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The Things That Shape a Life | Susan-E
The autumn of 1990. Sinead O’Conner’s “Nothing Compares 2U” had just cleaned up at the MTV video awards. Madonna was Vogue-ing right up in our faces. Stephen King’s “Four Past Midnight” topped the best seller list. The first Bush was president, and (completely outside my radar) work had begun on the foundation of what would turn into the World Wide Web. I had just turned 19, enrolled in art school and moved myself to Chicago. I had also just started dating what would turn out to be my first serious boyfriend, and then gone through the emotional turmoil of parting when we both went off to our respective schools. Those things would be momentous for anyone, but they were particularly trying times for me because I made a couple of really poor decisions along the way. Not knowing at the time how hard it would be for me (all my life) to make and keep good friends, I decided that the dorms were “too crowded” and “too small” and “too expensive” and instead I rented an apartment with a friend, more than an hour’s ride on public transit away from my college. As a recent high school graduate who was sick of routine and repetition and normalcy, I had no idea how important repeated, low-stress social contact was in the forging of friendships. Those crowded and expensive tiny dorm rooms would have helped me have interesting experiences, and helped me create bonds with others who shared them. Sure, I had my privacy in my apartment an hour away, but I didn’t have a good way to wander down the hall and join in on someone else’s microwave popcorn conversation at 2 a.m. I thought the money would take care of itself, and over-estimated my own capacity for work. I moved to Chicago with no job, took a bunch of student loans, and then tried to figure out how to pay rent and college tuition while carrying a full-time college load that required dozens of extra-curricular hours in the darkroom and out shooting. Then I took a full time job working at The Gap (I had worked for The Gap in STL, too). I thought I could handle that kind of schedule, and of course I could not. I was constantly exhausted, still broke, and had zero time to find/make friends with all my classmates who were an hour away anyhow. I moved to a new city at the age of 19, when I couldn’t even get into most clubs. Literally what. I also want to remind you of the state of technology back then. Cell phones were unheard of. Some people’s parents had giant car phone packs, but that was just for business people. It was land lines only, and if you weren’t home and the person you wanted to call wasn’t home, there was no way to reach them. I know, for some of you that sounds unfathomable, but once you walked out your door to class, to work, for a social event, that was it. You were incommunicado until you saw your people in person. And those lovely landlines? They came with long-distance charges, meaning I couldn’t even call home for free, much less my boyfriend, who not only had to be in his dorm for me to get a hold of him, he also had to have access to the phone, which any of his three other roommates might be using to talk to their own lovelorn girlfriends. Phone calls were short, and planned out strategically, at certain times every week, to ensure that everyone was available. The longer we were separated, the longer our conversations got though. One month my long-distance bill was more than my rent. That’s how much long-distance charges were. Home computers, TiVO, DVDs were all unheard of dreams, and my roommate and I had a VCR – or rather a VCP. Meaning we couldn’t record anything, but we could watch tapes. Yes, for some reason that was a thing that someone manufactured. I was away from home for the first time, and while not exactly homesick I was heartsick, and overworked, and overwhelmed, and lonely. Enter 90210. The ads for the show had started in late summer. Brenda’s trembling “are we gonna make it here?” query to her brother Brandon resonated with me in ways I didn’t even appreciate at the time. I had to see this show. But of course I wasn’t ever home when it aired, and we had no way to tape it. Enter Mom. Mom’s, the good ones who go out of their way for your teenage needs, are amazing. Every week she videotaped Beverly Hills 90210, and then mailed the tape to me so I could watch it. I hope I appreciated at the time what was, in retrospect, an absurd level of care for my needs. The core tale of 90210 – misfit transplants trying to find their way in a new place – was naturally something I’d respond to, but even without that same parallel, the entire country soon began to catch 90210 fever. Not so much that first season, but in the summer of 1991 some genius in their marketing department decided to run a summer season. Summer was content barren back in those days, there was nothing on but daily news and re-runs. With a fresh new title sequence, a revamped theme song and the benefit of being the ONLY new thing to see, 90210 became the focus of young American culture. Dylan McKay became the sexy, bad-boy center of America’s yearning, and we all rooted for Brenda and Dylan to be able to find happiness and true love and all that jazz. As if anyone really falls in love at 16. As if anyone really falls in love. It was a captivating show. Was it a good show? I don’t know. Watching it again this week (all seasons streaming on Hulu!) with new, 40-something eyes (I am older now than the...