Monday, March 26, 2012

The Breakfast Club

I didn’t know how I felt about the selection of this week’s Throwback Thursday movie at Essex Cinemas. I mean, I am a fan of The Breakfast Club as well as John Hughes and his other movies like Sixteen CandlesWeird ScienceFerris Bueller's Day Off and Pretty in Pink which helped shape my formative years. But out of all of them I didn’t know if The Breakfast Club would be my first choice. I hemmed and hawed all day on Thursday not knowing if I was going to play hooky on this detention themed classic (it didn’t help that my partner in crime wouldn’t be attending because of an exam) and I don’t think it was until I received the following text that I made up my mind.

“Don’t you… Forget about me”

How could I have even considered missing a movie that played such an important part in my life? I mean, I still have the soundtrack on vinyl (kids, this was the format before tape cassettes, er compact discs… Mp3s?). I’m glad I got the extra push and didn’t miss this classic on the big screen. In my mind I didn’t remember it being as funny as it really is, and there is nothing like seeing a comedy when the whole audience is laughing out loud at the jokes. It was a great time and my friend Jenn even managed to win the top prize as part of the Throwback Thursday raffle: free T-Rex tickets and a copy of The Breakfast Club 25th Anniversary Blu-ray.  

Jenn with her winnings 

Following the theme of this weeks Throwback Thursday and the aforementioned raffle, Mary Cenci of Star 92.9’s morning show The Breakfast Club asked us (the audience) a question: who were we in high school in relation to tonight’s feature?  How did we identify ourselves? Were we a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, or a criminal? It was funny watching a different number of hands raise for each category, and I was surprised that not a lot of people identified with high school criminal John Bender. I can understand the girls seeing themselves as more of a princess or a basket case, but really guys? In high school you really identified more with Andrew Clark or Brian Johnson? I can’t say it any better than Jay (Jason Mewes) who put it so eloquently in Dogma referring to the fictional town of Shermer, Illinois: “all the honeys are top-shelf but all the dudes are pussies. Except Judd Nelson, he was fuckin’ harsh.”

Now you might be saying to yourself, a criminal? Really? Well, I can say that the quote unquote best years of our lives for me were, well, interesting. I never found myself in any real trouble. In other words, I don’t have a criminal record but I guess that’s because I was fortunate enough to use up my nine lives early. I wasn’t some kind of outrageous troublemaker, but then again I’m not sure if my teachers and/or parents would agree to that. There are plenty of incriminating stories I could tell to back up my claim and plenty of hairy situations that I found myself in as a teenager trying to make it in this crazy world, but The Breakfast Club is after all a comedy so let’s keep it light.

Detention on a Saturday is nothing that I ever had to deal with during my stay in the lovely institution known as High School. In fact, we didn’t really have a detention, per se. South Burlington, much like the fictional Shermer, was/is a small town that prides itself in its forward thinking. That’s why in elementary school we didn’t get A’s, B’s, C’s, D’s or F’s we got “Pink Hearts, Orange Stars, Yellow Moons, Green Clovers, Blue Diamonds, Purple Horseshoes and Red Balloons.” Okay, that was a little sarcastic, but the parents and former students of the South Burlington School system will know what I’m talking about (I’m actually curious if anyone else from different areas of the state/country/world had this grading system, please feel free to write me & let me know). As I was saying, we didn’t have detention, we had the Planning Room; this is where you’d go when you skipped class or committed any other minor act that wouldn’t result in a suspension and wrote a plan of attack on how you wouldn’t display that same behavior again. Sounds solid enough, right? I mean, say you have a student that is blowing off classes: what’s more fitting of a punishment than to take them out of even more classes to write a plan about missing class…Needless to say, I wrote several of these plans (I wonder if they get shredded or if somewhere out there in my “permanent record” these plans of action still exists?) but the one that sticks out in my mind the most is the plan I wrote when I was caught smoking in an unsupervised area. And by smoking, I mean cigarettes, a dirty little habit I picked up when I was a member of the Soccer Team (kinda ironic I picked up all of my habits from the “good kids” that I was a bad influence on, but that is a whole other story).

So as this story goes, one faithful day during our lunch period, I ducked out of school with a couple of my friends and we were followed (unbeknownst to us) by our school’s D.A.R.E (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) officer, who watched us walk just off of school grounds and light up our cigarettes, proceeded to watched us smoke said cancer sticks, and then finally busted us as we walked back towards the high school. For this infringement, the three of us landed in, you guessed it, the planning room. As I previously mentioned, this was during my lunch period so for this particular infraction I wasn’t skipping a class, I just happened to be somewhere other than the lunchroom. But now it was plan-writing time, and believe it or not I didn’t much feel like writing a plan; I felt more like enjoying my delicious cafeteria lunch and now I wasn’t going to have a chance to eat. At this point you might be thinking, “you did the crime, now do the time.” I guess that would be the difference between you and me and why you didn’t/or wouldn’t have raise/raised your hand to identify yourself as a John Bender.

At this point in my life, I didn’t really respect or understand all of the rules being placed on me, especially when they kept me from sustenance and my friends. All I knew was I was hungry and with every second that ticked by I was missing my lunch. So instead of writing a plan of action on being in an unsupervised area, I used my time to look up the definition of supervised, and wrote out a different sort of plan. One that explained that I couldn’t possibly be charged with the crime that they said I committed because at no time was I not being supervised by a faculty member of South Burlington High School. I turned in my plan and requested to take my leave and join my friends at lunch. Surprisingly my plan was rejected and I was told to sit back down and write a new one. I did, but this time I looked up the Geneva Convention and stated that it was unlawful for them to deny me, a prisoner of war, the basic necessities of food and medical attention (I failed to mention I had skinned my knee and several times had asked for permission to go to the nurses office). This was the breaking point and I was then moved from the planning room to the principal’s office, who happened to be in his office with another student so I had to wait for my day in court with the secretary. Now, at this point you might be saying, ”Dude, how far did you really want to push it? I mean, you mess with the bull you get the horns.” True… and as a reasonable person this probably would’ve been a good time to hang it up and take my punishment without further exacerbating things. But I was a teenager and that just wasn’t going to happen. So instead I did the next logical thing; I handcuffed myself to the secretary’s desk in protest of the false charges and demanded my immediate release and the release of my friends. As I type these words years later and try to put myself back in that mindset, I fear I cannot. It seems like these are not things that I did but more like I’m watching a movie of someone else’s life. But this was and is my life, I was and am the protagonist, this story is true and so is the outcome. I managed to clog up the system so much and enrage our principal in the process of doing so to the point that he just didn’t want to deal with me anymore so he let us all go, more or less throwing me out of his office (it took a little more on my part to finally lock down the Bender/Vernon showdown). To my knowledge, my parents were never called over this incident (but I would like to take the time now to apologize to them) and it went down as one of the few victories for the “good guys.” 

So why am I sharing all this? Is this my version of a #Humblebrag (#Hashtaggingoutsideoftwitter.) No, I’m sharing this to answer the question that was posed. And also because there is an exchange between Bender and Claire that I never really focused on during my previous viewings of The Breakfast Club that really made me think this time. I entered the theater already knowing that I would be writing this blog and besides focusing on audience enjoyment (which was amazing) I knew I would be trying to explain just how The Breakfast Club influenced my life. The exchange went like this (the following was taken from      

Claire Standish: You know why guys like you knock everything?
John Bender: Oh, this should be stunning.
Claire Standish: It's because you're afraid.
John Bender: Oh God, you richies are so smart, that's exactly why I'm not heavy into activities.
Claire Standish: You're a big coward.
Claire Standish: See, you're afraid that they won't take you, you don't belong, so you have to just dump all over it.
John Bender: Well, it wouldn't have anything to do with you activities people being assholes, now would it?

Exchanges like this are exactly why John Hughes’ movies have stood the test of time; he understood just how hard it is being at that middle stage in your life where you’re not quite an adult but you are already so far from being a kid, those formative teenage years. And I can admit that part of my fear as a teenager was that I would be Brian Johnson. I wasn’t a dumb kid who couldn’t do his work, that’s not what made me a criminal; I was a smart kid that didn’t try (about now is where my Mom would boast how I talked myself into an Honors English class that my grades didn’t support). I was also Andrew Clark - I’d played sports throughout my elementary school years but it wasn’t until middle school that I found a sport I really excelled at: Lacrosse (my Dad would argue that I was always a solid hitter in baseball, but my real love was Lacrosse). It was the first sport where I felt my natural ability and honed my skills by attending Lacrosse camps and playing it indoors during the winter (if you’re not from Vermont, it’s usually winter here 8 months out of the year). I even had some pretty good schools interested in me during my freshmen year of high school. But just like my grades, I gave up on Lacrosse too (I don’t really believe in regret but if I did, that would be my biggest from High School). So was Claire right, did I act like a criminal because I was too scared to be anything else? Or was Bender right, did I just not care because I didn’t want to be associated with the people who were the movers and shakers, the “assholes”? This is the hardest question to answer as I look back, but I guess it would have to be a little of both. I honestly hope I’ll be able to share my own mistakes with my future children someday as a cautionary tale, and as funny as my antics might’ve been they won’t repeat them. At the same time I understand that everyone has to walk his or her own path. So to really answer Mary’s question, yes, I was a criminal in High School, I can’t change that and even if I could I’m not sure that I’d want to. That same stubbornness and determination that I showed in the planning room is what has helped me make it through basic training, graduate at the top of my class in my masters program, and even write this blog on a weekly basis. But there is also the underlying truth that Hughes already knew; I was also a brain, an athlete, a basket case, and yes, I’m sure even in some cases a princess. Hughes knew that even though we may use our perceived differences to define ourselves as well as to define each other, underneath all the labels we’re all a lot more alike then we’d like to admit.  At thirty-one I can honestly say I’m not as afraid to be Brian Johnson as I was at sixteen, but I can still relate to those fears of being considered different because maybe the things you enjoy are different than the things those around you enjoy. Luckily the world around us isn’t as small as it was when I was a teenager and thanks to the Internet (yes the very thing allowing you to read this blog) we can reach out and find others with the very same interests, like, say, retro videogames and movies. In closing, I would like to say:

Dear Mrs. Cenci, we accept the fact that we willingly sacrificed a whole Thursday night watching The Breakfast Club and it was a lot of fun, and what we had was fun. But we think you're crazy to make us raise our hands to tell you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us... In the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain... and an athlete… and a basket case… …a princess… …and a criminal… Does that answer your question? Sincerely yours, The Breakfast Club.

Travis and Friend in High School. Travis Pictured
on Right.
…Of course I am only kidding and I’d like to give a special thanks to Mary Cenci and the Star 92.9 crew (who I have failed to mention in my previous blogs) for helping Essex Cinemas keep the Throwback Thursday going. Throwback Thursday are a really cool thing and I hope that everyone has a chance to check out one or more of their favorite flicks like I have. Before I go, do you want me to reveal the next Throwback Thursday movie playing? “As you wish.”