That Time We Partied with Screech: Milwaukee’s Bayside Bash

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In the Saved by the Bell episode “House Party,” originally airing October 6, 1990, Screech’s parents take a vacation to Graceland prompting Zack to persuade his nerdy friend to have the gang over. When Screech’s mom’s prized Elvis bust crashes into a million pieces, the Bayside bunch throw a party to try to earn enough cash to replace the statue. There are a few other nonessential, implausible plot elements but, in the end, they get a new Elvis and Mrs. Powers is none the wiser. In the world of Bayside royalty, Zack Morris, throwing a well-attended party is the solution to nearly every problem.

But in real life, throwing a party can be a dicey proposition. Will enough people come? Will there be enough to do? Will people have fun? Are they willing to pay? Etc. This uncertainty was why I was interested in attending the first-ever Bayside Bash, hosted by Dustin Diamond.

For $14 per person, the Bayside Bash promised a Saturday night of video games, 80s and 90s music, and a chance to have your photo taken with Dustin Diamond, who, for legitimate reasons, seems really conflicted about whether to embrace or flee from his legacy as one of the 90s most popular television nerds (Steve Urkel, Blossom and Paul from The Wonder Years are also in the discussion).

In addition to the photo, I also hoped the event would shed some light on what 90s nostalgia actually looks like. As cable television cords snaked through more homes and that weird dial-up connection tone promised to broaden the teenage world in unfathomable ways, the fragmentation of our generation was underway. The amount of media being created and consumed made it incredibly difficult for us to feel a sense of universal shared nostalgia. The kid that listened to MC Hammer in 1990 was probably listening to Eminem or Limp Bizkit in 1999. Sure, times change, but the acceleration of culture in those years where Clarissa was explaining it all was unprecedented.

Maybe I was asking too much for my $14.

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Looking the Part

I spent the afternoon trying a number of conversational gambits to convince Michelle to accompany me, alas, I am not as persuasive as Zack Morris.

Perhaps an early afternoon trip to Value Village in Cudahy would help her get in the 90s spirit. The thrift shop proved to be a treasure trove. It didn’t take more than 20 minutes, with the help of Michelle, to find a shirt, jeans and a hat that screamed 90s.

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It wasn’t enough to convince her, but I could sense that the tide was turning.

I’d long known that Dustin Diamond lived in Milwaukee. I concluded he loved electronics because I’d heard from a few people who’d seen him at Best Buy in Greenfield. Occasionally, a story would pop up … he was selling t-shirts, he had a cameo in the movie Made (“You just let Screech in the f****n club?!“), he was doing stand-up comedy (one of my best friends, Matthew Webber, tried to interview him while working for a college newspaper), he was on celebrity boxing and weight loss shows but refused to take part in Jimmy Fallon’s Saved by the Bell reunion. Which of these things were true and why he chose to settle here was beyond me. It was a local interest story that wasn’t really interesting.

This probably wasn't going to work.

This probably wasn’t going to work.

After seeing my friend Seth tweet Dustin Diamond and get a response (Seth had heard that the party was dry, not only did he get tweeted back, he also got a DM, though that only served to confuse him even more … #sethproblems), I thought I’d try my hand and maybe, together, Screech and I could convince Michelle. Though the tweet–his offer to be my beer pong partner–didn’t entice her, a combination of my persistence and inexplicable excitement (and the fact that I would be out of town next weekend) prompted her to be my companion for the night.

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Meanwhile, I couldn’t wait to don my outfit. Nothing gets me more excited for a costume party than having a great costume, and I thought what I put together at Value Village was just that. I ended up dumping the Button Fly 501 cap, and opted for a newsboy cap backward, a style that was unfortunately common thanks to the 90s most popular athlete, MJ. Though I looked more like a resident of Melrose Place than a student at Bayside High, I was pretty happy with my costume.

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Meanwhile, Michelle headed to her parent’s house to raid her mom’s closet. She came away with some rad hoop earings and an awesome shirt commemorating the blizzard of 1982. She finished the look with a headband, tennis shoes and some feathered hair (sadly, she could not revive the curly bangs she wore throughout most of high school).

On the way down there, I put on the 90s Pandora station, we only heard two songs since we now live less than 10 minutes from downtown and strangely, they were N’SYNC and Six Pence None the Richer. Really, Pandora, N’SYNC is 90s?!

Downtown was packed, next door to Turner Hall, the Bucks were laying a beating on defending NBA champs, the Heat, and I had no idea what to expect from the Bash.

I’ve seen some of the best (Taking Back Sunday, The Head and the Heart, Streetlight Manifesto, and The Gaslight Anthem) and worst (Crack Attack) concerts of my life in that ballroom. I’ve seen the room packed to the gills and completely empty. Part of the reason Michelle didn’t want to go was she assumed that there would be few people there, and that our attendance, and the lack of others, would embarrass both us and Dustin Diamond.

At least Seth was coming, so there would be four of us … enough for that game of beer pong.

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Party Time

As I entered the ballroom to thumping 80s dance music, I was pleasantly surprised by the turnout. There wasn’t an overwhelming amount of people there, but it was crowded. Milwaukee’s 20 and 30 year olds, or at least several hundred of them, had clearly gone thrift shopping and/or closet raiding and, on a bitterly cold night, came out to drink $4 tall boys of Pabst and Blatz, dance and party. I was impressed.

And there was Dustin Diamond, mingling and taking photos by the door. In an article published on the A.V. Club Milwaukee, Dustin Diamond suggested that he threw a party like this with friends and they had so much fun that he decided to take it to the masses (and collect a handsome fee for his efforts). Michelle didn’t buy the story, but it will be an interesting origin if Bayside Bashes become tremendously popular.

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A large video screen dominated the front of the room (the area where the stage is) playing fluorescent, soundless episodes of Saved By the Bell and Punky Brewster, giving the room an intended trippy, rave-like feel.

And early on, with the dance floor empty, I recalled cinematic memories of middle school dances, with the boys and girls on opposite sids of the room, waiting, desperately, for someone else to make the first move.

Seth arrived and we opted to enjoy tall boys while an eclectic mix from the 80s and 90s played loudly (my dreams of understanding 90s’ nostalgia be damned). Eventually, we headed to get our photos with the man of the hour.

Physically, Dustin Diamond bears little resemblance to the scrawny dweeb he played on television. He’s bearded, with a medium build and is taller than I thought he would be. Yet, when we asked to have photos taken, he politely requested we wait a moment while he took photos with another group he was engaged with and sought us out after fulfilling that obligation. We told him we had tweeted him and discussed what we said. I told him that we spotted him on a plane coming back from our honeymoon and Michelle told me not to say anything to him. He just laughed. Our interaction didn’t last more than two minutes. Ultimately, he seemed like a nice guy. I’d say we met him under the best possible circumstances, years after his fame had fizzled, with a cut of our $14 tickets in his figurative pocket.

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Michelle and I decided to check out the games area. There wasn’t much to do–four video games including Ms. Pac Man, Pole Position and something called Zaxxon and the aforementioned beer pong tables. Beer pong, and drinking games in general, are never my first choice. Drinking out of cups that strangers have been using to play beer pong all night just isn’t appealing (unless you love hepatitis), even with a standing offer to have Screech as your partner.

Instead, we decided to hit the dance floor, which had amply filled up after being completely empty when we walked in. TLC’s “Scrubs,” Montell Jordan’s “This is How We Do It,” and myriad other 90s songs were more fun to dance to than I would have imagined.

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As we danced, it was hard not to notice the people surrounding us and eventually, one guy caught our attention. He was sweaty, seemed to be alone but was dancing with everyone, guys and girls alike. Seth and I took a photo with him. There was some talk among Seth’s friends that this goof may have been paid to be there. He seemed to be having a better time than just about anyone. Later, there was a girl we began to suspect of the same thing.

We never figured out if these goofs were paid to party. Good for them if they were.

After another half hour or so on the dance floor, Michelle and I were ready to go. I didn’t have any more or less fun than I normally do at Mad Planet for 80s Dance Night (every Friday, only $5). The event was probably a bit more expensive than it needed to be.

Dustin Diamond addressing his adoring masses.

Dustin Diamond addressing his adoring masses.

I’m not sure how the Bayside Bash will play when they take it on the road, but the whole thing was zany and it fit in perfectly in Milwaukee. Dustin Diamond and I never did get around to that game of beer pong, but it was a fun, interesting night.

I think part of Screech’s role on Saved by the Bell was to make us all feel like we could be part of the Bayside’s coolest, most eclectic group of friends … I mean if they’d hang with Screech, surely they would hang with any of us. For a night, it happened, we were Bayside royalty.

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