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.)