If my middle school classmates ever think of me, I’m sure the additional people they think of are: Joe, Donnie, Danny, Jordan and Jon — the New Kids on the Block. My obsession may have started when my close friend Cherilyn received a New Kids’ poster. In my life, I take an all-or-nothing approach to everything, and this methodology included boy bands. I couldn’t settle for a single poster. I collected every issue of Teen Beat, Tiger Beat and POP; and in the glossy pages of those magazines were the fold out posters of my lovely heartthrobs. Some of the pictures were of them in tuxedos. Some were of them in torn jeans on a street corner. The theory behind the varied scenes and outfits felt like a “something for everyone” approach. I wore out cassette tapes, and would continuously rewind and listen again and again to the songs in which Joe McIntyre sang lead. The Christmas song tape was a favorite, because in certain songs, each boys sang a separate solo part, and you could listen for that distinct voice that was singing just for you. I stayed up swooning when they were on the American Music Awards. I habitually watched their MTV videos my friend down the street had recorded on VHS. I spent every cent of babysitting money I earned buying neon-tinged pillow cases, pins and t-shirts at Spencer’s gifts. My walls were papered with their faces. Since the grape pellet candy Jolly Joe’s contained the name of my favorite New Kid, I consumed the candy by the gross (even though it wasn’t good) just so I could have the box and cut out his name — over and over and over again.
I dreamed of him as my first kiss, and that was likely part of the problem. Most of the girls my age were going steady with tangible boys at Central Middle School. Cherilyn was with Kip. Shawnee was with Mike. I was pining after a boy five years older than me who was living an entirely different life in an entirely different world. A world so elevated I could only fantasize what talking to him face-to-face would be like. I would fend off throngs of frantic girls, and he would be impressed with the maturity I possessed and want to have a one-on-one conversation.
I wrote letters nearly every day to their fan club. I wish I had copies of those letters now, because I can only imagine the sap dripping from the pages. They were certainly laughable, filled with the mourning and elation of my tween self.
My friend Melanie, who lived down the street and to the left of me, had a huge crush on Jonathan. She also had her own room, something I wouldn’t have until a couple years later. This provided the best and ultimate space for us to listen to music, swoon and discuss what our lives would be like when she was married to Jonathan* and I was married to Joe. I never associated being a super star’s wife with wealth, and fame, and the hatred of every other girl on the planet. I just thought of it as my rightful place in the universe. (*Note: Jonathan came out as gay a few years ago. Melanie never married him.)
It was a well-known fact to New Kids’ fans that Joe’s birthday is on New Year’s Eve. It was also a well-known fact that many of the items received via their fan club were sent to poor kids or given away to charity. As Joe’s birthday approached, I struggled with what I could give him that would be the perfect present. He must have everything. I don’t know if he was truly a golfer or not, but in one of the teen magazines, there was a shot of him putting. His cool blue eyes concentrated as his fingers gripped the club. At the time, I didn’t understand what a publicity shoot was, and how frequently magazines ran those images. My only thought was that Joe must love to golf. My dad happened to be an avid golfer, so I went out to the garage and scrounged up as many golf balls as I could and put them in a small brown box. In the box, I included a letter. The letter admonished the reader that the golf balls should not be given to a charitable cause, but should only be delivered to Joe directly. They were for him. His thoughtful birthday gift of old golf balls from an adoring fan. If they were not going to be gifted to him, this fan would prefer that they were tossed in the trash instead. I didn’t ask for a ride to the post office to mail the box. I knew my parents wouldn’t approve, so I collected as many stamps as I could find and plastered the small brown package with the postage, addressed the box to the fan club, care of: Joseph Mulrey McIntyre, and lifted the red flag to signal for the mailman.
When I talk about this incident now and my persistence with mailing letters and gifts to their fan club, people always ask me if I ever heard back from anyone. I never did, but there was always the hope that one of their mom’s or the president of the fan club would read my letters and think, “These letters contains the most thoughtful, inspiring words I’ve ever read. We must get this bundle to Joe immediately so he can meet this girl! She’s the one for him!”
Sometime in eighth grade, I got the best phone call of my life up to that point. It was an employee from “Teen Beat” calling to tell me that my letter to the editor had been accepted for publication in their magazine. I waited and waited for the issue to come out, and when it finally did, I knew that my fame as a super-fan would be cemented. The New Kids would want to meet me now. After all, my words were well-laid out and heartfelt. I was certain they spent hours reading teen magazines. In my letter, I explained that we could collect all the New Kids memorabilia we desired, but we all needed to face it, Joe and the four others were too far away for any of us to reach. If you carefully read in between the lines of this letter to the editor, you will see the obvious, “Screw all you bitches! I’m Joe’s number one fan and my words prove how smart I am.” One of the only people at my middle school who was impressed with my magazine appearance was a quiet Asian girl named Sirisom. She was also a huge fan, but less boisterous about it. We would often spend time comparing our pins and bracelets, discussing which items we would buy next. We would talk about how our lives would be transformed when we met the guys in person. There was also an unspoken competition. We tried to outdo each other when it came to fan knowledge. This was before the days of the Internet and Wikipedia, so the information we knew about the boys was from interviews, on TV and in print. I knew all of Joey’s eight siblings names and ages. I knew his parents birth dates. Where he’d grown up. What his favorite color, TV show and foods were. I could tell by the look on Sirisom’s face, that my appearance in a teen magazine put me in the lead when it came to my love for this band.
The culmination of my love happened the summer before eighth grade when we found out the New Kids were making our dreams come true by playing a concert at the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah. My mom was kind enough to arrange for tickets through her childhood friend who worked at the ticket office, and was also kind enough to fork over $25 for my ticket, which was a substantial amount of money for my family at the time. My friend Jackie was able to come to the concert with me, and we still had family in Utah County, so we were able to spend the night at my grandma’s house after the concert. On the 75-minute drive to Provo, we sang along to New Kids’ songs, ate Skittles and felt butterflies in our stomachs. I’d never been more nervous in my life up to that point. In a few short hours I would be in the same room with Joe and company. I would be breathing his air and watching his curly hair bounce as he sang to me about how I had the right stuff. Shortly after the concert began, I was throwing up Skittles into a cup, but like a true fan, I stuck it out. I felt faint. I cried. I wished I’d made a gigantic poster proclaiming my adoration. I yelled, “I love you JOE!” at the top of my lungs. We didn’t have floor seats, but we were about ten rows up from the stage on the east side. As far as I was concerned, anywhere in that stadium was the perfect seat. It’s a relief I didn’t have backstage passes or any encounters with the boys in person, I surely would have died. They could have played six encores and it wouldn’t have been enough.
I had been a tomboy my entire life, but for some reason during eighth grade, I decided to take a dance class. The woman teaching the class lived just a few streets over from us and taught dance in her basement. A couple friends were taking the class with me, and all three of us were extremely fond of NKOTB. Our lovely teacher, Denise, choreographed dances for our recital to New Kids’ songs. We even wore our neon tinged shirts and hats emblazoned with their faces and signatures. I do have pictures from this era. My parents liked to take pictures of me during this phase in hopes that one day I would see how foolish I looked. These pictures are hilarious to me now, and provide nothing but the sweet memories of youth.
The summer before I started high school, we moved from the house we’d been renting for the last five years into a house my parents had purchased. It was the first time in my life I had my own room. During that summer, I also discovered bands like R.E.M. and Depeche Mode. I replaced my New Kids’ hat with a Georgetown University hat I’d purchased on a trip to Washington, D.C. I started shopping for t-shirts at Banana Republic. After the move, I’d placed a solitary poster of Joe in my room at the head of my bed. When an older friend who was already in high school came over to see our new place, she informed me that only the desperate girls in high school liked New Kids on the Block. Before I went back to school, I took the poster down and put it in the crate with all my other New Kids memorabilia, which was put into storage (and is still there today). It was the end of an era, but not a period in my life I ever forgot.
Over the years, I followed Joe and Jordan’s solo careers. I watched “Say What Karaoke”, hosted by Joe (who had since decided to go by Joey Mac) to catch a glimpse of those blue eyes I’d stared at endlessly during my adolescence.
In 2008, when the New Kids on the Block announced they were recording a new album and launching a reunion tour, my mom once again offered to purchase us tickets, using her American Express Rewards Points. The ride had come full circle. As my sisters, my best friend and I shuffled into the venue anticipating the performance, I had the same feeling I had when I was 13. These were my boys, who had grown into men. At 31, I felt the same affection for them as I had nearly 20 years earlier. This time, I didn’t eat Skittles before the concert.