Tuesday, July 23, 2013

"She wears a long fur coat of mink, even in the summertime"

The summer of 1984 was the summeriest of all summers. I distinctly remember that lazy last day of first grade. Thumbing through a copy of Clifford the Big Red Dog, something clicked in my brain and it fully sunk in that mean Mrs. B would never be my teacher again. She was the first grown up I actively disliked. Most of my classmates claimed she was their favorite when we wrote "My Story About Me". But that was dumb because Mrs. D, the kindergarten teacher, was the only other one and she was way nicer. I smirked to myself. It doesn't matter now. First grade with Mrs. B is over. I'm glad I never pretended to like her!

My oldest brother P's high school graduation was that evening. I was geeked to attend commencement but it rained and there wasn't enough room in the gymnasium for everyone's big family. I hung back at the house with the other older kids and my baby brother. While P and my parents were gone, my sisters arranged a dazzling array of snacks usually reserved for Christmas eve and Kentucky Derby day - chips and dip, cold cuts and potato salad, sweet and sour meatballs and loads of cold, refreshing pop. Wow, graduation must be a big deal. I can't believe P is THAT OLD!! 

The following days saw the establishment of our daily television routine. My siblings and I generally agreed that the ten to eleven a.m. hour was locked on TV20's airing of "Gidget" and "The Gong Show". Then it was time for "The Price is Right". The five to six p.m. slot was more debatable, because channel 50's "What's Happening?" block coincided with a music video show on TV20. There was a lot of dial turning during that hour. 

(Later that summer, the "Gong Show" episode of "What's Happening?" blew my mind, and a pop culture nerd was born.)

Most of my '84 summer memories center around music and especially the videos - The Cars' "You Might Think", Ray Parker Jr.'s "Ghostbusters", Bananarama's "Cruel Summer", Bruce Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark", Huey Lewis and the News's "If This is It". We didn't have cable so we didn't have MTV, but we tuned into every music video show on broadcast TV and there were a few. When my sisters and I stayed overnight at my Aunt M's condo one evening, it was a very big deal that she let us watch MTV all night. I remember seeing the video for Dan Hartman's "I Can Dream About You" and thinking, "Why is that white guy pretending this is his song?"

It was the first summer of sleepovers at my best friend E's house. We had such a blast, shoving Doritos and candy in our mouths, building Barbie villages in the basement, seeing if we could stay up late enough to watch the midnight airing of "Bosom Buddies" on channel 50, singing along to the Billy Joel theme song before passing out in our sleeping bags. I'd usually wake up at some point before dawn and stare at the giant furnace with the scary octopus arms, wishing I was home in bed. When I'd awake in the morning, I wasn't afraid anymore. E's house was fun again. 

The coolest sleepover was when she met me at the front door and said there was a surprise in the basement. She took me to the little wood paneled room where her dad kept his shop tools. It was cleaner than usual and there was a small table with two chairs set up in the corner. When we sat down, her older sister J brought us two cups of Tang and a plastic plate topped with saltine crackers and American cheese cut into triangles. "Welcome to my night club!" she announced, then flipped the switch on the overhead light. A bare bulb lamp shone in the corner, where she danced and lip-synched to Cyndi Lauper's "She Bop". We applauded wildly when she finished. She almost started another song, but then she got a phone call and forgot about us. But I never forgot about those ten minutes in the club. At that point in life, it was one of the coolest things that had ever happened to me.

That was the summer of "Purple Rain". One of my favorite childhood memories is sitting on the cool basement floor, playing with my awesome hand-me-down Fisher Price house, hospital and village while listening to "Let's Go Crazy" on the radio. I had two Little People girls with identical brown bobs. One wore orange and the other blue. I decided they were twin sisters in a rock band and named them Wendy and Lisa.

It was an Olympic summer, the one that all those Eastern Bloc nations boycotted. McDonald's ran that disaster scratch off ticket campaign that rewarded you every time the Americans won some event the Russians would normally dominate. We ate so much free McDonald's. For just a small up-front investment, you could keep accumulating winning tickets at every visit. It was the dreamiest racket a seven year old could imagine.

The Tigers dominated baseball. My sister K showed me where I could find their daily ranking in the Detroit Free Press. It was always a big, sparkly 1. And then they won the World Series that fall when I was in the second grade. That was a great school year, my favorite of all. Mrs. K was very nice and quite fond of me in particular. Kids were still sweet at that age and I wasn't wearing glasses yet. When the summer of '85  rolled around, I wasn't so eager for school to end, yet I knew all the fun that awaited me - long days spent playing and watching TV, just like the old days before kindergarten. There would be fun music, sleepovers, baseball and fireworks on the 4th of July. And all those things did happen, but it was never quite so exhilarating as the summer of '84. 

I'm still searching for that ancient sense of newfound pleasure. It's impossible, I know, but I always feel just a smidge of it when I hear Sheila E's "The Glamorous Life". For me, that will always be the summeriest song that ever was.


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