Ditching responsibilities for entertainment
Welcome back to AVQ&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences, and to ponder how our diverse lives all led us to convene here together. Got a question you’d like us and the readers to answer? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Genevieve Koski asks: What’s a piece of entertainment you blew off a personal or professional obligation in order to experience? Skipping school so you could buy an album that came out that day? Calling in sick to work so you could go to an out-of-town concert? Missing the birth of your child to finish the last level of your videogame?
With sincerest apologies to my parents, who paid for my tuition, I tended to blow off college classes in order to watch Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist and Kids In The Hall reruns on Comedy Central if I happened to catch a marathon that extended past lunch into a class I was particularly uninterested in. The shows, new to me, were funny and soothing, and obviously fed some latent comedy-nerd bug in me. Hypothetically, you could argue that I could actually blame my parents for refusing to get cable until after I went to college. Had I been exposed to Comedy Central before I left home, maybe I wouldn’t have been so enthralled by it later in life. Anyway, I graduated and I’m writing about comedy, so look at me now, mom: top of the world!
When I was attending the local community college, I took Camping as an elective, this weird class where you attended several lectures on various aspects of camping, then ultimately took two camping trips with your classmates, one local and one out of town. It was actually kind of cool, I guess, but when the local camping trip took place the same night Peter Murphy played at the Boathouse in Norfolk—and with Nine Inch Nails as the opening act, no less—I knew I was going to have to figure out some way to attend the show while still getting full credit for going on the trip. So I put up my tent, cooked my dinner, hung out with my classmates for as little time as I could get away with, then slinked back to my tent (I’d pointedly picked the most distant of the class’ spots), started my car, and carefully drove off the thankfully unlit campground without any headlights until I was out of their line of sight. I was late getting to the show, so I only got to see about half of NIN’s set, but I saw all of Peter Murphy’s performance, and he was awesome. Yes, I did somehow manage to make it back to my campsite without getting busted. Sadly, this is probably the most rebellious thing I’ve ever done in my life.
I have a ton of these, including scooting away from a wedding sometime in the late ’90s to see the Archers Of Loaf/Built To Spill double bill at the Metro in Chicago. But the one that strikes me is funniest is this: I think I was in third grade, and I got special permission to head home for lunch early in order to let our dog out. For some reason, I had decided I really liked the 1978 movie Convoy, starring Kris Kristofferson, and my 30-minute trip became a three-hour lunch in order to watch a bunch of truckers band together for reasons I didn’t fully understand. (There were, if I remember correctly, some boobies in the movie, which was on HBO.) I don’t really remember anything else, about the movie, though now I see that Sam Peckinpah directed it. Should I go back to it, or just let this school-ditching memory linger?
I’m currently bucking packing for a move to watch Obsession for the second time in 24 hours, if that counts.
I’m planning on skipping my nephew’s birthday party to go see The Promise Ring, but I haven’t told my sister that yet.
Laura M. Browning
I called in sick to work once (at a different job) because I’d stayed up all night reading The Hunger Games. I spent my “sick” day reading Catching Fire and Mockingjay.
I spent the summer of 2003 working as an unpaid intern at a magazine in New York, a hideously expensive endeavor that required getting a part-time job selling digital cameras at Best Buy in order to keep myself fed… and in order to buy that year’s Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix, whose release date I’d had circled on my calendar for roughly two years. I wasn’t going to let a silly thing like work interfere with that. After standing in line to purchase the book at 12 a.m.—the first, but definitely not last time I would do such a thing—and reading right through the night, I continued to binge throughout my Best Buy shift, huddled underneath the circular counter I was supposedly being paid to man. Thankfully, my co-worker, another Harry Potter fan (who consistently referred to Snape as “Snap,” which amuses me to this day), covered for me, badgering customers into extended warranties and extra memory cards all by herself, and alerting me to the presence of approaching supervisors. Thankfully, the Best Buy location I worked at was absolutely massive and hugely overstaffed, so it was easy to disappear for 400 pages or so and finish the book before quitting time.
When I was a junior in high school, it was announced at my local movie theater that tickets for Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace would go on sale the Friday before the movie came out, at noon. My friends were disappointed, because we had school. But not me. I was talking Calculus BC, an AP class that provided me with a study day—a free day away from school—to prepare for the exam that following Monday. So rather than hitting the books, I waited in line to buy 10 tickets, hanging with other superfans who were inevitably disappointed one week and two and a half hours later. Thankfully, I still did well on the exam in spite of wasting my day on this less-than-noble pursuit, because I think I would have never forgiven myself had I gotten low marks just for the sake of Jar-Jar Binks.
Back at my old gig sorting mail for a semi-prestigious Milwaukee law firm, I used my last remaining day of paid vacation to see Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull. That I was blowing these precious eight hours in mid-May was bad enough—that I had gleefully plotted out this sad, solo excursion months in advance was even worse. Then there was the movie itself, which dropped me somewhere in the middle of the Star Wars: The Phantom Menace/Star Trek: Nemesis continuum of geek-cinema disappointment. I haven’t seen the film since that fateful day in 2008, and my only memories of it are courtesy of that South Park episode where George Lucas and Steven Spielberg have their way with the once-intrepid Dr. Jones. Oh, and I remember that part where Shia LaBeouf is Tarzan or whatever. Ugh.
I write about this in my memoir, The Big Rewind, but when I was 11 years old, I played hooky from school, purloined some coins from the laundry room of my apartment building, and went to Chicago’s Lincoln Village theater to see Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. It was a defining moment in my life. I had sunk into a deep, seemingly bottomless depression at the time. The world seemed unfathomably cruel and merciless, but for 90 minutes or so, all my problems, self-loathing, and angst dissipated as I escaped into a gloriously absurd, life-affirmingly silly fantasy world where two lunkheads controlled the fate of the planet. It was then and there that I decided that I would devote my life to film in some form. Strangely, I found my path and my future profession by dodging responsibilities and eschewing school rather than following the rules or being responsible. The lesson? Ditch school, young people, and you just might stumble upon your destinies.
There’s something liberating about growing up around convicted criminals. Visiting your uncle in prison or seeing your mom dragged screaming through your house during a police raid is apt to unshackle any tidy childhood notions of right and wrong. That’s probably the most pathetic justification for embarking on a life of adolescent larceny—but as excuses go, that’s all I got. I had just entered 7th grade when I discovered how easy it was to ditch school and head to Safeway to stuff comics down my pants. This was the ’80s, in the day of newsstand spinner-racks: trees full of X-Men and Teen Titans, just ripe for the picking. From there, everything from D&D modules to Transformers became fair game. It was partly habitual, but my family was also dirt fucking poor, and I was still too young to work. Ditching school and going on “shopping sprees” became a way to feel autonomous and empowered (and, yes, a little less poor, as sad and stupid as that sounds). When I got into high school, though, music became my primary passion—and my primary target. But after many dozens of successful heists, I got busted while stealing a cassette at the mall. Cops were called, charges were pressed, and justice was served. I was 16. At that point, I decided to give up my life of petty crime. Not that it helped my grades; I was so used to ditching, I started failing classes, and I wound up dropping out. But I did immediately find a job—at a comic-book warehouse. Within five years, I was working at comic shops and record stores. One of my favorite parts of the gig? Nabbing shoplifters. Shifty little shits.
I grew up in a remote part of Mississippi where there was nothing to do and no place to go, plus it was hot as a bastard in the summer, which is my excuse for having spent 96 percent of my summer vacations in front of the TV. My big reward for this came in 1980, when I became addicted to David Letterman’s NBC morning show, a program that established that Letterman needed to have his own show, but also that the morning shift was not the place for it. (Strong distinctions between what felt right at 9 in the morning vs. what felt right at midnight were lost to me at a time in my life when I never needed to sleep so long as I had steady access to M&Ms and Dr. Pepper.) It might have been the first time in my life I felt I’d personally discovered something that had a strong critical reputation but no commercial support at all, and I felt so bad when school started again and I couldn’t watch it anymore that I felt duty-bound to play hooky on the Friday in October when the last episode aired. My experiment in misplaced priorities might have gone undetected if that hadn’t been the day they were taking school pictures, and there was hell to pay when my mom discovered she’d paid for a yearbook that had a blank space next to my name. Of course, it’s the only school yearbook I kind of wish I still owned.
I didn’t have a car in high school, so whenever I wanted to leave school early to go to a movie (which I did more than once, most memorably to see Raising Arizona) or to go to a record store, I had to coerce and sometimes even trick my friends into driving me. The absolute worst case happened in my senior year, when I was in a drama class that collaborated with two other Nashville-area high schools to stage the complete Oedipus trilogy. My school was assigned Antigone, which meant we arrived early for the performance, but then had a couple of hours to kill before we took the stage. I convinced some of my fellow actors that we had enough time to grab dinner at a nearby mall; I waxed rhapsodic about Chick-Fil-A, and got them all excited about zipping to the food court and back. But I actually didn’t care about food. Earlier that week, I’d heard side one of Dinosaur Jr.’s You’re Living All Over Me on the college radio station, and I had to have that album, whatever it took. As soon as we got to the mall, I excused myself and went to the record store. I missed dinner altogether, and when my friends realized I’d used them—and risked us missing our opening curtain to boot—they were pissed. But damn, that record was totally worth it.
I’m Mr. Responsible, so I don’t have any comparable stories. In fact, looking back, I wish I did have some comparable stories. All I’ve got is a night spent with a college pal my senior year when we were both supposed to be writing 30-page thesis papers (he on Yeats, me on Joyce) and instead sat down to watch Octopussy, which he’d recently acquired on VHS. But just the opening scene and the credits, because those were the best parts. Two and a half hours and one scene with Roger Moore’s James Bond dressing up in clown makeup later, we realized we’d watched the whole thing. I remember little about that paper. But I still fondly remember watching Octopussy.