A few days after the first semester of my freshman year ended, I got a call from one of the few people from high school I’d kept up with since graduation. She was back from college and was holding a party at her mom’s house that weekend. “All the old crew is going to be there,” she said in way which could be interpreted as either threat or promise. Still, I had fuck all else to do and nothing else planned for the night. There was also a part of me that was mildly curious about what everyone had gotten up to over the past four months.
It was about what I’d expected, or would’ve expected if I possessed a proper frame of reference — a bunch of not-so-close friends and acquaintances do their eighteen year old damndest to assert adulthood. Formerly dweeby preps and drama club wallflowers imbibed gallons of hootch, chainsmoked, and flaunted their new oh-so-naughty piercings and tattoos. When they weren’t doing these things, they talked about doing these things while I parked my ass on the kitchen table and did my brooding introvert routine.
When the time came to pick up the take out some had ordered, I volunteer to tag along for the ride. We made a side trip to a 7-11, where I bought a bottle of Dr. Pepper and ran into another former classmate named Chris. In high school, he’d been an occasional tormentor of mine and dwelled in the nebulous realm between jock and burnout. He was also a near-translucent ginger, which made the sight of him sporting spiked black hair and eyeliner even more unsettling.
“YO, DUDE,” he bellowed as he drafted me into some complex punk handshake thing I tried to keep up with, “YOU HAD THE RIGHT IDEA, MAN. THE RIGHT IDEA.” He flipped the laper of my punk jacket with a finger the color and texture of a newly hatched maggot. “I’M BACK FROM ENN-WHY-CEE. YOU HAD THE RIGHT IDEA, BUT YOU GOTTA GET OUT OF THIS TOWN BEFORE IT KILLS YA, KNOW WHAT I MEAN?”
I considered his words as I silently computed the odds he’d be found dead from an OD in CBGB’s bathroom within six months.
Back at the party, I sipped my drink and slipped my copy of The Go-Go’s Greatest Hits into the stereo. “OH MUH GAWD! I LOVE THIS SONG!” slurred a former member of the yearbook staff as she wobbled towards my general direction, her high hair halo brushing up against (and briefly) getting tangled in a hanging lamp.
I felt that I’d slipped into some alternate dimension, no so much and “evil mirror universe” but one where every person I’d gone through school with had become a sloppy drunk. By the time things had begun to settle into the barely coherent, whiskey dick hook-up stage of festivites, I decided it was time to make my overdue exit. I didn’t bother saying my farewells. No one was still lucid enough to comprehend them.
It was a cold, snowy, and roundabout walk back to Hammond Square. The sidewalks — where there were sidewalks — were icy as fuck and there was no sign of activity anywhere. I decided to take the route past the cemetary and out to Mishawum (pronounced “mish-you-wahm”) Road and Main Street. The going was slow and I’d discovered my Walkman’s batteries had ebbed to a point where only the radio still functioned. Since the headphones were doing double duty as earmuffs, I scanned the FM band in search of anything to distract me from the shitty walking conditions and my building sense of despair.
Eventually I rolled past a snippet of old timey theatrical dialogue, and parked the dial there. A bunch of people with Hollywood southern accents verbally emoted about race mixing and staging from show before lapsing into interludes of song, and I’d figured out it must have been a broadcast of Show Boat even before the NPR announcer broke in for station and program identification.
I listened to it for the rest of the walk home, letting it finish it out on my stereo before I turned in for the night.
Classic Hollywood musicals aren’t really my thing (though I will make time for South Pacific or Meet Me in St. Louis when they show up on Turner Classic Movies), especially one with fraught with a fuckton of problematic racial politics. At that moment, however, it was a psychic lifeline. Randomly stumbling across it during a moment of profound alienation felt like a sign, a weird message from the aether that there was something else out there. I know it sounds a bit maudlin, but I was a mildly inebriated (one of only two times it ever happened) pathetically sentimental eighteen year old myself.
All I’m saying is it turned something I didn’t want to remember into something I will never forget.