Sayville

Being Michael Grates

stillerrealitybitesAbout a week or two ago, I came across a few articles filled with emotional hand-wringing on the part of the generation often referred to as Millenials.  I read about how there is a generational conflict between this younger generation, which seems to be dismayed that the world doesn’t think they are entitled to anything; and older generations, who wish these kids would get over themselves.  It’s accompanied by talk about the uphill battle this generation faces as it enters a very touchy employment situation–the job market, after all, is terrible–and will have an enormous amount of student loan debt.  There is also the sentiment of “You created this mess and we inherited it.”

I found myself thinking about how Millennials need to get over themselves and how they’re all entitled brats, but then I couldn’t help but be reminded of two decades ago when Generation X seemed to be facing the same problems.  I am sure that your average Millennial will tell me otherwise, but it seems that there is something universal here:  the up-and-coming generation takes crap from the older generation. And I also couldn’t help but watch Reality Bites, the 1994 Winona Ryder-Ethan Hawke film that attempted to capture the struggle that particular group of twentysomethings was going through at the time.  Watching it again–and I watch it every once in a while–I knew that I would have a slightly different perspective and perhaps even view at least one of the characters a different way.  Not surprisingly, the character I seemed to sympathize with more than I did when I first saw the movie as a teenager was Michael Grates. (more…)

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“Generation X” is … (a post from 1994)

Before I get to the meat of this, I should provide some preamble.  The post that will go up later in the week is titled “Being Michael Grates,” wherein I take a look at Ben Stiller’s character from Reality Bites from the perspective of someone who is in his mid-thirties and see, much like Mr. Vernon in The Breakfast Club and Lloyd Dobler in Say Anything … how much that perspective has changed.  As I was writing that piece, I thought of a piece I wrote in my high school newspaper where I referenced the movie in some screed about then-current stereotypes about teenagers and twenty-somethings of the day, who were labeled collectively as “Generation X” (taken from the Douglas Coupland novel of the same name).  I thought of quoting an excerpt from it in the post and then I decided, why don’t I just reprint it?

So, this is from the November 1994 (Volume 4, Issue 1) issue of Voices Inside, the then-student newspaper for Sayville High School.  I was seventeen years old, and it was the first in a regular “column” I had (read: gave to myself since I was made editor-in-chief) called “@#$&!”, which is an early precursor to this blog.  Perhaps one day I’ll write about that and “From the Nosebleeds,” the column I had in college.  But until then, enjoy this and come back later in the week for another all-new post as well as next week’s episode of the podcast, which also touches on Reality Bites.  Until then, here is the original column in its entirety (with a few punctuation errors fixed). (more…)

Self-Righteous

The watershed moments in your life rarely come with a script.  Oh sure, you have your major milestones and accomplishments but the moments of true epiphany are the most random, often happening when you least expect it.  One such moment in my life came before a club meeting during my senior year of high school.  I was helping pass out agendas and had left my backpack on my seat.  A friend of mine, Jim, was a fellow officer in the club happened to see my Walkman and out of curiosity, pulled it out of my bag and gave it a listen.  I returned to the table in time to see a look of complete confusion make its way across his face.

“Give me that,” I said, snatching the Walkman out of his hand.  Jim didn’t respond, and I put my headphones on to hear what had prompted such a strange look.  Playing near full blast was “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.”

Luckily, the meeting soon began and Jim didn’t care enough to mention it again or to anyone else, and needless to say that had me relieved because while I brushed the incident off, I felt the same sort of weird guilt you’d feel as if you’d been caught masturbating.  This was music I had been listening to when nobody was around, an act of musical self-pleasure that I kept hidden from the guys I talked heavy metal with at the lunch table where for all they knew, I was genuinely impressed that Jeff tracked down a Megadeth bootleg or that Brian finally acquired the studio version of “Breadfan” when he bought the Japanese import single for “One.” Had he mentioned it to the group of people we hung out with, I would have been mercilessly ridiculed, like the time they found my copy of Born in the U.S.A. and wrote “Nice ass!” on the cover.

I probably shouldn’t have cared, to be honest.  What’s wrong with having your own tastes?  Who cares what other people think, right?  But I was an individual with serious self-esteem problems and a need for approval that meant not only did I really want to seem like I was cool, but I was quite possibly the easiest target for ridicule.  I will spare you the vulgar nicknames, the perfume sprayings, and other jokes in my honor and say that though Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield’s glory years were a good thirty years behind them at that point, my listening to the Righteous Brothers tape I’d borrowed from my mother, especially “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” had a perfectly reasonable explanation:  Top Gun. (more…)

Fuzzy memories of summer camp

On Monday, my son started summer camp.  Beng that he is a four-year-old rising kindergartener, this was a pretty big deal because it is his first “summer break” after a year of school (whereas up until last August he was simply in daycare).  The camp is run out of his school, so there really is no difference in our morning and afternoon routines of dropping him off or picking him up, even though he is going to spend most of his days going to the pool or making crafts or playing games as opposed to sitting in class and learning letters and numbers.

Apparently, camp around here is kind of a big thing, to the point where every spring, there is not only a huge advertising supplement in the local newspapers about the various summer camp programs offered throughout the greater Charlottesville area, but there is a “summer camp expo” held at a local hotel where parents can stop by, pick up literature, sign up for camps, and meet local newscasters (I don’t know what the appeal is in meeting local newscasters, but there you go).  Where I grew up on Long Island, I don’t remember the ramp-up to summer break being a huge rush to get kids “signed up for something,” because quite a number of my summers were spent sitting around and doing very little.  I know that I sound like an old fart when I say that I was a kid in the days when kids could be left home alone and there was no danger in that, but it is actually true.  Most of the friends I had in later elementary school were kids whose parents weren’t always home and as long as I could ride my bike to their houses and as long as I was home before dinner time and wasn’t committing any criminal acts (and seriously, I grew up in freaking Sayville … the most “illegal” thing I ever did was cut through an abandoned lot and buy smoke bombs from the ice cream man), everything was fine.  Granted, there were days where my friend Tom and I spent time jumping out of trees and body slamming his little brother and I’m amazed that nobody got seriously injured, but we wound up fine.

But for those kids whose parents: a) were sick of their children doing nothing except watch TV all day; b) didn’t want their children unsupervised; or c) had the money, there was “camp.”  I didn’t know many kids who went to a “sleepaway” camp like the type portrayed in Meatballs or Wet Hot American Summer, probably because by the time I was old enough to do a sleepaway camp, those places had become synonymous with machete-wielding, hockey-mask-wearing killers.

Okay, that probably wasn’t the reason–it was probably more like sleepaway camp was a pain in the ass and parents preferred something more local, of which there were plenty of opportunities, some of which were almost like a sleepaway camp but were called “day camps.”  Every spring during my childhood, when I would be home in the afternoon watching G.I. Joe or He-Man and the Masters and the Universe, the local syndicated stations (like WPIX and WNEW/WNYW) would air a commercial for Young People’s Day Camp:

Now I am sure that this commercial ran well into the late 1980s and maybe even the early 1990s because I remember seeing it for years and I am sure that most of the kids in the commercial were in college by the time I was watching it.  I’d say that Young People’s Day Camp is the Mount Airy Lodge of children’s camps–the type of place that if you visited it now, it would be mired in bankruptcy and one skinned knee from being shut down by either the board of health or child protective services–but they are still up and running throughout the New York and New Jersey area, even if they’re not airing the same commercials. (more…)

Mets Madness

When I sat down to write about the afterglow of the 1986 World Series, I started to consider what it was like to be a fan of a championship-winning team and how that carried over into the 1987 season when I was sure that the Mets would “do it again” as the promos kept saying. But the 1987 Mets were a bit of a letdown (Thanks a LOT, Terry FUCKING Pendelton!) and the afterglow of the 1986 World Series is something that I don’t remember as well as my repeated viewings of 1986 Mets: A Year to Remember had made it seem.

Then, I began to sift through the massive amount of 1986 Mets crap that I own or have owned at one point during the past 25 years, and thought I would simply “catalogue” it.  Partially because I’m lazy and don’t feel like writing anything with an actual point, and partially because even I am amazed at how much stuff there is.

1986 Mets: A Year to Remember.  This is the official team highlight video, which my friends and I rented repeatedly from Video Empire, so much so that it was impossible for anyone to find it because one of us always seemed to have it out.  I do happen to have my own copy because sometime in the late 1990s I rented it one more time and hooked two VCRs together in order to dub the video.

The video itself starts with a highlight of Game Six and then goes month to month through the regular season, with a few montages thrown in, the most famous of which definitely has to be the Len Dykstra and Wally Backman “Wild Boys” video set to the Duran Duran song of the same name, as well as a great clip of Howard Johnson and Roger McDowell telling the audience how to pull the “hot foot” prank on a player.   The playoffs and series are covered as well, with most of the play calling coming from Bob Murphy, the radio voice of the Mets, which I have to say is awesome because as much as I like hearing Vin Scully, Bob Murphy’s voice calling the Mets is one of the best things you’ll ever hear. (more…)

1986

[A quick note:  I originally published this on my old website, Inane Crap, five years ago.  Since I have been writing about the 1986 Mets, I thought it would be appropriate to repost.  There will be another post tomorrow.]

I think that one of the biggest problems you face when you grow up normal is that you grow up being a good kid. Technically there is nothing wrong with parents instilling their children with a sense of morality, a work ethic, and awareness of the world around them. The problem is that normal kids do not make good criminals.

I mean, I am a terrible liar. I can embellish and exaggerate, but when it comes to fabrication, I flat-out suck. Luckily, I discovered this in the fourth grade when I tried to con my way out of getting in trouble for not doing my homework.

When I was nine years old, I began the fourth grade at Lincoln Avenue Elementary School in the fall of 1986. My teacher was a very nice woman named Mrs. Balcewicz, whom everyone called “Mrs. B.” Fourth grade was a huge year from anyone at Lincoln because it meant that you moved into the “big kid” hallway and got actual grades on your report cards instead of weird letters like “S,” “N,” and “U.” And not only was being in the 4-5-6 hallway exciting, I was poised to do very well because my third grade year had been stellar.

Unfortunately, this year of school was where I began my very slow descent into the social awkwardness that defined my adolescence. Like other years, I spent most of my days playing G.I. Joe and Top Gun and beating up on girls (not in the “future domestic violence case” way, though; more like in the “pulling pigtails” way). But most importantly, my brain was trying to tell me that it was time to start maturing, and that was by getting in trouble.

For the most part, this was not through any violent behavior, because I was a good kid. Nor was it through refusing to be clean, because I’d had a messy desk since I was in the first grade. The way I rebelled when I was nine years old was by not doing my homework. Mrs. B didn’t assign a lot of homework, but during one week in October 1986, thought a little homework was too much and refused to do it. What’s worse is that when she came to collect my homework and I didn’t have it, I used the excuse of going to see my ailing grandfather in the hospital. It was underhanded and mean, and my come-uppance was quick because on the Friday of that week, she handed out progress reports that had to be signed by our parents. Mine said that I was missing a couple of assignments, and had this comment: “Tommy has been telling me about going to see his grandfather in the hospital.”

Now when you’re in the fourth grade and you have never really done anything wrong in your life, you don’t’ have the smarts to know that the jig is up and you should come clean to your teacher about not doing your homework. I was a likable student, who would eventually be named “Teacher’s Pet” in my high school yearbook, so I probably would have gotten off with a warning. Instead, I hastily signed my mom’s name on the progress report and hid it in my desk at school until the day she collected it. Mrs. B was not stupid, and a few days later on October 28, 1986, she called my parents. (more…)

Nails, Gary, and the Greatest Game Ever Played

Mike Scott, the bane of the Mets' existence in the 1986 NLCS

I always hated the Astrodome.

Granted, in my entire life, I have spent an hour in Houston and that was for a layover between Austin and Washington, D.C., so I don’t have any personal experience with the Astrodome, but ever since I sat down and watched the 1986 All-Star Game, which was broadcast from the Eighth Wonder of the World, I hated the stadium, and I still kind of do.  Part of the reason for that is my aversion to outdoor sports being played in domed stadiums, but part of it is that it seemed whenever I watched a Mets game in the Astrodome back when I was nine years old, they were bound to lose.

That certainly seemed the case when I turned on the sixth game of that year’s National League Championship Series in the seventh inning and saw that the Mets were down 3-0 and it looked like they weren’t going to be able to go to the World Series like I had hoped because Bob Knepper had been mowing them down left and right and the starting pitcher for game seven was scheduled to be Mike Scott, a name that I had become as familiar with and angry at as I had with Cardinals ace John Tudor the year before.  Prior to my turning on the game in the late innings, I had been at school, so I had missed the Astros’ three runs off of Bob Ojeda in the first, but I have to say I wasn’t surprised by the lackluster performance in the Astrodome because I’d watched the first few innings of game one, when Glenn Davis had hit a home run off of Dwight Gooden for the game’s only run and an Astros win.

In fact, I don’t think I can talk about that sixth game of the ’86 NLCS without going all the way back to that All-Star Game and my first experience with the Astrodome.  It was the first time I had ever seen a game inside a domed stadium and even though the Tigers’ Lou Whitaker homered pretty early in that game, I remember wondering how anyone ever hit a home run there.   It didn’t seem that visitors fared well offensively because during the next four days, I watched a sporadic amount of Mets-Astros games from Houston and the Mets dropped three out of four, plus three of the Mets were arrested in an infamous nightclub brawl.  Of course, I didn’t know that this particular Mets team was known for its debauchery (and many of the stories of said debauchery would go unknown until I read Jeff Perlman’s The Bad Guys Won! nearly twenty years later); all I knew was that I hated Houston, I hated the Astrodome, and I hated the Astros.

Mike Scott didn’t make things better.  A rather mediocre pitcher that the Mets had off-loaded a few years earlier (a fact I only knew from a baseball card as it was before I had started following them in 1985), Scott had emerged as a dominant pitching force in 1986 due to his split-fingered fastball, a pitch that destroyed hitters and led to accusations that he was scuffing the ball, something that the Mets seemed a little too obsessed with as he beat them twice in the series–in the aforementioned game one and then game four, which was the only night game in three games played at Shea.  So looking at a 3-0 Astros through seven, and then eight innings and Scott scheduled to pitch the next day, it was safe to say that it was over.  All over.

Or was it?  I certainly couldn’t believe that, even at the age of nine, not after I had watched two insane endings earlier that week. (more…)