I first fell in love with The Golden Girls around the time I started babysitting. It was the late 1980s, and like most preadolescent sitters I quickly discovered the many perks that came with being put in charge of the safety of small children. Once my little ones were snug in their beds it was preteen party time. Now I was a good kid, mind you. No beer, no boys, not even any snooping through drawers. But there was still plenty to keep me occupied until the parents came home from their date night.
1. Free food: I still think back fondly on the family that left me a Tupperware container full of homemade chocolate chip cookies, an entire pizza, and several bags of Doritos. (A pox on the people who seemed to hide all their food before I got there, leaving me nothing but a cabinet full of Saltines and some tap water.)
2. Dirty books: Trust me when I tell you that a very large number of suburban couples in the late 1980s owned:
a) Tattered copies of 1974’s More Joy of Sex and/or
b) An uncomfortable amount of books by V.C. Andrews and/or
b) Seemingly hundreds of Danielle Steele and Jackie Collins novels.
3. Unrestricted television!!
Now for some people that last bonus might not seem like much of a prize. But coming from a family of five people and one TV set, I reveled in having a night to myself to decide what I wanted to watch without my brother whining that what I wanted to see was stupid or my mother reminding us that it was time for her weekly Dallas fix. (“Bobby in the shower!? OMG!!!”)
Naturally as a young, babysitting teen with access to private television time, I decided that my favorite Saturday night program should center on the misadventures of middle-aged divorced and widowed women. This may sound weird, especially given my lifelong fear of senior citizens. But The Golden Girls didn’t seem old to me…they seemed kind of funny and bizarre and trapped in outfits made out of enough gauze to perform 35 appendectomies, but they didn’t seem old. (To those vicious people who claim that Bea Arthur’s wardrobe was styled so as to better camouflage her colostomy bag, I can only say I hope you die a wretched death involving fire ants.)
Besides the outfits, I dug the back and forth witty banter, the “Shut up Rose!” the St. Olaff stories, to say nothing of the “picture it, Sicily” moments. Plus, the show was educational: Without The Golden Girls I still wouldn’t know the meaning of the word lanai (or menopause, for that matter).
And while my female peers were busy studying exactly how Molly Ringwald managed to lean in over that candle-laden birthday cake to kiss Jake Ryan without catching on fire, I was busy studying the constant hum of activity that my cheesecake-snarfing ladies generated in that wicker-laden ranch house. Yes, The Golden Girls allowed time for daydreaming about that magical moment when I would be too old for babysitting and would instead have a real live boyfriend (or, as Blanche put it, “the pleasures of a gentleman caller.”) From these women I learned that diamonds go better with everything, inviting a man in for a nightcap meant you were going to have sex with him, and you should never, ever give your ex-husband your new address. (“It’s me, Stan.”)
Because of Blanche, Dorothy, Rose, and Sophia, I knew I would one day be grown up enough to go out on the town, and while my fellow sixth grade gal pals fantasized about getting felt up by an eighth grader during a party in somebody’s unfinished basement, I visualized a vibrant and complicated social calendar made up of charity balls and fundraising banquets. I pictured my dates arriving in suits with matching handkerchiefs in the pockets. I rehearsed opening the front door a la Blanche and practicing some greeting laced with a double entendre, going so far as to talk to some imaginary suitor in a deep Southern accent.
“Wha Baaaarrrrry, I do declare you might just be sweeeeet on lil’ ol’ Jennifuh,” I would say, earnestly talking about myself in the third person while directing my lovelorn commentary to a framed photograph of my babysitting charges’ dead grandfather. “Suuuuhly you wouldn’t even dream of thinking lil’ ol’ Jennifuh wouldn’t be sweeeeet on yoooooou.”
I practiced talking about sex in thinly veiled metaphors before I even understood what those metaphors were thinly veiling. I sauntered around the living room on my tip toes, pretending my penny loafers were actually strappy pink heels. I pretended to be Blanche, then Rose, and then Dorothy, all in the matter of one evening, forcing my voice to go from Southern-fried belle to dumb blonde to sassy Brooklyn broad. I got in so deep that by the time the opening credits of the much less ambitious Empty Nest started rolling, I believed I was a 56 year old woman engaged to a man named Lucas, and I was vowing to send my mother to a place called Shady Pines.
Despite my nursing home delusions, my mother stayed out of my clutches throughout junior high and high school, when my social life got kicked up a notch. I say a notch, because I don’t know if spending hours in your bedroom writing terribly derivative Plathlike poetry counts as a social life when you get down to brass tacks. True, I hit the Sunday matinee scene at the Multiplex quite a bit, and attended sleepovers and parties where I silently cursed 98 percent of those around me in an attempt to channel Holden Caulfield. But I had nothing on Rose and her pals.
Fortunately, things changed in college. By the middle of my freshman year I was a professional in the practice of going out. I painted “Kill Your Television” with White-Out on my dorm room TV that I rarely turned on, and rolled my eyes at my mother when she suggested I cut my hair like Rachel on Friends. Friends?!?!?! I was too busy scouring thrift stores for T-shirts from Christian bible camps and reading Spin to bother with Friends. If I was going to watch something on television it was going to be an art house film like Spanking the Monkey or something of high camp value like Melrose Place and Days of our Lives.
Television meant staying in, and for me life at that time was all about getting out. To parties, to bars, to indie rock shows, to terribly produced student theater, to – at the very least – a coffee shop. It was about being there so you could say you were there.
Of course going out requires a certain amount of commitment. I usually spent at least an hour getting ready in an attempt to achieve the look that said, “I spent 5 minutes getting ready.” Did the $2 dress with ladybugs all over it really go with the black Converse high tops, or was the ensemble just screaming, “I swear to God I’m cool!!” Did the Army jacket and long johns under my skirt make me look tough and cute, or tough and frumpy? (I ignored my conservative father, who suggested they made me look like Ellen Degeneres, “if you know what I mean.”) Was the black nail polish too 1987, or was 1987 in fact the look I was going for? Was the hair too greasy or not greasy enough? Were the daisies I painted on my cheeks with face paint cute-lame or cute-excellent?
Sometimes, going out felt like a job. Who was going to be there and would I have to be nice to his new girlfriend? Who was going to be in front of me in line for the bathroom and would I be able to make fetching small talk with him/her? Who was going to give me money for the cover charge because I’d spent all my cash on hair dye and ice cream? Who was going to help me get home if and when I drank too many cups of bathtub punch?
Going out meant anticipation. Would my friend Joe be able to confront his Waterloo by actually completing a keg stand this time around? Would I push myself up to stage at the Mr. T Experience show and catch some of Joel the bass player’s sweat on my quivering bosom? Would that guy who wanted to imitate Cool Hand Luke honestly manage to eat 50 eggs during the course of the party? (He would eat these eggs scrambled, hard boiled, over easy, and yes, he would eat 50 of them. And then he would throw up about 25.)
And going out, of course, meant maybe He’ll be there. The guy with eyes that looked like bruises who smoked Camel straights and talked about the winter of his discontent. I didn’t know if this guy existed, or even if he went to my school. But maybe he did. And maybe he’d show up – The One who would transform my night from so so to so amazing. Yeah, it might have been fun to dance to Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall in my friend Jill’s apartment wearing a T-shirt that read “Cream and Rum? Yum!” but it was going to be way more fun if some junior varsity version of Ethan Hawke was watching me do it.
But somewhere in my late 20s, several years after graduating from college, the jazzed feeling usually generated by going out started to weaken. And the nature of going out started to change. When I’d been in college and heard the phrase “grabbing a drink after work,” I’d always pictured some sort of sophisticated, glamorous image in my mind…two professionals in sleek outfits sipping martinis while their leather briefcases rested ever so gently at their feet. I quickly learned the truth, which was that “grabbing a drink after work” essentially meant getting loaded and dumb while wearing Payless pumps and the cheap, itchy My First Business Suit I’d bought at Target, all the while bitching about my stupid boss.
I still went to parties. But at this point people had started pairing off, getting married, even having babies. It was always the same beer. It was always the same conversation. It was always the same music. The quality of the cheese and crackers had improved over time, but really, they were just cheese and crackers. Compared to some shindigs, the lives of Blanche, Sophia, Dorothy, and Rose looked positively bacchanalian.
And of course, there was Kevin. Once I met him, well, I’d met Him. Nights out lacked the suspense novel quality they had once been filled with. If Kevin and I went out to a party or an art event or wherever, we knew that unless one of us choked on something we would be going home together at the end of the night. The only burning question at the conclusion of a party was would we get cat food on the way home or just wait until morning?
And then we had a baby. And we stopped going out at all because we simply lacked the human strength to move our bodies after chasing our son around all day. I mean it’s sort of incredible I’ve even got the energy to type this blog post. Swear to God. Do you understand how much 11-month-old boys move? It’s like he’s constantly remembering he has an appointment somewhere else in the house and he must crawl there immediately!
Anyway, the other Friday night, Kevin and I did our usual: put our little one to bed, opened up our latest Netflix treat, made popcorn, and fought for the best spot on the couch. As I watched Kevin start talking to our cats as he often does, I had a revelation. He was, as Blanche Devereaux might say, my gentleman caller. For life. True, I didn’t have some post-stroke Italian lady in the kitchen making me sausage and peppers and shouting out witty comebacks, but somehow I couldn’t help but think that even though I was staying in, maybe some of my demented 12-year-old Golden Girls fantasies were coming true.
After the movie was over, I pulled up some shows I’d DVRd. Did you know they show The Golden Girls on WE? Because they do. Maybe someday Kevin and I will get it together enough to hire a teen babysitter. I’ll leave her lots of cookies and pizza and suggest she tune in and watch my favorite Miami ladies. Somehow, I don’t think Blanche’s love advice has gotten any less relevant.