29 March 2010

The Reagan Years

With all this talk of Hot Tub Time Machines, I've been thinking about the past. I liked growing up in the Reagan years. It must have been similar to the people who had FDR for a president. In 1980, Reagan's first year in office, I was still a kid. I was in that awkward stage between make-believe and real life. When we are children we pretend. When we start to grow up we don't pretend anymore. That's when we're supposed to play sports, or music, or embrace some other non-pretend activity. Then, after high school, after we've devoted ourselves to being square, to fitting in and "finding out who we are", we go off to college as fully formed people. Yeah, right. This is when we discover that alcohol is the new pretend activity.

When Reagan left office in 1988 I had had too many new experiences to count. They say that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. Well, for me, March was like Reagan. If there was a checklist of adult activity, it would have been blank when Reagan came in and all filled out when Reagan left. I had a) had sex, b) had sex again, c)hooked up with some nurses on a weekend in the Thousand Islands (we had sex), and d) the list goes on. Driving a car, being on my own (somewhat responsible for myself anyway) and on and on. Reagan's presidency demarcated my childhood from my adulthood.

I started drinking when I was sixteen. Over at Pete Dugovic's house (my best friend for awhile) I had six beers. I was drunk. I didn't drink again until the next year when my friend John Pooley and I would mix whiskey and cokes from his parent's liqour cabinet (sorry Jack and Liz) and walk down on the rocks by the creek. I drank sporadically after that until I went away to school. After that it was SigPi's, the Teek House parties, and anywhere else we could get beer. Not to mention the summer of 1988, which I spent in a crazed frenzy of escapism. The last summer of the Reagan presidency went out with a bang, not a whimper.

1988 was the year I made my first adult plans. D.J. called me one December afternoon and told me we were moving to Arizona. "We are?" "Yeah," he said. "We're gonna go to ASU. Where Eva lives." Okay, I thought. Sounds good to me. We flew out that April. The first morning we were there we dropped Eva off at class at Mesa Community College, got a twelve pack, and drove to the highest point we could find. It was a park, not unlike Mendon Ponds Park or Cobb's Hill (for those from 'round here) with rocks and cactus and scorpions (poisonous varmints). We sat on the rocks and drank our beer and I really felt like I was somewhere I had never been before.

The rest of that year crashed to the ground like Springsteen's calliope and I ended up retreating to Edinboro, to waste the days away with George and Eric and everyone else, going to Stealer's Fair with Johnny and reading Steinbeck. I didn't get back to Arizona until years later, when Eric became a park ranger out there (Dead Horse Ranch State Park). George Bush was elected president that fall, the next year the Soviet Union fell, and the year after that Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. The 1980's were finally over. From then on my life would continue to go in cycles, but they would be smaller cycles, and more compact. I think time speeds up as you get older, but if you spend some time looking back, it feels like looking at an ocean of time.

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