Remember When? A Collection of 1980s References Without Context or Meaning

(Originally appeared on McSweeney's, January 16 2001)

Marc Patel, in the back of the van, talking in a fake slur. Cyndi Lauper is playing on the van’s radio. “Should I send Anthony that bar of chocolate as a joke?” he asks. We nod and stare out the van’s windows.

Two lesbian long-haul truckers shooting dice to determine who will unload the truck. One of them is wearing a tank-top with the television character ALF printed on the front. ALF is eating a pepperoni pizza and looking lazy.

Ronald Reagan signing his name for a young Native American child named Randy. Although not “handicapped,” Randy walks with a slight limp due to an unfortunate incident involving a mule and a cattle prod. In the background, on the same table on which President Lincoln once wrote the Emancipation Proclamation, sits an unused Rubik’s Cube.

Nora Ephron speaking at a Jewish Community Center. A question is raised: “Do you consider your movies comedies? Or romances?” Before she can answer, an elderly gentleman in the front-row gags loudly and then feigns a “sour stomach.” He wishes to leave early. His grandson’s birthday is next week, and the Atari Pac-Man, or whatever it’s called, is now being sold at Toys ‘R’ Us for half-off.

A one-eared ex-Marine nicknamed “Willie Dynamite” is caressing, ever so gently, his inch-long thumbnail. He uses it for scooping cocaine, as well as for picking the banjo. Tonight he will be performing bluegrass standards in the back room of Shakey’s Pizzeria. That is, if he can find someone, anyone, to tape “Dynasty.” The kids are getting married on the beach this week.

An out-of-work Radio Shack salesman sits before his Apple IIe computer and types the following title for a short story later to be submitted to a small local press for possible publication: “Teenage Jesus: Rockin’ It For All It’s Worth.” The man is wearing a maroon-colored Members Only jacket, and on his right sleeve is a Journey ’84 concert sticker stolen the previous month from a teenager buying a football-shaped portable radio/piggy bank.

An abandoned Cabbage Patch doll with the unfortunate name of “Tabby” is attacked in an alley behind a Bob’s Big Boy by a feral brown-and-white tomcat, a recent escapee from the local animal shelter. Both ultimately end up in a fetid alley behind an Everything Rainbow store.

An off-duty surgeon bites into a Chipwich ice-cream cookie, and then promptly spits it out. His mind is still on the patient who has just passed away. Was it his fault? He hopes not, and dreads the bureaucratic review to follow. He picks up an issue of Sport magazine, the swimsuit issue, and begins to peruse eagerly.

Marc Patel, in the back of the van, still talking in a fake slur. Foreigner is now playing on the van’s radio. “So what should I do?” he asks. “Send Anthony that bar of chocolate as a joke?” We nod and stare out the van’s windows. We are, at that very moment, passing an Everything Rainbow store. Although we cannot make out either the feral tomcat or the shredded Cabbage Patch doll, we can now, from a distance of twelve years and three states, consider this a wonderful coincidence.