Hang Tough, Tonight’s the Night

I almost married Joey McIntyre. Okay maybe MARRIED is a strong word. I almost was in the RUNNING to marry him – and for a short, tiny moment in history (like legit only 24 hours), he knew who I was separate from all of his millions of fans. He also thought I was 19 when really I was only 15, but I digress.

Lets start at the beginning. Celebrity Crushes. Lots of us have them when we are young. It’s a strange phenomenon as a tween/teen. From writing their last names as our on the front of our school folders, all the way to traveling miles to see shows, collecting bins of movies, photos and magazines, entering ridiculous contests in the hopes to catch a moment with these people. It shapes our likes and dislikes in our real life relationships and crushes. Every person I have ever dated, whether I want to admit it or not, was similar in either personality or looks, to my 3 main teen crushes. I truly think the process is important. It’s a way to feel connected to something bigger than yourself. A type of fantasy land where you think anything is possible, and you just MAY BE good enough – because said celebrity isn’t able to see you in real life and tell you that you aren’t. It’s what all of our self-esteems needed at that point in our lives. When I was coyly kissing a magazine page, I was a queen in my mind.

In the 80s and 90s we had young teen celebrities that we were exposed to either via TV sitcoms or movies. No internet to speak of to connect us to their lives, TMZ didn’t exist. Our version of the Internet was the TEEN MAGAZINE: Bop, Tiger Beat, 16, Bopper, etc. If I had to calculate the amount of money I spent on those magazines, I would say it would be comparable to a college education. They started simple but then got UBER fancy, with pull out posters, bifolds and holograms. Some were ALL pin ups and no articles, and by articles I mean “See what Johnny Depp does on the weekends” or “Are you the right girl for Christian Slater?” And my favorites were the “Win a date with_____”!  As someone that now works for a company with tons of photographers, I have yet to figure out how those magazine photographers managed to capture what they did – the way each heartthrob looked into your soul and made you feel like they were looking ONLY at you and wanted to be with you in real life.

IMG_2196
The cast of Silver Spoons

In 1984 – I stumbled across a TV show called Silver Spoons. Looking back, the premise of the show was SCARY white rich stuff. Rich kid comes from boarding school to find his rich real dad being an adult child, he quickly befriends local obnoxious kid (played by a little Jason Bateman) and then enter the one black character, his dads manager named Dexter Stuffins (WHO even DECIDED that?!) and his hip, breakdancing kid Alfonso (played by Alfonso Ribiero). I totally didn’t care what it was about. I was 10 years old and had my first crush. I actually don’t remember the entirety of any episode. I was too busy gazing into the eyes of the main character, Ricky Schroder. Baby faced, blue eyes and a smile that could knock me out – I was smitten. I started taking down the art in my room, and taping up photos from magazines of Ricky.

Two years later came my first real MOVIE crush. A little movie called Stand By Me came out. I was 12 and totally becoming a horror fan. I knew that this was an adaptation of a Stephen King book, and that’s what got me to see it. At 12 I wasn’t allowed to watch a rated R movie, so of course I saw it at a friends house. There was a DEAD BODY. There were people SMOKING and talking about BOOBS. There was lots of cursing. But most importantly, there was a little known newbie actor named River Phoenix. He was a bad boy who ended up stealing the hearts of the entire audience by the end, including mine. Ricky was very quickly replaced by River. I watched every movie as he grew through his career. I listened to his music and followed his life through the magazines as best as I could. I STILL feel a twinge of jealousy of actress Martha Plimpton (now in the show The Real O’Neils) because she was his longtime girlfriend.

IMG_2210
River Phoenix

I said hello to him once. It was a moment I will never forget. It was 1989 and my aunt Bridget called me and said “Mariangela, did you hear? River Phoenix is filming a movie in TACOMA! I will drive you out there if you want to go!” It was the summer before my freshman year in high school – so I played it cool but inside I was screaming. “Sure I will go, maybe I can say hey” which was code for “You are my most favorite aunt ever, I will try to not pee myself.” I carefully planned my outfit based on every single thing I had read about him in magazines. I got matching faux round eye glasses, no makeup, wore all black and my Doc Martens. He was filming I Love You To Death at a local pizza place. I stood patiently with a small group of people waiting to say hi. I was calm. I tried SUPER hard to act like I didn’t care. I kept telling myself “River wouldn’t WANT you to care, so you don’t care” but really I cared so much. He walked over, and shyly made eye contact with each of us, and said hello. He looked at me and said “Hey…” and I said “Hey…” and then he smiled like halfway and walked away. And just like that, my heart exploded and I was sure he wanted to date me, but alas, he kept walking. Three years later that same aunt called me, asking me if I had heard the news of his sudden death. And while I was sad, I had already moved onto my 3rd and final major crush. I had already begun the quest to become Mrs. Joey Mcintyre.

As I exited middle school and was ushered into high school, the MTV era had begun. MTV VIDEO channel to be clear. All videos, all the time. I was hip to boy bands, but basically a LITTLE too young to appreciate New Edition and too old to have patience for NSYNC or Backstreet Boys. Enter New Kids on the Block, stage left. 5 guys from Boston, MA. with thick accents and matchy clothing. I bought all of their albums. I quickly became obsessed with the youngest member, Joey, for many reasons that, at the time, seemed like they were easily clinchers for marriage.

IMG_2202
Joey McIntyre

He was a Capricorn like me, he loved old school hiphop and also the Rat Pack including Frank Sinatra and all the crooners that had played in my house since I was a baby. He wore gaudy jewelry and large prints and drove a Mazda Miata. I was an Italian in the 80s so all of those things were part of my life’s natural progression. See what I mean? It was clear.

In 1989 they announced their Coke-sponsored “Magic Summer Tour” that took them around the world for 2 years. The first Seattle date I wasn’t able to score a ticket for – they sold out the King Dome. So I was focused on studying their set via the Disney tour they televised, and saved all my money to get the very best seats possible.

Tacoma Dome, February 13, 1991. I spent $250 on a 2nd row center seat. I had my friends help me make a sign. A huge, six-foot sign to be clear. I knew the exact time to put up the sign because I had watched their Disney special 617 times and knew it by heart) — it was when they were sitting on stools for a slow ballad, so they could read it. I told all the girls in my row the plan, to help me hold it up, and then vigorously point at me as they read, so they knew who it was from. What did the sign say, you ask? It was a “doctored” verse of one of their early songs and said “Hey Joe, I’m a Capricorn, and if you can get with that then check Me Out!” So my faithful minions did just as I ordered, and held up the sign. The guys all read it, teased Joey and he laughed, smiled and waved. As they did the next song, he kept making eye contact, and smiling, and I SWEAR he was blushing. Now just barely 16 years old, I LOOKED like I was 19 – as I matured very young. Fully developed and tall, wearing light makeup, dark red lipstick, a short mini skirt and a black and white polkadot shirt, similar to one I had seen him wear in a magazine shoot one time. I looked perfect. So as he made eye contact he mouthed “How old are you!?” to which I shot back with fingers, all ten and then nine. I figured he was 2 years older, he didn’t want a baby that was freshly 16. He wanted an older woman, so I told him I was as old as I looked. He smiled and kept dancing. Then they had a set and wardrobe change. The lights came up partially and mood music played as we waited.

5f67542c832edd0bc964762f771321a7--new-kids-jordan-knight
NKOTB

At this point what happened next is still unreal. As I am giggling with my friends about the fact that he actually SAW the sign and read it – I feel a tap on my shoulder. I whipped around and saw a GIGANTIC body guard. I immediately thought I was getting in trouble for my sign. I began to say “I’m sorry…” and he said “Joey McIntyre would like to invite you to his hotel after the show. Do you know where the Sorrento Hotel is?”

**WE HAVE JUST LOST CABIN PRESSURE**

Now I need to pause here to say that I am not the FAN GIRL type. I am prepared, calm and collected and always try to stay cool in the face of cool people. Mainly because I watch fan girls freak out, cry, pass out, and it’s so crazy to me. If anything I say nothing and don’t want to bother them. I vowed from a young age I would never be that girl, so I nicely asked the 10-foot man to repeat himself. He smiled, nodded, and repeated himself, and it was clear he had done this dance before. I am pretty sure it was the closest I have had to a fan girl freak out ever. I said OH MY GOD about 200 times. Every girl around me was either immediately my best friend or worst enemy. The next series of events made me have deep regret for several years.

My parents had driven myself and a few friends to the Tacoma Dome. The deal was, one of my friends parents would bring us home. I HAD to see the end of the show and the encore, I had paid $250 for that seat. I sat through the entire rest of the show, almost unable to focus. They had a sparkly encore and jetted off stage. At that moment I realized what I had to do. I was CRAFTY I could figure this out. I had $100 in my pocket for merchandise. That Hangin’ Tough hoodie was gonna have to wait. Now remember, the Tacoma Dome was SOLD OUT and I was in row 2, which means 20,000 people getting out before me. It took me almost an HOUR to get out of that stadium. Once outside, I found my friends, and they basically told me I should come home and not lie to my parents. Girl. Stop. I told them to tell their dad that I had found another ride home with another friend and made them swear to me that they would not tattle.

It took me time, of course, to get out of the ride home situation and figure out that I needed to call a CAB. In 1991, at a boy band concert in Tacoma, there were no taxis just waiting. So I found a guard that called me a taxi. The taxi cost me $85 because of course 20,000 people were trying to drive at the same time. FML. Didn’t everyone know I was trying to go meet my true love and that he would probably propose on the spot and we would live happily ever after!? If I remember correctly, the concert ended around 9:30PM. I didn’t make it to the Sorrento Hotel in downtown Seattle until 11:00pm. This was on a Wednesday which was also a SCHOOL NIGHT. When I pulled up, there are TONS of fans, screaming and waving to curtain-pulled windows, hoping one was the correct room. Two huge tour busses, engines running, parked out front. I make my way through the girls, because I actually have a reason to be there. I search for the guard who spoke to me. FINALLY I find him, in a mad rush I said “I’M HERE! Sorry it took me a long time! But I’m here, it’s me, I’m here!” He was so nice but his face was somber when he said “Where were you? Joey was looking for you! They have been here a few hours already, and now are about to leave for Portland! They have a show tomorrow night so we have to leave tonight!”

I AM JACK’S WAVES OF REGRET.

I was crushed. I didn’t know how to react. I cannot cry. I will not be one of those people. Be cool. I cried with no tears. Sure enough, moments later, the crew started bringing their bags to the bus. The guys appear, the fans go crazy. I am standing at the front of the group, tears welling up in my eyes but swallowing them back to be cool and brave. I see the guard whisper and point to Joey that I was there. He comes over, says “I am sorry I have to leave, hope you enjoyed the show. Oh, and nice shirt” winks, smiles, touches my hand, and disappeared into the bus. I just stood there. Frozen.

The busses start to leave and I feel a TAP on my shoulder. I turn around and IT’S MY DAD.  Apparently one of the girls had tattled and he came to find me. The conversation went like this:

Dad: What the HELL do you think you are doing?
Me: He invited ME!
Dad: Oh really, and what exactly were you going to do when you got up to that hotel room??
Me: Um, probably just hang out, watch TV?
Dad: MMhmmmm pretty sure you are grounded for a year.

But it was such a valid question, looking back: What exactly did I think I was going to do, exactly?! I was 16. He was 18. Back then I really THOUGHT we would watch TV and maybe kiss. Sex was the furthest thing from my mind. Ok, not the FURTHEST but certainly the scariest. Marriage, on the other hand, was not. I cried the whole way home. The next week I searched the “I saw you” sections and articles interviewing them after their following few shows – thinking maybe, just maybe he would remember me, and regret not watching TV with me, and he would give me a shout out secretly. But it never happened.

IMG_2229
From left clockwise: Ricky Schroder, Joey McIntyre, Corey Haim, Johnny Depp, Alyssa Milano and River Phoenix

And just like that, that was the end of my teen crush years. Looking back, it was such a FUN time of my life. I felt free to dream and fantasize. I felt pretty and I felt special. It’s so true that those young age crushes help form our loves down the road. Every male and female I have dated over the years and now the man I have been married to for 20 years – all resemble something I loved in each of those movie stars and musicians that was mostly up to that point, unattainable. Every woman I have met that looks like Alyssa Milano I immediately crush on. I think all androgynous women are gorgeous because looking back, Ricky and River were both VERY pretty and gender neutral to me. Even Joey was very PRETTY. I loved GOOD big beautiful teeth and big smiles, a slight over bite, bright blue eyes, a dark side, humor, musicality, kindness. If you have met Ryan, you know I attained my dream man, all wrapped up into one.  

Loving what we cannot have is a part of life. It’s a part of growing up. NKOTB still tours and even has cruises. I have never once considered going. I am a different person now. I have grown up. I have seen photos of Joey’s lovely wife, and his gorgeous children – and he has such a beautiful family. I even feel weird saying I have seen those things. It feels so invasive now as I am older. Their music and his voice guided me through my years when I was trying to figure out who I was. All of my crushes, unbeknownst to them, made me feel special and like a queen at times. They gave me courage to talk to real boys, security to sing out loud, and even the ability to say no to people down the road. I got out of them what I needed. I have no desire to continue the saga of what could have been. I have never once wondered. I have always been grateful for that night at the Sorrento – such a fun story to tell – and even more grateful that it went down the way it did. I am pretty firm that my love affair with the band and the man – ended that night at the Sorrento. It almost got TOO close to breaking that fantasy barrier for me. Everything happens the way it is supposed to – I am a firm believer in that. Regardless, when ‘Please Don’t Go Girl’ comes on Sirius FM 90s station, I turn it up and sing for everyone to hear. That’s my jam.

Generational Appropriation

222841_10150288774389256_5110799_nFor 15 years, I was a white woman who had dreads. This is the blog post that explains why that sentence carries weight and causes reaction. Dreads were a part of who I was for almost half my life and what many people visualize when they hear my name. Quite honestly, I’d already written four paragraphs about why I got the dreads, and how that decision came about, but then realized it wasn’t important. So to make a long explanation short: I got dreads. At the time, my hair was LONG so the dreads were all my own hair — no extensions or fake anything. I rocked them for almost 15 years. They gave me a courage that is hard to describe. Courage to rock different clothes. Courage to take risks. Courage to become who I felt on the inside.

I was at the height of my insecurity when I got dreadlocks; it bubbled over into every single part of my life. Before my dreads, I felt like a plain, chubby girl with a seriously cool rapper husband. I was often an invisible person with low self-esteem who felt people wondered how on earth I could have snagged a guy like Ryan. I had plain hair, and back then I never had the courage to make my hair a part of who I was. Let’s be honest: I probably didn’t really know who I was. So I got dreads and, looking back, they were a tool — knowing what I know now, I didn’t realize they were another culture’s tool that I borrowed, something I didn’t acknowledge or truly understand. As times changed, and society began to wake up, the climate that surrounded my hair choice started to change.

“If you’re going to take on something that does have sacred and historic significance and an unequal history of power dynamics, it’s important to honor that history,” she said. “Be an ally by knowing your stuff and being respectful and acknowledging where it comes from.” -Jamia Wilson

It started with a few select people in the music scene – who began to side step away from our family and friendship. Now I’m aware, looking back, that my dreads were the reason, but at the time – I had no clue. Then there were a few snide remarks, links posted without tags, but nothing to me. “Surely they couldn’t mean me?” I would think to myself. I wonder how I would have reacted to being sat down and talked to about the topic with one of those trusted friends. I truly had no idea of the appropriating or the frustration and anger I was causing.

All of these little things and moments had been in the back of my head, eating at me. So a year ago, I asked Ryan if he thought my dreads were offensive and if I should cut them. He adamantly stated that it was not the same and that mine were pagan and stemmed from that part of old witch culture. So I dropped it. Still, I had the nagging insecurity that people were offended or talking about them without talking to me. But, truthfully, Ryan had told me what I wanted to hear, so I quickly let it go.34302_470259619255_4864580_n

Then about five months ago, I started getting obvious looks and comments from strangers in public — and one of my biggest fears is being humiliated in public. So I was pretty mortified. I’m sure most of the people around me at the time had no idea what was happening BUT I DID. I got eye rolls, snickers, audible sounds of disgust, and comments like “WOW, for real!?” or “That’s not right.” It was then that I knew the hair discussion had to be reopened and I needed to do equal parts research and soul-searching.

I consider myself a fairly forward-thinking, awakened individual on the topic of social and racial justice. I consider myself a white ally to the POC in my life. So how was my hairstyle choice affecting them? I wanted to know. I asked several friends and got the same response from all of them. “Well, we know why YOU have dreads and we know you didn’t mean it that way. Your intentions weren’t malicious, so you get a PASS. But most other white people with dreads are frustrating and triggering.”

With that, I felt it in my heart — a feeling of horror, of disgrace, of sadness. Oh my god, had I been everyone’s exception for all of these years? And if they were giving me a pass, that means I’d been offending everyone else in the meantime? Just the thought of that horrified me. I knew then, it was time to make a change.

The thought of cutting my dreads TERRIFIED me. I went to Ryan, just like I had almost exactly a year before, to get his opinion, thinking he would repeat the same thing he had a year earlier. He didn’t. Instead, he looked at me and said, “It’s time. The world is a much different place than it was 15 years ago; we know more, we are more sensitive, and if we are going to stand as allies it also means we have to make choices as allies.” I trust this man’s opinion on all political and racial matters with my life, so I knew he was right. I legit cried for two hours, but I knew that the choice to cut them and why totally outweighed my anxiety for whatever was under the 86 dreads that had lived on my head for over a decade.

I need to touch on that, because as a mother – this part was important. My insecurities were out in full force. I shared my fears with our daughter. I told her that I was frightened of finding out what was underneath, that maybe the fierce woman I had grown into over the years was because of the hairstyle. Maybe they were my style and strength and not anything else inside of me. I was so scared to go back to who I was 15 years earlier. My daughter saw the fear in my eyes and I think it was shocking to see. The strong mother who had gotten her through so much was crumbling over some hair. She looked at me and said, “Let’s pick out a haircut that you can totally rock. It’s going to be fine – just please don’t bleach it.”

“Never mind searching for who you are. Search for the person you aspire to be.” ~Robert Brault

IMG_0839With the help of a few key close friends, several text conversations that consisted of me flipping out and them reminding me to stay calm and breathe, the decision was cemented and new style was picked. I found a stylist through a friend that specialized in the emotional side of big hair changes, and I took the plunge. I was determined and had made the choice, so there were no tears and no freak outs. I knew it was about something bigger. I knew I was taking steps to being a better ally and a better example to the other people around me trying to do the same.

I need to dig into the reason for the change. This needs to be discussed because it is about society and their tendency to want to whitesplain things that have cultural and racial undertones. Sure, if you are trying to find reasons and excuses on the side favoring dreadlocks on white people, they are definitely there. I’ve had discussions with white people about it and have gotten the same comments.

“Everyone takes looks from other cultures!”
“What about St Patty’s Day?”
“But Cinco De Mayo!?”

Even writer Feminista Jones was quoted in an article on the subject once and stated, “My research informed me that Indian monks wore them long before they reached the Western Hemisphere, so I’m not sure anyone has any particular claim.” If you LOOK for reasons and excuses in history, you will find them. Maybe they did not ORIGINATE in any one culture. Maybe they can be found in many races throughout history. That is not the point here.

In my research, here is what I found: Dreadlocks, for the marginalized cultures, was a symbol of resistance against signs and actions of colonization and expectations of assimilation. It was their form of a voice, of power, of freedom, so to speak. Your St. Patty’s Day drinking isn’t taking from a marginalized culture that our country spent hundreds of years enslaving. Appropriation means taking from a culture that has created a style or art that was used as a tool to assist them out of their oppression, and adopting it as your own. Using it either for social clout or as a symbol of hip coolness or even worse, for profit.

In our current political climate, I often hear from people asking how they can be better allies. They want to know how they can get WOKE and how they can help fight alongside their friends that are being targeted and oppressed. I think every one of us being aware — taking a look at our lives, at how we conduct ourselves, and how we are portraying ourselves to both the world and our children — is an important step. I excused my dreads for years because (at the time) I didn’t know better and I was given a pass by my community (at the time). In reality, if I am going to continue to teach my daughter to be a voice of justice to the privileged community around her, I need to make decisions that reflect that. We all need to be more conscious of how we live and sensitive to how our actions (or inactions) may be affecting people around us.170602_17_0602_Donut_Day_CL_0001.jpg

This post is not meant to judge the choices or journeys of others. It is not meant to start an argument on who is right or who is wrong. I will not entertain discussion around why I may be wrong in attempts to aid in anyone’s white fragility. It is meant to share my process, my lightbulb moment, my growth and journey, and how it has shaped me into who I am today. All of the missteps and mistakes I have made in my 42 years on this planet are part of who I am today. I would not take any one of them back, but I would not want to stay stuck in them, either. Life experience helps us make better choices and learn how to move forward. It is my hope that this piece will help start meaningful and powerful discussions in your own circles, so you can reflect on the things you can do or change in your own lives to become better allies.

It feels good knowing I took one very small step in making myself less of the problem and closer to being part of the solution.