Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Musical Memories

My friend and fellow writer, Jason M. Rubin, told me about a writing assignment he did at a recent Grub Street writer's conference. Here's the assignment: Choose a song with deep emotional importance to me, and write about the event that imbued the song with such meaning.

My song is not as cool as Jason's but it is truly the first song that came to mind when I heard the assignment. It's REO Speedwagon's "Take it On the Run." Yes, I am a child of the 80s.

And here's my story:

Kenny Platowsky (not his real name) was my first serious boyfriend. When we met, I was 15 and he was 19. Kenny was tall with broad shoulders, blond hair, and blue eyes. I thought he was gorgeous. When we first started going out, he came to my door to pick me up, made nicey nice with my mom, wrote me love notes, called me on the phone, and gave me a stuffed lion for Christmas. He told me that another REO Speedwagon song, "Keep on Loving You" was our song. When we were together, I felt beautiful and special and I was sure that I would always love Kenny.

Looking back, Kenny's world was a little small. In addition to being the older boyfriend of a high-school girl, he took a couple classes at the local community college and worked part time at a package store near the rundown house where he rented with a bunch of other guys.

By my junior year in high school, Kenny picked me up after my last class (and sometimes before my last class) most afternoons. I loved standing in the school parking lot and waiting for him to pull up in his vintage VW bug with wooden sideboards. Although the expression didn't exist then, it was a pimped-out ride. The interior ceiling and all the walls were covered in maroon carpet, it had a really loud stereo and a working PA system, and there was a hidden cooler built into the back. Because he worked at a package store, the cooler was always well stocked with beer for Kenny and Reunite on ice for me (THAT'S NICE!). He was the perfect boyfriend with the perfect car for the budding alcoholic that I was.

If he didn't have to work in the afternoon, we went to Kenny's house after school where I ogled him as he got all sweaty lifting weights on a bench press in his garage. After his workouts, we would go up to his room where there was a massive dirty laundry pile, a smaller, clean-ish laundry pile, and a bed with the filthiest sheets I've ever seen to date. We spent many afternoons making what I then thought was mad, passionate love to each other with Phil Collins Face Value playing from start to finish on his record player. To this day, I swear I can smell a sweaty, dirty sock odor whenever I hear "In the Air Tonight."

Kenny was officially my boyfriend for about a year and a half. By the time we broke up, he was regularly blowing me off and then showing up drunk outside my mom's apartment in the middle of the night, singing his "apology" to me over his car's PA system. A favorite was "Amy" by Pure Prairie League but he substituted my name.  "JUUUUUUULIE whatchu wanna doooo....I think I could stay with you, for a while, maybe longer if I doooo..."

I thought it was romantic and sweet. My mother didn't agree. She also didn't suggest I dump Kenny and even warned me that she wasn't going to be available to take me to and from my part-time job at Marshall's if he and his VW weren’t in the picture.

Around this time, I started hearing rumors that Kenny had been seen with some of the known "sluts" at school. When I was in high school, "slut" was defined as a girl who enjoyed sex without the social acceptance of a monogamous relationship. I enjoyed sex but no one could call me a slut because I had a boyfriend. One such "slut" was actually a friend of mine--Sue Lasalle (also not her real name). A friend of a friend of a friend told me that "someone" saw Kenny and Sue in a car outside a party with Sue's head in Kenny's lap. Naturally, I asked Sue and Kenny about the story and, naturally, they both denied it. I wanted them to deny it. I think I even suggested that they deny it. I presented the story as a rumor that I wanted them to confirm was untrue. And they did.

One summer night,  I lied to my mother, as usual, and told her that I was going to the movies with a friend. (To the best of my mother’s knowledge, I’ve seen every single movie that was released between 1979 and 1983.) Instead, I went to a keg party. Kenny hadn't returned my calls that day so I went with a couple of friends. Keg parties weren’t really my thing unless I brought my own drugs, wine or liquor. I hated the taste of beer. That didn’t stop me from drinking it if there was no other alcohol available. I used to guzzle it to get it down quickly so I could get the desired effect without gagging. By the time Kenny showed up with a group of people, I was pretty drunk.

He ignored me.  I wanted to die.

Instead, I ducked into a bunch of bushes to pull myself together. God forbid I make a scene. While in the bushes, Kenny and another girl from school, Colleen Mason (nope, not her real name either), came walking down the driveway on their way out of the party. I heard his voice and stepped back further into the darkness of the bushes so they wouldn't see me.

As they approached, I heard Kenny ask Colleen if she wanted to go to the beach with him the next day. He was using the tone I recognized as his flirty voice--which really was just a form of baby talk. "So, um, wanna come with me to the beach? Puh-lease?"  I could picture him slouching down and tilting his head with his lower lip stuck out—an expression I found charming when it was directed at me.

Apparently, Colleen thought it was charming, too. She giggled and said, "What about Julie?"

Kenny giggled back and responded: "Fuck Julie."

I put my hand over my mouth and stayed hidden in the dark behind the bushes until I heard his VW drive away. I went back into the party and proceeded to ingest any drink or drug that was offered to me. Hours later, a guy I barely knew drove me home. I vaguely remember making out with him at my curb, but my heart wasn't really in it. I think we both saw it as payment for the ride.

The next day, Kenny called to ask if we could talk. I'm not sure whether it was the heartbreak or the hangover that numbed me out for his breakup. I remember him beeping the horn when he pulled up in the VW. I remember not saying anything about Colleen or the party the night before. I remember smiling and nodding when he said he "just wanted to be friends.” I remember going home to listen to my REO Speedwagon album as I sobbed on my bed. I remember repeatedly picking up the needle on my portable record player so I could listen to "Take it On The Run" over and over and over again.

Heard it from a friend who
Heard it from a friend who
Heard it from another you been messin’ around
They say you got a boy friend
You’re out late every weekend
They’re talkin’ about you and it’s bringin’ me down

But I know the neighborhood
And talk is cheap when the story is good
And the tales grow taller on down the line
But I’m telling you, babe
That I don’t think it’s true, babe
And even if it is keep this in mind

You take it on the run baby
If that’s the way you want it baby
Then I don’t want you around
I don’t believe it
Not for a minute
You’re under the gun so you take it on the run

You’re thinking up your white lies
You’re putting on your bedroom eyes
You say you’re coming home but you won’t say when
But I can feel it coming
If you leave tonight keep running
And you need never look back again

Heard it from a friend who
Heard it from a friend who
Heard it from another you been messin’ around

P.S. As I noted in my comment below, the Julie featured in this story is long gone and I am making much different and far better choices in my life these days...most days, anyway. Be sad for her if you want, but not for me. Today, I would make a scene. Today, I would be the dumper instead of the dumpee. Today, I would listen to Norah Jones, Counting Crows, or maybe Adele if I was sad. Today, I would say "Fuck Kenny" and go out dancing with the sluts.

© 2010, Julie M. Baker


  1. Nice, though sad, story.

    HORRIBLE fucking song!

    Wonder where Kenny is today?

  2. While I agree that it's a sad story, it really feels like someone else's sad story. That girl is long, long gone. I make much different choices in my life today...including my musical tastes.

    I'm guessing Kenny is a fat, middle-aged man working full time in a package store, basking in nostalgic memories of the high school hotties he once toyed with. Or maybe he's just missing his VW bug.