Monthly Archives: March 2011

Remember Wearing Fanny Packs?

Remember wearing fanny packs?

I do.

Fanny packs were manufactured pouches of canvas or leather that buckled around the waist and let people live out their fantasy of being marsupials. My fanny pack was turquoise and yellow, and it ensured that my wallet was accessible and that girls were not.  My mother wrote my name in it with black magic marker so that it would not get mixed up with some other kid’s turquoise and yellow fanny pack.

My fanny pack’s greatest journey was on a three-day class trip to Washington, D.C. For months I sold candy bars, saved my allowance, and begged my parents to write a check just so that I could wear my fanny pack to the top of the Washington Monument. I remember being more excited about having my Go-Bots camera and Bronx Zoo wallet at my fingertips than I was about visiting America’s greatest souvenir shops.

I think I will describe fanny packs to my children the way my parents described bell bottom pants to me: everyone wore them. All the kids on that class trip had fanny packs. I won’t go so far as to say that you were not cool without a fanny pack, but it certainly took you a lot longer to get your $10 out for an “authentic” copy of the Declaration of Independence without one.

We were at the Air and Space Museum, looking at the “Spirit of ’76” and wondering whether they served peanuts on it, when a friend of mine tapped me on the shoulder. “Look, Mark,” he said, pointing, “that’s kid’s wearing your fanny pack.” And, lo and behold, there was another kid with a turquoise and yellow fanny pack. He was walking away and I followed him into one of the simulators in the Flight Simulator Zone, where you could say “Folks, this is your captain speaking,” into a microphone and then see how creatively you could explain that the plane was not going to take off for eleven hours. It was dark in the simulator and I could not tell turquoise from other shades of blue. And when I emerged, he was gone. For the rest of that trip I kept an eye out for my fanny pack doppelgänger. I thought I saw him by the Lincoln Memorial, but it was just my own reflection in the Reflecting Pool. I never saw him again, and when I returned from the trip I retired my fanny pack.

I hear that fanny packs are back. They’ve added features like cup holders and USB ports, and it is rumored that Lady Gaga wears a fanny pack made of pastrami. I’ve even considered getting a new fanny pack just to hold all my rewards cards.  I saw the perfect fanny pack in a catalog and got very excited. It was black, and leather, and had a designer’s insignia emblazoned on the front. I took the picture to show my wife what I wanted for my birthday. But when she looked at it, she looked at me, and, without a word, slowly shook her head.



Filed under Fashion

Remember Napster?

Remember Napster?

I do.

Napster was a peer-to-peer file sharing program that was popular around the turn of the millennium, and enabled people to download music that would otherwise have to be purchased with their parents’ hard-earned money. To get around the troublesome copyright laws, Napster employed the ancient legal doctrine of “they can’t catch you all.”

I used Napster solely to share my own recordings of myself playing the spoons. I never even searched for copyrighted music. One of the greatest pleasures in my life at that time was working for hours as a bumper cars operator so that I would have the $20 to buy a CD and finding the one song that wasn’t terrible.

But not everyone shared my work ethic. At college, I had this friend who downloaded thousands of songs through Napster. He would go through genres – classic rock, 80s pop, the songs by the “Zack Attack” band from Saved by the Bell – and play the songs for his friends when they congregated in his room to buy Tupperware and sip fine wine from red plastic cups.

Using Napster was not without its challenges.  My friend lived in a fraternity house, and the House Computer Nerd, an elected position at the time, told my friend that his downloading used up so much bandwidth that the rest of the brotherhood was having trouble playing Half-Life in real time. At the next meeting the brotherhood voted to excommunicate my friend from the router. Unable to find other housing with sufficient bandwidth, he dropped out of school and moved back home to his parents’ T-1 connection.

For a while my friend was able to live in download heaven. He was making his way through theme songs to cartoon programs when his parents got fed up with him leaving near-empty cartons of milk in the refrigerator, and turned him in to Metallica, a heavy metal band that specialized in intellectual property. At his subsequent trial my friend tried to mount a vigorous defense, but his lawyer spent the whole time downloading music instead of making objections, and my friend was sentenced to 20 years of hard labor in Siberia. I heard that he was later implicated in a snow-swapping scheme, and murdered by the people who owned the rights to the snow.

As for Napster, it was replaced by a competitor called Gnutella, which boasted faster transfer rates and could be spread on pizza dough.

Thanks to Jennifer Albright for the topic.


Filed under Technology

Remember When Containers Were Easy To Open?

Remember when containers were easy to open?

I do.

Sometime in the 1980s it was decided that the biggest threat to human existence was not disease or environmental disaster or crime or drugs or famine or political instability, but that a stranger would go into supermarkets, unscrew the tops of containers of juice and medicine, add harmful substances, screw the top back on, and walk away, leaving the tainted beverage or elixir for the unwitting consumer. I guess this actually happened a few times, because one day every container had an aluminum seal over the opening.

These aluminum seals are almost impossible to remove. There is usually a little flap that says “pull here” but this is just a joke at the consumer’s expense. The joke is particularly funny when the consumer is a coffee drinker trying to remove the seal to hazelnut creamer at 5 a.m., huffing and puffing, straining his deltoids, swearing loudly, pleading to deities,  and finally reaching for the closest fork to poke a hole through the seal.

The aluminum seals are not the only part of the joke. The plastic pull-tops on cartons are great fun when the plastic ring comes off without the top. And sometimes there is not so much an added barrier as just a top that is more or less welded to the container.

One night my wife and I were getting ready to go out for the evening. She was taking longer than her usual three hours and I started getting worried.

“Honey,” I said through the door to the bathroom, “are you all right?”

She opened the door, apparently ready to go out, holding up to me a small green and pink container cylinder that I recognized from television as mascara. “I can’t get the top to this off. Can you try?”

Removing tops to containers is one of the few remaining ways to be a man in the modern world. I cherished the opportunity to slay the dragon. “Sure thing, honey.” I grabbed the container and pulled. And pulled and pulled. The top would not budge.

“Um, hang on a second,” I said, and went downstairs to my tool box. I grabbed the pliers and succeeded only in scratching up the shiny top to the mascara.

“What’s going on down there?” my wife shouted.

“Um, almost…got…it,” I said, hoping I wouldn’t give myself a hernia and have to forgo dessert. But my efforts were futile.

I left the basement, taking the pliers with me, and went next door to my neighbor. I showed him the scratched-up mascara container, the red marks on my hands, and the pliers. He took the mascara from me, and led me into his garage where he had a vise. He tightened the body of the mascara container in the vise, affixed a wrench to the top of the mascara, and pulled while I stood behind him and pulled on his shoulders. We heard a crack . “Almost,” my neighbor said. “We’re…almost…there…keep…pulling.”

And then the body of the mascara shattered under all the pressure. Black stuff spilled onto the garage floor. The mascara top was still screwed on to the broken top half of the mascara body, with the little brush poking through. I picked up the pieces, thanked my neighbor for his help, and walked home awashed in shame.

“Where have you been?” my wife asked. “We have to go. Did you get the top to the mascara off?”

“Oh, honey,” I said, “don’t I always say you don’t need makeup to look great?”


Filed under Safety

Remember When Drinking Was a Novelty?

Remember when drinking was a novelty?

I do.

For every person who has decided to let alcohol be a part of their lives, there was that magical time when drinking was a new experience. Maybe it was when they chugged a beer in twenty seconds at a New Year’s Eve party and basked in the accolades until upstaged by a Naval recruit who did it in eight.  Maybe it was when they pilfered wine coolers at a family event and drank them behind a tree while their parents had the police looking for them.  Maybe it was when they went out on their 21st birthday and drank so much they had to do their senior year of college from the couch. No matter what the specific details were, those early bouts with drink are usually swathed in a combination of wonder, adventure, and projectile vomiting.

As the years pass and the empty cans and bottles form a larger and larger share of the recycling bin, the novelty of drinking wears off. It goes from being something to celebrate special occasions to something to cope with the stress of putting the dishes away. But once in a while we are reminded of what those early days were like. I was so reminded this past weekend while riding the Long Island Rail Road.

The Long Island Rail Road is a commuter train that during the week shuttles people between their jobs in New York and their homes on Long Island, and during the weekend shuttles their young adult children between the bars in New York and their parents’ homes on Long Island. It runs fairly regularly during waking hours, but its late-night schedule can be stroke-inducing. For the line that I take when I’m visiting the Big Apple, there is a gap between 1:16 a.m. and 2:53 a.m. And if you do not make that 1:16, you are in for a very, very long night.

I failed to make the 1:16 this past weekend. The 2:53 train is occupied almost entirely by people who are college-aged or just beyond it, dressed to the nines and doing figure-eights in the narrow aisle. Among a single-file of four people walking by, the third person is not so much walking as being shuffled along like a scene from Weekend at Bernie’s. People are shouting to each other about how “wasted” they are and are discussing economic policy without supporting data. Young women show little compunction about walking barefoot while still inside the borough of Manhattan.

Early on in our trek east someone warns of a low wave of water flowing along the floor and I pick up my feet just in time. Evidently something in the rest room had overflowed. The waves keep coming during the ride. When the train stops at a station, the water flows east. When the train leaves a station, the water flows west. It is like the tide coming in and going out. I’m about to take out my fishing pole. But the fish do not look appetizing.

I am getting a good workout from keeping my feet elevated. The next exercise gadget should be a device that sends commuter train toilet water rushing under your feet for an hour. Not even squats yield that kind of burn. I start to wonder what could make this ride any worse. And then I get my answer.

Two stops before my destination, we hear on the intercom that “a passenger needs medical assistance” and that our train is “being held until emergency personnel can arrive.” I wonder what the EMS code is for “screaming they are going to die when they are really just drunk.” It takes half an hour for the emergency personnel to arrive, and during that half an hour I hear “FML” – in both short and long form – being said into cell phones and across the aisle.

It is well past 4 a.m. when I disembark at my stop, and I know that even brunch is out of the question. As I swing from the luggage racks like monkey bars to avoid the river of dreams, I take one last look around me. I see the red eyes, the bloated food-smeared faces, the stained jackets, the chia pets, the bare feet…and I marvel at the modern world’s only rite of passage.

Thanks to the merry passengers of car no. 7163 for the topic.


Filed under Health and Fitness

Remember When People Passed Notes in Class?

Remember when people passed notes in class?

I do.

In third grade I conspired with some classmates to make another classmate believe he was being stalked by a ghost. I wrote notes in a squiggly lettering that said things like “Your parents don’t love you” and “Courdoroy pants are in your future.” We would leave the notes on his chair when he got up to sharpen his pencil. He was looking worried by the second note. I was pleased at how smoothly the plan was going. When lunchtime approached and we were forming two gender-based lines, a classmate and co-conspirator put his hand on my shoulder and said, “It’s over.  He knows.”

“He knows? Who told him?” I was ready to kill this person who had the temerity to ruin my plan.  But it turned out to be a kid who was much larger than I, and I decided that for the sake of everyone’s education I would not press the matter further.

When I was fourth grade I passed a note to a nearby classmate named Charles, saying “Charles is a big oaf.” Señora Goldfarb, our Spanish teacher, caught me and made me write it in Spanish a thousand times. After a few hundred I started getting tired and making mistakes, and as punishment I was not permitted to participate in the Cinco de Mayo celebration, where every student was responsible for making his parents buy an authentic Spanish dish for the class.

In high school there was a girl named Gretchen who passed notes by folding them into the little triangle, which everyone called a football.  She would flick the football in the direction of her intended audience. Gretchen had bad aim and a few times the note landed near Mr. Mauser, our math teacher.  Whenever this happened Mr. Mauser would pick up the football and ask who it belonged to, and when Gretchen confessed he would ask her whether the football formed an isoceles or equilateral triangle.  If she was right she got the football flicked back to her.  If she was wrong he opened the note and read it. Gretchen soon became the go-to sophomore on triangles.

I don’t know whether today’s students still pass notes, but I’m sure many are electing to text their cruel missives.  No teachers to avoid, and no fellow students to recruit.  No one would know if you were passing a note or checking your stock portfolio.  Until someone accidentally texted the teacher.

Thanks to Toni Calabrese for the topic.


Filed under School

Remember When You Could Go To the Supermarket Without Being Offered Something You Didn’t Want?

Remember when you could go to the supermarket without being offered to enter a contest, or asked to make a donation, or join a mailing list, or solicited with anything other than the items you went there to buy?

I do.

My childhood memories of going to the supermarket are sepia-toned.  Mostly I remember buying a lot of cereal, and begging for cookies and soda to no avail. One time I found a $20 bill on the floor in the produce section and did not tell anyone.

But today it seems like every time I walk through those automatic doors I’m bombarded by people trying to get me to enter a contest or make a donation when all I really want to do is get my Mojito Mix and Vanilla Wafers and get out of there.

The other day I went to the supermarket and as the automatic doors opened a man in a shirt and tie greeted me. I assumed he was the greeter – perhaps placed through some community outreach program – and greeted him back. Then he held out a stack of green slips and a pen and asked me if I wanted to enter to win a shopping spree. I entertained a short mental film of myself running through the aisles, like a contestant on that game show Supermarket Sweep, going for the whole roast turkeys and then the medicine aisle. I shook my head and walked on, and felt bad about rebuffing him until I got to the free samples of cheese.

Another time I was greeted by a pair of high schoolers selling candy bars to fund a class on the causes of obesity. I told them that I’d sold my collection of Garbage Pail Kids to pay my property taxes and teenagers still did not seem to know anything beyond a bunch of acronyms.  And they were like, “OMG!”  And I was like, “TTYL.”

But the most memorable supermarket solicitor was a woman taking donations to pay her Verizon bill. No clipboard, no costume, no gimmick.  Just standing there with a sign that said, “I can’t make any cell phone calls. Please help. God bless.” Somehow that one touched my heart. I handed over the few dollars I had on me, and instead of snacking on Vanilla Wafers I spent the evening appreciating what I had.


Filed under Commerce and Marketing

Remember When URLs Did Not Change?

Remember when a website’s URL never changed?

I do.

Actually, I don’t.  URLs change all the time, and this one is going to change to “” later tonight, March 17, 2011, just as soon as I finish scrubbing the chicken burger grease off the grill pan.  If you need to reprogram your reader or something, just drop the “wordpress” and one of the dots that flank it. You will still be able to go to “” and be automatically directed to the new address.  And if you’ve decided to stop reading this blog altogether, the address change will furnish you with a tidy excuse in case we run into each other at the supermarket.

So keep your fingers crossed that I don’t screw anything up!  And, as always, thanks for reading.


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Filed under URL Changes