strange things

We finished both seasons of Stranger Things in one huge binge a few months ago. It was as it has been described: a pitch-perfect recreation of 80s media with a generous splash of era-appropriate nerd culture. Things like Radio Shack, Dungeons & Dragons, video arcades (oh the indignity of plunking 50 cents into Dragon’s Lair and not making it across the damned drawbridge to start!) – and, to the never ending awe of post-Millenial Gen-Z kids, a world where you could go do whatever after school without your parents hanging over you or your whole free time scheduled to an excruciating fare-thee-well.

Except it wasn’t really like that for me, because I had the misfortune to live in a completely separate town from where I went to school. I was in day care because both my parents worked, so I was at the mercy of whatever was on offer there – as often as not, bad 4 PM syndicated TV like Gilligan’s Island or the Brady Bunch instead of 3-2-1 Contact. And since it was usually the Baptist church day care, forget about Dungeons and Dragons. You had to keep shit like that on the low.

Thing is, that day care afternoon really screwed everything up. You can say what you like about the misfortunes of latchkey kids, but even if you weren’t left completely to your own devices, most kids growing up had friends in the neighborhood. I had one. Who was a little older than me and almost certainly a little tougher than my parents would be entirely comfortable with, and I don’t recall ever seeing him again after about sixth grade. All my social life was carried out at school, in day care, or on the phone one person at a time. (Not that there were a bunch of people; it was mostly the three-years-older BFF from day care who was the principal D&D aficionado.)

So it required a lot of imagination. I mean, our video games didn’t exactly have plot and backstory and character development, so you had to make it up. RPGs were nothing if not pure imagination. We got one Star Wars movie every three years, and sci-fi on TV meant the random episode of Star Trek or Space:1999 (or, for a couple of years, Battlestar Galactica – which conflicted with Sunday night church – or Buck Rogers if the SAG strike didn’t take it out). You had to make shit up. Which was tough in a time and place that tended to treat imagination as something you’d hopefully grow out of when you got old enough to notice girls. Speaking of which, that last scene in season 2 gave me a bit of a flashback pang. I didn’t want a girlfriend when I was 12, I didn’t need to be kissed or anything – I just wanted some older attractive woman to acknowledge I was a valid human being and that I was on the right track. Some kind of fairy godsister who would give me a wink and a scatter of pixie dust and set me on the right track to a brighter future.

It’s not a nostalgia thing for me. I have absolutely no desire to be 10 or 12 or 16 again, unless there was some way to set me on course to a different college experience. I don’t want to go back to a time when you were limited to landline phones with call waiting, or throwing a letter in the mail and hoping for the best. And I definitely don’t have any desire to be in a small town without benefit of a driver’s license or the ability to buy beer and lock my doors at night. I appreciate the show the same way I appreciate Sky Captain and the World Of Tomorrow, or the WWII Memorial in DC – as a modern attempt to create a pitch-perfect artifact of the past. The Spielbergian DNA is all there. It’s on a par with Goonies or E.T. or the like. I guess it’s just nice to find that all of a sudden, my generation’s nostalgia is worthy of indulgence, after fifty years of boomer shit.

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