Things Gone Forever: Gen X Nostalgia to Make You Hurl

Feeling nostalgic about what used to be, like being totally unreachable without cell phones, old-school nurse hats, and a fully-functioning GI tract? Remember running wild? Patty Tomsky does.

High school smoking sections
I was 15 when I got my dad to sign a note that I could go out by the smeary brick wall at my Catholic school and smoke Newport Lights with the smartest burnouts I knew. Fifteen! We stood in our various desperately individualized Catholic school outfits squinting at each other and trying not to cough. I favored hippie skirts and rainbow toe socks. My friend Missy was into punk rock but wore docksiders and wide wale Kelly green cords with whales on them. She was also mean as a snake but I liked her for it. 

Being out out
No one’s unreachable now. I remember the meaty thunk of my Impala door in my Dad’s driveway that heralded complete freedom. I never wore my next-to-useless, waist seatbelt. They had no way to reach me, so what I’d yelled over my shoulder was where I was thought to be. Every once in a while, one of them would say, See you later! Idiots.

Cops who drive you home
The DUI money machine and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) didn’t exist yet. If I told a cop in my town on the way home from the bar I was swerving to avoid a cat, he didn’t believe me, but he also drove me home instead of arresting me. Parties in fields got busted and the cops took the alcohol and told you to get lost. In cars. Everyone driving, some of us puking in the back seat. I’m not saying drinking and driving is smart or funny or good. I’m just saying we as privileged white kids in the New Jersey suburbs got to think the cops were both funny and good because they always made jokes about our condition and they let us go home instead of taking us to jail. 

Malls will never come back as pre-teen hangouts. Parents are too protective and/or the world is too crazy. We got dropped off starting in the fifth grade, pedophilic predators be damned. I used to walk to the mall two miles from my house at ten years old with my friend Lisa (or my other friend, Lisa). The arcade smelled so bad, like cigs, mold and the cheesy-green smutch on the bottom of garbage cans. but we didn’t care. We lived to glimpse high school girls and boys languidly beating each other up and/or making out, with their feathered hair and Bonnie Bell lip smackers, those girls didn’t even deign to sneer when they saw us giggling.  

Midnight movies
Nestled in urban towns, usually college towns, there may be the odd movie theatre still showing The Rocky Horror Picture Show or maybe even Pink Floyd the Wall. The suburban multiplexes (multiplexes meaning maybe four theatres, max) used to show ‘em every damn weekend. We’d sometimes travel two towns over to go. When I was a freshman in high school, my Dad came out to the local theatres at the Morris County Mall. I was grounded but I’d split, shimmying down the literal drainpipe from the upstairs bedroom, to see Led Zeppelin’s The Song Remains the Same. I somehow recognized his headlights (!!) and hid under a car in the parking lot until he drove off. I went to what was left of the movie. When I got home, he was sleeping and I was unable to lie about where I was —the pillows and stuffed animals I’d shoved under the comforter to simulate sleeping me were strewn on the floor that 2 a.m. More grounding ensued.

Pot dealers
My usual pot dealer was a friend of my older brother. He was significantly shady and had stringy hair and was trying, unsuccessfully, to grow a beard. When he got busted (he wasn’t sent to rehab but to juvie) the only other pot dealers I knew hung out at Washington Square Park and sold oregano to the clueless bridge-and-tunnel kids who’d come over on the Path train from Jersey. There was this one dude who played a hand drum and could be depended upon to sell you dollar joints of shitty weed but not-oregano. Now, the rec and medical pot stores are branded, shiny and new. I miss the skankiness of buying drugs. That’s never coming back. Although I understand the meth game is still pretty skanky.

Nurse hats
Why don’t nurses wear those little boat hats anymore? I love those.

Ignoring your kids
My parents, their friends and our aunts, uncles and neighbors excelled at looking over our heads and conversing as if we weren’t there. Didn’t matter how much we screamed. Or, to stop your sounds, they’d smack you and continue with their day. This ignoring of children is a lost art. All you have to do is go to a public place and observe the fawning care and attention that is ruining this generation for any useful adulthood without a continuous spotlight or worshipful adults blazing unconditional approbation at them. Ick.

America’s Next Top Model
Reality TV that froze, shaved (at least one bald woman a season) drowned, burned, hobbled, sickened and then painted and dressed ultra-skinny women for Tyra Banks to yell at. I used to watch it with my too-young daughter without irony. Idiot.

A fully-functioning GI tract 
Continuous heartburn, hunger pangs, and a scary-sparse gut biome cause me to compulsively turn around to examine the contents of the toilet for the next harbinger of doom in the form of funny-colored or wrongly-shaped poo. The first indignity of middle-age and not the last.

Staring into space/doing nothing at stoplights (maybe adjusting the radio when we listened to radio)
I never got any good ideas and was bored, but still. 

Remembering what we shouldn’t forget to remember 
And now for the not-so-funny shit you’re glad is gone. Or stuff you purposely forgot to remember/blocked. When you used to smoke menthol and found out it put fiberglass in your lungs and kept smoking for five more years. Smoking in the car with your kids when it rained or snowed with windows closed (blocked). Laughing at sexual inappropriate men in the workplace to be a “go-along” girl. Remember when white supremacists and other racists tried to hide it? Eight tracks are stupid to talk about and cliché but there you go.  The gender wage gap. Kids doing nothing all summer at home alone (getting pregnant). Fucking unplugging for real, like underwater for real. 

Written by Patty Tomsky.

See medical disclaimer below. ↓


  1. I reflect nostalgically on my simpler teenage years across the pond and feel sorry for the kids now. They’re all slaves to their phones, social media, and mental health issues is pandemic. Will be interesting to see in a few decades how they will look back on their formative years.

  2. I remember that arcade well. Burned many quarters on pinball, Boot Hill (Western shootout), Pong and a mechanical baseball game with ball bearings for baseballs and metal tiers that ‘caught’ the home runs (followed by canned cheers from the crowd).


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