Mother: How come nobody ever writes about Nebraska?
Me: Mother, the film Nebraska was just nominated for six Academy Awards.
Mother: Oh, right. I like Bruce Dern. He’s a good ug.
Me: What’s a good ug?
Mother: Certainly not those hideous things you have on your feet.
When I was growing up I had a friend who used the bound and engraved scrapbook her Main Line Philadelphia grandmother had given her to display her impressive array of detention slips.
Freshly bounced from boarding school du jour, she would leaf delicately through the heavy pages of the tome and read aloud the official words that made those of us in grosgrain headbands and tassel loafers cringe with delight — words like “truant,” “bare midriff” and “possession.”
She had an exotic name and would coo it in her highly coveted accent inherited, apparently, from the same Philadelphia grandmother — and she was the coolest thing to hit our town since over-the-counter diet pills.
Along with the accent that I now equate with second-year Bryn Mawr assimilation, she came equipped with a tattered fur coat, feather earrings, a cute older brother and the ability to French inhale. She was like Gwyneth Paltrow before the insertion of that stick — and I’m not talking about Chris Martin. Oh, and her parents were divorced — a fact that made the maneuverings of our impending delinquency considerably easier.
Our new friend M smoked in her room, ashed on the shag carpet, wore Lacoste tennis dresses with combat boots and chased stolen bourbon with mouthwash. She made Lolita look like a lightweight and would have eaten Courtney Love for lunch. She could also work a clutch, and at 14 this is a highly marketable skill.
In other words, she was our parent’s worst nightmare – and to my bourgeoning peer group, a salvation.
Mother: You have ballet at six Nicole.
Me: I know. M’s dad is giving me a ride.
Mother: You are, under no circumstances, allowed to ride with a teenage driver.
Me: Mom, he’s really old. He’s at least 30. I’ll be home by 10.
Mother: Ballet is over at 9.
Me: See ya!
You have to remember that these were the crazed and not-yet-diffused ’70s. Blondie was on the radio, Saturday Night Fever was in theaters, tube tops were on the racks — and we were in a bubbling cauldron of curiosity.
We were also damn lucky we never got caught.
From shoplifting dares to Cosmo sex-quiz prank calls to smuggling joints to prep-school dances to second-story midnight leaps — we were well on our way to ruin. Fortunately those junior-high debauches petered out with the onslaught of the ’80s — for lack of a better word — culture.
The people on “Dynasty” weren’t punks (okay, they were insipid, spoiled, acquisitive asses — but try telling that to a 15-year-old with a Heather Locklear complex). The Carrington family didn’t wear shredded Levi’s, bounce around opium-den rooms to the Stone’s “Shattered” or even pierce their ears more than once. Soon after the credits rolled on that first episode, M’s Jaguar rolled out of town; her feather earrings lost their élan and so did our brief dance with delinquency.
Admittedly, the change had a lot more to do with growing up than pop culture or Reaganomics. But the truth was that all of a sudden “Good Times” was replaced with “Family Ties.” It was cool to get good grades, and rock-and-roll fantasies were swept away by board-score and admittance-roster realities.
But for some, the responsibilities of adult life never quite temper the urge to be a badass, or at least be one vicariously. In today’s era of transparency, we’re not allowed to misbehave — but we’re more than sanctioned to watch others do so. Enter the Golden Shower Era of television and all things filmable, where “Bad Girls” rule reality, “Teen Moms” leave their back doors unlocked and sex tapes sear the corneas of your average sixth grader.
Being bad has never been so easy to watch in primetime — or on your phone in line at the grocery store. Why else would we tolerate Chelsea Handler’s mediocre jokes other than her irreverancy? (She’s a much better writer than comedian by the way.) Or laud the louche Jessa from “Girls” while disparaging do-gooder Marnie?
We love high school science teachers turned crystal-meth magnates. We sanction “Scandal,” thirst for “True Blood” and, apparently, like The Hangover so much, we’re willing to go back for thirds. As we sit on our sofas in sweats, we even go for the jugular when it comes celebrity style. We’ve all become “Fashion Police” — yet we ain’t got no stinkin’ badges.
I think, even today, M would still agree that misbehaving is a lot more fun in the first person. Of course, she could be in prison for all I know – but “Orange is the New Black,” in case you haven’t heard.
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