|Photo credit: killfurby (stock.xchng) P.S. I wish my bedroom was this cool back then!|
Saturday night. Two words, ordinary by themselves, but when they link together, they hold awesome magic power for those between the ages of fourteen and the age of marriage, first child, or military enlistment, whichever comes first. These words have the power to excite when anticipation breezes in as early as Wednesday, dancing upon multicolored, eight-pointed Disney stars. They also have the power to break hearts when the night finally gets here and you have nothing, no one to turn to; it will be just another black X at the front of the long line of black Xs that compose a lonely life.
The Saturday nights of my youth started at the Hughes supermarket several blocks north from where my family lived in Venice, where I would invariably put these two items into the shopping cart:
1. A two-liter bottle of Coke (the kind with calories in it), and
2. Hime brand ramen, with its yellow coils as tight as the cord of an unopened box of Christmas lights. One more item would go in, if there was none at home:
3. Chun King soy sauce with the stop-sign red label, promising extra-salty enjoyment.
At around 11 p.m., when my mother and stepfather would go to bed, taking their inhibiting presence with them, I would grab a small saucepan to boil the ramen in -- both squares in the package, not one per serving as I would learn later. When the ramen was done -- just enough to soften it, not so much as to make the noodles too floppy -- I would strain it, drop it into a cereal bowl, and drizzle the Chun King over it, the brown sauce sinking into the tight coiled crevices. I still get hungry just thinking about it.
Then, I would take an eight-ounce tumbler and fill it with the Coke -- pouring at least twice to make sure all the fizz went down first. The two-liter bottle was, of course, handy for refills, and the amount of Chun King in the bowl guaranteed at least one.
By the time my late-night meal was ready, it was time to sit in front of the couch (not on it), and turn on the black-and-white television (we would not have a color TV until 1980) for “Saturday Night Live.” Watching this show connected me to the hip, witty milieu which I thought would be waiting for me in adulthood. I wove a dream about New York that made it a magical metropolis where excitement was around every corner (and if I had grown up in the New York area, I would probably have felt the same about Los Angeles).
This was during the Belushi-Aykroyd-Radner era, and when those good folks drifted away from the program, I did, too. Then, the ritual changed. Now I spent Saturday nights seated on my bedroom floor, huddled next to my record player, fat cushioned earphones linking me to the music of the Beatles, Vanilla Fudge, and the Rascals. Here, I wasn’t looking for hip; this was the music I loved, not the music I was supposed to listen to according to Billboard and my classmates. I wove dreams here, too, more open-minded geographically, about VW Beetles speeding up Pacific Coast Highway and hot kisses under New Jersey streetlights.
These Saturday night rituals made me forget, if only for a few precious hours, that I was frizzy-haired, chunky, poorly-dressed, either ignored or held in contempt by both family and classmates, and didn’t feel that I deserved anything better. Even now, when I have straight hair and a more toned body and a much-improved wardrobe and the knowledge that I was not and am not responsible for the attitudes and behavior of others, a hint of insecurity remains, like text written in fresh concrete that you can still read decades later.
But those Saturday nights did bring to me a gift, a gift I have only recently begun to appreciate: the ability to spend Saturday night in my own company without succumbing to self-pity or rage at the universe. Some people never learn to be happy all by themselves, and they do anything and everything they can not to be in that place -- with alcohol, drugs, sex with unsafe strangers, fast cars, cheap bars, anything that muffles the howl of the unfettered self. If they had chosen the tumbler of Coke and earphones filled with Vanilla Fudge and their own imagination, they would have understood. If you are reading this now, it’s not too late to try.
P.S. A cup of hot tea would be fine, too.