Share |

Monday, February 18, 2013

In the Garage

On some level, each of us feels that our childhood is unique. At least, that is, while we are children. Even though we ultimately venture out into the world beyond our front lawn, enter the homes of our friends, and discover strange and wonderful worlds via our televisions (and even stranger and more wonderful worlds through our radios and i-pads), during our early years we are necessarily self-centered. This leads to a persistent feeling that the particulars of our upbringing are a one-of-a-kind combination.

Periodically, though, we are jarred out of this illusion when we encounter someone else's experience that mirrors our own with chilling precision. Recently, I was reading Josh Wilker's terrific memoir, Cardboard Gods, and came across this description of the author's room:

"As I write this, decades later, almost all the things that made that room my room are long gone...The poster of Ace Frehley, his silver-painted eyes clamped shut, using his guitar as a .... conduit for the infinite wonder of the cosmos. The magazine cutout of Cheryl Tiegs... All the various lint-covered objects made of Nerf.  All the piles of hand-scrawled solitaire Strat-O-Matic scorecards. The only thing that remains is the heart of the room, the box containing all the baseball cards I ever brought home. The box I've carried with me through my life."
This hit so close to memories of my own childhood bedroom that I almost felt as if I had been "found out," as if someone had been spying on me as I, too, created my own secret Strat-O-Matic baseball world with only KISS and Farrah Fawcett looking on. But this sudden rush of vulnerability is also the thrill of shared connection, of realizing that I was not alone in my most treasured memories and "geeky" interests.
Somehow, I'm always surprised by these moments, and how excited I get about them, but I shouldn't be. After all, isn't that the true allure of literature and pop culture - the sense of being part of something bigger?

Sometimes, this goes beyond mere connection - and becomes vindication -  when famous people admit to engaging in some of the more embarrassing pastimes of my childhood. When I was in 7th grade, there wasn't anything less "cool" than Dungeons and Dragons.  My brother and I would play for hours on end. I loved being the dungeon master, because it was my first real chance to let my imagination run free in the process of creating something that felt real, that was real when we played the game. Sometimes, other kids in the neighborhood would come over and play, and we'd have a great time. Yet, there was almost this unspoken code: "Ixnay on the Agonsdray" - we'd never, ever refer to our gaming outside the confines of my basement.

That's why one of my all-time favorite songs from the grunge era is Weezer's "In the Garage." This one also speaks directly to my childhood experience, and in the chorus even gives a nod to the underground nature of the fun we had:

"I've got the Dungeon Master's Guide
I've got a 12-sided die
I've got Kitty Pryde
And Nightcrawler too
Waiting there for me
Yes I do, I do

I've got posters on the wall,
My favorite rock group Kiss,
I've got Ace Frehley
and I've got Peter Criss,
Waiting there for me
Yes I do, I do

In the garage
I feel safe
No one cares about my ways
In the garage where I belong
No one hears me sing this song

Notice, also, the Kiss poster connection. Posters like this one were as ubiquitous as I-pods back in the late 70's and early 80's,  and a huge banner like this one hung on the cinder block walls of the basement where my brother and I spent some of our greatest times as kids. It was only a dank, musty, 10X10 cellar, but with a little imagination it became a hockey rink, a bowling alley, and even a WWF ring, as we converted the arms of a moth-eaten couch into head-rammable turnbuckles. We'd labor for days on model cars and ships, the dizzying aroma of Testors plastic cement hanging in the humid summer air as we listened to the limited rotation in our slowly growing record collection. Alive, Alive II, Billy Joel's Glass Houses and Chipmunk Punk spun endlessly on our Mickey Mouse turntable, each scratch and hiccup becoming permanently recorded in our mental soundtracks.

It was amazing, innocent, all-encompassing joy. And sure, we were geeky. But it's nice to know that Rivers Cuomo was, too.


  1. Dan,

    I truly enjoyed reading this. So many of my favorite childhood memories were included in here as well. It's strange how you mentioned the scratches in the records becoming part of the song in our minds. To this day when I hear some of those songs that you were referring to, I half expect to hear the same scratches and skips that we were used to when we were kids.
    Every once in a while if I concentrate really hard I can almost send my mind back to those fun days we spent hanging out in the basement inventing games and building models. The feeling of deja vu only lasts a few seconds but it really is a wonderful feeling. Like you said, many of the things that we enjoyed doing would probably be considered less than cool, but I wouldn't trade those memories for the world.

  2. This post is awesome! Your description of the times you spent in the basement hanging out with your brother made me feel as if I was there.