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Thursday, June 26, 2008

I Love NY But Not NKOTB

Every generation has its musical trends that don't quite sit well with the older folks. In the 50's it was Elvis and Rock & Roll. In the 60's it was The Beatles. Those of us, who grew up in the 80's had to weather our own strange trends and when you look back 20 years later you scratch your head and sniff the ridiculousness that was in your mind the end all/be all of existence. That's one of the downfalls of childhood, the ability to take something so mundane and unimportant and turn it into a huge deal in your life. Relationships are the same way. William Shakespeare was either way ahead of his time or the luckiest S.O.B. who every put quill to paper. Look at Romeo and Juliet from this angle. The importance of their forbidden love was just that, theirs. Youth and raging hormones have a way of ratcheting up the importance when it comes to emotions. Perhaps Romeo and Juliet took their love a little too seriously in terms of death before distance. The melodrama that plays out in Shakespeare's text is meant to be romantic and tragic. To think that two people were so in love that they were willing to die rather than be apart is a noble and inspiring thought. Today, we just chalk it up to adolescence. I do think Shakespeare was ahead of his time and wrote to his audience. In fact, if he were alive today, he'd be writing soapy teenage dramas for the CW or Fox. Kevin Williamson would have renamed Dawson's Creek, Dawson upon Potter's Creek. In any case, the writing on those shows would be ten times better, although I suspect the acting would still be too much for any sane person to handle.

Yet for every trend that passes into our history, it has a tendency to reemerge again, only to serve as a testament of the reason for its original demise. Beverly Hills 90210 is getting another shot on television. Why? Aaron Spelling is doing somersaults in his grave. Also, another notable event this year is the reformation and touring of The New Kids on the Block. Again, why? It is because of this resurgence in NKOTB drivel that I am reminded of how I felt like a love torn Shakespearean character whose adolescent mind made Much Ado About Nothing when it came to love.

During my years in Junior High, which consisted of the 7th through 9th grades, I was in a transitional phase of my development. In other words, I was going through puberty and an awkward phase. I wore braces and was two years away from contact lenses and any sense of being somewhat normal looking. In an effort to further my chances with a certain girl in my class, I professed my unwavering "like like" of a group I would normally just call fruity and only for girls. This of course was New Kids on the Block. Guys at my age couldn't fathom the idea that girls at my age could be so enthralled with a bunch of high falsettos dancing and singing. To us, you liked Van Halen, Led Zeppelin, Run DMC, and Def Leppard. Boy bands were not something we gave much thought to, unless you were trying to win points with a girl. In that mindset we talked a tough game about how "New Kids sucked" or "They have no talent," but when the guys left it was all, "Yeah, I think Joey is the talent" and "Donnie just fronts being a bad boy." Honestly, this has to be training for any guy who later has a debate with his wife over which color looks better on the bedroom wall, eggshell or ivory.

See, I was marked for death in this potential relationship early on, I just didn't know it yet. The girl in question, we'll call her Layla, was already in a relationship with a guy. Of course, at the age of 14, what consisted of a relationship? Do you meet at the mall or does one of your moms drive? Do you buy her dinner at a fancy restaurant or do you spring for Pizza with your grass cutting money? Remember, we're the same age as Romeo and Juliet. Everything is important. I was the "friend" she confided in about her guy problems. I was the safety. I thought I was in love with her. So, in order to score points with her, I listened to NKOTB. For awhile, I choked back the vomit and kept up a pretty good cover on liking this band. Secretly, I loved listening to "New Kids Got Run Over By a Reindeer" on Dr. Demento's Sunday night radio show. My plan was working. In fact, she had told me several times she had planned on breaking up with her boyfriend. That was my chance to help the process along and be there for her during the rebound.

About that same time, our History class had a field trip to New York City. It was a three day trip that couldn't have come at a better time. Layla's boyfriend was not going to be on the trip so I had the entire time to worm my way in and make her mine. She even agreed to sit next to me on the bus during the six hour bus ride. It was all playing out like a classic 80's movie. All I had to do was get her alone at night in some romantic spot with the skyline behind us and everything would take care of itself. I was the sensitive friend, who was also the closest warm body in proximity. The odds were in my favor. She would be drunk on the allure of New York's charm and I would strike. I was set. Nothing could stop me. I was going to win this round and then I could stop listening to those damn New Kids. What could go wrong?

At one point during the bus ride, Layla disappeared, saying she would be right back. She ventured to the back of the bus to talk to a friend. I didn't see her for the rest of the bus ride. When we got to New York, she was suddenly absent from our little group of friends that were going to be sight seeing together. Still, I loved every minute of seeing the top of the Statue of Liberty, and we even ended up in the receiving line of a wedding St. Patrick's Cathedral by accident. But, no Layla. We went to the top of The World Trade Center and Empire State Building and looked over the city. We ate at Houlihan's and a real New York style pizza. But, no Layla. In fact, I hardly saw her the entire trip. At one point I caught a glance of her talking to one of the other guys and they were holding hands. WHAT?!?! How could this be? That's my moment. Who are you to get in the way? On the way home, it finally sank in what had happened when I noticed her sitting in the back next to her new friend.

Layla did in fact go back to talk to her 'girl' friend during the ride to New York. While there she noticed someone she never noticed before. Sitting directly across from her friend was a boy who, until recently, had never looked like much. He was tall and lanky and wore glasses and button down shirts. Somehow, during the previous summer he changed. He bulked up and joined the wrestling team. He suddenly had huge, muscular thighs and arms. He traded in his button down shirts for attire that accentuated his growth spurt. Now, the running joke was that he was on steroids but this was years before Barry Bonds and BALCO. This was during the Bash Brothers era of the Oakland A's. So, while I'm up there, alone, syncing my Walkman to play, "I'll Be Loving You Forever" at the moment she comes back. She's back there batting her eyes at Marco Solo. Somehow, I missed my opportunity.

I had missed a lot of opportunities, it turns out. This guy wasn't sensitive. He wasn't interested in her feelings towards things like good piano sheet music for cheesy 80's songs by Cher and Peter Cetera. He didn't even claim to like NKOTB. He was the total opposite of everything I did to win her favor and it worked. She dumped her boyfriend and moved right in and they dated for the next two years. All the ground work I laid, all the chiseling away at her wounded heart, all the bile I choked back listening to "Oh Oh, Oh Oh Oh" was for nothing. I carried the ball from my own 20, down to the opposing five yard line and this yahoo gets the ball and takes it an easy walk into the end zone for the touchdown.

Now, again, I cannot stress enough the mindset of a fourteen year old boy in the middle of adolescence. This was devastating to my psyche. I went from fourteen to three in a matter of minutes. I did everything but hold my breath and roll around on the floor over this injustice. I became the sorest loser in the history of sore losers. This obsession and consequential undoing of any cool points I had earned up till then lasted for four years. She had moved onto other guys and I still had my head up my ass. Although, I did have a brief shining moment during my freshman year. Our version of the 'prom' was called the 'Freshman Farewell1' and I didn't have a date. Layla had been forbidden by her mother to go with her muscle bound beau and was also dateless. I, once again, seized the opportunity and through a playful exchange ended up asking her to the dance. She said yes. I felt like a mediocre golfer who went out and triple bogeyed 17 holes only to birdie the 18th, It's the kind of faith renewal that will bring back the most jaded of duffers.

It was all set. I would reset my plan to finally work. Then, in the background of the halls, I picked up on the subtext. She was using me to go to the dance and once there she would discreetly leave me and go hook up with her forbidden Fabio. I caught wind of this about the same time that I caught wind of something that had gone right over my head. There was a girl who was a year behind me that really liked me. In all the hustle and bustle of trying to rectify the NY situation I completely missed it. So, I sat down with Layla and explained that I knew what was going to happen if I took her to the dance. I wasn't going to be that guy, again. She became visibly agitated at the thought that I was giving her the boot. I went to the dance with the other girl and had a blast. We dated for about three weeks and she dumped me. Still, it was slump buster. There was hope for a schmuck like me to actually find someone who wanted the nice guy. Even though it only lasted a few weeks it was enough time for me to learn a few things.

  1. Teenage relationships are never as dire and important as we make them out to be. Just have fun and don't take yourself so seriously.
  2. You shouldn't have to pretend to be anyone else or like something you hate, just to win points. after all, eventually you will have to come clean.
  3. In figure skating, a Toe Loop is a take off from the back outside edge of the right foot and are launched by the left toe pick, not to be confused with a Toe Walley, which is a take off from back inside edge of the right foot.

Ok, fine, I pretended to like figure skating for a month. Sue me.

1. In a moment of being both bumped and clumsy I lost control of my Pepsi at that dance, spilling it all over a dear friend's dress. I apologize immensely for it every day of my life. I'm sorry.

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