There was a certain sparseness to my youth. Distances between my house and my neighbor’s. Tracts of forest in the middle of things. Someone somewhere had watched the Alan Parker movie Pink Floyd’s The Wall and gotten “fucked up” while doing it. This meant that some incredible thing had happened, this experience of life that was on another level. Video games were around, but Pong on Coleco was definitely spare. And talk about spare automobiles – I went to the prom in a 1981 Chevy Malibu Station Wagon. There was a bench seat, a three speed shift, and then the back. The back, incidentally, is where a buddy of mine wound up having a good time with his date – mine had used me only sparingly, to take pictures, to convince her parents that she should be allowed to go at all. Once we had gotten to the dance and had our photos taken, she’d spared me her company most the rest of the night.
That sort of childhood, this place of boredom and wonder, of wandering around with a stick in the dirt, head hanging on shoulders, listening to the calls of kids down the street, passing a burbling brook, it may have passed away. This kind of youth, growing up with a few hallmarks, like certain gnarled trees in an otherwise empty cathedral forest, a few things like Knight Rider on TV, or getting a Nintendo for Christmas, like smoking your first cigarette, that was it. There wasn’t much else, there didn’t need to be. Some kid at a party could show you how to make you pass out by crunching your head and neck together in a stronghold – and that was the evening’s entertainment. The things the bigger kids were doing out there in the night were unassailably dangerous and cool – buying beer, running snow mobiles, getting in fights. No one had cell phones or a Twitter account. No one had thousands of movies and TV shows to live stream. There were a few things you got, take it or leave it. Life was spare.
Of course, this is nostalgia. And also, of course, the generation prior said the same thing: Kids our age were spoiled with too much convenience, too much idle time, too many gadgets and devices to distract us. The older generation came down on TV, they came down on rock no roll music and kids walking around with stereos (“ghetto blasters”) up on their shoulders. Remember the stereos? Those stereos were cool – all beat up and with stickers on them from skateboard companies. I used to walk around the school playground polling people on what they liked best – Nike or Reebok? Coke or Pepsi? Mario or Zelda? Despite these earnest early surveys, however, I never did go into market research for a career.