Around 1985, I had a brief and mainly imagined love affair with Richard Muggie, a classmate at PS23. The affair happened to the melody of pop songs and between recess periods, in my head. In the schoolyard, our herd of pre-pubescent male friends always surrounded us, so it was difficult to get Richard alone. I was a loud girl, a round girl. I awkwardly wore the clothes girls wore then, but I did not know the rules. I wanted to be near boys and craved the alchemy between the sexes I saw in music videos and movies. To accomplish this, I outshouted them on the playground and developed a foul mouth meant to impress and outdo.
On the evening of my first date, my parents invited Richard for dinner and I was prepared for the visit. I would show Richard the basement, which I had converted into a hang out space. I organized and placed all the appropriate objects, considered the necessary speech and accompanying gestures, and rehearsed the timing. I was aware of the spatial dynamics and I had carefully chosen the wardrobe.
What did I wear? I chose Polka Dots. A black and white monstrosity with puffs and ruffles. Matching top and skirt that were just at the knee, probably a large, possibly an extra large. The size of the dots was violent; they were percussive and bounced with my flesh as I descended the basement steps. These extravagant terrors were like my extra eyes, observing the every move of Richard Muggie as he entered the basement of my parents’ house.
There was a pink, plastic record player and the record was ready–Tiffany. On the record cover, Tiffany’s long red hair blows gently to the side of her pink face, which looks out with a seductive yet meaningless look. In the video she dances around at the beach, in the mall, by the train tracks, tossing her hair around. There was a matching pink, plastic tape recorder, on which I would record my date with Richard Muggie. I would press record at the moment we arrived in the basement so as not to miss any of the performance. I was a medley of appropriated imagery from music videos, mall posters and John Hughes films. I was the gypsy seductress and the smart snarky outsider.
“This is it” I said briskly. The words were like the dots, aggressively planned, bluntly ejected. “Kinduva shit hole,” I continued. The damp air held the words indifferently. He did not respond. The dots wiggled, titillated. He was wearing an outfit that could have been removed from the set of The Goonies. Casually fitting jeans around slightly chunky legs, some sort of cotton sweatshirt with a hood and pockets, not baggy.
He was standing. I was standing.
I think were alone now….
He may have been looking around the room at stuff or wondering what was for dinner. Richard Muggie did not yet consider the opposite sex as anything other than that, but this was not the case for me. I knew that the affections of the right boy would be the fruit of the most perfectly mediated experience. He settled on a remote-controlled car, a Trans-Am. He dug his glowing fingers into the remote while he got the feel for the thing. The car shifted around the basement humming in a straight line, grunting at turns and smacking any obstacles.
I placed the needle on the record right at the beginning of I Think Were Alone Now. The base line began, embellishing on the soundscape of the basement. The toy car moaned loudly as Richard dug into the remote. The dots danced, not at all upset with the discord of the moment I was creating. The synthesizers started to heat up and I swayed, lavishly sharing my love for the music and mentioning earnestly that this was a “great song!” I had memorized the lyrics, so I sang over the hum of the car, unabashedly fighting for Richard’s validating ear. I interjected to comment on details in the songs and share information about myself. I inflated each second with context and content, sending them off to crowd the room.
My frizzy hair bounced in its banana clip. I smiled, I explained, I gave endless amounts of energy to the operatic fervor of the basement as the Trans-Am hummed, exploring the concrete corners and loose brick. It zipped around my stuff, U- turning frantically. He wasn’t understanding how much we had to discuss and share. I talked with my hands and snapped silent snaps with my fingers. I made sure to exploit my expertise, commenting on The Beatles cover “I Saw Her Standing There.”
Richard eventually looked up at me, “Cool car” He said.
We ate pizza in Bay Ridge, which means that we drove up the high sloping entrance to the Verrazano Bridge, between the gray-blue steel cables that support it. Richard tipped his chair back and I don’t remember what we talked about. He was barely an extra in my music video. We were not falling in love.
Music can hold enormous power in memories and experiences, transporting us instantly to an age, location, or person. What sonic joys, mysteries, disbelief, and clarity have you experienced? Identify songs of influence in your life and explore them like variations on a theme, melding syntax and song structure, recalling the seriousness or levity that accompanies. Whether it’s an account of when a specific song first entered your life, the process of learning to play a song, teaching someone a song, experiencing the same song in different places as it weaves through your life, unbelievable radio timing, sharing songs with those in need, tracking the passing down of songs, creative song analysis, music as politics, etc, I am interested in those ineffable moments and welcoming submissions of your own variations on a theme, as drawn from your life’s soundtrack. Please email submissions to email@example.com and keep an eye out for others’ Variations.
**(“song” is a broad phrase: could be a pop song, a traditional tune, a symphony, commercial jingles, a hummed lullaby, 2nd grade recorder class horror stories, etc)**
Meredith Arena is from New York City and resides in Seattle where she works as a teaching artist in the public schools and facilitates meditation for adults.She is a student in the MFA program at Antioch University Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in SHIFT, a queer literary arts journal and Lunch Ticket.