Snowmobile and Sister

Now that's a badass ride.
February in my 8th year of life was consumed by two things: snowmobiling around my great uncle's farm field, and the birth of my sister. When I came back to school from that monumental February break, my teacher asked me, "Something big happened over the break for you, I heard. Tell us about it," and my response was, you guessed it, "Yes! I went snowmobiling!"

Now I know what you're thinking, but in my defense, it was a Yamaha Phazer II. Don't get me wrong, my sister's birth loomed over my life from then on out, and I was the best big brother in the world to her, but up to that week, I was still just a kid living my normal life and enjoying it. Ripping up the snow across the field with dad was exactly my idea of fun back then.

I don't even remember my mom's pregnancy. It all seemed to happen so suddenly. One day I was a kid sitting in front of my dad on a snowmobile, flying off the hills, riding over the bumps in the thick snow, hearing the howl of the engine in the frosty wind, watching the snow explode on impact... and the next, I was laying in the hospital bed next to mom with a baby sister between us. She was born on 2/19/94, and I met her first in hospital room 219 (coincidentally). I got to be the cool kid that month, regaling all the boys of the adventure with the snowmobile, and at home I got to be something quite different.

The TI99-4A Computer

The main screen on the first computer we owned. Check out all those colors.

Candy Etiquette

Candy. You know that whether sour or sweet, chewy or hard, gummy or goopy, it's all sugar, and sugar is sugar is sugar. Therefore, how you eat candy is often just as important as what it tastes like (surprise surprise, it's sugar!). Do I have a problem with this? Heck no. I'm a sugar addict as much as anyone else. I like my frosting with a layer of colored sugar coating on top. I like my sugar gummy worms rolled in sugar. I will not rest until they somehow find another place to stick yet more sugar into sugar itself (and won't rest for a few years after that). As a candy aficionado though, as you're shoveling in gobs of the stuff and your mind starts going in fast-forward, you start to realize that the way you put it in your mouth enhances the novelty of it long after the sugar rush has already set in.

You don't just eat Oreos, you "have sex with them" (Seinfeld Oreo joke). Seriously though, am I right people? Oreos are ripe for experimentation, innovation, and reverse engineering for the sake of your increased dining pleasure. You eat an Oreo by pulling it apart, lifting the top layer off with a gradual twist so that it doesn't break, and licking the frosting center before downing the bottom layer. If not, you twist off the top, take another cookie and twist off its top, stick the two layers of cream together, and have yourself an early version of the Double Stuffed (kids these days are so spoiled, in my day we had to make our own Double Stuffs). Or, if you're really dedicated, you can attempt to rip a few Oreos apart, carefully peel or slice the cream layers off, and make yourself an inverted Oreo (two layers of cream, cookie in the middle). Any way you do it, you're basically playing Frankenstein.

On the other hand, there's really only two ways to eat a Reese's (regardless of what the ads say). You either bite off the chocolate fluted sides first so that you have a wheel of peanut butter (or whatever that stuff in the middle is supposed to be), or you skillfully poke the wheel out of the center and eat that first, leaving a ring of fluted chocolate you can then put on your eyes like glasses. Any other way to do it is nothing short of Philistine.

Gummy worms are probably my favorite candy, not just for what they taste like, but for what you can do with them. They work best because you can stick them in your nose, and eat them at the same time. The effect of this is obvious. You are literally eating your boogers! And not just eating them, but "chewing" on them (think about it). This is especially true if the colors happen to be yellow and green, although red takes it to a whole other level. Needless to say, I grossed out a few peeps in my day. But seriously, is there any other way to eat a gummy worm other than to just shovel them in like nothing? These candy makers know what they're doing. It's entrapment. They want kids to stick these things in their noses.

Okay, maybe there are multiple ways to eat the candy of your choice, but there is only one way to eat a lolipop: to bite it. Nobody has licked a lolipop since the 1930's. You suck on it for a minute and then chomp down, like good ole' Mr. Owl. As a young dork though, I once declared that figuring out the Tootsie Pop quandary was of vital scientific importance for humanity. How many licks does it take to get to that god-awful Toosie Roll center? One day back in my kidhood, I forwent convention and licked my tongue dry for a good hour in the backseat of the car on a day of errands. I was young. I was brash. I was bored as all get out. But in the end, my count came to 309. Hey, at least I had a cool story to tell my friends.

I was confident I'd figured out what nobody else could, that is, until recently. The other day I did some research and learned how Purdue engineering students actually built a licking machine to scientifically test how many it would take to get to the center. Their count came to 364. Other licking machines made it to 411 licks. Studies of people licking them have averaged 252 licks. Non-scientific challenges have averaged 144 licks. It was discouraging, even if it does prolong the quandary, as indeed, nobody seems to know just how many licks it takes, but perhaps, Tootsie Pops make you think too much.

Nerds are better anyways. They too fit in your nose.

A Real Lego Maniac

Screw Zack, that Lego Maniac. He had nothing on me. My brother and I were Lego freaks. End of discussion. Who does he think he is claiming to be better than us just for being a Lego obsessive? Never was a kid more deserving of a swift kick in the groin to set him straight. Truth be told, my brother and I had thousands of those things called Legos all mixed up in draws from the hundreds of sets we'd built, demolished, and scattered to the floor ten minutes after tearing open. Okay, maybe not ten minutes, but they never lasted all that long. Playing with Legos was as much about the joy of creation as it was the folly of destruction. It was an activity where we got to play God, bestowing civilization on our own little Lego towns and disaster upon our annoying younger brother's. Legoland was at our mercy, and sadly, didn't survive, but its golden age was beautiful.

My dad hated Legos. He wanted to go fisticuffs with whatever "jerkoff" invented those little plastic bricks. Not surprising, because he was the one who had to step on them in the hallway at 3AM. And what a cruel irony it was that in the early years he was usually the one building the bigger sets for us. Now if only most instructions for things were like Lego instruction manuals... just pictures, no words, no seven different languages... some of us maybe would have been able to program VCR clocks or assemble Swedish furniture. Those instruction manuals were made for boys, just simple pictures because they know words are not our strong suit. And how right they were, seeing as I was calling them "constructions" for the longest time, rather than "instructions." At least I had the excuse of being six (dad didn't). ;p

Here was my castle: complete with draw bridge and the "gnarliest dungeon!" :

Once that Lego catalog came in, I was guaranteed to not want to pick up a book for at least a week. I used to sneak the Lego catalog into school and gloss over it whenever I had a spare minute. One day after the first Lego CD-ROM game "Lego Island" came out, my brother won out in the fight over who was going to bring that particular issue to school that day. I remember it as the day I took the longest "bathroom break" of my life without having gone to the bathroom. I signed out, and was off to the other end of the school, digging through my brother's cubby just to get my hands on that computer animated Lego Island comic strip it featured. But drats! The stinker had made off with it, and was smart enough to keep it on him.

The catalog was page after page of the latest sets in elaborate set ups. They always brought the world of Lego to life, leaping off every page (except the girls section) with excitement... cannons firing from the battleships, snakes hissing on the desert sand traps, and spaceships that fired pretend lasers! None of that came through out of the box, but I didn't care one bit. They always had a page toward the end where you could order parts if you were missing pieces, along with the Lego real-working Train and Technic series (for older kids).

Sometimes we'd take a trip to the toy store just for being good on errands or doctor's appointments, and mom would just have us pick from the tiny boxes at the end of the aisle. Even the cheapest little "pirate and cannon"-like set was enough to pacify us, although we got plenty of the big expensive sets as well. My brother and I both had the Lego castles. I had the black one with the draw bridge and my brother had the white one with the trap door. That's the only way you can reason with brothers, each one has to get a castle with something cool or else a real joust will go down, and the black and white knight have nothing on two jealous brothers.

We loved the pirate ships (but never got them), anything from outer space, the castles, the ninjas, and all their little themes, but then Lego started getting way too into merchandising. Lately they've been coming back with themes like "City" and "Town," and the Lego "Games" is an interesting idea, so I have faith in a Lego future beyond Lego Harry Potter. There is life after Lego Indiana Jones, thank you God.

Robie the Banker

No, he couldn't win on Jeopardy, but if you stuck a penny in his platter-like hand, he'd raise it up, drop it down his gullet, rock back and forth as he chewed, and then stick his red tongue out to lick his chops. He was a clever little robot, taking a cue from his Coke machine and pay phone ancestors, only this time designed specifically to eat your money. And yet, with a face like that, it's exactly what you want him to do. How could a kid resist this Radio Shack classic?

Of course you could just push his hand and he'd go through the whole spastic rigmarole without you having to lose a quarter. And yes, there was an opening in the back where you could gain access to his digested stash, for better or worse, leading to all the typical jokes. Saving money was never more hilarious. The only regret, he didn't burp.

Thank You Don Bluth

I stumbled across this chestnut in my semi-conscious late night wanderings. This film may have choaked me up once or twice, but you can forgive the 8-year-old me, it was pretty damn hardcore for a kid (even Bambi didn't have to sit there and watch his mother die!) and yet, it still seems to work on me. Perfect in every way.

This is just the end, but those in the know, know, and are probably still crying. Thank you Don Bluth for all you have given this generation!

The best part of being a 90's kid is knowing what's good.

[update: RIP James Horner, 1953-2015)