I’ve forgotten much about life between the ages of 10 and 13. I suppose there’s a psychological reason for that; something something brain development, something something puberty. A lot of it might be self-preservation.
In most pictures from this time I resemble an oversized grub with greasy blond hair. I’m wearing sweatpants and Coke-bottle glasses watching MTV in the den at grandma’s house. I’d recently discovered girls, but like Benjamin Franklin’s “discovery” of electricity it would be decades before I knew what to do with this information.
I did maintain a social life of sorts, the kind of rotating sleepovers at friend’s houses common for boys of that age. These sleepovers crept back to my mind lately as my own sons began hosting their friends.
Like my boys, I lived in the country growing up. But I also lived close enough to my friends to ride a bike to their houses. We now live 27 miles from town and a full 40 miles from some of their friends. (Sorry kids, you won’t be able to skip leg day). Anyway, it meant that sleepovers were a regular thing.
Sleepovers were arranged via telephones located on the walls of our respective kitchens, most of them clouded blue with cigarette smoke.
“Wanna stay over?”
Or sometimes, “Can I stay over?
(“Mom, can I have a friend stay over?) “OK.”
And so it went.
Modern oldsters lament how today’s kids spend all their time playing video games. But I seem to recall many hours of Nintendo at these sleepovers. The games were pixelated, the music synthesized. We conquered plastic cartridges one by one. Frankly I don’t blame my kids for playing their video games. They are objectively cooler.
We would also watch two or three action movies back to back. This was how I came to know the entire 1980s and ‘90s catalogue of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Jean Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal movies. None of these movies hold up very well. Except for “Total Recall.” And maybe “Under Siege.” And “Predator” was an underrated social commentary that starred not one but two future governors.
My friend Dustin and I would record radio shows — dozens of hours of talk radio, 12 minutes of which was actually entertaining. Unfortunately, those 12 minutes were mostly the parts with flatulence and impersonations of classmates’ mothers. I’m not sure there was ever much of an audience for it. I learned a lot about radio programming, I suppose. Just missed the Howard Stern phenomenon.
The event my family most remembers came during a pre-teen birthday party at my house. My mother very kindly set out a bag of Cheetos. One of my friends speculated aloud how many Cheetos he thought he could fit in his mouth. In retrospect, this was the last moment anyone could have stopped what was about to happen. No one did.
Quite suddenly, we crammed Cheetos into our gaping maws one by one. Before long orange drool poured down our faces. The competition was nip and tuck, ultimately decided by the innovative concept of sticking extra Cheetos into available nostril space. I don’t know how many Cheetos were swallowed, but the bag was empty.
My parents were never the same. The color orange became henceforth taboo.
I think the most prevalent memory from these sleepovers was sleep deprivation. Staying up all night became a badge of honor. My friends’ rooms became secret caves in a dark, foreign world. Operation centers for midnight incursions into the yard. The squeaking floorboards in their hallways lay like landmines.
And, just like my boys last Sunday, the day after was a zombie march, a dazed state of self-induced exhaustion. And the boys were tired, too.
I was telling my mom about the boys’ sleepover and she asked if they put any Cheetos up their nose.
They hadn’t. Of course, I knew enough not to provide them any.
Aaron J. Brown is an author and community college instructor from Northern Minnesota’s Mesabi Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio (KAXE.org).