So it’s April 8, and for those of you who are significantly older or younger than me, and/or don’t have a weird recall of, connection to, and nostalgia for a cult classic teen movie from 1995, today’s Rex Manning Day. That’s a reference to Empire Records…
this movie here:
It’s the quintessential ’90s movie to me. It’s set in a record store (which only exist at this point for freakish hipster collectors of original vinyl who are willing to pay 10 times the original cost…NOBODY buys CDs and certainly not cassette tapes anymore, right?) But in 1995, at the tail end of my high school career? I frequented record stores. I browsed often. I bought when I could scrounge up money. Sam Goody. Musicland. Record Town. MediaPlay. This one stand alone place outside of a strip mall that had to have been an indie place like the one featured in the film because I can’t even find evidence of its existence anymore, and for the life of me, I can’t remember the name of it (GAH!). Hell, I even went to Circuit City for CDs back in the day. But the reason I’m attached to this movie isn’t that it’s set at Empire Records. It’s that this was the first movie…the very first one…and one of the first works of fiction of any kind…that I saw myself in when I watched it.
Now, I obviously love a lot of movies I saw before this one. Ghostbusters. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Lady and the Tramp. The Goonies. JAWS. The Crow. Clerks. When Harry Met Sally. Alice in Wonderland. Lots of others. And I liked a lot of TV shows and certainly books too. I had what I thought was varied taste at the time. I’ve since expanded my horizons, and experienced more of real life, and I’ve consequently been able to relate to more fictional characters in media, but in 1995, Empire Records gave me the first time I really related to a person someone made up who was my contemporary. Not me as a little girl. Not me if I lived in Victorian England. Not me if it was a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, and not me as a medical student 8 years in the future. Me, as I was at the time.
I kind of saw myself in Corey (Liv Tyler…front and center of that promo photo up there ^^^^). She was definitely the embodiment of how a large portion of my peers saw me. Straight A’s, goody-two-shoes virgin. There was some truth to that. I WAS a straight A’s, goody-two-shoes virgin in high school. But I really didn’t relate to Corey. Looking back now as an adult…I do have a girlfriend who’s been around since high school that I’ve become much closer to as an adult that REALLY reminds me of Corey…but despite the view some other people had of me then…Corey wasn’t really me.
No. I was Deb. For those of you who have seen the movie…I’ll detail this in a bit, but for newcomers to Rex Manning Day…some snapshots of Deb…Deb in a nutshell…
Deb obviously felt alone in her own head a lot. Notice that she’s not smiling in these still shots. She doesn’t smile much for the vast majority of the movie. That was me. Honestly, that wasn’t just high school. That was me until I met J.
I felt misunderstood by EVERYBODY, estranged from and an outsider within my own family, and I tried (and felt like I always failed) to tape together piecemeal connections with friends and acquaintances to fill the huge void I constantly felt. I hated people, but also loved them. I hated them because I loved them too much, and they never seemed to love me back enough…or even at all…so I ended up inadvertently pushing a lot of people away by just being myself. All of these things added up to me presenting this ‘intimidating’ persona. But I never had the stones to shave my head. (I thought about it…before I saw this movie, and since…I’ve never actually done it though and I seriously doubt I ever will barring a cancer or a cancer-solidarity situation). It’s honestly baffling to me how many people I’ve known since high school have used the word ‘intimidating’ to describe me…then and now, but definitely then. It’s surprising and strange to me, because, like Deb, I was never trying to intimidate anybody. I was the one who felt anxious and intimidated. ALL the time. And I honestly felt like nobody would notice if I ceased to exist. I just never tried it like Deb did.
She tried to kill herself, but showed up to work because somebody had to do the quarterly taxes. And she comforted Corey when she was down.
She tells Berko it wasn’t about him. And it wasn’t. It was about her and how alone and disconnected she felt. And she doesn’t believe anything kind anyone says about her during her ‘funeral.’
Corey: She left us and never said why…but I’m really gonna miss her…I wish I could have known her a little bit better.
Deb isn’t a total misanthrope though. She loves people, but they just don’t ‘get’ her, and that wears on a person…especially a lonely young person. She walks right up to the shooter that comes into the store to protect the people she works with who all at least sometimes think she hates them.
“I talked to God. She said, ‘Yo. What’s up?’ And she wants you to lose the gun.”
All of that was me. All of it. I mean, except for the actual suicide attempt and the shaved head. I had a friend from high school tell me in recent years that he ‘admired’ me because, ‘You just didn’t even give a SHIT about what other people thought of you…’
Which wasn’t true. I cared. I just couldn’t mold myself to fit their design of what I should be. I was Deb.
This movie was billed as, and is mostly considered, a goofy coming of age indie film about the little guy standing up to corporate America and young people working out their angst through making statement buttons and smoking pot and throwing an after hours party to save the place that pays them minimum wage to sell music…a lighthearted teen comedy for the most part, with maybe some darker undertones, but not so much it would scare a happy teen audience away…a 1990s attempt at an homage to John Hughes and Cameron Crowe. But when I watched it, I saw myself in Deb. That first time I saw this movie, I didn’t see much of the humor. But I still loved it. It was the first time I saw a fictional character who was a weirdo like me.
Don’t worry about me though. I know people are prone to do that, but don’t. It’s unnecessary. Because now, my life could scarcely be more amazing. I am incredibly happy. I’ve figured myself out (mostly…I’m still learning, but that’s okay, and that’s actually part of myself I’ve figured out…that I’m always going to be learning). I’m learning to not call ‘dogshit’ on people when they say nice things to and/or about me. I smile a lot more. I don’t feel disconnected and lonely and lost all the time. And now I love this movie for the advertised reasons. It has a great soundtrack. It has some really funny moments. It has cute boys in it (Ethan Embry is still cute at 40…maybe I am too). My personal movie is happy now, and I like to imagine Deb got a long term happy ending too. Feeling grateful today for my happy life and my sincerely forged connections.
So to all of you…happy Rex Manning Day.