Monthly Archives: January 2011

Remember Garbage Pail Kids?

Remember Garbage Pail Kids?

I do.

In the beginning there were the Cabbage Patch Kids. Cabbage Patch Kids were dolls made to resemble human babies with fat faces and small eyes that stared straight out into the void. The dolls were immensely popular. Parents lined up for miles in an often vain attempt to secure one of these wonderful dolls for their wonderful child. I would not have been caught dead playing with them and I secretly wished for a way to explode the commercial hypocrisy that these dolls represented.

One day in elementary school a group of classmates were huddled and making noise. I did not like to be disturbed when I was coloring and went over to give them a lesson in decorum. And then I saw what they were so excited about. They were looking at cards, kind of like baseball cards but with artwork on the face instead of photographs. The cards were called “Garbage Pail Kids” and the artwork was of a character that looked very similar to a Cabbage Patch Kid, but in a compromising situation.

For example, the first card i saw was of a character that was dressed as Uncle Sam and sticking a finger in his nose. At the bottom was the character’s name: Snooty Sam. Another Garbage Pail Kid was Babbling Brooke, who appeared to be a young lady, speaking on the telephone while eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and getting most of the peanut butter and jelly on the receiver with a lot of what I presumed to be saliva.  Various membranes, bodily refuse and physical violence were the prevailing themes to these cards.

Every Garbage Pail Kid had an identical twin. Snooty Sam’s identical twin was U.S. Arnie. Finding the twin to a Garbage Pail Kid was like glimpsing an alternate universe. But this was nothing compared to seeing a Garbage Pail Kid character drawing for the first time. Even now when I search on Google images, I get a trace of that magical feeling when I see those cards.

Like snap bracelets and Beavis and Butthead,  the Garbage Pail Kids eventually found themselves at odds with parents and educators.  I imagine it was because of the cards’ heavy emphasis on scatological humor and flippant attitude towards death. But the cards were not completely bad. You have to remember that there were hundreds of these cards, each with a clever name. To accomplish this, the creators harnessed the lyricism of the English language and in so doing introduced us to words and concepts we would not have encountered while coloring and singing Bingo Was His Name-O. These were some of the names: Glandular Angela. Marty Gras. Adam Bomb. Frigid Bridget (who was a girl encased in an ice cube – such was the cleverness of these cards aimed at pre-adolescents).

The cards were released as a series. When I came under their spell, they were up to the second or third series. I was positively rabid during the fifth, sixth, and seventh series. As soon as each new series came out I could think of little else until I had every card of the series in my possession. At last I could show the world how the Cabbage Patch Kids were nothing more than a gimmick to get children to beg their parents to spend precious dollars or pounds or yen on these fat faced dolls with adoption papers. I was so dedicated to this message that I begged my parents to buy me more Garbage Pail Kids.

But at some point after I became disillusioned and figured it was time to focus on a career.

Years later, I followed up on the Garbage Pail Kids to see what had befallen them. Evidently the Cabbage Patch Kids – or a parent or guardian on their behalf – sued the Garbage Pail Kids for trademark infringement. The deposition testimony makes for interesting reading.

Attorney for plaintiffs: So were you aware of the Cabbage Patch Kids when you began marketing your own cards?
The witness: I do not recall.
Attorney:  Did you do any research as to whether there was something called the Cabbage Patch Kids?
Witness: I do not recall.
Attorney: You do not recall whether or not you researched whether there were Cabbage Patch Kids or not?
Defendants’ attorney: Objection. Asked and answered. Don’t answer that.
Plaintiffs’ attorney:  You can’t direct him not to answer that.
Defendants’ attorney:  I think I just did.
(The witness picks his nose.)
Plaintiffs’ attorney:  The court reporter is taking down everything you do. So you may want to refrain from doing that. Now I just have a few more questions – wait, are you going to throw up – no…not the exhibits!
(Whereupon a short recess was taken.)

The parties reached an out of court settlement which was sealed to the public. I noticed, however, that the appearance of the “new” Garbage Pail Kids was markedly different from the ones I knew and loved and negligently let my mother throw away. The eyes are much bigger, and so the characters have lost the fat face look of the Cabbage Patch Kids. They are in the same compromising situations – expectoration, regurgitation, excretion, death – but when it was just ordinary kids in those situations instead of kids that bore a startling resemblance to the Cabbage Patch Kids the magic was no longer there for me. Lawyers ruin everything.

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Remember Snap Bracelets?

Remember snap bracelets (or slap bracelets if that’s what you called them)?

I do.

Snap bracelets were like the Huns. No one knew where they came from, and no one knows what happened to them, but when they were here, no one was safe.

A snap bracelet was a long strip of plastic encased in tight fabric, usually with a fancy print of brilliant color. The snap bracelet had two states – straight and curved. Both states were function of the structure of the plastic strip. When you applied pressure to the middle of the plastic strip, it would snap into a curved shape, like a bracelet, with a satisfying snapping sound.

The proper technique was to snap the snap bracelet over one’s wrist. I generally did not wear bracelets or jewelry of any kind, except a Goofy watch with hands that went counterclockwise around a reverse clock face, which I guess was really clockwise within the Goofy-watch frame of reference. But I wore these snap bracelets.

To this day I have no idea what possessed me to collect and wear snap bracelets. Perhaps it was because the snap bracelet was not just a bracelet. Perhaps I saw snap bracelets as accessories of action. Perhaps I saw the snapping action as a symbol of my own ability to snap into action whenever pressure was applied to my middle. Or perhaps it was because everyone else was wearing them.

The snap bracelets transcended gender, economic status and perceived level of coolness.  They were our armbands in an age when there was nothing for us to wear armbands for. And adults found them irritating.

I vaguely remember that some schools had banned snap bracelets because of student injuries. I don’t know what kind of snap bracelets were being peddled in those districts. The only injuries the snap bracelets in my school could cause would be a black eye from someone who was not amused by the snapping sound and bright colors. Maybe that was what happened at those schools.

At the bus stop we discussed technique for keeping the curve sharp.

“Last night I put my social studies book on top of it and left it there all night.”

“Interesting. I put mine in the freezer.”

“Why do you guys have to do that? Don’t they stay curved?”

“Obviously you haven’t been using snap bracelets that much. Can your parents not afford them?

“Shut up.”

And then one day I turned around and the snap bracelets were gone. I never got a chance to say goodbye. I don’t even remember them going out of style. The snap bracelets had just vanished into thin air, never to be seen again, except in my memories and eBay.

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Remember When Garbage Was Garbage?

Remember when garbage was garbage, and you could throw trash away without sorting it into categories?

I do.

A routine has developed in my kitchen. I finish something contained in something else – a carton of orange juice, a can of soda, a glassine bag of heroin – and I go to throw out the container. I depress the garbage can pedal with my foot, the lid opens, and my hand with the trash is suspended in the air, about to drop its payload.  Then my wife magically appears and says:

“Wait. Recycle.”

I take my foot off the pedal and snort. I enter the frigid garage and toss the carton/can/glassine bag on top of a pile of other containers that I had initially tried to throw in the regular garbage before I was caught.

In the nether-reaches of my mind I recall a simpler time.  A slower time, a time when people had more time for their families.  A time when people polluted more. A time when anything you did not want hanging around any longer could just be thrown away along with the chicken bones and report cards that alleged you were “not working up to potential.”

I credit the environmental movement with helping to save the planet, and making me at least consider not letting the faucet run while I’m brushing my teeth. But when I was a kid we just threw things away. Or we put them in boxes in the basement that my mother would periodically attempt to launch into space. We did not sort garbage. I did not sort my laundry, board games or feelings. Why would I sort my garbage?

And then, one day, a present was left on our doorstep: a beige plastic garbage can bearing a green “Recycle” emblem, illustrating that saving the planet began by arranging three arrows in the shape of a triangle. The new can was accompanied by a notice from the town, proclaiming that all paper garbage, and only paper garbage, had to be put in this special can. Paper garbage found with the regular garbage would be punished by summary execution and a $200 fine.

Separating was complicated.  For “paper” included any paper product, even if it had once held something that was not paper, and had left its non-paper product smeared all over the inside of the otherwise recyclable container. So saving the planet became all about scraping the inside of take-home containers from restaurants.

The plastic can for paper garbage was only the beginning. It was followed by a series of blue bins. One for glass. One for aluminum. One for those tiny plastic round tables that go inside of pizza boxes. All garbage had to be separated into these containers. We became a recycling family.  Kind of like the Partridge Family, except instead of riding around in a bus and singing songs, we stayed at home and classified our trash.

“Dad,” I said on a garbage night, holding up the packaging to an action figure, “is this paper or plastic?”  He got up from his pile of aluminum cans, rubbed his eyes, scratched his head and consulted the Talmud, which was somewhat helpful, but only by analogy. We decided that I had to give up toys. I had more important things to do. Like sorting garbage.

The different classes of garbage got picked up on different days. Glass the third Tuesday of the month. Aluminum every other Wednesday and alternate Fridays. It was like a class schedule. But the greatest challenge was that paper garbage got picked up only once every two weeks. Approximately 97% of my family’s garbage was paper. During those two weeks we drowned in newspapers and magazines and flyers for missing cats.

One episode I will never forget. It was a cold, Thursday morning, and we were all snug in our beds, dreaming of sugar-plum fairies. Suddenly my father was shaking me awake in an obvious panic. I wondered if the house was on fire. “Mark, get up!” he said. “Today’s paper garbage day, and we forgot to put out the paper garbage!”

I wished the house had been on fire. Because then I could have stopped, dropped and rolled myself out the front door and gotten some breakfast or something. But putting out the paper garbage on such short notice – I could already hear the truck – was the suburban equivalent of the four-minute mile.

We scurried around the house in a frenzy, grabbing Pennysavers, junk mail, and cereal boxes each containing a teaspoon of cereal. We were like animals, acting by instinct. Getting that paper garbage out before the truck arrived was the key to our survival.

The truck was getting closer. We were running relays in our pyjamas, stuffing the paper garbage into the overflowing can. At one point I slipped and dropped a stack of unopened credit card offers behind a desk.  I started to reach for them but my father put his hand on my shoulder. “Forget it, boy. We don’t have time.”

The truck was here. It was or now or in two weeks. The sanitation workers started affixing the crane to our can. My mental movie runs in slow motion. I see my father sprinting, his bathrobe flapping in the wind, our coupons flying. “Nooooooooo,” he screams as he dives for the curb, landing on our now empty can in the dust left by the departing truck.

Not that we minded any of this. We were, and are, proud to be stepping up to our responsibility to leave the planet in better shape than we found it.  Or at least try to leave it in better shape than we found it. Or, if nothing else, think about trying to leave it in better shape than we found it. Because without a clean environment, we have nothing. And all we have to do is scrape the inside of a take-home container.

 

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Remember When Cameras Used Film?

Remember when you had to put film in a camera to take pictures?

I do.

My first camera was plastic and gray and flat and had a picture of the Go-Bots emblazoned on the top.  The Go-Bots were fictional cartoon robots that were like a poor man’s Transformers and had nothing to do with the camera’s functioning.

My Go-Bots camera, like all cameras at the time, required film to take pictures.  The film was rolled up inside of a cartridge and contained a limited number of pictures. The number of pictures ranged from 12 to perhaps 48 at the outer limits.  There were no film cartridges that took 500 pictures, at least not at the film kiosks where I was getting ripped off.

The film cartridge that my camera required was in the shape of two small tubes connected by a flat plastic piece.  It looked like a little Torah scroll.  Taking a flash picture required buying a cartridge of flash bulbs, which looked like a miniature apartment building made of clear plastic.

One memory of using my Go-Bots camera stands above all others.  In 1989 my parents took me to see the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in Manhattan.  I was not old enough to drink heavily so I really felt the cold.  The only thing that kept me from landing on Planet Whine was my Go-Bots camera and the promise it held for me of a Pulitzer Prize.

The problem was that my allowance afforded me only one roll of 27-shot film.  Even were there exactly 27 floats—and there were far more than that—I would have no chance to take different angles of a float I found particularly compelling.  So I would have to choose.  I could not take pictures of everything.

For each float that approached I employed a three-pronged analysis.  First, how many pictures do I have left?  Second, is this better than what I have already seen?  And third, given how many floats are likely to come by, is this particular float picture-worthy?  Some things, like the many marching bands that went marching by, were easy to pass up…unless there was something unique about it, like a particularly corpulent trumpeter.  Other things, however, were closer calls.

One such close call was a float of friendly dinosaurs in various colors.  “How cool,” I said to myself.  “I simply must preserve these dinosaurs.” And there went 1/27th of my film.

I regretted my decision as soon as the shutter closed.  Not even a giant blown-up Woody Woodpecker could free my mind from my bad decision.  “Why did I waste a picture on those stupid dinosaurs?” I asked myself.  “The dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago.  Those were probably just people dressed up in dinosaur costumes.”

Still unable to accept my own mistake, I started taking pictures of things that were even less picture-worthy than the people dressed up as dinosaurs, as if to show the cosmos that my original decision was correct.  I wasted irreplaceable shots on blown-up cartoon characters that did not have their own show, washed-up celebrities whose last work had been when I was an embryo, and a funnel-cake that someone had obviously found disappointing and thrown in the gutter.  The funnel cake had been stepped on, but I could not even tell if the person who had bought the funnel cake was the same person who had stepped on it.

I was still in denial when the grand finale float approached.  The float that we were all waiting for.  The float that bridged an okay holiday to the only holiday that kids actually cared about.  The shouts of children and adults alike presaged the appearance of that greatest of floats…Santa!  Mommy, I see him!  It’s Santa!  Santa!  Santa!!

It is a well-known fact that Santa Claus is the final float at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  That meant I had made it on my one roll of film.  Just one more picture and all my mistakes would be forgiven.  But when I pressed on the picture-taking button I got nothing.  I was out of pictures.  My hubris had cost me a picture of the most important float.  I had blundered at the critical moment.  During the long, long car ride home I kept replaying the events in my mind.  A hundred times I saved myself from clicking a picture of the dinosaurs and took pictures of Santa from many angles.

That would never happen today.  Had the year been 2009 instead of 1989 I would have had a digital camera with a 300 gigabyte SD flash whatever and could have taken as many pictures as I wanted, of anything, and still had plenty left over for the Big S.  I could have deleted those pictures of the dinosaurs the moment I realized I did not want them.

I now have a digital camera, and I have used that digital camera to take thousands of pictures, pictures that, along with the ones I took on film with my Go-Bots camera, allow me to relive the moments of my life, good and bad, happy and sad, again and again for as long as I live.  Pictures that I have not looked at once since I took them.

Thanks to Carly Kulig for the topic.

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Remember When It Was Cool To Bend the Bills of Baseball Caps?

Remember when it was cool to bend the bills of baseball caps into almost a cylinder?

I do.

Baseball caps were one of the ways I showed society that I was cool.  When I was a little kid, the really cool way to wear a baseball cap was by pivoting the cap around the head 180 degrees.  Around the time I started high school, though, more and more baseball caps were being worn straight on the forehead but with the sides of the bills curved down so as to make a small arch above the wearer’s face.

It is hard to describe what this extreme bill bend was like.  People used to curve the bill so much that it almost looked like they were wearing rolled up newspapers on their foreheads.  When a group of these extreme bill benders got together in a circle, they looked from afar like a gaggle of tall geese in denim.

I’m not sure how or why this trend developed.  Perhaps the idea was to hide the wearer’s face.  For some people this was good policy.

I received a baseball cap as a gift for my fifteenth birthday and immediately started bending it into the proper shape.  I did this in class when I was supposed to be learning about chlorophyll or something.  A classmate in the next row over, whose baseball cap bill formed almost a perfect circle if you at it straight on, told me that I was approaching the bend all wrong.  “What you have to do,” he said, “is wet the bill, and put a few big rubber bands around it, and put in the freezer for a few days.”

Knowing that unsolicited advice from a random high schooler could never lead me astray, I thanked him and implemented the technique as soon as I got home.  I sprinkled water on the bill, and sculpted it into that curved shape, and wrapped a few thick rubber bands around it, and put it in the freezer between some hamburgers and a Cool Whip container filled with sauce.  Then I went into the living room to watch Saved By the Bell.

Later that evening my mother was preparing dinner.  “Mark,” she called, “can you come in here please?”  I went into the kitchen and she was holding my hat with the rubber bands still on it.  “Would you mind telling me what this was doing in the freezer?”

I told her why.  The die was cast.

“I do not want to find hats in my freezer ever again,” she said.  I wanted to ask her how she expected me to achieve the proper bend in my bill without using proper freezer technique.  I wanted to tell her that if I was to be a leader among my peers, everyone was going to have to make a sacrifice.  But I held my tongue, and accepted my cold, wet, less-than-ideally-bended hat, and somehow survived my high school years.

I do not see many bended bills today, at least not the way they used to bend them.  Baseball caps are still very popular, and a variety of styles have emerged to supplant the extreme bend of my high school days, and I suppose a variety of kitchen appliances are being used to achieve those styles.  I don’t try to keep up.  Although I still have a baseball cap, it does not get much use, as people generally do not hire lawyers who go around in baseball caps.

But once in a while, when I’m at home, and feeling nostalgic…

“Mark,” my wife calls from the kitchen, “can you come in here please?”

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Remember Non-Electric Toothbrushes?

Remember when no one used electric toothbrushes?

I do.

I am sure that someone can cite me an article that says that electric toothbrushes have been around since the Roman Empire.  But it was not until I was at least old enough to bear sole responsibility for brushing my teeth that I first heard of the electric toothbrush.

I never liked brushing my teeth.  It seemed like a lot of extra work, and at eight years old I could not be wasting time with needless personal hygiene.  My parents told me that my teeth would rot and fall out if I did not brush them regularly, but I debunked that myth whenever I could.

And then one day I saw a commercial for an electric toothbrush.  I could not believe my eyes.  A man was standing in front of the camera and was holding this electric toothbrush in front of his teeth.  His arm was not moving; the toothbrush was doing all the work.  This was the answer.

I persuaded my parents to splurge for a electric toothbrush by making up statistics and saying “please” many times in a row.  On the first night of Hanukkah I opened my gift and it was an electric toothbrush.  It was small, with the brush on one end and a Mickey Mouse figurine on the other end, satisfying the universal law that any appliance designed for children must have a superfluous plastic cartoon figurine welded to it.  The electric toothbrush my brother received had a Donald Duck figurine so that he would not use mine by accident.

I popped in a battery, and, for the first time in my life, raced up the stairs to the bathroom to brush my teeth.  I put the toothpaste on the brush, and held the brush to my teeth, said a quick prayer, and flipped on the device.

I don’t know what I was expecting.  Perhaps I thought the brush would clean my teeth without my so much as flexing a wrist.  The brush vibrated next to my teeth for a few moments, but it was not really brushing them.  I took the toothbrush away and saw that I had only gotten some white toothpaste lather on my front teeth.  “Ah,” I said to myself, “perhaps I have to move the brush around.”  I moved the vibrating brush around my teeth, but I still did not feel like the teeth were getting clean.  After another minute I was moving my arm in a brushing motion, and was basically brushing my teeth as I normally would but with a vibrating brush head.  After a few days I returned to my old brush, and the Mickey Mouse figurine sat idle on the counter with dried white toothpaste on his mouse ears.

Years later, just after a marathon cleaning session at the dentist’s, during which I heard the hygienist retching into the wastebasket several times, my dentist advised me to get an electric toothbrush.  I followed these instructions and duly parted with $80 or so for the recommended fancy state-of-the-art toothbrush.  It came in a large box, and had charging station instead of a space for a battery, and had nothing in place of the Mickey Mouse figurine.  I charged it up, put it up to the front of my teeth, said a prayer, and flipped on the device.

I guess I should have known what to expect.  It vibrated, and my teeth did not get clean, and I found myself applying the usual amount of torque from my elbow and shoulder.  And after a few days the electric toothbrush was lying idle on the counter, with dried white toothpaste collected all over the charging station.

And so every morning when I get up, and almost every night before I go to bed, there I stand, in front of my mirror, in a world of iPhones and Tivos, brushing my teeth with nothing but the sweat of my shoulder and elbow, and my ergonomically-handled, aerodynamically-headed, uniquely-bristled, plain ol’ non-electric toothbrush, that I picked up for $80 or so.

Thanks to Curtis Dozier for the topic.

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Remember When People Shoveled Their Driveways With Shovels?

Remember when people shoveled their driveways with shovels?

I do.

The only thing that could damper the ecstasy of a snow day was having to shovel the driveway. “I don’t understand,” I would say while pulling on my boots. “Why can’t they just invent a heated driveway that melts the snow?”

“Boy, you kids today have it so tough,” my mother would say.  Shovel in Snow“When I was your age my father made me shovel the driveway with a dirt shovel.  He would say, ‘What do we need another shovel for?’  I hope this puts things in perspective for you while you’re out there.”

And out I would go into the sunlight blazing off the snow I had to clear.  Shoveling one shovel-full and then hoisting it over my back would quickly cause aches and pains in my young back.  I always imagined that if I could just find the right technique the job would get done in seconds.  So I would try putting the shovel down and plowing through, like the snow plow going down the street.  I marveled at my ingenuity and pictured myself alongside the likes of the inventors of the steam engine and the cotton gin.  Then the snow would build up and spill over the sides of the shovel and the driveway would look like a mess and my fantasy would be ruined.  Sometimes I would try to get away with this.

“Mom,” I would shout up the stairs as I walked inside, stomping the snow off my boots, “I’m done!  Is my oatmeal still warm?” But she would look out the window and see that I’d left a mess of the driveway, with my snow-plow imitation, and order me outside to clean it up.

I still shovel my driveway with a shovel today.  And by “today” I really mean today, as in this morning.  I still do my snow-plow imitation (complete with snow-plow noises), thinking I’ll save time and back pain.  But when the snow spills over the sides of the shovel and makes a mess, I don’t just walk inside and pretend I’m done.  I stay outside to finish the job.  Just a part of growing up.

After I’ve been out there over an hour, and ice has formed from the sweat in the flaps of my bomber hat, I start to hear voices – voices telling me that if I’d bought a snowblower during that end-of-winter sale last July, I would be inside by now, in my Snuggie, eating warm oatmeal in front of the television, watching the real housewives of various U.S. regions, instead of outside in the cold.  I should have listened, I say to myself.

And I look across the street to a driveway that still has an unblemished coverlet of snow on it, where my neighbor has been for over an hour, kneeling before his snowblower, trying to get it to work.

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