Ah, 1984… wait, I mean 1985! Popular radio in Canada being what it is — what is has been a very long time, certainly modeled after the United States — tends to play chart-topping songs for a long time, sometimes too long and too much, to the point where you come to loathe and despite not only the song, but the artist as well. Duran Duran strayed into that territory for me due to overplay, notably of The Reflex.
You’ll note I wrote “strayed into”, not “firmly entrenched” or anything else more absolute, because — very secretly — I loved The Reflex. Still do. Can’t tell you why. There’s something about Duran Duran and their catchy and quirky songs. (I particularly love The Wild Boys, mostly because of the music video, which had a Mad Max-meets-Blade Runner-meets-Brazil-meets-Pink Floyd’s The Wall feel to it. It was perfectly 1980s.)
Anyway. 1985. That year, as I was a bit of a keener (okay, a lot of a keener), I joined the school crossing guard patrol (and was elected to school council; like I said, keener). Every day at noon, I did the return-from-lunch crowd, having cars stop while the younger kids crossed.
There was one kid. Can’t remember her name. Used to give me grief all the time. It was the playful kind of grief: younger kid calling the older kid names, telling rumours that lacked a certain amount of truth, that sort of thing. There was a tenuous respect, insofar as I was stopping the cars that might otherwise run her over. (Maybe a mild exaggeration, Devon Road wasn’t really known for traffic, especially not when I was a kid.)
One day in January (now into 1986 of the same school year), she came back from lunch and promptly announced that the Space Shuttle had exploded. “Yeah, right!” I said. “Space shuttles don’t explode. That’s stupid.”
But there was something about how she held to her story, unwaveringly. This wasn’t the usual banter.
Between the time I was done on my crossing shift and getting back to my friends, my opinion had changed. (Whether or not I had been swayed or whether I was now the “one in the know” regardless of how much I actually knew is neither relevant nor can I actually remember.) I told everyone I saw: “The Space Shuttle blew up!” I shudder now at my eagerness and potential gullibility.
But I was proven right. The Challenger had exploded that morning. An assembly was hurriedly called and we all rushed to the gym to hear the news. There were hushed tones, a few sobs, though I imagine most didn’t really understand what it meant. That night, I was clued to CityTV, where they shortcut their regular news report so then-science correspondant David Onley could report on all the details. (This would be a habit I would later repeat with 9/11, the 2011 Japan earthquake, and other significant events.)
Several months later, as the school year was wrapping up, the school crossing guard patrol members across Oakville were invited to a roller skating party. Back then, Oakville had an indoor roller skating rink, though I can’t for the life of me remember the name (and Google is failing me rather miserably). But it was as ordinary as a roller rink gets: the classic two-by-two skates (inlines were still a few years away), hockey rink-style layout with curved ends and straight sides, disco ball and blinking lights, Top 40 music.
For the record, I can’t skate, definitely not well on ice, let alone on wheels. (I’m a terrible Canadian, I know.) So the extend of my “skating” that afternoon was going in relatively straight lines, colliding with the walls. (If there’s a better euphemism for my youth, I can’t think of it.) I was hurting my ankles, my toes, my hands and wrists (falling was frequent), and my head (because, walls). Amazingly, my scrawny ass got away scot-free. I am 99% certain I was making a total ass of myself (I would actually do a far, far worse job of that in a class party not long afterwards), though I can’t really recall if anyone noticed, or if I even cared at the time.
But as I glided directionless across the floor, trying not to hit anyone (and, I hope, not trying to embarras myself further), what came on over the rink’s music system? Th-th-th–The Reflex.
To this day, when I hear Duran Duran’s song, be it on the radio (‘cuz, Top 40 stations still haven’t changed after 35 years) or even on my music playlists (‘cuz, neither have I, really), that’s where my mind goes to: the roller rink, flying aimlessly, thinking of the things that happened that year.