, one corner of the convention floor was occupied by videogames and a pinball machine or two, on loan from Charlotte’s Abari game bar. I got in a few rounds of Rampage, but was less successful than I was last year with Karate Champ. I did get to have a brief chat with one of Abari’s managers, asking him if they happened to have my all-time favorite game. Unfortunately they don’t — apparently that one has become a collector’s item. Still, I got a kick out of knocking some buildings down, and just as was the case in the 80s, I impressed no girls whatsoever. The difference is that this time I knew I wouldn’t.

rampage-right

Not pictured: Vacuum attachment for sucking up Mondo’s quarters.

***

Well, I’ve been home now for nearly two hours, and those papers won’t grade themselves, so I’d better wrap this installment up. As ever, the Spawn and I had a great time, and it was another terrific Father’s Day weekend. Of course, as the Spawn continues to grow up, I wonder from time to time how long she’ll want to do this. “Until you drop dead,” she said. So, inshallah, we’ll be back at HeroesCon next year, for the 36th edition. Maybe we’ll see you there — and one of these days, I’ll be the one dressed as the Phantom Stranger.

Posted in Culture, Family, Literature | Leave a comment

HeroesCon 2017: Day 2

So I woke up about 8:30 this morning, but the Spawn didn’t show much sign of life until 10, and it was 10:40 when we walked over to the nearby breakfast place. It was busy (as one might epxect the Saturday of Fathers’ Day weekend to be), but our server was terrific. Interestingly, I don’t think I’ve ever had bad service at IHOP, but even with my high expectations, Crystal went above and beyond. We talked about the comic conventions, and she talked about how her two sons are nuts about comics, and she threw in an impression of her youngest playing Spider-Man that had both the Spawn and me chuckling. A little later, the Spawn said, “Make sure you give her a big tip.” I told her I had already decided to do that, and I praised Crystal to her manager as well. And then it was off to the convention.

***

We arrived shortly past noon, and after the first few minutes, split up for a while. I stopped by the booths of some folks I’ve met and mentioned in previous years, chatting with Yale Stewart, who does JL8. I suggested to him that he incorporate the B-list character who is possibly my favorite — or at least give him a cameo. Yale paused for a moment, and said “You know, that’s a really good idea.” But he may have just been being nice. We also talked a bit about criticism and how to deal with it; I passed along some advice I received from my writing guru, the late James Baker Hall: Listen with wide open ears. If something goes in one ear and out the other, ignore it. If something goes in and smacks into something that’s already there, it may be worth your attention. Yale seemed to like that as well.

A little later, I swung by Brad McGinty’s booth. Brad is the furry-eared madman behind Glorp Gum, a front for comics that combine elements of Basil Wolverton, Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, and pop culture kitsch. I picked up one of his comics and a button, and I think that there are several surf and garage bands that need this guy to do album covers for them.

A little later, a sign at one of the booths caught my attention: “Kentucky Kaiju.” I told Justin Stewart (one of the authors) that I happen to think of myself as a Kentuckian, and he mentioned that the three folks who collaborated on the book (a guide to various monsters said to inhabit assorted oddly named Kentucky towns) are from Lexington, a city that plays a sizable part in my biography. So $15 later, I had a copy autographed by Stewart and Shawn Pryor. As I leafed through the book, I noticed monsters that hail from the hometown of Mrs. M’s best friend and the site of our first apartment when I was in the magazine business.

However, I was especially tickled to see a booth for the Jack Kirby Museum and Research Center. This year happens to be Kirby’s centenary, and they had quite a few of his pages on display, and some works available for sale (although not in my price range.) I mentioned to the guys that I had met Kirby in 1971 or 72, when I was five or six years old, at a comics symposium at Vanderbilt U that I attended with my dad. I mentioned that Mr. Kirby had been nice to me, signing a book and posing for a photo with me. The guys asked if I could send them a copy or scan of the photo, so now I have some homework when I return to Mondoville. (As a side note, I also met and was photographed with Stan Lee, which may be the last time that happened for free.)

***

Meanwhile, the Spawn was having adventures of her own, including a run in with an Aquaman villain:

Em and Black Manta

She also found a Transformers print that she intends to frame and hang in her room. We compared our hauls over beverages  from the snack bar, and we also ran into a former coworker of mine, who now works at a different college that isn’t too far from here. It was good to see him, and to hear that he’s doing well.

After that, the Spawn and I made one more trip around the convention floor, where I bought a couple of T-shirts with old EC-style designs on them. They were in my size, and the two shirts cost only slightly more than I’ve paid for a single one in the past, so it was, as they say, such a deal. After that, though, it was time for us to make our exit — we had a movie to catch.

***

We walked a few blocks to the Studio Movie Grille at Epicentre — one of those highfalutin movie houses that include full service food and drinks, and has wonderfully comfortable seats — and watch Wonder Woman. It was great fun. The critics have been praising it, and I understand why. It was quick-paced, energetic, and fun in a way that the DC movies typically haven’t been lately. Gal Gadot gives a fine performance, and is quite believable in the role. The Spawn and I would both cheerfully recommend it.

***

From there, it was back to the car and then back to the hotel. Because the Spawn consumed the lion’s share of the popcorn at the movies, I wanted dinner, so we stopped at the burger place across the street from the hotel, where we’ve gone on Saturday night for the past two years as well. I was somewhat surprised when the counterman recognized us — “Haven’t seen you guys in a while!” — but I guess I’m pretty easy to recognize. Or maybe it’s that the Spawn is memorably lovely. In any case, I had a chili cheeseburger and fries, and the Spawn ordered some fries as well, but I wound up polishing those off for her. After that, we strolled back to the hotel, where we called Mrs. M and learned that she has been a whirlwind of domestic activity today, cleaning showers, doing laundry, spackling some scratches the Hound had left in the drywall, and even installing an over-the-range microwave and vent to replace the one that conked out last week. Heck, if I didn’t live there, it would probably be an HGTV Dream Home.

And so here we are, and I’m getting ready to call it a night. I hope your day was a good one — ours was.

Posted in Culture, Education, Family, Literature | Leave a comment

HeroesCon 2017: Day 1

The Spawn and I left Mondoville a little after noon today for our annual pilgrimage to Charlotte for the HeroesCon comic convention. We took a different route to get here, going out of our way in order to have lunch at one of the Spawn’s favorite restaurant chains, but really, it didn’t take too much longer than usual.

***

The hotel we stay at has kind of an odd arrangement — it’s actually two hotels, in separate wings of a large, L-shaped building. We’ve previously stayed at the Ramada Inn side, and I could’ve sworn that was where I booked our room. However, when we arrived, we were told that our reservation was for the Clarion Hotel, and that the check-in desk for that hotel was over there, about 50 feet down a hallway. So we walked over there, and sure enough, they set us with the room we are now using as our base of operations. I’m not sure why they do it that way — they have separate uniformed staff in each wing, different stationery, and as I’ve mentioned, separate lobbies. I wonder which one gets the pink half of the drainpipe.

***

After alerting Mrs. M to our safe arrival, we headed over to the Convention Center for an initial walkthrough. The crowd seemed pretty intense — I think Friday is a bit more of the hardcore nerd and collector day (the kind of folks who will take a workday off to go to a comic convention), with Saturday drawing more of the family and cosplay crowds. We navigated around a bit, and the Spawn bought a few items connected to her current pop culture obsession, Transformers. She got a few comic books and a small “cassette” Transformer that is apparently the head and torso of some larger entity. She said she bought the toy because the dealer said he probably wouldn’t be able to sell it without the rest of the set. We moved along, and the Spawn told me she felt sorry for the toy.

“Um, it’s an inanimate object, you know.”

“Yeah, but it’s there by itself. It could get lonely.”

So back she went. But she spent her own money on them, so what the heck.

***

Meanwhile, I saw Jim Steranko holding court at his booth, with a pretty good queue waiting for their moments with The Man. It reminded me of my own meeting with him a couple of cons ago, and it made me smile. A little later, we passed a booth with a lot of Donald Duck and Scrooge-related art, and an older fellow sitting there. A sign identified him as Don Rosa.

After we passed, the Spawn whispered to me, “Is that the real Don Rosa?” I told her I imagined so, but we could ask. Having ascertained his identity, the Spawn did a bit of fangirling, telling him that her corner of the Internet regards him as the fount of all things Duckburgian. He took the compliment gracefully, but said he was merely following in the (webbed) footsteps of the great Carl Barks. After we moved on, the Spawn said, “I can’t believe it. The way people write about him, I thought he was one of those legendary guys who died in the 50s.”

“Yeah, you might not want to tell him that if we run into him again.”

***

As we walked down another aisle, a man in his 40s addressed the Spawn, who was wearing a T-shirt from her sorority. “Where are you a [member of the sorority]?” When the Spawn replied, the guy said, “I was married to a [member].”

“Oh.”

“Well, really I guess she was an alum,” he said, “We met after college.”

“It’s OK — we think you’re in for life. Nice talking to you.”

“Yeah — you don’t see a lot of sorority letters at these things.” We said goodbye and went on our way.

And I guess the guy was right — I don’t recall seeing anyone other than the Spawn wearing Greek letters in our trips here, although she ran into an alum just last year. Still, the Spawn has been into comics almost all her life, and I’m glad to have a kid who can do Greek and geek simultaneously. I think it’s pretty cool. And so is she. Screw the stereotypes.

***

After our traditional Friday night dinner at the Carolina Ale House, we came back to our hotel for the evening. Further reports tomorrow.

 

 

Posted in Culture, Family | 1 Comment

In Which the Prof Revisits His Past and Turns Surly

I came downstairs this evening after dinner to good news and bad news. The good news was that Mrs. M, chafing under the oppressive relaxation of her summer break, had cleaned the downstairs — thanks, dear! The bad news was that the TV was on, and she was watching The Breakfast Club — a movie that has always irritated me.

The_Breakfast_Club

I realize that for people of my demographic — white, middle-class, middle-aged — this is heretical. John Hughes is supposed to have been the cinematic voice of People Like Me, and the teen archetypes (Brain/Athlete/Basket Case/Princess/Criminal) do in fact resonate. And if the dialogue is a bit — or a lot — too clever for their real-life counterparts, well, nobody really thought it was a documentary, and did people gripe about Douglas Sirk’s over-the-topness that way? (Actually, they did at the time, but that changed eventually.)

There are things I like about the movie — not least that it spawned my huge crush on Ally Sheedy, which persisted for years and inspired a song I wrote and have sung in three different bands. I think that in the mid-80s (as I was turning 20), Ally Sheedy and Molly Ringwald provided the Mary Ann-vs.-Ginger analog for the time. And there were funny lines sprinkled through the movie, leavening the awkward teen melodrama of Bender’s Christmas story and Brian Johnson’s immolation of a shop project. Of course, it’s a melodramatic age, and that may be why so many of my peers found it (to use a word I loathe from my students) “relatable.”

And in fact, that may be the thing that bugged me. I was two years out of high school when the movie came out, and while I still carry much of that insecurity, my wounds were definitely quite fresh then. In the Tarot deck of archetypes, I was pretty squarely a bigger, heavier version of Brian Johnson, the smart kid played by Anthony Michael Hall. I didn’t have a fake ID, but I was likely the type who would have used it to vote.

I should have seen it coming — I really should’ve. There were five kids, so the pairing of archetypes couldn’t come out evenly. The film paired them for contrasts, emphasizing both the arbitrary caste system of high school and the transient nature of the couplings; the audience and characters are aware that by Monday, it will be as though none of this had happened. The characters even acknowledge this.

So the fleeting romances are between the criminal (Judd Nelson’s Bender) and princess (Ringwald’s Claire), and between the athlete (Emilio Estevez’s Andrew Clarke) and the basket case/ugly duckling (Sheedy’s Allison, who gets the transformation treatment from Claire, but I’ll let other folks discuss that one.) We see smooches along the way, and at the day’s end.

Who does the smart kid kiss? The paper he wrote for the detention assignment on behalf of the five of them. The friggin’ punishment essay. That’s what he gets. No Allison for Brian — and as a Brian myself, it was the flaky, artistic Allisons for whom I longed, and with whom I thought I might at least have a chance. The Claires were always out of my league.

I saw the movie at the theater, in the company of the Mad Dog, and I remember griping about this very thing. And you’d think that the passage of 32 years and the acquisition of a spouse and Spawn might have swept that aside. But in some ways, seeing the movie again poked the part of me that wanted — that wants? — to be Bogart, but wound up becoming Sydney Greenstreet.

Funny, how long those sore spots last sometimes.

Posted in Culture | 2 Comments