Christmas Eve Billiards

I've recently discovered that pool (billiards), is the only sport I actually find entertaining (if you call it a sport). Watching a couple hours of it tonight reminded me of all those years in my kiddyhood we spent Christmas eve at my rich uncle's house (yes, certain members of my family were upper middle class, in case you haven't guessed by the sheer amount of privilege I seem to throw around). He had this lush refitted basement... a cozy space for gatherings, complete with shag carpet, wood paneled walls, stocked bar, and three types of indoor recreation: table tennis, darts, and pool. He had a really nice pool table with one of those stained glass light fixtures hanging low above it and all the typical billiards paraphernalia (wooden signs on the wall reading: "Billiards is not just life or death, it's more than that!"...etc.) All the essentials.

"Keep your fingers off the table! You want to get hit with a ball?" That's what they'd tell us. Funny as it may seem, the adults (and when I say that, I really mean the DADS, who I guess are adults) hogged the table as they got progressively intoxicated and left us kids to the table tennis and darts to almost "kill-each-other the night away!" My dad walked around the hot room holding a camcorder with a title card on the lens: "Family Christmas Party/ 1995,"... like he was shooting some amateur film, and that was about the extent of his supervision. Meanwhile, all the kids ran wild with the music cranked. The problem with the darts, besides me almost blinding my brother with them, was there were so few unbroken ones and most ended up hitting the board and falling down behind the recliner. At least it was a nice dart board. It even came with a small slate on the door where you could chalk in your score. One could say it wasn't a good idea to let us play with the darts and paddles and not the pool table, but I guess mixing alcohol and projectiles in a crowded setting would've been a worse one.

The pool table was obviously what us kids wanted to have a swing at though, and soon enough we'd get our break (pun definitely intended). When the adults were having a good enough time they'd head upstairs to really "get serious" and let us kids play with whatever we wanted. My brother and I would break out the sticks, balls, and triangle, and stand tippy-toe around the edges of the big piece of shiny, carved oak. We'd chalk the ends like we'd seen the dads do a dozen times, lay our sticks down on the green, and poke random balls around for a good ten minutes, ignoring any idea of stripes, solids, and numbers. Supervision poopervision! Bah... our rich relatives had their own shot glasses to attend to (and by that I mean literally, wearing shot glasses AS glasses half the time).  "Yep, pool's a man's game," I'd smugly say, trying to sound cool between sips of my non-alcoholic Sprite... I mean, alcohol.

Who won and who lost? Who knows. The game would evolve, and soon we'd just be rolling the balls around with our hands to see how many collisions we could set off or knuckles we could break, and eventually do away with the pool table completely and sword fight with the sticks. My brother whacked me good right across the back with a cue, but he was helpless against my 8-ball air assault! At least some time was spent with the stick between my cousin's legs, pretending it was his "wooden pole," if you know what I'm saying, which I wish I thought of at the time because it was a good one. We didn't break anything except a little skin. I got my brother back with a boomerang toss of the triangle right to he gut. Our cousin still thought his "cue-stick woody" was funny. He was right. Good times. Good times.

"Yep, pool's a man's game," I said.

So once the temperature in the room had risen enough and the energy in us kids was finally flushed out, we'd head upstairs to wind down and enjoy the lit fireplace in my uncle's posh living room (watched Jumanji on television one year). This was Christmas Eve to a dorky suburban boy with a rich uncle.

Finally Caught Maya the Bee

Here's a long time project my even dorkier younger brother was able to acquire after all these years--a show we were set in front of countless times during those mindless years from 1990 to whenever it went off the air--way before I was eight (but if you've figured out by now, I was "eight-ish" for a very long time). This was Maya the Bee, some Japanese cartoon from the 70's (aired in the US in the early 90's) about a bee named Maya, her brother, and I think a grasshopper.

The only thing I remember from the show is the episode where they get stuck in a plastic cup of what appeared to be orange soda (they enjoyed it until they realized they were trapped!--should have listened to the grasshopper...).

Anyways, retrieving this show on DVD is quite a trick, particularly since it has appeared throughout the world with varying accessibility and completeness--some episodes released in German were never released in Japan, and the original Japanese DVDs have no English translation sub or dub--making them pointless unless you're an obsessed fan of the show and rarer than unobtanium. Even more, the original English edition appears to have been lost because the company that distributed it in America went under and the rights to the show went all over the damn place, so the only format some of these are available in is old VHS from people who were possessed into taping episodes. That means, in the set I have my hands on now, there are some episodes which are only partial. One episode clips off the last three minutes... another is only three minutes.

Here's what the "one fan besides us" said after having braved the back room deals, shifty go-betweens, and possible danger leading up to making this black market find: 

This is the highest quality set available, and in fact, the only set available at this time. Maya the Bee is perhaps the rarest cartoon I've ever searched for, and finding episodes has been no easy task. I have even decided to include the partially complete episodes I've found as any footage at all is rare, and I must assume that fans will even appreciate viewing fractions of episodes if they're available. After years of hunting, I've been able to compile this rare collection of episodes. I spent months capturing, digitally restoring, and converting the series to DVD format for the first time ever. This ensures quality every time you watch, unlike VHS tapes, which deteriorate over time.

Thank you Stuff I Like.

Blowing Smoke

Yes it was possible to get away with smoking when I was a kid, but only in the winter. All you needed to do was raise your ring and index fingers to your lips as if you were holding a cigarette, or a stick or pencil likewise, and then blow a long breath straight as an arrow into the air. A few puffs and you were indeed smoking... and only the weirdos ever got hooked on it. I hear it's still legal in some parts.

Of course it didn't always have to be cigarette smoke. One prance around the backyard in the winter time could have me thinking I was fire-breathing dragon or steam train in one of those make-believe movies I'd direct in my head. And it wasn't just the smoke from within. We also used to run through the car exhaust as the car warmed up, busting its plumes to pieces with chops and stomps or even playing "smoke signals" in it until we were told to stop. The bus either came while we were brushing our teeth or after twenty minutes of waiting around in the driveway, so we had plenty of time to be breathing in all those fumes before school (which probably explains a lot).

You know we're in a special zone when "playing with auto exhaust" counts as a idyllic childhood memory for me. But let's probe this even further.

Here's a question my inquisitive 8 year old mind never ceased to ponder: If warm things steam in the winter, like breath and car exhaust, why not farts? I wanted to see steam shoot out back there on a cold day, but try as I might, it never worked. Why don't we give off exhaust smoke from our tail pipes like cars? It seems like it'd be helpful thing to have in the winter time, but then any fart super power would've been decent to the 8-year-old me. How about farting lasers, or heat rays, nuclear blasts, or even just fart sonar? What about being able to unleash a smell that is literally toxic? The possibilities are endless!

But the 8yo Me digresses.

The One that Got Away

I am not lying when I say that I am engaged, and have been for nearly 20 years. See, there was this girl. She was awesome, and that actually used to mean something coming from me because girls always mystified me, spellbound me, hypnotized me, and usually could get me in trouble very easy and rob me blind. So I always thought what they were better in concept. On paper, girls were always like some alien species of advanced, exotic, ultra-intelligent, flawless beings of pure will and grace. Heck, just watching one do a cartwheel used to splatter my brains. To me, they were more on par with adults while we boys were like, wild chimpanzees or something, just flinging poop at each other. But while that may have been true for us, in execution, girls were really just a more sophisticated cabal of flingers.

So with all that build up for this species of radiant splendor and strength and intelligence, and all that jazz, just imagine my additional puzzlement when, after spending time with one for a while, she revealed herself to be just another goofy weirdo like me. Smarter, of course, prettier, you bet, but just as human. We spent a lot of time together playing husband and wife at day care. We slept together at nap time (in the same room at least). We did all that kissy stuff, and got in trouble for it. Heck, we even spent many a romantic afternoon together: lunchtime at the plastic table with our square pizza, summer days poking at anthills at the big old tree, rearranging their dirt "towns," maybe followed by a movie. You know, the normal girlfriend/boyfriend stuff.

She was six ... but don't get the wrong idea! I was around five or six too, and our playtime courtship developed over many months at my daycare into the all-out genuine relationship that it was. We watched the clouds and picked out the shapes, "Ooh, a butterfly!"  "Ooh, a dolphin!"  She lied through her teeth and I believed her... about how on her trip to Disneyland she'd been turned into a frog by a magician, about how she'd reached outside the airplane and tasted one of those clouds (yes, she confirmed they did taste like cotton candy!). We played house in the plastic house, she'd get all mad when I wasn't home at a decent hour. I'd tell her how I got all backed up at the plastic pool office and had decided to go blow a few minutes at the sandbox... you know, the typical husband/wife stuff.

It was all so wonderful, we promised to get married someday. We'd even keep a piece of bark off the tree as a memorial that we were engaged (don't ask). But it was not to be. Shortly before she was taken out of that daycare, we officially broke up. To this day I don't remember how it happened, whether it was something I said or did, all I know is that whatever it was, it was somehow my fault... (that's girls for you). She wouldn't accept my apologies for nothing, and even mocked my desperate pleas. It was pointless to try, we both knew it. Even if she wasn't going away, we could never go back to the way it was. But my heart was broken that summer, for maybe two of three hours.

So Kim, just to let you know, if you're not taken yet, I'm still available. (wink)

(Oh yeah, if you're reading this, sorry about the Halloween party and how I got my plastic fishing pole hook caught in your Little Mermaid outfit... that was... only somewhat funny, and I learned my lesson).