vəˈräɡō/: a woman of strength or spirit; a female warrior.

The 90s Were Awkward For Me

The 90’s were weird for me and America. Knee-high memories of hanging out at the Jordan Marsh cosmetic counter while my Mom sold middle-aged women on their “Season palettes.” I was a warm, winter autumn. I still am. You’ll never take that from me. Cool colors just look BETTER on me.

First of all, shoulder pads. What were those? Assert your slim waste, while looking like a defensive line man, my high school art teacher got one stuck on her panty ho during class one day. That shit fell right through her pretty dress and was holding on for dear life. They were probably L’eggs. Those were the panty-hose we ALL bought because of the commercials. Tall, leggy blondes running around in pumps with their legs outstretched and a virtual harem of distracted men. What they really were was some shit you layered on top of your girdle to ensure the nastiest yeast infection of your life. Hang on ladies, it’s about to feel like daggers when you pee. They came in a shell that looked like an egg. I hope you are following this marketing genius. My teacher was hanging some art while standing on a desk when we all noticed it. We all stared up from our shoe drawings. No one wanted to tell her because they thought it was funny or they were scared, so I told her. She handled it pretty well, but I thought that was pretty mean. Years later, I ended up at her son’s shiva. He took himself out in LA. She was a sweet teacher.

Second of all, Reagan. Third of all, Ollie North. Fourth of all, my social studies teacher pulling us into watch the Challenger explode in the sky with seven people aboard, the war on drugs and Reagan’s manic presidential fitness award which went over really well for a kid like me with about us much acrobatic inclination as this:

That is how I felt when they paired me up with Gary, a FUCKING gymnastic Olympian (I’m serious) during my “Gymnastics Floor Routine.” Gary was one of the two kids in our class that had competed in the Olympics. I wish I was kidding here, but I’m not. The other was my friend Kim. She was sending us competition updates from the road in middle school about meeting Mary Lou. Then she had an aneurysm and we all thought she was going to die. Turns out she lived and did well. She came back to school with a shaved head and a beret. I remember this kid Steve wanted to fuck with her so he pulled off her hat. I walked over and slapped him and then told the principal. He got suspended. That was one of the few times I ever lost my shit and came out of my traumatized stupor. My injustice siren got set off. I got pulled into the principal’s office, but they let it slide given the circumstances. Years later, I found Kim in a bar getting wasted and having a fight with some dude. She didn’t want to talk much.

I’m not sure if they make kids do gymnastics routines anymore, but yes, I had an overly-zealous, latent lesbian gym teacher who made us do all of the “individual events”. One time I was running full throttle toward the horse vault and she yelled “You’re doing great—-now if you just lost 10 lbs.” My spirit sunk into the mat and didn’t resurface for many, many years.

But 1990 as a year had personal relevance for me. First, I met my best friend Gayle and I fell in love with a Lebanese kid who did the most convincing Fonzie impersonation I’ve ever seen. Friday nights at my grandparents watching “Happy Days” sealed the deal that Fonzie was the coolest, bad-ass ever. All Stephen had to do was gesture his thumbs like the Fonz and my little heart melted. That same year, my parents let me watch “Jaws.” I thought Jaws was going to come kill me through the window. Jaws was in the air conditioner, under the bed, in the fridge. Yes folks, Jaws had morphed into an amphibious stalker that wanted to ruin my fucking life.

Over the years, Gayle and her older sisters introduced me to a long list of things: rap music with swears, wine coolers, cigarettes, tanning with corn oil, break-dancing in the cheese hole at Chuck E. Cheese, boy crushes and shell-top Adidas.

Gayle and I played the single for “White Lines” by Melle Mel and Sylvia Robinson in my room until the tape wore out. Every time we heard “freeze,” we would shut off the lights. We did this for hours on end while we practiced dance moves in the mirror. Gayle showed me how to pop and lock in the mirror. I looked like a freaked out deer in the headlights making awkward arm gestures. But I liked it. It wasn’t Drugan’s gymnastics pole-vaulting mania or Reagan’s big, dumb face hanging in the cafeteria alongside his wife telling us to “just say no”. Say no to what? How was I supposed to know what I was supposed to say no to? I was a little kid. For the record, I had no idea what free-basing was until the anti-drug people thoroughly explained it. Most of us didn’t. But apparently, saying “don’t do it” wasn’t enough for them.  Sadly, the world hasn’t come much further in understanding irony.

But my Lebanese boy had no interest in me. He liked the vivacious blonde, Katie. She was a sprite who played hard to get. I wasn’t into that shit. I was like…look here, little dude, be my boyfriend. I haven’t changed all that much. He liked the records I brought into show n’ tell, the Bee Gees, Luciano Pavarotti, Beatles, Janis, Michael Jackson. I came to realize that Stephen liked me for my music so he could show off his cool, six year old dance moves, but he didn’t like me and didn’t want to be my boyfriend.

Just a few years ago, my Dad asked me if I remembered his family because someone had died. My Dad has an incredible ability to know about EVERYONE who has died.

My school eventually pulled me out of Fonzie’s class. I was devastated. For the greater part of that year, I was running home and telling my Mom all about how Fonzie was in my class. Years later, I found out that I was too advanced for the class. No one told me at the time. I wanted to crawl under a rock. I missed my Fonzie. I missed my fake friends. I think grown-ups should be required to explain things like that, but they don’t and our wondering, little eyes are left to guess and assume our own detriment.

Like most of my crushes, Stephen knocked up two different girls and then ended up bald and divorced. I swear, this is the only way the universe lets me off the hook sometimes. I also realized that Stephen was a Lebanese boy impersonating a Jew impersonating an Italian. That one was difficult to process.

Gayle got pregnant. We didn’t talk again. She moved and I sauntered nervously off into the great beyond of high school. I missed her. Last year, I met the real Fonzie on the set of a movie. He had aged and so had I, but he was still cool in a hippy-sage kind of way, not like his TV personality and not at all like Stephen.

My best friend Gayle found me on facebook last week. I wrote her an email. All it said was: “Freeze! Rock!”

Somehow I trusted she would know exactly what that meant.


Grandmaster Flash – White Lines by hushhush112

About Plavia Rantham

Plavia Rantham
I was born in little town near the Appalachian Trail, raised on Sweet Tarts, Solid Gold and home-made, Cabbage Patch Dolls. My neighborhood bragging right was "Best Linda Blair impersonation" which wasn't so much an impersonation as it was my feelings about growing up surrounded by rednecks who didn't like "black music." I'm now a freelance writer living in NYC.
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