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.