Brace yourselves, I’m feeling sentimental and chatty and Joel isn’t home to absorb the fall out.
When my 15th birthday came around in August of ’99, I was friendless and sibling-less, because everyone except me was busy living life to its fullest, whereas I was at the barn during the day, nose stuck in a book at night, and usually riding or working at horse shows on the weekends. So my parents took me to the mall for dinner and a movie (oh, I miss the 90’s) to celebrate. We ate at the A&W Rootbeer stand (mini corn dogs and a float what up 14 year old Audrey knows how to party), and we had time to kill before we saw THE SIXTH SENSE (capslock because if you didn’t get sucked into the hype of M. Night Shyamalan then you didn’t 1999), so we hit up the ol’ Waldenbooks bookstore (told you I knew how to party). And I got not 1, not 2, but 3 brand new books.
My parents were always down to buy us books, and encouraged us to read, read, read. But we rarely ever shopped at new bookstores. We would go to the second hand shops where you could fill a grocery bag with books and pay by the pound. We would buy heaps of books at the thrift store. And of course, I had heaps of hand me down books from my parents. So this was a rare and extravagant treat and as I walked through the mall holding my bag of books, on my way to see THE SIXTH SENSE, I felt like such a sophisticated adult. And one of those books was A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess.
I remember thinking, “oh hey this was a book first?” because I was a dumb teenager. I hadn’t seen the movie yet, but I had heard my dad and my brothers talking about how violent it was and how it was rated X when it first came out (hence why I wasn’t allowed to watch it). However, I knew that books were always more vivid and intense than movies, so of course I wanted to read it. And somehow I convinced my mom to buy it for me. Maybe she didn’t know it was rated X. Or maybe she knew that it would be next to impossible for me to “get it.”
Because here’s the thing – if you’ve ever tried to read A Clockwork Orange, you know it’s written completely in a invented futuristic slang – a British cockney/Russian street gang vernacular that is hard to keep up with when you’re a very sheltered middle class white kid. So I read the book, but didn’t really understand at all what I was reading. Once I was finished it, I put it on my shelf and went back to putting on glitter eye shadow gel and taking the hems out of my Jncos.
About a year and a half later, I started working at Blockbuster, and I came across the movie during my first shift. I was completely shocked to find out that Stanley Kubrick directed it. Kubrick! I loved The Shining and 2001: A Space Odyssey, and suddenly I couldn’t put off watching it any longer. I convinced my manager to let me rent it even though I wasn’t old enough (oh, to be 16 again), and just like that, the first movie I rented with my 5 Free Rentals Per Week was A Clockwork Orange (I also rented The Ladies Man because life is about balance, people). And from the opening scene, I was instantly in love.
Now that I had a visual reference, I re-read the book and my mind was blown. I quickly became Kubrick obsessed, buying reference books and Criterion edition dvd’s and any fan girl merchandise I came across.
Including one of my most treasured shirts.
I found it at Hot Topic during a mall rat session with my friends, and it was one of those “if I don’t own that shirt in two seconds, I will actually die.” moments. It was simple, had a good pic and good fonts AND glittery text. There weren’t many in stock, and every day that I didn’t buy it made me worry a little bit more. Some things are Very Important and require all of your concentration and effort. Fuck the pre-SATs, I NEEDED THAT SHIRT OR I WOULD VERY MUCH DIE.
A few days after the initial sighting, I came home from school and everyone was out, either working or in school or living life to its fullest. My mom came home soon after that. She was tired from work, and it was a grey, dreary, rainy day. But I really wanted that shirt. And since it was just the two of us, I took a shot in the dark.
“Hey mom, there’s this shirt I really want at Arundel Mills, could you drive me over there and lend me some money so I can buy it?”
“What kind of shirt?”
“It’s a Stanley Kubrick t-shirt from A Clockwork Orange and it’s so cool and I really don’t think I can live without it.”
“How much is it?”
“Like, $20? I can pay you back!*”
The direct approach rarely ever worked, and I had a few things going against me: my mom did not like going to the mall; she was tired from work and therefore would be even less likely to go to the mall; and we weren’t a “buy clothes at the mall” kinda family (don’t get me wrong – I got new clothes, but typically from stores where my mom had a credit account). And my parents definitely weren’t Hot Topic friendly, so all things considered, I didn’t think she would go for it. But to my shock, she agreed. And thus, my 16 year old dreams were fulfilled.
She drove me to the mall, and there it was, the last remaining shirt in my size. I was so giddy and excited, and I remember just having a really fun time with her on such a random, tiny little trip. I felt so damn happy and lucky not only to get my shirt, but to also have one on one time with my mom doing something that wasn’t going to the barn or running errands. I felt really special, and spoiled – which says a lot because I’m the youngest and generally am very spoiled.
No, I didn’t grow up poor, and yes, I got new things often, but this was one of those really out of the ordinary moments that just thrilled me. My mom could have easily just said no, and I could have waited until my pay day and the shirt would have been sold out. My life wouldn’t have ended or been completely ruined if I didn’t get the shirt, but in that moment, driving back home with my prize, I felt that unfiltered joy that you only feel when you’re a dumb teenager getting a treat that’s SO FUCKING COOL but is also meaningful in a million ways that you’re not even close to understanding.
I’m pretty sure I wore this shirt once a week for the next decade. It was my power shirt, and I wore it whenever I needed a boost (I wore it when I passed my driver’s test, in my senior portraits, on first dates, first days of college…). 18 years later, it still fits perfectly. It’s still one of my go to shirts when I need a pick me up. I put it on and remember being 16 and just dumb and excited about everything. I think of my mom treating me to the book, and how it opened me up to reading books by authors I didn’t know. How watching the movie really started me on the road to film appreciation. And how my mom treated me to a fun mall date and the shirt when I know she was tired and really just wanted to stay home. And I remember how cool the shirt made me feel, and how much I liked myself when I wore it.
18 years later, it’s still one of my most favourite pieces.
*famous last words