Wednesday, July 17, 2013

sincerely yours: the breakfast club effect

I pop in the scratched DVD, curl into the sunken corner of my couch, and press “play.” Shoveling Lucky Charms into my mouth, I savor the tinted, marshmallowy milk as I prepare to indulge in John Hughes’ sweet ‘80s masterpiece, The Breakfast Club, for the umpteenth time. I was 13 years old when I discovered the film, which was recorded off of HBO, sandwiched in between episodes of Cagney & Lacey on a homemade VHS tape, and stowed away in a forgotten drawer in my parents’ living room. On the surface, I was immediately drawn to John Bender’s mysterious persona and gratuitous f-bombs, Claire Standish’s dated-but-fabulous wardrobe, and Brian Johnson’s lovable, naive nerdiness. My barely teenage existence, filled with gel pen-laden notes, close reads of Seventeen magazine and visits to the orthodontist, paled in comparison to their seemingly sexy school days. With that first glimpse of what high school could be like, I became obsessed with all things brat pack, from the subtle nuances in each scene to the background songs that were almost as important as the one-liners. When Napster took hold, I agonized for hours, trying to find the song that plays on Carl the janitor’s radio when he strolls in to impart some wisdom on the kiddos (it’s “Waiting” by Elizabeth Daily). 

Despite spending countless hours in the fictional halls of Shermer High School, Shermer Illinois, 60062, this time was different. When I wasn’t mouthing “Does Barry Manilow know that you raid his wardrobe?” and “I’ve seen her dehydrate, sir. It’s pretty gross.” along with the script, my mind wandered. I began to consider the brains, athletes, basket cases, princesses, and criminals that had weaved in and out of my own life. True, I’d never set foot in detention or even made so much as a visit to the principal’s office during high school. Yet, there are always those people—those groups of people—that you’d never find yourself drawn to in so-called “real life,” but that you somehow become intensely intertwined with through a twist of fate, a certain set of circumstances that can never be replicated. Friendships that are built completely around an immediate, shared experience: the sense that you’re all in this together, whether “this” is a crappy part-time job, a stalled subway ride, or hours of rehearsal for a recital. 

Just like that, these strangers turn into temporary soulmates. You’ll create your own inside jokes about the time that one of you stashed drugs in your underwear in the nick of time.  You’ll shimmy and swivel to pop songs and claim them as your own. You’ll trust them with those buried parts of yourself that you swore you’d never let anyone see, like how you failed shop class last semester or how you can apply lipstick flawlessly without using your hands. You’ll discover that you have far more in common than you ever thought possible with the person that you initially sneered and scoffed at. You’ll come to have an intimate familiarity with each and every one of these people for just one moment in time; a snapshot that partially but perfectly captures all of your lives. Your very own March 24, 1984.

One would imagine that such defining experiences are bound to inspire bonds that promise to endure for weeks, months, or years after you’ve signed and sealed your letter to the principal and returned to your respective lives. And sometimes, just sometimes, they do. The dismal truth for me, at least, is that I can probably count the number of times I’ve spoken to most of these individuals since our finite time together on one hand. Even when we run into each other on a Sunday afternoon at Target months later, or manage to make lunch plans, the connection crumbles without the context. That realization still doesn’t stop me from crossing my fingers behind my back every time. Hope creeps in, and gives me those anxious butterflies. This is it, I think. That time when I finally prove history wrong and carry these friendships over the threshold and beyond the stuffy confines of the school library. 

So this one goes out to my very own breakfast club. To the other writers on my high school newspaper staff with whom I agonized over layouts and fought halfheartedly for free speech. To the ladies on my high school dance team, too. We teased truck drivers with cheeky signs en route to competitions, shared the blissful, greasy satisfaction of post-performance cheeseburgers in a decrepit Boston neighborhood, and exchanged high-fives after our devastating performance of “Thriller”—complete with zombie make-up and ripped fishnets—at the spirit week pep rally. To the five corporate interns that I worked with during college on an abysmal, ongoing PowerPoint project. We religiously completed the USA Today crossword, came up with stupid nicknames for the real nine-to-fivers, and giggled at the Sextrology books in Barnes and Noble during our two-hour lunches, occasionally detouring to Hooters for wings when the male majority ruled. 

To the waitstaff at that faux Irish pub in Boston, my compatriots during the summer of 2007. Over slow Wednesday dinner shifts and loud, trivia-filled evenings, we discussed everything from failed romances to red velvet cake, abused our employee discount in pursuit of mozzarella sticks, and even spent a sleepy Sunday brunch trying to score Tegan and Sara tickets. To those two girls that my friend and I shared Nickelodeon nostalgia and trashy celebrity gossip magazines with in a Burger King booth at a Connecticut rest stop, after our faulty MegaBus was forced to make a pit-stop on the way home from a music festival. To those 19 instant friends with whom I sipped Sangria, cringed through a bullfight, and danced ‘til dawn in a dimly-lit Florence nightclub on a two-week tour of Europe. Slow change may have pulled us apart, but I still have one lingering question. 

As you walk on by, will you call my name?

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