In the first locket I owned, I didn’t put in photos of my lover or my mother or my best friend. Not my pets, not my sister. Instead I glued teeny-tiny pictures of Wayne and Garth from the movie Wayne’s World.
The movie was released when I was 13, and my childhood best friend Bridget and I couldn’t get enough. We were already fans of the SNL sketch and then we devoured the film, watching it first in the theaters and then re-watching it on VHS tape, memorizing every line. I named my first pets — two zebra finches — Wayne and Garth. I hung the requisite posters in my bedroom and bought every magazine featuring the pair on the cover. I developed photos I took of the TV screen while watching the movie (where I got those small locket pictures from). The movie’s vernacular became ours; “we’re not worthy” and “NOT” and “excellent” were phrases Bridget and I used on the regular.
We weren’t alone in our obsession. The highest-grossing film ever made from a Saturday Night Live sketch, Wayne’s World had legions of fans and spawned a sequel only a year later. People wore Wayne’s World baseball caps, drank from Wayne’s World mugs, and sported Wayne’s World t-shirts. Everyone loved the movie’s humor, its zany characters, its soundtrack. But I loved it for something else.
The movie came out when I was skating the awkward space between middle and high school, between puberty and adolescence. I wanted to appear grown-up, but I was still a kid. I stretched bodysuits across my flat chest and wore make-up that made me look like a raccoon. My body and brain told each other different things, and I couldn’t make sense of the interference. Most of the time, I felt self-conscious — unsure of how I should talk, where I fit in, what I should be doing to look cool or fun.
Enter Garth. Garth was all of these things: nerdy, awkward, uncertain. It was as if I had my own weirdo self up there on the big screen — and he was a hero. When a machismo guy won’t let Garth by at the Gasworks nightclub, he comes back loaded up with gear to electrocute him. Garth is first to have suspicions about the scheming Benjamin, and he orchestrates sticking it to the evil TV producer and winning back Cassandra for Wayne. Garth saves the day.
It didn’t matter that Garth said the wrong things, didn’t know how to flirt. He was real and relatable in his awkwardness, and he was able to succeed in spite of that — even getting the girl at the end.
When Bridget and I debated dressing up as Wayne and Garth for Halloween, there was no question of who I’d be. Bridget was the Wayne to my Garth. She was better looking, knew how to get guys, and moved with more confidence in the world. I loved her for that. Not only did I see myself in Garth, but I saw our friendship mirrored in theirs. We would make each other crack up constantly, particularly at times, we were supposed to be serious. We would stare up into the sky together in her backyard in rural Pennsylvania, looking up for shooting stars instead of passing planes. We would do the goofiest things for no reason — I could imagine us pretending to be Laverne and Shirley together or chanting in unison while doing a silly dance à la “we got 5,000 dollars.”
Bridget didn’t care that I was awkward. She didn’t care that I didn’t know what to wear or what to say. Her self-confidence rubbed off on me, and I loved being around her. Garth may have been weird and awkward, but he had the love of his best friend, just like I did. Maybe that’s all you really need.
Fast forward almost three decades. Married with two children, my Wayne and Garth memories were left to decay in an old box alongside my Hypercolor t-shirts and Doc Martens. I was fine with that. I felt embarrassed by my obsession with them — a locket, really? Birds named Wayne and Garth, really? I told myself I’d moved on to more refined entertainment, like movies with subtitles and novels as thick as bricks.
But then, four years ago, I re-watched Wayne’s World for the first time in decades. I was with my husband at his parents’ house in Cincinnati when we found the DVD in his basement. I told my father-in-law it was my all-time favorite movie as a kid, and he insisted we watch it together. I was honored — and flattered — that he’d want to make it a priority to see it that very night upon knowing how much I loved it. I’ll never forget him perched on the edge of the ottoman with his smiling face awash in the screen’s glow. Little Kings beer in hand, he never took his eyes off the television. He laughed more than I did, at the goofiest parts: Garth’s hair being inhaled by the Suck Kut; Garth’s line, “if you’re going to spew, spew into this.”
His reaction reminded me not only of how much I loved the movie but how much I loved him. He was the kind of person who wanted to get to know you, who made you feel special. Who heard something was your favorite and wanted to experience it, too. Who would sit the whole way through things, stick around not just for the second act but the drinks and conversation afterward? He kept the movie alive for me, making wavy fingers and saying “doodilidoo” as a way to play with my daughters, his grandchildren.
My beloved father-in-law passed away suddenly in September of 2019. One of my last memories of him is when he’s doing the trademark Wayne’s World finger wave. Propped up on a bed in the Intensive Care Unit, tubes coming out from everywhere, he still managed to murmur “doodilidoo” when my two daughters scrambled into the room for what ended up being their last visit with him.
Having a movie you love, I realized, isn’t only about you. Wayne’s World first bonded me to my best friend, made me realize how important she was to me, how we could play different roles but be in the same play. Years later, it made me fall in love with my father-in-law. It allowed me to appreciate his best qualities — his humor and attention and interest.
I recently re-watched the film with just my husband and realized he had even more of the movie memorized than I did. Wayne inhabited his childhood consciousness the way Garth did mine. He identified with the adoration of the guitar in the shop window, the urge to play Stairway to Heaven, the dream of winning over women through wit and not smoothness. I learned that he wrote a book called Guitar Boy as a seventh-grader and included a Nuprin reference (Little. Yellow. Different.) in a play he wrote in eighth grade. The film had weaved its way into both of our lives, and now it was interconnecting us as we guffawed about asphinctersayswhat and cream of sum young guy and Mil-wah-kee. Our love of the movie became yet another thing we had in common.
I still do the finger wave with my kids, and I look forward to the day when they’re old enough for all of us to watch Wayne’s World together. I can’t believe how watchable — and hilarious — the movie is after three full decades. The lines are fossilized amber pieces of perfect, goofy jokes. It feels so good to laugh, especially in times like ours. I’m no longer denying my childhood hyper-obsession with Wayne and Garth. After all, Garth is the one who taught me being nerdy is cool. •