Smelled Like Teen Spirit


Back in the 90s, the days of Grunge, I lived in the hood — City Heights, San Diego. I liked the music of the times very much. I even went to a bunch of concerts and listened to it on my boombox in my garage on the weekend if I was working on an art project. In those days I was busy with the famed and immortal “Barbies Battle of the Bands; Benefit Concert for Cellulite Victims.” For what it’s worth, if you ever think of making a sculpture with Barbies, don’t. Mattel has LOTS of rules about that. I only got so far as making the instruments and stages and designing costumes for my two bands — The Black Widows (punk) and I think the other was The Bottle Blondes (girl band). All that remains of the monumental project are the guitars and parts of the drum kits. It was fun, but when Lucio, a little neighbor boy, came up to hang out with me and draw pictures one Saturday and asked, “Aren’t you kind of old to play with Barbies?” I began questioning myself. Otherwise, I was teaching and hiking a LOT and didn’t know I was on the cusp of getting a great job (1999).

My next door neighbors had teenage daughters, and the oldest was about to turn 15 which meant, as they were Mexican, it was going to be time for her Quinceanera, a fancy ball to mark the entry of a girl into womanhood. It involved a BIG party. None of us in the hood were wealthy (ha ha) so I didn’t know how that was going to go. I have never been to one but I heard stories and read journal entries from students over the years. It is a BIG deal.

One of the biggest events of the Quinceanera is the waltz.

A Quinceanera in Pasadena — really, aren’t those every little girl’s dream gowns?

After months of practice for the waltz, the moment finally comes during the reception. It is assumed that the Quinceanera (young woman) prior to this date has not been able to dance with anyone before. It is at this time that the Quinceanera will dance the waltz with her chambelan and accompanied by her damas and other chambelanes. This is a major highlight of the celebration. Other important highlights will follow such as the toast and the cutting of the cake. (Source)

So…there I was one late afternoon in November, I was in my little house grading papers with my six dogs hanging around, and I heard uncharacteristic music coming from the front yard. Huh? Strauss and giggling. Strauss and laughing. Strauss and “No, pendejo. ¡Asi!” More laughter. After a while, I decided that I REALLY needed to put my truck in the garage, right? It was an emergency. As I walked to the garage I saw one of the loveliest pictures from my life in the hood. All these kids, wearing the baggy-jeaned, Dr. Martin, grunge fashion of the times, had a boombox set up on the girl’s mom’s car. It was pumping out waltzes and they were practicing.

I loved it.

P.S. That girl later bought my house!

7 thoughts on “Smelled Like Teen Spirit

  1. I like this one. In a few words you brought together life: culture(s), religious practices and movement of all kinds! Good job. I give you an A!

  2. I never thought of making a sculpture with Barbies, but now I definitely won’t. My limited time with Barbies was unconventional play with Barbie acting out and driving her pink car in a wild manner beneath our dining room table. I love the story of the Quinceanera. I’ll have to ask my future daughter-in-law (tomorrow she will be my actual DIL) – who is Mexican – if she had one. Those gowns look like Cinderella gowns. 🙂 What a lovely memory!

    • Turns out lots of people make sculptures or dioramas or whatever with Barbies. When I was a kid, I just made houses for mine with cardboard boxes and scenes from the Sears catalog AND I sewed them clothes. I never had Barbie’s car or any of her other life accessories, just Barbie and her friend, Midge (I still have her and one of the dresses I sewed). I look forward to hearing if your new DIL had this party!

  3. I love the title and the whole experience, Martha. All of it gave me a huge smile. I had just graduated from high school when I went back to Chihuahua, Mexico with our foreign exchange student, Kitty. I look at that photo album and the memories of the teen spirit that was so fun to experience that month. I had one Barbie~the western one~ and her horse. I still have her in the original plastic/vinyl/cardboard case~but not for sure what happened to her horse. I hope you’re doing well. Finn and I send you all love and hugs daily. ❤️

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