Monday, November 16, 2015

Reflections On...New Jersey

In 1988 Ryo Vie was an inexperienced romantic in bloom who also had an obsession with music. Music had been my life since the age of 3. It was always a part of my world, always there for me, and never let me down. Music was something that always made me feel fantastic and was around whenever I needed a pick me up. No matter how hard times were, I had music to fall back on.

Then in junior high school I discovered girls. Girls were everything that music was not. They weren’t there for me. They always let me down, and when things sucked in my young pre-teen life, it was usually because of girls. They were a necessary evil. Well, necessary only in the fact that I was overly attracted to them and could not stop myself from doing stupid things around them.

By the time I entered high school, I thought I had them figured out. And then my freshman obsession showed me otherwise. I had not even begun to scratch the surface of the opposite sex and I honestly began to think that I never would. And yet as freshman summer gave way to sophomore fall, I overcame my earlier crush and started focusing on a new beauty. However, new beauties meant new complications. The problem this time around was that Lisa, my new obsession, had a boyfriend and we all worked together at Roy Rogers fast food restaurant. Oh the drama!

In the fall of that year, a hard rocking band from New Jersey released the follow up to their multi-platinum, insanely successful, smash album Slippery When Wet. The record was titled New Jersey, and I bought the cassette as soon as it was released. At the time I was a huge Bon Jovi fan and even identified with him as New Jersey’s musical son over Bruce Springsteen.

I’ve always felt that the slow building intro of “Lay Your Hands On Me” is one of the coolest album openings ever. It is definitely the best opening to any Bon Jovi record; and hearing it for the first time as a 15 year old with wild rock star dreams only made it that much more exciting. New Jersey as a whole is a masterpiece and it still holds up some 27 years after its initial release. “Lay Your Hands On Me” got everything off to a stupendous start. The banging of drums bleeding into the growling guitars, and then the spoken intro by Jon himself; they all mesh into a killer hard rock song. “Lay Your Hands On Me” hits hard and fast. The album never lets up after that. “Lay Your Hands On Me” is a song that went through my head almost any time I was around Lisa that fall.

I think my crush for Lisa really began on my first day of work. I was scheduled to work for a whopping three hours at the agreed upon wage of $3.35. Yep, I was working in a fast food restaurant for minimum wage. Those three hours would net me less than $9 after taxes. Looking back on it now, I must have been insane. But, my parents insisted that if I wanted spending money, then I had to work. And as previously mentioned, I had discovered two of the most expensive things in life by that time; music and women. There was a hefty price to be paid for both.  

So on my very first day of a new job, after watching some lame orientation video, I was to be trained on the register by Lisa. One look at her and I was smitten. She was beautiful! Possibly the most beautiful girl I had ever set eyes on. The Love Gods were smiling on me that day. This was opportunity! I had 2 hours to spend next to this girl and while she trained me on register I was going to smooth talk her into a date. Yep, suave, debonair, smooth talking, 15 year old Ryo Vie…right! Unfortunately I had about as much game as the 1988 Dallas Cowboys (they were 3-13 that year). Not that my game, or lack thereof, mattered, because Lisa had a boyfriend and that was made evident within our first hour of working together. I don’t remember who brought it up, but I know that it was clearly communicated.

As autumn progressed two things happened. I spent more and more time listening to New Jersey and my attraction to Lisa grew 100-fold. She and I happened to work quite a number of the same shifts and the more we talked, the more we got to know each other, and the more we realized how much we liked each other. Now, from her perspective, I was probably placed into the dreaded “friend” category, but from my perspective, it was hubba-hubba-ville.  No friends here. And as I listened to New Jersey more and more, one particular song grew on me more and more.

“I’ll Be There For You” was one of the huge power ballads that New Jersey produced. Being a young romantic at heart, the song spoke to me from first listen. And since I was listening to this album around the same time I was crushing on Lisa, it immediately became my song to her. Not that I ever told her that, but in my mind, it was my dedication to her. I would sit and listen to that song on many chilled autumn evenings, thinking of Lisa and wondering what I had to do to get us to be together.

Being young and obsessed is never a good combination. It usually leads to some pretty stupid things. In the case of Lisa and Ryo, it definitely did. What could I do? I was obsessed. I thought I was in love, but the reality is that I was in lust. I was just too young and stupid to know the difference. And so as “I’ll Be There For You” played over and over on my little boom box, I plotted and schemed and rationalized. If I was in love with this girl, shouldn’t we be together? Didn’t I deserve some happiness in romance?

“Bad Medicine” was a huge hit for Bon Jovi that year. It was the first single the band released and the video was all over MTV. Any self respecting, music loving teenager knew this. Between MTV and my non-stop playing of the cassette, I must have heard “Bad Medicine” hundreds of times. The theme of the song felt appropriate for my life. A love sick male obsessing over his muse but knowing that it was bad for him was exactly how I felt with Lisa. I couldn’t stop thinking about her, and it was affecting my life in strange ways.

I also paid attention to the interactions between her and her boyfriend and noticed they weren’t very warm and inviting. Her boyfriend was always checking out other girls and making snide comments to and/or about Lisa. They may have been teasing comments meant in jest, but I viewed each one as a grueling blow and determined that he was not the right boy for her. I was. No one would treat her as well as I would. How could I make that clear to her?

During those dark, cold evenings alone in my room, I wrote in my journal about Lisa a lot. And I also listened to New Jersey a lot. Songs like “Wild Is The Wind,” “Born To Be My Baby,” and “Living In Sin” filled my head with fantasies about a life we could share. Looking back now it’s surprising that I didn’t become a stalker. My obsession was unhealthy and these days it could lead to incarceration. And like any obsession that can’t be overcome, it led to action. Unfortunately, my action was a cowardly one that led to a lot of mayhem in my young life.

In high school, I didn’t have many friends, but the ones I did have were true friends in every sense of the word. Tommy was my best friend and he was always willing to do things for me, no matter how crazy they seemed. He was with me the day I delivered the rose to Laurie, and he had heard my compulsions over Lisa endlessly. I don’t know if I could have listened to me as much as he did. Tommy was a great friend (and still is).

And so since young Ryo did not have much bravado he asked his friend to help him out. I had secured Lisa’s phone number thanks to the number board at work. In the manager’s office, a list of employee phone numbers was kept in case there was a need to cover a shift. I casually jotted Lisa’s phone number down once and then contemplated calling her for days. Then one night while talking to Tommy, I asked if he would do me a favor.

Tommy was always up for a task like that. Growing up I thought this kid had balls the size of Texas. He never backed down from a challenge, he always encouraged me to push myself harder, and he was always willing to tackle tough odds. On that particular evening I asked if he would call Lisa and state my feelings for her. He took the challenge without pause. Within minutes we had hung up and he was dialing Lisa’s number.

While I sat there waiting with expectations of her falling into my arms, I played “Stick To Your Guns.” I thought it was a nice song to put in the soundtrack of my teenage life. The lyrics of the song start out: so you want to be a cowboy/well you know it’s more than just a ride… The song itself is about being true to who you are and knowing that in the ride of life, there is no one you can count on more than yourself. I felt a connection with those words. I felt that if I was going to be the big time, Lisa had to know my feelings for her.

Yes, I should have manned up and told her myself, but as already mentioned, young Ryo didn’t have any guts. I wouldn’t learn how to use fear and excitement to my advantage until my 20s. At 15, I still had quite the yellow streak down my spine. That’s part of the reason that most of my heroes were rock stars. They had the courage to overcome and succeed. I wanted to be like that, I just didn’t know how.

When Tommy called me back a few minutes later, my heart was pounding and my head raced with questions. “I’ll Be There For You” was playing in the background and I took that as a good sign. This was our song! She must have told Tommy that she felt the same way and that she was overjoyed by his call. She must have been trying to call me so that she could confess her true feelings as well! Or she thought I was some kind of creeper.

I immediately asked what had happened and told him to give me all of the details. Tommy had called Lisa, told her that he was a friend of mine and that I had asked him to call her. He then told her that I had a huge crush on her and was hoping that we could somehow be together. He gave her my phone number and asked her to call me. Lisa was apparently speechless, didn’t quite know what to say, and quickly got off the phone. She did take my number though. I thanked Tommy for what he had done and hung up. Then I sat in my room breathless, anxious, and confused.

I stared at the phone. Was she going to call me? Was she overwhelmed? Did she hate me? Not knowing the answers to any questions was driving me insane. I rewound my cassette tape and played “I’ll Be There For You” again. And I waited. I waited for a while and nothing happened. The phone didn’t ring. The clock slowly ticked off minutes and nothing happened. I was pulling my hair out.

When the phone finally rang some thirty minutes later (which felt like hours), I jumped. My heart raced and my body tingled. Was this Lisa calling me? Was this the moment I had been waiting for? I picked up the phone in a panic. “He---Hello?” I trembled.

It was Lisa and I was overjoyed! She had called! Unfortunately, she had called to share some bad news. After Tommy called her, she thought it was a trick that her boyfriend was playing on her, so she called him and asked who Tommy was. Joe, her boyfriend, said he had no idea, and that was when Lisa realized it wasn’t a joke. She then told Joe everything. Hearing those words left me speechless. Joe knew. That was not good.

I don’t remember much of our conversation after that. I know that I confirmed my feelings for her and that what Tommy had told her was true. I know that she said we couldn’t be together because she had a boyfriend. I know she said that she liked me as a friend. And I know that I hated being put into the “friend” zone. I also know that our conversation was cut short, because Joe did an emergency breakthrough on her phone. It was one of the last times that I would speak to her.

Needless to say, my relationship with Joe took a turn for the worse. The first time he saw me at work after the incident, he didn’t say a word to me. I didn’t know if that was good or bad. The next time he saw me, he did speak. “If you ever call my girlfriend again, or have your friend call my girlfriend again, I will kick your ass.” My only response was a curt nod. There really wasn’t much I could say.

Lisa had also stopped talking to me at that point. It was sad. We had created a fun relationship as friends and I threw all of that away by trying to move our relationship to the next level when I knew she had a boyfriend. What was wrong with me? I wallowed in misery for a few days after the call and spent a lot of time listening to New Jersey in its entirety. It helped get me through the rough time and overcome some of my anxiety. It also helped me realize that there would be another day, another girl, and another chance.

The next few weeks were a whirlwind of weirdness. Joe and I got into a few verbal arguments, and we even got into a shoving match that was quickly broken up by our manager. All of it stemmed from my desire for Lisa and his dislike of that desire. Lisa and Joe broke up not long after the shoving match and she quit working at Roy Rogers. I don’t know if I ultimately factored into any of those decisions, but at the time, I felt that I did.

Joe changed his shifts shortly after that and he and I rarely worked the same schedule. After he and Lisa split up, we just didn’t talk much at all. If I recall correctly, he quit Roy Rogers a month or two later. As for me, I spent a solid two weeks listening to “I’ll Be There For You” over and over and over again while thinking of Lisa. I often wondered what would have happened if I had approached things just a little differently. Alas, I would never know. I remained at Roy Rogers for several years, on and off, and would have several more adventures with women and ultimately make some lifelong friendships. However, those adventures are stories for another day.

I’ll be there for you/these five words I swear to you
When you breathe/I want to be the air for you
I’ll be there for you
I’d live and I’d die for you/I’d steal sun from the sky for you
Words can’t say what love can do
I’ll be there for you

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