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I Had the Time of My Life at Dirty Dancing

26 Jul

Dirty Dancing at McCarren Park

Yesterday my friend invited me to see a movie at McCarren Park that night. My usual M.O. is to say no to fun plans. Especially last-minute fun plans. Because they’re inconvenient. And take me out of my routine. And a whole host of deeper psychological reasons to be explored at another time in another post.

But I’m trying to say “Yes!” to fun plans. To bring more joy and spontaneity into my life. Plus, this particular friend had recently invited me on several fun plans, all of which I’d said no to, and I was a little afraid that if I didn’t start saying yes soon, she was going to stop asking. What really put me over the top though, and convinced me that I had no other option but to say yes, was that the movie was none other than Dirty Dancing, my all-time favorite movie, symbol of my adolescence, and the unofficial theme to my Bat Mitzvah.

So last night, inconvenient and spontaneous as it was, I met my friend and her friends on patchwork of pieced together picnic blankets to watch Dirty Dancing, which, as it turns out, is tremendously fun to watch with a crowd of fellow Brooklynites. The opening shot of Baby and her family driving down a Catskill road listening to Cousin Brucie and “Big Girls Don’t Cry” on the radio immediately transported me back to 1987 and my 12-year-old self. The crowd screamed and cheered at all the places you’d cheer in your head–when Johnny decks Robbie, “She’s Like the Wind” plays, and Baby finally does the lift. During the finale, everyone in the audience jumped up and danced to “I’ve Had the Time of My Life,” and the announcer said that that was without question the most magical moment he’d ever seen in the seven year history of SummerScreen.

Throughout the night, I leaned in towards the group, piping in with little tidbits of memories and associations I had with the movie.

“I love your history with Dirty Dancing,” one of the girls said as we were walking to the subway afterwards.

“Thanks,” I shrugged, remembering back to when it all began.


In 1987, I sat on the family room floor leafing through the movie section of the local paper. I flipped to a full page ad for Dirty Dancing with Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze in the same pose that they’re in in the picture above, and my breath caught in my chest. I have to see this movie, I thought.

Shortly thereafter, my BFFEAE (best friend forever AND EVER) Beth* and I went to see it one night at a movie theater on Central Avenue in Yonkers. Someone’s parents must’ve bought us tickets, because we were only 12 and the movie was PG-13. I was mesmerized and it instantly became my favorite movie EVER. Of course, BFFs that we were, Beth loved it, too, and our bond was strengthened by our mutual obsession with this movie.

Seeing it once was not enough. I had to live it. I got the record and listened to it all the time. When the follow-up record, More Dirty Dancing, came out, I got that, too. I saw the movie over and over again, with Beth, my parents, and anyone who would go with me, and rented it multiple times when it came out on video. In between classes, Beth and I would practice our dirty dancing moves with invisible partners around the middle school hallways, occasionally enlisting beams as stand-ins for Patrick Swayze. There was a Dirty Dancing concert tour at Radio City Music Hall, featuring Eric Carmen and the back-up dancers (but sadly, no Patrick), and Beth and I went with our mothers, having dinner before the show at Hard Rock Cafe, and each buying a Dirty Dancing t-shirt afterwards.

Dirty Dancing, filled with music and passion, offered the promise of sex, electrifying to the mind and body of a 12-year-old girl. In seventh grade, I’d gone to Spin the Bottle parties in Jack Howe’s basement, but I hadn’t yet French kissed a boy or gotten to second base like some of the other girls in my class. But Dirty Dancing brought the hope of more, further down the base line. Of someday having sex with (or making love to?) a muscular shirtless dancing Patrick Swayze lookalike as “Cry to Me” played in the background. That, at 12-years-old, was my dream anyway. It might not come as a surprise that at 36, as of yet, that has never, ever happened.

As electrifying as that first sex scene between Johnny and Baby was, it was also mortifying. One of the many times I went to see the movie was with my Dad and I wanted to die during that part. It was like watching TV with your Dad when a tampon commercial came on. Mort-i-fy-ing.

That year I was planning my Bat Mitzvah, and it was a no-brainer what my theme would be. But some might not think that Dirty Dancing was an appropriate theme for a religious rite of passage for a 13-year-old. So it was my secret theme. My official theme was “5-6-7-8 Dance!” but I, another curly-haired Jewish girl named Jennifer, knew the truth. My real theme showed up in the photo on my sign-in board, in which I was smiling at the camera, wearing my t-shirt from the Dirty Dancing concert tour, with Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze on it in the same pose as they’re in in the photo above, except with more clothing on. It showed up when “I’ve Had the Time of My Life” played at my party and Beth and I jumped up and down with excitement, and like all good theme songs, returned during the closing slow motion montage in my Bat Mitzvah video.

Then, as often happens in middle school, my BFF became my arch nemesis. Jealousy and resentment drove a wedge between me and Beth as we moved on to other friends. But we’d always have Dirty Dancing.

In 2007, as soon as I heard that Dirty Dancing was going to be in movie theaters for its 20th anniversary, I emailed Beth, whom I hadn’t been in touch with since high school, to ask if she wanted to see it together. She wrote back right away saying yes, and that she’d been planning on getting in touch with me to ask if I wanted to see it.

The night of the movie, I arrived at the theater early to get good seats, and I scored two towards the middle. A group of girls arrived before Beth did, and asked me if I could move so they could all sit together, pointing to an empty seat in the corner.

Nobody puts me in a corner! I thought, holding my ground and refusing to move. The girls talked shit about me through the whole movie, adding to the feeling that I was back in seventh grade again.

Afterwards, Beth and I caught up over drinks.

“You look great!” she said. “You haven’t changed at all.” I was wearing a jeans jacket so that helped my transcendence of time, but still, I felt like our 20 year feud was finally over, our wounds and resentments healed, united as we were in our love for Dirty Dancing.


Five years later, 25 years after I first saw that breathtaking full page ad in the paper, Dirty Dancing still has the power to create magical moments. Watching it still fills me with hope, possibility, that pure joy that is natural at 12 and harder to come by at 36, and the feeling that, as long as Baby and Johnny are still dancing somewhere, all is OK in the world.

*Names have been changed


How Something Really Bad Can Turn Into Something Really Good–Oh, and Holy Shit, I Met Maxwell!

9 Jun

Maxwell GAP ad

Maxwell in an ad for The GAP

Last week I was racing across the street in flip-flops when, before I could stop it, my left foot landed on a pulverized rat. This was upsetting. Standing on the curb taking deep breaths, I decided to turn around and take a second look. Maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was.

Closer inspection revealed that I did indeed just step in rat guts with nothing more than a thin flip-flopped sole between me and them. Trying to stifle my gag reflex, I peered down at what had once been a rat but was now just a flattened layer of mush pressed into the concrete, a tail and one foot the only discernible features that remained.

Walking away, I tried to convince myself that this was not a big deal. Maybe I’d actually only grazed a sliver of the rat, or missed it entirely. A few blocks later I gathered the courage to look at the bottom of my shoe. There was black gunk on the upper left corner, and some reaching up along the left side of my shoe, centimeters from my bare pinky toe.

Not a big deal, not a big deal, I thought as I practiced Lamaze breathing. But I knew that there was no amount of scrubbing and disinfecting I could do that would make me feel OK about stepping foot back into my apartment in these shoes. However microscopic, I would never step soundly again knowing there could be rat entrails on my floor.

I looked down at my flip-flops. I loved these flip-flops. I’d gotten them at The GAP last summer so they probably didn’t carry them anymore. They were super-comfortable and the perfect neutral shade to go with everything. And I was super-broke and not excited about shelling out money for any unanticipated expenses. But the ratty flip-flops had to go.

On my way to meet a friend for coffee, I thought about cancelling and immediately heading to The GAP for my replacement. But he was going through a hard time and needed my help so I felt like I had to show up. I spent an hour with my friend, silently praying that I wasn’t at that very moment contracting the Bubonic plague. I’d planned to go to an event afterwards, but there was no way I could sit through even another five minutes with this rat on my foot, so I changed my plan and walked in the opposite direction towards the closest GAP.

Why does this shit always happen to me? I thought. Who the fuck ever steps in a smooshed rat?!? It wasn’t enough to feel sorry for myself on my own, so I called a friend.

“I’m on the way to buy new shoes,” I said. “Because I just stepped in a fucking rat!!!”

Which was when I walked past a guy who looked a lot like my favorite singer, Maxwell, but it was kind of hard to tell because he had a full beard and was wearing a baseball cap. I smiled, and he smiled back.

I kept walking, but I had to take one more look to make sure so I turned around. He was looking at me (checking me out?), AND IT WAS TOTALLY HIM!

“Gotta go, bye!” I said to my friend, hanging up. She texted me right away, “Feel better, the Universe just wants you to have new shoes!”

“The Universe just wants me to meet Maxwell!” I wanted to text back, but I had more pressing things to attend to first.

“Maxwell?” I asked, and he nodded yes.

“This is so crazy. I was just buying shoes,” he said, nodding at the shopping bags in his hands. “I can’t believe you recognized me.”


“I’m Max,” he said, reaching out his hand.


“I’m Jen,” I said, shaking his hand.

Let me semi-digress for a moment here to say that if I could meet one person in the whole entire world, it would be Maxwell. That I’ve been very vocal about my love for him for a long time (as evidenced in this, this, and this blog post), and went through a brief period in 2009 where I proactively hoped I’d meet him.

I was shaking and totally overwhelmed so I said, “I can’t believe this! I’m shaking! I’m so overwhelmed!”

He stood there smiling as I traced my love for him through the years, beginning when my first roommate in New York City introduced to me to Urban Hang Suite in 1998 to the present. Some highlights included when I took a half-vacation day from work three years ago to see him perform on a morning television show and told my boss I was taking a “Maxwell Half-Day;” how I went to see him in concert at Madison Square Garden by myself because none of my friends would go with me, and in the elevator at home that night I ran into my neighbor who was coming back from that same concert and I discovered that another die-hard Maxwell fan lived a mere four doors down from me; and how I listened to his music in my cube so much at an old job that whenever I came back from being on vacation, if an issue of TIME or People Magazine had come out while I was gone with an article about Maxwell in it, my boss and coworkers would leave a copy of it on my chair. I talk fast, so I was able to cover 14 years’ worth of stories in a relatively short period of time.

Me and Maxwell“You made my day, you made my day,” Maxwell kept saying, and hugging me. Multiple times. Needless to say, I no longer cared that I was standing in rat.

“I put your songs on so many uplifting playlists!” I said, clutching my heart. “Your music has brought me so much joy!”

“You made my day,” he said, and hugged me. Again.

After Max and I parted ways, I found my way to The GAP in my post-Maxwell haze. I couldn’t believe that they had the exact same style and color as my beloved flip-flops, circa 2011–the second miracle of the night! Unfortunately, they didn’t have my size, so they directed me to the GAP on 5th Avenue which allegedly would.

Walking into the second store, I pointed to my feet. “Where are these flip-flips?” I asked a woman who worked there.

“We don’t have those,” she said.

“But the GAP I just went to said you’d have them in stock here.”

“This is Bebe,” she said.

“Oh! I’m so sorry! I just met Maxwell!” I said, by way of explanation.

“I LOVE MAXWELL!!!!” she squealed. “I walked by him once but I would have had to leave my little brother in the middle of the street in oncoming traffic to say hi to him so…I didn’t,” she said, with a look of remorse that conveyed this had been a difficult decision, and she wasn’t sure she’d made the right choice.

“He’s my husband!” she exclaimed.

“Mine, too!”

Our sisterhood cemented, we hugged goodbye and she wished me luck finding my shoes.

Then I stumbled into the actual GAP a few doors down, and while they didn’t have my size either, they assured me that their Chelsea location would. That was the next stop on my shoe mission, and I found flip-flops in the exact color, style, and size to replicate my beloved pair. And–miracle number three!–they were on sale for only ten dollars! I put them on right away, and tossed my contaminated pair in the nearest trash can.

As soon as I got home, I called a friend to give her the play-by-play of my night.

“The best part of that story is the rat!” she said laughing.

Having lived through it, I was pretty sure the best part was Maxwell.

“We give thanks for the rat who gave his life,” she said solemnly.

“–so that I could meet Maxwell,” I finished.


Stepping in a pulverized rat on a New York City street is an unbelievably crazy bad thing that is almost statistically impossible. Running into Maxwell on a New York City street is an unbelievably crazy good thing that is almost statistically impossible. Which just goes to show you, sometimes a terrible thing can change your course and put you in exactly the right place for a wonderful thing that you would have never experienced had you not had rat guts on your foot.

The catch is, to fully experience the miracles that can unfold and surprise you in life, you can’t get attached and expect them. You just have to be present to what is, present enough to notice when you walk by Maxwell in a full beard and a baseball cap. And not get attached to the bad things either, feeling sorry for yourself and lamenting why they happened. There’s a saying that goes, “Don’t give up five minutes before the miracle,” and I’d amend that to be, “Don’t give up five minutes before you meet Maxwell.”

So sometimes, when an unbelievably terrible thing happens, an unbelievably amazing thing could be right around the corner if you just keep your head up, and keep walking.

Mean Girls In The House!

20 Jan

I’ve openly admitted that while watching “The Bachelor” upsets me for many reasons, and on many levels, I just can’t stop watching it.  I giddily anticipate each Monday night’s installment of reality drama, which I watch with my good friend as we provide a running commentary, and when it gets really juicy, have to pause the DVR to discuss and analyze.  To me, it feels like devouring an entire container of delicious ice cream in a state of almost unconscious bliss, and then feeling sick to my stomach afterwards.

This week’s episode reminded me of 2nd grade.  When I was in high school, I was a camp counselor for the 2nd grade girls group, and each day they would pick one girl to hate, and then they’d all make fun of her and say things like, “She has cooties, don’t let her on the tire swings!”  There didn’t seem to be any substantial reason for why all this meanness was directed at that particular girl, and the next day it could easily flip and another girl would be the object of ostracization, and banned from the tire swings.  And when I myself was in 2nd grade, I was the girl that everyone decided to hate and ignore on the playground one day, and the next, in an attempt to save myself, I was leading the brigade against someone else.

This week on “The Bachelor,” it felt like Vienna was the girl that everyone decided not to let on the tire swings, in an attempt to save themselves.  Obviously as viewers, we don’t get to see everything that goes on in the house, but what we have seen gives no evidence to substantiate all the meanness that is being directed at her. 

It was as if all of the rest of the women had sat down in a circle on the playground and come up with a script:  “If Jake likes Vienna then he won’t like me, because we’re so different (implying difference in a way that makes them better and Vienna worse),” “She talks bad about all the girls in the house,” “He’s not seeing the real Vienna,” and “She needs to leave.”  And then they all repeated some variation of this pre-agreed-upon script to Jake. 

It went a step further when Corrie made Vienna the butt of her stand-up comedy routine as the rest of the women laughed, clapped, and cheered when Vienna wasn’t even there to defend herself, and then Ali came off as the Leader of the Mean Girls making statements to Vienna like, “We don’t like you,” and “I just have to tell you that you are responsible for completely upsetting Elizabeth.”

But yet, based on what we’ve seen so far, Vienna seems like the most honest, real, articulate, and down-to-earth woman on the show, and like she has the sweetest and most sincere, and dare I say deepest connection with Jake.  And when she tried to sincerely apologize to the group if she had upset them, when really, they should have been apologizing to her, they verbally attacked her again.

All the women are rallying around how horrible Vienna is and telling that to Jake every chance they get, which just reflects poorly on them and makes them look cruel and petty.  I only hope that Jake isn’t influenced by all these mean comments, and that he can “follow his heart” “on the wings of love”…

At the end of the episode, I turned to my friend.  Her face was scrunched up and she was hunched forward at the edge of her seat.  She collapsed back into it and sighed, “I’m exhausted!”

“I have a stomach ache!” I replied, still so upset about how the women had treated Vienna, compounded with the dizziness that had resulted from the antics of Elizabeth and Michelle.  “Can’t wait ’til next week!”

And while my stomach hurt and I felt dizzy and tired, I was already craving my next fix.  I just hope that next week they let Vienna on the tire swings…


21 Jan

My deep and passionate love of all things hip-hop & R&B prompted me to see the movie “NOTORIOUS” this weekend.  I went with a friend and felt slightly bad that perhaps I was dragging her to all these hip-hop movies (the last time we saw a movie I had suggested “The Wackness”), recognizing that not everyone shares my musical preferences, or um, obsessions.  However, during a scene where the Lil’ Kim character is performing, my friend surprised me by singing along to every single word, revealing her own hip-hop love.

At the end of the movie, Biggie is described a storyteller.  I love the stories that music tells, and the ways in which it tells them; different than a book read or words spoken, how it reaches out in its own way and connects with people, weaving them into its beats and rhymes. 

One of my favorite things to do is have dance parties for one in my apartment.  I turn on R&B or hip-hop and turn it up, loud, and groove around the room.  My Facebook status update is often something along the lines of:  “Jennifer is rocking out to Girl Talk” or “Jennifer is basking in “The Light” by Common,” or “Jennifer is listening to Beyonce & ready to take on the day!”   Dance parties for one are a surefire way to lift my mood and get my energy pumping.

And sometimes, I get so overwhelmed with my desire to MOVE, that I will take my dance party on the road, and bring it on the subway during my rush hour commute, or into the streets, in a contained way on the exterior, but in my mind, I am full-out rocking out.  Since seeing “NOTORIOUS” on Sunday night, the song “Notorious B.I.G” feat. Puff Daddy and Lil’ Kim has been playing in my head on a continuous loop.  I was walking/dancing-in-a-contained-way around my Brooklyn neighborhood singing it under my breath all day on Monday, and that afternoon, I had a lunch at a cafe, and then found myself mid-move, shakin’ it as I was drying my hands under the hand dryer in the bathroom, and I hadn’t totally realized that I had been dancing, nor had a made a conscious decision to start.  I just could not help myself, what with No-No-No-Notorious playing in mind.

On Tuesday, I emailed some friends that if I did not go dancing soon I was going to explode, and we are now planning a Girls Night Out to take this dance party to the dance floor.  I sent them YouTube links to Biggie videos while I danced in my chair and one of my friends wrote back, “I’m glad Biggie got you thinking Big…”  I asked my nearby co-workers if it was OK with them if I played “Notorious B.I.G” out loud on my computer instead of with headphones on and they said yes, turns out they have their own love for hip-hop, too.  You just cannot sit still, you cannot be in bad mood, when you listen to this song. 

I looked up the word “notorious” on and it is defined as “publicly or generally known, as for a particular trait.”  And the chorus of the song goes:  “No-No-No-Notorious, we are, we are, No-No-No-Notorious…”  What if we could be notorious in our own lives, known by those near and maybe even those far, for…our creativity, our boldness, our chutzpah & courage, our thinking-outside-of-the-box-ness, our dancing-in-the-street-ness, our refusal to be confined, our rejection of limitation, our fierce determination to follow our bliss and live juicy & large and never settle for less, our extraordinary commitment to ourselves, our absolute dedication to living our lives, creating our existence, exactly in line with our pure pulsating spirits and our most authentic alive selves, designing our days to shimmer with excitement and glow with possibility, being the way we want to be, and not the way someone, or someones, or society says we should be, never defaulting exhaustedly on auto-pilot, but rather revving up our own engines to the tune of our blasting internal radios, moving our bodies energetically to the rhythm of the beats and the rhymes, telling our own stories, in our own voices, in our own ways, in our own sweet time?  Why then, we truly would be, No-No-No-Notorious.  We are.  We are.  No-No-No-Notorious.

Just press PLAY, and start to rock your life…

Copyright © 2009 by Jennifer Garam

The Dopeness Not The Wackness

17 Aug

I saw the movie “The Wackness” last night and totally loved it.  A few months ago I started noticing the posters on the subway and the part that read “NYC.  SUMMER 1994…THE MUSIC WAS DOPE…” had me at hello.  The movie is set against an early-mid 90’s hip-hop NYC backdrop, and that was all I needed to know.  I graduated high school in 1993 and spent summer days and nights cruising around, windows down, blasting Black Sheep and Paperboy, and to this day I still have a hip-hop/R&B “thing” that took root in the early 90’s, the rhymes just make my heart sing.

Watching it brought me back to my comparatively-carefree (only in hindsight, not at all at the time) high school days of partying, and walking home from the subway after the movie, I wished I had a 40 in a brown paper bag to sip on while I smoked a Marlboro Light or two, although when I woke up this morning nothungover and headachey, and with the ability to take full, deep breaths, I was so happy that that was just a passing fantasy I didn’t act on.  I always get so nostalgic about drinking and smoking, probably because I was such a Good Girl and was proud of the multi-factedness of getting drunk and sneaking cigarettes on the weekends.  I think, too, that it represented rebellion and reminds me that I used to play more.  And while I now have an extremely low tolerance and barely drink, and am highly sensitive/allergic to cigarette smoke, thinking of the days of 40’s and Marlboro Lights, I remember that I have to channel that rebellious energy in other non-alcoholic, non-nicotine, and perhaps healthier ways and not risk losing it altogether, and that I want to, and need to, play more, and have fun more often, because in adulthood, fun has become something that has to be aggressively pursued and/or planned for, or it will get lost amidst rush-hour commutes, bill paying, and to do lists.

“The Wackness” also made me nostalgic for first loves and the pitter-patter milli-second before a first kiss, and Luke Shapiro, the endearing pot peddler, kinda almost made me want to date a cute hip-hop loving drug dealer with heart, and then made him a mix tape.  Sidenote:  I think love got a lot more complicated when the cassette tape died out, as making someone you have a crush on a playlist, or even a burned cd, just doesn’t have the same impact.  Making a mix tape required exponentially more effort, and sometimes it took a village to make a mix tape. 

The summer after my senior year in high school, my two best friends and I decided to make a mix tape before we went to college, and we assembled in my den to make a list of the desired songs.  First, we checked off the songs that one of us had.  Then, we marked down people in our class who were likely to have other songs.  For instance, Eric L. was a vocal Springsteen fan and would definitely have “Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band Live: 1975-85” 3-CD Box Set, so we could get “Thunder Road” and “Fire” from him.  Next, we had to call all those people on their home-not-cell phones, confirm that they in fact owned said cd(s), arrange for a pick-up time, copy the song onto the mix tape in the correct order as order is everything, and then schedule a drop-off time.  I remember driving to people’s houses, running up their front steps, ringing their doorbells, having them come to the door with a stack of cds in hand, and then running back to my car for the next stop.  Lastly, all the songs that we could not acquire from our own and our classmates’ music collections, we had to get off the radio, all old school and shit.  Like, hours would be spent in the evenings, poised with fingers holding down the pause, play, and record buttons, listening to the Top Nine at Nine on Z100 for the missing songs.  And when the song came on, you had to be quick, and hit it just right, immediately after the dj finished introducing it but before you lost too much off the song making it invaluable, and sometimes those djs would talk right up to that very first word, so you might get a little dj intro on your mix tape if you weren’t super-speedy on the draw.  And finally, you had to name your mix and make a cover with colored fine-point magic markers.  But then the hard part was over, and you could just give it to a boy and it was like, “Here is a mix tape.  I like you, and when you listen to the songs you will feel my love through the significance of the tunes that I carefully selected.”  Love just has not been the same since the advent of iTunes.

There are lots of mix tapes exchanging hands in “The Wackness,” the music is mad dope, and for all the craziness that happens, underlying it all the movie captures so many wonderful, recognizable, simple and sweet coming-of-age moments.  One of my favorites was when Luke and Stephanie are on a beach in Fire Island splashing in the water, and he is worrying about what will happen between them in the future, and she questions how he can think about the future when where they are now is so great.  Telling him that he has a messed up way of looking at things she says, “I look at the dopeness in life, and you look at the wackness.”

Amidst the 40’s, the smokes, the pot-dealing, and the pulsation of Notorious B.I.G, R. Kelly, and DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, this movie is a reminder to take your eyes and your mind off all that wackness, and focus on the dopeness, yo, ’cause beyond your worries about the past and projections of the future, there is a ton of dopeness in this moment right now, and as SWV would say in their song that was in the running for Side A of my summer ’93 mix tape, “Right Here.”

I think I have to keep the 90’s dopeness alive and buy “The Wackness” soundtrack right now-on cd, not the downloadable version-or at least dig up some old mixes to rock out to…