I think it's safe to say most of us can look back at our lives, whether we're 52 or 25, and be able to identify a... "golden age,"those special years in which we will always cherish. For some of us we can claim our childhood. Others the teenage years and others say college were the best years of their life... the wonder years
For me, it was my childhood. Tonight, I reminisce about 3 relatives who helped made those years so wonderful, and how, this past January, it all came full circle My Favorite Show Of All Time, Hands Down
THE WONDER YEARS
Growing up in the late '80s and early '90s, I was lucky enough to have been blessed with a wonderful childhood. From the little stuff (cartoons, toys, video games) to the big stuff (friends and family), I couldn't have asked for much more. My Uncle Jimmy, as well as my cousins Vince and Vivian, played a major role in those days of yore. I admired Uncle Jimmy, looked up to Vince, and saw Vivian as the big sister I never had. But as the years went on, things would change, as they so often do. What happened?
The mid '90s --
We always kept in touch, and we always will, but for the most part the mid '90s saw us going our separate ways. Over the years, be it on hot and sleepless summer nights, or pushing the limits of my suburban life by cruising unfamiliar towns at the witching hour, I would wonder to myself if those moments of sheer awe and childlike innocence involving my cousins and uncle -- would they ever happen again?
On one magical and historic day this past January, it did
V IS FOR VINCE AND VIVIAN
Growing up, Vivian's place was my second home. Every Saturday my dad would drop me and my brother off at her humble abode where she lived with her parents, brothers and sisters. Vivian is 8 years my senior. Her brother, Vince, 10. So in '87 I was four, my bro six, Vivian 12 and Vince 14. Typical Saturday back in those days looked like this:
Saturday morning cartoons
Rent the latest NES game (noon)
Play new game with bro for a couple hours
Head to Vivian's place late afternoon, stay until after dinner
I have many a fond memory of the four of us playing board games like Monopoly, RISK and Operation, our epic water balloon fights, hanging out in the garage/driveway until dusk, and Vince buying ice cream on the house for all of us from the ice cream man just to name a few. They had that infamous poker painting of dogs playing hanging in their garage. As we leaned back on green faded lawn chairs propped in the garage, talking about nothing and everything, and licking our tasty rainbow snow cones, the poker painting was always in the corner of my eye, haunting me with its striking, beautiful simplicity. To this day, I can still see it whenever I close my eyes
When Vince nabbed his driver's license in the late '80s, things only got better. It really was the golden age of my childhood; the zenith. Pure innocence, video games, good friends and family; in particular, my uncle Jimmy, and of course, my cousins Vince and Vivian
Without a shred of uncertainty, it was indeed... the Wonder Years
DAWN OF A NEW ERA
But, as all good things must, things change. As my cousins Vince and Vivian entered college and the 'real world' circa 1992, those halcyon days hanging out every weekend, admiring the sun gradually dip over the orange-blazed horizon, faded like a chalky ghost in the night. The visits went from being weekly to monthly. Other than the Halloween adventures linked with Viv and Vince of '94 and '95, the mid '90s saw a big shift in our relationship. In 1993, at the tender age of 20, Vince got married and the following year had a daughter. It changed everything. As Vivian and Vince entered their early and mid 20's from '93 to '97, they were busy finding themselves in the real world. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I was engaged in my own bout of self-discovery. In those same years puberty and junior high came and went. It was the end of one era... and the beginning of another
In addition to my awesome cousins, I had good ole Uncle Jimmy, who lived with me in the late '80s. He was a grade-A comedian, story teller, handyman, adventurer, and above all else, a hell of a guy. He bought me and Kev a Nintendo in 1987. Played Contra with us 'til the cows came home. Told us ghost stories every Friday night. Rented HALLOWEEN for me when I was six-years-old. Took us to mom 'n pops, malls, Chuck E. Cheeses, Toys R Us, etc. Chuck E. Cheese's was my favorite place growing up
Every time Saturday Night's Main Event made its way into our living room, we'd stay up late to see "THE IMMORTAL" Hulk Hogan, "Macho Man" Randy Savage and the larger-than-life WWF superstars of the late '80s
Of course my mom never approved of me staying up that late, even on a Saturday night but my uncle was always there fighting for my right to watch steroid-injected freaks of nature bodyslam each other to oblivion. God bless him
Uncle Jimmy was simply the man. His son was born in the summer of '88. David was the little bro I never had. As the '90s approached, Uncle Jimmy bought a Sega Genesis for me and Kevin
The last game I ever saw him play really was Sonic the Hedgehog. Coming home from school one day, I heard the classic Sonic Marble Zone tune blaring in the living room. Curious as to the source, I peeked in and saw Uncle Jimmy teetering on the edge of our couch as Sonic himself was teethering on a single block riding atop a lava spring. An image I knew then and there I would never forget
Camping out in our backyard was one of my favorite things to do, thanks in no small part to Uncle Jimmy. Being under the stars, the moon, nature... Mother Earth. The soothing and gentle sway of the leaves dancing in the cool night air... ahhh. Uncle Jimmy would set up three lawn chairs that fold out like a makeshift bed. Laying back, Kevin and I admired the streaking stars in the vast night sky as Uncle Jimmy wove grandiose tales ranging from ghost stories (my personal favorite) to random anecdotes entwinged with his own life backstories. We spent many lazy summer nights this way. For at least a solid hour, if not two, we hung onto every last word that came out of Uncle Jimmy's mouth. You can never get those serene and idyllic summer nights back, no matter how much you want to
Uncle Jimmy was known for many things, but perhaps his most infamous character trait was how much he loved documenting life. Everywhere you turned, he had a camera rolling. He recorded literally EVERYTHING. Thanks to him I have enough home videos to stack up from here to the moon. Back in the early '90s when America's Funniest Home Videos were doing their "Best Steve Urkel impersonation" contest, my uncle urged me to go for broke since he always thought I could do one hell of a Steve Urkel. I still remember his sales pitch: "We could use the $10,000 to buy 100 video games!" I never did go through with it... nonetheless, fond memories..
Uncle Jimmy also invented Backyard Bowling. Using a mini basketball and aligning ten empty cans of Pringles -- the three of us would compete in some of the most cutthroat backyard bowling the world has ever seen
Then, in the Spring of '92, his wife became pregnant for a second time. Uncle Jimmy decided it was time to move out. Life would never be the same
MY OUT OF TOWN LITTLE GIRL COUSINS
Uncle Jimmy's brother, Ben, had two daughters, one in 1986 and the other in 1993. The older one was Karen. The young one was Liz. I first met Liz in the winter of 1994. Karen loved playing Super Mario Kart, and might I add, quite the gamer, that one. When my brother and I plugged in Mortal Kombat II, she was quickly grossed out and immediately escorted little Liz out of the room, screaming "OH MY GOD!!! A ONE YEAR OLD CAN'T BE EXPOSED TO THIS RATED-R MAYHEM!!!!"
I would not see them for another eight years. A much much older Uncle Ben, teenager Karen and Liz visited in the summer of 2002. Karen was now 16 and Liz, 9. Wow, did they grow up. They all slept over for a week and Uncle Jimmy visited every day, bringing his only son (David) and daughter (Mia) along. Mia was Liz's age and the two of them really hit it off. Mia insisted on sleeping over for the entire week that Liz was here. My brother and I took them out every day. But whenever we stayed inside, we would play Saturn Bomberman and Puzzle Fighter up the wazoo... good times. Bloody hell, one morning I was awoken to the sound of "GOMEN NE?!" blaring the room over. It was 7 AM and Liz and Mia were already going at it! You see, the night before we engaged in some serious six-player warfare with a loser-passes-the-controller format, and Liz wanted her revenge. Still one of my favorite gaming memories ^_^
One night the whole family went to a restaurant -- a night that would forever alter my life
July 2002. I had just completed my freshman year at University. Mia and Liz were singing songs that night and running the restaurant like a pair of rock stars. They possessed this incredible, palpable chemistry -- like two best friends. Made me think of my own youth, when Nelly and I were once like that. Right then and there it hit me how much I missed it. Seeing their vibrant youth and energy left me feeling a little somber. Sitting at the table that evening watching Liz and Mia I had an epiphany. I used to have that spark and zest. But along the way, through life's journies and daily grind, I lost some of that
Driving home on the freeway that night I did some soul-searching. Beginning Acting was the first class I took in college, which I aced and had a great time. But my 2nd semester I decided not to take any acting courses and instead just focus on completing my general ed classes. Uncertain about taking Intermediate Acting, watching my two little cousins interact that night as they did, gave me the inspiration to just go for it. Life is short. Carpe diem Indeed. Tomorrow is not guaranteed for any of us...
And so I registered for "Intermediate Acting" with Laura Smith Fall 2002. I had a blast and went on to minor in theatre arts. I saw my dream come true when I starred in a University play three years later -- Fall 2005. I owe much of it to Liz and Mia, my two little cousins who reminded me of how short this life can be
BILLY THE MANIAC
I'll never forget the first time I met Billy. We didn't call him Billy the Maniac for no good reason. I remember that Saturday night in late '97 vividly as though it only happened yesterday. Vivian called me and my brother Kevin over. My dad drove us to Vivian's classic ole neighborhood. A strange young man we had never seen before opened the door. He looked a bit like a petty gangbanger, or so my first gut reaction went
Billy made an unforgettable first impression on me
"Who are you?" my dad asked, with a hint of suspicion in his voice
"She's in the restroom. You two must be Steven and Kevin. Come on in."
We made our way to the kitchen. Viv's parents and siblings were all gone that evening. My dad didn't take off until he saw her
I was 14 at the time, my bro 16 and Billy, 22 -- the same age as Viv
"I called you guys over to formally introduce you to my boyfriend, Billy"
My first thought: "SAY WHAT... THIS FOOL?!"
"I've heard a lot about you two," he announced. Oh really? "About how you two used to fight a lot, and how you used to hang out with Viv almost every weekend 'BAK IN THA DAY!'"
Hmmm, maybe he wasn't such a bad guy, I thought. But it's gonna take a little more than memory recall to win me over
"I do remember those days," Vivian chimed in, gazing into space, lost in the past for a fleeting moment. "Listen, it's girls' night out, so you three go out and have some fun"
Next thing I know, I'm sitting shotgun in Billy's '97 Acura. On the agenda: a good ol' fashion night of bowling and male bonding. Well, at least the former. The latter was going to be a bit more difficult, or so I initially assumed, anyhow. Ironically, the bowling alley we raided that evening was at the University that I would, years later, attend. Billy turned onto the freeway, and that's when his legend grew
LIFE IN THE FAST LANE
With his seat leaning back at about 120 degrees, Billy had his left hand on the wheel and his right in a Cheetos bag, as we screamed down the freeway at an excess speed of 100 miles per hour. For some reason his passenger seat didn't have a seat belt, so I clutched on to the frame by the window for dear life. Billy was casually carrying a conversation with me and Kevin as though it were as natural as breathing I started praying real fast!
At one point he asked if I wanted any Cheetos
"NO," I blurted, wanting to add "JUST FOCUS ON THE DAMN ROAD WILL YA!" but I didn't
We made it to University in one piece thankfully, and had a great time bowling, even if I did bowl a lousy 36 (Hey, first time; it wasn't quite as easy as Backyard Bowling!). We went out for a bite to eat afterward. Sitting in the booth, eating burgers and dipping fries in ketchup, we chewed the fat
"So how did you meet Vivian?" my brother asked
Billy laughed. "So, I signed up for this badminton course at State. You know, coz you gotta do a PE unit in college, and I kinda put it off for a while, ya know. I thought 'Hey badminton shooooot, that's an easy A!' On the second day I found myself playing doubles against Vivian and on the second play of the game I SMASHED the shuttlecock right in herface!"
Kevin and I laughed
"Hell of a way to get a lady's attention, believe me," Billy continued, chuckling. "So anyway, of course I apologized and offered to buy her a drink or lunch. I could tell her friend was like 'Don't do it don't do it!,' she did it anyway. During lunch we hit it off... but first I had to hit her! We joke about it now and then. It wasn't love at first sight... it was pain!"
We laughed again. That evening Billy grew on me, and any reservation I had about his character dissipated... even if he did dress and drive like a full fledged maniac
After we finished eating, Billy drove us back to Viv's place. We whizzed past the towering buldings by State before hitting the freeway -- at 102 miles per hour, of course. But somehow, on the way back, I no longer feared for my life. In fact, with the windows rolled down, the radio blasting like a rock concert, the cool night air nipping against our faces, I remember glancing over at Billy thinking, "This foo's alright... this foo's alright..."
I grew to like Billy, the bastard =P
BILLY THE DRUNKEN LOVER
Several months later, Valentines Night '98, Billy got wasted at my uncle's wedding. The lover type drunk,Tha Crossroadstells all, and thank God for locks!
ABOUT DAMN TIME
The news broke out Spring 2007. After 10 long years, and much in-house teasing, Billy and Vivian were finally going to tie the knot. Save the date -- January 5, 2008
MONDAY: DECEMBER 31, 2007
Uncle Ben brought his family down for Viv's wedding. It was my first time seeing Karen and Liz since that vaunted summer of 2002. Karen was now 21 and a high standing member at her University. Liz was now a 14-year-old freshman. Karen looked the same but Liz changed so much I almost did not recognize her! We hugged and caught up. Uncle Jimmy, David and Mia came over, too. But Mia and Liz were no longer best friends like they were in 2002. In fact, two girls couldn't have grown any further apart than Liz and Mia did. Mia became more introverted as the years passed, while Liz continued her outgoing, social butterfly persona. She was still into video games, but now she was also into boys, shopping, clothes and makeup. I can only describe her in one word: interesting
It was a little sad seeing Mia and Liz so disconnected... were these two girls the same two who inspired me just five years ago to further pursue my acting interest? Liz tried to make chit-chat with Mia, but Mia was so stiff/shy for this reunion that Liz's efforts were all but rendered useless
After catching up for a bit, we headed off to Vivian's place for a huge family reunion. Everyone was so excited to see Ben's family again, and of course Liz went through the obligatory "OH MY GOD IS THAT REALLY YOU? YOU'RE SO GROWN UP NOW!" spiel
Speaking of Liz, being around her guarantees that you're never bored. She still possessed the same abundancy of energy and zest for life as when I last saw her in 2002
It was a terrific evening. The final night of 2007. Hell of a way to close out the year, and what a way to kickstart 2008
DAYS LEADING UP TO THE WEDDING
Every day that week my bro and I took Karen and Liz out. It was a blast. Eating out, shopping, visiting family and just hanging out. The lot of us stayed up late every night that week playing video games and watching horror movies. We had our long overdue Puzzle Fighter and Saturn Bomberman rematch marathons. Liz couldn't believe I still had my 32-bit Sega Saturn after all these years. Of course, I kicked ass. [Like hell you did -Kevin] *ahem* It was a blast hanging out with Karen, Liz and my other cousins
No school, no work, no worries. For a week it was nothing but family love. Like time had stood still, all responsibilities thrown out the window, and what life would be like if we lived in a Utopian world
LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL
That week saw non-stop family reunion one after another. It was surreal seeing all of my family congregated in one place, from my grandmothers to all my little nieces... so many generations did it span. Not to mention a bunch of family coming down from all parts of the globe, just to be there for Viv's wedding; the wedding that we always joked would never happen. Of course, I took the over ;)
Then came Saturday -- the big wedding. I had to be there at 7 AM to help set some things up, so I woke up around 5:30. It was a long day, but one I will never forget. Sitting there at the banquet with my cousins, taking in the lovely ambience of the evening, I found myself thinking about the future. Where will all of us be five years from now? Where will I be? I saw the vision in my mind, and I knew in order to get there, I had to work harder than ever before. Just seeing all my family there, not to mention watching Viv and Billy getting hitched, made me think about my own future. Five years isn't that far off. Where will we be? Five years isn't that far off...
On a lighter note, if you can call it that, everyone at the reception was poking me and my brother, "You're next you're next." Gotta love family, eh? My only response was, of course...
"I'll say the same to you at the next funeral"
They didn't say much after that
PARTY LIKE IT'S 1989
It was a night full of frivolity, and one in which I did some heavy thinking amid the endless food and music. I'm sure the evening's festivities had all of us young 'uns sitting at table 16 looking down the road. Weddings have a tendency of doing that to ya...
At the end of the night, when the lights dimmed and the dance floor opened, all of us at table 16 rushed over to dance the night away. Meanwhile Uncle Jimmy stood by with his ancient, reliable relic of a camera that he's been using since the dawn of the dinosaurs
As I was dancing, someone tapped me on my shoulder. I turned to find Uncle Jimmy, who insisted I take the camera. In wide-eyed disbelief I watched as Uncle Jimmy glided on to the dance floor. He proceeded to bust out a couple moves of his own! I was a mere three feet away capturing the whole thing on tape, laughing and chanting "GO JIMMY GO JIMMY GO!"
Uncle Jimmy turned back the hands of time some TWENTY YEARS. Watching him groove, and watching my loved ones basking in his moment, all of whom I had grown up with in one fashion or another, I kept thinking to myself: Lifedoesn't get much better than this
That night, Uncle Ben, Karen, Liz and I hugged farewell. They booked an early flight tomorrow morning and if the trend continues, we won't see each other for another five years or so. Liz got a bit emotional during the sendoff, and she wasn't the only one. We really bonded; going out, eating out, watching horror movies, playing video games and all the fun little trips we had. But all good things must come to an end. And then, it's back to our regular lives; normalcy -- the way of the world
The next morning we held a small, intimate family gathering at Viv's place. Uncle Jimmy brought the wedding DVD which he already converted! Vintage Uncle Jimmy. All of us exploded in tears when we saw him busting a move on the dance floor. I loved how he stared right back at the camera, and how the disco multi-colored dots raced all over his face as a cheesy love song blared over the restaurant speakers. Great times 1st time in ages Vince, Vivian and Uncle Jimmy were all together
Weddings are always a time of great emotions. They never fail to make me think down the road -- of what might be, of what could be. There's good food, music, the whole family, nice restaurant, dancing, classic songs butchered by tipsy Uncle Ed, and above all else, a sense of promise for today and tomorrow. One day it will be me up there. It will be each and every one of us. In the meantime, you work hard, as the hip kids say, "do you" and hopefully the rest will take care of itself, as it so often does
Uncle Jimmy, Vivian and Vince all played significant roles in my life. Particularly as I was growing up, where many memories have one of them somehow attached. For one night this past January, and one night only, we came full circle. A night in which I will cherish for the rest of my life. It was a perfect night fully capturing the awe and innocence of those years so long ago, the best years of my youth... they were...