My Breakfast Club Counterpart
Last night as I was cleaning the apartment building where I live, a funny thought popped into my head out of the blue: If I were to become one of the characters in The Breakfast Club as I grew older, who would it be?
Perhaps I should ask myself another question in order to ascertain the answer: Who did I aspire to be back in 1985 when the film was released?
But that’s not what happened, not by a long shot.
So let’s go back and revisit this ultimate teen flick for a moment. The Breakfast Club is the John Hughes masterpiece that focuses on five high school students, each one more different than the other, enduring a long day of detention. As the hours progress, they slowly band together over their situation and insecurities, learning they have more in common than they ever thought possible. It’s a classic, no doubt due to the smart script, stellar direction, and spot-on casting. And it hit the milestone of being 30 years old in 2015. Hard to believe, isn’t it?
Thirty years ago, when I watched it for the first time, I became fully mesmerized by the characters and by the actors themselves. In my mind, those kids were already superstars, and this just solidified my belief. The students were played by the following actors:
John Bender (Judd Nelson) – The Rebel
Claire Standish (Molly Ringwald) – The Snob
Andrew Clark (Emilio Estevez) – The Jock
Brian Johnson (Anthony Michael Hall) – The Geek
Allison Reynolds (Ally Sheedy) – The Outcast
Even to this day, I simply cannot (or refuse to) picture each one of these actors without seeing them in these roles, in that school library, dredging up all those touching, troubled emotions with such soulful honesty.
I’m sure I left the theater after the credits had rolled, singing “(Don’t You) Forget About Me” by Simple Minds as loudly as I could, proud of the fact that I knew all the words. That song has taken on legendary status with me, and I find it difficult to separate the song from the movie. They truly are intertwined.
Anyway, after several viewings and the purchase of a movie poster later, I felt in my heart that, when I grew up, I wanted to be Bender. Just think about him in that movie, about the sway of his jagged haircut, the way he threw his bangs back in defiance or hostility or flirtatious banter; the thrill of seeing Judd Nelson strike a match with his teeth; and, mostly, the dangerous aura that hung around him at all times. That was who I wanted to emulate when I grew up. He was everything I wasn’t. The bad boy. The rebel. The outlaw.
Instead, I’m ashamed to admit that I was more like the Geek/the Brain, especially in my high school years. An academic for sure (like the Brian Johnson character in the film), I was, however, more specifically a complete, full-on Band Geek. So much so that I participated in the following four bands at Mira Loma High School: pep, marching, concert, and jazz. Those were all of the bands at the school, and I was in every one of them. Essentially, music saved my life and kept me alive during those horrific high school years. To sum up, I was a music-obsessed Band Nerd who graduated 11th in his class, which meant I was serving up some very unpopular, un-Bender-like realness.
Of course, I was already out of high school when The Breakfast Club premiered. In 1985, I was matriculating at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California, a veritable fish out of water in every way imaginable. The movie poster hung in my dorm room though, reminding me of those five students serving detention at Shermer High School, silently telling me I’d find friends in the end. Music saved me there too. Even though I never picked up an instrument in college, my musical tastes were growing as my mind and worldview expanded as well. By the time the movie was out, I already knew Simple Minds and was more than familiar with their incredible soundtrack hit that, finally, was given its just due all these years later in Pitch Perfect (2012).
But back to the movie, back to who I really turned out to be.
I didn’t grow up to be John Bender, not in the least, although I tried my hardest in so many ways. Even before I knew about Bender, I wanted to be a juvenile delinquent. I took up smoking Kools in junior high school, even though I never hung out with the burnouts (as we called the kids who smoked cigarettes in the suburbs of Sacramento in the late 1970s). I got caught shoplifting. I drank a bottle of vermouth with my first girlfriend, followed by far too many rum and Coke drinks until she barfed and I got blamed. As I grew older, I experimented with drugs as well, something I’m sure Bender was doing at home during his high school years. Now, all these years later, I’ve turned into a pothead—which he was as well—but that didn’t happen until my forties. So I’ve sort of followed his path in some ways, I suppose, and that’s enough for me. At least I escaped his dreadful home life, by the grace of God.
Then there’s the princess Molly Ringwald, that red-headed stunner with the pillowy lips and flaming hair who was actually from my hometown. Always smart, always sassy, always original. Having such a strong feminine side myself, I also wanted to be Claire in a way too. Doesn’t that make sense though? She was polished and beautiful, a virgin beyond reproach in so many ways. When she gives Bender her diamond earring and plants it in his leather-gloved hand, scrunching it up tightly so that he’ll accept it, my heart melted into a gooey mess. She still makes my heart melt to this day. So much so that, one fateful night, I found myself kissing her hand underneath the old Studio 54 disco. How, you may ask? Well, since I was working at the Broadway management company responsible for the 54 Below theater club (yes, it’s in the notorious former basement of Studio 54), I was able to secure a reservation and nice table easily enough for Molly’s new cabaret act. My hubby Michael and I sat giddily through the show, drinking champagne and nudging each other at every witty bon mot she made. At the end of the fantastic set, after her jazzy encore of the aforementioned Simple Minds song, Molly was chatting to folks after the show, so I screwed up the courage to walk up to her. Michael begged me to introduce him as “my husband” when I met her, so I did. I also babbled some nonsense and then scooped up her hand in mine, kissed the top of it, purred “Enchanté!” in horrible French and walked off with a bemused stagger. She looked stunned. I probably shouldn’t have just grabbed her hand like that but, I don’t know, I just had to experience my own personal tête-à-tête with Molly Ringwald. (If you’re wondering why I uttered that one word in particular, it’s because I knew she had lived in Paris for many years. I thought I was being cheeky and clever.)
The basket case played by Ally Sheedy is, I’m sure we can all admit, a representation of all of our quirks and eccentricities that make us different and unusual and interesting and one-of-a-kind. I’m proud to be a part of Allison Reynolds, dandruff and all.
Emilio Estevez’s athlete named Andy didn’t strike a nerve for me in any relatable sense; my sole fascination with him was the impressive bulge he sported in his Levi 501s. The only thing I’ll take away from his character is the fantasy of crouching in the ring alone with him and that tight little body, the two of us decked out in wrestling singlets. What happens after he pins me down is anyone’s guess, although I’d probably let him tape my butt cheeks together since that’s what put him in detention in the first place.
So while I feel like a part of each and every one of these characters, I finally realized that I haven’t become Bender or a basket case or a seeker of collage-age wrestlers. Instead, I’ve become Carl.
Remember him? He’s the janitor.
Played by actor John Kapelos, this wise and sassy custodian named Carl Reed knows everything that’s going on in the school (“I am the eyes and ears of this institution!”), and his dimpled smirk says more than any line of dialogue ever could. [Author’s Note: Perhaps, like me, you failed to notice at the beginning of the film that Carl’s picture is on a school plaque labeled “MAN OF THE YEAR” for 1969, so you know he was a hotshot back in the day. And look where he ended up. Hmm, I could write an essay about what I think happened in his case, but all I’d have to do is look in the mirror….]
Like his character, I know a lot about what’s going on with younger people; case in point, Michael is 10 years my junior, so I’m constantly deluged with his generation’s influences and passions. Additionally, it doesn’t hurt that we both deejay once a month at our favorite neighborhood gay bar which means we constantly listen to all the new music that’s out there, music that is primarily dictated by party-goers and drag queens in their twenties and thirties. So I know what songs they like, what drugs they’re doing, how they’re dressing, and who they’re attracted to. I guess you could say I’m “the eyes and ears” there too.
But the real reason why I believe I have become Carl is easy: it’s because I’m also a janitor.
Not full-time, mind you, but still; I take care of all the janitorial duties of the three-floor walk-up apartment located on Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, the same one where Michael and I have lived for the past three years. It works out well for me—not only do I get a break on rent, it also helps satisfy my weird obsession with having everything around me look neat and tidy. This fulfills that. It’s grueling work, yes, and I spend much of my precious time on Sundays sorting the recyclables, taking the trash out, sweeping, mopping, and scrubbing, which is actually fine. After all, I’m physically moving my aging ass up and down stairs hauling pails of soapy water and lifting heavy bags of disgusting garbage, all while rockin’ a tan Dickies jumpsuit with the zipper notched down the front a little indecently. Hey, I can’t help it, I like showing off my tattoos to the tenants. It’s probably obvious that I long to show off another version of myself besides the conservative, buttoned-down one I display every weekday for work. I enjoy being the older, bearded, semi-mysterious, tattooed dude that lives in Apartment 3L who cleans up our shit in a sexy jumpsuit. Do I hope the tenants’ tongues are wagging about me? You bet. Am I “the eyes and ears” of our apartment building? Most definitely. Do I possess a smidgeon of Carl’s cocksure swagger? Not yet.
In honor of The Breakfast Club and its incredible writer/director John Hughes (1950-2009), I’d like to end with the letter that the Brainy Geek left for the principal of the school who was also their doofus of a chaperone for the day (cemented forever in celluloid by Paul Gleason):
Dear Mr. Vernon,
We accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it is we did wrong, but we think you’re crazy for making us write an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us: in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain, and an athlete, and a basket case, a princess, and a criminal. Does that answer your question?
The Breakfast Club.
I think that just about says it all.
Thanks, Mr. Hughes. Your words—and this legendary film—will live on forever.
Now, I’m turning the tables on YOU. Who did you want to be from The Breakfast Club when you first saw it, and who do you think you turned out to be? Once again, here is your cast of crazy characters: