Remember how radical it was when you got your first dirt bike in the 80s? Mine had a red frame, hand brakes, and yellow pads that told the world it was a Red Line BMX. I wish I could say that I was sad to retire the banana seat bike I'd loved since Christmas in 1978, but I was 9, and felt like I'd outgrown it and its various . . . accoutrements.
I don't know if dirt bikes were as common in the 70s and 80s as they were when Ryan and Nolan were kids, but I was really excited when I finally got mine. I washed it, kept it in the garage, and left the kick stand on it, even though the big kids in my neighborhood had all taken their kick stands off, in order to reduce the weight and make them more suitable for racing. Of course, none of us was strong or powerful enough to know that the elimination of a few ounces of kickstand wouldn't make any appreciable difference, but these decisions were made at an age where we were certain that new shoes made us run faster.
I rode that bike everywhere, and I feel a little sad right now because I can't remember what happened to it.
When Nolan was 6, we got him a bike for his birthday. I think we picked it up at Toys R Us or Target, where it was one of many little kid-sized dirt bikes on display. I don't recall seeing any banana seat numbers with streamers coming off the handlebars or giant flags reaching up to the sky from the back of the seat, but it stood out from the pack, stylishly-adorned with cool blue pads on its "chromette" frame, emblazoned with the word "Chaos," surrounded by some lightning bolts.
When it was revealed to him, Nolan celebrated in that joyous way that's only possible when you're 6. Some of my fellow parents out there may have experienced a similar moment, when it's hard to tell whether parent or child is happier.
He ran over to us, thanked us, gave us hugs, and said to Anne, "But what's chows?" It rhymed with house.
"Chows?" She said.
"Chows." He pointed to a pad on his bike. "My bike says 'chows.'"
"Oh, that's Chaos," Anne said, with a grin.
"Oh. That's weird." He said. Then: "Chaos!" He hopped on his new bike and sped down the street as fast as his chunky little legs would carry him.
That was about 11 years ago. Ever since then, our family has said chows when we mean chaos, and we've said it a lot lately, as in "we are seriously living in a chows house," while the construction we've wanted to do for longer than we've been saying chows is completed.
This weekend, Anne and I cleaned out our garage, so we can transfer some of the chows from the house - some furniture and several boxes of my books, mostly - out there. (Like most Angelenos, our garage isn't a car hold, it's a storage facility. When I meet people in my neighborhood who park their cars in their garage, I am instantly suspicious of them.)
We've done this about once a year since we moved here ten years ago this week, and every year I get rid of more and more stuff that just isn't as important to me as it once was. It's a freeing and affirming feeling to look at some old T-shirt or random thing that defined me when I was 22, and know that . . . well, I just don't need it around anymore. I've moved on, embraced the present, grown and changed.
This time around, I culled lots of CDs and DVDs, and I took two big boxes of video tapes to Goodwill because we don't even own a VCR anymore. While I piled them into the car, I told Anne, "We're probably the last generation to do this. Our kids don't have the physical media for music and movies the same way we did. That's weird."
She didn't need to point out that normal people don't accumulate books, movies, and music like I do; evidence of that teetered around us in various stacks.
While I sorted some old techno CDs (Serious Beats Volume 3, anyone? Sasha and John Digweed at Renaissance?) she zeroed in on a box that my mom had given me a few years ago.
"What's in here?" She said.
"Oh, that's . . . um . . . nothing." I said.
Husbands: the very best way to convince your wives that they need to stop what they're doing and immediately open the box and explore its contents is to answer, "Oh, that's . . . um . . . nothing." When they ask you what is inside.
A moment later, she was surrounded by a bunch of old I'm a Teenage Heartthrob posters and clippings from teen magazines, where my awkward teenage dorkiness is on full display for anyone who had a subscription to Big Bopper. Including this:
I don't know about the rest of you, but I was really awkward in the 80s. 80s fashion is nothing to be proud of, but at least most of you who also survived it can keep that between you and your family. My awkward teenage . . . everything . . . was shared with everyone. Loudly. Incessantly. Most of you have plausible deniability with your kids, but I am forced to acknowledge that, yes, I wore as many Swatches as I could fit onto both of my wrists. And my ankle. And, yes, I owned and proudly wore several Bill Cosby sweaters. And yes, I frequently wore white leather shoes with no socks, because some salesgirl told me that looked "hot" with my baggy acid-washed Z Cavaricci jeans. And no, I can't deny that I thought Gotcha and Genera Hypercolor T-shirts and Oakley Blades were totally awesome, especially when worn together with bright green neoprene Body Glove shorts.
I really wanted to throw that box of stuff away, for a lot of reasons that I can't seem to articulate in a way that doesn't make me feel like a complete douche, but Anne talked me out of it.
Maybe I'll scan some of it and share it, as a public service intervention for the damn kids today who romanticize 80s fashion.
It was chows back then, guys. Pure and simple: it was chows.