I feel it’s about time I address the lost art of the sleepover. And I’m not talking about the collegiate ‘Let me put the tip in’ sleepover, but the good old-fashioned sleepover (Sidebar 1: Girls called sleepovers “slumber parties,” which, from what I understand, involved more chatter and toenail painting, presumably to distinguish between the proliferation of penises or hoohahs in a given living room). To be fair, I always thought “slumber party” sounded more festive. And yes, I did match a white belt with my all white Bo Jacksons today.
Between 1990-1997, sleepovers had a general monopoly over the extracurricular activity circuit where I was growing up. Getting dropped off at the movies didn’t really start till seventh grade (where I come from, public transportation was only respectable to and from the beach in the summers of 1997 and 1998), so if you wanted to be with your buddies, you had to link up via the overnight. In the days of yore, sleepovers were fraught with anticipation (one of the many reasons Friday was the very best day of the week).
Lots of planning went into sleepovers in those days. Parents had to work out a free-trade agreement, drop points had to be organized, and exit strategies had to be negotiated. If you were truly gully (urbandictionary.com it), you went home on your buddy’s school bus (in order to maximize hangout time) and that required permission slips. This was pretty heady stuff, and if you had a mom who would arbitrarily deny sleepovers in order to maintain her psychological edge, you know you had to get that stuff together early (Sidebar 2: Fear used to be struck into my heart when I gave my parents a permission slip the day it was due. Why I never thought to just forge my dad’s horrendous chicken scratch is beyond me). Once the munificence of what could be a shrewd dictatorship was assured, the carousing could begin.
Once your bag was all packed, your mom would drop you off late at your buddy’s house and you guys would hustle off to do important stuff like play guns while your parents sit and reminisce about life before the rubber broke. Once the parents had exchanged insurance information, your boy’s mom usually popped her head into the den and asked if you liked pancakes because that’s what was on the menu for when you guys woke up at 8:15 a.m. (on purpose). You agreed to the fluffy goodness as your buddy slung a spear through your chest in “Mortal Kombat” and tried to beat a level in under 60 seconds in ‘Sonic the Hedgehog.’ Just as you were beginning to develop that ill controller palm sweat, you guys got called to dinner because TGIF was coming on in half an hour (Sidebar 3: I used to hate eating dinner at white folks’ house because a lot of them ate meager portions and would then have the audacity to say “Don’t they feed you at your house?” when you were scraping the plate. It’s like you wanna tell ’em, “Yes. They do. That’s the problem. Now excuse me while I muscle your husband for his chicken pot pie.”)
In the age of TGIF, the idea of not being planted in front of a moving picture box was tantamount to rooting for Drago in “Rocky IV.” By 8 p.m., you were sitting in your buddy’s living room, having already eaten, awaiting the hijinks of Balki and Steve Urkel. These were just the facts of the matter. Once “20/20” came on, you maybe got one honest game of Tecmo or Contra in (true thugs still had their Nintendos) before you guys were instructed to go get ready for bed.
Now I’m not sure about anyone else, but this was the part that could make or break the sleepover (Sidebar 4: The only time you brought your sleeping bag or collection of thin blankets to someone else’s was if it was a sleepover party or if you were sleeping over at the house of a complete lame whose company you cared little for). Would you guys sleep in the bed together, as was still acceptable at the time? Would your buddy take the floor and give you the bed? Or would you be relegated to Fido duty on your friend’s coldass wood floor, listening to him snore blissfully while you were semi-afraid to go to the bathroom because the house was all dark? Most importantly, would you get scared in the night and want to go home?
When I first started doing the sleepover circuit, I would sometimes cry quietly wanting desperately to go home. It was scary being wide awake while your buddy caught 40 winks and you wondered if you could hold your pee until morning. If you were lucky, your buddy was a soldier and you guys tried to stay up all night — or until his stepdad came down the steps in his boxers, bitching about how he had to get up at 4:30 a.m. while you laughed hysterically into your pillows in a futile attempt to feign sleep. If you were lucky, he would come down and threaten to kick someone’s ass, which is as funny at age 20 as it was at ages eight to 11. Sleepovers laid the groundwork for friendships in those days. The battle was won and lost between 7 p.m. Friday and 9:30 a.m. Saturday before Rec League basketball. If you’re lucky, you worked your way up to the point where you felt comfortable going number two in your buddy’s house, which is a pretty big compliment seeing as it’s not OK for your presence to be unaccounted for more than 6 minutes.
I don’t remember a thing we discussed in those days, or why we seemed exceedingly entertained for hours on end, but I remember being certain it was pretty damn important because we just kept on doing it week after week. There was a pageantry and grown-upness to sleepovers. It was the first heavily supervised independence we ever got as kids. Your parents just kind of left you to play guns or video games or watch movies, only involving themselves insofar as was necessary for their house not to get burnt down. There was ceremony to packing an overnight bag and trekking into the wilderness of your friend’s basement. It’s a ceremony that has been replaced by waking up ashy-ankled after falling asleep on the couch fully clothed after a night of doing much of the same, with the addition of girls (or the pursuit thereof), ingestible recreational materiel (for some), and perhaps a cock drawn on your face in nail polish for your trouble. Peace to overnight bags.
Jonathan Pitts-Wiley spent the best nights of his pre-teen life mastering the Nintendo track pad under the sage eye of his older brother..