That time I entered a contest to win a date with John Stamos
The first face of a man that I carefully tore from the pages of a magazine was the face of John Stamos. The previously stark wardrobe doors facing my single bed when I was 13 years old would soon be filled with the faces of Jason Priestley, Luke Perry, and Scott Speedman — but Stamos was my first. They say that the first cut is the deepest.
I already knew plenty about anchorman Danny, his musician brother-in-law Jesse, his best friend Joey, and the crazy hijinks that ensued when they had to band together to raise Danny’s three daughters.
For those not familiar with Stamos circa 1992, he looked infuriatingly similar to how he looks now: strong jaw, heart-melting smile, eyebrows to die for, American teeth. The only discernible difference between nineties John and the John of today was that he used to be in possession of a wide array of vests and had some impressive mullet remnants. (Mullet Remnants will be the title of my upcoming memoir).
I was frizzy-haired, freckled and pale-skinned, not only in comparison to my bronzed Australian classmates — but, arguably, to all humankind who had come before me.
I attended such a strict all-girls school that when I enrolled in the seventh grade, one of the school rules was that we had to wear full (granny) briefs — and we were threatened with the possibility of surprise underwear checks. In retrospect, it seems like it should have been illegal for teachers to insist on looking up eleven-year-old girls’ skirts. Despite it proving to be an empty threat, the fear was real.
The Draconian dress code also included a shapeless lime green dress, accompanied by a navy tie, and a panama hat — i.e. an acid-laced fever dream of a Girl Guide in a Tim Burton movie.
My magazines told me that, just like the characters these guys portrayed, they wanted the smart girl or the quirky girl or the ugly duckling that they could see was really a swan through their sensitive eyes. The U.S. teen experience seemed way easier than the Australian equivalent. American teens were usually attending co-ed schools, everyone was apparently dating everyone, and school dress codes allowed their personal style to shine through more easily, unencumbered by a lime green shade and full cotton underpants.
*** We would always see eye-to-eye. Literally. We were exactly the same height. 5’10” (and a half).
*** Music. We were both super into music, namely Elvis (I read a lot of books written by women claiming to have been mistresses of Elvis around this time; Uncle Jesse loved Elvis.) and The Beach Boys (I listened to all of my parents’ Beach Boys records. He played drums with the band).
*** San Francisco: Full House was set in San Francisco, and I had recently rummaged through the trash at the local travel agency and cut out pictures of the city. I then used these images to cover my school textbooks, and I knew he’d appreciate seeing Introduction to Ancient History covered in pictures of the city his fictional character lived in.
*** Astrology: He was a Leo. I was a Virgo. I read that this relationship could work incredibly well because opposites attract. Incidentally, Stamos’ ex Paula Abdul had written a song the previous year about this very topic.
Then, on a humid Wednesday, after arriving home from class and fighting back tears from the latest bully encounter, everything changed. I was absentmindedly flicking through pages of sun-kissed, laughing Aussie girls in a homegrown teen magazine, feeling miserable about my lot in life (the love / hate dichotomy of teen mags). That’s when I was met with a headline that made me lose my breath:
I remember nothing in the immediate aftermath of reading those words (presumably because I blacked out). What I do recall is the resolve with which I pulled myself together and started working on what had no choice but to be the winning entry.
There was suddenly an achievable way to fast track the life that I knew I was meant to be living in America with John.
I didn’t tell any of my friends about my project — I was concerned that they’d also enter the sweepstakes, although we rarely competed for the same celebrity dates. They were probably anxiously awaiting “Win a date with Marky Mark.”
I had laser focus for what needed to be accomplished. Thankfully it was the summer holidays, leaving me an entire season to fixate on this potentially life-changing task. Some may say that there could have been more intellectual pursuits to spend a formative summer on (in my defense, I also read a lot of Sweet Valley High so it’s not like I wasn’t learning), but my hormones understood that this was a life or death situation.
The contest rules were simple: In 25 words or less, tell us why you must win a date with John Stamos. The problem with the simplicity of this task was that in order to communicate the strength of my feelings, I felt I needed to run with a much grander concept.
If you’re familiar with Snakes & Ladders (or the less fun, morality-tale-free version, Chutes & Ladders), you’ll know the general concept. There were no shortage of magazines featuring John, so I set about cutting out every iteration of his face and body that I could find to design the board (an innocent Lifetime Movie-of-the-Week child stalker). I then added fun facts about John that you would uncover when you rolled the dice and climbed a ladder to lift a window. Facts like:
His real last name was Stamotopoulos!
He loved to collect Disney memorabilia!
He worked at his Dad’s restaurant, The Yellow Basket, as a teenager!
Do not pass go, but do pass emotional unavailability, prior relationship baggage and handsy potential father-in-laws.
Summer’s end ultimately arrived. It was time to carefully package up my entry and await my plane ticket. No one else could have prepared an entry with this level of creativity for the love of John.
I started the school year caring a little less about the school bus taunts or the bitchy retorts of teenage girls, knowing that I wouldn’t have to deal with it for much longer.
Walking home each afternoon, my step would quicken as I approached my mailbox. One day, I could see a large box outside the door. Perhaps they were also sending me an American-style prom dress to wear on the date?!?! I took a deep breath, leapt up the stairs, tore open the box — and just as I’d visualized for months, the first word of the letter read:
The next sentence has haunted me ever since.
“You have won second prize in the WIN A DATE WITH JOHN STAMOS competition.”
I collapsed onto the step in shock. I thought whatever teenagers in the ’90s thought before WTF. But it got worse:
I didn’t even have my period yet. As Stephanie Tanner would have said, how rude!
No formal wear. No John. No way out. Just a ludicrous number of tampons that would never be used for fear of toxic shock.
In the immediate aftermath, there were the obvious questions: Did I lose because of how seriously they took the 25 words-or-less competition rules? Were they concerned that I was actually a 45-year-old stalker because what child could possibly have come up with something so complex? Was there ever even a real date? Did some other Australian teenage girl go on it? And the cruelest thought that crossed my mind: Did John reject me as his possible date, just like the boys in my hometown?
I felt profound disappointment, feelings I would begin to recognize after every real-life break up I’ve had since. But during the healing process I realized there were other idols to project my fantasies onto.
As an adult (with taste in men that skews less towards the vest-wearing, jewelry clad, hair-gelled type), I have worked in the entertainment industry in both Los Angeles and New York. Because of the longevity of his career, I have often been within one degree of separation from Stamos, and I became friends with someone whose partner starred on ER with John. I awoke one morning to a message from my friend:
“We’re at this bar on Ventura! John’s here! You have to come tell him about the tampons!”
I worked on publicity for Glee and was invited to a party I was told he’d be attending. I didn’t go, at least partly because I thought it would be unprofessional to approach him at a work event with:
Whenever I see him on Good Morning America or on the cover of People magazine, I’m instantly transported to that summer. The hard feelings have subsided.