Tag Archives: nostalgia

Don’t Forget To Remember What You Don’t Want To Forget

I remember a lot of what it was like when I was growing up. Oh sure I’ve forgotten a lot of it as well, but there are plenty of things that were just as basic as remembering to breathe. If I needed a quick bit of change, I would scour the neighborhood for discarded pop bottles. Each bottle would get you a dime which was enough money to make a phone call. Two bottles would pay for a comic book. I think Slurpees were fifty cents each, so five bottles would send you rocketing toward brain freeze if you so desired.

I also knew how to add, multiply, subtract, and divide. I could spell most of the words I could speak. School actually taught us these things along with history, state capitals, and other boring facts that we didn’t want to learn but did anyway. I loved books and movies, so I also learned who wrote what books and who directed which films. We didn’t have the Internet and the IMDB, so if I wanted to make a checklist of all of the Godzilla films, I had to know which books to look up the information and then memorize them. Same for the kids that lived on sports scores or music or what ever their field of interest was.

There were always certain films that I would read about and want to see. It started with Disney films, then monster movies, then Woody Allen films, then Oscar winners, and then various films important to the history of cinema like Battleship Potemkin or Citizen Kane. There doesn’t seem to be any interest in any of this with my son’s generation. Comic books have been replaced by video games. Spelling has been replaced by spell check or just ignored completely. Math was no longer important to them once pocket calculators became cheap and of course now the calculators are antiques replaced by computers and smart phones.

Sometimes I wonder what has replaced all of the information that we used to have to remember. People don’t have to memorize phone numbers, their phones memorize the numbers for them. People don’t have to know where to go look something up because a search engine will do that for them. With all of the free memory space available to today’s generation what do they choose to remember? Video game button combinations. Somewhere my remaining aging brain cells are crying.

We Didn’t Have Warning Labels

I was looking through a box of junk with my wife the other day. The box was about the size of a shoe box and it was filled with old bubble gum machine, Cracker Jack, and cereal box prizes. When I was a kid everything seemed to have a free prize. There were drinking glasses given away inside of boxes of laundry detergent, your Esso fill up got you a spiffy puzzle featuring a scene from America’s history, and your breakfast cereal came with a toy (or a record album that you clipped off the back of the cereal box).

One of the toys we found in the box was an aircraft carrier. It was really cool. It was two to three inches long and had a rubber band inside that launched the tiny little aircraft off the ship’s deck. Can you imagine anyone putting such an item inside of a cereal box these days? First off the planes were so small they could easily be swallowed. Secondly they could be launched.

Toys with launching rockets were a staple of my childhood. The Shogun Warriors and Micronauts all had rockets, fists, or some other part that would shoot off of the toy and fly through the air before smashing into the bad guy or an obstacle like a wall. Our biggest fear was losing these small parts if they launched and rolled into a crack in the floor or got lost in the grass. All of this changed after one four-year old kid shot a toy missile into his mouth and choked to death. Suddenly toys could no longer contain spring-loaded launching mechanisms. Eventually any toy with a part that might possibly fit inside a child’s mouth had to be given a warning label that it contained a potential choking hazard. But keep in mind this aircraft carrier that I played with wasn’t sold as a toy to begin with. It was packed inside of a plastic bag and placed inside of a box of cereal that was sold for children to eat. If a cereal company attempted this today they would need a warning label the size of a Buick on the box and even then some parent would still end up suing them.

A decade or so back Nestle tried selling a product called a Nestle Magic Ball. It was a hollow plastic ball that split into two halves and contained a Disney toy inside of it. It was like a plastic Easter egg. The difference was that the ball was covered in chocolate, so the child would eat the chocolate and then open the ball and find the toy surprise. The product was quickly removed from the market only to be replaced by the infinitely inferior Nestle Wonder Ball which switched out the toy for some hard candy. Even Cracker Jack doesn’t have decent prizes any longer. All of the prizes are paper based and pretty lame even at that.

The only prize delivery system that still seems to operate with anything resembling what it was back in the good old days appears to be the gumball machine. The prices are significantly higher these days, but the prizes are still something that a child of today can drop inside a shoebox and look back on fondly twenty to thirty years from now. Some of the prizes are actually pretty cool. There is a series of rubbery animal pencil toppers that are cute and collectible. Homies can still be found in some machines. About a year or two ago Freaky Geeks showed up in several machines locally. I’ve also noticed tiny Domo figures. I’m sorry that lawsuits have ended the days of cool food premiums (unless you want to talk Happy Meal prizes), but at least I know my fifty cents can still get a decent gumball prize. Of course when I was a kid those gumball machines were a penny, a nickel, or a quarter, but when it comes to prices, truly nothing ever stays the same.

I Don’t Remember Buying That

Over the last few weeks we have moved over ninety boxes of toys from the old house to the new house. Some of them contain items I remember fondly such as my Mego Planet of the Apes dolls or old Star Wars toys. Some of the boxes contain toys that I recall buying, but that aren’t nearly as special to me. For example I have a couple or six boxes full of Simpsons action figures and a few Simpsons playsets as well. I bought the Android’s Dungeon comic shop playset because it was a comic shop and had the exclusive Comic Book Guy action figure. Of course what good is a playset without a few more figures, so I got Bartman. Then I picked up some other figures and a few more playsets because I wanted a little more diversity in my Springfield. When KB Toys put a bunch of them on sale, I had to buy even more of them. Next thing I knew I had a mini collection of Simpsons toys.

All of those items I remembered buying, but then I ran across the action figures for The Matrix and Austin Powers. Did I actually buy those? I must have because they’re quite clearly in my collection. Maybe they were on sale or clearance and I just couldn’t pass them up. The only problem there is that the price tags don’t seem to indicate this being the case. The Matrix figures appear to have all been purchased for the regular retail price of $9.99.

Finding items like this in my collection is like finding a hidden surprise, but it also hits on another problem. If I don’t remember buying them or having them, how badly would I miss them if I sold them? The Matrix figures all have very nice sculpts, but The Matrix isn’t a touchstone film with me. I enjoyed it, but the only personal milestone I can think of that is tied to it is the fact that it was the first film I saw at the Marquee Cinemas. The theater was having its pre-grand opening and was giving out free admission to celebrate. The wife and I had stopped to purchase tickets for Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace which was scheduled to open that weekend and stumbled into the giveaway promotion. I took the kids to see The Matrix and the wife went to see Shakespeare In Love. It was a fun evening, but nothing that would make me want to hold on to the toys as a reminder of it.

If I would just cut my toy collection down to the toys that actually mean something to me, I could probably make a few bucks selling the other items on eBay. Except when I look for these toys on eBay I run into two situations. Either they aren’t selling at all or they’re selling for so much money that I don’t want to sell them because if I ever decided that I did want them again, I’d never pay the price it takes to get them back. Yes, I have some serious issues with turning loose of things.

Why Did We Lose Our Common Sense?

I saw an article the other day about a father whose young son shot himself in the stomach with a gun the dad had stolen. The child’s mom had dropped the boy off earlier that day. When the father was awakened by the gunshot he grabbed his son and rushed him out of the home screaming to his neighbors to get help. When the cops arrived, the man took off back inside. One of the cops tried to save the young boy while another pursued the father. Inside the residence the father was caught with not only the stolen weapon that had killed his son, but with a large amount of drugs as well. It’s a horrible story.

As I read this article I began thinking about what the aftermath would end up being. This little boy is dead no matter what else happens, but there are plenty of questions. Did the mother know the type of life the boy’s father was living? If she did, then why would she leave her son in his care in the first place? If she didn’t, then why didn’t she? It didn’t appear from the way the article read that he was hiding his lifestyle choices from anyone that entered the residence. It goes without question that the father will be charged with something, likely many things. But what about the mom? Should she be charged with child endangerment or a similar offense for placing the child in such a dangerous environment?

After thinking about this case for a few minutes my mind started thinking about how something like this might have gone down when I was in grade school. Split parents were not nearly as common back then, and locally we never really heard about a lot of theft or drugs. The fact that the situation was nearly unthinkable just forty years ago made it impossible for me to fathom any answers, so I tried to come up with a similar scenario that seemed more realistic for the early 70s. In this revised scenario the father would have been drinking perhaps and fallen asleep on the couch. The mom would have been gone only to run to the local store to pick up some bread to go with their dinner that night. The gun would not have been stolen, but would have still been left out instead of put away properly. The father in this version would still have been just as negligent about leaving the loaded gun out and the mother would have left the child with a father whom she knew had been drinking and who might pass out. Now what would happen? What would happen is the family and their friends, family, and neighbors would have mourned the death of the child. The father and the mother would not likely face any legal charges even though they would both be similarly negligent. The general consensus would be that they had suffered and been punished enough by the loss of their child.

Then I started thinking about other differences. We had playground equipment at our school. The drive-ins had jungle gyms, slides, and merry-go-rounds as well. We loved playing on them. If we fell off of the monkey bars and broke our arm that was our own damn fault. We chose to play on them and we failed to hold on tightly enough. There was no thought toward suing the school or the drive-in. We went to the doctor and got a cast and dealt with it. These days most everyone is looking for a personal tragedy payday. If someone breaks their arm while playing on the monkey bars at the school, the parents will sue the school. They may even sue the manufacturer of the monkey bars. Then what happens? The school’s liability risk goes up as long as they have the monkey bars. This means their insurance goes up. And it won’t just be at this one school. It will be at any school with a jungle gym because some other kid with sweaty palms might slip and land on his elbow. It’s cheaper to just remove the playground equipment, all of it, because someone could just as easily break a leg jumping out of a swing.

So much of what I enjoyed as a kid, so many of the experiences we learned from as kids have been denied to this current generation because of lawsuits. And these lawsuits were filed because someone decided to be a victim rather than take responsibility. The same mentality has crept into other areas with equally dubious results. Children have been suspended for bringing the one inch long toy weapon that came with their Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figure to school or pointing their finger and saying “bang-bang” because the schools have a zero tolerance policy on weapons in the schools. Forget carrying a cough drop or some aspirin or Midol. Those are drugs and there is a ban on them as well.

It’s not just in the schools that society has lost its mind. Many kids have snuck around and played “you show me yours, I’ll show you mine”. Today if a child gets caught doing this they may be labeled as a sex offender. Yes technology has made it much easier to show your goodies to people, but trust me it was going on back in the sixties and the seventies too.

It just seems that we’ve lost our ability to use common sense. People don’t want to take any responsibility, and we’re paying for it with higher prices, unnecessary insurances, and fewer playgrounds. I would love to see this generation quit looking for a way to blame anyone but themselves. If you agree with me, start speaking up. If you don’t agree, well, the doctor changed some of my medicines last week, so it’s probably not me talking. It’s the meds the doctor prescribed, so blame him… or the pharmacist… or the drug company.

Our Computers Were Cardboard With Magic Marker Lights

When I was a kid one of my favorite toys was a computer. It had all the world’s knowledge at its beck and call and could hold intelligent and witty conversations with you. It could do all of that provided that you remembered to turn on your imagination. My computer was actually a part from a plastic model kit of a giant insect attacking a city.

I don’t recall which insect kit it came from as there were four or five different ones and I had them all at one point. The kits included a cardboard backdrop and were really pretty cool. They were also pretty fragile. Some insects had very thin plastic legs. Some of the destroyed cityscapes included downed electrical towers with plastic latticework and thin plastic power lines. Thin and plastic usually meant easily broken. My killer bugs were soon consigned to the trash heaps or sold off in a yard sale to make money to buy more toys and model kits, but this one little plastic building had survived and to my child’s brain looked an awful lot like what I thought a computer should look like. Not the modern laptop or tower system mind you, but the old room size units that had to be fed data on punch cards and reel to reel tape. That was what a computer looked like.

I called this hand-sized chunk of plastic HAAL, like HAL from 2001, but with an extra A. HAAL stood for Hydral Any Answer Litrox. I think I had heard the word hydraulic which inspired the Hydral part and Litrox came from a package that contained a watch I wore at the time. It might have been the name of the company for all I know. HAAL wasn’t the only computer I had a kid either. There were the computers that powered my spaceship. In a previous life they had been shoe boxes, but I added colored lights and switches with magic markers. I had an R2 unit that was an old bucket with a piece of paper wrapped around it and designs drawn on it. I was working on it with a friend and we hoped to make it look just like the one in Star Wars. Sadly it never happened.

I’m not sure why these old computers came to mind today, but I couldn’t help but share them. I think I still have HAAL around here somewhere. I also have all of the old HAAL comic strips that I wrote and drew based on this hunk of plastic. Today kids share YouTube videos and other digital media, but back when I was in junior high school my friends and I all wrote and drew our own comic strips and comic books. I probably created over 100 different HAAL strips. One day the school art teachers took a fellow artist and me to meet a true local cartoonist. We both took some of our work with us. One of the things I took was a collection of HAAL strips. The artist looked over our work and when he got to HAAL he looked at it and commented, “That doesn’t actually look like a computer. It looks more like a building.” Damn it. I forgot to turn on the imagination switch before I showed them to him.

The Oscars Was My Childhood’s Super Bowl

I was a very unathletic child with asthma and coordination issues. There was no male role model in the house to drill the love of sports and loyalty to a sports team into my DNA. What I grew up with was a love of reading and of watching movies. I discovered the Oscars during the ceremony that saw Jaws nominated for best picture and lose. I didn’t actually stay up to watch the whole ceremony, but I flipped over and saw Jaws win a technical award and was pleased. I had probably caught a few minutes of some earlier broadcasts now that I think of it because I remember wondering why Million Dollar Duck wasn’t nominated or some of the other animated films I had seen that year. But I remember the Jaws ceremony as much more important to me. I was shocked that it didn’t win best picture.

It was a couple of years later that I became hooked on the Oscars. Star Wars had been nominated for best picture. I was certain it had to win. I had never seen a film that made me as happy as Star Wars did the first time I saw it. It was up against Julia, The Turning Point, Annie Hall, and The Goodbye Girl. Before the ceremony aired, I got to see The Goodbye Girl and Annie Hall. Annie Hall just didn’t connect to the 14-year-old boy living in Spring Hill, West Virginia. It had some funny moments, but I would need another year before I learned to appreciate Annie Hall, although I did develop a fondness for Woody Allen’s other films. The Goodbye Girl was a different story. I saw it at the old Saint Albans Twin Cinemas and immediately fell in love with it. If Star Wars didn’t win, I wanted The Goodbye Girl to take home the gold. I also wanted Star Wars to completely destroy Close Encounters of the Third Kind which at my young age I had decided was the most boring film in the history of the world. I reviewed it for my school’s newspaper and still remember the headline, “Close Encounters of the Boring Kind”. I really didn’t like it.

April 3, 1978 I stayed up late and watched until the final award of the evening was handed out. There were several things that made a huge impact on me that night. The first was Vanessa Redgrave’s acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actress. The next was Paddy Chayefsky’s rebuttal to her speech. This was also the night Bob Hope made a joke about the Oscars being referred to in his house as Passover that for some reason has stuck with me for all these years. By the end of the night Star Wars had pretty much beaten CE3K, but it still managed to lose to Annie Hall. At least Richard Dreyfuss won for The Goodbye Girl. One other memorable moment was watching favored nominee Richard Burton start to stand up to accept the award after only hearing the “Richard” part of it.

Ever since that night I have watched every single Oscar telecast live except for two. One year our cable was out and I had a friend and a family member both tape it for me so that I could watch it later. I followed the ceremony on the Internet using my AOL dial-up account. Another year I was just too tired to watch anything. I taped it and watched it later as well.

For several years Oscar night was met with plates of snacks and a festive atmosphere. The wife and I would each write down our picks and see who did a better job at picking the winners. It was usually me. Many times she would choose with her heart or a gut feeling while I would study all the factors like a gambler at the horse track. Never the less, she still managed to pick several that I missed. This year we pretty much let the whole thing drop. I had just gotten over a bad bout with the flu. There was no talk of making snacks. I guess she was worried about what my stomach would be able to handle, and she was tired from dealing with a sick hubby for several days. She sat down with me for the red carpet pre-show, but before the first award was handed out, she had settled in under the covers in the bedroom with the lights out.

One other thing that was different this year was that my daughter decided for the first time to actually sit down and watch the entire ceremony with me. Both of my kids have made attempts at trying to feign interest in their dad’s yearly big night, but these normally end within a couple of technical awards when they remember that there was something they needed to check on in their room. That’s kid-speak for “I’m bored and going to go play video games”. I was happy to have my daughter there this year, but I missed not having the wife beside me. Hopefully next year things will work out better. As for my picks… this was my worst year ever. I had absolutely no idea in so many categories. I had only seen one theatrical film in the last year (The Avengers) and hadn’t managed to pick up any of the available nominees on Blu-ray. Maybe next year.

When I Used to Get Sick

I have been struggling with the flu for the last few days. It hit me late Wednesday night or technically early Thursday morning. At first I didn’t know it was the flu. My doctor had just changed my medicines and I was sure that was it. Or maybe it was something I ate. I had eaten some of Lays new Sriracha flavored chips and surely that was the culprit if not the meds. I checked my blood sugar and it was up. That had to be the answer. My diabetes was making me vomit my insides out. My wife being much calmer and well-reasoned, stuck a thermometer in my mouth and informed me that I had a temperature of 100 degrees. You don’t get a fever with high sugar, bad food, or new medicines. You get a fever with a virus.

When I was a kid the thought of getting sick didn’t bother me. If I was too sick to go to school, Mom called and told them I wouldn’t be there. If I needed to go to the doctor, Mom bundled me up and drove me to the doctor. If I stayed at home, Mom would fix me foods that my stomach would handle and that would comfort me. Usually this was toast with butter, or after I got to feeling a little better, peanut butter. One food that I always wanted when I was sick and that no one could understand why I would want was pizza. Not just any pizza, Geno’s frozen pizza or any of the other rather bland frozen pizzas on a crust that doesn’t so much pass for a bread product, but as an edible form of cardboard. She would top this off with 7-Up, ginger ale, or Coke. I got a lot of Coke over crushed ice also.

If Mom did have to take me to the doctor’s office, she would usually pick me up a few comic books to read on the way home, and I could usually get her to buy me a model kit as well. The model kit would give me something to do and take my mind off of my sick tummy. At least that’s what it was supposed to do. Often times I would get frustrated when certain parts didn’t fit together properly and it would backfire by making me more upset and agitated.

As an adult I can be on my deathbed and I still have to call in to work and tell them I won’t be there. I don’t feel like breathing, but I have to go through a 10,000 question automated system to alert work that I’m not coming in. Oh and if you do that three times in a 90 day period there will be severe consequences (unless they are FMLA covered). I do have a wonderful wife that always pulls through for me when I get hit by the flu bug. She fixes me food and makes sure I stay hydrated. But my body has decided that it no longer wants cardboard pizza on a sick stomach. Baked chicken and baked potatoes all just lightly seasoned tends to stay down best now.

Needless to say the treat of getting a comic book or a model kit for being a good boy at the doctor’s office doesn’t happen anymore either. For one thing, I would have to buy them for myself since I’m also the one that would end up driving myself to the doctor’s office (unless I’m really bad and we have to try and catch my son before he goes to work). And also because neither comic books or model kits are as easy to find (or as cheap) as they were back in the late sixties/early seventies.

I’m not sure who in their right mind gets nostalgic for the sick days of their youth, but compared to the sick days of adulthood, I’d trade for them in a heartbeat.