Train Whistles

My brother was more of the train freak in our youngling years. Boats were more of my thing. But as is the case with brothers, when one has something cool, the other one is by default a fan of it too. So I found myself being a train fan very quickly, and for a while, anything somewhat train related was bound to end up on the floor of our room somewhere, resting in the carpet fibers.

One such thing you could usually find somewhere under the bed was the old-timey rectangular wooden train whistle, where you'd blow into it to make a steam-engine "wooo" like a low pitched tea-kettle. I definitely remember just walking around with the thing hanging out of my mouth, breathing in and out, and creating a "woo" "woo" "woo" over and over. It was guaranteed to annoy any adult in earshot. Afterwards, pulling away always left the after-taste of cheap balsa.

All aboard for 2013! 

A Very 8YO Me Christmas

I never believed believed in Santa, or at least I don't think so. I guess my parents were just major cynics about the whole thing. For me, Christmas was always far more pragmatic than "magical." Long car rides around the neighborhood at night to go look at the people's lights were the highlights of our traditions, so if there's one thing I still love about this time of year, it's the lights.

Christmas for me was about jumping in the warm car to go tramp around in the ice cold evening wind for an hour or two admiring the lights around the lake, usually accompanied with a trip to the local church light display said to be one of the biggest on the eastern seaboard. Waiting as dad drove us around in circles in the packed parking lot was about as magical as it got. It was considered a "miracle" if we found a prime spot right up front (near the nativity set). Those glowing figurines always looked so innocent when caught in the headlights.

Yes, Christmas was about the details of getting through it. One year, me, my dad, and my brother attempted to assemble the fake Christmas tree, and it took nearly the whole day. We rolled the plastic Douglas Fur out of the box, and when the trunk wasn't fitting together, my dad literally took the thing to his workbench in pieces to rig up some PVC piping to hold them in place. His explanation was that by the time the thing was decorated we wouldn't even notice it, before going off on a tirade against the "plastic Christmas tree industry" for over-engineering the thing so damn much with their "know-it-all college degrees." We stuck the pieces together, bottom to top, and set to work unfolding the branches. Then we took a step back, and something didn't look quite right. "Dad, I think it's upside down..." I said.

Sure enough, the tree started out small at the bottom and was exploding near the top. After a laugh, we pulled it apart, tore off all the "modifications," and put it together the way those college-educated know-it-alls at the company most likely intended. We threw on some ornaments and three hours after we had first taken it from the box, it was up, with all its pieces in the right order. Something tells me it would've been up in twenty minutes if mom was home. *knock knock* "Do they still make wooden Christmas trees?"

Welcome to the Jungle!
Lights have always been more my bag. It just isn't Christmas until you've untangled the thicket of green wires freshly gutted from the cardboard box, and then gone through one after another looking for that stubborn one that's out in the whole set. It's not really Christmas until you rig up the lights only to find out that none of the reds work. It was never really Christmas until we had littered the living room floor with wrapping paper and the boxes of ornaments, fought over who got to use the tape and where the extra scissors went, and wrapped all the presents like tootsie rolls because I couldn't wrap a box worth a damn. Then I guess, it wasn't really Christmas until we came up from our bedroom in the morning to find waaay more gifts than were there the night before, knowing that mom and dad must've had a busy night (especially if a new Lego set was in there!). Magic!

Merry Chex-Mix.

Bubble Pipes and Blanket Capes

I don't smoke...any substances, but I once did. Back when I was somewhere around six or seven, I was known to smoke a bottle of bubble soap a day. I was addicted to my bubble pipes, whether they had the soap in them or not. Something about having a plastic pipe hanging out the side of my lips just seemed like the coolest thing in the world, and I'm sure everyone thought I'd be tarring up my lungs nice a thick for the rest of my life as a result. This hasn't been the case, so (*raspberry sound*) to them.

I don't always dig through the reams of photography taken of me (conveniently stored in one of those old cardboard fruit bins you used to see at the supermarkets sitting up on my bookshelves), but when I do, it can sometimes feel like a safari expedition into the surreal. There I find plenty a picture of me wearing a blanket as a cape, usually with some kind of hat and bubble pipe completing the ensemble. Truly, the further back in time I dig, the dorkier it gets. And I know I sound vain, but this stuff just has to be documented. This is as dorky as it can get, and yet I hope you agree, pretty much as awesome as it can get too.

I don't know if I was trying to be some super hero who smoked a pipe, or what that was about, but no getup seemed complete without the blanket cape and bubble pipe accessories back then, and arguably, no getup was as cool without them. And wearing a cape didn't do me any harm either. I never tried to "fly," least not without trying to take off from the ground first!

T-shirt, sweatpants, bubble pipe, blanket cape, cardboard roll, poofball stocking cap, indoor trampoline... the pieces are all coming together.

Old Pizza Hut Ad

For me and probably anyone else who ever owned the original Land Before Time in its first run on VHS, this ad for Pizza Hut was emblazoned into our very soul and some of our earliest memories, watched repeatedly every time we popped in the first five minutes of the Land Before Time. It's about this fat mom stopping to give her son advice about being a "polite little boy" before sending him off to a "birthday party at Pizza Hut," intercut of course with scenes of how literally he takes her advice, doing everything his own way while still making her proud of her "little angel." Yeah right! we think.

It's not an exaggeration to say that I have this thing memorized to this day, and yet I haven't even seen it in years. That old red car pulling up, the plucking piano melody, the kid's bunny and bowtie, that rocking "PARTY!" soundtrack, the haze throughout... all burned somewhere into the neurons of my brain forever, sizzling like hot cheese. It's a completely accurate portrayal too of a very familiar problem, being a boy and getting that invite to some girl's birthday party at a cool location. There's always that decision to be made going in: "If I go, I get to eat pizza. But then again, she's a girl. How is that fun?"

From there on out, everything he does makes perfect sense: stay cool, stay away from the girls, and amuse the other kids who, like you, were also pulled into this by the lure of free pizza. Poke holes in your napkins and wear them as masks, pig out, stretch your pizza cheese, hang a spoon on your nose, construct a straw aqueduct around the table, become the life of the party, and if your antics win you a certain little admirer, wipe her kisses clean off when you get back out to the car! All in all, a day well spent, a problem averted, and even your mom is none the wiser. "Yuchchk!!"

I'm lucky to still have the old VHS, so I can see this thing the same way I grew up seeing it (yes, I actually still have a working VCR).

The Dreaded Sweater

Growing up in the 90s, I think we saw the end of the "holiday sweater" as a legitimate article of clothing, and especially the end of the fuzzy sweater. For a long while there, as soon as the temperature started dipping to the 30s around the end of November, you'd suddenly start seeing them. Young and old alike. Girl and boy. We all became Swiss in December.

As kids of the 90s, we spent half the year swimming in our massive t-shirts hanging lower than our shorts, and the other half choking ourselves behind itchy wool. That is, when we weren't already choking ourselves in itchy wool the rest of the year (yes, sweaters were once considered casual clothes!). The sweater beast usually came in vomit colors, grey-ish neon fibers all meshed together in fuzz, or came stark and contrasting enough to blind you in sunlight. There was no in between. Then there was the dreaded holiday sweater, usually dark red, with knit-work reindeer, Santas, or snowflakes, all assuring its immediate termination after the holidays.

They got me too!
What can I say? The collars strangled me, the sleeves rode up my arms, the elastic-y bottoms gave me a draft whenever I bent over, and the sleeves caught on everything! I can't tell you how many I tore through just trying to walk out many a screen door! Plus there was always that static cling to worry about. If you weren't careful, you might be going to the Christmas party with a sock or pair of underwear stuck to your back. And I can't tell you how many girls I saw plagued by the sweater's anti-gravity qualities when it came to standing their hair on end! And how's the Christmas party supposed to be any fun if you can't poke the girls without getting tasered by their sweaters? Seriously.

I'm sure somewhere out there people still wear sweaters. Heck, I wore my raggedy old black sweater straight on through high school. But something tells me that this fashion statement is going to be hereto referred to as "that thing we wore back in the 80s and 90s." Maybe the sweater beasts were hunted to extinction, and now it's just, "hey, why are you wearing a sweater? And why does it have to be fuzzy? That's so 90s. Even caterpillars are wearing different styles now."

...Oh who am I kidding, you know I mock 'em 'cause I love 'em.

Cutting a Penny in Half

It doesn't take too long when you're a kid to learn that what they're selling this time of year isn't going to be half as good out of the box as it looks on TV. The commercial might have said the truck had "real world sounds," but to my ear, all I could hear was the "shhhhhhh" like tuning a radio station every time I pressed the button on the truck. Yeah, that the whole "real world sounds" thing was a complete sham.

But there was a time when I was still dumb enough to believe anything, so when they had those "super scissors" infomercials back in the day with the funky-looking scissors cutting through leather, vinyl, aluminum, and even pennies like cold butter, my dad was sure to buy, even with the two easy payments of 9.99 and shipping! Apparently I wasn't the only one dumb enough.

"It so tough, it can cut a penny in half!" That was a claim worth to price of the pair in and of itself in my book. Even my dad was so impressed that he called them up, and in weeks we had our new pair of scissors in the mail. As was custom with probably everyone else who bought these "super scissors," we immediately got on that important task of actually cutting a penny in half, and damn was that one tough nut to crack!

Unlike in the commercial, which showed it cutting straight through with barely any force, it took the strength of all three of us men in the house (the 8yo-me, my 7yo-brother, and dad) to get the job done. I remember my dad, after laying them down on the table and using his full arm, made the first short incision on the side, and then my brother and I took over huffing and puffing until the thing finally gave through and the pieces shot in opposite directions across the room! So yeah, they didn't lie, per se, because it was possible, just damn hard. Wise purchase it was.

After the quest to deface currency was over, and 25 bucks was considered well spent for ten minutes, those "super scissors" promptly found their way into the kitchen drawer, and were regular scissors from there on out whenever we lost the regular 2 dollar pair. The "strongest scissors in the world" completely sucked at cutting holiday wrapping paper!

How I Beat Myst

Not to brag, but my brother and I beat Myst back sometime in 1995 without cheats, without hints, and without any help whatsoever. Well, that's a lie, because we did look up one cheat to get us out of that damn Selentic Age puzzle in the Flounder-shaped submarine, but other than that, we did everything else just by walking around and clicking on stuff. And that's really the only way to play Myst, because as anyone who's played it and then gone and looked at the cheats knows, the game is "winnable" in under a minute. To really get the whole experience, you just got to take the long sightseeing tour and get your senses blown apart. That's basically all it was anyways, one big slideshow that you clicked through while fighting with your brother, and every now and then little movies played.

Oh! The little ship is the big ship!
But to anyone who was a PC nerd in the 90s like I was, Myst continues to be the coolest PC game ever made, back in a time when you actually went to a computer store to buy games on "CD-ROM!" in the big boxes. Myst was a point and click adventure involving puzzles to solve and environments to explore, but how do I really describe it? The mystery starts the second you, the player, gets thrown down onto this very bizarre island, completely devoid of people, and yet curiously built up as if people were once there. The mystery continues as you meander (aimlessly at first), trying to get your bearings and tamping down that eerie feeling of being all alone in such a strange place. Could it be a dream? Who built all this stuff? Where did they all go? Where does that tunnel lead? Questions, and absolutely no answers, yet. It's like Lost, except the creators actually had a plan for it.

Finally made it up here! Now where to go?
After you've experienced everything on the island, you begin to experiment with things, perhaps in desperation to find some order in the chaos, and the more you uncover, the more things start falling into place. You learn that the island is like the "age hub" and that you can visit other "ages" by absorbing yourself into the moving pictures in the books scattered around the island. You find yourself collecting pink and blue pages from each age in the ruse for these mysterious weirdos calling to you from beyond the grave or in some prison. You visit the high treetop hut village of the Channelwood Age, with its twisting bridges and swamp walkway pumps, also devoid of people and yet all arranged as if they just disappeared. You visit the Stoneship Age, with its lighthouse (my favorite), and telescope peering into the clouded void. Then there's the Mechanical Age, with its turning house and rooms full of stately furniture and spooky torture devices, and finally, that damn Selentic Age that you travel to via rocket ship piano with the random clocks and the near-impossible without cheats submarine puzzle!

Awesome lighthouse!
Add to this a killer of a moody soundtrack, and glorious visuals, and you got more than just a game, but an experience, if you played it right. It's definitely the kind of game that once you started, you totally got sucked in and might play for 5 or 6 hours just trying to figure out how to work the pump system in the Channelwood Age, or how to spin the house in the Mechanical Age, or how to light that furnace on Myst Island to get that giant ass tree to lower itself! I remember we figured that one out completely by accident, just clicking on the match and "moving it" around on the screen until it "struck itself" on the wall! Presto! There were a thousand "happy accidents" in the game like that, and that's what made it fun.

There just weren't any "cheats to Myst" online, or any walkthroughs, because both Myst and the internet were brand new. If you wanted cheats, you had to call an expensive 1-800 number on the box! I often wonder now if anyone has called that in recent decades. Eventually I got so into Myst that I went out and read the prequel books, which really explain the whole backstory to this world, but the game is still an experience first and foremost.

But as for the sequel, Riven...  hell, we walkthrough'ed and cheated the hell out of that one!

Where in the World is [My Mind]

I used to watch this show called Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego at a time when all I knew about the world was that it is round and that it exists. So for that reason, and the fact that I wasn't popping pills at the time, I never understood this show, and I know I'm not the only one. In any case, did I watch it? Of course. It was on TV.

It had something to do with hunting down some fugitive or something, a woman in red (how classy) who ran around the world, and how it was up to a bunch of game show contestant kids to follow the clues and tips pouring into the Acme headquarters to track her down. Why she was so important to have a whole branch of the FBI looking for her, and why the guy always lost his mind in the "lightning round," and why the kids were called "gumshoes," and why the "Chief" only spoke in bad puns, and why the random singing, I'll never know, along with many other puzzling things about the show.

There was a lot of Dick Tracey noir-lite stuff in it, and questions about geography, but I was little and my mind was more focused on the flashing lights and other key-jingling peripherals. My favorite segment was the map race, where a lucky contestant got to try to beat the clock sticking flashing light traffic pole things to the right countries on a giant floor map of a continent. And as much as I wanted them all flashing and "wooping," I always thought that "uh oh" fart sound for a wrong pick was funnier. I wanted a couple of those flashing lights just to use around the house so I could mark my territory.

It was just something you watch as a kid when "Rockapella" actually sounds cool and you don't know any better. She always got away.

Slap Bracelets

I remember these slap bracelet things were banned when some kid cut their wrist on them or something. Maybe the reason was because once you start snapping them around your wrist, it is impossible to stop. Bend them out, snap them shut. Bend them out, snap them shut. Over and over.

Nobody ever kept one on their wrist more than five seconds. Eventually the plastic inside would crack and they were useless, but were they ever colorful... just so long as you could bend them out, and snap them shut. Bend them out, and snap them shut...

The Zombie Pumpkin

That may or may not be the ill-fated gourd.
Some time around my 10th year of life my local Cub Scouts den was holding its annual pumpkin carving contest at its Halloween shindig. Yes, costumes were involved and I think I went dressed as "some guy in a cape" because I liked capes and that was that. Capes and top hats, for some reason.

Anyways, we had been tasked with carving the scariest pumpkin face for a chance to win some stupid prize, and I was all over this. We got our pumpkin carving kits, the little saws and knives, and the book of scary faces to trace, and I took home my pumpkin intent on owning that competition. I hacked my way through this thing, gutting it and scooping up all that orange puke and seeds and went to town with the tracing paper and whatnot. Then I just let the thing sit out for two weeks.

After the first week, I began to notice how the cover didn't fit as well as it did the first night, and then how the eyes were getting all soft and soggy, and then how oblong the thing got, like it had been sitting under something. A few days later, there were dark spots on the inside, and gray spots on the outside, and I just figured "Well, maybe nobody will notice." By the time I was set to bring this Jack-O-Lantern to the contest, it was barely holding itself together. One wrong move, and it was just going to smoosh down into moldy, green and orange smelly mush... green of course, being the mold. Apparently I was supposed to refrigerate it or something.

So like a dork I brought it in anyway and sat it down next to all the other entries looking store-bought fresh by comparison, thinking "oh well, there's no way I'm winning this one." If anyone asked me which one was mine I'd just point the one next to it. So I went about the Halloween party jumping on the stacks of folding tables, getting yelled at for jumping on the stacks of folding tables, and doing whatever else so that I could ignore the putrid oozy mush ball at the front of the room. When it finally came time to reveal who had won the pumpkin carving contest, I may have taken a short retreat to the bathroom just so I wouldn't have to be seen lugging my smelly, moldy, wilted, zombie of a pumpkin off the stage like a double loser.

They awarded 3rd place, 2nd place, and lo and behold, tagged that last big blue ribbon on the side of none other than my smelly decrepit mush of a hollowed-out gourd. Now I swear to you, the whole place just nodded their heads in agreement, for surely, that thing was the scariest one indeed. And when I went up to accept my stupid prize, I learned a valuable lesson about what being a Boy Scout is all about: being prepared. I may have told one or two people that I did it on purpose, and that it was supposed to be a "zombie pumpkin," as in, "from beyond the pumpkin grave," but I only wished I came up with something that ingenious on purpose. Either way, I went home that night with a swell of pride. The pumpkin went in the trash on the way out the door.

P.S. - For disaster relief in the wake of "Frankenstorm," this former Boy Scout asks you to consider a donation to the American Red Cross to assist people struggling in New York, New Jersey, and affected areas. Thank you.

Goonies Never Say Die

There's a reason I left The Goonies off my lists of "great forgotten" kids films of the 80s and 90s, and that's because it's more than just a film, and is far from being overlooked. It's more than some old popcorn family flick about a bunch of sugar-high screaming kids shoving their way through a Young Indiana Jones-inspired Spielbergian pirate treasure adventure. It's a generation-defining statement. It came out a year before I was born and still loomed large over the whole scene back then in a more or less constant repetition that has continued right up to the present day. And to show its lasting legacy, I think I only just got the "one-eyed willy" joke yesterday. That's a good one... hehe.

For those who don't know what I'm talking about, The Goonies was a 1985 film about a bunch of kids who go on a treasure quest through a trap-filled pirate's cove, all to have one more "fling" together before they have to part ways for good or find enough money to save their neighborhood from being turned into a golf course--the "goonies" being the residents of this alcove derisively labeled "the goondocks." And since it would take "about 400 paychecks" to save it, they decide they better set off for the treasure.

The main quartet had Mikey, the shy-type leader and main inspiration figure living on an inhaler and the promise of One-Eyed Willy's fortune; Data, the gadgets guru and arsenal expert who could never pronounce "booby traps;" Mouth, the fearless and fluent Spanish speaker who got them all into and out of so many a near-death predicament with his big mouth; and Chunk, the chubby "Truffle Shuffle" one they all made fun of and who always had an excuse or a tall tale to ramble about. Joined by Mikey's jock older brother Brand, his brother's less-than-virtuoso piano-playing girlfriend Andy, and her smart-alec friend Stef, the "Goonies" were a complete troupe. They also later designated Sloth, the deformed Fratelli brother, an honorary member for joining them in defense of their cause of trespassing in the name of "this is OUR time... down HERE."

The real magic of it all was just how much ground they covered. What starts out as a totally normal suburban setting gets more and more fantastical as they plunge the depths of this cave until they finally come upon the fabled pirate ship itself in all its glory, full-masted, intact, and packed with priceless riches entombed forever in this very well lit cavern. It almost seems like a place you've been yourself many times in your imagination or even in your dreams. It's that familiar. Along the way we're treated with an odd assortment of one-liners, shouting matches, Data's bizarre inventions like his "slick shoes" and "pinchers of peril," booby traps like the skeleton piano floor cave-ins and the waterfall, and all those preteen hijinks run amok:

"B-Flat? Heh, if you hit the wrong note, we'll all "B flat!" "Come on, Brand! Slip her the tongue!" "Hope it's not a deposit bottle!" "Always separate the drugs." "No, I want the veal scalopini!" "Follow them size five's!" "I'm gonna hit you so hard that when you wake up your clothes will be out of style!" "Chunk, I'm pretty much ODing on all your bullshit stories!" "I love the dark, but I HATE NATURE!" "Your looks are kind of pretty when your face isn't screwing it up." "You're in the clouds and we're in a basement!" "Man! You smell like Phys Ed!" "I've been saved by my Pinchers of Peril!" "Long enough, Mikey. Long enough." ...etc. We all know at least one.

Take one look at this film and you'll start feeling those goosebumps crawl your arms, because for some reason, more than nearly anything else, it seems to tap into something unique to "us," those of us on the upper end of generation X and the cusp of Y. Maybe it's that honest depiction of the profanity and innuendo we all got into as a kids. Maybe it's that Cyndi Lauper-colored quirkiness in the soundtrack. Maybe it's that thin glimmer of haze, the thick glasses, headbands, square headlights, and other bits of nostalgia. Maybe it's because we all knew someone like one or more of the characters from the movie, even the more cartoony ones. Maybe it's really just about that bygone era before the internet when we used to go on our own little naive adventures in a time when, yeah, we were subversive with the swearing and sex jokes, but we were still "kids." Kids who actually went on "adventures." Modern childhood is nothing like this. And yeah, we may be set in our late 20th century ways now, but it's films like The Goonies that documented it and in so doing made that time period timeless.

Credit belongs entirely to Steven Spielberg, Chris Columbus, and Richard Donner not just for making this treat of a movie, but for contributing to our collective life enjoyment for the last 27 years because of it. The fun of it was that any suburban kid who ever went on an adventure could be a "Goonie" too, and "Goonies never say die" indeed.

"Goonies never say die!"

My new favorite website:

More Great Forgotten Kids Films

Last year I made out a list of "five great forgotten kids films of the 80s and 90s," promising to do more eventually. Well, I finally got inspired to do another five. It's all very subjective, of course. We see so many films as kids; some we  are embarrassed to admit liking once (Casper!), some we are proud to love even now (Goonies!), some we didn't even like as kids (Richie Rich!), some we only saw parts of (My Girl!), some we saw too many times to like (Beethoven!), and some we may have seen once but the memory is too foggy (The Brave Little Toaster?). Then there's all the ones I haven't seen (Goofy Movie, for instance), which don't end up on my lists.

Most of the films we see as kids end up getting buried whether they were good or should remain buried, but because I like to focus on the positive, here's five more hidden gem kids films from the 80s and 90s that every kid should see. We remember them of course, so it's our duty to keep them alive.

Free Willy - Deride if you must (obvious jokes aside!), but you know you get goosebumps whenever MJ's "Will You Be There" comes on the radio and you start picturing slowmo scenes of whales splashing around at Seaworld. And admit it, the movie made you care about the friendship between a boy and his killer whale. How tricky is that to pull off? All the other characters are "feh," and exactly what this young, cake-stealing, delinquent had in common with a show-orca is a bit of a stretch. And yeah, we all knew what would've really happened when the whale jumped the pile of rocks with that kid underneath! "Chomp!" But every girl wanted to be a marine biologist after this movie, and this is where we got the idea that all killer whales are as friendly and cuddly as this Shamu relative was. Word to the wise though: don't bang on the glass!

Jumanji - I read the book before the movie came out, so I know there's no point in comparing them. Despite the horror and bad rhymes the thing put out, it looked like a pretty cool game, and chances are, you wanted to play it too. I know I did. The movie succeeds on its own terms, offering plenty of death-defying jungle stampedes through the town, giant spiders, rogue marksmen, flash floods, and even a few jokes with, and without, Robin Williams, but it also takes liberties and adds stuff like "plot" and "character" that were missing from the mostly-visuals book (still good). Some of the effects are "creature-shop" by today's standards, but they were state of the art at the time. And you can stop wondering why they don't all just rapidly roll the dice to get the game over with or just burn the board before it starts any more shit, because, word to the wise: don't try to cheat! 

Babe - This film is the damn masterpiece of pig movies (screw you, Gordy), and you'd never think so until you actually see it. A New Zealand piglet narrowly escapes being turned into bacon ("pig paradise") and miraculously ends up with an eccentric farmer who allows him to pursue his dream of being a sheep-herding dog. I tell no lies. There are also hilarious singing mice that come out of nowhere. Yet somehow not only does this movie make you want to go join PETA (without even trying), it actually makes you "feel" things like "emotions." Sure the "plot" of the movie can be confined to the last half hour, but all the other vignettes leading up to it have a real magic about them as this very odd friendship between this pig and farmer (who obviously can't communicate) culminates in that final tear-jerking scene where they lock eyes and James Cromwell utters "That'll do pig... that'll do..." and we all weep. Word to the wise: don't eat Babe for breakfast! 

Homeward Bound - Granted, it's been about fifteen years since I saw this, but I saw it enough times over the years to remember it. It involved three (telepathic?) house pets, two dogs and a cat, who get lost in the wilderness and have to make their way back to their owners, braving the wilds and each other. There was the wise old Golden Retriever "Shadow," the lovable dimwit bulldog "Chance," and the snarky, spoiled cat "Sassy," each belonging to one of the kids in the family. Shadow was always getting them out of a jam, Chance was always talking about eating underwear, and Sassy spent the whole movie bitching about everything, but in the end, they all made it home, even Shadow. I never had a pet growing up, but if I did and they ever got lost, this is exactly what I'd want them doing to get home, rather than just latching onto whoever gives them food. Word to wise: don't go sniffing around a porcupine. "It bit me with its butt!" 

All Dogs Go to Heaven - The last of Bluth's great masterpieces, All Dogs is one of his darkest and funniest at the same time. It starts off with the drowning and murder of our main character, a gambling hustler street dog named Charlie, by his cigar-chewing bulldog mafioso boss, and then gets darker from there (go figure!). He goes to heaven (not a spoiler) and manages to escape back to earth with the chilling "you can never come back..." ringing in his ears. Him and his buddy befriend a human orphan girl that his boss "Carface" is holding hostage, and a series of escapades ensue that end up putting Charlie first in line to hell, full of winged demons riding skeleton boats around a wirlpool of fire as little imps chew his face apart (not exaggerating!). And then to top it all off, a "big-lipped" alligator Elton John/Liberace comes right out of nowhere! Kids need to see this stuff, because in the end, Charlie's kindness in protecting this girl and finding her a loving home is just enough to rescue him from Satan's clutches, waiting for him on the horizon (yes, the real Satan!). Word to the wise: "You Can't Keep a Good Dog Down." Indeed! 

So there you are, another installment of great kids films from the 80s and 90s. Look forward to more of these in the future, whenever I'm inspired.

Chromosaurus Rex!

Back in the day, and particularly in the 80's, computer animation was actually awesome, because you didn't see it every day. It was a totally new style. And until Toy Story came out in the mid 90s, a lot of that wonderment still captured us whenever we got even momentary glimpses of the wonders these new-fangled computer programs could do.

They used to play computer animation demo shorts in repeat on the big screen televisions at Sears to show off the specs of the TV, and if there were living room setups available, my brother and I would plunk down on the couches and watch this stuff in amazement as our parents did boring adult things like "buy a new washer." The best computer animated short of the whole bunch could only be this one called "Chromosaurus" though. Seriously badass. They had T-Rexes running around, and they were ROBOTS. It couldn't be any more perfect.

Chromosaurus! Listen to that rockin' soundtrack! 

Along with this one there were a plethora of other computer animated shorts they'd show on those big screen TVs of yore. Two I definitely remember were "Locomotive" and "Stella and Stanley: Breaking the Ice." This was like Pixar before there was a Pixar as we know it. The humor and eye-popping realism of  "Locomotive" had us smiling, and the strange fantasy environment of the love story in "Stanley and Stella" was just totally mystifying, and still is. Watch it. 

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom

Here's how Chicka Chicka Boom Boom sent me to Jupiter. If you don't know, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom was probably the first book most 90s kids learned to read. The whole thing was one big song about the alphabet letters climbing a coconut tree, falling down, and then climbing it again. What made it even more fun was that it often came with a cassette with narrations of the book by Ray Charles and the author on one side, and then a second side of all songs by the author. As much as I liked to read (I know, odd), I enjoyed reading more when it was read for me on tape in cutesy song form, complete with steel drums and goofy flutes.

"But chicka chicka boom boom, look there's a full moon..." is probably the funniest line in any book ever. Funnier was side two of the tape, where the author says that he came up with the idea based on the following children's chant, which I have memorized to this day: "Chigga chigga whole potatah, half-passed alligator, bim bam boligator, give three cheers for the dippy dappy happy sappy readers!" Chanting nonsense has got to be the best way to get kids to read. It taught us how rhythm can change what the story sounds like in our heads, whether we slow it down or speed it up, make it happy or sad, even if the words all stay the same. That's what makes it a great book.

Also on side two of the tape came this chant:
"My mother, your mother, live across the street,
18, 19 Mulberry Street.
When they get to talking, this is what they say:
Boys go to Jupiter to get more stupider!
Girls go to college to get more knowledge!"
Well, I thought. At least I get to go to Jupiter.

Old 90s Playgrounds

It's been a while since they made playgrounds that could injure a kid. This one? "I feel I need a Tetanus shot just from looking at it!" (You know the reference).

Was it fun to climb on? Moreso than any plastic contraption with side rails a-plenty like they have these days. What didn't kill us, made us stronger!

Hop on, and hang ten. Your best bet is to sit down once it starts spinning and move to the middle. It wasn't long before someone flew off.

Oh, and never mind the rust.

School Recorders

Music class in elementary school was about keeping us as far away from actual instruments as possible. The schools were cheap and they knew we couldn't play real instruments anyways, so anything wooden or plastic was good enough. Why else did we always seem to end up with things like "maracas," "tambourines," "rain sticks" and those "cheese grater" things you had to run a stick on?

When it came to teaching us how to make a clatter similar to the sound of falling down in a janitor's closet, it was a grand ole time. We had so much fun, half the girls were almost tempted to put down their Tamagotchis! So you'd think a rambunctious runt like me should've fit in perfectly, but such was sadly untrue. Apparently I took clatter to a whole other level, and how was I punished? With a recorder.

"Recorders" is what they called them. They're some kind of flute-like instrument that makes an ear-piercing "tone" by default when blown into, and while they told me it was adjustable by placing my fingers over the holes and whatnot, I never figured that part out. The typical ones they handed out in droves came tan and pre-slobbered on by a thousand other kids over the years, but if you were lucky enough to have them run out they'd give you the black one to take home instead, and all of a sudden that shat got classy! Even if you were lucky to get a black one though, there was no escaping the fact that it was probably the dorkiest instrument ever made. That may be why I was so crushed to be the last kid in class without one.

You see, the music teacher didn't let the rambunctious "music makers" like me at the back of the class have one until we cleaned up our act and stopped playing with all the instruments, and that fact just took a few weeks too many to sink in. Suddenly everyone else in the class had their own, and that was okay until it basically came down to me, and only then did I start feeling like the odd one out. She upped the ante too when she started handing out cool blue suede slip cases for them, so I finally decided to stifle myself, and tame that wild urge to compulsively spin the rain sticks. What did I care about that those recorders? It was the rad slip cases I wanted!

Designer Trapper Keepers

It's "Back To School" season once again (and has been since mid-July in advertising world), which means, if you were an 80s or 90s kid, showing off your new "designer" Trapper Keeper (you spent an hour picking out) was part of the first day reality. Because who said school supplies can't be fashion statements? What you wrap your studies in said a lot about how cool you were to sit next to, because there was a big difference between coming in with the cutesy sunbathing penguin and coming in with the radical pinball machine-like design.

When you get right down to it, the Trapper Keeper (whatever that was supposed to mean), was just a binder. What made it special were those ultra-radical designs on the covers, those computer generated floating polygons with neon, purple, and turquoise sea and sky scenes like something from another planet. The girls had their Harper seals, pastel rain forests, rainbows, horses, and butterflies, and the boys had their racing Ferrari V8 designs, neon laser-lighted spaceships, and this awesome Sonic the Hedgehog merchandise. Thanks to Mead, I had one of those Wyland-esque masterpieces of leaping dolphins to drag out in my day. It didn't really matter what the design was supposed to be, so long as it was colorful, it was pretty sweet. And dolphins were rad.

Open them up and you might find compartments for your equally awesome multi-colored folders, or decked-out arty ones (always with the times tables, weight conversions, music notes, and "timezone map of the world"... none of which you ever needed for reference but at least made you feel smart). It might also come with a clipboard on the back, and my clipboard even had a built-in calculator that worked for two minutes! By the end of the year the Trapper Keeper was always jammed packed with a hundred crinkled papers in a grabasstic disorganized mess, but at least it was all sealed up in an artful package.

These were ubiquitous in my elementary school, because back in the times before smartphones and tablets took over the world and all that is cool, we actually liked "stuff." It didn't need to be touch-activated and loaded with games about sling-shotting angry pigeons or whatever, it just had to be solid, like a wall. Case in point, if we were taking a test at our tables, the teacher would have us stand our Trapper Keepers and binders up as dividers to make sure we kept our eyes on our own papers. The move never stopped us from launching pencils and erasers over the barricades at each other. "Missile launch countdown: 3, 2, 1..."! "Ready the catapult!" 

The End of My BMX Career

Being male, there were many times throughout my first 10 years when my brain was just... out to lunch. It happens. But the biggest brain shut down I ever experienced (even bigger than the time I learned just how funny 'man pain' isonce again involved me and my bike, but this time some concrete stairs as well. It was a red Huffy like the one seen in the picture, and it survived the fall fine. Unfortunately, I'm not a bicycle. Now I can't fathom what was going through my mind when I attempted to ride my bike down the concrete stairs at the age of 9 (nor remember it, like many things I did before this incident), but it probably had to do with a vision of performing an awesome trick I'd seen, coupled with the thought "it looked so easy on TV."

So without a functioning brain, or a helmet, I came to the edge of the staircase on my bike, a full six steps to the concrete path below, and decided to take the plunge. I backed up a few feet and then peddled toward the edge again, thinking only of how rad it was going to be, even if I had to deal with a couple mere "bumps" on the way down. A second later, and my front tire had left the top step. It bounced down one, skid to another, and sent the back of the bike up in the air and down on itself. I was thrown clear of the seat, and landed head first on the concrete after a brief tumble down the stairs myself. In a another second's time, I made the passage from breathing to bleeding, and then to screaming, and my BMX career was over just like that.

My mom happened to be in the garden and came running over. It was one of those times where the pain was so intense that I didn't even feel it for the first couple seconds, and then all of a sudden the real burn started setting in as blood just poured down my forehead. She picked my whole body off the ground and ran me inside to drop me in the kitchen sink, where she started spraying me with the sink hose as "squirts" of blood seeped out of my head. It may have been why I never learned the times tables, or why this site even exists, but there was definitely some head trauma going on...

Now I must have a very thick skull (well, duh!), because I didn't need stitches or anything more than a wrapping of towels and gauze for the rest of the day. It took years for the small "dent" in my forehead to heal up and even now there's a few ridges there. Luckily, my head was temporarily alright so I could continue to jeopardize it in the future to even more brain-dead stunts, which I did, but I actually did learn a valuable lesson here: It helps to keep the brain fully functioning at all times; and if you're going to ride your bike down a flight of concrete steps, trying to flaunt skills you don't yet have, at least wear a helmet! Trust me, this kind of pain isn't funny.

Lego Island Vacation

Lego Island was and continues to be one of the coolest PC games I ever played, second only to Myst. It was the first video game Lego ever put out and it's still the best in my opinion. For the 8yo Me, this small island was like heaven, packed with everything I loved and all in one spot. As soon as that computer animation kicked on in the opening with the bricks falling from the sky, I was seeing race cars taking off at the speedway, an ambulance collision with decapitation jokes making me laugh, and a cop on his motorbike jettisoning himself out over the police station and into the ocean where a jet ski dude was trying to outrun a shark... and I was very much pleased to say the least.

With all that in just the first two minutes, the Lego universe had finally come so completely to life all around me that I was just in utter bliss being submersed in it. Screw vacationing there, I could've lived there and been perfectly happy the rest of my 8yo life. But if any summer was going to be vacation-less (like this current one), then Lego Island was without a doubt going to be my default destination, and likely will be again very soon... 

The main character you can play is "Pepper" ("the dude with the food"), a skateboarding pizza delivery boy on an island where all they eat is pizza, and you basically just ride him around from place to place, building the jet ski, the race car, the regular car, and racing around on all these awesome side quests and mini-games, like the jet ski race, or the race track, or helping people out with their dilemmas. On the way, you can't go two feet without bumping into hilarious skits and a whole cast of characters, all of which you have power over. I used to walk around transforming all the flowers into trees, and all the Lego people's hats into cups and kittens!

Life's a beach.
Even the actual main-game was fun. You had to deliver a pizza to "the Brickster," the island's criminal mastermind, so hot it melts the bars on his jailhouse! He ends up escaping in the helicopter (oddly parked right next to the jail, to make it easy for him I guess), and he basically wreaks havoc on the island, sucking up people and buildings. You have to steal back the helicopter to launch an all-out aerial pizza assault on him, shooting down pizzas to lure him toward the cops. Oh, and the cops "Nick and Laura" are so unmotivated to catch this guy that you have to shoot down donuts just to lure them toward the Brickster. "Thanks Pepper, I really needed that." You can't make up brilliance this brilliant!

There were a few cool locations around the island, like the lagoon, the pizzeria (where Pepper's stereotype Italian parents work), the beach with the lifeguard dude that kept dropping "totally dude dude!" into casual speech, the police station where the cops always came away with two donuts in hand (or claw), the jail, the hospital, the race track, and the gas station where the cowgal always greeted you with a "well hey there honey!" There was also the mountain park and the houses in the residential area that you could literally "flip" and renovate with just a click of the mouse. The information center had an elevator that allowed you to both go under water and up in the sky.

Computer animation this detailed was just coming around in 1997, so this entire game all seemed like one epic movie that you'd get to play a part in. Yeah, the jokes are 80% "brick puns" and more decapitation and dismemberment than you could shake an arm at, and the actual gameplay was not as epic as that opening fly-over animation of the island (in fact it was downright choppy on those slow computers of yore), but hell, I got to ride a Lego motorcycle, build a jet ski, and race around the island hopping ramps. I got to go down in a submarine with the Lego sharks, build a race car, and race it through a trippy underground race track. Hell, I got to build and fly a Lego helicopter! Add to that a lot of pizza, and this was just about as good as it could get for me. My brother and I used to get up at 3 and 4am and fire up the computer just so we could spend a few precious hours of freedom on Lego Island before the rigors of our daily life took over. All in all, pretty good for a "staycation."

Here's some shots from the catalog/manual that I poured over so much the pages wore out.

Stride Rite Slimers

At the risk of further betraying the laws of gender, I'm writing another post about shoes. But be sure, these were pretty awesome. It took me quite a while to find the right ones because all I could remember about the "Nickelodeon Stride Rite Slimers" was that they had this plush goo at the toes that you could touch and squish around into different colors. It was like something bionic, as if slipping on a pair would plug me into that battery acid... or like something aquatic or alien.

Everything in the 90s became 90% more cool with slime (Gak, Flubber, Creepy Crawlers, Nickelodeon Studios...etc.), so it was only a matter of time before the universal snot found its way into our footwear. And mine kind of looked like snot too, with a green/teal-colored slime pack at the toes and sides of otherwise white sneakers. I think after a while of smooshing it around it started getting rather bland though, but kind of like the Sketchers Hot Lights, these were pretty cool to flash around while they lasted. And if wearing the Hot Lights could get me aboard the Starship Enterprise, these were probably more Borg-ish. Resistance is Futile!

Skipping the Skip-It

Ah, the cause of many an ankle bruise growing up can be traced back to this summertime contraption. The Skip-It. I think worse than getting whacked on the skipping leg was the fine ring of red that quickly developed around the anchor leg. But the very best thing of all, there was a COUNTER on that ball!

Maybe it was a girl's toy, and that's why I couldn't do it. It's not like you only need two legs to make it work or anything, but I could never master the hula-hoop either. The principle of hurling objects around on my body just never clicked for me. I probably looked like a dork though, skipping it on the grass.

It's "roaring good fun??" 

Nickelodeon GUTS!

A view from the top.
With the Olympics now in full-swing (me being heavily invested in the US Women's Volleyball team for reasons that have almost everything to do with their athleticism), it slowly got me thinking about Nickelodeon's own Olympics-like show in the 90s..."The action sports show that's gonna make you sweat!" You know, the one that proved bright yellow helmets actually do match perfectly with any color climbing gear. The one where they were constantly bouncing around on bungy chords and climbing up stuff and having stuff thrown at them.

"Do-do-do do you have it?" You know... GUTS!

It sure has been a while since Nick had a show that could inflict serious injury on a kid. And for that reason there was always that part of me thinking, "wow that's neat what they just did there,"  and another part thinking, "sure glad it ain't me!" But with a constant theme that sounded like something from Michael Jackson's Dangerous album mixed with random "GUTS!" chants, this show was designed to activate your inner testosterone devil... which is both exactly why they told us not to imitate any of the stunts, and exactly why I ignored that part.

00's kids, this is what you missed.
GUTS was like, gym class on steroids. You had this "in your face" jock named Mike doing a lot of fist-pumping in the middle of this massive stadium, surrounded by all these ropes, tramps, and wide assortments of stackable gym cushions, and you'd quickly feel like he'd have you dropping to give him twenty if you failed it. And just like a gym teacher, this guy was just constantly "on it." Watching it felt like those moments in gym class where you'd look around at all the scary equipment and wonder what death-defying things the teacher might wimp-call you into doing that day. But what made it better than gym class for a dork like me was that all the sports rounds were short. I sucked at every sport there was, so a 30 second time limit would've spared me a lot of pain and embarrassment then, not to mention push-ups.

Then there was that British girl named Moe for some reason who always wore that jail-stripe Nike commercial jersey and wailed on that whistle, calling my name and saying "Go" every couple minutes (at least I kind of wish she was calling my name...). And in general there was also a lot of yellow teeth guards, eye guards, elbow pads, knee pads, butt pads... every kind of pad and jock strap around, and somehow the kids wearing them got points along the way from the all-knowing "Leaderboard" that Moe would read from.

Behold, the Aggro-Crag.
And after these kid Olympians swam, bounced, hurdled, biked, and threw a lot of tennis balls at sticky targets, they were suddenly transformed into American Gladiators for the last five minutes, and forced to face the all-intimidating Aggro-Crag! Each player would have to ascend a jumble of fake, jagged rocks just oozing with smoke and lights and dropping fake boulders and snow down on them, and they'd have to hit certain targets, or "actuators"... lights that buzzed and spun when pressed. This thing looked like Godzilla's mountaintop, I swear, and it was nothing, because eventually they moved on to the Mega-Crag!, and then the Super-Aggro!.

But for all they built that Aggro-Crag! up to be, the kids always seemed to climb it with little trouble. It was mostly facade, but if it was scary looking enough to make them suddenly stupid and unable to hit their own actuators, then it must've been something indeed. In the end it didn't matter, because all I wanted was one of those awesome glowing green crystal rock chunks they gave away to the winners. Supposedly hewn from the rock itself, or from the Emerald City, they all looked exactly the same, and heavy! Totally tubular.

Go Team USA!

Scented Markers

Looking back, I don't know what they were thinking. They just wanted us huffing markers I guess. And did it work? You bet. Just pop the top and there was no force on earth that could stop me from getting that into my nose, and they made my drawings smell like an acetone potpourri.

The best ones were cherry (red), cinnamon (brown), and sour apple (dark green). Grape (purple) was also heavenly. None of them smelled anything like the real thing though, except licorice (black), which smelled like what it was. Yellow was lemon, but it was a very weak, sweet lemon, and sometimes the brown was also root beer. At least none of them smelled like you know what.

The amount of recreational solvent present in a 12 pack of these things was almost too much for a kid, but they certainly helped me through the rigors of the day back then. They were better than the real thing. Cinnamon had just the right spice note with the paint thinner. Mint was like rolling in a meadow of fresh Isopropyl spuds. Watermelon and blueberry were potent juice swabs, sweet like xylene and benzene. And orange? Kind of like orange soda, but with subtle sweet hints of ether and methylene. Always a good combo. Put that in my nose! I'm addicted!

I may or may not have attempted to suck them, but they didn't taste anywhere near as good. And no, they didn't harm me none, just look at what I do with myself now.

Wildberry Pop Tarts

So COOL cuz they're HOT!
Finally. After years of beating my tastebuds numb to the tune of strawberries, white frosting, and sprinkles, they introduced the Wild Berry Pop Tart some time in 1995, and Pop Tarts never looked so rad. This was a toaster pastry for a new generation! With its swirling blue lines and purple coating, it looked nothing like any food I had ever seen... like something an alien would eat, even if it didn't taste all that different.

They instantly became my Pop Tart of choice, although my all-time favorite remains the cinnamon one. The best always came covered with frosting, so that even the little edges had a drip or two running the grooves. But every now and then you'd probably get one with just a smear on the top, and usually that culprit was the plain old strawberry. These things sat at the bottom of my lunch bag for many years and I couldn't get enough of them. My mom even declared me the "Pop Tart King" after I downed four in a row (and this was back when they only had 6 per box!).

And despite the cost, I was just doing my duty. Because according to the commercial, only Kellogg's had what it took to tame the "wildberry," and they very clearly indicated that you might want to bite them before they bite you.

These days, I think I've had my fill.

Fireworks and Glowsticks!

The best part of the early summer has to be the fireworks. Every year we'd get out of school a little bit in June, and that whole week was just spent hanging out, vegging out, and getting used to not having to put up with that daily school grind for once. The days were hot, long, and spent doing... well, nothing. But summer has to start sometime, and that was always the 4th of July. Cookouts, fireworks, and glowsticks! Let the summer begin!

Even though it's illegal here, people were always firing them off from their backyards anyways. So we might've had a local puff here or there to "ooh" at, but as evening set in, we'd set out in search of the town displays. We'd fight the miles of traffic and spend a half hour just finding a spot to park, and often get there half into it and have to find another one to go to. Grand finales could be seen from miles away, so we'd chase down any puff of color in the sky as the crackles rumbled here and there in the dark. Once or twice we'd get a little too close and the ash would actually start falling down on us (like this one time when I was sitting up in the jungle gym at a local field), and that would just rock my world! "The closer, the better!" I used to think. But my parents always kept us at a safe and car-convenient distance... sometimes my brother and I would even sit on the roof of the car to watch them.

We never prepared. Sometimes we brought a blanket to sit on, but that was it. We knew whatever we had with us we were probably going to be carrying for a mile or two, and it seemed like a good idea then to travel light. But as soon as we were down in the thick of it with everyone else, and sitting out on the grass or the concrete, I always started getting envious of all those people who had packed half their house for the event. They'd all be out there with their folding chairs, portable radios, coolers, and summertime foodstuffs, like watermelons slices and Popsicles, and it always looked a heck of a lot better than just sitting it out on the grass. But I took comfort in knowing that they were NEVER getting out of there! Hell, even we were booking it half way into the grand finale!

Probably just as exciting to the 8yo-me as the fireworks were the glowsticks, necklaces, and bracelets that used to be rolled around on the carts. These guys would come around with about a hundred of these colorful glowing loops and sell them right off their body for like, 2 bucks a pop, and all the kids went crazy for them. As soon as things started getting nice and dark, I'd start seeing other kids with two or three around their neck and couple at the wrists just twirling those brilliant reds and blues and greens in circles and throwing them in the air, and that's when I'd start begging. Even just one was enough. Once I had one slung around my neck, I was officially having a good time...for the week!

I remember the little bubbles on the inside, and that if you snapped them or chewed on them (like I could never stop myself from doing), they'd soon start going dead, but at least a few times my brother and I would be wearing them all the way home in the dark car, twirling them around, and even sleeping with them lighting up the room. They never seemed to last very long, even later into the night, but just like the 4th of July, and summer itself, they certainly were fun while they lasted.

*Happy 4th**

Another Scorcher!

Summer is definitely here in full swing, and you know what that means. Most likely, you can not live another day without air conditioning, and tomorrow's going to be hotter! Hotter... just like yesterday when you said you'd call Sears. You know what I'm talking about because when summer gets into gear, it probably meant sooner or later you'd be seeing that Sears air conditioner commercial with the husband/wife (or were they even married?) talking about how hot it's going to be tomorrow... "just like yesterday when you said you'd call Sears."

You know this thing by heart because they played it for about 10 years straight, every day, in one form or another. Sometimes they played it without the "Softer Side of Sears" music, sometimes with, and sometimes they edited out the end, or stuck a new offer in the middle, but it was always the same basic commercial... the same goofy dialogue... for years and years...something you could always rely on to herald in the summer. I guess the only reason they don't play it now is because nobody still reads the paper to find out what the weather is going to be tomorrow!

For me, seeing this was like a sign that summer had officially begun, with all its talk of "hot days" and standing in front of the fridge to cool down. And as far as I know that outdoor Kenmore unit could've been shot at my rich uncle's house because his looked exactly like that. Even the red brick foundation was spot on, and the little bush right along side the screen there... wait a minute, did I play there?

You'd see a lot of these air conditioning ads popping up on the Weather Channel in the summer right next to the ones for rain tires. Sometimes it seemed like the Weather Channel was run by Trane air conditioners and the Michelin Man. Remember the slogan for that one? "It's hard to stop a Trane!" I actually got that too, because you see, "Trane" kind of sounds like "train," and they're both hard to stop, unlike Michelin tires on a wet road. But I digress.

I used to think "Trane" was so fierce sounding, like you weren't just getting an air conditioner, but real honkin' piece of machinery that would really bring the chill. In the battle of the serious air conditioners, Trane would've gotten my vote when I was a kid, but while "It's Hard to Stop a Trane!" was a catchy phrase, you can't beat "Another scorcher!" 

Honey I Shrunk the Kids

Among all the greatest epics, there is Honey I Shrunk the Kids. It's no small pun to say that this film was epic in size, and yet it all took place between the backyard and the kitchen. They just made the most of everything in it--from the epic broom scene to the giant blades of grass they slide on, not to mention the friendly ant, the ride on the bee, the scorpion, the lawn mower, the sprinkler system, the cereal bowl...this movie is just scene after scene of death-defying goodness!

It's all very vivid to my memory, and mainly because they really did a great job making the small world look so damn REAL (although "big" movements were still painfully slow for some reason once they shrunk)...and man did these kids get messy in this movie! If they weren't dripping wet with mud, they were soaked with giant water droplets, or covered in big yellow globs of pollen, or bathing in milk. And it all looked so real, like how it might actually be if you were that small and had to make your way across the "ten or so mile" backyard, sleeping in a Lego brick, riding down a river of grossness, and fighting off bugs along the way. The film also had good kid characters, biting each other's heads off and yet sticking it out for one another the whole way.

Each one of them almost died a number of times too, whether it was due to a ride on a bee, or getting sucked up in the lawn mower, or getting hit by the sprinkler jets, or getting hounded by a scorpion... and then they were all separated, and reunited, and that big ant "Anty" saved their lives and finally ended up paying the ultimate sacrifice (which was sad). And while all of this epic stuff was happening, the bumbling Rick Moranis was combing through the yard with a magnifying glass to find them and still not making their journey any easier. One kid even almost pays the ultimate sacrifice at the end nestled inside a giant Cheerio because of Rick Moranis!

So please, a moment of silence is due for Anty, the one (and only) thing not working against them in the film, who's brave sacrifice is duly remembered.

What Would You Do?

My recent look back at Legends of the Hidden Temple forced me to instantly remember other great 90s Nick game shows, and here's one that definitely made me go, "Oh man! I totally forgot about this and now I totally remember it!" Of course you know what I'm talking about, because you're feeling it too. It was called What Would You Do? or if you prefer: "wha-wha-wha-would you... wha-wha-wha-would you... wha-wha-wah would you do?" 

This show was basically "pies and eyes." It had a lot of pies, and for some reason, a lot of creepy eyes. They were everywhere: googly eyes with lashes blinking, popping out of walls, spinning around here or there... even the title had a couple eyes in it. Very strange. After that, every episode started off with Marc Summers looking something like a Ken doll in a hypnotic dress-shirt and standing against a set looking something like a pastel comic book with splatter paint and leopard skin patterns and random shapes. He'd tell us where the heck we were, and then we'd enter the "bouncing-ovaly-eyes-against-neon-green-polygons" dimension (what they normally call an "acid trip"), and we'd see shots of Marc gargling the air, dressing as a banana, and painting a French mustache on his face all screwed up. "You're doing it wrong!" 

The audience was a pool of funky neon, tucked-in bulky shirts, pink scrunchies, white shorts, and bare legs, and you'd spend so much time looking at them in the running time that you'd actually begin to tell them apart from one another. Who was wearing the weird costumes and who was wearing the normal clothes? It's impossible to know these days. The people back there were just a stack of colors, stripes, and poka dots, with fanny packs and plastic visor hats as far as the eye could see. Blinding to look at, but always eager to stand up, accept a challenge, and get a pie to the face. Seriously, at this point, what planet was this show beamed in from?

Step on up to the Wall O' Stuff!
As to what it was actually about... I'll fill you in as soon as I know (controlled substances may be needed). But from what I can piece together, it seemed to be about kids torturing their parents in various ways that usually involved humiliating tasks and every possible way to put a cream pie into someone's face. And I really mean that. This show started a pie-face contraption industry. It had the "Pie Pod," the "Pie Slide," the "Pie Pendulum," the "Pie in the Sky," the "Pie Roulette," the "Pie Wash," AND the "Pie Coaster." But you could only take one of these things for a spin by picking a number and retrieving a card out of the trippy and colorful doors on the "Wall O' Stuff." Afterwards, those cream pies probably tasted pretty good, especially pasted to your shoulders and dripping off your chin.

Simply put, this show was idiot TV as high art, but sure fun enough if you were the kid who got to see his dad dress as a bee, strap a stinger to his can, and try to sit on a series of balloons to pop them. You know if he makes ten in 60 seconds, he'll look like an idiot, and if he doesn't, he'll get to go sit in the Pie Pod and have a pie launched at his face. Sounds radical doesn't it? And I guess the show gets its name from the segment where kids had to decide whether to get a pie to the face or do what was written on a card strapped to their head... or maybe it had something to do with what number door you'd open in the Wall O' Stuff, but who really knows? Usually getting the pie to the face was the better option because half the time the card had them eating the sauerkraut and jelly bean sandwich. Yuck.

Still don't get it? What can I say, it was the 90s!

Ecco 2: The Tides of Time

In the vast ocean of otherwise mediocre Sega Genesis games, only about one or two really spoke to me that didn't have anything to do with a blue hedgehog or Jurassic Park. One of them was the insanely classic and insanely hard Ecco the Dolphin 2: The Tides of Time. I never played the first one, so I have no idea about it, but this one had mystical crystals and teleportation rings and time traveling dolphins with super telekinetic powers. It was as New Agey as it gets, and even the soundtrack often sounded lifted from one of those Pure Moods samplers... but man was it awesome.

I loved dolphins. They were my favorite animal and it might've been because of this game, I'm not sure, but this game had sharks and squids and turtles and orcas and just everything cool about the ocean. Every level had some kind of shipwreck in it too, and how the ships got down there was no mystery seeing as giant jagged rocks were basically everywhere. Even Ecco could barely move around underwater without slamming into something and making that painful "squeaking" sound that used to drive me crazy! Play this game for two minutes and all you hear is *squeak* *squeak* *squeak*...etc. I mean, ouch already!

The other thing that used to drive me crazy about this game is just how LONG it is, and how HARD some of these levels ended up being. Take "Tube of the Medusa" for instance. Thanks to the fact that you have no lives, I spent hours sometimes trying to get around that giant squid monster and only ended up getting chucked back time and time again. And when you get chucked out of the sky tube, you fall back two levels and have to work your way back up... it's nearly impossible! Also, as soon as you lose your powers and have to start surfacing for air and looking for bubbles, the game becomes a constant challenge. My brother and I never beat it. We didn't even come close.

But is it a great game? Of course! This game inspired me to invent all kinds of stories around those super-intelligent dolphins, and many a backyard make-believe focused on playing Ecco like we were making a movie version of it or some kind of weird role play. The game was so movie-like already. It did what it was supposed to do and made the ocean mystical and magical, and though it was hard as hell and involved a LOT of "back and forth a hundred times between two points collecting stuff", it was at least imaginative along the way. Any time I got in a swimming pool, I was playing Ecco.

Of course I used to pronounce it "EE-co" for some reason. It took me years to figure it out: "oh... echo... I get it."