The Ineffable Influence of Dr. Venkman.

A lot of things happened in 1984. And no, I’m not making any sly Orwellian references here. In 1984 I turned five, my parents got divorced, and my mother had a nervous breakdown requiring a long stay in the state mental hospital. But before all those perhaps more momentous things happened, in June of ’84, my still apparently happily married parents took me to see Ghostbusters. I’ve been told I went to all the big movies back then. Falling asleep during Return of the Jedi and  Raiders of the Lost Ark. Mom tells me that I fell asleep right after the monkey got poisoned. That I ran around the house insisting that we not eat the bad dates. I have no memory of this. But I do remember going to see Ghostbusters. And more than that I remember begging my parents to take me again. They didn’t. But in the pre VHS world I shelved my love for those guys deep in my little girl’s heart.

Then my folks split up. Dividing their things and me neatly down the middle. Mom and I moved to a Brookline apartment and Dad stayed in his house in Waltham. It was here that the lines were drawn in my childhood. Time with Mom meant being in poverty as the child of a struggling nursing student. It meant living in a house with lots of unsavory characters, loud parties, and, though I didn’t understand at the time, it also meant bearing witness to my Mom’s crumbling psyche. Time with Dad was much like life before the separation. A room of my own, fast food restaurants, summer camp, time spent splashing in my grandparents giant pool, and movies. Lots more movies. It occurs to me as an adult that he was only just holding things together himself and many of these fun activities were based on having no clue how to support a five year old through the incomprehensible.

It was fall of that year. Probably November since I have clear memories of my Halloween costume (fairy princess complete with bent coat hanger and nylon wings) and eating Dunkin Donuts donut holes off strings in the school playground. Bobbing for apples. Sticking my fingers in a big bowl of peeled grape eyeballs. There was a Halloween party in which I wandered through red lit crowds of strangers and sang the refrain from Mack the Knife over and over again. Yes, it must have been November. Because whatever pressure had been building up behind my mom’s mental dam was fit to bursting. In a flurry of activity she ripped down her wallpaper and painted her room purple. Having no real conception of what punk meant I allowed her and some friends to punk out one of my My Little Ponies. I woke to my green shamrock pony having a sharpied black eye and safety pin through her ear. Not long after that, in a highly confusing and scary turn of events, we bagged up my toys and spent an entire day giving them away to strangers.

You might think that this was the defining moment in my childhood from which stem all my neuroses and idiosyncrasies. But, honestly, while I missed my mom and was scared when they told me she was sick in the vague terms you use with kids. I also adjusted, as best I could, incorporating the experience into my personality. Dad did his best to create some order in my life and in the end mom was given a clean bill of popping fresh sanity and I went back to living with her.

The lines drawn during their initial separation remained clear. Dad’s house was for fun times. Mom’s decidedly wasn’t. Dad’s house was a constant. Mom and I were always moving. Skipping from town to town. From school to school. For a brief time from state to state. Dad’s house was always the same, which was a comfort considering life with mom was always interesting in the Chinese proverb sense of the word.

But you came her for Ghostbusters and not for some long rambly stroll down memory lane. I’d like to point out though that setting up the sameness of Dad’s house, the routine, the never changing trips to the Boston Museum of Science, our semi regular movie going, how we only hit up the Synagogue during the high holidays. All of that played into my obsession. When he got a spanking new VCR and a small collection of movies on VHS it was seemingly preordained that Ghostbusters would be among them.

Murray, Ackroyd, Ramis and Hudson became my heroes. At ten I’d mostly grown out of Saturday morning cartoons and it became my ritual. Every other weekend I’d be with Dad and he always slept in. Always. You did not wake Dad on a Saturday without very good reason and I learned quickly to take care of myself. Teaching myself to make eggs, pancakes, hot cereal. However none of those foods would do for my ritual. Out came the tray table. The pack of Smack Ramen (serving size said two but I always ate the whole thing) and a cup of Swiss Miss. I’d burn the roof of my mouth, slop noodles and broth down my stretched out pajama t shirt. And every other Saturday, from the time I was ten until Dad sold the Waltham house when I was fifteen, was defined by that.  I memorized the lines. Incorporated the catchphrases into my lexicon. One of my favorite come backs when dealing with bullies was that I wouldn’t touch them with a ten meter cattle prod.

My early writing bears the stamp of my fixation both in dialogue style and repurposed jokes. And when I think about it,  it still does. My ritual is long gone. Saturday morning cartoons are a thing my own children have never experienced. And while they enjoy Ghostbusters well enough, it does not hold the same fascination for them. I mean, it’s just another old eighties movie chock full of parental nostalgia and effects that look odd to their CGI accustomed eyes. It’s been thirty years since I was that five year old on the precipice of life changing events. Thirty years since those four guys with their proton packs stole my heart. But I still crack jokes reminscent of Bill Murray. And I write contemporary science fiction. Something that didn’t even have a name before that weird wonderful movie came out.

I’m struggling with where to end this except with thirty years worth of fangirlish love, and gratitude that Ghostbusters was part of my childhood, a stabilizing influence on the chaos that was me.

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