Thirty years ago this week, I turned ten. I’d learned the word “decade” a few weeks earlier, so I imagine I tormented many a questioning adult thusly.
“Happy Birthday! How old are you?” “A decade.”
To my parents, a look, maybe a phrase like “He’s a character, all right.”
President Reagan was in office and I liked none better for the job. What did I know? I was nine and knew little of politics. Only two years earlier, I was as staunch a Democrat as a kid of eight could be. President Carter was from Plains, Georgia, after all. And he grew peanuts. That was enough for me.
But President Reagan conducted himself like a swinging grandfather and loved jelly beans. Also, he was an actor. A Hollywood imagination and a sweet tooth were qualifiers a-plenty.
John Belushi died in March of 1982. I remember that as clearly as I remember hearing of John Lennon’s death a year or so earlier.
Much of my celebrity knowledge was gleaned from The National Enquirer, the favorite periodical of the Addington’s. They were a couple with grown children that accompanied my parents and I on camping trips to Alabama. Eufaula. Cedar Bluff. And by camping, I mean spending the weekend in a motorhome with running water, electricity and television, albeit black and white. And Mrs Addington always had a stack of the latest Enquirers close at hand. She and my mother would gossip about goings-on at church and I’d read about scandals and accusations and assumptions, never really comprehending but remembering the names and faces.
I’d gotten a tape recorder at some point, a Realistic model with the fat red and black combo record/play button. If a song came on the radio that I liked, I’d grab the recorder and punch that huge button, coming away with maybe two-thirds of a track (in mono, no less) if I was lucky. While I was starting to have an appreciation for music, the idea of genres still escaped me. Joan Jett. Hall & Oates. Men At Work. More Hall & Oates. Rick Springfield. John Cougar. Even more Hall & Oates.
I remember calling into a local radio station, one I realized later was all-country, and requesting Olivia Newton John’s “Physical.” I remember a pause of silence, maybe a sigh, then, “No, kid, we don’t play that.”
Hey, it was only the number one hit of the year.
Though locally, Tommy Tutone’s “867-5309” was the business. 867 was a local prefix around North Georgia and Chattanooga, so I can only imagine the torment suffered by whoever had that number. Yes, I remember dialing it, but it was busy. Every single time.
Later that year, I’d attend the World’s Fair in Knoxville, Tennessee. I remember very little apart from the stone statues from China, the huge glass pavilions and the way the sunset glinted off the Sunsphere. My mother worked for TVA, so I’d kept a poster on my closet door for most of the year leading up to the visit. That golden ball looked like the future and competed that summer with the Space Shuttle for the embodiment of This Is The Future.
Well, that and my digital watch. An Armitron. It played “Edelweiss.” The strap broke once, but since it was plastic, my Dad fixed it with epoxy.
My hair was still straight as can be. I still smiled broadly and carelessly. All teeth and gums.
And so incredibly skinny.
What would I tell that boy?
“Keep smiling. And don’t worry so much. Junior high is coming and things are going to even out. You’ll no longer be carrying your special lunch to school. But in the meantime, do some homework. Don’t stop drawing, but maybe take a break from time to time to pay attention to your teachers, because they really are trying.
“And if you listen to nothing else, remember this:
“You’re a good kid.”