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Life with Liz: Trip down memory lane

Published June 08. 2018 08:35PM

During my week of home improvement, I also dedicated some time to cleaning out and purging some closets. Maybe closet is too boring a term. After the week I had, I’m thinking of them more as Alice’s Rabbit Hole or Aladdin’s Cave of Wonder. I’ve made some halfhearted attempts at cleaning out before, which meant that I’d finally arrived at the early 1990s.

This trove had remained pretty much intact, untouched for more than 25 years. The site could have been declared a historic landmark. The first item I pulled down off the shelf was a box full of cassette tapes, including Chicago’s greatest hits, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” Debbie Gibson’s “Out of the Blue,” and many, many, many, many mix tapes, or as I snottily referred to them, “compilations.”

My taste in music ran from “the absolutely depressing tape” to “the ultimate dance workout mix.” As I flipped through the cases, I laughed as I remember the art that went into preparing a 90-minute mix tape. Perish the thought that you’d end up with too much dead space at the end, or worse, cut out in the middle of the grand finale.

I thought I really hit the jackpot when I found a battered boombox a few minutes later. Gleefully, I started off with the “super happy songs that make me dance compilation” and wasn’t disappointed as Cyndi Lauper and Madonna carried me through a cheerful half-hour, when all of a sudden, Peter Cetera dropped a few octaves, and that rush of fear that can only be triggered by a cassette tape being “eaten.” Luckily, I had a few pencils nearby, and I quickly rewound the tape and decided to go back to my iPhone playlist.

Next, I uncovered a K-Swiss shoe box full of prom memorabilia, including my prom mug, bits and pieces of what was probably my corsage, and a few slightly crumbled napkins, denoting “Forever Young, Class of 1991, May 24.” As I swayed under the balloon arch to the strains of Alphaville, I never guessed that 15 years to the day later, I’d be in labor with my first child. Of course, you know what I immediately added to the playlist!

Next up was a bag of unfortunate fashion choices, including painter’s caps, sweatshirts with the necks cut out and stretched, long dry-rotted spandex, and an assortment of fanny packs. While some of them were obvious freebies from various sports events and college orientation, others were clearly something I’d made a conscious decision to purchase and spent some hard-earned money to procure. As if that wasn’t depressing enough, holding them up and realizing that my fanny used to be small enough to be encircled by them really put me over the edge. Time to put on the “ultimate sad songs for sad days” tape.

As the ones that still had life in them made it into the Goodwill bag, hopefully to be reincarnated in the best possible Halloween costume ever, I stumbled on some artifacts of real cultural significance: Vintage 1992 Sassy magazines. In absolute mint condition. From the dates on them, I’m guessing that my subscription continued while I was at college and they were carefully saved for me upon my return.

For those of you who don’t remember the glory and edge that was Sassy magazine, well, clearly, the late 1980s and early ’90s were not as good to you as they were to me. Sassy was a mildly rebellious young women’s magazine that claimed to be about real issues and hosted “frank” discussions about things like teen sexuality. It was the grittier, bad sister to Young Miss, or as it reincarnated itself, in part to keep up with Sassy, and Jane, and the other trendy magazines: YM.

A quick flip through the covers revealed such tortured souls as River Phoenix and a young Keanu Reeves, or as we knew him back then, “Ted” and featured deep articles such as “Israeli and Palestinian Teens Reveal Why the Peace Talks Won’t Work.” The more things change, the more they stay the same, and here was proof.

It’s bad to find a stash like this when you’re already holed up in a closet with nostalgic music blasting and your prom napkins nearby to dab at your tears. I couldn’t stop myself. I just had to find out “if I was ready for a boyfriend” or worse, “a shop-a-holic.” I also couldn’t wait to discover what the seven ickiest things boys do are.

Much to the WH’s relief, I’m “very not ready for a boyfriend.” It turns out that the symptoms of exhaustion when you’re 44 and immaturity when you’re 19 mirror each other. The bad news was that the budget and odd assortment of items comes from one weekly grocery run plus three kids immediately qualified me as a shop-a-holic.

And finally, I hate to tell them, but packing a bag of hunting clothes that have been in the wilderness for a week and then driving across country for four days, then giving the bag to your wife to wash is far ickier than “acting like you don’t like your girlfriend in front of your friends.”

It was an illuminating, if slightly nonproductive afternoon. I don’t think the bright-eyed 19-year-old who was voting in her first presidential election in 1992 would ever have expected it to take until 2016 for the first female presidential candidate from a major party, especially not after reading a compelling argument for five women who could run for office right now and win in September 1992. To be fair, though, the list included Susan Sarandon, Queen Latifah and Cindy Crawford.

So, I can completely see that now. It makes me a little sad that E will never find a stash like this in her closet. Even if she does find an old Kindle in her closet someday, chances are pretty slim that she’s going to be able to find a charger to make it work.

Liz Pinkey is a contributing writer to the Times News. Her column appears weekly in our Saturday feature section.

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