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Generally, I am a pretty conservative human being. Not politically, but in common day-to-day things, I keep it inside the wake. I’ve never worn a Dan Flashes shirt, I do my taxes early, and I drive a Honda Accord (though, we did splurge for butt warmers!). My sister-in-law recently sent me a picture of a curly mullet she saw in the wild, suggesting I could pull it off (a compliment!) and my immediate thought was seven variations of “no.”

But I wonder what my life would be like, who I would have turned out to be, if I wasn’t denied one of the flashier things as a child. The thing EVERY little kid wants desperately and almost EVERY little kid is denied, one day a year:

The laser background for elementary school photo day.

“No lasers” was a death knell for kids from the late 80s and 90s. A rejection of fun that came from a place of deep parental meanness, demonstrating what happens when you grow up and become boring. (I assume kids nowadays have the options of lasers or plain background, and, I imagine, all of the Snapchat filters including aviators, pig snouts, and—the most popular for third graders—1920s Prohibition-era, film reel, sepia-toned, gangster.)

Remember getting those class photo rubrics back a month later where 24 of 25 kids are sitting in front of nothingness and the one kid, with the rat tail and the Lunchables Pizza, looks like a rock star in front of a pyrotechnics light show? I’m not sure if that kid is still alive, but if he’s not, I know he went out doing something he loved, like skydiving or playing with lighters and hunting in the woods for old Playboys.

There are people my age who are nothing like me. We couldn’t agree on important things, like gun rights or how canonical Star Wars is, but we sure as hell banded together on the non-essential photo day laser debate. We wanted it and couldn’t have it. If we were lucky, our parents let us do the red or blue toned background, instead of the hazy grey.

I’m not a social scientist, but too many years of hazy grey backgrounds on photo day must be correlated with being excited about one’s Honda Accord.

I guess you could argue that the plain old photo day backdrop set me up for a life of responsibility and functionality. Thanks a lot Mom! But what kind of a person would I have been if I had been given the green light for some green laser lights behind my head of Brillo-y pre-teen curls?

Would I have been a bit frivolous and zany? Would I be tattooed? Would my answer to the question “What’s your favorite color?” be something less cynical than “Favorite colors are for kids”?

I read a friend’s book recently, which was about some big world life events, like losing her dad after a long fight with ALS. But a lot of what I took away from the book was appreciation for and the resilience of small moments. She remembers the joy of picking out non-traditional Gatorade flavors and receiving seldom used basketball pointers. They are the moments that seem small, but are actually the things you think of, much later in life.

And I wonder if elementary school photo day lasers are like that.

Josh Bard

Josh Bard is a guy. A sports guy, an ideas guy, a wise guy, a funny guy, a Boston guy, and sometimes THAT guy. Never been a Guy Fieri guy, though.

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