Friday, June 17, 2016

An Oral History of June 17, 1994

We Muricans love fallen idols. We love when the people we love, especially celebrities of any sort, fall from grace in an epic fashion and no celebrity ever had a greater fall from grace than Orrenthal James Simpson. OJ was a cultural icon that crossed barriers that few had ever done before. And his epic fall (you all know how I love the word epic and what it implies) changed our society forever and ushered in this day and age of reality television.

Now, I'm not going to go into every detail of what happened, just the events of June 17, 1994 for me and what I remember. The day the OJ and his friend Al Cowlings fled the police in his white Bronco. An event watched by millions live on television all over the country. It was riveting and something you couldn't turn away from. I know, because I was one of the people that couldn't turn away from it. For years, if asked, I could tell you exactly where I was and what I was doing. I remembered it vividly. Most people my age could as well. It became on of the hallmarks of our generation, a single shared event that any of us could bond over in a moment.

We don't have many moments like that anymore. Information is so immediate and accessible in this day and age, it's hard to express the "I remember it..." story. Today, we live tweet events as they happen. And I recognize the irony of me talking about live tweeting something. If there was such a thing as Twitter when I got married, I'd have live tweeted it.

As I remembered that night for years, I was at Club 37 in North Syracuse, New York. Club 37, for those of you that don't know, was a dance club located along a main drag in a suburb a few miles north of the city of Syracuse. Friday nights was Ladies Night, maybe, and my friends and I would go their often. It was a typical club with a large dance floor, lots of black lights, crappy carpeting, thumping music and a balcony that overlooked the dance floor. Club 37 was also notorious because it was where professional wrestler Shawn Michaels got his ass kicked by a couple of US Marines. Seriously, look it up.

I had gone to Club 37 with my friend Matthew, with our friends Ryan and Tucco in tow. I have vivid memories of watching the Knicks and Rockets on the TV in the lounge area. I was still pining for Emily, a girl that had just broken up with me, so I was kind of standoffish, watching the game. Well, they kept going to the OJ chase and eventually the dance floor emptied and we were all watching OJ. For twenty plus years, this was as I remembered June 17, 1994: watching it on TV while some dance music thumped in the background.

My group of friends was amorphous at the time, as most groups of friends are. We moved in and out of different circles, depending on what was going on, where we were going and who wanted to go. But there was also a separation between my groups that was pretty clear and I have different memories of each. If I was at the center, Danny and Matt  would always be around me. Looking back on it, my relationship with the two was very different. Not in a bad way, but Danny and I were always partners, in a way, more Captain American and Iron Man. I always felt like Matt's sidekick, very Batman and (Fat) Robin. Again, not in a negative way, just from my perspective that was the way I always felt. People came in and out of our lives and we into their's, as a duo or alone, as such groups of friends frequently do. The flow chart would be astounding. But Danny and Matt were more often than not separate from one another. They brought out two different parts of me and got different versions of me. Our groups bled together more often than not. With Danny it was my oldest friends: Eli, Nokes, Bellini...with Matt it was Ryan and Tucco. For example, Tucco crossed over to the Matt side when he started dating our friend Edelman, who is almost part of a third group that blurred the lines between both of these groups. (For those not in the know, Edelman is a woman and as I write more of these oral histories, you'll hear more about her.) These complex relationships are things I try to duplicate in my writing. Groups of friends are often not as clear cut and simple as they are in fiction. Maybe one of these days I'll do a long form on that with a flow chart. But that's not the purpose of this piece. I remember being at Club 37 with the Matt side of my friend flow chart that night. At least that's the way I remember it.

Then, this past year FX played their The People vs. OJ Simpson, which was a riveting show. My friend Elaine sent me a message on Facebook saying that she remembered being at Hungry Chuck's with me and my best friend Brett celebrating his 21st birthday. She was Danny's girlfriend at the time and the two of them were inseparable. Hungry Chucks was a dive in the basement of the building that wasn't air conditioned. (A few years ago they moved Chuck's upstairs and now it's a nice bar. It's not the same.) And I loved it. This sent me into a tizzy, sending messages on Facebook and my phone. I followed some leads and shook some trees to find out if I misremembered it.

I came to a conclusion: I didn't misremember it. Elaine was correct that she was at Chuck's with Danny, but my location was still in flux. I've confirmed it, with Danny even remembering the detail of yelling "Run OJ, run" as they watched on the big screen TV at Chuck's, which is the most Matt thing ever. It makes complete sense that Danny and I would've been together for his 21st birthday. But I know I was at Club 37. Now, why was I at Club 37 and not out celebrating my best friend's 21st birthday? It makes no sense.  This became a vastly more interesting question and I tried to figure it out. I narrowed down my varying theories to one of three;

  1. Brian and crew went to Club 37 then met up with Matt and crew. Plausible, though I don't remember it that way. This was pre-cell phone 1994. That level of coordination would be unprecedented, especially knowing us as a group. 
  2. I had gone to Club 37 in pursuit of a girl, probably Emily. This would fit my personality and the emotions I would've been feeling at the time. Having asked her, she doesn't remember if we'd hung out or seen each other that night. It's plausible, though she doesn't remember being there that night. 
  3. Matt and I were in a snit. Yes, guys can get into snits and we all know what most of those were about. With apologies to Elaine, who will likely read this, our group of friends weren't crazy about her at this time. This was no reflection on her. It wouldn't of mattered who Matt was with, we would've had a problem with them. We were still young enough then that we still lived by the code of "bros before hoes." (I was 21 and such misogynistic code has been mostly written out of my program by now.) The reality is that we were all subconsciously jealous that Matt had found someone to love him and we hadn't. 
With apologies (on many levels) to Elaine, I was at Club 37 that night. The reasons being? I'm still not sure. Of the scenarios listed above, I'm thinking it's a combination of 2 and 3. Twenty-two years is a long time and I can't say with any certainty which story is completely correct.

1994 was the start of a pretty dark time for me. 21-23 weren't good years. I was broke, directionless and maybe even borderline depressed. I had made every mistake that someone with boundless opportunities could make and instead of rising, I dug deeper with an almost deliberate intent. Thinking about it now, I wonder if my suddenly hazy memory of that time is directly linked to the way I feel about that time in my life. There are things I vividly remember about that time in my life and things that I've effectively blocked out. (Nothing too terrible in the grand scheme of the world, mostly white person problems, but you get my drift.) The spring/summer of 1994 was particularly difficult, coming off the end of my first real relationship. I was immature and reeling from it. It was not a good time, though there were good times in there and the vast majority of them were because of friends like Matt, .

Time moves on. I always try to live by a credo of never looking back, but sometimes it's hard to ignore the real pull of nostalgia. As much as I lament my life back then, there was a lot that happened that formed me into who I am today. There are a load of stories, good and bad, to tell and this Oral History series is part of that.


David Franke said...

Especially liked when you said " I wonder if my suddenly hazy memory of that time is directly linked to the way I feel about that time in my life." For me, trying to pin down your actual location (and the trouble you doing it) is important, maybe even as important as the OJ event that sparked the whole reflection.

John Zeleznik said...

The night Sharon sent me the message on Facebook was hilarious. My wife thought I was nuts and kept looking over my shoulder asking me, "Why are you messaging that person?" My phone was going off all night as I shook as many trees as I could to remember who I might have been with to both confirm why I was where I was and to determine a reason to why I was there. I'm still not 100% convinced I'm right in this.