Remembering when New Kids grabbed our hearts

The year: 1988. The place: Richmond Street, Lower Mills. Three or four adolescent girls (these days, we'd have been called "tweens") discovered a phenomenon that would more or less define the next few years of our lives: a boy band known as the New Kids on the Block.

Many generations ahead of us had experienced a similar obsession: Dion and the Belmonts, Elvis, the Beatles (ha! We turned up our noses at those unadulterated oldies). What made this new group of young men special - at least for those girls on Richmond Street - was the fact that they "live, like, right over there!!"

Our seventh-grade hearts simply burst with pride and adoration as we watched these five young Dorchester guys (well, technically four, since we all know Joey McIntyre was a J.P. boy) climb their way to the top of the nation's pop charts and consciousness. Our parents popped antacids, bought stock in earplugs in futile attempts to block the sound of synthesizers and falsetto voices blaring from our boom-boxes.  They refrained from having us institutionalized when we proclaimed our willingness to take a bullet for any one of the boys - should such a situation present itself. But that was the extent of our love - and at the age of 10, 11, 12, such fierce devotion is difficult to come by.

As any woman my age can attest to, woe unto she who was unlucky enough to have an older brother, for her days would be spent staunchly defending the "fort" - a term I use to define the pink-frilly bedrooms that were overtaken by pictures ripped from Tiger Beat Magazine and life-sized posters procured from Sam Goody. All the boys in our lives - schoolmates, neighbors, brothers - clearly, they were simply jealous. Our hearts belonged to five men and five men only. There simply wasn't room for any others.

I was lucky enough to have a brother with a license to drive. Of course, this meant that not only was he forced to chauffeur me to Foxboro Stadium for a concert or two, but he could also ferry my friends and me to the homes of New Kids. My favorite haunt was the Knight family estate on Melville Avenue .We would hang out there for hours, with 50 of our closest friends, trading gossip and waiting to catch a glimpse of Jordan or Jonathan, perhaps even Jonathan's pet Sharpei, Nikko. It wasn't unusual for an alleged NKOTB - spotting to occur, and God help us if we didn't punctuate the sight with ear-piecing screams designed to remind the group of the place they held in our collective esteem.

Looking back, I shudder to think of us loitering about the neighborhood like urchins, disrupting the lives of the good people of Codman Square and Melville Park. One such episode also led to the Great Three Month Grounding of 1990. Mom couldn't find us at our designated pick-up spot due to the fact that we'd discovered another exit for the Knight brothers, hoping to elude us, on an adjacent street.

Trespassing aside, what really stands out as I reflect back on those days is the sheer pride I felt in sharing a home town with four-fifths of the group. NKOTB really did put Dorchester on the map, even though I do recall one nationally syndicated show referring to Dot as "a suburb of South Boston."

They did the talk show rounds and the media clamored to make sense of a group of white boys who sounded like a black singing group. I remember the backlash of the group's members, who stood firm on the belief that race was not something one could hear. They were asked about the racial history of our city - busing, segregation, growing up in schools where they were a minority; their success brought to the forefront some hot-button topics that had previously been forbidden territory.

So now, we seem to have come full circle. NKOTB is reuniting. I would be lying if I said I'm not excited.  Just the other night, I got together with some high school friends and the idea of attending a reunion tour was bandied about. After about five minutes of trading New Kids stories, I realized that the only real difference between our adolescent selves and the women we are today was that we were sipping $25 wine rather than 25 cent Teenies bought at the corner variety. United by nostalgia and a memory of simpler times, we once again allow ourselves to remember a shared passion, silly as it may seem today.

I'm thinking I might just ask my brother to drive me to the concert, just for old times' sake.

Editor's note: Maureen Forry works in the Reporter's sales and marketing office - and is old enough to drive herself.