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I went through a really weird phase my first year of college.  Maybe it was the unchecked freedom granted after high school graduation, or an overdeveloped need to assert my individuality, or the weed I was smoking--but in short I became a freak.  I still am a freak to this day, but 1995-1996 was on a totally different level of freakishness.

The Pekkle Pager Case
Like I said I just had to be different.  I still had a pager while most were already converting to cell phones.  My pager was encased in a bright blue nylon Sanrio "Pekkle" pager case [Pekkle was Sanrio's duck character counterpart to Hello Kitty].  It was quite an odd sight for an 18 year-old guy.  I think those that saw it (including my family) questioned my sexual orientation.

Facial Hair
Like every boy in 1995, I tried to grow a goatee.  But in my case I didn't quite have the hormones for it.  The beyond-platinum blond hair above my upper lip refused to become visible.  In fact, the only visible hair appeared in isolated uneven patches on the underbelly of my chin.  People said things like, "There's something on your face," or "What's that on your chin?  Is that...facial hair?!"  I was in denial for a significant amount of time.  Just a bit longer and my face would achieve a full conqueror viking beard.

Next I got my ears pierced.  I got 3 earrings all in my left ear all at the same time.   I got it done at Claire's--a haven for junior high school girls.  Luckily, my friend joined me (getting only 1 earring, though), so I had a partner in crime.  What a couple of freaks.  My math-teaching mom saw them upon return home: "You ruined the symmetry of your face."  What a typical math teacher response.  I didn't care.  Her disapproval encouraged me all the more to continue this streak.

The Nerf Hat
A best friend of mine and I considered nerf products not only a stimulating series of indoor foam sports toys, but also the rock-solid basis upon which to build a life philosophy.  "When life's got you down, just nerf it, dude."  It was a deeply profound credo upon which I set the pillars of my existence.

We took our piety to the next level and invested in black old-man fisherman hats custom-embroidered with the word NERF in large orange letters.  The two of us wore the hats wherever we went.  Our friends' and colleagues' amusement and fascination soon melted alway to reveal sheer annoyance.  We cared not.  We were individuals freely expressing our newfound religion.  What a couple of freaks.

The Dyed Eyebrows Incident
Then I experimented with hair-dying.  First I took my hair from it's natural strawberry-blond color to a darker shade of red.  It wasn't dramatic enough.  So naturally I next went for jet black, skipping those boring intermediary shades and heading straight for the jugular.  It was a dramatic change.  However, I was disappointed with my mismatched platinum-blond eyebrows.  It just didn't look right.

So I did what any logical person would do and applied the left-over dye to my eyebrows.  Upon exit from the shower, I was shocked.  It was over the top--even for me.  I looked like a total moron trying in vain to imitate Charlie Chaplin imitating Kurt Cobain.  My otherwise 1995 look was much too 1920s ragtime for me.  The dye had to come out immediately.  Thus began a very regrettable experiment in household chemistry.

First up was hydrogen peroxide.  No effect.  Next was Chlorox bleach.  I was sure this would do it, but it only had a mild effect on dimming the color.  More prominent was the painful effect on the thin skin surrounding my right eyebrow.  I was left with a slightly faded black eyebrow and a nasty chemical burn above my right eye.

I decided a trip to the local beauty supply store was ultimately warranted.  I put on a beanie to cover up the damage done, and quickly but shamefully trounced into the store.  I found the dye remover and bolted to the checkout clerk hoping not to encounter any entering customers in the still-vacant store.  The young female clerk looked at my beanie, then my dye remover purchase.  She donned an all-too-obvious grin as she handed me the bag.  I snatched the bag and got out of there like a monkey escaping with a stolen confection.

Hair dye remover is a shockingly rich advancement in the field of household chemistry.  After mixing the bluish powder in the included bottle, the concoction appeared to have a life of it's own.  It expanded and grew like a newly-discovered Martian life form and soon outgrew the size of its plastic quarters.  Props to the makers.

More importantly, it worked like a charm.  The offending black dye was out of my eyebrows in a matter of minutes.  My natural platinum-blond eyebrow color restored, I breathed a sigh of relief.  Bearing the chemical burn as reminder of my misadventure, I decided to keep the black dye in my hair.  The black hair was rebellious.  The Charlie Chaplin eyebrows were retarded.  A happy compromise was reached.

The Notre Dame Academy Winter Formal
By far the quintessential incident of this odd phase in my life was the Notre Dame Academy Winter Formal of 1995.  As I was participating in their production of the musical "Oliver," I was kinda seeing this girl I liked that went to school there.  I say "kinda seeing" because she was way out of my league and my girlfriend prospects with her were tread with shaky footing at best.  Between her after-school modeling shoots, the barrage of interested suitors must have continued unabated.

Long story short, she was a bit of a hippy chick, and expressed some interest in yours truly.  In other words, she was probably going through a freaky phase that proved mildly compatible with mine.  She seemed attracted by my Pekkle pager case and Nerf hat, so I thought I had found my soul mate.  Oh, and she had also just broken up with a boyfriend.  But guys have a fatal weakness for gorgeous girls, so I threw a tarp over that facet and ignored it.

After many a perspicacious discussion about how we were both freaks, she unexpectedly invited me to her upcoming winter formal dance.  I asked her, "Can I wear whatever I want?"  She said, "Sure.  I don't care."  I smugly accepted her invitation.

As the date approached, I warned her, "I was thinking of dressing like a freak to your Christmas dance.  Is that okay?"  She reassured me, "Yeah, I don't care what people think.  I'm so over that high school crap."

The day of the dance arrived, and I proudly donned my chosen uniform: a relatively stylish dark business suit, bright orange silk button-down shirt, glimmering purple splash zoot suit silk tie, and of course the black angler NERF hat.  Neither my parents nor female sisters were home as I left for the dance.  Had they been, they would've never let me leave the house looking like that--especially leaving the house to pickup a 16 year-old fashion model and accompany her to her Winter Formal.

As her mom opened the door, she held-back her nauseating shock.  To my great surprise, my date looked stunning.  Not only was she normally dressed, but her timelessly classic dark purple cocktail dress accentuated her slim figure and accented her soft facial features.  She belonged in the movie "She's All That," and I belonged in an unsanitary mental hospital with shock therapy probes savagely taped to my balls.

But she didn't seem to care, and I sure as hell didn't.

As we passed through the entryway, we (especially me) were paid a remarkable level of attention by the other dance attendants.  The NERF hat was undoubtedly chief attention-getter of them all.  Best fifteen bucks I ever spent.

First on the agenda was the couple photograph.  Luckily, the photographer was using the drama classroom to take the photos, so I randomly found a plastic human skull in a nearby prop box.  I snatched the skull suggesting we use it in our photo's pose.  I held the skull aloft making it the focus point of the shot, and we both gazed at it like it had mystical powers.  A non-standard pose was an absolute must for me, and I think I achieved that goal.

The rest of the evening was comparatively uneventful save for the "let's take a break from dancing and drink some punch" respite.  There my date revealed that she recently met a great guy in Florida and was planning on pursuing a long-distance relationship with him.  I was out.  My heart sullen and tail between my legs, we briefly shared a few last dances before calling it a night.

After getting home, I wrote a bittersweet broken-heart love-is-over shattered-hopes poem as a personal therapy session.  It made me feel much better, and I think it was a pretty damn good poem, albeit anger-tinged.

Lessons Learned
Although I look back upon this phase with abhorrent bewilderment, I have no regrets.  Caring about what others think is a tragic folly of human existence, and I'm rather proud of my fits of unfettered self-expression.  So the next time you're worrying about what others think, just say to yourself: "Nerf it, dude!"

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