Im sitting down when I see her. At a bar on New Yorks Lower East Side, I look up from my cocktail and there she is. Cyndi Lauper.
Generally I ignore celebrities. I pretend not to recognize them, especially if theres little obvious merit to their fame. Cyndi Lauper is another story. Ive seen her sing strong in pride parades, at Mardi Gras in Sydney, on the True Colors Tour, but here shes within striking distance. So I pounce. Literally I hurdle a couch to confront her. She sees me coming. Cyndi Lauper, I stick out my hand. I have to thank you for something.
When was it? 1985? Thats when I first noticed the shift. C.F. Tigard Elementary School was in Oregon, but all the girls in my grade started talking like California Valley Girls. They wore bangles and pins and big bangs. They tried dressing like Madonna and Cyndi Lauper. Popular culture had mobilized an attack of the clones. Gag me with a spoon.
The boys my age were wearing parachute pants. I wouldnt be caught dead in parachute pants no matter how popular they were (I preferred half shirts and short shorts). And while other boys fiddled with the highly frustrating Rubiks Cube, I spent recess pestering Roseanne Schot. Roseanne brought her Berry-Mobile to school, which contained all her Strawberry Shortcake dolls. On a good day, shed let me take out and touch Blueberry Muffin. I told Roseanne I only wanted a whiff of the dolls blueberry-scented hair, but she knew better. I was obsessed with that doll. Roseanne let me play with Blueberry Muffin in small doses, always with the careful warning that it was wrong. I was a boy.
In 1985, I bought the cassette tape of Cyndi Laupers Shes So Unusual because I felt unusual. Cyndi was unusual too. She was also popular, so according to the transitive property, unusual was a good thing. Yet even in grade school, I could see. Its tough to be authentic. We live in a world that encourages every person to be the same person. I sang along to Girls Just Want to Have Fun because I just wanted to have fun and maybe that meant being a girl. Girls could own Blueberry Muffin.
Around this time, I saw a television interviewer ask Cyndi Lauper how she felt about young girls copying her look, dressing like her, shaving squares into their heads like she did. Cyndi replied that she didnt like imitation. Thats not what she wanted to inspire. She wanted to motivate people to be different, in their own special way.
For a kid like me, at a pivotal age, her words resonated. I was different. Funny. Fey. I know you are, but what am I? Grade school only hinted at ostracism. A few years later my family would sell our house and move so I could escape a middle school where they beat me daily for being a fag. Not that anyone really understood what being a fag entailed, least of all me, but through it all I never made huge efforts to change or fit in. I never did put on a pair of parachute pants.
I would be different, in my own special way.
Im of the same mind today. At the Lower East Side bar, I thank Cyndi Lauper for what she impressed upon me more than 20 years ago. She is gracious and real, and while we speak, the DJ spots her. He plays Girls Just Want to Have Fun and the place goes wild. I tap on the bar. Get up on here! I say, and, in her inimitable voice, Cyndi answers, Why the hell not?
In a dress and heels, she climbs on top of the bar for an impromptu show, which is, like, so totally awesome! Shes still unusual! Who else would do that? The woman is a rock star, but I love her for another simple reason. When I was very young, Cyndi Lauper told me I could be an original.
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