When I Was Oppressed by the Ghostbusters

by Matthew J.X. Malady

People drop things on the Internet and run all the time. So we have to ask. In this edition, ESPN The Magazine Senior Writer Mina Kimes tells us more about what it was like to play Janine in a pint-sized crew of Ghostbusters back in the day.

Mina! So what happened here?

I’m about five years old in this picture, which means it was taken shortly after Ghostbusters II came out. I wasn’t allowed to see it in the theater, but I did watch the original Ghostbusters on VHS, and it gave me horrible nightmares. I was especially afraid of the villain, the woman who looked like zombie David Bowie. I wouldn’t even say her name aloud (notice that I’m not typing it here). My brother and I also watched The Real Ghostbusters, which was an animated series that aired after school. He always controlled the remote, so we only watched his favorite shows: Transformers, He-Man, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Darkwing Duck . . . .

My brother is the kid with the crescent-moon eyes pedaling in front of me. If you look closely, you can see that the patch on his chest says Stantz, as in Ray. People used to think we were twins. When we were little, I was jealous of him because he looked more Asian (we’re half-Korean). We were living on an Air Force base in Long Beach, Calif., back then, and my mom bought Isaac’s jumpsuit and my hot pink sweater/skirt set at the BX, or Base Exchange, which is a sort of subsidized department store for military families. She made the Ghostbusters patches out of cloth and fabric paint. We tried to dye my hair red, but only the baby hairs in my part picked up the color.

I don’t remember the names of the boys in the skeleton suits. I asked my mom if she knew who they were, and all she could recall was that that they were “wealthy neighbors.” That seems correct — they’re so blonde and scornful, they look like the bratty rich dudes in an eighties movie. The grinning bowl cut riding next to me is my brother’s friend Sean, or as we called him, Peter Venkman. Because we only lived at that Air Force base for a few years, we lost touch with him. Many years later, my mother told me that she had heard from a friend that Sean was “playing a lot of guitar in California,” which is probably a euphemism in Korean mom–speak.

That look on your face! Could you try and describe what you might have been thinking while this was going on. And do you remember if this crew ever busted any ghosts?

I don’t think I was pissed about dressing up as Janine; it didn’t occur to me that I could be anyone else. She was the only girl. I wasn’t a huge fan of the character — Venkman was my favorite — but I wanted to be part of the gang. I was obsessed with my brother. He was my idol, even though he used to trap his farts in jars and leave them in my bedroom.

So why do I look like I just smelled one of those farts? Honestly, I’ve never had a pleasant resting face. I even look disgruntled in my baby pictures — my parents say I popped out of the womb with a grimace, seemingly unimpressed with my surroundings (which is to say, the world). Once, when I was in elementary school, a bus driver stopped me and told me I “would look prettier with a smile.” I didn’t have a good comeback — I was like 8 years old — but from that point on, I never smiled on the bus.

I was a little jealous of my brother and his friends. For one, they got to wear jumpsuits (I still love a good jumpsuit). They also had plastic proton packs, which they hooked up to Nerf guns. They used to run around our house shooting ghosts, and I would chase after them lugging a stuffed Slimer doll. In The Real Ghostbusters, Janine and Slimer spend most of their time kicking it at Ghostbusters HQ. They’re kind of corny and ineffectual.

Lesson learned (if any)?

When I posted the picture on Twitter, some guy told me I shouldn’t blame “Hollywood” for not letting me dress up as a Ghostbuster, because it was my parents’ fault for not empowering me. That made me angry. I didn’t ask to dress up as a Ghostbuster because it didn’t seem like an option. I was five years old, man! I emulated what I saw, and the secretary was the only character that looked like me.

So I guess I learned that . . . that sucks. We should change that.

Just one more thing.

I still wear costumes on Halloween. Only now, I dress as the hero of my favorite show.