Get Down Tonight

All of the pictures from the night in questions aren’t ones that my friends and I want floating around the web, so here’s a picture of the Humanities building.

I was cleaning a couple of weeks ago, doing the semi-annual “purge” of random useless stuff from the house, and among the old clothes and toys that were going to Goodwill was a pair of commemorative glasses from my college freshman-sophomore semi-formal more than 15 years ago.  I’d like to say that I had held onto the glasses because I wanted to cherish the memories of that time in my life, but to be honest, I’m one of those people who is too lazy to buy new glassware so I simply hadn’t gotten rid of it earlier.

That’s not to say that retiring the glasses didn’t make me think of the night in question.  Unfortunately, my adoring fans (both of them) will be disappointed to find out that the freshman sophomore semi, held April 26, 1997 with the theme of “Get Down Tonight” was not epic, grand, illicit, or even out of the ordinary, but instead was just like any other Saturday night in college.

Okay, I was wearing a jacket and tie.

It seems weird that a college SGA would throw dances, or at least that when they threw the dances, people actually would attend.  College students are supposed to spend Saturday nights getting hammered on Natty Ice and throwing up into a trash receptacle outside of the library (which, of course, marks the only time in college they actually go to the library), not getting all dolled up and posing for pictures like it’s a high school homecoming dance, although everyone looks ten times worse than they did at homecoming due to college beer bloat and the fact that a dorm room doesn’t make for a very good area to primp.

On some level, attending a dance at my college kind of made sense because you really had nothing better to do, especially if you were one of those students who could not get into the bars and wanted some excuse to drink other than it was a weekend night.  They were held in Reitz Arena, which is the same gym where the D-I Greyhounds played basketball … and I use the word gym because it really is a glorified gym.  Sometimes the dances were held in the student center, but no matter where they were held, they always felt kind of like a high school dance, not something you’d expect in college. Oh sure, I went to a few sorority functions when I wa sdating my wife, but I can’t remember if she had a school-wide freshman-sophomore semi held in her university’s gym.  Considering that The University of Virginia has about four times the population of Loyola College in Maryland, I’m probably right about that.

The music didn’t help, either.  Our theme, “Get Down Tonight” came about probably because the late 1990s had a fair amount of nostalgia for both the late 1970s and 1980s going for it.  Disco kind of made a comeback at that point, especially (and strangely) groups like K.C. and the Sunshine Band, whose three or four hits had become staples at weddings by then.  They also weren’t hard songs to track down because they were featured heavily on the ever-popular ESPN Jock Jams albums that were released from 1995-1997, which my friends and I were all convinced were the only CDs the deejay that the SGA hired actually owned.  I mean, how do you explain that the dance remix of “What’s Up?” by 4 Non Blondes was popular in 1996, 1997, 1998, and 1999?

Maybe he was counting on the fact that we were too blitzed to pay attention to the music.  If you were going to a school dance, you showed up already drunk because you spent the afternoon pre-gaming in your dorm room (one night had my five of us–my roommates and I plus my girlfriend—drink an entire keg during said pregaming) and maybe danced with your friends for the better part of an hour before, much like a high school dance, things got boring, drama happened, ro someone required some hair holding.  I don’t think that anyone could really say that they were monumental romantic benchmarks.

Well, I should be more specific because for all I know someone first kissed his future wife at the freshman-sophomore semi.  So let’s just say that these dances were never really monumental for me.  I can’t decide if that’s because I put too much pressure on myself to have an amazing memorable time, or if I’m a complete romantic putz.  Or both.  Probably both.

But for what it’s worth, I went, danced, got my glass at the end of the night and went on with my life, developing a roll of film that probably won’t see the light of day and shrugging my shoulders at the thought of remembering and cherishing the night for the rest of my life.  Unless I’m supposed cherish it and I’m doing it wrong, because in all honesty, I had to stretch to think about what exactly went on that night.  I’m pretty sure there was drinking, sex, and definitely fighting among boyfriends and girlfriends, but ultimately it was fuzzy and fleeting, lost among the randomness of a time in my life that never made much sense and probably wasn’t supposed to anyway.

Get Out the Map

What is American is one of those things that is so hard to determine that at this point, it’s almost like a philosophical dilemma rather than a physical entity.  Many have tried to define or capture it; in fact, it seems that the right wing has sought to trademark it for the last couple of decades.  But pinning the answer to that question to one definition is never successful, and it seems that the journey to find that answer is just as if not more important.  Such is the case with Shainee Gabel and Kristin Hahn’s Anthem: An American Road Story.

In the summer of 1995, the two women, fed up with their jobs, decided to interview as many people as they possibly could under the auspices of looking for the definition of our country, of American heroes, and of the American Dream.  The result was a chronicle of that trip told through both a book and a film.

I am not sure if either the film or book were very popular upon their release, as I came in after the fact, getting the book as swag in the summer of 1998 when I interned for its publisher, Avon Books.  I was quite possibly the worst intern in the history of publishing because aside from free books and the ability to fix a five-way copier jam in under a minute, I took nothing away from my experience except for the desire to not work in publishing and to not spend my life commuting into Manhattan via the Long Island Rail Road.

But my ultimately unrewarding experience aside (which, by the way, is compounded by the fact that I turned down an interview for an unpaid internship with a major comics publisher because this internship was paid and I didn’t want my parents to be upset that I was working for no money), I got some very good reads out of it and Anthem was one of them.  During my time in editorial, the book’s editor, Jennifer Hershey, had a large poster of the cover to the paperback edition (Gabel and Hahn standing in a road holding their recording equipment) on the wall of her office and a huge stack of the hardcover edition by her door.  I either asked for a copy or swiped one (probably the former) because the concept of two people taking a road trip to interview people intrigued me, as it was a huge risk for someone to take with her life and I was one of the most risk-averse people in the world (still am to an extent).

I read Anthem on the train, taking it in kind of passively.  I don’t think that’s the type of reaction that the authors were looking for from a reader, but it’s not their fault; at that time I had the perspective of an overprivileged white college student who really knew nothing about the world beyond beers on Saturday.  Oh sure, I had service learning in classes that had me volunteering in sketchy areas of Baltimore and there was a professor or two that required a subscription to The New York Times, but the atmosphere at Loyola was very insulating; I went to college for four years and really didn’t take the time to look very much beyond myself or my own shit.  So really, it’s not their fault. (more…)

The tale of a continuing voyage on the sea of no cares

Love stories are hard to tell.

Oh sure, I can point to an endless number of works of literature, film, and song that suggest otherwise, but for the most part they’re either complete garbage or don’t tell the whole story.  Or perhaps they attempt to tell the whole story but they’re just way too broad, so they skip over a lot of the details.

Then again, isn’t pre-packaged love with a nice soundtrack what we have all been conditioned to look for, anyway?  It’s certainly less complicated than being in a relationship or being married, and our modern world certainly allows ourselves to encapsulate first glance to last kiss in a narrative.  I certainly am guilty of polluting my girlfriends’ lives with mix tapes that were sometimes so awful that I am shocked that I wasn’t broken up with after the first listen.  But for as much as my musical taste has been questionable throughout my life, I know that at least a few time I found a gem among what Sir Paul once called “silly love songs.”  In fact, it’s happened several times, including when I first heard Great Big Sea perform “Sea of No Cares.”

Great Big Sea is a band I stumbled upon in the summer of 1999 when Amanda and I were house-sitting for a friend.   While we spent a good amount of time exploring the greater Arlington/Alexandria area and seeing every movie that was in theaters at the time, I spent much of my days hanging out while she went to the internship she’d started after graduation.  Most of that time, I was working on a novel and the various 1980s mixes in my car were wearing thin, so I went diving into her friend’s CD collection and found Rant and Roar.  I’d heard of the band because I’d seen a video or two on MuchMusic, but wasn’t that familiar with them.

They didn’t need to do much to make me a fan, to be honest.  The band was from Newfoundland, which is where my grandmother hailed from, and they had a boisterous sound that was what I was looking for after spending most of the last four years trapped in my roommates’ Grateful Dead/Phish/Jimmy Buffett death spiral.  A year or so later, they played the Birchmere is Alexandria to support Turn.  It was a great gig and I knew I wanted to see them again, so when my sister heard that they were playing the Maritime Festival in West Sayville on July 13, 2001, I was on the phone the minute tickets went on sale.  I mean, when you come from a town that’s as obscure as mine, you definitely jump at the chance to see one of your favorite bands play there.

So we went, and in the hot July afternoon right next to the Great South Bay, the band started with “Donkey Riding,” which had become somewhat of a staple as far as opening numbers were concerned.  The next couple of songs were from a few albums back and then, the band decided to play “Sea of No Cares,” which was going to be the title track to the new album.  Amanda was standing next to me and humored me by letting me hold her even though by that point we were both sweaty and gross, and Alan Doyle began: “When you’re in love, there’s no time and no space/There’s a permanent smile on your face/Your friends all complain that you’re goin’ insane/But the truth is they’re just afraid/Hey, hey, hey somewhere/You threw your fear in the sea of no cares …”

Almost immediately, I found myself struck by the lyrics, as if they were some sort of revelation.  Or, at least, I flashed back to an earlier point in our relationship where those first few lyrics rang true.


If I could just hold you again

When it comes to nostalgia, there are those things that are true memories and those which are false memories.  No decade has more of this going for it than the 1980s.  Eighties nostalgia is a juggernaut that began when I was in high school back in the early 1990s and really hasn’t stopped since, especially since I’ve had students who say they’re nostalgic for the 1980s, something I find hilarious considering they weren’t really old enough to remember it (And no, they don’t, because that would be like me saying I remember the 1970s when I was born in 1977 and my only memory of anything world events before 1981 is seeing Jimmy Carter on a television screen.  That might be a 1970s memory but it doesn’t exactly put me inside Studio 54).

If you are truly a Child of the Eighties, you are fully aware of these two sides of nostalgia because for every movie, television show, compilation album, or Glee medley that says, “Remember Eighties?  Here it is!  No, don’t think about anything that really happened.  This is Eighties.  Enjoy these memories.”  You’re not supposed to remember that Wang Chung had three good songs, only that they recorded “Everybody Have Fun Tonight” and made a seizure-inducing video to go along with it.  You’re not supposed to remember Fresh Horses, the piece-of-crap other Molly Ringwald/Andrew McCarthy flick, just Pretty In Pink.  And you’re not supposed to remember the Cloris Leachman years of The Facts of Life.

Okay, sorry about that last one.

Anyway, I’m one of those people who will listen to a flashback station on Sirius and be happy that Alan Hunter has decided to play “Stone in Love” instead of “Don’t Stop Believin'” for the hour’s dose of Journey.  Maybe it’s because I’m a nostalgia dork, or maybe it’s because I’ve been exposed to so much Eighties nostalgia for the past two decades that I need more than something that scratches the surface.  I think that everyone reaches that point in his life, where he wants more than just another playing of “Hungry Like the Wolf,” and usually there is one work that serves as a trigger for the true memories that lie beneath the VH-1-produced surface.  For me, it was “At This Moment” by Billy Vera and the Beaters.


Domesticated Animals

The front page of, where you can get all of our essentials for going to college.

I think I have lost count of the number of times my wife and I have been walking around Target, looked at all of the “dorm gear” that’s on sale and said, “I wish they would have had this when we went to college.”  I mean, every single time, without fail, as we wheel the cart past the school supplies or toward the granola bars and spot a mini-fridge or stackable storage containers or three-pack of Old Spice body wash, we scrunch our noses and remark how good kids these days have it.

Too bad the economy is so fucked that they won’t have jobs when they graduate.  BWAH-HA-HA!!!

Okay, that was rude and probably uncalled for.  But I have to admit that I’m kinda jealous that everything the kids in my area who are attending college need (and then some) can be found at Target of all places.  I didn’t have the convenience of a Target when I was heading off to Loyola back in the summer of 1995; instead, Sayville had a K-Mart that was so hectic and disorganized that I once nearly had a panic attack when I stepped inside.  And I’m not the type who is prone to panic attacks.

I don’t know, I just find it kind of both genius and funny that Target and other stores like it have latched on to going away to college and turned it into a shopping season of sorts, the kind of thing that you throw in to the back-to-school sales on July 5 and take down the day after Labor Day because the Halloween candy needs to be shelved.  If they did this fifteen years ago, I completely missed it, as I had to deal with schlepping out to Linens and Things on Sunrise Highway in Patchogue about a week and a half before I headed to Baltimore.  They could have been running a sale, but I was completely oblivious to it and I don’t remember seeing commercials about outfitting me with a laptop and all sorts of wireless wonder so that my life was complete in the dorm.

Then again, it was 1995 and my graduation present was a Packard Bell desktop PC with a 2400 baud modem and HP Laser Jet 4L printer, which took up half of my parents’ car and my friends were all carrying beepers around in their pockets.  So … yeah.