1980s nostalgia is strong in my heart, which is funny because, objectively speaking, I didn’t enjoy the 1980s that much. I have this disorder, see, where the image of things I build up in my head doesn’t always accord with my actual lived experience of those same things. (See: That One Time At Camp.) Welcome to Reality Check: 1980s Edition.
This is how the 1980s actually went for me:
I’m in tenth grade. I am a straight-A student. I am a reporter for the school newspaper. I am the co-president of the school’s Amnesty International chapter. As you can probably tell, I am a barrel of laughs. As you can probably also tell, I am single. (I know: shocking.)
At our school, different student groups can apply to sponsor the school dances. This means that we take in the money from concessions and ticket sales but have to staff the concessions stand, hire the DJ, advertise, and all that. So the Amnesty International group gets itself lined up to have a dance. Yay! Ours peers would be able to have fun but also, like, be educated about the plight of prisoners of conscience across the world. Win-win!
So I get ready for the dance. I’m probably wearing my rolled-up-and-safety-pinned jeans, black flats, matching black rubber bracelets, and an Amnesty T-shirt with the sleeves rolled. And of course, I have teased my bangs into “the claw” that is so inexplicably popular here in 1988. My two Amnesty co-presidents and I (because when you’re sixteen years old and you’re running an Amnesty International Chapter, that’s how you roll—God forbid that one person should just be in charge) sit down with the DJ to go over our opening set. We remind him that this is an alternative music dance. You, good sir, will be playing Midnight Oil, REM, the Cure, Edie Brickell, and U2. Yes, says the DJ. Got it.
Things go downhill from there. To be honest, it’s all a little bit of a blur in my mind, and not because anyone spiked the punch. (I would not have allowed that. Because I was so much fun in those days.) First, we vastly underrated the demand for Orange Crush and potato chips. The fun of operating the machine that dispenses the pop soon gives way to grim determination as the lines get longer. Everything is sticky. It’s a thousand degrees in the crowded, windowless lunchroom. All the Aquanet that has been holding my claw-bangs in place starts running down my face. Also, I have to do a lot of math in my head to make change, which…cue panic. (There’s a reason I became a writer.)
But! More importantly! No one is visiting the Amnesty International booth to learn about the plight of prisoners of conscience!
And that would be because they were too busy dancing to, like, Paula Abdul. What the hell, DJ man? He keeps going: Aerosmith, Guns N’ Roses. Peter Cetera. He is confronted. He is indifferent. No one is dancing to your crappy songs, he says. I’m just reading the crowd. Do you want this dance to be a success or not?
We want this dance to be a success. So we I slink back with my wilted bangs to dispense more lukewarm Diet Coke until the night is over. Because at least then we can take everyone’s money and, like, BUY A LOT OF POSTAGE TO SEND LETTERS TO FOREIGN DICTATORS. I do not dance even once. This is, on the face of things, because I am “working,” but really it’s because dancing makes me feel awkward and self-conscious, and I hate running to the bathroom to hide during the slow songs.
This is how the 1980s went for me IN MY MIND:
I am a straight-A student. I have started an alternative newspaper that is so successful in speaking truth to power that the movie Pump Up The Volume is actually inspired by my story. I am, of course, still the co-president of the school’s Amnesty International chapter. But instead of being the overly serious smart girl, I have that Diane Court-like mystique. Everyone is kind of in awe of me. Also, my bangs are always perfectly immobile.
Just before the Amnesty International Dance, a new boy moves to town and starts at our school. He was the president of the Amnesty chapter at his old high school, which was, of course, in Paris. (Did I not mention he’s French? Yeah, his parents decided to move from Paris to suburban Minneapolis for reasons that remain vague.) However, he and I have had a disagreement over some aspect of the operations of our Amnesty chapter, which has caused him to challenge my (co) presidency. We bicker. We banter. We “hate” each other. The fate of my presidency is unresolved by the time the dance rolls around. To my surprise, he steps up in the madness that is the dance and starts dealing with the money side of things at the concession stand. He does all the math! So I only have to dispense the pop! What a gentleman. Also, this causes us to quadruple our sales because all the girls have crushes on him, so they flock to the concessions stand.
Whereas I am outraged over the changeover from alternative to Top-40 music, he takes it all in stride. “It’s okay, mon cheri,” he says. “We will give the children what they want.” He winks. (Wait. Did he just call me mon cheri?!?!?!) We close the concessions stand early since there is no more room in the cash box.
We have been working together all evening, establishing a rhythm based on cooperation and grudging respect that I am loath to let go of. He must feel it too, because he extends a hand, hitches his chin toward the dance floor, and says, “Shall we?”
On our way to the dance floor, I notice that the Amnesty information table is swamped. One of my co-presidents waves happily at me.
Just as we get to the center of the dance floor, Monsieur makes some kind of signal to the DJ, who nods and cues up Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes.” He puts his beret on my head, and we dance.
Jenny Holiday started writing at age nine when her awesome fourth grade teacher gave her a notebook and told her to start writing some stories. That first batch featured mass murderers on the loose, alien invasions, and hauntings. (Looking back, she’s amazed no one sent her to a kid-shrink.) She’s been writing ever since. After a brief detour to get a PhD in geography, she worked as a professional writer, producing everything from speeches to magazine articles. More recently, her tastes having evolved from alien invasions to happily-ever-afters, she tried her hand at romance. A lifelong city-lover, she lives in Toronto, Canada, with her family. She is represented by Courtney Miller-Callihan of Greenburger Associates.