Lego Pirates Ships

One of the frustrating things about Lego was the choices! We'd get to the Lego aisle and be instantly overwhelmed, wanting it all and coming away with one, but knowing all the while that whatever we came away with wouldn't disappoint, even if it was your standard Renegade's Raft or Battle Cove (both of which I know we had). Every little piece added to the Legoland mythos we were slowly building up in the bedroom. The Lego Pirates were always my favorite Lego system because they had the coolest boats and I was really into boats. Introduced in 1989, the Lego Black Seas Baracuda (pictured) had to be one of the classiest Lego products ever assembled, with its striking red-striped sails and stern-side cabin (complete with little windows), raft, real-working pulley and anchor system, plank (as in, "walk the plank!"), and two canon ports, it really just doesn't get any more cool from Lego (and that's saying a lot).

That was of course until the even more impressive Skull's Eye Schooner came along in 1993. On this one they really outdid themselves, decking it out with all the above (minus extensive stern-side cabin although it's still there), but adding taller masts, black-striped sails, and four canon ports. They even threw in a shark for good measure. So if you were lucky enough to get your hands on the best of the Legoland universe, it was still sure to be the choice of "I want both."

Then there was the more battle-rattled Red Beard Runner, which featured some more movable parts and torn up sails for combat action and functioned as the the pirate's response to the Armada Flagship. For those who don't know, the Lego Pirates system included a few spinoffs with its Imperial Armada and Islanders collections designed to give the pirates some foes to contend with and ultimately some more sets for you to buy to complete the saga. The Imperial Armada were supposed to be the "good guys," but as any swashbuckler will persuade you, the pirates were always the real good guys with the heart for adventure while the Armada was just "the Man" trying spoil the fun. That "man" (so to speak) was called Commander Broadside, the archenemy of the fierce Captain Red Beard, or so we are told. This was the equivalent of Treasure Island on my 8yo me's imagination. 

Many of the Imperial Armada sets had something to do with brigs and jails for the pirates, but they also had their own fleet of ships which weren't as impressive as the pirates of course, like the Armada Flagship (also called the Royal Warship), which only had one main mast and stern sail, one canon, and movable masts for combat, so of course you just had to have both to get any high-seas adventure going. Despite this, just the contrast of the blue-striped sails and feather-hatted, stuffed-shirted soldiers clashing with the patch-eyed reds made this also a must-have, and it's actually not as small as it looks. It was joined by the more striking Imperial Flagship, which had two canon ports and was obviously designed more to go ship-to-ship with the pirates. 2010 apparently also saw the release of an even more impressive Imperial Flagship to rival its pirate archenemy, showing just how much progress they made the first time around. You can't beat the pirates, but you can certainly try!

Tramways and Gondolas

Every couple weeks I search out more and more odd things just to give the couple dedicated readers I (probably) have yet more insights into everything that was quintessential me as I was growing up. Nothing quite says "8yo Me" like the excitement of a gondola ride up a mountain, for the highlight of any trip north to the White Mountains all those Precambrian years of my life was undoubtedly the five minute ride along those waves of cables and towers. 

If I'm not mistaken, I believe Mount Canon was the one with the tramway, which was like a bus-sized lift bringing people to the summit and back, and Mount Loon had the more intimate gondolas, which I liked better. I remember the tramway actually had only one big tower post in the middle doing all the heavy lifting while the gondolas had them marching up the side like a ski lift. Mount Wildcat also had the gondolas, but that was more of a skiing destination, so we didn't ascend that one much. Ironically the biggest one of them all, Mount Washington, is a drive up, which is also the most harrowing ascent of them all for reasons those of us in the know will know! "This Car Climbed Mt. Washington" is a popular bumper sticker up here for all those who've done it and survived. But at least they give you an audio tour guide when you're driving up that is both informative and hilarious to play along the way if you should ever find your front end dangling off a ledge! "Make sure to take this opportunity to view the beautiful vista to your left..." Ahhhh!  

When riding the gondola though, I actually wasn't so much interested in the views my dad was constantly trying to get me to "stare out at." Like most boys, I was way more interested in the mechanism of the actual lift itself, its lonely outpost towers sticking up the blinding-white snow slope like advancing high-tension lines every here and there, that slight "bump-bump" I'd hear every couple minutes, and of course all the waving at the other gondolas passing on the way down. Once at the top, the excitement cooled as we'd enter that Enterprise docking bay, although coming up on it was always a contest of "who could spot it first." "Oh I see where we're going now!" I'd usually spend the whole time at the top just dreaming of the way down, and at the bottom be all like "let's go again!" 

Now all this was rather odd because I had a deathly fear of heights, but something about taking off in one of these guys was more exciting than fear-inducing, probably because I figured if they ever fell off at least the enclosure might break the impact a tad. This love of riding the lift itself (and never the actual skiing experience, for I have never skied) may seem rather trite now compared to all the grandeur going on around it, but you got to imagine what these things were to the proverbial 8yo Me. When these guys came sliding down the line into place and those futuristic doors opened, they ceased being a mere lift device and became Enterprise shuttlecrafts! You step in and it's nothing but "God help us in the hands of engineers!" and "warp speed ahead!" It was nothing but a little futuristic escapism in the great middle of nowhere. 

McBoo Halloween Pails

Sit down kids and listen to a scary story: Every once and a while back in the day, around Halloween night, McDonalds would give kids Halloween-styled pails with their Halloween-styled Happy Meals (frightening stuff in there!) to go trick-or-treating with, so you got to know that for a dork like myself, this probably had my name all over it, and it sure did. Despite how dorky you may have looked carrying one these around trick-or-treating, at least the old McBoo pails they used to send us home happy with actually had something to do with Halloween. Usually it was a pumpkin, a ghost, and witch, and I know I definitely had the pumpkin one with the queasy "ga-harsh!"-looking face, and probably still do somewhere, burred out in the garden, waiting to rise again!

But here's the real scary part. The new 2013 McDonalds Halloween "McBoo" pails (which aren't even called that now) are just crass marketing tie-ins for Angry Birds and some other junk they think girls will go for. What a shame.

Happy Halloween!

Forgotten 90s Kids Movies III

We watch a lot of movies as kids, the good, the bad, and the forgettable, and they all kind of just exist as facts of life at the time. We don't know any better, or maybe we do, but we don't care. I've said it before and I'll say it again, kids aren't as dumb as they look. They can discern trash from gold, they just don't always care and usually find something to like in anything. I guess that's where I come in, because I actually remember being disappointed by a few movies even as a kid, and that's got to count for something, even if it was rarely for grown up reasons. Here I'm going to look at some kids movies I spent hours of my life parked in front of back in the 90s, some of which I remember liking and some of which I remember being disappointed by, but still coming away like "eh, it exists, so it couldn't have been bad." Most of these are of the "inspirational" variety. You know, the ones with lots of title cards and stock movie scores in the trailers and deep-voiced men saying "Paramount Pictures presents..." very slowly. That's the kick I'm on now.

Andre - I was massively disappointed by this as a kid. First of all, the movie bills itself as based on some inspiring true story about a seal named Andre that got adopted by a family in Maine in 1962 and then kept returning to shore every year or something and went on to a life of fame because of it. But all of that "inspiring true story" I wanted to see seemed to be condensed to the last two minutes. The rest of it was Free Willy, happening before all that took place. It was instead the touching story of a girl and her seal doing stuff together like blowing copious raspberries and getting into mischief, until the big bad fishermen try to put an end to all the shenanigans because shenanigans shouldn't be had and they got fish to catch. I think it suffices to say that I don't remember anything much about this movie, and so it probably is truly forgotten. And just doing a little reading reveals that the animal in the movie is a sea lion, not even a seal! "He's just a friend!" "A bad-smelling, fish-eating, raspberry-blowing friend??"

Fly Away Home - More girl power. Yay? On the flipside to Andre, when it comes to "girl and her animal" movies, this one I saw with the lowest expectations, even laughing at the premise, and then actually came away much impressed with. I mean, the story sounds ridiculous: a girl becomes mom to a bunch of geese chicks that grow up and need to do what Canadian geese do (fly away home...), so she gets her dad to build a giant flying goose to lead the way for them north or at least back to their homeland Canada before their visas expire. Despite that, this film actually works as a story. The characters are pulled together in this common cause, this girl and her dad become closer during the experience, she learns what being a mom is all about (I don't think she had one, or something), and we even get these spectacular flight scenes. Overall, not totally forgettable, except that it was largely forgotten. And now thanks to the wonders of the internet, I no longer have to feel crazy for calling it "Flying Wild!" Apparently that was its original name. I KNEW I saw it in the commercial once! It took me 20 years but I finally won that argument! "You are risking your daughter's life for a bunch of geese!" 

Angels in the Outfield - This movie could not disappoint, because it was exactly what it seemed. A young foster-care boy longs for the affection of a father who pins his entire acceptance of parenthood on whether a baseball team will win the pennant. So said boy doesn't just wish for this to happen, he prays for it: "God, if there is a God, do you think you could help them win a little?" And because it was a prayer and not just a wish, God responds to it by sending "angel Christopher Lloyd" to do just that for the team, and they do just that, but wouldn't you know it, the kid had a family all along! This movie actually wasn't that bad, and even had some funny bits involving the slapstick physics of the angels ("There was an angel in my Coke!" and the gut-busting scene where a guy sits down on one!), but it also had a heart in there somewhere. Not too many kids films deal with foster care, although maybe Free Willy also had something to do with that. You also don't see too many mainstream kid movies actually deal with religion, even if this is about as saccharine and non-denominational as it gets. I still liked it. Little known fact: Joesph Gordon Levitt had to start somewhere! "Even though you can't see us, we're alllllways watching!" 

Balto - This movie really disappointed me, but only because I was so looking forward to it. The trailers made it look like this epic, mature, beautifully made adventure film based on a true story of the Idig-a-dog snow teams and how they saved Nome Alaska with a shipment of "antitoxin" during an epidemic. Imagine my disappointment when all those beautifully animated scenes in the trailer weren't so amazing in the context of the story, like the trailer's "aurora borealis scene" which turned out to be just... broken glass shining on snow wall... that kind of thing. While there is quality animation at times and the real life story elements are treated pretty well, I wasn't expecting just how much of the film was going to be so "kiddied-up." I didn't care for the live action parts, although I suppose they explain all the fantastical elements, and I actually didn't care for all the slapstick for once, which normally would've been my thing, but maybe I just expected more from Balto... although I did end up loving the polar bears just for being funny, despite their uselessness. "Wolf-dog! Better get back to your pack!!" 

The Indian in the Cupboard - Politically incorrect title aside, this movie was kind of the same as Balto in that it promised much and delivered little. The whole thing is full of strange scenes, like a kid getting a cupboard for his birthday for one. I don't want to see that. I was embarrassed for him! Then there's the long scene where the older brother steals his precious cupboard only for it to be found in the crawlspace two minutes later, and, oh now the key is missing, so now we got to get the key, and it's just goes on and on. Mostly the movie just underwhelmed me. If I had a magic cupboard that made my toys come to life, I'd be bored with a little Indian real fast. I'd be sticking my dinosaurs in there! Let's get some toys to eat the other toys and then we'd be talking. I wanted this cupboard to become a threat to civilization, but no such luck. I don't even remember what the plot to this was. But I will give it credit for depicting dorks in a true and positive light, because this kid and his circle of friends could've easily fit in with my friends back then, real horror-show. "You should not do magic you don't understand!" 

So there we have it. Until next time, wait for next time.

Camcorders and "Home Movies"

Okay everyone, say 'Griswolds!'
Nowadays we can take pictures and video with a few taps of the touchscreen, but I remember a time when we actually dreaded making what we used to call "home movies." I remember how dad (usually dad) was always whipping the big-honking thing out every Christmas, birthday, and just any day he felt like being an amateur filmmaker, propping it up on his shoulder and gathering us all together to be the main attraction, whether we wanted to or not. I remember the "squint" in the view-finder, the ever-present JVC or Panasonic logo, the assortment of big glass lenses covered in fingerprints, and (though it may be total anachronism now) I remember a time when you really did see the little white lines and the blinking red "REC" in the corner when you recorded something. This is where it all comes from kids.

At least these days you can delete horrible shots, but there was a time when your dad's film ambitions would be stuck down on celluloid forever, whether they were picture-perfect Kubrickian high cinema or (more likely) Michael Bay shaky-cam clip show. How many of us have reams of celluloid devoted to us flipping the bird on vacation, getting pukey-faced after too much ice cream on our birthday, or the ever-popular "sitting on the toilet" voyeurism they used to torture us with? Home movies were always more of an interruption. How annoying was it to have to stop tearing into your presents on Christmas morning to announce "what you got" and "show it to the camera" every five minutes like the camera was a person and gave a damn? In fact, I will go out on a limb and say the camcorder was a weapon of psychological destruction... even if it couldn't have been any worse than what these "Disney World! Nah, just kidding..." Youtube parents do these days. At least our humiliations weren't broadcast for the whole world to see! So I guess you could say the camcorder has screwed up two generations of kids, or at least, the people wielding them have. "Daddy did it" indeed.

It was easier said than done anyways. I could never get camcorders to work right. Nobody ever seemed to know if they were actually recording when we thought they were recording, or not recording when we thought they were doing what they were doing when we thought they were recording, or just not recording. If that's confusing, then yeah, that's kind of what it was like. There was always some little "blinking light" hidden somewhere on it that would tell you, nevertheless, I can't tell you how many vacation videos were void of any of the sights and full of hour-long bouncy shots of the interior of the camcorder case. There'd always be that moment after we all got together in front of some landmark, all grinning like a bunch of fools, and dad (usually dad) would go, "Hmm... that's funny... it says the tape is out... I put a new one in two hours ago... just hold still family... got to figure this thing out here..." Better was sitting down later to see your dad's short shorts in a whole new light... for a half an hour.

Not only did I not care very much about making or viewing home movies, I don't know anyone who did. People even used to host parties and invite people over to watch their home movies, embarrassing the hell out of all involved, so I made sure whenever I got the spotlight, I'd make it worth it. I'd usually do things like smooch the camera lens or do a funky dance, just to give the people something. Likewise, my uncle used to play games with it, like turn it upside down randomly so that we were jumping on the ceiling, and my dad used to do "magic tricks" with it when we were little, using jump cuts to make us suddenly "vanish" from a shot. Those were always fun. And I got to say, every time I got to play around with one of these camcorders, getting to prop it up on my shoulders, it never failed to make me feel like an amateur Spielberg. If I had a touchscreen camera as a kid though, I'd probably be an amateur Spielberg by now.

Can I get a boom mic on this?

The Greatest Birthday Gift

Desk lamps: The birthday present
of champions!
I will not tell you when my birthday is for obvious reasons, but I have video document evidence of myself on my actual 8th birthday tossing aside clothes, games, and then virtually flying into pure elation hysterics over getting a desk lamp. This was the home movie I saw years back where I throw aside a birthday card to get to the present, only to be redirected back to the card. "You got to read the card!" "Read the card first!" 

Of course, who can forget having to be told to stop and "read the card" when you're in the middle of tearing open presents? Your eyes fixate on those words you can barely read and yet still find their way back to the new game or toy sitting on standby, waiting for you to decide when enough "card time" was enough, especially with everyone watching you "stare at it." I was all like "Are they still looking? Screw this... can I just put it down now? What's in that box?"

So once that duty was over it was on to the presents, apparently I had my heart set on a desk lamp that year for some reason because my eyes just blew open wide with amazement at this ordinary white desk lamp and I just couldn't stop talking about it. Even long after, I can be seen very visibly sneaking peaks at this desk lamp. Now if that reveals anything about me, it's that my excitement threshold for the mundane has probably always been exceedingly low.

The major thing I remember about that desk lamp was it was white all over (like the picture) and I ended up putting a green light-bulb in it so that all those late nights would be lit in a green glaze, which I thought was the coolest thing ever. This was the case until the early morning when my milk looked like orange juice (I shouldn't have to explain how eyes work). Red had always been my favorite color, but I think I blasted green into my brain so many nights that green just took over. How groovy was it that I got to spray our bedroom green every night as I crawled into that top bunk (much to my brother's chagrin down below)?

Even today if you saw the way I live, you'd say this guy is all about green. Not only is this time-waster of a site decked out in green, but I even have green sheets and towels (yes, I bought them for college). My walls are green. My desktop is green. I even like green tea. And I guess I have my 8th year of life, and one very funky birthday present, to thank for it. You know what else is green? No, not money. The Klingon Bird of Prey!

The "Soda Bark"

Fun fact:
Sprite cans
don't look like
this anymore.
*Mind blown*
To this day I am addicted... URRRP! (aw yeah) all things fizz. Even plain old water, just put some bubbles in it and I'm good to go. These days I'll usually be in the process of finishing off a can of something or other any given hour of the day and my palette changes a lot (I've switched sides in the Cola War... sorry Pepsi, I still like your diet though), but when I was a kid my thing was Sprite, maybe because it was sweeter than 7up. I lived on the stuff. I drank it like water. You know how when people can't sleep they usually go for a glass of water or a swig from the ol' milk carton at 3am? I was not one of those people. When I was wandering the house in my undignified attire at 3 in the morning looking for fluids, I was gunning for the Sprite, because hey, it's "caffeine free" after all. That means I could have it before bedtime and not have to worry about being up at 3am and unable to sleep... which obviously didn't happen.

And not only did all this carbonation excess from the Sprite never fail to induce a powerful spell of deep-throated and continuous burping, it also made those burps taste their very best. That is, like pure monstrous awesome. And I don't care if you're going to hate me for saying it, but if you were ever your 8-year-old self once, you should know what I mean when I say that the second best part of putting soda into you was what it causes to come back out of you! I might polish off one of a can and lay back bobbing my head for minutes as the "rolling thunder" was wrought, or I might go a whole minute, the pressure building like a volcano, and then just release it like a beast! Loud and proud enough to make Simba blush, and especially if there were other maturity-impaired persons in the area. Urrrrrrrrrrrrrrp!

Later I moved on up and outgrew such silly pursuits. I mean, why practice such an immature pastime as the "soda bark" once you've figured out how to burp loudly on command? At that point, you're just a step away from the full alphabet. 

Favorite Chapter Books

I really liked to read as a kid, maybe only because I didn't grow up with a GameBoy for a hand, but I'm sure I'm not the only one. Any book that had a big shiny Newbery Medal embossed on the cover had to be legit, and that was good for me, because how would I have known if a book was good or not without it? When it comes to Newbery medals, there were books like Hatchet. I remember picking up Gary Paulsen's Hatchet in the 4th grade and regarding it like "high literature," like the kind of thing "adults read." Here I was thoguh, I didn't even know what a "hatchet" was (even long into reading the story), but I knew at least that the cover had a howling wolf and teen guy, a giant ax, and a plane. It looked like it was shaping up to be a great outdoors adventure story, so of course I dove into it. "I can read," I figured.

Like most kids, I loved adventure books and had grown up on really obscure book series like The Ladd Family Adventures and Adventures in Odyssey, and so this book really was right up my alley and even looked so much more "mature" about it's adventure, so I knew I had to give it a look. In fact, it may have been the first so-called "adult book" I ever attempted. And I really mean "attempted," because the first time around I never finished it. My un-diagnosed dyslexia that I don't have (I think) was causing me to call the main character "Brain" rather than Brian, and I just remember thinking what a weird name "Brain" was for a guy. Whether Brain or Brian, this book really was a good adventure story of a youth going down in a plane crash and having to survive in the wilderness completely alone and with nothing but his trusty hatchet (which I only later figured out was an ax, since the cover didn't clue me in). I enjoyed it so much that I still find myself calling any weird berry I see in the woods "gut-cherries." Remember kids, red and sweet.

There was another book a teacher read to us about a young graffiti artist's daily romp for survival and his mad dashes to avoid the cops that I just drooled over, but for some reason I can't find any record of this story's existence and don't remember any details about it (even the title or anything) other than a thrilling shopping mall chase scene where he skillfully paints his insignia and manages to avoid security. He goes on to become a famous graffiti artist in the process. Now despite vanishing from existence itself, that story about the besieged graffiti artist may have been the first time I said "I want to WRITE one like that!" in response to a book, and that inspiration has never left. But then there definitely was yet another book that definitely does exist that I didn't so much read but had read to me (the teacher during story time in the 4th grade), but it has come down through the years as one of my all-time favorites and one that I still tell people had a major influence on me wanting to be a novelist and what kinds of novels I wanted to write. This was Dear Mr. Henshaw, by Beverly Cleary. 

I had read Cleary's Ralph S. Mouse books, or maybe had them read to me in story time, throughout the 2nd grade, but when it came to Dear Mr. Henshaw, I just remember being so captivated (even as a kid) by the drama and realism of that book. The story is a compilation of letters written by a boy over the course of several years to an author "Mr. Henshaw" who had visited his class when he was just a tyke. The first letter the kid writes is a class assignment and reads like a small child wrote it, but then for some reason this kid just keeps writing letters to this same author over the course of his life and that's where we get to see him grow up, we get to hear about all the turbulence in his family, his obvious need for a role model, his mood swings, the ups and downs, and his letters even start becoming long and detailed as he gets older. The book was all about growing up at an age when I thought I'd be 9 years old forever. I mean, this was pretty heavy stuff for a kids book, like LMN-heavy stuff, but it was the realism about life that got me, and that's why I said "I want to write books like that." 

The Rescuers Down Under

I had previously said in ages past when I did my reviews of "Great Forgotten Kids Films of the 80s and 90s" that I hadn't seen 1990's The Rescuers Down Under since I was a kid, and since the quality of the film is often cited (Nostalgia Critic hath decreed), I decided to have it added to the Netflix a few weeks back to see if I could rediscover the lost glory that is this film. Dare I say, it actually didn't disapoint. What can I say? This is funny as hell: "These are NOT Joanna eggs!!"

I will admit that the story was a little 'slight' (particularly with the mice), but that was true with the first one too, probably only because there isn't enough story here to support a premise this interesting. But the movie is still a riot and a roller coaster from start to finish. In fact, it may be one of my personal favorite Disney films, maybe because I just love everything about this sumptuous idealized Australian outback landscape we get to go joy-riding through, and I know I did when I saw it as a kid too. I mean, just take a gander at this incredible scene which comes hot off the equally-awesome opening credits sequence which I'm sure we all have burned somewhere in the back of our minds just waiting to be rediscovered. Boy did I want to be having these kinds of exciting wildlife adventures:

They don't make 'em like that anymore.

Super Soakers aren't "Squirt Guns"

For all of history, guys have taken joy in shooting things at other things, whether it was the bow and arrow, the slingshot, the cap gun, or the paintball. The joy of it goes back to our origins as hunters (I'm guessing), but over time it evolved into sport, and then into shooting harmless substances at each other for kicks. A useful skill, I know.

The 90s did have one major innovation in the history of toy weaponry, and that was the Super Soaker. The original, which was released in 1990, could hold about 1 liter of water and fire it a good 50 feet, not to mention it also finally looked like a pretty badass "gun" like you'd expect in a Predator movie or something. The major innovation of the Super Soaker was that, unlike squirt guns, it had a "pumping action," which not only made you look like a badass Rambo-warrior when you were out prancing around the backyard with it, but also compressed the water so that when it actually did fire, it would fly! And when you got hit with these jets, you were bound to be streaked and squishy-heeled in short order.

Over the years these things just got bigger and meaner, holding more water and firing it further and further distances, with all kinds of accessories, like lazor guides and multiple shots with less pumping and easier "pump" refill (much easier than having to take the water jug off!), but whatever form they took, these things just about ruled whatever birthday party I was ever invited to. Once the guns were dusted off from the garage, there was no stopping the blitzkrieg... until they had to be reloaded of course. And so it was that after decades where toy weapons were only for target practice, kids were finally allowed to use other kids as the bullseye, thanks to this device. Boys will be boys, but only because a little water never hurt anyone.

But do yourself a favor and stop calling these things "squirt guns." I had many of those small see-through plastic pistol-shaped squirters with the push-button trigger, and I don't even see how they can be compared. Every squirt gun I ever had only carried about a cup of water at most, and it only fired it about a foot or two. You maybe got one or two decent tiny squirts out of it before you had to pour water down that impossibly tiny hole in the top or submerge the thing and wait for it to "glub glub" its way to being stocked. There's no question that the Super Soaker and its band of clones blew the squirt gun out of the water.

Stick Stickly Summers

People in the know know how zany Nick used to be, and how the idea of a popsicle sick announcer didn't sound weird at all. Stick Stickly was his name, googly eyes and felt mouth, and he was there for us at least a few summers back in the 90s announcing all the shows, doing commercials, and chilling with his popsicle and spork homeboys and girls all those sweltering summer afternoons of yore. There we could find him hosting a segment block called "Nick in the Afternoon," usually occupying some kind of miniature set featuring a prominent outlet in the back while constantly imploring all the shenanigans to "simmer down!" He also had his very own autobiographical special. I mean, this guy got to hang with celebrities, throw parties in the streets, and do whatever he was contracted to do to fill up 20 seconds at a time during commercial breaks, and I got to say, he was a welcome addition to the summer fun while it lasted.

Yeah that stick was alright... but now he's definitely in the "where are they now" file. 

The Shark Grabber

The annual Discovery Channel Shark Week is upon us! So in honor of my second favorite time of year, here be sharks! This one will be in the form of a toy which we all know for having made its big cinematic debut in the film E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial where it cameo'ed as "Shark Toy" in Elliot's fish tank. Truly Spielberg knew all too well Elliot's adage: “The fish eat the fish food, the shark eats the fish, and no one eats the shark!" That's all one needs to know when watching Shark Week. No one eats the shark indeed. They just blow the sucker up.

But when it comes to the shark grabber toy in my canon, I have a confession to make. One time in middle school we all took a field trip to a local zoo park, and upon visiting the gift shop, I saw one of those shark-shaped lazy grabbers. I immediately must've pictured myself grabbing distant things with it on a lazy summer couch potato day, and so naturally I had to have it just for the sake of awesomeness cred. But alas, I didn't have any money on me. So I'm forced to confess that I stole said shark grabber thingy from the park... which was surprisingly easy to do, but yeah, a tragedy (and I throw myself on the mercy of the court!). Was it worth it? Of course not, because the thing couldn't grip anything, although it did annoy my girl cousins and my sister once or twice. Apparently shark grabbers are fond of short sleeves.

If it's any consolation, our class took a field trip to the Boston Museum of Science in the 3rd grade (one of the greatest places on earth for a kid like me), and when we came to the gift shop, I bought this really awesome pen that was shaped like a tiger shark with a removable tail fin for a cap. That one I kept with me for a long time, and it may even still be kicking around in my drawer somewhere with my old key chains. The ink ran out forever ago, but I kept it just for the awesomeness. You don't just throw shark pens in the trash. You respect the shark. Nobody eats him! (except me, at the sushi bar.)

Squeezit Drinks

Everything about the "Squeezit" drink looks and sounds wrong these days, but there was a time in the 1990s when "Squeezit" literally just meant a sugary juice drink. They exist more or less as a fact of life now, but they were brand new back in the 90s, and that meant rather demented 90s advertising. Let's say it was a hot summer day. You'd rip off the wing-nut-shaped cap, suck out the little dab of juice that would always end up trapped in the cap, and the basic idea was you could squeeze the main contents out of the plastic container into your mouth. It was the drink that did the work for you, and to most 90s kids, that's all we really wanted. Because you know, "work."

Now if that sounds rather lame, that's because it was, but if you were a kid out there enjoying the perils of the backyard Slip-n-Slide, one of these could really hit the spot. The commercials on the other hand had these colorful and stylized animated Squeezit bottles getting suspiciously worked over by the kids and not having a good time in the process (or perhaps so, if you prefer it that way). I don't have to tell you what's wrong with this picture now, but I swear it didn't look like it at the time!

I remember the bottles actually had the faces on them too. 

Popsicles and Ice Pops

The northeast is in a sweltering heatwave, and that means I'm thinking popsicles, and all things cold and sweet. When it comes to summertime refreshment, three frozen staples come to mind fast, the first being the Fla-vor-Ice popsicle sticks. They came with that infamous "saw blade" serated edge that was damn near impossible to rip off even with your teeth, especially without hacking a lip or mascerating the end, and especially without at least having a little bit of air at the end to work with. (You know what I'm talking about.) Despite being hard to open, they still taste amazing. The red and the light blue were the best, and yes so was the pink one, even if it was socially unacceptable for me to get a pink one. They always came in those big sheets with like a hundred in the box, so if it took you some time to get one finished, the others would be nicely melted. I always enjoyed letting them melt right down to a liquid before sucking them down until all that was left were the little streams running up the sides. (Once again, I know you know what I'm talking about. I can't be the only one to see these things!)

The second frozen summer treat of the typical 90s childhood usually came in a fishnet bag. The were like popsicle links, with two tubular juice pops connected in the middle. Whenever they were passing these out at the daycare, I always wanted to be lucky enough to be given a whole stick, but often they had to be broken in half down the middle and split between us. If that was the case, they came in two genders. One had a rounded bottom with a smaller opening at the top, and the other had a lipped bottom with a larger opening. They didn't taste as fruity as the Fla-Vor-Ice pops, but the grape and the green apple ones were probably the best. Either way, I could down a million of them on a hot afternoon, and still can, and I will never forget the distinctive sound these made when you had to snap them in half. It was like breaking a bone: *thh-pop!*

The double-stick popsicle was probably the most frequent of my refreshment retreats all those summers of yore, and only because they were cheap at the local 7-Eleven. But despite being my most frequent treat, these actually annoyed me. Even a single stick popsicle is better than one of these, and that's what's annoying about it because you'd think doubling it should make it twice as good, but it doesn't. First of all, there's no way to really hold the thing. The sticks are too close together to hold both, but the whole thing is just too heavy to support it on one stick, so you end up uncomfortably groping your fingers longwise aorund two sticks! Secondly, they were always a million times too cold and rock solid to discern any flavor out of them after you broke a chunk off with your teeth and endured that instant brain freeze they'd implant. Lastly, there was no way you could evenly break one in half. It was like breaking a wishbone. They'd always crack off at the top, causing one side to be tiny and the other side to be this odd L shape. Now maybe it's just because I've had a million of them, but there's just too many things wrong with this whole concept to really win me. Besides, they came in like three flavors and none of them were all that sweet.

Going Native at "Indian Head"

Every summer growing up, our parents used to take us up to a popular spot in Franconia Notch NH called "Indian Head" just a few miles down the road from what (sadly) used to be "the old man of the mountain" natural monument. For anyone who doesn't know from your New Hampshire state quarters, "the old man of the mountain" or "profile rock" was a cliff side off of Cannon Mountain in the White Mountains that from a certain angle looked like a face. Sadly this New Hampshire icon fell down a few years back, but there's another profile rock worth checking out if you're ever in that "neck of the woods" (literally) called "Indian Head"-- a mountain cliff that looks like an "Indian's head." We used to stay at the Indian Head Resort up there, and while there's enough about that to warrant its own post (in time), I'm going to focus this one on something no less amazing to me, albeit far, far less grand. I'm talking about cheap paper hats, plastic bows, and rubber drum sets.

Flamingo feathers??
The Indian Head Resort had its own gift shop (just like everything does) where they sold various Native American-related gifts, toys, shotglasses and the like, and believe it or not, perusing this little overstocked alcove was the height of any four day stay in the White Mountains for me. The reason? Namely, cheap paper Native American headdresses, plastic bows, and rubber drums sets. These were a MUST have. There was no question about it. The headdresses were just a red paper front with an "eh, close enough..." Native American pastiche design on it tied around the back with an elastic string which always broke out of its staple 20 minutes after wearing it, and poised atop would be five or six colored feathers. I could put this thing on and feel like I was the "Brave Chief" for the day (as it said on the hat)... or at least for 20 minutes.

My parents usually passed on the drum kits and archery sets because they were expensive (and eBay doesn't lie), and you have to consider that getting one of anything always meant getting two of anything (because close-in-age brothers always want what the other one has!). But I do remember getting the bow and arrow and the drum kit at least once, and I even have photographic evidence of this fact. The archery set came with a couple of "suction cup" arrows that would get lost 10 minutes after they were torn from the package, a flimsy bow with a string that wouldn't send them any decent distance anyway, and a fake plastic knife that probably found its way under the car seat for the rest of the trip. The drum kit was one of those mock "hide drum" cans with some rubber stretched over both ends to make it look more "Indian" I guess. It wasn't loud enough to annoy my parents but was damn cool enough to keep us entertained in the backseat of the car as we jotted down the Kancamagus.

And I say that in all respect, because I don't for a second think any of these things communicate any significance about actual Native American history or culture, which I was genuinely interested in as a kid, but to the 8YO me, these little trinkets were just the coolest toys I could imagine having in a place called "Indian Head" up in the scenic splendor of the White Mountains. I may have once or twice walked all of "the Flume" with my feathery gear intact. If you don't know what that is, you're just going to have to check it out for yourself... or wait until I tell the tale.

Just Goin' Fishin'

It's summer time again, and few things say the great outdoors like fishing. But when it comes to real fishing, my knowledge of the sport ends with the Zebco Kids' push-button spin-caster rod and reel. This was one of those gifts that you loved as soon as you got but then "gave up on" as soon you got it caught in something on the first cast across the driveway to pick up the plastic fish. After that it was confined to the "floaty fish in the kiddy pool" kind of fishing, which usually meant the plastic hook was going in my brother's shirt at some point. But beyond the backyard "sword fights" and other shenanigans with it, dad used to actually take us out on the lake in the canoe a few weekends to put it to use. The best thing I can say about this rod and reel from these experiences, besides the fact of just "having" a cool fishing pole like every guy wants, is how the whole one-pound test on it was strong enough to snag even the flimsiest surface weeds! Watch the bobber!

Truth be told, the only fish I think I ever caught, besides the plastic kiddy pool variety, were the feeder fish (which in the kindness of my heart I set free in the lake was not happy about that). Animal rights activism aside, there was nothing like being out on the lake with dad and bro, just us guys, but that time spent with this rod usually involved untangling the lines, unhooking the line from bushes, trees, clothing, and body parts, rethreading the lines, and generally... untangling the lines.

But despite my complete lack of luck or common sense when it came to fishing, I did manage to net me at least one good catch... a real live mermaid! And that may sound like one very unbelievable fish story, but I swear it's the truth. Once my brother and I showed up to some kid's Halloween costume party, and because we weren't all that creative in our costume ideas, we came with our poles for some reason. Now, it just so happened that at this party was this girl from our daycare dressed as Ariel, the "Little Mermaid," so naturally it was only a matter of time before she was taking our hooks out of her costume. I mean, obviously it was going to happen, but for some reason she didn't think it was as funny as we did, until of course we were forced to put the poles away.

Speaking of fishing, I seem to remember being particularly good at this very "indoor" game called Let's Go Fishin': "the action fishing game where players try for the biggest catch!" You take your tiny fishing pole and hook the fish that circle around the pond bobbing up and down and opening their mouths. The first one to hook the most wins! You might remember this as the kind of game you usually found stacked up in that carpeted basement playroom at your rich cousin's house along with the NES, the robotic arm, and all the other cool toys you couldn't have. You'd slide it out of the box and, wouldn't-ya-know-it, half the fish would be missing from the pond (just like they would be on a real fishing trip).

The Amazon Trail 3

For a while as a kid I had a thing for rain forests. This was after my thing for deserts and before my thing for oceans, but it was the strongest of my biome "things" and lasted a good six or so months in the 3rd grade. I'm not exactly sure why rain forests, but I think it was just the beginning of me being a sucker for anything "exotic," which continues right to the present. This is why I loved playing the little PC Oregon Trail game clone "Amazon Trail" so much. Back in the day they were giving the CD for this game out for free on Cheerios boxes, so we brought it home and quickly got addicted to it. Unfortunately "free" apparently meant the shipping had the right to rub the CD in sand before they sent it, so the game never really worked right, but we still played it all the way to the end at least once.

It begins with this talking jaguar on a very cool looking shield in a museum who proceeds to lay some very brief exposition on you about being the "chosen one" before whisking you away by ancient magic of some kind to the amazon river delta. There you chose your guide and are told to travel to this town at the end of the river called "Vilcabamba" to do something I was never quite sure about. It had something to do with trading and solving problems with the people you meet to gain special talismans or something, but the main point of it was, as with all educational PC games in the 90s, actually to "educate" you, and this game spent a lot of time doing just that. But with its jungle atmosphere, bird call sound effects, and pan flutes a-plenty, it really does make you feel swept away to some exotic place, which for me is an enjoyable experience.

Just make sure you're traveling in the right direction in the boat because every way on the river looks exactly the same (as if you're careening toward a distant shoreline at every turn!), while you also play pole position with the logs and other debris sure to "log" your canoe. I remember getting completely lost and going in circles for hours trying to find the "side" of the river for some bearings, but rest assured there are none. According to this game the Amazon river is endless fathoms wide, and you're just expected to "go forth" into unknown depths and careen towards a mirage of a shoreline that you are never going to reach no matter how much you try to convince yourself of progress made. Be sure to also check the map often though or you could be venturing down a tributary into jungle-nowhere, where you will be mysteriously unable to get back.

During the game you travel across time as you head down the amazon river, meeting people in very obviously computer generated settings, although at the time they looked very realistic. Half the live action people you run into in these environments are either out to rob you, kill you, or educate you about the flora, fauna, and history of South America, so sometimes it was just fun to run around ticking people off by choosing the worst RPG dialogue options before unloading your useless "trading packets" on them for some anti-malaria medicine or other. My brother and I ran across this conquistador who refused to let us leave until we gave him all our shit, answering everything with a "that's not bad...but I want MORE!!" We had to restart the game to get away from him, but it turns out that you can kill him with the "medicine" that the old medicine man gives you towards the beginning. Go figure!

You could also go fishing in what appeared to be the clownfish pond at the local hotel by chucking spears at the fish-shaped shadows, providing that the pond was stocked with barracuda! They'd wait until you were starving and dying of scurvy to give you the one area of the Amazon completely devoid of fish. Then you could journey on land presumably and take pictures of the scenery as the moths and tropical birds flew by, because you know, it actually did beat going outside and doing the same thing. This was way more "exotic" than the backyard, and very computer-generated. After all this, we did make it to the end once due to the constant bugs with our version of the game, but found it to be completely underwhelming. The ending was just two hippies giving you the standard "save the rain-forest" and "protect the earth-mother" kind of stuff, but that aside, it was a fun little bit of tropical escapism while it lasted. And as one of the more grumpy people you meet whines:

"What else would a man be doing in this rain-soaked land of mosquitoes!" 

The Doublemint Gum Jingle

Old Spice's new bar soap commercials have rekindled my desire to hear classic 80s and 90s commercial jingles, which anyone over twenty right now will immediately remember. For those not privileged enough, there was an innocent time not so long ago when nearly every commercial had these corny backing vocal groups harping on whatever was selling over strings and piano, as if to imbue anything common and ordinary with that oh-so radical kick of fresh, filtered "life!"

Yes, the world really did at least once pretend to be this jolly, and you might even get the illusion that these were simpler times, and yeah, that's because they were. Usually these jingles were so incredibly "upbeat" they would soar into this positivity-crescendo by the end played over random shots of people just smacking tennis balls and splashing in the pool, and were almost impossible to watch without lifting your arms up and shouting "yeah!" or "I can do it!" to whatever the tagline was. And of course you'd sing along. It was hard not to sit up and take notice. From Kitkat bars to Rice-a-Roni there were many jingles I loved, but one has been stuck in my head for probably way over a decade now. One so cleverly written I'm still mystified by it. I'm talking of course about Wrigley's Doublemint Gum, which played throughout the early 90s in one form or another:

Think about how brilliant this is. Everything is doubled except the "no single gum" part, get it? Trust me, once it's in there, it's going to be in there for good, so you might as well start counting all the things that are "doubled up," including that two-piece blonde who shuts the car door with her... "double-ness."

Wait, what was this commercial about?  

Steven Spielberg Films

For a good part of my young life I wanted to be a filmmaker when I grew up, thanks mostly to Stephen Spielberg. I was a Spielberg fanboy by the age of seven at least, or as soon as I learned that not only had Spielberg directed Jurassic Park (my favorite film at the time), but had also directed all kinds of other great films. This is why: Spielberg has always been about giving the audience what they want, but also telling good stories along the way. He gets accused of audience manipulation and being overly-sentimental at times, and he has gone a bit overboard on the Nazis, but even some of his worst films carry with them a pure enthusiasm for good old-fashioned cinema magic (yes, even Hook...), and that's exactly what I've always loved about his films. I never ended up going into film-making (it's way too hard!), since all my pretend movies would've been very derivative and Spielbergian anyway, but that love of telling a good adventure story still inspires me to write my own tales to this day (which are still forthcoming). Here's a look back at some of my favorites which have played a part in forming who I am today:

"Come in through the door!"
Close Encounters of the Third Kind - This is currently my favorite movie. It's got just enough intrigue, suspense, pacing, humor, and eye-popping special effects to make it for me. Some of my earliest memories of this movie involve the colorful ships buzzing past the boy on the road, the "mashed potato mountain" scene, and the trash mountain in the living room. And I don't care one bit that the aliens (spoiler!) don't "do anything" at the end, because Spielberg spends the whole film piquing your curiosity and wonderment until you're numb from it and then delivers the best light show you've ever seen, which is pay off enough in my book. It's good old-fashioned movie-making, taking full advantage of that "warm summer night" feel to inspire you to go look up to see what you can spot in the horizon-backlit starry sky. Spotlights and lens flares galore-- all Spielbergian trademarks.

"Smile you son of a *bang!*!!"
Jaws - I first saw this movie on late night TV when I was like 10 or so, and lucky me it was the last half when they really start going mano-a-sharko with that monster of the deep. I also saw the "Shark!" beach run scene, which features one of Spielberg's other favorite trademarks: namely, women clutching their children and screaming (also seen in Close Encounters and E.T.). When that shark started chowing down the boat, bit Robert Shaw in half, and he spit blood at the camera, that was THE most graphic thing I had ever seen in a movie up until then, and it was awesome! Then there's plenty of thrills to be had, especially when the boat starts sinking, but overall it's just a huge entertainment-fest of a movie from beginning to end. I even found the drunken fisherman's rant and song entertaining back in the day, which inspired many "Lego remakes" in our downstairs playroom, featuring sharks and our Lego boats.

Remember? This happened too!
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial - This may just be the ultimate Spielberg film. It's got everything (except the Nazis). There's the "initially-scary-but-ultimately-benevolent" government types from Close Encounters once again flashing their high-intensity spotlights all over the place, the sentimental "average American family antics" we saw in Jaws and Close Encounters, the main character who becomes "obsessed" with something (Eliot toward the alien), mothers grasping their children and screaming, plenty of "movie magic" with the flying bicycles and the spaceship, and at least a few classic "They're heeere!" or "We're gonna need a bigger boat..." kinds of classic movie lines, including: "E.T. phone home.." and "It was nothing like that penis breath!" The movie just has all the elements of a great adventure tale that Spielberg made staples, and every scifi movie in the 80's wanted to be this movie.

"Start the engines! Start the engines!"
Indiana Jones Trilogy - Yes I know there's a "fourth one," but to be honest I was very disappointed so that one's going to have to be out for me (sorry George). I'm including the first three films in one just because there's no separating them. Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Last Crusade are, once again, that classic Spielbergian adventure-serial concept, only now we're globe hopping from booby trap to booby trap with the most elite archaeologist to ever pick up a pick and shovel, not to mention handy whip and damn cool-looking hat. No boy ever turned away from these movies and didn't at least consider a career in archaeology (including this one). Plus we get badass NAZIS now to schadenfreude-ourselves into bliss by blowing apart, crushing, incinerating, exploding, and running over with tanks. Admittedly, Temple of Doom (the supposed "prequel") was the weakest and possibly one of the weirdest films Spielberg ever made. It also had the most annoying female lead in the history of cinema (so useless she made Short Round look like Shaft!). But even Temple of Doom has enough of its own spectacular "suspension-of-disbelief" action scenes that make it worthwhile, and the actual temple was pretty cool.

"Clever girl..."
Jurassic Park - Nothing more need be said on this one. It's got all the elements of a classic Spielberg adventure tale once again, only this time we're in the jungle and there's dinosaurs amok! The T-Rex? The Velociraptors? That's "Land Jaws" as far as we're concerned. The family antics? Well, we got the sentimental back-story of two semi-lovebird paleontologists defending their somewhat "professional relationship" from the attacks of the real carnivore on the set (the Goldblum!), and of course the Spielbergian "kids in peril" that we care about because they're "kids in peril" (we saw this in Temple of Doom as well). But really, what's so great about this movie? It's got just enough suspense (of disbelief), just enough sentimentality, just enough death and (mostly) bloodless carnage, and the special effects are fantastic. And nobody can film helicopters just simply "flying around" like Spielberg (also check out Close Encounters for that)!

Spielberg's films are defined by epic story-telling, evocative dramatics, and sentimental audience manipulation which (often) works. Nearly all of them serve as tributes to well-crafted crowd-pleasing movie-making, giving us just enough awe and just enough excitement or drama to do what films ought to do, which is entertain and inspire. Some other honorable mentions I'll include are: Poltergeist (he produced it and it definitely has all the Spielbergian trademarks), The Goonies (another he wrote and produced), Empire of the Sun (evidence that underrated Spielberg films do exist), and even War of the Worlds wasn't half bad. Let's also not forget that he produced a lot of the now-classic WB cartoons like Tiny Toons and Animaniacs. Oh yeah, not to mention Saving Ryan's Private and Schindler's List, because he didn't have enough anti-Nazi movies already.

Glowing Better Blocks

I was a major fan of anything glow in the dark back in the day, and if you were even alive in the 90s and don't remember these, then check your pulse. These things looked like the coolest block set out there from the castle lighting up at night to the pirate ship that was "glowing with fright." But what they weren't telling you was that 200 blocks wasn't nearly enough to build half that stuff. You'd need like 50 sets to build as much as they show in the commercial!

Marvin's Magic Drawing Stuff

I did not have the Marvin's Magic Drawing Board, so I can't tell you how the thing worked (I'm still trying to figure it out), but I did watch the commercial a good thousand times, enough to have those bright colorful swivels burned somewhere into the back of my brain. Apparently you'd swish around a little plastic scalpel and make the colorful underlay appear in the black. I didn't have that, but I did have the color changing pens...and yes, those were 100% legit, including the part about them being magical.

The only thing is the "invisible ink" one would start getting dirty with the ink of the other pens and that would make it less magical...

The Great Webelo Day Camp Event

Proud Webelo!
Sometime during the wet season back yonder in my lore, my entire Cub Scout council was invited to go on this "day camp experience." It was going to be a whole day of fun activities in the great outdoors, and we'd be the proud owners of a pretty big badge if we went, so naturally I went (for the badge mostly). I also wanted to get my feet wet in the whole "camp experience" thing since I dreaded going on an "overnight" (there were some things I just didn't want to see). So my dad and I set off in the wee hours of the morning to get hammered by the uber-scouting pack leader (who scared me on a daily basis a la Bushwhacked) for being "out of uniform" without my neckerchief.

So, once again, my dad and I set off in the later wee hours of the morning after the uniform dysfunction (which didn't even matter because nobody could see it under the coat anyways), and a couple hours later we finally arrived at the destination way, way, waaay the hell out in the sticks. Even just the bungly road out to the camp was designed to really give off that whole "rustic" experience, being about three miles of twisty, turny, bouncy dirt, rocks, and general woodsy "initiation turbulence" through the middle of the forest. At a speed limit of 2 miles per hour, no drink in any cup-holder was safe, and we both emerged in a state of involuntary spasm. Welcome to "Camp Norse"... a camp hardcore enough for the Norsemen, as I understood it. It's not anywhere near where I live (or anyone else for that matter) so don't even try to track me down.

The actual cabin.
From there on the trip quickly went downhill. First of all, of all the scouts in the entire council  only like four or five of us showed up to "represent," which means we were severely, severely outmatched by the other councils who had upwards of tens and twenties of scouts. Secondly, we learned that we were going to be lugging around a giant sled like a pack of Iditarod dog teams, in what was supposed to have been the fluffy snow which turned out to be mush and pine needles. Thirdly, it was damp, muddy, and damn cold. 

So here we were, all four of us sturdy-bodied nine-year-olds, dragging this giant heavy-ass snow sled with all our equipment on it from activity station to activity station, across wet pine needles, rocks, and downed tree branches which had to be frequently moved, falling down on our faces in the cold hard mud, as the other councils zipped around with twenty or so older and stronger guys in tow. We quickly became known by all the other competing councils as "the losers." One team even had wheels on their sled! All the while our drill sergeant pack leader would crack his metaphorical whip, shouting at us to "pick up the pace" and to "put our [you-know-whats] into it" (whatever that meant), but taking time to assure us that if there had been snow, that team with the wheels would've been screwed. I suppose that made me stop and ignore the pain in my shoulders, the humiliation of being in last place, and the cold mud on my drenched pants for a half-second. It was still fun in a "we're all in this together" kind of way. 

The activities included things like climbing trees, building a fire, walking a tight-rope, archery, javelin throw, and our personal worst, tying knots. By the time we made it to any of the activity areas though, we were so grateful just to have made it that we didn't really care about doing what was set out at these stops, so we basically failed at everything. That's not even some cynical joke either, we really did fail at everything. And you'd be surprised how many bathroom stops boys need in a ten hour period of strenuous labor, for which we literally had the trees. "No pain, no gain," he said.

Picture Credit: Scouting Magazine
But through it all, at least we got outside, got to stretch our legs (and then some!), and got enough combined "pull my finger" and "number one, number two? Go find a tree!" jokes out of our systems to satiate our humor palettes for at least a couple days. And we got serious, serious props at the next council meeting for at least showing up and braving the wilds, the battles, and each other's bodily functions, to represent the council. And each of us came home with a sweet, well-deserved badge commemorating the valiant "effort," which we could lord over all the "no-show wusses." 

Still a proud heart! (Not in reality, because that would be weird).

The Adventures of Pete & Pete

The Adventures of Pete & Pete was like the last couple days of summer or at least the early days of thanksgiving break, and boy did I love it. It went and did all the things you only thought about doing as a kid, or at least, doing what you did to the Nth. Adults want you to stay after school? Stay there forever! Has oppressive bed time got you down? Join the "Nightcrawlers," stay up forever, and break the "International Adult Conspiracy" (governed by those suffering from hemorrhoids). School getting dull? Fake a sickday, or better yet, go for a "double dipper!" Left home alone? Sell the house! Of all things ginger and flannel cap, you couldn't beat this. From the rock band on the front lawn to the cutting of the grass with the approval of the lawn gnome, it was capital-R Radical, and true to what a brother relationship is like. I know, because this was pretty much my life as well.

So let's start out with the "Brothers Pete." Nobody was wiser than that spacey teenager with the denim and curly hair (named Pete) who narrated every "adventure," and nobody was downright cooler than his younger brother (also mysteriously named Pete) who could man his own ham radio station (WART), collect burps in a paper bag, wield a blow torch, and drive a riding mower to Canada. But then there were all their weird friends and enemies, first of all Ellen, older Pete's lifelong girlfriend, who dared to ask "why?" and played french horn in the marching band formations, scoring the "dot spot" in the word "Squids" (in Roman Gothic font, no less). Then there was also young Pete's lanky-armed "personal superhero" Artie The Strongest Man In The World (who was at least the strangest man in the world). After that there was Dad, who dreamed of catching the prize-winning fish named Bob, and Mom, who had something to do with why the drive-in movie phonebooth had been ringing for 27 years (until young Pete saved the town from its endless ringing and finally answer the call). "Mom, it's for you."

This show had a whole cast of surreal characters. Even the metal plate in Mom's head was a character (named "Mom's Plate" in the opening credits), picking up radio transmissions and frequencies that would cause her to break dishware, as was young Pete's hot chick arm tattoo "Petunia," who he could make "dance" by flexing his muscle (but who "never made into movies"). Then there was Ken the smoking crossing guard who had seen one too many spy flicks, Monica the "Kreb Scout of death" who never owned a pet that hadn't died (all 30 of them!), and Mr. Tastee the ice cream cone man who ruled the summer with an edible fist. There was Ray the Meter Man electrician who could see the future based on your house's kilowatt hour usage, Stu the love-crossed psychopathic school bus driver who tried to kill them all, Wayne the "Super Genius," and the British gym class teacher whose tyranny called for the great Dodgeball War after young Pete's insurrection.  Then there was Pit Stain, who really had a way of "picking your scabs," together with his crumby gang of bullies: Hair Net, Drawstring, and Nightbrace. Young Pete even had a personal "guardian angel of underwear" named "Inspector 34."

Watching a show like this for all three of its seasons could teach you some valuable lessons. For example, that the song "Marmalade Cream" was pretty hardcore. That there is nothing strange about cowboy neighbors branding their lawn equipment like cattle. That a hot summer day really can melt road tar and car tires. That kids who eat a lot of ketchup are definitely space aliens. That getting out of being grounded for life is as easy as tunneling through the yard with a string of Christmas lights and a mantle piece Statue of Liberty (symbolizing your freedom!!). That "Roadkill Bingo" can make a road trip more memorable. That pet geckos with a "lust for life" can play mini-Foosball. And that scissors definitely beats Papercut because he only throws paper!

I suppose the big lesson about the show though was just the brother relationship, and how the "Brothers Pete" could live in two totally different worlds and yet still jell (even if young Pete still needed a fresh supply of oxygen at his bedside after sharing a bedroom with his brother). The older Pete would be off doing the stuff teens do like hanging out with "girls" and working summer jobs (at the golf course and swimming pool) while Pete the younger would be doing all the cool stuff like launching the neighborhood "prank war" or traveling back in time on daylight savings (with the power of "Riboflavin") to exact revenge on the bully "Endless Mike Hellstrom."

This was adults vs. kids, kids vs. bullies, and "kids just being kids" stuff at it best, and it made you believe. Watching it now makes you realize just how innocent (and messed up) you were as a kid. More than sheer entertainment, the show has given me a very large collection of insults and minced oaths that I draw on from time to time in my daily life to "lay it down," so to speak. Such phrases as "get a life brain drain!"  "stuff it jerkweed!" "bust my clamps!" "suck my fumes, nimrod!" "oh poke me with a stick!" and "take that, lunch bag!" all really do the trick. And seriously, who can argue with such classics like "choke on it, tool box!" "kill me with a brick!," "cheese plug!," "no chance, wingnut!," and of course: "buckle up, it's not just the law, it feels good!" You said it younger Pete, nothing feels better than total subversiveness, and that's what this show was.

"Bite my scab!" --Paid for by the Committee to Give Pete the Bowling Ball.

Gym Class Air Tents

Everyone seems to remember that rewarding gym class experience where we all grabbed the big top tarp thing, each around the circle, and lifted it up and down until it formed some kind of dome. At this point, we were all told to run to the middle and pull it down behind us and sit on it. It made a nice CO2 gas chamber (or dutch oven, depending on what was for lunch) for 15 seconds until it deflated, but it was kind of like going into another dimension or something. I'm not sure what kind of hippy get-together wussy PE thing this was, but it sure was colorful, maybe even magical. For a dork like me, it certainly beat dodgeball, or any other sport in existence.