The Countdowns No One Asked For, 1979-80: 60-51
60. "Fire Lake," Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band
Monday mornings at school were spent catching up on the weekend's activities. Some of us talked about a movie we saw or discussed what happened on our favorite TV shows (the Duke boys did it again!). There may have been a football or basketball game that needed further analysis or perhaps a chat about whatever book we were reading. We covered other usual topics: school, homework, school sucks, homework sucks, girls, Catherine Bach, which of Charlie's Angels were the hottest. All the important stuff.
One topic that was foreign to me was parties. Some kids talked about the big party they apparently attended and all the shenanigans that allegedly occurred. A mythical place called Wolf Creek seemed to be the ideal destination for revelers seeking to make the most of their weekend. I imagined it as akin to Brigadoon in that Wolf Creek did not exist Sunday through Thursday. It only appeared magically on Fridays and Saturdays from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. Where was Wolf Creek, anyway? It didn't matter, really. Even if I had been interested enough to go, I had no way of getting there and mostly surely would've gotten busted. Not worth messing with in my no-taking-chances book.
59. "Rise," Herb Alpert
Whenever I imagined what a night at Wolf Creek might be like, I pictured people standing around a bonfire with pensive, tentative expressions. Unsure about what they should be doing, a funky bass line would strike up and soon a man with a trumpet would come in and whisk them away to place that only exists in music. They would dance and let the music consume them as they moved around the bonfire. I admit I was naive in those days, but not so much that I didn't know my fantasy version of Wolf Creek was miles removed from likely occurred there. I couldn't picture anything beyond my view, though, because, frankly, I found it more appealing than the probable reality.
58. "This Is It," Kenny Loggins
So it was that my weekends were spent either going to the movies or going to a ball game with my brother Joey. We went to football and basketball games both home and away. Our high school team, the Mules, were the only game in town aside from the local community college basketball team, the Three Rivers Raiders. The Mules found varied success, while the Raiders were a national power. I was a big sports fan in those days. I loved baseball, football, and basketball. I fell in love with the St. Louis Cardinals baseball and football teams and the Philadelphia 76ers and North Carolina Tar Heels in basketball. I played baseball and basketball in the city recreation leagues and, despite all my aspirations as a writer and actor and my love of storytelling and science fiction and monsters, somehow fancied myself an aspiring athlete. I would be the Cardinals' second baseman one day. Or the point guard for the 76ers after a career at Three Rivers and North Carolina. Maybe I might be a wide receiver for the St. Louis Football Cardinals. I believed that true notoriety lay in playing on a school sports team. Recognition could only come through being a Mule. It's one of the reasons I longed for us to have a kickball team. I was a damn good kickball player. Hard lessons would later be learned about the likelihood of playing interscholastic sports.
57. "I Don't Like Mondays," Boomtown Rats
I remember the story because I watched the news a lot. A 16-year old girl shot at the playground of the elementary school across the street from her home in San Diego. She killed two men and injured nine children. When asked why she did it, she allegedly replied "I don't like Mondays." It was the first time in my young life that being hurt a school even registered with me as a possibility. School was safe. School was secure. The only things that could hurt you at school were a bully or a playground ball to the head. I can't imagine what kids today must think about. Yes, there were monsters lurking in our day, but they felt far away. The school shooting at Grover Cleveland Elementary in San Diego presented a frightening alternative. The monsters could right next to us.
56. "Message in a Bottle," The Police
My introduction to The Police was actually a year after "Message in a Bottle," when they released "De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da." That song always made me laugh because they said do-do and I was twelve, so what do you want from me? I remember listening to "Message in a Bottle" on headphones one day when I was home alone and found the lyrics about loneliness and isolation a little to on the nose for my taste. We lived several miles outside of Poplar Bluff and, while I loved having the room to roam and explore and the kids who grew up with me there, I often longed to live in town. I wanted to be in a neighborhood with paved streets instead of a gravel road. I wanted a corner grocery to walk to for a soda or candy. There were times I felt so far removed from the civilization, culture, and night life of Poplar Bluff. That's another reason I played sports. It's also why going to ball games held such an allure. And it's why I loved going to Skate City on the weekends. Skate City was my place for games, music, nachos, and roller boogie. Also, Skate was where the ladies were.
55. "Ladies Night," Kool & The Gang
Nothing captured the odd netherworld between childhood and adolescence than Friday nights or Saturday nights at Skate City. One part of me was perfectly content skating, playing air hockey, and eating snacks. Spending some time with the guys away from the shackles of adult supervision. Oh, adults were present at Skate City, but it was a land of opportunity compared to the rigid landscape of junior high. We could cuss openly and I had a mouth like a Merchant Marine. If I let having won a few air hockey battles and with a full belly thanks to nachos and candy, then the evening was a success. Yet, the siren song of romance beckoned. Girls were at once captivating and intimidating. They had matured and I had not. Being in their beguiling presence served as yet another reminder that I possessed little insight into what attracted them. When competing with another male for the attention of a cute girl, I struggled with confidence. I didn't self myself as physically attractive as the other guys, nor was I a snazzy dresser. Fashion was not my strength. Earnest love letters were deemed "sweet" and "nice," but also "lacking in that certain je ne sais quoi." That last part wasn't an actual quote. More of an interpretation of facial expressions. So, it was comedy that would set me apart. This meant prat falls and funny voices, especially that of Steve Martin's Wild and Crazy Guy character. The goal was to attract the attention of the cute girls. Mission accomplished. The goal was also to secure a girlfriend. Mission failed. Yes, I was funny, but I lacked something girls seemed to prefer more: a car.
54. "I Can't Tell You Why," Eagles
Whenever I'd miraculously attract the interest of a young lady, our conversations usually ended with them saying, "okay, well, I gotta go." She would walk toward the exit and I would skate after her. "Oh, your parents are here?" This seemed a reasonable question as it was nearing 9:00 and my own parents would be coming to get me, as well. But the object of that evening's affection would shake her head and inform me that a "friend" was coming to pick her and her squad (we didn't use that term back then) up. I'd escort the young lass out the door as her squad whispered behind us. I'm not sure they intended for me to hear them discussing my attributes. My relative cuteness to other guys. My lack of a car. My eccentricities. That wasn't their word for it. I believe their descriptor was "weird." Then, the young lady would wave bye with a playful smile and climb into a car blasting something like the Eagles or Lynard Skynard. "Where ya headed?" I would ask. "Wolf Creek," she would say.
Friggin' Wolf Creek, man.
53. "Tusk," Fleetwood Mac
I would go home, stay up and watch either the late night movie on CBS or "Saturday Night Live" on NBC. The late movie would sometimes be fun because they'd show an old horror movie and I dug those. "SNL," of course, was an early influence on my comedic stylings, so I drank that up when I could. If I had to pick one, I'd go with the horror movie, but it wasn't always guaranteed. Sometimes it was just reruns of "All in the Family" or "M*A*S*H," which was fine. The late show also would air reruns of "Kolchak: The Night Stalker," which was pretty much one of my favorite shows then and remains so to this day. Honestly, as much as I longed to be a part of Poplar Bluff's skating scene, I was quite content with Night Stalker reruns, but I couldn't admit that to myself. I crawl into bed, a little freaked out by the paranormal adventures of Darrin McGavin's investigative reporter. I'd turn on the radio and listen to music for a bit. Sometimes, "Tusk" by Fleetwood Mac would come on and I found the whole song with its almost feral drums and creepy marching band sound rather disconcerting, so I'd turn it off and just imagine life with a car and chicks.
RANDOM FACT: Stevie Nicks twirling a baton in this video is everything.
52. "Mama Can't Buy You Love," Elton John
Skate City always beckoned, though. I couldn't resist the music and the games. Limbo was always fun and I honestly thought once I was going to win, but some girl who do the splits in a way I've never seen replicated beat me out. The speed skate round was always a blast, if perhaps a little hazardous. Mostly, though, it was the music. Circling the rink to the latest hits by someone like Olivia Newton-John, ELO, or Styx was the most fun for me. I wasn't concerned with popularity or finding a girlfriend. I just skated to the music. Those were the best nights. Oh, sure, whenever a girl would agree to hold my hand for a couples skate I would swoon and feel like some teen heartthrob, but those moments were few and far between. My Skate City nights were best spent not worrying about anything other than just having a good time.
51. "We Don't Talk Anymore," Cliff Richard
Time spent home alone was spent, as I've mentioned, watching television, playing solitaire versions of board games, and listening to records. Typical board game selections were Sorry, Aggravation, and Monopoly. When playing Sorry, I would play all four colors, see who won, and keep stats on which color won the most times. When you only have three channels (one of which barely comes in), this is what you do to pass the time. We had no video game console or computer. The records were mostly 45s. "Goodnight Tonight," by Wings. "Hit Me With Your Best Shot," by Pat Benatar. "We Don't Talk Anymore," by Cliff Richard. I read books, too. The summer between my sixth and seventh grade years I read The Red Badge of Courage twice and discovered James Thurber in a book of humor essays we had. During my seventh grade year, the TV miniseries adaptation of Stephen King's 'Salem's Lot aired on CBS and remains one of the scariest things I've ever watched. One of my brothers bought the paperback version of the book and I devoured it twice. I'd read it at home and then take it to school and read it at lunch. My English teacher, Mrs. Allen, frowned upon someone so young reading Stephen King, but applauded my reading in general. Other books I read during junior high included Carrie, some Star Trek novels, The Amityville Horror, and our entire encyclopedia set. And I wrote. Sometimes, I learned that the solitude of our rural setting was for my benefit.