Saturday, February 16, 2008

Thrilling 4th Grade Birthdays


I can't remember where she moved from or what brought her to Jacksonville Beach, but it was like a rock star had landed in our elementary school. It was 4th grade. Cher, the new girl, wore studded belts that hung to one side, jeans that were rolled up tight around the ankles and lots and lots of bangle bracelets that rode up and down her arms. She knew everything about music, dancing, fashion. She skyrocketed the hip factor in our school.

I admired Cher from the peripheries of our little clique. Sitting at the lunch table, hanging on her every word, taking notes about her fashion ensembles ... I was in awe. But I knew I would never elevate to that level of cool. She wasn't afraid to speak her mind and demand attention. I kept my mouth shut and avoided eye contact. She shopped at Macy's and was dropped off in a BMW. I shopped at Pic N Save and hightailed it on my brother's old BMX.

When she RSVPed to Becky Robinson's slumber birthday party, I knew I had to go. Even though Becky and I weren't that great of friends. I had to be there.

What happened that night was, well, life changing. After singing Happy Birthday blah, blah, blah and eating cake, blah, blah, blah, it was gift giving time. One by one Becky opened our offerings of sticker books, twist a beads and unicorn figurines. Boring, boring, boring. But then she picked up Cher's gift. It was square, thin and rather large. Becky peeled the wrapping paper back as the rest of us hovered over her like hawks. What was it? What could it be? And what to our little eyes did appear? The mother of all mothers, Michael Jackson staring back at us. Holy Mackerel! Cher got Becky Robinson the mother f-ing Thriller album. I knew it was gonna be big. I just didn't know how big.

After the squeals and screaming subsided, the gaggle of girls hauled ass to the record player. The LP slipped from the sleeve into Becky's hands. She held it up to "oohs" and "aahs". And when that needle hit the record, what raced down our ear canals and passed our ear drums was magic. The voice, the beats, the lyrics ... we were changed 4th graders and Becky Robinson was all of a sudden ... made cool.

I didn't have MTV, much less cable as a kid. It was much later that I saw the Thriller video at my cousin's in Tennessee. But at that point it didn't matter. I remember that night like it was yesterday. Instead of the usual slumber party fun (Bloody Mary, Light as a Feather), we stayed up all night making up dance routines to PYT. We'd lie our heads next to the speakers singing Human Nature and we'd pretend to rock it hard to Beat It.

About a month later, I invited Cher to my birthday party, thinking surely she'd give me the Thriller album too. She'd make me cool like she did for Becky Robinson who now wore side hanging belts and bangle bracelets. I'd dance and dance to Billie Jean in my parent's bedroom and pretend I was a PYT. But the packaging was different. It was smaller. The other girls, wide eyed, watched me pick it up, shake it, confused. When I ripped off the paper and found a jewelry box, the excitement from my face must have fallen pretty hard. I opened it up. And after getting a glimpse, the girls leaned back in their seats and shook their heads with disappointment.

Twist a Beads. Huh.

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Happy 25th Anniversary Thriller Album.

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