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Jason Toews and fifi (the band)

Before and After “Back to the Future”

1. DECA

According to their official website, DECA (Distributive Education Clubs of America) was created in 1946 to “improve educational and career opportunities in marketing, management and entrepreneurship for students.”

I remember two assignments from my high school DECA class:

  1. One was a sort of scavenger hunt, in which we visited local businesses and collected (or “stole”) as many logo-imprinted coffee mugs as we could carry. The shelves in our DECA classroom were creaking under the combined weight of these mugs, all emblazoned with logos for “The Sandwich Nook,” “Tina’s Hair Salon,” and “Evergreen Auto Licensing.” That was to teach us about marketing.
  2. The other assignment was to pull out a stump in the teacher’s yard. This was to teach us about wage negotiation.

Apart from the sheer educational value of the DECA class, there were other excellent perks. You got to work in the student store, selling ballpoint pens and candy bars at wildly inflated prices during lunch break. Then the jocks would come in the store and try to steal notebook paper, every day, even though you told them not to. They’d wink at you like you were in on the plan, and if you didn’t let them take the paper they’d call you a faggot and punch you in the chest, hard, and you’d feel like crying but you couldn’t because there was a line of 20 other students waiting to buy Sweet-Tarts and pink erasers. Actually, let me take that back. That wasn’t really a perk.

The REAL perk of taking DECA was that the teacher had some “connections.” It was never quite clear to me what the teacher (Stan) did prior to his career as a DECA mentor, but it was apparently something to do with show business, or else lawn care. Whenever the subject came up, Stan would get a little vague, and end by saying that it “all went to hell” and “these new kids don’t know squat about the way the game is played” and then he’d send us out to see if we could score any more of those large ceramic mugs from Perkins Cake ‘N’ Steak. Regardless of whatever shit went down back in the day, Stan still had some connections, and he would occasionally impress the DECA acolytes by calling in a favor. He’d send a student off to audition for some modeling gig (“buddy of mine owes me for some stuff I did back in ‘74…”), or an interview at an advertising firm (“They’re good people – I did some work with them on the original Pop’N’Fresh campaign back in ‘68…”).

Best of all, he had some friends in the movie biz. Well, not in the movie biz, exactly, but in some sort of shadowy test marketing cartel who arranged early sneak previews of movies. These previews usually took place in tiny little screening rooms behind unmarked doors down an alley in the worst part of town. To go to these things, you had to sign some sort of confidentiality form, and agree to fill out a questionnaire when the movie ended. Sometimes a representative from the studio was there to ask us questions. It felt illicit and elite, like we were part of some sort of underworld community, not subject to the laws of ordinary people. It was much like the film “Fight Club,” except we never defecated in restaurant food or blew up any international banking buildings.

It was a sweet deal until I “ruined it for everybody” by loudly mocking the Peter O’Toole film “Creator,” but that’s another story. Before the gravy train pulled into the station, we saw some great movies, including an early “still-in-post-production” sneak preview of “Back to the Future.”

Around the time we got tickets to this preview, I was in pretty poor shape, action-wise. A long-time girlfriend and I had split, and another potential babe situation had blown up in my face. I was therefore pursuing my emergency backup potential girlfriend, Dani.

2. Dani

Dani was blonde, thin, and pretty in an upper class, blue-blood kind of way. She was popular. She only hung out with attractive, popular people. She knew all about fashion and clothing designers and stuff like that, and listened to Scritti Politti and the Pet Shop Boys. One time, on a field trip, she pissed off my future wife by dramatically lip-syncing the words to “West End Girls.” If you saw her from afar, you would have sworn she was one of the rich kids, but you would have been wrong; Dani’s family was just as working class as mine. If you had to guess her religious background, you might have thought Catholic, or maybe no religion at all, but you would have been wrong about that, too. In fact, Dani was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, just like me.

Pretty + female + approximately my age + a Witness = prime potential girlfriend material.

Unfortunately, Dani barely tolerated my presence. Which, in perspective, wasn’t so bad: Only a year previous, she treated me with bald, hateful contempt (that is, when she noticed me at all). So things were looking up, girlfriend-wise. And now I had two tickets to the preview of this “Back to the Future” movie, and, as it turned out, Dani didn’t have anything else going on that night, so… SHE AGREED TO GO WITH ME!

Well, okay, she didn’t exactly agree to “go with” me, in the strictly technical sense of the words “go” and “with”. She agreed that she would… MEET ME AT THE THEATER! Probably. In any case, everyone was going out to Farrell’s afterward, and she would definitely see me there.

SCORE!!

3. Before Back to the Future

I went to the preview with my friends Jim and Janet. We left one seat open in Jim’s car, since Dani would be joining us after the movie. Both Jim and Janet were friends of mine, and I usually loved hanging out with them, but tonight the mood in the car was heavy; Jim and Janet had just broken up. They were both Witnesses, and I think they received some Biblical advice or something, so they broke up, which was a bummer. For me especially, because I had to listen to Jim’s sniping comments all evening: “Well, if dummy here (Janet) hadn’t’a told the elders, none of this would have happened!” or “Well, Janet says (such-and-such) is true, but everything she ever told me was a LIE, so I wouldn’t believe her.” And so on.

For my part, I just couldn’t wait to see Dani. If I got there before her, I planned to save her a seat. Then, when she arrived, I could wave to her: “Here, Dani, you can sit next to me.” She would turn to her popular friends and say something that I couldn’t hear, and they would all giggle in a cute way, then she’d come and sit next to me, the lights would go down, and before the end of the credits, she’d have her tongue in my mouth. Or, you know, whatever. Maybe we would just hold hands – that would be fine, too.

Though, to be honest, I was hoping for the tongue.

At the theater, I scanned the rows for Dani’s blonde head. To my chagrin, she had arrived before us. But all was not lost: I could still ask her to sit with me. At the very least, I could go up and sit with her. No shame in that. I still might get some tongue (or whatever).

“Hey, Dani!”

“Uh, hey, Jason.”

“So, uh, I was thinking maybe you could, you know, sit with me… whaddaya think?”

“Well, I’m already kinda… settled here.” Her friends whispered to each other and giggled, but it seemed menacing and emasculating now, not cute and sexy like it did when I imagined it earlier. Time to switch to Plan B.

“Oh, yeah… well, could I sit with you, then?”

The volume of the giggling increased sharply, and Dani shushed her friends before replying.

“Well, both of the seats next to me are taken, so… I guess not. Sorry.” Again with the giggling.

“Right. Well, I’ll, uh… see you after the movie, then?” I had intended this to be a statement, but my voice involuntarily hit a high note at the end, turning it into a question. I turned away quickly to spare myself the shame of hearing her answer. As I hurried back to my seat next to Jim and Janet, I heard a flurry of whispering and no-longer-concealed laughter from Dani’s friends.

Red-faced and filled with self-recrimination, I sat down.

“What’s up?” Jim demanded. “I thought you were gonna sit with Miss Goody Two-Shoes Society Girl.”

Too ashamed to tell the truth, I told Jim to shut up because the movie was starting.

4. Back to the Future

It was one of the strangest sneak previews I’ve ever attended, mostly because they weren’t actually finished, you know, “making” the film yet. All of the special effects shots (and even some shots that you wouldn’t think contained ANY special effects) were either missing completely, or only partially finished. So, for example, when Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd leapt into the nuclear-powered DeLorean, the film would suddenly be replaced by hand-drawn sketches of what the rest of the scene might look like, accompanied by temporary music stolen from the soundtracks of other films. I do, however, remember two scenes being complete:

  1. When Michael J. Fox makes Crispin Glover listen to Van Halen (awesome!)
  2. The Huey Lewis cameo (also awesome!)

Tangential question: If the DeLorean is nuclear/electric, as clearly stated in Part 1, how could it run out of gas in Part 3? I mean, come ON! Anyway…

During the movie, I somehow convinced myself that I had misinterpreted Dani’s behavior. After all, she HAD agreed to meet me at Farrell’s, after the movie. If she really wasn’t interested, why would she agree to that? Plus, she hadn’t said anything explicitly insulting to me.

Perhaps… perhaps Dani was simply playing hard to get. Or maybe she was too shy to be direct with all of her popular and attractive friends hanging around. And I suddenly remembered something else – Dani had copied my answers on a Health quiz just the week before. Surely that counted for something! Yes, I told myself, let’s just wait until we get to Farrell’s. I have a hunch this evening will end with Dani and I in the back seat of Jim’s car, doing a little “Health quiz” of our own…

5. After Back to the Future

About an hour later, I sat at Farrell’s with Jim and Janet, dejectedly picking at my Boom-Boom Berry-Banana Bowl.

Yummy...

Farrell’s is, like, the worst place in the world to be depressed. It’s one of those “theme restaurants” based on the debateable theory that all teenagers are nostalgic for the late 1800’s. The waiters wear jaunty straw “boaters” and abnormally large Sam Elliott-by-way-of-Tom of Finland waxed moustaches. Pages from ancient catalogs advertising hand-cranked washing machines and “Dr. Wilcox’s Electric Revitalizer Belt” are lacquered to the table tops. Once every 30 seconds or so, a birthday is announced with air raid sirens and energetic pounding on a chest-mounted bass drum. “Hi, I’ll be your waiter tonight! May I annoy the LIVING SHIT OUT OF YOU??”

Can I bring you some fried cheese sticks?

Across the room, Dani was holding court in a corner booth, surrounded by the popular crowd. They all wore fashionable sweaters and lettermen jackets. They were all laughing and touching each other, making the waitresses laugh, celebrating birthdays, ordering the “I Bet You Can’t Eat The Whole Thing” sundae… Worst of all, Dani was HOLDING HANDS with some football player jock from another school. He was fawning all over her, kissing her neck, giving her jewelry, proposing to her, they were picking out baby names over their chocolate malts…

I felt physically ill.

“You mean to tell me YOU invited her, she accepted YOUR invitation, and she just shows up with another date?” Jim demanded incredulously.

“Yes, Jim. You’ve already asked me that four times. Yes. I invited her, and there she is with… fucking JOE NAMATH. Okay? Am I a social PARIAH? YES! Have I been utterly HUMILIATED? YES! IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE YOU’D LIKE ME TO EXPLAIN FOR YOU? SHALL I DRAW YOU A CARTOON?”

“Jesus,” Jim empathized. “That prissy bitch.” Jim didn’t much care for Dani.

“I’m so sorry, Jason,” offered Janet. “You deserve better than that.” Janet was so sweet. I wondered why she and I had never hooked up. Actually, the more I thought about it, that wasn’t a bad idea. Janet was attractive, I enjoyed her company, she and Jim weren’t dating anymore, and she was also a Witness. Why HADN’T we ever hooked up?

Jim loudly slurped up the last of his Rootin’ Tootin’ Root Beer Float, and his face brightened. He had an idea.

“Hey,” he said, “I have an idea. Since Janet screwed up OUR chances for a relationship, and you’re depressed and humiliated, why don’t you two hook up? You know, just for tonight.”

Jim concluded by casting a querying look at Janet, then at me, as if to say, “Come on, whaddaya got to lose?” Janet and I looked at each other. I got an erection.

I was slightly confused, and requested clarification: “Uh… did you… I mean… wha…?”

“Yeah!” Jim explained, warming to the idea. “How about if Janet pretends to be your girlfriend, just for tonight? That way, you won’t look like such a pathetic loser who can’t get a date, and Dani will see that you don’t need her skinny ass.”

“Sounds fun to me,” purred Janet, her eyebrows undulating hypnotically. She looked directly at me. “What do you think, sexy boy?” Only through superhuman willpower and intense concentration was I able to avoid ejaculating in my jeans. All thoughts of Dani, and all other previous actual or potential girlfriends, vanished instantly from my mind. The only thing I cared about at this moment was how hot Janet looked in that denim jacket, and that I’d never noticed before how curvy she was, and that she was going along with this, which might mean that she actually liked me, or at least it meant that we could get busy, or maybe not, but anyway holy shit it was exciting.

“Well, sure… uh, baby. I’m game if you are, lovergirl,” I said to Janet, pronouncing “lovergirl” with a “grrrr” like a tiger growling. I finished by licking my lips mischievously and baring my teeth. Janet guffawed and nearly choked on her Super Strawberry Sin-Sation.

Jim groaned. “Jesus. This is making me sick already.”

6. Sittin’ in the Back of a Car…

It often happened at these events that some kids just flat out neglected to make any arrangements for getting home. These poor suckers would mope around on the sidewalk, hoping someone with a large car would take pity on them. For the drive home from Farrell’s that night, three other “friends” ended up in Jim’s car, resulting in six people crowding into a car built for four.

“No problem,” said Janet, winking lasciviously at me. “I’ll just sit on my BOYFRIEND’S lap!” I said a silent prayer of thanks to Our Heavenly Father Jehovah, and got in the car. Janet sat firmly in my lap, sending me the clear message that she was entirely serious about the whole girlfriend thing, at least for the next hour or two. I was sending her a message, too, but it was silent and entirely involuntary. She grinned at me, which I took to mean, “Yes, I am aware of your lustful feelings toward me, and those feelings are reciprocated. Not only am I not offended by the physical manifestation of your sexual excitement, but, on the contrary, I would very much like for you to make sweet, sweet love to me right here.” I took the cue, and wrapped my arms around her waist. “Just trying to keep my GIRLFRIEND safe!” I explained. Janet laughed like a crazy person and kissed my cheek, holding my face with her hands.

“All right, knock it off. You two are makin’ me nauseous up here.” Jim grunted from the front seat. “And why do I have to drive all these people home? Jesus!”

Janet’s hands were still on my face, and whatever Jim was saying barely registered. In fact, all conversation in the car seemed to stop, but I don’t know if that actually happened or if the enormous load of endorphins being dumped into my bloodstream somehow impaired my hearing. Anyway, I AM sure of the following things: The car began to move in slow motion, a warm spotlight illuminated me and Janet, and everything around us faded to black. A soft breeze blew through the car, and Janet’s clothes began to magically slip from her body. Janet kissed me deeply, erotically… A unicorn galloped past. Also, “Total Eclipse of the Heart” was playing in the background.

It was at about this time that Jim slammed on the brakes, and my head snapped forward violently, into the back of the passenger seat.

I complained loudly. “Jeez, Jim, learn how to drive! Whaddaya think you’re – Jim? What are you doing?”

Jim had stopped the car in the middle of the street, in a neighborhood several miles from my home. Though the engine was still running, Jim was no longer in the car. He was outside, striding purposefully around to the passenger side door. Janet and I looked at each other, disheveled and uncomprehending. What was Jim up to?

The passenger door was yanked open violently. Jim reached in, hauled the unfortunate guy in the front out onto the street, and jerked the passenger seat forward so that it crashed against the dashboard, smashing a plastic digital clock that was mounted there with double-sided carpet layer’s tape.

Obviously, Jim was upset – but why? I had absolutely no clue what was going on. I decided to try the diplomatic approach. “Jim, what is your major malfunc- ”

“OUT.” The command was delivered with a cold intensity that kinda scared me. What in the world was he so angry about? I just couldn’t figure it, but decided that getting out of the car was probably the best option at the moment, all things considered. Once I was out of the car, Jim and I could talk and I’d smooth things over. Maybe I had said something earlier at Farrell’s that he found upsetting. Or maybe he wasn’t mad at me at all! Maybe he just needed me out of the car, so that he could get to one of the other kids in the back seat, one of those losers who bummed a ride.

“Well, I guess I better see what’s up Jim’s ass,” I whispered to Janet as she slid off my lap. I climbed out of the car.

“Jim, what exactly is up your ass?” I asked when Jim and I were standing on the pavement, face to face. The engine was still running, and the guy from the front seat had gotten back in the car and closed the door. Everyone in the car was looking out the windows to see what was going to happen next. I noticed now that there were actual SKID MARKS behind the car’s rear tires. Wow. Jim had really blown a fuse. Finally, he answered my question.

“What is up MY ass?? MY ASS?? YOU are up my ass, you son of a BITCH!”

Jim was shaking with rage. Every word was spit from his mouth with a seething fury. Worse, he looked like he might cry. Cry while he tore my arm off and beat me to death with the bloody severed limb. I had never in my life seen such a frightening mixture of abject heartbreak and apoplectic wrath. And I still didn’t know what the hell he was so upset about. I tried to calm him down.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa – time out, man. What in the -”

“Don’t even TALK to me! I thought you were my FRIEND! But you’re basically having SEX with the only woman I’ve ever LOVED, right in FRONT OF ME!”

Oh. So THAT’S what he was torqued about.

“Jim, Jesus – we were just making out! It didn’t mean anything!” He had stopped yelling, so I thought maybe my words were having an effect. Emboldened, I continued. “I thought you two broke up! Anyway, we weren’t technically in front of you – we were behind you, in the-”

“Shut UP!” Jim shouted, and, for emphasis, poked his finger in my chest so hard that I coughed. “Just SHUT (poke) THE (poke) HELL (poke) UP! (shove, knocking me backward onto the pavement)”

I sat on the curb and massaged my bruised chest while Jim stalked back to the driver’s side of the car. He opened the car door, paused for a moment, and then spoke to me one final time.

“You’ve done some shitty things to me over the years, Jason, but this is too much. You and I are not friends. Don’t ever speak to me again.” After a brief pause, he added, “Asshole.”

I could hear Jim grinding the gears, and the car peeled out awkwardly, leaving even more skid marks on the street. Lights were coming on in the houses behind me. I stood up, slightly stooped and clutching my chest, trying to appear as injured as possible, hoping that Janet would look back and see me fading in the distance as they drove away, and that she would know what I had suffered for her sake, and love me even more. I could see Janet’s head in the back window of Jim’s car. I waited and waited, but she did not turn around.

Jim says Goodbye

Epilogue

Several years later, my wife and I took a belated honeymoon trip to Victoria, BC. Our best friends, Jim and Janet (now married), accompanied us. After a day spent shopping and visiting the wax museum, we had a long, loud dinner at a Chinese restaurant. We were young, out on our own, and excited to be able to drink alcohol legally in Canada. So, we drank quite a bit. First at the Chinese restaurant, then at another little pub, and finally, back at the hotel bar. All remaining inhibitions slipped away, and the conversation turned to all sorts of unsavory past events, with each retelling causing us to whoop and scream more loudly. The four of us loved one another, and reliving these memories made us delirious with happiness and warm camaraderie.

Too much of a good thing

“Hey!” I shouted. “I remember someshing! Remem(hic!)… rememberrr when Janet and I were totally MAKING OUT in the back of your car?” I slapped Jim on the back. “Oh my GOD I was so turned ON! Hah! That was AMAZING!”

The table had gone strangely silent, but I rambled on, oblivious.

“And then you were all like, ‘DON’T TOUCH MAH WOMAN!’ – remember? That was hi-LAR-ious! And then you peeled out and left me on the STREET! (hic!) Remember?” I demanded. “REMEMBER??!!”

Janet was suddenly engrossed in the appetizer menu, my wife was glaring at me icily, and Jim’s face was contorting.

“You are really an asshole, you know that, Jason? A grade-A asshole. Jesus.” Jim spat through clenched teeth, before downing his Seven and Seven.

Three sheets to the wind, and suddenly possessed with a ravenous need to know everything about that night, I plunged ahead.

“Janet, I always wanted ta know… (urp) were you really into me, or were you just trying to piss off Jimmy boy here? I mean, come on – weren’t you jusht a little, eensy-teensy bit turned on by me? I mean, you sure seemed like you were into it!”

“That’s it. I’m leaving.” My wife got up and returned to our hotel room. Jim, silently fuming, followed suit.

Janet fixed me with a steely, direct gaze. She had just as much to drink as I did, but she didn’t seem nearly as drunk. “Jason, I want you to listen to me VERY CAREFULLY: I was not even REMOTELY turned on by you. I was in love with Jim, you idiot! I was willing to do anything that would make him jealous. Now would you drop it? You’re making a fool of yourself.” With that, she got up and left, hurrying a bit to catch up with Jim.

Well, of course, she HAD to say that, I told myself, and, alone now at the table, ordered another Peach Margarita.

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