We are winding down a great week of 90s nostalgia, prompted by the 25th anniversary release of Nirvana’s Nevermind. I was hoping my friend Walt would come out of his box for the challenge, and he’s taken a pause from monocle-polishing to provide us his classic Walt insights, enjoy.
Late Night Thoughts on a Decade,
by Walt Walker
In the 90s I dated a girl who wouldn’t let me lie on the floor in front of the tv to watch Cowboys games without climbing on top of me. If my life had been a Hollywood movie — or I guess a Netflix original, these days — that might have been very cool. But I really wanted to watch those games. The Cowboys were good back then.
I tried really hard to stay offline until the year 2000. I mean, like, I had never been online, and I was trying to make it that far, as a point of pride. To not even experience the internet, I thought that would be a cool thing. I made it to 1999. When I got a free computer rebuilt by my (3rd) step dad, I couldn’t hold out any longer. Some people say I cheated because I had used email before that, but I don’t think so. I don’t think using email counted as being online. I hadn’t visited a website, hadn’t “surfed the net.”
I dove into internet dating pretty quick after I got online, though. I had to, because I was hurt bad by that girl who didn’t like me watching Cowboys games. She’d dumped me and moved to New York City.
People thought online dating was sleazy back then. I got a lot of flack for it. Now there is Tinder. Swipe left, swipe right. Seriously? To the people who got on my ass about online dating in the 90s, I offer as evidence of my innocence the stack of emails I printed out on my dot matrix and still have in a shoebox somewhere. It’s 19th century courtship, by comparison. I might as well have travelled by Hansom cab to meet at that TGI Fridays that always seemed to work as a halfway point.
Friends. That was a show that seemed raunchy to me back in the 90s. Jesus. What sweet innocence, by comparison.
Seinfeld. It’s funny how the first years looked so 80s. Go back and watch them. Very 80s looking. But that’s how all the decades go, in the beginning. The first years of the 80s looked very 70s. The later 90s looked very 90s, which is funny to say now, because it’s only recently that I realized the 90s had a look. Until recently, I thought the 90s weren’t all that long ago. I’ve only just realized the math says otherwise, as does the look (I found some photos of me and Ms. New York, and I saw what I was wearing). In fact, just this year I rid my closet of the last remnants of the 90s. A cross country move will do that to you. (You should do it before you move, though, not after.)
Speaking of Seinfeld, what a turning point. A show about nothing, with a rule of no hugs and no learning. Revolutionary at the time, and just what people wanted, or rather didn’t want, depending on your perspective. All in the Family had been funny and heartfelt, at times provocative. MASH had been funny and heartfelt, at times profound. Cheers had been funny and heartfelt, at times life affirming, or at least romance affirming. But Seinfeld was just funny, and heartless. Icy and mean. We didn’t notice because we were sick of heartfelt, and we loved the characters, they were so like us in their discrimination, their nitpicking, their heartlessness. Then came the series finale, which fell flat for everyone. Because in the end we wanted something more, despite what we thought were our calloused hearts. We didn’t get what we needed from the end of Seinfeld. We got the same old no hugs, no learning taken to the nth degree; our beloved main characters looking back — in jail, no less — and seeing a trail of scorched earth. And mocking it. Distancing. It hurt. Like when my girlfriend moved to New York because I wanted to watch a Cowboys game. What would Jerry do? Label ’em, shrug ’em off. No hugs, no learning.
I got over it. I drove back from Dallas one weekend morning listening to Lou Bega’s Mambo #5 with the windows down, wind in my 90s hair, wearing my tee shirt under my sleeveless sweater vest, really able to relate to “a little bit of Monica in my life / a little bit of Erica by my side / a little bit of Rita, all I need.” All thanks to AOL’s neolithic version of match.com, which didn’t exist at the time, and probably doesn’t anymore, because of Tinder.
The 90s. I’m not in the mood to write this, and I think it’s coming out that way. I’ve written about the 90s quite a bit, actually, especially Cobain, who was a big deal to me. He didn’t make it out of the 90s, and in a way, I’m not sure I did either. Did any of us who came of age in that decade? Don’t we all want a little bit of that innocence back? If you can even call it innocence, because it wasn’t, and we weren’t. But it seems like we were, in retrospect. But we are here now. Entertain us. We are stupid. And contagious.
In the 90s, Bill Clinton put on sunglasses and played saxophone on Arsenio Hall. Within a decade, late night talk shows were the place for candidates to relate to America, and today America chooses candidates from late night talk shows, from reality tv. Here we are now. Entertain us. It’s contagious.