For the last few months, I had been volunteering as a leader with The Edge, the junior high school youth group at Jeromeville Covenant Church. Every year, the students go to Winter Camp over a weekend in January or February, and Adam, the youth pastor, gives them all a mixtape of Christian music from many different artists and genres. Back in 1997, there was no Spotify or YouTube for people to share their favorite music with friends. Instead, we Generation X-ers would play songs from compact discs or cassette tapes, one at a time, and record them on blank tapes. I had begun volunteering with The Edge shortly after Winter Camp that year, so I did not get a copy of Edge Mix ’97, but I borrowed it from the youth group music library and made a copy for myself. I discovered many Christian bands and musicians through Edge Mixes over the years.
One of the more intriguing songs on Edge Mix ’97 was called “Hitler’s Girlfriend,” by a band based in Bay City called the Dime Store Prophets. It was a slow rock song, with lyrics that I found a little mysterious. The chorus said, “I’m not myself until you are you, if I close my eyes, I’m killing you.” I thought the song had something to do with lamenting the un-Christlike tendency to look away when others were in need. The song also contained the line, “I feel like Hitler’s girlfriend, I’m blind to this and numb to that.” Some have suggested that Eva Braun, the real-life Hitler’s girlfriend, lived a sheltered life and did not know about the Holocaust, although other historians find this unlikely.
I played that song three times last night while I did math homework. Although it was the only Dime Store Prophets song that I knew, I wanted it to be fresh in my mind, because the Dime Store Prophets were playing a free live show right here at the University of Jeromeville today, outdoors on the Quad. University Life, the college group from a large church nearby, not the church I attended, had put this show together, and they had been promoting it at all the local churches and college ministries. Nothing was going to stop this from being the best day I had had in a long time.
Except maybe for pouring rain.
I did not expect rain this week. Last Monday had been the first day of hundred-degree heat for 1997, and it felt like the hot, sunny, dry weather of summer had arrived for good. But today was cool with heavy rain. A dramatic cooling trend in late May was rare for Jeromeville. As I rode the bus to school, and sat through my early class, the rain continued to fall, the thick gray sky showing no signs that the rain would clear up any time soon. Would I have to stand in the rain to watch the Dime Store Prophets? Was the band even coming anymore? Would the show be moved indoors? None of those sounded preferable.
After class, I walked to the Memorial Union to find a place to sit. The tables were crowded, as was usually the case on rainy days. Alaina Penn and Corinne Holt from U-Life were sitting at a table with empty seats; I walked over toward them and sat down.
“Hey, Greg,” Alaina said. “What’s the capital of Morocco?”
“Rabat,” I replied. I was about to ask why she wanted to know when I saw the campus newspaper, the Daily Colt, on the table in front of her, opened to the page with the crossword puzzle. Alaina started filling in letters in the puzzle, then paused. “How do you spell that?”
“R-A-B-A-T,” I said. “Hey, is the Dime Store Prophets show still happening? You guys were putting that on, right?”
“It’s canceled,” Corinne answered. “They canceled yesterday when they heard it would rain.”
That’s right, I thought. Some people check weather reports in advance to find out if it will rain, so they would be less surprised than I was right now. “Bummer,” I said.
“What are you up to this weekend, Greg?” Alaina asked.
“I was gonna see the Dime Store Prophets, but now that’s not happening. So just studying, I guess.” I could tell that the irritation in my voice was showing.
“JCF meets tonight, right?”
“Yeah. I’ll be there.”
“See? You are doing something. Enjoy that.”
The rain had lightened up a bit by the time I got home from campus, and it was not raining at all when I got to Evans Hall in the evening for Jeromeville Christian Fellowship. The worship team was about to begin playing, and I had not yet decided where to sit, since I had been mingling and talking. I looked around and saw Carrie Valentine sitting alone not too far from me. My brain began overthinking, trying to decide if asking to sit with her was too forward, if it sent the wrong message, if I was setting myself up for disappointment. I thought about what I would say to save face if she said no. I took a deep breath, told my brain to shut up, and walked toward Carrie. “Hey,” I said.
“Greg! Hi!” Carrie replied.
“Mind if I sit here?”
Carrie was a freshman; I had seen her around JCF for much of the year. Two weeks ago, we had had a long conversation at a party after JCF, alone in someone else’s house while we waited for the rest of the partygoers to return from the grocery store.
After the opening song, announcements, and a few more songs, Liz Williams walked to the stage and mimed turning off an alarm clock. A skit. I liked skits. JCF’s skits had been unusually good this year. Liz looked at a Bible and said, “I need to read the Bible and spend time with God, but I’m gonna be late for class! What should I do? I’ll just take the Bible with me and squeeze in some time between classes.” I definitely resonated with what Liz’s character was feeling.
I got excited when Ajeet Tripathi and his roommate Darren Ng entered the stage, dressed in suits and ties with dark glasses. These were recurring characters who had appeared in several other JCF skits this year. They called themselves Angels of the Lord, but they dressed and acted more like secret agents.
“Time to help her out?” Darren asked.
“Affirmative,” Ajeet replied.
Brent Wang walked past the Angels of the Lord, carrying books and notebooks. Ajeet and Darren lightly tapped his back. Brent started coughing and said, “I’m not feeling well. I need to cancel my class.”
Liz’s character returned to the stage area and looked at the wall, as if reading a note. “My professor is sick and had to cancel class,” she said. “Now I have time to do what I’ve been meaning to do all day!” Liz searched through her backpack, but instead of getting her Bible, she pulled out a folded copy of the Daily Colt. “The crossword puzzle!” she exclaimed excitedly. The crowd chuckled at this humorous turn of events. Liz sat down looking at the newspaper, holding a pencil, as Eddie Baker walked by. Liz looked up and asked Eddie, “Hey, what’s the capital of Morocco?”
I laughed loudly, remembering my conversation with Alaina earlier, but then stopped suddenly when I realized that this quote was not as hilarious to everyone else. Carrie looked at me, wondering why I found this so funny; I wanted to explain, but I did not want to interrupt the performance. Now was not the time.
The skit continued, with Liz continuing to make excuses not to read her Bible. This led into a talk by Dave McAllen, one of the full-time staff for JCF, giving a talk about making time to be with God. He referenced Luke 5:16, in which Jesus, despite being God in the flesh, still made time to get away from the crowds and pray to his Father.
I turned to Carrie after the final song. “That was a good talk,” I said.
“I know,” Carrie replied. “It’s so easy to get caught up in everything you have to do and forget to read the Bible.”
“I’ve been doing a little at this lately, at least during the week. I take my Bible to the Arboretum every day after my first class and read and pray for a while.”
“That’s so cool! I should find a spot like that.”
“It’s a peaceful little spot in the middle of God’s creation,” I said. “But, yeah. The skits have been really funny lately. This morning, I walked up to some friends who aren’t from JCF, and one of them was doing the crossword puzzle, and when she saw me walk up, the first thing she said to me was, ‘What’s the capital of Morocco?’ So I laughed when they put that same clue in the skit tonight.”
“Oh my gosh! That’s hilarious! I don’t usually get very far when I try to do the crossword puzzle.”
“I can usually finish most of it,” I said. “But there’s usually a few letters at the end that I can’t get. I finish the puzzle maybe once every week or two.”
“Wow! That’s good!”
“Ajeet and Darren are funny when they play the Angels of the Lord.”
“I know! Remember the one where they shaved Todd’s head? I had no idea they were gonna do that!”
“Me either! That was amazing! And remember that series of skits they did at the beginning of the year, where Brian or Lorraine would interrupt and put up a sign with the night’s topic?”
“And at the end of that series, when they both started appearing with signs. I thought that was funny.”
“I think I missed that one.”
“There was one where Brian put up the sign, then a few minutes later Lorraine walked out to put up the sign, and she tore down Brian’s sign and put up her own. Then the next week, they both showed up with signs at the same time. They saw each other, and they started fighting with lightsabers.”
“Whoa,” Carrie exclaimed.
“Yeah. They were fighting, then they stopped and looked at each other, and they embraced and made out.” Carrie gave me a horrified and confused look as I said that last part, and I realized that I had misspoken. “Made up! I meant made up!” I hurriedly explained. “Like they weren’t fighting anymore!”
“Oh!” Carrie replied, laughing. “I was gonna say, this is a Christian group; they did what?”
“Wow. That was embarrassing.” I hoped that Carrie would quickly forget that part of the conversation. “What are you up to tonight?” I asked.
“I should get home,” Carrie said, slumping her shoulders. “I have so much to do. I have a paper to write this weekend, and I haven’t started it.”
“But I’ll see you soon, okay?”
“Yes. Take care.” I looked into Carrie’s dark brown eyes and smiled, and she smiled back. Whatever I did tonight after JCF, it would not include Carrie, but at least we got to talk again. Hopefully my accidental statement about making out would not do lasting damage.
Head-shaving had suddenly become all the rage over the last few months. It seemed like every week or so, another one of my guy friends had shaved his head. My brother Mark started shaving his head that year. Even Lorraine had shaved her head. A few weeks ago, Ajeet and Darren’s Angels of the Lord characters had appeared in another skit. Todd Chevallier, a third roommate of theirs, played a character who knew that a girl who really liked him, but he did not like her back. Todd prayed before he went to bed that God would make that girl realize that he was not the one for her. As Todd lay supposedly sleeping, Ajeet and Darren appeared in their secret agent costumes. Todd awoke and asked, “Who are you?”
“We are Angels of the Lord,” Ajeet replied. “The Lord has heard your prayers. We have come to make you ugly.” Darren pulled out an electric razor and shaved an asymmetrical stripe across Todd’s hair as the hundred-plus students in attendance gasped and cheered. Todd’s character woke up the next morning; the girl who liked him saw him, then ran away screaming. After the talk at the end of the night, Ajeet and Darren finished shaving the rest of Todd’s head, right there in 170 Evans in front of everyone.
On Sunday at church, two days after the rained-out concert, the high school youth intern, a guy named Kevin, got up to make an announcement. “Last week, the high school group had a car wash, to raise money for a mission trip this summer. I told them that if we made two thousand dollars, they would get to shave my head. Well, guess what? We shattered that goal and raised over three thousand dollars. So you can watch a bunch of high schoolers shave my head right after the service.”
Of course, I thought. More head shaving. At least this one was for a good cause. I hoped, as a youth group volunteer with the junior high school kids, that I would not get chosen to have my head shaved at any point in the future. I had read a column once by the humor writer Dave Barry, who wrote that black guys with shaved heads looked cool, but white guys with shaved heads looked like giant thumbs. I definitely did not want to look like a giant thumb, and I had no plans to follow everyone else into this shaved head craze.
Despite that, though, I was not opposed to watching others shave their heads. I wandered into the youth room after church, where Kevin sat in a chair in the middle of the room, and four high schoolers took turns running electric razors across his head, watching random clumps of hair fall to the floor.
A friendly and chatty girl from the junior high group named Samantha waved at me. I walked over to her, and she looked up at me and said, “You’re so tall.”
“I know,” I replied. “You say that to me a lot.”
“You should shave your head!”
“No, I really shouldn’t.”
I had a lot of reasons why not. Instead of telling Samantha about the giant thumbs, I told her about something that had happened two months earlier. “When I went home for spring break, my brother had shaved his head, and I told my grandma about how all my friends were shaving their heads. And Grandma told me I better not shave my head.”
“Oh!” Samantha said, an understanding smile breaking out on her face. “So you have to wait until she dies!”
Wow, I thought. Out of the mouths of thirteen-year-olds… “That’s not exactly what I was thinking,” I replied. “Wow.” I turned back to watch Kevin as the kids finished shaving his head, not really sure how to follow up Samantha’s comment.
When I got home after church, I turned on music while I finished my math homework. Edge Mix ’97 was currently in the stereo; I left it in and pressed Play. The Dime Store Prophets song came on midway through the second side, and hearing that song made me feel disappointed all over again that I had not gotten to see them. The weather that led to the show’s cancellation was just strange. Two days later, the weather turned sunny and warm again, like it was at the beginning of last week.
The opportunity was not lost forever. The band rescheduled their show and came to Jeromeville in September, the first weekend after classes started, and I saw them a second time later that school year. In my late twenties, two counties away, I attended a church where one of the former band members was the worship leader. I found a box of old Dime Store Prophets CDs when I was helping him throw away old things he did not need anymore, and he let me keep one of each album.
The conversation with Samantha, about my grandmother not wanting me to shave my head, had an odd postscript. I would soon learn that my grandmother, whom Samantha had practically wished death upon, shared a birthday with Samantha, sixty-three years apart. And although I never shaved my head completely, as my brother and many of my friends had, I did start gradually getting it cut shorter as I got older. I typically would go to one of the cheap walk-in haircut places, and depending on who was available to cut my hair, some would cut it shorter than others. Once, in 2021, my hair got cut longer than I wanted, so the next time I went to get it cut, I got brave and tried having it cut with clippers. This was the closest I had ever come to shaving my head. And my grandmother died a few hours later.
I made the connection between Grandma’s death and using clippers on my hair later that week, as I was thinking about everything that had happened. Of course, it was a complete coincidence; I do not blame my grandmother’s death on my use of hair clippers or on Samantha’s statement twenty-four years earlier. My grandmother was one hundred years old, her health had been declining for quite some time, and sometimes a body just gives out after such a long life. But the coincidence still stuck out in my mind.
Author’s note: Have you ever gone along with a hairstyle that was trendy for its time? Share an interesting story about that in the comments.
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7 thoughts on “May 23-25, 1997. Canceled plans and a trendy haircut. (#132)”
Those skits sound so entertaining! You’ve brought back some fond memories of making mixed tapes for my long-distance friends and mailing them to each other. We’d record little messages in between each song.
As for trendy haircuts, the only thing I can think of is when I decided to get a spiral perm in the 8th grade. It was all the rage and I had a friend do it. Big mistake! I have very fine, thin hair and about 1/3 of it broke off when she pulled out the very tight (too tight) curlers. The spiral perm looked more like frizz and it took years for my hair to recover. Lesson learned.
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We’re about the same age, I remember those perms… sorry it didn’t work out. :( I made a lot of mix CDs in the early era of burning CDs, but not for people; usually they would be songs tied to some specific memory.
Random related thought… A few months ago, I was looking for something to watch, and I binge-watched all 200+ episodes of How I Met Your Mother. I watched the show off and on for about a year in the middle of its original run. I really liked the method of storytelling, it reminded me of the way I tell stories, but for various reasons I didn’t finish the series. The surprise ending was spoiled for me years ago, so I wasn’t as disappointed with it as a lot of people were… did you ever watch that? Anyway, there was an early episode where Lily finally went home to her apartment after not having been there for months, since she was over at Marshall and Ted’s all the time. She found that the landlord had sold the place to a Chinese restaurant, and she never found out because she never got her mail. She walks into the restaurant, and the owners immediately recognize her because they still have all of her old stuff that she left there. At the end of that episode, they’re eating at this Chinese restaurant that has all of Lily’s old stuff, and a song comes on, and she tells Marshall something about how that was on the mixtape that he made for her when they were in college… then, over the music, you hear a recording of Marshall’s voice saying “Happy Valentine’s Day 1997, Lily” 😂
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I love that show so much! Neil Patrick Harris is one of my favorite actors. I don’t remember that episode at all, but now I must find it and watch it!
I’ve made the modern version of mixed tapes, Spotify playlists, for lots of my friends when they’ve been going through hard times. I wish I could add my own audio though…there was something special about being able to say why you added a certain song.
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Good point… I don’t use Spotify, but I know people who use it for that kind of thing. YouTube has an option to make playlists, I know, and I suppose you could just record and upload a short video of yourself saying something in between songs… of course, there would also be plenty of advertisements.
Speaking of which, I’ll be posting a year 3 recap along with the playlist for year 3 soon, probably next week.
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