Ring Pops

If it's going to be the last one for the year, it may as well be about Ring Pops. Why Ring Pops? First of all, they were far more beautiful than any jewelry I ever saw, particularly the red ones, and they were sweet! You have to admit, these things even make actual gemstones look sumptuous, and way underdone. Don't even bother showing up with anything less, I mean, just look at the size of those stones! To borrow from Titanic, you'd go straight to the bottom!

On the flip side, the cheap plastic rings supporting those bulbous half-carat jewels (at best) were never made to fit anything bigger than a pinky, and that's if you had a small pinky. If you were ever masochistic enough to get it on your ring finger, chances are it's still there or you still have the scars, especially if you got it past the knuckle. Am I right? I know I'm right.

Secondly, this is the only jewelry a guy can wear without being a grunge-rocker or a goth, and therefore, the only jewelry I'll ever come close to wearing without feeling wrong. Actually, I think I've been accidentally married to a girl for the last 20 years because of one of these things. I think I threw it out 20 years ago... how insensitive of me.

With this ring, I be tooth-decay. See you in 2012!

Home Alone 2

I have never seen the original Home Alone in one sitting. I have seen the whole movie, but not from start to finish. The one I saw a whole lot more often (because we had it taped, and it was of...*ahem* lesser quality than the original, and so got played more)--was the sequel, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. As far as sequels go, Home Alone 2 actually isn't all that bad. I mean, as a kid, what's better than having the whole house to yourself? How about having your dad's credit card, identity, no spending limit, and the city of New York at your disposal? Hell yeah! Think Florida sucks on Christmas? Why not crash at the "world renowned" Plaza Hotel in instead?... on said credit card! Why not indeed.

We dug Kevin's remarkable ingenuity at outwitting the bad guys the first time around, and now find him pulling the same tricks to get himself ensconced in a king-sized bed with his big cozy bath robe, surrounded by treats and bloody gangster films, and eating two scoops of every flavor ice cream there is. He's dive-bombing into sweet hotel swimming pools (with, and then without, his shorts), paying his personal bag slave in gum, and doing just about everything every kid has ever dreamed of doing! At least...it was everything I ever dreamed of doing, but then again, I never dreamed about the "stolen" credit card getting suddenly declined, and that's precisely where this paradise starts to unravel. Even still, it was enough to make me want to board the wrong flight with my dad's credit card. Throw in some (shoehorned in) retread jokes with the same bumbling robbers, and it was still wall-to-wall stitches from my side of the room. That's not say much though. I love anything slapstick.  

Chances are, if you're like me, you can't hear many Christmas tunes on the radio without thinking about this or the first Home Alone, like the Johnny Mathis "It's Beginning to Look a Lot like Christmas" or "Jingle Bell Rock." But especially this one, which was done for the movie and now you hear it every year  (update: the original was taken down, but here's a good cover):



Just as well, you probably wanted a Talkboy tape recorder because of this movie, like I did.

Merry Chex-Mix! 

In-Line Roller-blades

Rad (adj.): see above.
Don't call 'em roller-skates, these bad boys are "blades". Since the first couple spins I took around the block in my old blades, back in the mid-90s, I don't think I've ever been able to sit quite right. Wearing these things was like learning how to walk all over again, only this time with eight wheels under your feet and a break at your heel. Come across any slope, or even just a gradual downturn or pebble, and you'll quickly find yourself careening out of control... but I guess that's what your butt is for (...nature's impact absorber).
 
After your first 200-something falls, you do get the hang of it, and then you'll be damned if you can go without them. The steady ground below your feet and the presence of "friction,"... it just no longer felt right. "If the good lord had intended us to walk, he wouldn't have invented roller-skates..." said the great candy man, and I got to agree... except for the "roller-skates" part... (these things are too X-TREME!! to be "skates"). In any case, I think I went through a period in my life around the age of 9-10 where these were just the natural extension of my feet. I lived on wheels. My blades sat by the side door, so if I was going anywhere... "I--was--rolling!"

At one point I could do everything in blades, like climb up and down stairs, use the bathroom (yes!), ride around on a trampoline (kids, don't try that at home), or fly down even the steepest sloping cul-de-sacs... (coming back up was a whole different story though). I even got up the guts to trick out a bit on the local half-pipe at the park, but only the kiddy one and only to the best ability a little dork like me could do... which meant a lot of back and forth on the bottom of the bevel and a lot of time on my butt. But isn't that why it's there?

The world would be a better place if people skated everywhere, I think. Save for a bike, these were the quickest way to get around as a kid. After all, a car only has four wheels... these guys have a rockin' eight! Cool blades were definitely on my Christmas wishlist at some point, and I got to admit, I'm struggling to remember why I ever gave up my first real set of wheels.

....unless I want to count these babies.


< Here's a cool design I found on Zazzle, get it on a t-shirt! 


Lost Sonic 2 Levels

"Dust Hill Zone" concept art.
Many have searched for the legendary "lost Sonic 2 levels", spurred on by dreams of what could've been, what they could've looked like, and why they were cut from the final game. In our minds they are mythic, complete, and full of new surprises, enemies, and everything we came to expect from the original Sega Genesis Sonic games, but what is the truth? You have to admit that Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was an explosion of creativity with all its levels and enemies. I remember my cousin even joking once that it had "like, a hundred levels." The only disappointment for me was that it didn't, but what if it did?

"More Sonic" is always a good thing, and certainly something I would've wanted as a kid, so let's take a look at some of the real "lost levels" (not the fan-made false ones). We're all familiar with Emerald Hill Zone, Chemical Plant Zone, Casino Night, Hill Top, Oil Ocean...etc... but what about Wood Zone? Dust Hill Zone? Hidden Palace Zone? Neo-Green Hill Zone? ... Genocide City Zone??

It turns out that all of them were actual lost levels in one way or another, but the truth isn't all that awesome. There are two genuine lost zones... Wood Zone and Hidden Palace, but they are incomplete. Wood Zone takes place in the treetops, has few enemies, is missing some floors, has conveyor belts that don't present any obstacle, and doesn't particularly lead you anywhere, but it is interesting nonetheless. Hidden Palace has a more polished Act 1 featuring caves and crystals (vaguely similar to Lava Reef Zone from Sonic & Knuckles), but it's also only half done--the Act 2 for it just has Sonic standing around behind a pile of rocks until he dies.

So here's Hidden Palace Zone... with it's own music and everything.


And here's Wood Zone... Wood Zone actually had a slower version of what became the Chemical Plant music, this was just placeholder music from Emerald Hill two-player mode.


That's the cool part. The truth about the other three "lost levels" is more disappointing. It turns out the equally-legendary "Dust Hill Zone" was just an early working title for what became Mystic Cave Zone (pictures of Sonic in a desert level were sent out to magazines to advertise the game, under the name "Dust Hill Zone," but no such zone was ever made). The same is true for Neo-Green Hill Zone (the original was the first level of Sonic 1). It's nothing but an early working title for Aquatic Ruin Zone. Then there's the legendary Genocide City Zone, which is just Sonic falling into a blue/green abyss and dying (and thus the name?). It's not just unfinished, it's not even started. Supposedly, the Act 3 of Metropolis Zone was going to be the one-act "Genocide City", but they designed it with the Metropolis setup instead and made it the oddball "Act 3" that is is. I always did think it was strange that Sonic would go straight from the machine-world of Metropolis to the airplane in Sky Chase Zone.

Having said that, there are a lot of cool fan-made imaginings of what the lost Sonic 2 levels "might" have looked like, including interesting and detailed Genocide City ones, but that's all they are, fan-made imaginings. They also made Dust Hill into an awesome desert level, as well as a level that looks like a precursor to the (f-ing awesome!!) Ice Cap Zone from Sonic 3. But don't be fooled by imitations. These are the authentic ones (as far as we know).

Lego Islanders Ad


Part one in my month-long "things I wanted for Christmas" quadrilogy, filed under...

How Cool Was that Catamaran?

Battle of the Batteries

Duracell claims that kids don't care about what batteries power their toys, and I have never been more insulted. See, I was a dork, and yes, I did have my battery preferences. Sure I trusted the "copper top"...they worked better than Rayovac, and definitely better than Chap Stick, and yeah, they came with that cool strip you could press down on to see how charged it was, but now I'm not so sure. Now I may just have to go back to my kid-hood allegiance was with the bunny.

Depending on which mythology you believe, the Energizer Bunny started out as a man who found a genie, wished for money, girls, and "long life," and got exactly what he wished for. In my 8-year-old opinion, that didn't sound like such a bad deal (so long as the other two wishes were part of the package). If not, then it was just some toy that escaped from the Energizer labs and is reportedly "still going" to this day on the same batteries... either way, "long-lasting" is basically the theme here.

Duracell is obviously better, but nothing says 90s like a pink bunny in flip flops. And because attempts to stop him have been thwarted, he's probably still out there (somewhere) incongruously banging that drum and interrupting random commercials for Alarm Soap and Not Bacon. No one messes with a dude in cool shades.

The Oregon Trail

Let me start out by saying that The Oregon Trail was arguably the greatest computer game of all time, and that's putting it lightly. I mean, who even really knows what the real Oregon Trail was? All I know is that it had something to do with the western pioneers, but ask any kid from the early 90s, and the Oregon Trail was just one of the coolest computer games ever made fer sure (no offense to the pioneers).

This game was more about survival than a history lesson, which is why it was so darn cool. I remember playing at least two versions of it: the original and the deluxe. The original had that pixelated, white covered wagon on a simple black screen, and the deluxe had 32bit renderings with the blue skies and banjo-like computer music. You could choose from several occupations like "Banker," (which meant you had more money ), "Doctor" (which meant you'd have better health), or "Merchant" (which meant you'd have more stuff)...etc. Basically, each came with their own pros and cons, and none really had everything you'd need for the trip by themselves.

So you'd pick your poison, you'd buy some supplies at the ole' timey "General Store" (pro-tip: BUY BULLETS... don't waste time buying food, it spoils!), and you'd decide when to leave (pro-tip: if you leave too late, you'll hit the dead of winter, but if you leave too early, your animals will die from the lack of grass). So you'd pick your poison once again, and finally set your little oxen off doing their two-step shuffle along the Oregon Trail with your cozy covered wagon in tow. The adventure was on, damn it. 


Along the way, you'd run into all sorts of dialog boxes... sometimes you'd have to decide whether to "caulk your wagon" and float across a river (where you'd always seem to drown an ox), or you'd all get sick and start dying off from old diseases (forget dysentery, try cholera!), or you'd have to stop to hunt, or cross another river, or you'd run into some town and decide to BUY MORE BULLETS. (I swear, if you ran out of bullets, you could not eat. It was that simple.)

Speaking of bullets, hunting was funny on the Oregon Trail. Not only were the bison the easiest things to shoot, but they also brought back the most meat, so what was the point of the rabbits and squirrels (besides points?)? Just a waste of bullets if you ask me. Another funny thing was how you could be out there dropping bison and deer dead left and right, strewing carcasses all over the place, but you could only carry, like, maybe one of them back. The real Oregon Trail must have been littered with dead bison that couldn't be "carried back"...if this game is any guide. No wonder they're endangered. 

In the deluxe version, the seasons would change rapidly... the oxen would be trudging through snow, and then through green grass... the sky would alternate between gray and blue, and the little mountains would scurry along as you came across such places as Fort Kearney and Chimney Rock. Sometimes an ox would die and you'd wish you were a merchant, or sometimes a person would die and you'd wish you were a doctor, or sometimes you'd break a wagon wheel and wish you were a carpenter, and sometimes you'd die in the snow and wish you weren't a loser, but if you made it to Oregon, it was something special indeed. 

The Oregon Trail was just another one of those games that made those clunky, slow, computers of our early memory so darn cool.

Until you died of dysentery... 

The Glory of VHS

Hazy glory.
As far as picture quality, sound quality, and quality in general goes, who could argue VHS is better than DVD, or Blu-ray? Tapes (as we called them) really weren't all we crack them up to be (literally)... they easily tore and crinkled, VCRs thought they were snacks, and every time you played them they lost focus until they became muted, fuzzy, 90's glory. And yet, these black plastic bricks with tape loops in them were still downright cool.

Remember the problems? Bits of static might show up on the top and bottom of the screen, or the picture might double-up, or change weird colors, or flip like a cartoon book. Sometimes there'd be total stoppages of film or jams which would cause the television to go into black-out "damage control" and run its white or green letters across the top, reading "STOP.... PLAY..." in a desperate struggle to get the tape spinning again. Chance are, the sound of a tape getting stretched around the loops and "cranking" is burned into your memory forever.

You hit "Stop" and the thing would literally jam to a halt, and you'd hear it. You hit "Fast Forward" and you'd see the world like a caffeine addict. You hit "Rewind" and you'd see people speedily ripping off Michael Jackson. "Rewind" actually meant that the tape was being "rewound" then... something that gets lost on modern DVDs... (I think they're using the term "fast-backwards" now). But if it's still okay to say "You sound like a broken record," maybe "rewind" is here to stay too. I hope so. "Fast Backwards" is stupid.

But besides the technical glitches that we used to hate and now suddenly love... what we always loved about VHS was taping things. In this age where anything on TV can be Tivo'ed, paused, reserved, bought, Netflixed, On-Demand'ed...etc., there really is no reason to tape anything anymore. Back in the day though, if a movie was playing on TV, and you wanted to see it again, you had to stick in a VHS and "record" what you were watching, commercials and all (or you'd sit there hitting "stop" on all the commercials). If you weren't around to catch a program you wanted to see, you had to set the timer and pray it might record what you wanted. It never did, but there was always a chance. Half the movies we "owned" were taped off the TV...always in SLP mode (or Super Long Play)... because, any other mode just wasn't super enough.

But most of all, the reason we love VHS is because, if you're a 90s kid, all your big milestones and events from your childhood are probably still recorded on them-- birthdays, Christmases...etc. That has something to do with it fer sure. We will soon no doubt think back fondly on "that old rainbow-effect" of the DVD, but for now, I salute you, VHS and VCR... may your green 12:00am display forever blink in our memory.

The BK Crown

One size fit all.
It looks like the Burger King crown is making a comeback. I can't say I ever felt like a king wearing one (at any age), but I sure felt something, so I'm glad to see it back in full swing. I remember the local BK used to have them out on the tables and in between booths, so then just as today, any kid could just wander in and get one... particularly if your parents just went through the drive-thru and they forgot to include the damn crown! The nerve of those drive-thru people.

I did have a few complaints. These paper crowns just never, ever, fit your head, no matter what "size" you made them, and they dug into your ears something fierce. But I don't know, perhaps I did feel like I was having it my way when I got my (two) hands around my condiment-free, pickle-free, lettuce-free, burger slab on two buns. And perhaps I really was king and everyone else's crown was just a flimsy paper imitation. I'd like to think so now.

Speaking of which, while I may have been king of scarfing down fast food, I sure wasn't king of holding on to those so-called "crown jewels." I probably had about 100 meals at BK in my early life, and probably about 50 of them I was "king" of... so where the heck did all those crowns go, and why did I have to keep getting coronated every time I had a hankering for fries? Wasn't I already king, or did my kingdom just stop at the boundary of the paper wrapper?

In any case, did the crown really ever go away? That would've been as depressing as the demise of the Burger King Kids Club cult... (world domination was in our grasp and the grups go take it away?) ...the nerve of those grups!

The Treasure Shell!

Here's a story I wrote for school in the 3rd grade, for which I received a well-deserved check+ and a star sticker. Because no one but me can read my chickenscratch, I'll reproduce it here for you in all its awesomeness. And just in case there's any question, please note that I copyrighted it. ;p

The Treasure Shell!
By mark  (c) October 23, 1995

Once there was a Boy, who went to the ocean. While there he explored the shore, looking for shells. He found rocks, shells, seaweed, broken glass and pennies! The pennies were old looking and leading some where. He followed the path. The pennies ended at a cave. It was very dark inside the cave. He entered slowly. It was creepy, damp, cold, and smelly. In the distance was a flicker of light!

The Boy went closer to the light. Once there, he, saw that it was from a crack in a Box. The Box was old and dusty. It had letters on the cover. Spelling "T.S." He opened the cover nervously. A blue light spurted out! So bright that it lit up the cave.

The light went down into a shape of a shell. It was standing Backwards. He picked it up. All at once he actually felt a power in the shell. The shell was the size of his hand, it had ridges on one side and smooth on the other. The color was tan and pink. It had electric power. A note said "If the magic shell did not like who touched it, the shell would zzzZAP the person". It also said "The light can blind a person." It seemed to like the Boy. So As Time whent on, he keped the shell to show others. A week later he went to the ocean. again he explored the cave.

"What a nice shell."

"I wonder what the T.S stands for in this Box?" He thought? 

Halloween Candy

I never cared much for costumes on Halloween. I remember one year wanting to go as Dr. Grant or any of the rabble of JP employees, but ended up going as a surgeon (it wasn't my idea). And no, it wasn't even a cool "diabolical surgeon" or anything, just a regular surgeon with face mask, gloves, and scrubs. In other years, I think I just ran around in a black cape and top hat and tried to be... something in a black cape and top hat.

I never really thought it through deep enough. If I had a thing for top hats one year, that's what my costume was. I cared more about the candy. Every Halloween you always came back with the same-old cheapo "bargain bag" variety. You always got a few handfuls of Reese's, M&Ms, and KitKats, a bunch of those Mr. Goodbars and Nestle Crunch, a solitary box of Milk Duds, and about a thousand rolls of Smarties. Usually if you dug through your bag deep enough, you might stumble on some Skittles, Laffy Taffy, Nerds, Mike & Ikes, or Dots, but that's if you had a good night. You were almost sure to get your Mars fix though. They gave out Snickers/Milky Way/3 Musketeers/Twix minis by the bucket-load! And sometimes you'd get a few oddball throw-ins... like once (I kid you not) I got Pepperidge Farm cheese crackers. That's in the dictionary under "lame."

In pursuit of all this free candy, I was definitely tempted to ignore the "please take one" rule to my own peril--concerning baskets left unsupervised on doorsteps. One time when out Trick-or-Treating, I decided to take that taboo second handful on a dark and lonely doorstep, and learned my lesson for good. The psychos jumped out of nowhere, screaming, "RAAH!" I almost fell off the step! So, word to the wise: either take one, or take the whole damn basket. 

The neighborhoods you decided to hit up made all the difference in your stash, and we usually tried to hit up a few different parts of town. The housing plots were just too PC on Halloween. Everything there was pretty well lit and everyone was packing it in around 8pm. It almost seemed like the holiday was only for the 5-and-under crowd, but those were the neighborhoods with the most freakin' candy, I swear. If you wore different masks, or just covered your face, you could visit a house a few times without them even knowing it. Their front doors were like Grand Central. On a darker side street like the one I lived on, sure there was much more fun to be had in the bedlam of Samhain, but that was only because few had their porch lights on, so few cared whether you had a trick because they hadn't treats. Those who did, took  f o r e v e r  to answer their doorbells.

So while I was sure to regale my friends with tales of wild chases in the dark, setting off party poppers and hurling toilet paper, I never did anything like that. There was never any property damage, just a whole ton of trespassing and a sugar high that could've put me in a coma.

Leafblowers Rule

Here's me in the leaf corpses.
When given the task as a kid to name my favorite season and draw a picture of it, I thought for a while, and chose "all of the above." I know that's not a season, but there was just something about each of the four seasons that I liked, and that hasn't changed. When it comes to autumn, I get it, it's crisp, it's colorful, but I don't go nuts over the season like most do. Screw pumpkin spice! And screw pumpkin-spice pie scented candles! That autumn-crazy apple-pumpkin-cranberry-spice-smelling Yankee Candle store we got around here is nothing more than a great place to mask a fart when you're at the mall with your girlfriend. And that is a true story! I don't want to smell orchards and pies and cinnamon and nutmeg and whatnot this time of year, I want to eat them! Don't tease me Yankee Candle! Is there any hope for autumn to be as awesome as the other seasons, as in, something even the 8YO me could like?

Well, when it comes to autumn, of course, the big thing on my mind is the leaves literally dying all around us, their copses being raked into piles to be trashed, burned, and jumped in by small children. Suddenly all that stuff "up there" hits the ground, you get crispy leaf corpses underfoot and blowing around, and they need picking up. It's payback for the free air, I thought. Well, you could rake them up, but come on, that's not nearly powerful or fun enough. Men have not always done a great job making life easier on this planet since the time of the mammoths, but we certainly know how to make it more fun. And one of our greatest achievements since our glory days of prehistory has got to be the "leafblower."

Don't get me wrong, it's not that they're completely useless. They may never actually get the lawn clean, and may actually end up making it worse at times, as you go scurrying around to chase after leaves in every which direction, but no, they do have their purpose, and it's a purpose that could've only been originated in a guy's head. That their actual use, and therefore why they were invented and why we continue using them, is more about, how shall I say this... allowing their users to have the most fun being an idiot while still making it look like "work" was being done. For that, I'd say the leafblower is a level of genius worthy of a Bud Light radio commercial.

Every kid, raised in a temperate climate has memories of raking a big pile of leaves and jumping in them, throwing them around, and then generally needing to rake them back up... so I won't bore you with the details of that. Trust me, there was a lot of it. My dad did have some pretty ingenious ways of raking leaves though, involving a leaf blower and a big tarp. Autumn is literally the best time of year for leaf blowers. You pick one of those up as a kid, rev it on, and have yourself a little mini Wizard of Oz in your front yard. Find a pile, blow it to pieces. Make it rain! Get those leaves cornered and make it tornado! Play volleyball with a leaf, blower style, and see how long you can keep it in the air! Stick the nozzle between your legs backwards and pretend that the sheer power of your ass-blaster gusts are blowing the front yard clean! Blast the nozzle in your brother's face and watch his mouth gape open, his eyelids curl up, and his hair fly back in the breeze! Chase your sister and really screw up her hair from behind! The possibilities are endless. The yard never gets clean, but it's sure fun.

Anyways, something about autumn (November included) always reminds me of childhood and family... perhaps it's because Halloween is around the corner (for childhood that is... I assure you, my family doesn't make me think of Halloween!), and perhaps it's because this is the time my family used to start getting together (...nice save!). Something about the fall made me think of the mundane routines in life--going shopping, going to the Laundromat, going to school, raking the leaves... and as the weather got colder, how we'd always start paying attention to things that could get us out of the cold... like all the big sales.

The second thing I picture is a gourd... not for any particular reason, other than it being a funny word, and the fact that you just can't think of autumn without picturing gourds. I have no affinity for them or eating anything involving pumpkins, and actually had a pretty daunting experience with one that I'd rather not relive (so definitely expect a post on it soon). Maybe it's just because I like the word "gourd."

And I guess that's all I have to say about the chick-y-est season of them all.

School Floor-Time Farts

I tell you, all that time on the classroom floor is a killer on your body, and boy did we ever spend a long time on the floor at school. From K to 4, we'd be down there for small group instruction time, reading time, easel time, project time, movie time, auditorium time, song time... any time they needed to call a "time." All that time, I'd just be looking up from under the tables and chairs and wondering how that vantage could've come to dominate my day, and, who stuck that gum up there? Seriously, what were they thinking by subjecting kids to this?

Aside from the sheer uncomfortable yoga positioning they were forcing us to do on those rock hard carpets, spending so much time on the floor has its other follies. It also turns out that when you spend a lot of time hunched over sitting Indian-style, sprawled out, or bent over on a hard rug...etc., any disturbance or show of force when coming to a stand can cause unintentional and unexpected internal "shifts" (especially true after eating anything they served in the cafeteria). This knowledge comes from personal experience.

It was the 4th grade. I was nine. The floor group thing was over and we were all to go back to sitting in our chairs like people. I forced myself up, and from out of you-know-where (and without even checking with me first), as if just to say "hi!"... out blurped this low and sputter-y "bluRRRp!" It was a fart, not very loud, but just loud enough. I just froze. It was a pure "what was that?" kind of moment, and I didn't even know it was me for a half second. I did a mental damage report. All systems were go. Shorts were go. Awesomeness was definitely go! At least I could be thankful it was deployed from a half stand position because if I had been still firmly planted it probably would've launched me at least an inch into the air! "Houston, we have liftoff." But let's not exaggerate. I'm not taking Apollo 13-style liftoff, I'm talking more like Apollo 13-style explosion. "Houston, we have a problem..."

I wouldn't have thought much about it from there, but these two girls (who didn't like me much already) were sitting just a few feet behind me, and I tell you they had front row seats to that performance, both forced to weather the storm I'd just unleashed. One quickly remarked to the other, "ugh, Mark just farted." Now I didn't know if I should've been ashamed or extremely pleased, but I got to admit that one minute of embarrassment for 16 years of "ah! gotcha!" pride is pretty good in my book though, even though it's always more of a deal breaker than an ice breaker. And so I say, "hehe, got ya, girls!"

Five Great Forgotten Kids Films

The 80's and 90's brought us some of the best in children's entertainment, and some of the worst, but still a whole bunch of films every kid should see at least once. In the aughties, no great children's film went forgotten (aka "Finding Nemo"), just the bad ones (aka "that other one with the fish"). But when it comes to films from the 80s and 90s, it's seems not only did the bad ones get buried (The Pagemaster), but so did the greats! We remember them of course, so let's change this for the kids these days.

In that spirit, here's five "forgotten" kids films from the 80s and 90s that every kid ought to see, in no particular order--the kind of films I'll be sure to force my own kids to watch one day, whether they like it or not. This will be the first in a two part series. Now before you say anything, the list is of course limited to the films I've actually seen, which is why "The Last Unicorn" or "Flight of the Navigator" or "Your Personal Favorite" is not here.

The Land Before Time - Who could forget probably one of the saddest kids' movies ever made? Bambi has nothing on the trauma of this little Apatosaurus! After his mother's death, right before his eyes, Littlefoot goes through all the stages of grief, from outright sadness, to directionless depression, to this hardened, near-delusional obsession (searching for the "Great Valley") which drives him and all his friends right to the verge of death before, finally, the rewards of his determination suddenly fall right in his lap. The animation is lush and the score ranks among one of the most heartfelt, depressing and yet life-affirming, with just a touch of good, clean, schmaltz. But what a beautiful, and ironically, "timeless" film, so long as you just toss the sequels. 

The Rescuers Down Under - Or is that, Dan-Indah? Granted, it's been a while since I've seen this one so I can't comment on the particulars of the story, but this is the rare Disney sequel that is actually light years ahead of its yawn-fest original. With this one, there is a great sense of adventure, a real sense of danger, and spectacular flight scenes with the boy on the giant eagle. In fact, it's almost like a whole different kind of film. I even remember being spellbound by a scene involving eggs sitting in a nest on the side of a cliff. It gets forgotten because it came sandwiched between The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast and wasn't a hit like they were, but this is definitely a "Disney Renaissance" film. The animation is superb, and...well, like I said, it's been a while, but I do remember a lot of eggs in the movie, and a hungry Komodo Dragon.

The Never Ending Story - Almost every single shot of this film is jaw-dropping, and even the old-timey "creature shop" special effects work to enhance the film's own sense of magic. Let's face it, Bastian was a dork, but then he goes and lives out this epic fantasy in the life of the fearless warrior boy Atreyu...who then spends his time getting sneezed at by huge turtles, getting shot at by conspicuously "breasted" sphinxes, and getting talked at by giant rocks... and yet, every minute of their shared quest is dazzling. Every girl, and hell, every boy, cried over the death of Artax. And if your kids have gone without seeing the Ivory Tower poke out from behind clusters of rock floating against the night sky--just when Atreyu's at the end of his faith--then chances are, they're missing out on a whole new level of elation. A truly fantastic film. 

The Little Mermaid - I know... it's a girl's movie, but with an opening that has dolphins leaping out of the way of a huge wooden ship as it comes plowing through the mists and crashing through the waves, I was sold in the first minute of this classic. What an awesome ship, and later it even meets a fiery end during a terrible storm too! A Disney masterpiece, it's arguably the best "songed" Disney film, in that the songs actually tell us volumes about the characters and aren't just there to fill time. And there's actual feelings behind these characters, even the prince has a personality for a change, not to mention his very own name! Plus, Sebastian the "jah mon!" crab was just damn hilarious. You may wonder why I include it here, but there's a reason. I think what's "forgotten" about it is that it actually is a good movie.

The Secret of NIMH - Bluth's masterpiece...yeah, you can't overstate how great this film is. Perhaps its a bit dark, but so what? Ms. Brisby's personal quest is a very simple one--to save her home and her children--and yet, it's one that ends up pitting her right in the middle of a larger and more confusing world, from the cutthroat to the mystical, and yet, all of that is secondary to what she needs to get done. It's a cautionary tail about mad science, a film about overcoming real-life struggles, and an exploration of the powers beyond. And the animation? Come on, it's the Secret of NIMH--of course it's wondrous. I can't even try to knock this one... even the idiot loveless blackbird was funny.

So there's my first five greatest forgotten kids' films of the 80's and 90's. There will be more to come when I feel like it, and I promise more 90s films next time! In the meantime, go out and stream these right now, if you can, or better yet, rent them on VHS-- the way they were meant to be seen!

Our Santa Fe Alco Train Set

Before my brother and I moved into it sometime in 1994, the downstairs bedroom was called "the playroom." It had tastelessly primary-colored wall-papered walls (with cartoony dinosaurs), a spherical light fixture with a tiny "basketball hoop" around it (it was there when we moved), and a lush blue shag carpet good for losing Legos in. And there were plenty of Legos there, piled into draws--a garbage heap and grave site for every set we'd ever built, demolished, and obliterated until it became nothing but "unorganized grabasstic pieces of ABS-plastic you-know-what."

But at some point the room went from being 50% hideous color scheme and 50% Lego bricks (which formed much the foundation, believe it or not), to 50% hideous color scheme (that didn't change) and 50% Big Honkin' Train Set. This train set was propped up on a table--a piece comprised of pure, quality, Home Depot plywood and 2X4's constructed by dad so we could work it at eye-level. I don't remember, we must have got the train for Christmas or something, but it was... the... absolute... sweetest thing a 7-year-old boy could ever dream of owning, even if they're not dreaming of it.

My brother and I were huge train freaks at that age, thanks to years of watching Thomas and Shining Time Station every morning. We had the novelty wooden "train whistle" thing and the conductor's hats (I had the blue one, he had the red one), and if there was a wooden train set in a store at the mall, that was the end of any hope our parents had of getting some shopping done. Everything with us was about trains, trains, and more trains--probably moreso for my brother than me (I was also into boats), but this one was the epitome of all that relentless adoration for all things that ran on tracks.

It was Lionel's Santa Fe Alco Diesel Freight--one of their classiest-ever electric modern trains. It had a batch of boxcars, an oil tank car, a flatbed car, and a caboose--everything you'd want. The track was one big oval, which included a shorter line you could switch it onto, and one whole side was a ramp with a bridge. Within this oval, we of course built our own Lego city, which was mainly my doing. It's not good enough to just have a nice model train set, it has to have a small village within it too, so all the little Lego people who were hopelessly outsized for the train anyway could stand back and watch it as it went around in circles with no real destination. I remember it came with little plastic people too.

Of course we crashed that thing a hundred times. We'd set the thing up to go on a certain track, and then switch the lines with the little lever thing before it made it there, just to watch it go off the rail. Dad was never happy about us doing that, but then again, it stands to reason seeing that he probably paid for it. As to what happened to it? Well, perhaps we crashed it a few too many times. Eventually we had to pack up the playroom because my sister was born and she got our room. The two of us moved in downstairs, but by then I think our whole train fandom had given way to something else entirely. To what? I don't know. The train set was just more memorable.

String Racer Ad


Oh yeah! Looks cool doesn't it? We're talking major tangleage right out of the box, plus the fact that you could never get it to go all the way. It'd always get stuck in the middle.

Sweat Pants are Cool

Clothing really isn't that important to me, and the same was true for the 8-year-old me (except underwear choice, of course, which is top priority). If I was dressing fancy, like the "Jr. Mr. Executive" thing I had going, that was one thing. But if I was going casual, at school or at home, just a pair of sweat pants, some velcro sneaks, and a dinosaur or Indian t-shirt was all I needed (in the winter, exchange dinosaur or Indian t-shirt for dinosaur or Indian sweatshirt).

I wore sweat pants probably 90% of the time, but don't you mock. It was actually fashionable for kids in the early 90s. Baggy clothes were in, in, in. They were everywhere, from the sweaters with the extra fuzz that the girls used to wear, to the bulky "Fresh Prince" rapper-style white T's that hung down to the guys' knees, and the cotton windbreakers you could wear around the house. Everyone was wearing sweatshirts and sweatpants (and headbands) because... we all just became joggers, I guess, or something. They usually came in a few basic colors too: white, neon green/yellow/pink (even for guys), and girly "pastel" (if you squint your eyes, it could be any color). Mixed in were random shapes or patterns, black splotches, or some other middle-class "urban" pastiche.

My sweat pants cache came in a variety of colors I could hopelessly mismatch with my t-shirt colors (again, not a problem in the 90s), basically comprising all the primary ones (except yellow, I was NOT that dorky!). I preferred black though--after all, it goes with anything. The waistbands were snapable (although no one ever did the obvious to me), and above all, they were comfortable in any situation, no matter how awkward. And that's what being a guy is all about, being comfortable no matter how awkward, just like the Hanes commercial said. Maybe that's what being a 90s kid is all about too.

Although I will say, looking back, sweat pants were never much help in the restroom.

Doyouthinkhesaurus

Timmy was dork.
Like most 90's kids, I've spent a good third of my life thinking about Jurassic Park--learning only from years of a slow and painful maturation that there's more to it than all those awesome big-screen dinosaurs wreaking serious havoc. In fact, it's about people too. But until today, one aspect of the people side has always eluded me. I had a moment of intense "ohhhhh!!" today, because I finally got the Doyouthinkhesaurus joke.

The scene goes like this (and trust me, I have the film memorized, so I know): 

Timmy: What do you call a blind dinosaur?
Dr. Grant: ... I don't know, what do you call a blind dinosaur?
Timmy: Doyouthinkhesaurus? What do you call a blind dinosaur's dog?
Dr. Grant: You got me.
Timmy: Doyouthinkhesaurus Rex!


For the record, it wasn't the "Rex" part, and no, I didn't think it was an actual dinosaur name!

School's In Session

Whenever the school year starts up, I'm reminded of why it's good to be 24 (...because I have to be reminded). School really is "out forever," and the kid-in-me's dream is realized. However, I wouldn't have been a true dork as a kid if I wasn't also slightly excited about going back. Granted, I wouldn't have complained if summer went on forever, of course, but if I had to leave it anyways, I used to figure I might as well embrace the change. And admit it, sometimes getting back to the grind, showing off your new jeans and pencil sharpener, and flopping down on a plastic seat before a chalkboard (rather than a couch before a TV), has its own charms too.

So it's back to TI-108 calculators and Weekly Readers, to colored notebooks and Trapper Keepers--back to cafeteria followed by recess, plastic trays and tater tots followed by rope swings and metal slides--back to girls with their Lisa Frank backpacks and boys with their Sketchers Hot Lights--back to classroom fish and "Great Job!" stickers, to strange clapping games and sitting on the carpet, to Crayola 45-packs, scented markers, and Sharpies you can get high from smelling--back to dorky, colorful cutouts of happy ethnically and capably diverse kids gracing the covers of everything like no other reality is allowed.

It's back to music class "recorders" and maracas, art class scrubs and sponges, gym class bean bags and "stretching stations"--back to having a desk with your name on it and a tiny shelf space underneath where you can store your notebooks, glasses case, retainer, and used gum (for later)--back to "show and tell" where the only act you really care about is your own--back to a place where the bathroom is officially called "the boys'/girls' room" and you have to sign a piece of paper just to go to it, or "bring along a friend." Yes. It's back to learning stuff you'll be forgetting in time for next summer.

Actually no, it would be all that if this was September of '94. It's obviously not, so my guess is as good as yours as to what  kids these days are going back to. But with all that going on, you both wonder why you left it, and already know the answer.

Insomnia

I think I've been an insomniac all my life. These days I can play online as late as I want, but the 8-year-old me used to have to lie awake in bed all night under the glow-in-the-dark moons and Saturns on the ceiling, overhearing the night sounds outside and making pictures from the shadows cast by the nightlight. (It had a cover that looked like a bay window with the shades down, and late at night I used to stare at it wondering what it'd be like to live in that little house with that tiny bulb.) Yes, I had a nightlight. And you didn't?

Anyways, my brother and I had bunk beds, and mine was the top bunk with a slide... (once again... yes, I had a slide). We used to yack tirelessly back and forth for a couple hours every night... about what, who knows... stupid stuff like the deadliest poison dart frogs or the funniest lines from Jurassic Park and The Lion King. Usually a fart factored in at some point, which depending on the culprit, was then sought to be matched by the other. Ah, the joys of brotherhood. There's nothing funnier than things that go "bbrrrp" in the night!

But then the merriment would begin to wane, and sometimes he wouldn't want to be bothered. And when he drifted off, I'd be chilling with the little glow-in-the-dark galaxies and Saturns over my head, staring into the nightlight like the guy in Eraserhead, and trying to make heads or tails of what was going on outside. I'd hear things like train horns blasting fathoms away, cars passing on the road, late night concerts or whatever that strange distant music was, random cats mewing and hooligans cavorting. To my 8-year-old brain, every random sound was probably dinosaurs trampsing around, UFOs skirting up the street, random cops blowing whistles, and the monster alien Xenomorph from the movie Alien standing around biting things like fences and snapping telephone lines. All this at once, of course. The night was damn noisy.

Then I'd close my eyes and I see random images flashing through my head like everything was going on fast-forward. I'd remember scenes from movies, but they'd all be going in fast forward. I'd make up scenes that never happened in Jurassic Park and sit back and "watch them" play. I'd turn over and stare at the wall, which was a particle board slab we stored between the bed and the wall, and I'd make shapes out of the different pieces of wood stuck in it, make characters out of them and send them on adventures. I'd turn over and stare at the closet in the dark and try to see if I could make things move with my mind. I don't know if I ever got to sleep.

And of course the whole time I'm thinking about how thirsty I am. I'm thinking about that liter of soda sitting in the fridge. It's Sprite. Damn it would be good to have it. Oh, I'd take Orange Juice. I'd take water for goodness sakes. But there it is, all the way over there in the fridge, sitting nice and cold on the top shelf in the dark. I'm parched! I got to get up and get it! But then again, it's dark and scary. What's the shadow over there? Did I just hear a television switch on at the other end of the house? Who would be watching television at this time of night? If someone is up then it's not so scary. But then again, what if nobody's up? What if the television turned itself on? Or what if I'm not hearing a television at all? What if I'm going crazy? It's dark and it's scary. I better not get up. But damn am I thirsty!

Okay, I'll get up and go get it, ghosts or no ghosts, aliens or no aliens. So I slowly go to turn in bed and "KRKREECHH" goes the bed! Oh drats! I move an inch toward the slide, and "SNAP" goes the slide. "FFFSHHH!" and down I go. Every little step is like a thunder clap. I'm planning out my steps like I'm passing a lava field, because every little step is going to wake the entire world. I don't want to have to explain myself when I wake up everyone in the house. They're getting tired of me walking around in the middle of the night. But after about twenty minutes of standing around the darkness, inching one step at a time through the house, I make it to the fridge and "oh yes!" it's good. The fridge's light beams out like heaven. Oh glorious fridge light! But then the long journey back. Then the creaky ladder back up to my bunk. Then the creaky bed springs. Then... oh damn it, I gotta go!

And on and on... and on and on, and on it goes. Hours pass. You start to hear birds chirping out the window and you know it's got to be turning to daylight. Only a few more hours of this! Hooray! Enough of this torture! And right when you're just starting to enjoy yourself for the first time in ages... zzzzz. Totally out cold.

My brother would be the first one up in the morning. He'd jump up and start emptying huge crates of Legos out all over the floor, sending a cascading waterfall of plastic pieces straight into my ear holes at 5am! At that point I'd roll over and in a strained voice say "Shhh! I'm trying to sleep!" 

Mouse Trap was Insane

I think I played Mouse Trap once. You don't play Mouse Trap, you construct it and set it off.  Who really cared about the game portion of it? You roll the dice, you move around the board...etc., and if you get the cheese first...who knows, someone gets trapped. That's all there was to it. You could skip the whole first step and just go right to the cheese, and you'd miss nothing. It was all about setting off that ridiculously inefficient trap of conveniently placed random objects.

Remember how it goes together: The Wheel of Fortune hits the elastic band of stop sign which hits the old-timey streetlamp of hanging boot which kicks the marble bucket over at the top of the hill and sends it down the bungly path and chute until it hits a pole which hits a balancing marble which rolls down the drain and hits a see-saw, which catapults a diver backwards into a shallow kiddy pool with no water in it, which wakes the T-Rex, which fights off the Velociraptors which chase you to a van which brings you to the helicopter... and eventually a cage comes down on the mice.

After 20 times, you'll probably think of 20 better ways to kill a mouse, but none could be as crazy. It was like a Salvador Dali painting or a Dr. Seuss book set in plastic.

The Pizza Head Show

The look of terror.
The Pizza Head Show was a series of commercials for Pizza Hut in the 90's, and I loved every single one of them. They always had this naive and very stale slice of pizza with a "freshly kicked-in-the-groin" (Mr. Bill ripoff) voice whose sole purpose was to get chucked around and preyed upon by this bully pizza cutter named Steve. There was also this complicit narrator who sounded friendly but reveled in the thing's torture. Throw in all kinds of crazy slapstick, copious terrified reaction shots of his bug-eyed olive eyes and gaping red pepper mouth, and the ultimate destruction of many a model red-roof Pizza Hut locale, and you have all the ingredients for a perfect piece of unforgettable 90's television wackiness.

My brother and I even invented a whole slew more ill-fated adventures for this most unappetizing slice, probably even more humiliating than anything they put him through. So now when anyone says, "Sure he is!" all I can think of is deceitful big-brother-like sadism. Love it. 

Shark Week

His name is Badass.
To the 8-year-old me, Shark Week was second only to Christmas, and even at that, it was a loose second, in the highlights of my year. Hell, Christmas is a day, Shark Week is a week! It cooled me off so many a hot summer afternoon. Splashing down in the blue with the makos, blues, tigers, hammerheads, and great whites... with only one of those flimsy bird cages for protection, was the best part of any summer... second only to fireworks. But then again, the 4th of July is also a day. Shark Week is a week.

If we could catch it, we watched it. If we couldn't see it, we taped it. One portrait of how cool this programming block was to a kid like me back somewhere around '95, involved just a remote control sinking to the bottom of the ocean with a bite taken out of it. "Just when you thought it was safe to turn on the TV..." the caption read. In short, this was TV so intense, I was having second thoughts about going in the plastic pool.

If all the girls in the 90's vowed to become marine biologists after Free Willy, all the boys got into it because for one week every summer, some guy was on TV, in a cage, underwater, poking tracking devices into sharks, taping sharks feed, feeding sharks, or being fed to sharks. It was like watching Jaws without the boring parts. A bunch of people go out on the water, you see them from underneath paddling on their boards in silhouette, someone says "I never saw it coming," and then a dash of red food coloring rolls up the screen in the water. "Whoa! I can feel that in my arm!"

Of course sharks aren't just killing machines, and dorky boys like me actually did find the sciency stuff interesting, like how sharks can't stop swimming or else they die, or how sharks have been around since the time of the dinosaurs, or how they can sense a drop of blood a mile away, or how sharks in a feeding frenzy will bite anything, even themselves (which I found amusing). I learned a lot from Shark Week, and I already had my survival plan ready should I ever come face to face with one. It began and ended with a good punch in the snout. That being said, scrawny me wouldn't have had a chance. 

Frisbee with a Girl

Summers meant I was stuck at daycare on the days my parents worked, which meant long afternoons of heatstroke in the blazing backyard of the sitter's house with nothing but the occasional tube-Popsicle or hard plastic kiddy pool with more grass in it than water to give us some relief. Each day after lunch we were just stuck out in the backyard like dogs to while away the hours with the clouds and the ants, and that was all there was. In any case, you can imagine why we might start getting on each other's nerves.

There I was, scuffing the grass like a rearing bull, upset with a girl there because she had no intention of going along or playing off the arm of whatever grand make-believe movie I was trying to make with her, and at some point a Frisbee entered the equation. We tossed it back and forth at each other for a minute or so, and she just couldn't throw the thing right--it'd always end up rolling back somewhere toward the bushes and the trees, and I'd always have to go fish it out "because I was closer." I began purposely throwing it wrong just to get back at her for her lame "girl-tosses." 

A bit of a shouting match ensued, and on one of her turns, she winged that thing with a perfect precision there-before unseen--on target too, right between my eyes. Clonk! It hit my face so hard I fell over backwards, and my eye and nose stung for a few minutes. She wasn't trying to be mean, but couldn't help from cracking up, which got me so enraged I stormed off to tell on her. I really played it up too when I got to the sliding glass door--"she hit me on purpose!" 

That sitter did the right thing. She said, "Oh don't be a crybaby. You're not hurt," and I swear the second she said that, the "pain" was gone.  If only she'd been good at it, I thought, then I could say it was on purpose! Getting a girl in trouble always was close to impossible. So that day I learned that when it comes to hitting someone with a Frisbee, it's only okay if it doesn't leave a mark. In fact, when it comes to angry boys, it's 5 points for the arm, 20 points for the head!

Battle Chess was Badass

Battle Chess was badass, as in, probably the coolest computer game you could play in the early 90's (besides Doom), and all the boys loved it. This was a decade before all these first-person shooters and role playing games took over the scene, and back then you were lucky if you saw blood in a video game.

But if I remember right, this game not only had  blood, but guts... and limbs getting chopped off one by one... and people going up in a blaze, or getting shrunk down and squashed...etc. This game was hard core in those days, and guess what, they even let us play it in school.

I don't know much about other schools, but in my elementary school, if you could play chess, you were considered one of the elite--the coolest of all. You had skills. If that game of chess involved knights that cut the arms and legs off pawns, rooks that turned into rock men who could pound pawns into a puddle, and kings that had a whole arsenal of weaponry under their capes (whips.. swords... bombs... guns??), then you weren't just cool, you were flannel cool. Heck, this game was so badass, it didn't even care if you saw it cheating. Seriously, you'd be playing against the computer, and all of sudden the pieces on the other end of the board would just switch places. "That's right, I just did. What you gonna do about it bitch?" 

Now I'm sure they would have preferred us playing girly games like Sticky Bear and Grammar (which to the eight-year-old me was something you called your grandmother), but the only other game that could touch this in "computer-class" was Oregon Trail (and that is deserving of its own post). Without games like this, computers sucked.

Freezies and Fumes

My favoritest.
The smell of boiling diesel gas automatically awakens my sweet tooth, and you want to know why? It's because that's exactly what the ice cream truck smelled like when it came sputtering to a stop along the street when I was a kid. It's funny how that tingle-toned "Do your ears hang low?" doesn't harken back sweet thoughts, just the burning gas. Either way, summer was made for Popsicles--that's not an 80's or 90's thing, that's an eternal thing (but for some reason I still think they were better then, but that's what everyone says, so obviously everyone is right).

We were fortunate enough to live on the end of an L-curve at the time, which meant we had much more time to grab some fast cash and run out to meet him somewhere along the perimeter. Those other kids who only had one side facing a road usually met up with us in our yard once he stopped. The old guy (always old guys) would pop open the hatch and the whole menu would spill out on the back in colorful, hand-drawn illustrations easy for kids. My brother and I loved the snow cones and Popsicles the best--especially the ones shaped like cartoon characters and the classic "red white and blue" rockets. They also used to sell the ones with jokes on them, where the bottom of the stick would say something like, "How did the square become a circle?" And then you'd eat down the Popsicle and the other end would reply, "He cut the corners!" 

No cymbals? Okay, how about this one... "Why did the window go to the doctor?  Because it had panes!" Or this... "What did one tomato say to the other when rolling down the hill? Don't worry, I'll ketchup!" Or...  "What do you call a frog that's illegally parked? A toad!" 

Okay, the jokes were corny, and yes, the smell of burning diesel is not what you think of when you think of sweets, but that was all a part of that classic summertime charm I will never forget. The one big regret I remember having about moving to the new house in 1991 was that the ice cream truck would always skip our street. And whenever he did make a run on it, he really was running-- seriously, they could have got him for speeding. 

Don't Taste Like Apples?

I might have been alone in this (judging by the commercials), but I thought they kind of tasted like apples.

Seriously, you always heard them ask the question: "Why do they call them Apple Jacks if they don't taste like apples?" But that's not even the half of it, because not only are they called what they're not, they're advertised as not being what they're not. Maybe this was reverse psychology or something.

And all this attention on the word "apple," but what about "jacks?" If apples are nowhere in the equation, then the real question ought to be "what the hell is a jack, and why are we eating it?"

Because we do?

A Boy and His TV

Wait... Tails wasn't brown!
All the other boys in my kindergarten class spent most of the year making a 200 piece Ninja Turtles puzzle in a side room, but I opted out of it. Ninja Turtles were the biggest thing around at the time, but they weren't my thing, and the same went for that whole Transformers/ G.I. Joe/ He-Man programming group so intensely marketed to us. Maybe the cars, guns, explosions, and pizza did appeal to me on their own, but the muscles and fighting didn't. I just thought all that chest thumping and general badassed-ness was too intense and not saccharine enough. 

I didn't go hungry though, because the 90's served up so much sugar on TV it's a wonder I still have all my teeth. Let's just say, my brother and I had "less badass" interests on lazy Saturday mornings in 1990, and shows like Maya the Bee, The Littl'bits, Shining Time Station, Fraggle Rock, Eureka's Castle (sadly) and Sonic the Hedgehog made up the bulk of it. Anything clean, colorful, mindless, and utterly devoid of muscles was good enough. These shows didn't activate my urges to break into random sword fighting during commercial breaks, but I guess the world is better off for that. They may have been trying to instead stimulate that seldom-used thing called a brain, but then again probably not. If my brain couldn't be compelled by cars, guns, muscles, and pizza, then it was probably going to be compelled by hedgehogs, stupid dogs, exploding eyes, and pizza, anyways.

I didn't like Ninja Turtles, Street Sharks, Dino-Vengers, Gargoyles, Transformers, or even the dang Cheetahmen. Did I watch them? Well, of course. Who didn't? Who doesn't know their Raphael from their Donatello? Who doesn't love Ripster and Streex? Who can't name T-bone's signature move? Come on. But give me Rocko's Modern Life and Pete and Pete any day. I traded bulging muscles, Kung Fu turtles, and underwear being worn on the outside, for fuzzy puppets, claymation puke, and cartoon animals who don't even wear underwear, let alone pants. No, violence was too intense for this little dork, but I could stomach a good "Sonic Sez Says" whenever required. You want to talk about being tough, well there you go.

In the 80s and early 90s, children's television existed for the sole purpose of selling you toys. That was what it was all about, whether it was a new Transformer or a new Sonic game. And there are just two different types of boys wanting those toys... the "hoo-ra!" ones who dream of driving a jet across a desert at high speeds only to morph into a robot that can shoot lasers from its shoulders, and the "uber dorks" like me who just want a trippy comedy adventure complete with furry animals, toilet jokes, and morals like a sledgehammer. In the end, it was all good, because it was all cheese... worth biting into so long as you held your nose. And if you waited for the commercial breaks, you knew just what to pester your parents for. See? That makes it simple. 

Beyond 2000

Before Discovery turned into the "poor career choice" channel, it had shows like this. The animated opening actually was eye-popping, only because computer animation wasn't used for everything back then. So I got to admit, this show actually had me thinking the future would be cool.

The Truck that Drove All Night

This is probably more for the six-year-old me, but I came across this book one night (on one of my all-nighter web wanderings) and the memory of it was so vivid I knew I had to post it. Having said that, I don't remember at all what this book was about besides what can be gleaned from the cover: a muffineer and his living truck drive all night, and thus we have, The Truck That Drove All Night.

I guess they didn't want to make anything about the night look scary, because nothing ever goes awry in a story about muffins, even if it's also about a late-night trucker burning the midnight oil. I remember the headlights shining out the "eyes" of the truck and the cozy little interior, and that shiny grill. "Just drop those off at my house!" This book made me want a muffin. This book makes me want a muffin.

When I was a kid, staying up all night was some mystical thing. It's almost like you weren't sure day and night were connected, because you'd fall asleep and suddenly it's be day again. What happens if you don't fall asleep? Does night go on forever? Do night people live in the house at night while everyone's asleep? How can you be sure? Well, books like these made the night seem mystical and oddly well lit, but seeing as I've grown into a night owl, I've had plenty experience staying up all night and something about the magic is lost.

Now I can only imagine what mornings look like.

Citronella at the Lake

My grandparents' campground was nestled in a Cape Cod pine grove. It was a rocky, piney land where walking to the pond barefoot was the most hazardous thing you could do to your feet and you couldn't so much as breathe without sucking in a mosquito. Nothing could be done about it either, even with the citronella bucket lit on the picnic table. Seriously, if that was supposed to drive the bugs away, why were there always a few floating in it?

Anyways... we weren't allowed to barge in like we did, seeing as it was a private campground and my parents weren't paying up (we just happened to know people who were--our grandparents), but for a few days each summer, we all got a run on the place. We usually came by to "visit" unannounced and to help ourselves to all the amenities. Needless to say whenever we all rolled up, our grandparents were already dragging out the inflatables to send us off to the lake (in a last ditch effort to have a grandkid-free vacation I guess).

That was okay, because we kids got to have a blast taking turns knocking each other off our balloon perches into the pond's mucky black seaweed scum for hours at a time. If not that, we were hitting the still chop with the paddle boats. I learned how to wear a life jacket at the campground (you had to wear one to get on the paddle boats). One summer my brother and I even paddled all the way out to the other end of the lake to find the even smaller clump of untrodden sand and overgrown brush on the deserted opposite shore. Civilization looked soooo far away from out there in bug-dom.

Coming back from the lake was far more perilous though. My feet were fine in the water, but then I'd have to cross the beach to get to the pavement, and since I didn't want to get my shoes all sandy, there was no choice but to walk back barefoot. Now we're not talking just sand, we're talking gravel roads like shrapnel, sticks like thumb tacs, and stones like Lego bricks, all buried under a thick layer of prickly needles, pine cones, and... oh the hell with it... "I can live with sand in my shoes!"

"Can we go in the camper now?" I'd ask. There was something so cozy and bug-free about that RV... being an enclosed space away from the bugs, that is. They never let us kids in unless we were getting a cookie or something because they were smart, so we had to stick it out under the retractable awning with the multi-colored luau "lantern" Christmas lights on the splintery deck. My brother and I sat there shirtless and dripping, fresh from the pond late into the evening with the mosquitoes.

The filthy plastic tablecloth was clamped down, the blue bug zapper was blitzing, those vintage Noma coach patio stringed lights were glowing, the screen door on the RV was super spring-loaded, and the citronella still wasn't working. The murky black pond water stuck to our skin with the scum as our shorts slowly dried into the late evening. We never had to change our shorts at the lake, we'd dry off by the glow of the citronella candle, and summer was everything summer should be.

Lion King on the Sega

2:30 seconds? Yeah... after you die on level two, three, four...etc.... the first three dozen times, trust me, you'll be doing this level in a minute or less. You'll be doing it in your sleep.


Ah, back when games based on movies were good, and challenging, and weren't just scene-for-scene re-shoots of the movie: exploding bugs, prickly porcupines, and hyenas that jump TWICE after you jump on them (do NOT forget), it's all good.

My brother and I went to our cousin's birthday party sometime in 1994, saw this was on, and plunked ourselves down. From there on out we had the living room commandeered--all day, afternoon, evening... we were probably the last to leave. Screw pool party. Screw presents. Screw birthday cake... this was all we were interested in. Okay, perhaps we breaked for cake.

This game is just damn tough. We never defeated Scar.

Marching Webelos

The best thing about being in the Cub Scouts was getting recognized for being in the Cub Scouts. You flash a badge, you wear a neckerchief, and not only are you in the club, but you're in everyone else's club too. I'd wear that uniform to school for picture day and suddenly transform that "humdrum smile against the paper background" into a proud military portrait in full regalia--a full smile, a missing tooth, and a badass bunch of badges. Two words: aw yeah.

Well nothing was more honorary than marching in the Memorial Day parade as Cub Scout Troop [whatever], in fact, we had more honor than we knew what to do with. "Remember, your behavior reflects on the whole troop," they said. They had to preempt our fighting and make sure each of us got a shot at carrying the banner with our troop insignia, which was a matter we took very seriously. So we stood shoulder to shoulder in one long single-file line holding this thing up and stepping on each other's feet for a mile and a half.

We began the journey at the "secret parade people's meeting area" in the field where the Scotsmen were tuning their sheep bladders and the classic cars were idling and revving up for no reason, and waited there for the eternity it took the thing to get started. We baked, and sweat, and got on each other's nerves under the hot sun, and finally found ourselves lining up to be smack dab between the fire engine and that high school drum ensemble. Let's just say, the novelty of marching wore off pretty fast.

That fire engine was a tough act to follow. It tossed out the most candy, and like hell if we listened to the pack leader about staying in formation once there was candy in the area. If the banner almost dropped a few times and caused an embarrassment for the whole council, it was because we were stuffing our pockets before those leeches on the street corners got theirs. Nobody expects a Cub Scout to be a giver and a sharer anyways.

As far as where we were headed, "who the heck knows... just follow the fire truck."  So we just kept walking and walking under the hot sun, slowly losing our hearing, slowly losing our shirts, and getting on each other's nerves (that would've happened anywhere). When we finally made it to the end, we sat in the grass at the grave site and ate our candy and rang the sweat out of our neckerchiefs until our parents caught up with us. There was some memorial ceremony going on there, but what did we care? We had three things on our minds:  shade, silence, and water!

That's what Cub Scouting is all about, teaching you what's important.

Swimming Lessons

Why do I have to go to swimming lessons when I can just stay home and play Sonic instead? 

That was probably running through my mind in the summer of 1993 or so, on a sunny, hot morning like today. It was like pulling teeth to get me and my brother up, dressed, and out the door, but once we hit the pool, we were having a grand old time. The one we used for our swimming lessons was outdoors, submerged in a bed of scratchy white concrete, and built up on all sides like Fort Knox with high chain link fences. It was like its own micronation of "Community Pool," complete with it's own laws (No Diving, No Splashing, No Running...etc.).

You could only enter in through the changing rooms, which served as its border crossing. The boys and girls separated. It was like passing into a third world country. Our changing room was nothing but a series of slimy, buggy, weedy showers next to a changing bench--which at the right angle was perfectly visible to the outside. That's okay, I'd gotten used to having no privacy, but could only imagine the luxuries the girls had. Their side was probably furnished like a Turkish bath by comparison!

In any case, I did not wear "floaties"...you know, those things that make you look like you're a real heavyweight stud whenever you... oh who am I kidding, there's nothing manly about floaties! I didn't need them. I could dog paddle with the best of them!

Anyways, most of our lessons involved swimming back and forth, launching off the sides, splashing 101 (holding onto the side and kicking), and learning how to "use spoons, not forks" when going overhand. I insisted on inventing my own swimming maneuver though, calling it "knives," but it didn't take me very far. When I was above water, it was about making bubbles, and when below, it was about holding them in. I used to spend a lot of time under water holding my breath, keeping my eyes open to see up from underneath the other kids like the shark in Jaws. The only bubbles I didn't like so much were the ones that filled my shorts after jumping in, which would blow up my hips and blurp out the leg holes unexpectedly in a big bubble. Well, no. I take that back, those were the best!

That pool also came with a slide, which I was practically running to get in line to (which apparently is against the rules or something). The only problem with the pool was the fact that the water was too damn cold, even on the hottest, most humid days. I could feel every limb on my body shrivel right up when I jumped in--and not just the usual suspect. Now, there were occasional warm spots in the water, but they probably weren't the kind I should've been hanging around in.

At the end of the summer, we were given a cheap printout award by the lifeguards in charge of our swimming lessons (usually slender little high school chicks or dudes with sunglasses and more SPF than Ug's nose. All I remember about that achievement was how horribly, horribly wrong they spelled our last name.

In short, it took a shower just to erase the effects of the chlorine. I can still smell it.

Hurricane Felix

It was the summer of 1995, and my dad had me hooked on the Weather Channel. We were tracking the progress of the hurricane due to make a run up the east coast at category 4 strength, and for at least a week or two, it was the topic of conversation between me and dad. Where is it going to go? Will is swing north? Will it fly out the sea? Will it slam into North Carolina and miss us completely? What the heck is that low pressure system doing? For more on this developing storm system, I take you to my 9-year-old self Weather Channel correspondent...

Back then, watching the Weather Channel was like watching a Sega Genesis game. The bright blue Local on the 8's screen was populated by bold white letters, little blazing suns, and puffy rainclouds stuck to fat lightning bolts, and was always delivered in the key of cool--and by that I mean laid back, Pure Moods-y, sax-driven adult contempo. Ah...so smooth. Nothing was cooler than watching those big green snot blobs pass over the landscapes of gray puzzle pieces so long as Kenny G was the one heralding their journey. The wind could be ripping the roof off your house, and it'd all be okay so long as it was set to elevator muzak .

Anyways, I remember Felix better than Hurricane Bob because I'd grown a few more braincells during those years. Hurricane Bob actually hit us, but all I remember about it is how I "held the furniture down" so nothing would break should the house go up like the Wizard of Oz. Men got to protect the house, after all. By the time of Felix, I was less interested in thwarting disaster, and more interested in watching it--the stock Hurricane Andrew footage that is, of roofs getting thrown off, waves crashing through windows, palm trees bent sideways...etc. And to think, we had one coming our way!  Fire up the camcorders!

So you couldn't beat the Weather Channel when it came to excuses for father/son bonding, because when the storm hits, the men got to be prepared... the destruction won't tape itself! As it turns out, Felix hovered around North Carolina and did a couple loops before spinning out towards the North Atlantic. Bummer. It didn't flash, it fizzled, which is probably why we didn't stay tuned for Hurricane Luis.