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**