the shantytowns of polk place


While doing a little research for yesterday’s blog, I came across something utterly fascinating to about 27 of us, but fascinating nonetheless: UNC STV’s “Video Yearbook” for 1986-87. I had no idea such a thing existed, so out of morbid curiosity, I clicked ‘PLAY’ and was instantly transported back to the Reagan administration.

I had an “ambient recognition” of so many faces I’d seen while at school, without knowing who any of them were. After all, there were 22,000 of us, and I was still a 19-year-old whelp, still a year shy of writing the column, and two years shy of losing my virginity. Just finding my classrooms was a big victory.

And suddenly, at the 16:09 mark, out of thousands of people, I saw myself at 19 looking directly into my eyes at 44:

UNC STV’s “Video Yearbook” (1986-87) from UNC Student Television on Vimeo.

Many years back I wrote a script where a woman was able to time travel to any point in the past as long as she had an analog cassette tape recording of that moment. She was able to “ride the ambient noise of the background” to that specific time, and inhabit her old body with her present mind.

When I saw this 2-second bit of old videotape last night at 3am, I swear to god I almost did the same. I remember the smell of the dogwoods mixed with the pungency of the Everclear PJ they mixed for the Trader Vic’s party at Chi Psi. I looked behind me and saw the hot-tub-in-a-trailer we had hired for the event, where my now-brother-in-law Jon and I wound up a few hours later:


with Debbie Fox-Currier and Amy Jennings – where are you ladies, anyway?

The kicker? That party was exactly 25 years ago Saturday. I shan’t bore you with the rest of my twee nostalgic mindscaping, but if you went to UNC at any point between 1985 and 1988 – or want to see how short certain short pants were – these three videos will do the trick (not to mention some of you are in them).

All of us have plenty of pictures of people – your kids, your parents, your friends – buttressed by the occasional shot of an unsatisfying sunset. Look at the albums on Facebook, and they’re pretty much all humans taking pictures of other humans (and dogs). But it’s the odd photo of our surrounding stuff that always fascinated me.


our triple dorm room that year, 407 Grimes

I always take a quick shot of any room I’ve lived in, partly because I know they tend to be interesting later, and partly so I can yell “THERE’S THAT FUCKING SHIRT!”

When Jon, Chip and I lived in the room above, we found an old exam schedule taped to the back of the bureau at the far right of the picture. It was from 1955, and listed exams for Saturday classes, the idea of which we found reprehensible. But we had no idea how things operated day-to-day in 1955, no sense of how they actually lived in that room, how they ate, where they spent their lives when they weren’t taking stiff black-and-white pictures.

For some of you, that 1987 video may be more boring than watching grout cure, but it does two things for me: it offers a quotidian glimpse into what normal life was like for us, if only for the shots of cobbling the school newspaper together with hot glue, and watching students buy that horrible taco salad they used to serve at Lenoir.

It also reminds me of the whizzing vectors of our timelines, and how so many of us were together in the same place for just a bit, and how goddamn fantastic it is when it happens again.


my hair did that naturally, and continues to do so, thanks

0 thoughts on “the shantytowns of polk place

  1. Mike Rhyne

    Hey Ian, I loved the article, it reminded me of the days at the Lodge – and – I lived in that room too. Hope you are well and thanks for sharing, always love to read your stuff. Mike Rhyne

  2. LFMD

    That was fun! What is Bryan Hassell doing now? Thought he and Emily Ayscue would be ruling the world by now. One person was missing: Dale McKinley. Was that his name? The South African student with the spiky blond hair who was everywhere, talking about apartheid and divestment.
    My memory is better than I thought it was.

  3. oliver

    Somewhere I have a tape from the answering machine I had around then, which I found by accident. That is such a time machine. There must be a lot of time capsules out there in the obsolete storage media we can’t throw away..

  4. wottop

    Never mind. The 1988 yearbook includes a shot of me looking into the camera at Burnout.
    I can’t even say it feels like its the same person.

  5. Sharon

    Thank you for the trip back to the 80s in Chapel Hill. I can’t wait to show this to my daughter who refuses to believe that girls wore Laura Ashley dresses to class and football games. And that curly hair was once in style. I may skip talking about the Trader Vics parties :-) Ian – you will have to leave your large photographic archive of the era to Wilson Library at some point.

  6. christi

    from my office at this very moment I can hear the music from this year’s Trader Vic’s party. hard to believe how much time has passed!

  7. Ian

    Mike, you lived in that triple? It was hotter than balls, right?
    wottop, where are you in the ’88 video?
    LMFD, Bryan and Emily have become the foremost experts in choosing the right school for your kids:
    I ran into them, literally, in front of the Vatican two years ago – very cool. As for good ol’ Dale McKinley, he’s front and center in the 1986 video. By the way, LFMD, in the 1987 video, did you recognize anyone at the 6:21 mark?

  8. TammyO

    Lovely piece of writing, Ian.
    For me, the formative times have always been transitive – always headed towards ending. When I look back at artifacts like the video you’ve got here, I feel a dizzying awe and fascination that I think is similar to what you’re describing, but with a key difference: they remind me that I’ve mostly felt like the “And…” credit in so many lives. And how I’m only now starting to feel like I’m part of the cast.

  9. Neva

    Oh, I love this! The music is fun and the trip down memory lane. It was amazing. So fun to see Hector’s again and the clothes are awesome.
    I still walk around campus a lot and honestly the styles aren’t as shockingly different now as say the difference between 1986 and 1961 (25 years before that). The biggest difference when I watch this is the lack of cell phones and coffee cups in everyone’s hands.

  10. Kmeelyon

    You have officially blown my mind. I arrived fall of 1987 and this is all too familiar.
    Also, wow, there is some bad hair in these videos. No wonder I had such a hard time figuring out who was a lesbian.


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