Archive for the ‘(retro)spect’ Category

Falling Stars and Lou Reed

March 30, 2010

When I was 17, and a camp counselor, I spent one evening off with a friend, staring out over the darkened lake, now devoid of canoes and splashing campers. I watched in minor awe as the stars twinkled on the water—I didn’t see stars back home, just porch lights diffusing the heavens.

All of a sudden I saw their reflections begin to move frantically across the lake. I looked up to witness a fantastic meteor shower, as Lou Reed sang softly of Pale Blue Eyes.

This was the night I learned about the Velvet Underground—and the simple things that one day linger in nostalgia, waiting for youth to trade hands with age, when memories take on their full effect…Simple moments that find their way back on nights such as this…

Alright, Christmas: Santa.

December 24, 2009

Things were a lot different back when I was a kid.

Back when cameras required flash cubes, before everything was recorded on video.

Somehow the snow seemed lighter—fluffier.

The anticipation seemed greater.

Commercialism was still there, but they were just starting to figure it out. They hadn’t quite reduced it to the methodical onslaught we’re now presented with from the day before Halloween until two weeks after the new year—before cable TV’s constant repetition of programming began turning us against the classic movies we’ve loved our entire life.

There were simpler, warmer times, when the only thing I saw was the wonder of it all. When I believed in Santa Claus and held tight the warm embraces of the season.

But that was before life came crashing down upon me, before the trappings of a cold, hard reality swept me up in its clutches and made me a cynical bastard.

Kindergarten was hell.

By the age of five, I took my holidays seriously.

Thanksgiving saw me sitting at a table alone—crying my eyes out because my Pilgrim hat wasn’t realistic enough. The girls all folded three-dimensional hats that looked like the real thing—so real, I was half convinced the Pilgrims invented white construction paper.

The boys, however, were given a single piece of black construction paper, and instructed to cut out three sides, leaving a rim all-the-way around. It looked like a paper toilet seat.

That just wouldn’t do.

I had grandiose dreams of constructing a real top hat through a series of tabs and a roll of scotch tape, but we were only allowed one piece of paper.

I needed at least two.

I was crushed. Thanksgiving was ruined.

So as my classmates ran around wearing paper toilet seats on their heads, I sat down and cried.

And cried.

When story time came, the tale of the first Thanksgiving was drowned out by the sobbings of a tormented artist.

I blubbered through nap time and wailed through milk and cookies.

My teacher, one of the nicest, warmest, most huggable kindergarten teachers ever created, ultimately looked over at a weeping, future sensitive artist, and scowled,

“Oh shut up already.”

Holidays were a serious business, and I was all about authenticity.

The ante was only upped by the time December rolled around.

I’ve always loved Christmas.

Always.

As a kid, I’d get swept away in the mounting excitement of the season as it gained momentum like an out-of-control snowball rolling down the side of the Swiss Alps.

For weeks my body would vibrate and buzz, as if I were on an eternal sugar-rush. Mine was a seasonal hyper-activity that no amount of Ridlin could quell.

By Christmas Eve, I was worse than a junkie waiting for a fix. I’d toss and turn, occasionally rolling over to ask out loud, into the darkness of a sleeping house,

“Is it Christmas, yet?”

My father got used to sleeping on the couch, not because he was in the dog house with my mom, but to thwart the creeping steps of footed-pajama hoping to catch Santa in the act.

Once I could have sworn I saw him, “Ho-Ho-ing” and muddling about the tree, but memories are fuzzy at best.

By the age of five I had it pretty much all figured out. I knew how it worked.

If I was relatively good, the general trappings of boyhood youth not withstood, Santa would bring me stuff. If I was bad, well, I was screwed.

Fair enough. We seemed to have a pretty good understanding of where the other stood, a gentleman’s agreement if you will.

But I didn’t read the fine print.

When December rolled around, the tragedies of Thanksgiving subsided as my thoughts focused on candy canes, Christmas specials and most importantly, Santa’s impending visit.

Fluffy snow covered my little chunk of suburbia like a blanket and icicles dangled from every tree, house and car bumper, as if nature had decorated for Christmas.

My waking hours were a frenzy of excitement wrapped up in a literal winter wonderland.

That is, until she came along.

The very first day of kindergarten I saw her from across the room, wearing a yellow plaid sun dress with matching knee socks and two cute little afro puffs on either side of her head, like little Minnie Mouse ears.

She was, quite possibly, the cutest little girl on the face of the earth.

Once I finished my tearful good-byes to my mother and put my book bag in my cubby, I made a b-line towards her. She was playing with some building blocks as I approached.

“Hi, I’m Marcus. Wanna be friends?”

She finished stacking her blocks before looking up.

“You have bubble eyes, you look like a bug. Bug eyes.”

And that was that. In the blink of an eye, I was branded.

For the rest of my public education, and well into college I carried the burden of the name Bug Eyes, and all the low self esteem it generated. Like a stalker following me through my youth, it hid in the shadows with a tube sock full of nickels, ready to strike.

This was the first of many encounters with Nikki, who it turns out, might be the spawn of Satan.

i.e., She was one of those kids who could be so cruel.

And in 1978, she changed the way I’d look at Christmas for the rest of my life.

She changed the way I looked at the world in general.

When you’re five, faith isn’t something you struggle with. You haven’t learned to be a skeptic—trust is all you have when the world is new.

We don’t understand deception, well intentioned or not.

My parents told me there was a Santa. Like a stalker, he was always watching me—even when I was asleep. I didn’t have to see him, I just believed he was there.

They also told me the sky was blue and Jesus loved me.

Why would they lie?

Every day I got just a little more excitable, as I prepared both mentally and physically for  Santa’s visit. I wrote my letter to him with the fervor and passion of a tortured Russian poet. I didn’t know my ABC’s just yet, so the letter was mere gibberish in purple crayon to the untrained eye.

But I knew Santa would be able to understand my pleas. He was fluent in kid.

At school we sang Christmas songs and decorated our class tree with home made ornaments made out of clothes pins and paper chains constructed in a well-oiled assembly line of safety scissors and edible paste.

With just a week to go, Santa’s impending arrival, hopefully with the Super Friends Fiddlesticks set in tow, was all I could think about—all I could talk about.

I was abuzz, aglow, and abound with a palpable excitement and anticipation like none other.

These were my very last moments of waning, ignorant bliss. The final days of complete trust in the world.

These were the fleeting moments of innocence that were abruptly shattered when I walked into class for our final day before Christmas break and foolishly asked Nikki one very simple question:

“Hey Nikki, what’s Santa going to bring you for Christmas?!”

I was wearing my new crimson velour Football Cardinals track suit.

To this day, I can’t watch the Cardinals throw a pass without getting a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Nikki stood there by the cubbies, in a festive green and red plaid dress, looking cuter than a puppy snuggling with a kitten in the arms of a newborn baby under a god-damned rainbow, staring at me blankly.

“You’re so stupid, Bug-Eyes,” she finally said, after a bat of the eyelashes. “Santa isn’t real. My daddy told me so, and he’s a policeman.”

With that, I felt my face get hot as the rest of my body went numb. The world began closing in on me and I suddenly felt very claustrophobic. My perception of life in general began twisting and warping. I felt dizzy.

I looked down at the little Football Cardinals helmet emblem sewn onto my track jacket.

Underneath the warm velour, my heart was breaking.

“Well, who brings all the presents?” I argued.
“Your mommy,” she responded without pause.
“Who eats the cookies and drinks the milk?” I parried.
“Your daddy.”

She had an answer for everything.

The rest of the day was a surreal blur. I sat quietly, lost in the trappings of my own thoughts as the rest of the class glued cotton balls onto red construction paper, creating dozens of Santa portraits, all staring at me—mocking me.

“Don’t patronize me, fat man,” I thought to myself in slightly more innocent words.

I went home defeated, quiet. I walked right past the Christmas tree, fighting back tears as I headed towards my room for solitary contemplation.

I didn’t quite know what to think. My mind was swimming, my head was swirling.

I didn’t know what to believe.

I couldn’t ask my parents—apparently, according to Nikki, they were behind the mass conspiracy.

I began thinking about everything else grown-ups had told me, wondering if any of it was true. I felt stupid for believing in the first place. If Santa wasn’t real, what about the Easter Bunny? The Tooth Fairy? George Washington?

I began to wonder if the sky was actually blue—did Jesus really love me, or was it merely a clever ploy to keep me in line?

At the age of five Jesus and Santa were somewhat indistinguishable, aside from the fact that one looked like my grandpa and the other, like the dirty hippie who was always hanging out in front of the 7-Eleven smoking weird cigarettes that smelled funny…

Believing in either required the same thing; faith.

And for the first time in my brief life, it had been shaken.

Faith is a strange thing. Faith in one’s self, faith in mankind, faith in one’s preferred God—they all provide reasons to keep going.

Some people have it, believing with no questions asked. Others, start off believing, then find themselves proven otherwise, left feeling foolish for ever having believed in the first place.

Losing that faith leaves a man feeling hopeless. The future ceases to be a warm embrace.

It scared the crap out of me.

So I tried my best to keep believing, just in case Nikki was wrong and the fat man was actually watching.

Because to say there is no Santa Claus is to say there is no mystery left in this world, no hope in something bigger than the tangible. To say there is no Santa is to rob the world of youthful innocence and folly—to tear away our chance to dream.

The older I get, the more I realize how much I want that innocence and folly—how badly I need to hope.

Santa Claus is the childlike wonderment of imagination and faith—those fleeting moments before we grow old and cynical and begin questioning everything. He is our trust in something we may never fully understand.

He is a chance to believe in something.

Looking back, I don’t hold resentment over my parents for lying to me. It was neither deception nor conspiracy.

I don’t hold it against Nikki, either—because she was wrong.

Because 31 years later, I still haven’t been able to fully disavow his existence.

31 years later, I still believe in Santa Claus.

Let’s just hope he still believes in me.

Alright, Christmas: And Now a Word from our Sponsor, Blue Collar Edition…

December 17, 2009

Trends are a strange thing. They happen so fast.

One second all is calm, the next…the world is more torn between Teams Edward and Jacob than Healthcare V. the Republicans.

Before that it was prepubescent wizards and a lot of bad, fake british accents.

There was ska, and swing and long before that grunge.

It’s hard to tell what influences what.

Fashion, music, television and lifestyle—we’re such an easily-impressionable lot.

It really all boils down to target markets and slick advertising executives that think they know what the general populace wants. They start with the lowest common denominator then drag the world down to that level.

And we’re usually happy to go.

Half the time we don’t even realize we’re being corralled by a marketing team before it’s too late.

Back in the early-mid 80’s it was the Blue Collar life.

This was long before hipsters, frat boys and douchebags like Ashton Kutcher started wearing trucker hats. Before a man named Sam called himself Joe and began talking about things he didn’t understand—before Small Town America was considered the only real America.

Before all that, men and women began dressing like lumberjacks. Monster trucks were all the rage and beer commercials started celebrating the type of person that actually drank their product.

Of course, it was a softened version of the real thing. They made callouses and a stoic work ethic seem romantic, glossing over the long hours, small wages, strikes, layoffs and back-breaking labor that often goes along with the Blue Collar life.

Kids weren’t immune to it, either.

We were clad in long underwear, red and black flannel shirts and work boots, too.

Even our electric  racetracks and toy cars fell into the trend.

I had all the accessories. I even had a Howard Johnson truck stop model. All it was missing was the lot lizards accessory kit.

Who knew it would be so much fun to drive slowly on a highway delivering oil drums and lumber?

And then, of course, there were the monster trucks.

I grew up in NFC (North Fucking County) where monster trucks were invented. I had no choice but to love and cherish my Stomper collection. They even came in happy meals for a while.

This lasted about a year before MTV came in and took trend setting to an all new, frightening level ultimately leading us to reality TV and Hanna fucking Montana.

God only knows what’s next.

we now return you to your regularly scheduled programming…

Alright Christmas: SPECIAL PRESENTATION

December 16, 2009

Sure, we had TV…Hell, once the 80’s hit we had cable and VCR’s. But as a child, I listened to a lot of records.

I don’t know if they have any modern variations, but in the 70’s and 80’s, every cartoon special, be it Easter, Christmas or Ground Hog Day, was turned into an audio record.

Usually, that meant they simply took the audio track of the cartoon and pressed it on vinyl.

Back before cable and VCR’s we had one very small window to see our favorite specials—they weren’t played constantly, day in and day out. Charlie Brown was on once and if you missed it, well, tough shit. Listen to the record.

Now, I never missed a Christmas special growing up. I had a rainman-like memory when it came to the TV schedule that time of year. I couldn’t read a TV Guide, but I knew when Rudolph would be on…

…But I still listened to the records. It was like listening to a radio show, the television of the 40’s.

I drew the cartoon in my head as I listened to the record.

Perhaps that’s why I have such an (over)active imagination.

One of my favorite records/Christmas specials was Santa and the Three Bears. Every holiday season, my sister and I would nestle onto the couch next to the tree and listen intently as two bear cubs learned about the wonders and spirit of Christmas.

I heard the record years before I ever saw the actual cartoon.

Santa and the Three Bears was a cartoon released in 1970, written by Tony Benedict, famous for penning episodes for cartoons like the Flintstones, Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear and the Pink Panther, among others.

It featured the Voice talents of  Hal Smith as the (only) Ranger in Yellowstone Park, and Jean Vander Pyl as Nana, the mother bear.

Jean Vander Pyl is best known as the voice of Wilma Flintstone on the Flintstones and Rosie the Robot on the Jetsons.

The plot centers around two bear cubs that aren’t ready to hibernate, and happen upon Ranger Smith chopping down a Christmas tree from the National Park, which I’m fairly certain is illegal.

The cubs, Nikomi and Chinook, ask the Ranger what he’s doing, and he tells them all about Christmas—and the fat man in red.

As any kid should be, bear or human, the cubs were excited and wanted a Christmas of their own, complete with a visit from Jolly Old St. Nick.

From there a series of hijinks and comical interludes, mixed in with a little bit of drama and a lot of really bad songs ensue as the cubs try to stay awake for a visit from Santa.

I would always pretend my sister and I were the bear cubs—every year we fell head first into the story, becoming a living part of it.

Now, my sister wasn’t always the kindest, most gentle variety of sibling. She was fairly cunning all her life. She once traded me a rock for all my toys, and she did it so well, I walked away from the deal thinking I made out like a bandit.

Don’t get me started about the Clown Make-Up Business she tried to start when I was eight. That one left some (mental) scars.

In a nutshell, mine was your average older sister, capable of the most devious of plots at any given moment in time.

Except when we listened to Santa and the Three Bears.

For that brief 45 minutes, she was Nikomi and I was Chinook. It was a strange bond that always formed at Christmas, not unlike when the Brits and Germans took a break from World War I to play soccer (football) one cold Christmas morn.

For that brief moment in time, I could let my guard down, put my head on her shoulder and enjoy being her brother.

The torment my sister unleashed as a child was nothing severe or out of the norm for an older sister. In almost every case, these moments have become some of my fondest childhood memories.

We’re both old now—she has kids of her own, already past the age of Christmas Specials and Santa Claus. Our relationship matured over the years, and she became that sister who gave me dating advice, tried to teach me how to dance and always seemed to have my back when it mattered most.

I’m no longer the innocent victim of an evil mastermind, but sometimes I still like to put on Santa and the Three Bears, close my eyes, and just listen—pretending my sister and I are two innocent bear cubs discovering Christmas for the first time.

I think about the rock that cost me my toys, the clown make-up fiasco which will require some therapy down the road and most fondly, those Christmases of my youth sitting on the couch, snuggling with my big sister listening to that record.

 

Alright, Christmas: Dispatches from the Naughty List…

December 10, 2009

I was about six or seven.

Our halls were decked.

That unquellable anxiety resonating from the pit of my stomach made me feel like I was at the top of a roller-coaster, about to roll over the edge.

By that age, Christmas had completely taken over my waking hours.

Everything else was irrelevant.

The fresh cut pine tree permeated the house, slipping into every nook and cranny of our three bedroom ranch style chunk of suburbia. The cold, crisp winter landscape stood outside, fogging up the windows as it stared longingly into our warm living room.

I had never seen so many presents in one place in my entire life—and Santa hadn’t even stopped by yet.

Though by then I was skeptical at best of the fat man’s existence. I was pretty much just playing along to keep my parents happy. I didn’t want to ruin Christmas for them, or lose out on any potential presents, just in case I was wrong.

Just a few days before Christmas, we heard a noise coming from the pile of gifts—it would seem a creature was stirring.

We were sitting at the kitchen table in our long underwear when we heard it, drinking hot coco and thawing out, celebrating the completion of another snowman to stand guard over our backyard.

I had shed the numerous layers of sweaters, coats, mufflers and mittens—my moon boots sat over a heating vent and my stocking cap was laying by the window next to my three pairs of socks, and two plastic sandwich baggies, drying.

My mom always put sandwich bags on our feet before the boots in a futile attempt to keep us dry, but there was nary a spot left on our bodies that wasn’t soaking wet from melted snow by the time we returned indoors.

As we sipped our coco and took turns staring out the window to marvel at our handy work, a strange voice called out to us.

“Help! Let me out of Here! Help!”

My father, always one to jump head first into the Christmas spirit, was playing with his new toy, a Panasonic tape recorder—the type you had to press the play and record buttons down simultaneously to record.  He had placed it under the presents as a fun little joke, to get us excited about Christmas—as if we needed help.

My sister and I darted out of the kitchen, into the living room. To this very day, I can still feel the rug burns cutting through my long-johns as I slid across the carpet towards the tree.

At this point in the story, I feel I should backtrack for a moment.

Two weeks prior, in what could only be categorized as a momentary lapse in security, I plodded into my parent’s bedroom and found my mom stuffing a gigantic stuffed brown bunny into the back of her closet. She froze like a deer in the headlights for a moment, her foot on the bunny’s head, before saying,

“It’s for your sister. It’ll be our little secret.”

I nodded my head complacently, wondering quietly what the word secret meant.

And that’s why, as my sister and I danced around the tree, giddy with curiosity while my dad stood with his arm around my Mom’s shoulder, basking in Christmas spirit, I said,

“It must be that big brown fuzzy bunny that mommy got you!”

Everyone froze momentarily as my exclamation was processed.

This was the first in a long line of metaphorical cats let out of many, many bags.

My sister wasn’t sure if she should be excited, or upset that her Christmas morning had been ruined as she stood there, exchanging glances with the presents under the tree and my parents, their facial expressions morphing into what can only be described as the “Dammit” face.

If there was indeed a Santa Claus, I had just made his naughty list.

I still can’t keep a secret, and have yet to find my way off that damned list. I could B-B-Q for the next ten summers with all the lumps of coal I’ve earned.

Alright Christmas: I Want That!

December 8, 2009

As a child, Christmas had one overarching theme:

Presents.

Sure, there were the warm feelings and cheer, holiday specials and the smell of fresh pine, cinnamon and cranberry floating through our home—there was something about a baby being born somewhere in a barn, I think—I wore my dad’s bathrobe and a towel on my head and walked single file down the main aisle of a Lutheran church as a children’s choir sang Away in a Manger

But primarily, mine was a carnal holiday fueled by the toy section of the annual J.C. Penny’s Christmas Catalog and a fat guy dressed in red.

My sister and I would lay on the green shag carpet in front of the tree’s warm glow and twinkle, picking two items from each page of the toy section, fantasizing about Lite Brites, Spirographs and an official Jim Hart Football Cardinals jersey.

Television beat me into a frenzy for months as I devised and revised my wish list for Santa. Every commercial for any new toy meant a rewrite.

Looking back, I’m not even sure I knew exactly what I actually wanted, versus what the magic box told me I needed.

Once, as I sat on the toilet, I heard the muffled sound of a commercial for the greatest toy ever invented, emanating from the living room.

Without thinking, I yelled out at the top of my lungs, “I want that!!!!”

After finishing my business and washing my hands, however, I plodded back out into the living and asked, “What was that?”

The holidays have evolved into something far less sinister and selfish over the years—I truly believe that it’s better to give than receive, reveling in the expression on my friends and family’s faces when I surprise them with the perfect gift.

True, I still create a wish list every year, mainly to make shopping easier for family members I don’t see often enough and usually consisting more of things I actually need, rather than want.

But now I want so much more than presents.

Holiday cheer and warmth, consuming my every fiber of being—I want that.

Smiles from strangers, and a common respect floating through the general population? Yup.

A strange feeling of happiness, overshadowing my normal daily stress? Sign me up.

Peace on Earth and goodwill towards man?

I want that too.

Though I must admit, when I’m watching TV and a commercial for some amazing new toy I’m far too old to play with comes on, a small part of me still cries out, quietly, “I want that,” too.

Alright Christmas, (Retro)spect Edition: Bells, Droids, and Bon Jovi

December 7, 2009

I’m a product of the seventies.

That means, by law, I grew up thinking inappropriate thoughts about Princess Leia, collecting Kenner action figures and obsessing over anything that might have happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

I really have to give my parents credit. They suffered through a lot—especially over the holidays.

All they really wanted, was to curl up in front of the Christmas tree, lost in the holiday stylings of the Singers Unlimited and Nat King Cole—instead they listened to droids singing about what to get a Wookie for Christmas when he already owns a comb. Rather than watching Bing Crosby tap-dancing with Danny Kaye, while a young, pre-tragic Natalie Wood tugged on Santa’s beard and begged for real estate, they watched Chewbacca celebrating Life Day with special guest stars like Jefferson Starship and Bea Arthur.

What they got was Christmas in the Stars and the Star Wars Holiday Special.

This was back before Lucas knew how to run a franchise with a steel grip.

Now, as I kid, I loved this crap. I listened to my Christmas in the Stars record non-stop from the beginning to the end of every Christmas season—until it mysteriously went missing from our record collection one sad year in the mid-eighties.

This means my parents listened to Christmas in the Stars non-stop—until it mysteriously went missing from our record collection one sad year in the mid-eighties.

Christmas in the Stars was an RSO produced album released in 1980, and follows a group of toy-making droids as they scurry about on Christmas eve, preparing for the arrival of S. Claus.

Not Santa Claus, S. Claus.

Aside from the aforementioned gift giving quandaries produced by the always hard to shop for Chewbacca, the album features original songs rife with droid noises and random canned sound effects from the movie as well as a a touching bastardization of the timeless poem, Twas the Night Before Christmas, through the eyes of C-3PO as voiced by Anthony Daniels himself.

It also features the world-wide debut of a young singer from New Jersey with little more than some holiday cheer and a dream—Jon Bon Jovi.

Listening to it now, I can’t help but appreciate the sacrifice my parents were willing to make for the happiness of their children just a little bit more.

Seriously. Droids singing Christmas songs. Day and night.

Listen for yourself here.

TRACK LISTING —

1. Christmas In The Stars
2. Bells, Bells, Bells
3. The Odds Against Christmas
4. What Can You Get A Wookie For Christmas (When He Already Owns A Comb)
5. R2-D2 We Wish You A Merry Christmas (Featuring J.B. Jovi)
6. Sleigh Ride
7. Merry, Merry Christmas
8. A Christmas Sighting (‘Twas The Night Before Christmas)
9. The Meaning Of Christmas

Next week, we’ll dive head first into the TV special, a madcap, drug-induced, yet somehow touching holiday celebration with Wookies, Storm Troopers and a few lessons about the holiday spirit along the way. It aired only once and has since become the bane of George Lucas’ career. (Jar-Jar Binks not withstanding)

(Retro)spect: And Now a Word From Our Sponsor…

December 1, 2009

A lot of phrases from our pop-lexicon were born out of commercials, outlasting the very products they were written to serve.

I sometimes wonder if this is an indication of genius on the part of the copywriter, or a sad example of our susceptibility to repetition as a culture.

Sure, their poignancy decreases as new generations latch onto new slogans—some fall to the point of obscurity beyond the guarded borders of nostalgia, garnering little more than a blank stare or raised eyebrow from the disenchanted youth when uttered aloud.

Those, perhaps, are the ones we hold the tightest.

I watch commercials for fun. They hearken me back to simpler times filled with board games and dirt bikes, cartoons and action figures.

When my time was nothing but carefree.

When you watch the video just below, I want you to think about three simple words:

Pretty Sneaky, Sis.

(Retro)spect: Birthday Edition

November 30, 2009

Tomorrow’s my birthday. I’m old, and only getting older as each minute passes.

Birthdays have somehow lost their luster over the years. They’ve become less of an event, more of an ordeal.

Anticipation is replaced with gentle reminders of our mortality, usually by virtue of friends making fun of our age.

Yes, I know I’m closer to 40 than 30. Thanks.

Instead of blowing out a candle for every year lived, we blow out candles in the shape of numbers, lest we risk setting off the smoke detector.

Instead of dreaming about the future, we’re taking stock of where we are and what we’ve done.

We wonder what’s left.

But it wasn’t always like this.

I can still remember my sixth birthday.

I was in first grade.

That was the year I got what has become one of my two favorite birthday presents of all time:

Hungry Hungry Hippos.

I didn’t even know it existed before I tore into a bright shiny box, wrapped with colorful paper and ribbon and found myself staring down in wonderment.

It was just a game. An inexpensive, plastic game. I didn’t even know I wanted it until it was mine.

But I loved that game more than just about any toy I’ve ever owned—more than any present I ever asked for.

These days, if you were to ask me what I wanted for my birthday, I’d say a career doing what I love. I’d say stability.

I’d rattle  off a half dozen intangible things that aren’t for sale.

It’s less about what I want and more about what I need.

But perhaps all I really need is to find myself staring down in wonderment at something I never knew existed—something I didn’t know I wanted until it was mine.

(Retro)spect: Turkey Day Edition

November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving is tomorrow.

That means I’m obligated to write something seasonal.

Now, I could get all sentimental on you—I could conjure my inner Garrison Keillor and tell a heartwarming tale about my youth…

…A soft stroll down memory lane, rife with comical anecdotes and ultimately, a lesson learned.

But this ain’t Reader’s Digest.

I could write about the same old tired cliches; your dysfunctional family, too much alcohol, obligatory naps…the Lions losing—again…

But I won’t. That’s too easy.

It’s like relying on the “Halloween Allows Women to Dress Like Whores” schtick, when blogging about All Hallow’s Eve—it’s been done, and over-done.

I couldn’t write anything that hasn’t been said a million times before, so I won’t bother.

Besides, you deserve better.

Of course, besides the family, booze, food, naps and football, what else is there?

Seriously.

Personally, I can think of one.

As I’ve said, I didn’t really have a life until the 90’s. Mine was a childhood filmed before a live studio audience…

So when I think of Thanksgiving, I really think of one thing and one thing only.

“As God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.”

 

Happy Thanksgiving, folks…

Now go enjoy awkward conversations with your crazy relatives, family induced drinking and a tryptophan-induced coma on the couch whilst watching the Lions lose…again.

(Retro)spect: This Week in Bacon

November 21, 2009

There were a lot of things wrong with the world back in the 70’s and 80’s

Leisure wear

Spandex

Hair Metal

Disco

Polyester

Tight-rolled jeans

Z-Cavaricci

Mall Hair

Side Spikes

Mullets

Wine Coolers

Topsiders with no socks

Joanie Loves Chachi…

…I could go on for days…

But there was one offense greater than most.

They posed a question to us:

Why sizzle fat when you can Sizzlean?

 

I’ll tell you why. Because bacon is quite frankly, the best food ever.

Eating Sizzlean (or Facon, as I like to call it) is like eating a tofu burger and hoping it tastes like the real thing—just eat the damned burger, folks.

 

It’s like Beggin Strips for people.

 

And trust me…you should NEVER eat Beggin Strips…They (like Sizzlean) do not, I repeat, DO NOT taste like bacon.

(Retro)spect: Did G-Force Get Coldplayed?

November 20, 2009

Pretty much everything before 1979 is a blur. Bits and pieces flash before my eyes, but they’re fleeting.

1973-1978 are little more than flickering visions of polyester and plaid.

But for the longest time I could swear I was a child obsessed—with a cartoon.

I have visions of jumping around the backyard in a homemade costume, a paper “G” safety-pinned to my chest.

But it’s all so…fuzzy.

Maybe I was just thinking about Voltron.

But I could have sworn there was something before that—better than that.

It drove me nuts trying to grasp at the details of something that may or may not have existed.

20 years later, I was flipping through the channels when I landed on Cartoon Network.

There it was. Or was it?

I could have sworn it was called something else, but there it was.

G-Force: Guardians of the Universe.

I sat for a moment and watched.

Suddenly a flood of memories came rushing back, but…the memories weren’t matching up. Wasn’t this called Battle of the Planets?

And who the fuck are Ace Goodheart and Dirk Daring? Weren’t they named Mark and Jason?

It looked right, but the voices seemed off, the names were wrong…and wasn’t there originally a talking robot involved?

Was my memory that bad? I know I had my fun in college, but I had to have a few functioning brain cells left.

I turned the TV off and went to bed, confused and mildly angry that my childhood memories were so wrong.

But this was in a time before Wikipedia.

It turns out my childhood memories hadn’t failed me. I was right.

Sort of.

in 1972 Kagaku Ninja Tai Gathchaman was created in Japan. A few years later Sandy Frank, a producer most famous for the game show Name that Tune introduced an American dubbed version called Battle of the Planets.

But there were some changes. To hit the American juvenile television market of the late 1970s, Frank removed most of the elements of graphic violence, profanity and transgenderism—and added a talking robot, most likely to cash in on the popularity of a little movie called Star Wars.

So what the hell was on Cartoon Network?

In 1986 the cartoon was retooled as G-Force: Defenders of the Universe by Turner Entertainment. They added back in all the violence, removed the cute little robot and changed the names and voices.

And this is what aired on Cartoon Network.

Now, I like me some violent television, but…

I don’t like watching classic moments from my youth vandalized—even if it was restored it to its original glory.

Even if, in reality, that which I held so dearly was the actual vandalism.

As I read about my beloved childhood cartoon, I began noticing a strange similarity— another dubbed Japanese classic from the “good old days” bared some striking resemblances.

It got me wondering.

Did Voltron coldplay Battle of the Planets?

Now, before I continue, let me stress that as a child, I loved Voltron. Just about every boy my age did.

This isn’t about whether or not Voltron was bad ass. We all know Voltron was bad ass.

But.

Let’s just look at some of the evidence, shall we?

Battle of the Planets was a team of five. Each had a vehicle that fit into their main ship, the Phoenix.

Voltron was a team of five. Each had a vehicle that fit together to form the super robot, Voltron.

Coincidence?

Perhaps, but, let’s look at the teams, shall we?

Each color-coordinated team is lead by a stoic leader, level headed and heroic.

Both teams have an impetuous, hot-headed second in command, always ready to contest the decisions of the leader.

Chunky lummox with a heart of gold? Check.

Quirky, little guy with a speech impediment? Check.

Pink-clad female team member named Princess? Check and check. (Why do they always name the female team member Princess?)

Like I said before, I loved me some Voltron as a kid. They formed a blazing sword, for god’s sake.

But this isn’t about which show was better.

Truth be told, this isn’t even about which came first.

It’s really about proving my childhood was real. Those faded memories wrapped up in polyester and plaid—they were real…

As real as skinned knees and birthday cakes, an inevitable part of my childhood that was almost lost to the annals of time.

Almost.

 

Vodpod videos no longer available.

(Retro)spect

November 17, 2009

retrospect

I’m a part of Generation X.

I’m part of the last generation to live through the cold war, and the first generation to do worse than their parents.

I lived through the 80’s before they became retro.

I watched TV in black and white, and my phone actually had a dial—not buttons. I remember a life before call-waiting.

I witnessed first hand the death of disco and the birth of punk rock.

I’m old enough to be pissed off by remakes of the movies from my youth.

I owned an IntelleVision, a step above Atari, below ColecoVision—and ran the Pit Fall course backwards.

I died of dysentary on the Oregon Trail.

I not only remember the Challenger explosion, but the Very Special episode of Punky Brewster about the Challenger explosion.

The themes from M*A*S*H and Hill Street Blues were my lullabies.

I’m old enough to know that the now-retro fashion choices coming back into popularity were a bad idea the first time around.

My cartoons were hand drawn, and when I read, I chose my own adventure.

Old.

I’m old enough to be annoyed by teenagers and never get carded for beer anymore.

I’m old enough to remember when MTV played music.

Most importantly, I’m old enough to be nostalgic for my youth.

That’s why I find myself trolling the web for bits and pieces of it every now and then…

Now, I’ll admit…

I didn’t really develop much of a life until the 90’s. I spent far more time with the Ricker and Arnold Jackson than I did real people.

That’s probably why most of the memories from my youth are centered around the television.

So look forward to more trips, or perhaps more to wit, staggers down memory lane from time to time…