I have always favored fearless men who wear makeup. I am a Generation X child through and through (aka The MTV Generation). I experienced MTV at its inception, when there were only about five videos on repeat. It was glorious. “Video Killed the Radio Star” is the one I remember, but soon to follow were many hits, a lot of them one-hit wonders. I still listen to many of those unforgettable songs, some thirty-something years later. Martha Quinn, Nina Blackwood, J.J. Jackson, yep. They were kind of like my friends.
Music has always played a huge role in my life, and it’s because of old-school MTV. I am gleefully out of touch with what is now broadcasting on the music channel – that doesn’t play music anymore – because I despise reality television. I have always hated reality TV. Ironic that my relationship with MTV would be ended over one of my biggest pet peeves. The Real World may not technically be the very first reality television show, but it’s up there with Friends and Seinfeld for my generation. That statement has nothing to do with quality, mind you.
But back to men and makeup, Duran Duran fueled many of my early teen fantasies. This was back when I didn’t even have enough carnal knowledge to create full-blown fantasies. I still tried and around 1986-1987 (I’m approximating, obviously), I attempted my first (and so far last) go at fan fiction. All I remember is there was a pool involved. My favorite Duran Duran member was Nick Rhodes.
Some of the terms used to distinguish my generation are “latchkey children,” slackers, cynical. We were exposed to the most divorces of any previous generation with more Moms working outside the home (no causal effect intended). Now that we’re all middle-aged, we’re supposed to be decently happy and well-adjusted (according to statistics).
But we had great music (including grunge and hip-hop) and great movies. Prince’s Purple Rain changed my life. I thought he was just about the coolest dude ever. I was (and still am) a huge fan of British new wave and there was a lot of makeup going on with Culture Club, Duran Duran, The Cure, and Siouxsie and the Banshees. In my view, Goth will never die.
I can remember when the first VHS tapes came out and you could rent them from a store. For me, it would have been Star Wars, The NeverEnding Story, Goonies, The Princess Bride, and Grease (which were all life-changing movies). Leaving out John Hughes movies would be a crime.
I can also recall recording Star Trek: The Next Generation on blank tapes off regular cable television. Mixed cassette tapes were also a thing. Since my parents were religious, they wouldn’t allow me to listen to radio music. I would get blank tapes and record the songs I liked off the radio. I always hated how the DJs would talk and talk and talk right up until the second the vocals came in. But beggars couldn’t be choosers. I would hide the tapes under my mattress.
I grew up in an age with no computers, no cell phones, no tablets. We had a Commodore 64, but the only game I remember playing was Gyruss. I used to type my college school papers on a typewriter. One of them was about vampires. When you needed to call someone and you weren’t in a house, you used a pay phone. I remember when a dollar would fill up a little brown paper bag with candy from the store (we walked there without parents).
I am nostalgic when thinking of that time period. In an age where everything feels recycled, it was original, genuine, classic. Today’s young people may be introduced to the live action version of The Little Mermaid while we were enchanted by the original, which was a new kind of Disney compared to Cinderella and Snow White.
I remember when there were only a few television channels. Shows like Family Ties, Growing Pains, Little House on the Prairie, Cheers, and The Cosby Show were popular. You didn’t have hundreds of shows to binge watch on streaming channels. There was no fast-forwarding through commercials. Everyone watched The Muppets, Peanuts/Charlie Brown, and the stop motion Rudolph/Santa movies. (Santa, you’re an asshole!)
My brothers and I would watch Scooby-Doo, Inspector Gadget, G.I. Joe, Looney Tunes, anything Hanna-Barbera before and after school and on Saturday mornings. I would collect the comics section from the Sunday newspaper to read.
My hair was embarrassingly big. What was up with that wall of hairspray phase? I was incredibly unfashionable for the time period because my family didn’t have the money to invest in fads and trends, but hairspray was cheap.
(Me and the hair, 1991.)
I remember solidifying my love of music when I was in the fourth grade. My teacher would play records while we completed assignments if we were well-behaved. “Hungry Like the Wolf” by Duran Duran, “Angel of the Morning” and “Queen of hearts” by Juice Newton; there were more, but I can’t remember them now. I was nine. This particular teacher was one of those, when, if you asked if you could do something, would say, “I don’t know, can you?” He had sour breath but was a pretty cool guy.
I think this was the year I got mild food poisoning from a ham, lettuce, and mayonnaise sandwich. My Mother would always make us homemade lunches, but since we lived in Florida, the possibility of ripening foodstuff was quite high. One time, another kid took my brown bag lunch (I assume by accident; they all looked alike), and I got theirs. It was a ketchup sandwich. When I complained, the lunchroom monitor said, “Well, everyone is eating, so just make the best of it.” I tried a bite, but needless to say, I went hungry that day. I sincerely hope people aren’t still feeding their kids ketchup sandwiches. Just send them with plain bread.
My Mom once told my Grandma (RIP) she was hungry, and Grandma got out the ketchup and spread some on bread and handed it to her. My Mom was like, “What? Seriously?” So, ketchup sandwiches is or was apparently a thing for families without money.
In fifth grade, I became obsessed with Grease 2. Not the original Grease, but the sequel with Michelle Pfeiffer, Maxwell Caulfield, Lorna Luft, and Adrian Zmed. I feel this movie is completely under-rated. “Score Tonight,” “Cool Rider,” “Let’s Do It for Our Country?” Musical gems. I will go down with this ship. My friends and I would play Pink Ladies at school. I was a Johnny and Paulette fan.
I also fractured my wrist roller skating, which gave me a fear of physical sports, and ended my interest in anything athletic. On the flipside, this began my self-taught vocal training, which ended up with me having a five-octave range, but ended in me squandering it years later when I moved to New York City with a friend and chose drugs and clubbing over pursuing my gift.
My ear drum also burst during this period, and I recall laying on the couch in the living room on a heating pad, and my Mom allowing me to watch “V,” the mini-series about reptilian aliens masquerading as humans, starring Marc Singer, Faye Grant, and Jane Badler. This was a life-defining moment for me, and no doubt was a huge influence on my love for science fiction and fantasy. They rebooted V in 2009 but canceled it after only two seasons. Rip off!
In sixth grade, I had several close friends and we were all fangirls for the two Coreys (Corey Haim and Corey Feldman), River Phoenix, Wil Wheaton, and Sean Astin. The Goonies, Lost Boys, and Stand by Me were huge iconic films for me. I decided I wanted to become an actress. I was so confident and carefree during this time. I actually thought this was a possible goal.
We had sex education class and they allowed the girls to order a free “starter” period pack with pads and tampons. It arrived during the summer, when I happened to get my first period. I was not twelve yet. I remember waking up and going to the bathroom and seeing some reddish-brown spots in my underwear. I sat in my room, thinking about this for a long time. Hours, perhaps, before I finally got up the nerve to confide in my Mom. She informed me that I had started my period and then called my Dad to tell him. I was mortified.
Thus, began puberty, the worst time of my life. Well, one of the first worst times. I guess I might have first realized I had depression when I took fifty ibuprofens out of the medicine cabinet, swallowed them, and lay down in bed, waiting to see what would happen. Thankfully, nothing did. I went about my routine and knew what I had done was wrong and scary, but I told no one. The full-blown significance of what I had done didn’t hit me until decades later.
I had a few friends in seventh grade. One was a charming, but manipulative girl who convinced me to run away from home. We left school grounds and walked through a bad neighborhood, on railroad tracks. She hitch-hiked a ride off some guy in a truck. I refused to sit in the cab with him, so sat in the back while she sat up front. We ended up at her grandmother’s, who of course called the police.
My mother tells me now the police officer said we were lucky to be alive. I don’t know if that is true or not, but I did feel bad for the stress it caused my parents. I think it was the first time I heard my Dad cry. Needless to say, we were not friends after that or allowed to associate with each other. I suppose we did have a sort of “Heavenly Creatures” friendship thing going on (if you haven’t seen the movie with Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey, directed by Peter Jackson, you should) that was best nipped in the bud before worse things could happen.
I had another friend who ended up pregnant at twelve or thirteen and her parents arranged for an abortion. I told my youth group leader because I was still flirting with the whole Christian thing and he tried to intervene and convince her to have the baby and give it up for adoption. She had the abortion. We drifted apart sometime after that, but she was nice, and I hope she is doing well.
I had one of my first huge crushes on a guy, and he was nice to the fat girl (me). He would talk to me on the phone but there wasn’t a chance in hell he would ever be interested in me. (Ironically, I would see him again years later when I was a server at The Olive Garden and had lost weight and was acceptably cute. I could tell he was attracted to me then, but he didn’t ask for my number, and I was content to know he missed his chance while still being flattered.)
Things deteriorated at home with my relationship with my parents. I had so much anger in my heart towards them. I began to shut myself in my room. I read books and listened to music and sang. That was my life. My performance in school deteriorated so much that I was pulled out and home-schooled for half a year. It was awesome.
I spent most of every day in the library and it was paradise. I discovered Stephen King books and vampires. I was able to finish my work and then read the rest of the day. When I tested at the end of the year, I was at a twelfth-grade reading and English level, but barely passed math. I’m not a math person.
Ninth grade found me at a Baptist private school where I saw my first video of a saline abortion. I’m pretty sure this type of abortion is rare, but the video proved a great example for the pro-life advocates in charge of the students to trot out to mortify and frighten us. I was properly traumatized, as intended.
Sports were everything, so I floundered through an awkward basketball season, running up and down the court, occasionally getting the ball and doing nothing with it. I was catcher during softball season. I remember very little about this year because I didn’t fit in. I had superficial friends and a couple of sporty girls in a grade above who pity-friended me. There were crushes on guys who had zero interest in the fat girl.
I was back in public school for tenth grade and until I graduated. A miracle happened. One of the girls from my youth group told me to put my locker near hers by the choir class, which was near the theater. Thus began my high school career as the fat and sarcastically bitchy drama queen. I managed to befriend the popular drama geeks my first year!
In my junior year, a friend and I did a duet scene for district competition where we portrayed females who realize they like each other. The scene ended with us kissing (we blocked the scene where we didn’t actually kiss, but the audience couldn’t tell) and the gasps from the audience were satisfying. We got a Superior rating at district, but our Principal wouldn’t let us go to State because she thought the scene might be too controversial and cause trouble. This was 1990, but still, it sucked. I think we felt like rebels who were challenging the status quo and had done something important for the time period.
My favorite music during this period was inevitably show tunes. I knew Les Misérables by heart and could sing every part. I also loved Cats, Jekyll & Hyde, Chess, and Into the Woods. I would literally sing in my room for hours, every day. If I hit a note wrong, I would rewind the cassette tape, and do it again and again. My drama teacher picked West Side Story for my senior year. I was pissed off because, let’s face it, deep down, I knew I wasn’t going to get Maria no matter how good I was. In fact, I stumbled upon a conversation with a few drama kids (none were close friends), and one girl said snidely, “Shelly can’t play Maria. She’s too fat.”
It was the first time I realized that the roles I could ever hope to get would be limited because of my weight. I think a little bit of my spirit died that day, but I still practiced. I auditioned for Maria anyway and sang “Tonight” and nailed every note.
I shocked everyone. My choir teacher immediately called me to the back of the room where she and the drama teacher were during auditions and asked why I hadn’t told her I could sing like that before. The next day, in choir, I was moved from Alto II to Soprano I. I could hit a high G. I got the part of Anita. I can’t dance for shit, which was ironic, but my Spanish teacher, who saw the play, said I had the best accent, so there.
We would sneak in the auditorium occasionally and spend the night in there. One time, a girl was in there having sex with her boyfriend with all of us there. I was annoyed with all her moaning and said, “Shut up! We can’t sleep.” She laughed and said I could join them if I wanted.
I was very awkward as a teenager and presented a very sarcastic and confident image, but I couldn’t have been more insecure and filled with self-loathing and shame. I had the typical hair-sprayed wall of bangs popular then and zero fashion sense. My family was lower middle class, so clothes shopping was nonexistent. I graduated with very average grades and a “D” in Algebra.
That summer I played Golde in Fiddler on the Roof during summer theater. One night during the song “Do You Love Me?” I watched a cockroach crawl across the stage right by my feet. Fifty points to Hufflepuff for staying in character!
I started at the community college when grunge music was just taking off. I planned to study music and become an opera singer. Then, I met the guy I would move to New York City with and squandered it all to party and do drugs.
A note from my Aunt after hearing me sing “Somewhere” in West Wide Story, my senior year of high school, 1991. Aunt Kay was one of my favorite aunts who would let me watch rated-R movies when I spent the night. (Sorry, Mom.) She passed from pancreatic cancer in 2017
Flair, 1991 drama geek style.
© Shelly Teems 2019