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 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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Remember Playing Hangman?

Remember playing hangman?

I do.

Sometime in the last century they stopped hanging people for real (at least in most States) and converted the activity into a word game. The game was played by two people. One person would think of a word and draw a row of blank spaces, one space for each letter of the word. Above the blanks would go a little picture of a gallows. The other player would guess one letter of the mystery word at a time. If a letter was part of the word, the first player would fill in the appropriate blank. If the letter was not part of the word, the first player would draw in the hanged man, one piece at a time. Guess wrong once and a straight line would come down from the gallows, representing the noose. Guess wrong again and a circle would be drawn for the head. Enough bad guesses and there would be a hanged stick figure on the page and the game would be lost.

I never understood why the hanged man was necessary. The game was just Wheel of Fortune but without the wheel and and without the fortune. But this was in the time before portable devices that held video games and media players. Kids just today just don’t understand – back then, if we wanted to goof off during class, we had to play hangman. I guess even back then our games had to have a violent component.

Most of my hangman memories are from Hebrew School. I don’t know why I would have chosen to play this inane word game instead of learning about Moses and Matzoh and how to light the Sabbath candles. There must have been a lot of peer pressure.

I just found on online site where you can play hangman. I wanted to see what it like, just one more time. The topic was “countries” and the word turned out to be Switzerland. I figured it out in five seconds and not one piece of the hanged man appeared. When I had guessed all the letters the stick body formed all at once and the gallows collapsed behind it, freeing the stick body. I wanted to gloat and cheer, to bask in the glow of victory over my opponent and over the classroom wall clock.

But I was alone. And the only time I had wasted wasted was my own.

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Remember When We Did Not Have To Remember A Million Passwords?

Remember when we did not have to remember a million passwords?

I do.

The first piece of datum that I had to remember was probably my name.  I distinctly remember not knowing how to spell my last name.  I was in nursery school, and the task at hand was to draw a picture of your family members – evidently with arms coming of their heads – and sign it on the back.  The drawing was no problem but I had to ask my teacher how to spell my last name.  I would have been embarrassed were it not for that little “accident” the previous week.

In Kindergarten a phone number was added to the name.  It was only seven digits and I used it frequently over the ensuing years to get my parents to pick me up from people’s houses.  Add my birthday and the channels for Nickelodeon, MTV, and whatever channel showed “Growing Pains” and you’ve rounded my mental database for elementary school.

When I got to middle school a locker combination was added to the set.  I entered this number with such frequency that after a while I did not even see the numbers anymore, and entered the combination by feeling the clicks like a bat or one of those insects that sees through receptors in its knees.

Then in college everything changed.  I was given an email account and asked to choose a password and my life since then has been one giant coveyor belt of passwords.  A password for Windows accounts for home, and work, and for my co-workers when they are away from their desks.  Email passwords for the online account I use and the account to which I send all my online purchase receipts and emails from charities.  And…I think that’s…is that it?

No.  There’s all those websites that I join not because I need to apply for a “free” registration just to look at-I mean research-a few things.  Because there’s a word limit and there might be children reading this, I won’t list the websites here.  But trust me, there are a lot.

And these sites all give the same direction: Choose a password that contains at least one capital and lowercase letter, one number, one symbol, is more than eight characters long, and is not like any other password that you have used in the past.  In the beginning I used to be able to keep from the different passwords.  But after password number sixty-seven I started getting confused.  And I don’t remember the security questions either, because I always made the hint very cryptic to fool the team of hackers that I knew were gathered in a cave in Siberia, thousands of miles beneath the frozen tundra, wearing thick rimmed glasses and looking like showers were not an important part of their lives.  Looks like the joke is on me.

Perhaps some day I will surmount this obstacle.  Perhaps one day scientists will be able to increase intelligence by pumping fat into people’s brains.  And perhaps this technique will enable me to memorize thousands of passwords and the names of all the Kardashians.

But in the process, will I forget that who that boy was…that little boy standing in front of his house, who loved his family, who loved life, and who had arms coming out of his ears?

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Remember the Year 2010?

Remember when it was the year 2010?

I do.

It seems like it was just yesterday or three days ago at the most. Unemployment was stuck at ten percent. State governments across the nation were facing unbridgeable budget gaps. Justin Bieber was a music phenomenon. I know — it is hard to believe what life was like.

But people survived somehow. They dipped into their hard-earned consumer credit or tax cuts and upgraded (finally) from DVD players to Blu-Ray players. They began to question union benefits. They discovered that there was an educational value to playing video games where the object was to make body parts fly as far as possible from the principal. They did what humans do best – innovate, adapt, and find new reasons to spend money they did not have.

And here we are in a new age, far from that sepia-toned time. We face the same problems our ancestors faced, but must find different solutions to those problems. We must learn how to reduce pollution beyond driving miles out our way for a lightbulb that is five percent more efficient. We must learn how attract the brightest young minds to fields other than banking, investing, and financial alchemy. We must learn how to fire public employees.

And most of all, we must learn how to make monkeys fly out of my butt.

Happy New Year, faithful readers.

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