September 27, 2019 | Narrative
throwback to ’09
conversations that built my new home
When you first get to college, you’re flooded with a deluge of new conversations. You meet new people everywhere, and you’re just trying to figure out how to exist in this new environment: to find a place to belong and people to belong with. By now, I’ve had my fair share of “No way, you’re from New York too?!” conversations; so many, in fact, that the “No way” no longer makes sense (point being, there are a lot of us, and we all take immense pride in being New Yorkers).
Still, I find a very particular delight in discovering seemingly insignificant, highly random (yet very specific) details in common with another person. At Brown, I’ve met people from across the country, across the world…people of innumerable backgrounds and histories with various perspectives, but the one point that links most of us, dare I say, is that we were kind of weirdos when we were kids.
I was reminded of just how strange I was during a random conversation I had with a friend freshman year. We were reminiscing about old childhood cartoons when she uttered: “Do you remember Silly Bandz?”
At first, the term didn’t even register.
Then, a deep, deep memory began to emerge…of a pink rubber bracelet in the shape of a giraffe.
Silly Bandz: 2009 AOTY (Accessory of the Year)—various colored animal- and what-have-you-shaped rubber bracelets that lined the wrists of every fourth and fifth grader I knew.
I felt as though I were sucked through a time portal, suddenly nine years old again. I found myself at Table 4, sitting next to Albert. He was my math partner on most days but also the Don of the fourth grade’s underground Silly Bandz trade.
Albert’s hair was always gelled back (and I truly cannot express how much gel was actually on this kid’s head). If any 10-year-old could pass for a Mafia boss, it would be him. He looked as though he could be walking around with a cigar hanging off his bottom lip, a fedora tipped on his head to veil what would have been the scar (accompanied by a tragic backstory, of course) above his right eyebrow. Crossing him would come at the risk of waking up to a horse’s head in your bed the next morning. If there were a Five Families of the Silly Bandz industry, I’d like to think that he’d be the head of one.
Popularity, politics—Albert was the puppeteer. At one point, there was a rumor going around about getting bad luck if you touched a broken Silly Band. However, if you obtained a glow-in-the-dark Silly Band, your curse would be instantly reversed. I later found out that it was he who started this elaborate, nonsensical rumor—just for shits and giggles. He did it because he could, and people bought into it completely. I wholeheartedly believe that this little icon was single-handedly responsible for making Silly Bandz a currency at my school. He somehow established which Bandz were worth more and which less. We weren’t allowed to make actual cash transactions in class, so instead, we traded Silly Bandz for the stuff we wanted—namely, more Silly Bandz. They became a symbol of power, and those with Bandz up their arms became the “cool kids.”
Emerging from this time portal, I gasped, exclaiming, “Oh my GOD, that was SUCH a thing! You had that too?” I didn’t know what words to use in that moment; I was absolutely flabbergasted. I had always regarded Silly Bandz as something very specific to my elementary school, a reference that no one in my college life would understand. But, somehow, my freshman friend got it—she understood the charge behind those typically meaningless words.
The fact that she, someone from the opposite coast, shared such a specific memory of an item so deeply buried in my past astounded me. It’s even more stunning that this kind of reach existed at a time without the help of Instagram virality; somehow, we kids (call us Albert & Associates) managed to make something as strange as Silly Bandz—which some may argue resemble glorified hair ties you couldn’t actually use—culturally significant to a specific generation. Never in my lifetime have I seen a trend so intense, a phenomenon that so completely embodied a fad. Yet, funnily enough, I had completely forgotten about this era for years.
Connections like this—links between random objects, memories, and the feelings they evoke—put into perspective how small the world can be sometimes; they go beyond just sharing the same distant acquaintance or being from a similar area and never running into each other. While more everyday commonalities do help create camaraderie and stronger ties, sometimes uncovering silly, unexpected common ground can also give rise to an unparalleled feeling of connection.
College is where we first get a chance to independently furnish our little worlds, to develop and construct a home that extends beyond a house and a neighborhood. There are some furnishings on the fundamental end of the spectrum that most people typically have—akin to having a sink or a toilet in an actual house. And then there are the things that you stumble upon while walking past an antique shop—the seemingly asinine conversations you may have about Silly Bandz that make you laugh and shock you to your very core when you find out they’re shared. These are the things that make your home more than a stock photo from a real estate website, that make it profoundly yours.