Tag Archives: nostalgia

Remember High Top Sneakers?

When I was in fifth grade it was decided by a committee of my teacher and my parents that I could graduate from Velcro sneakers to footwear with laces.  At the time these canvas sneakers that went high up on the ankle were very popular.  It was like all the kids wanted to pretend they were in the 1950s and helping Marty McFly get back to the future.

The canvas sneakers that I bought were turquoise in color, and after the newness of the sneakers wore off I indulged in the custom of writing on your sneakers.  Along with laced sneakers, I had also graduated to pens instead of pencils, which was good because it is hard to write on canvas sneakers in pencil.

Most other boys my age who wore the same style of sneaker had written on their sneakers “I love” and then the name of their girlfriend, or “I” and then the shape of a heart and then the name of their girlfriend.  I, being far too absorbed in my quest for the lowest common denominator, had no time for girlfriends, and so wrote on my sneakers “I love toxic waste.”  Somehow my parents, who had paid for the sneakers, did not appreciate my use of irony.

The following year ushered in the reign of the Nike Air.  This was a sneaker made of leather but with a little plastic bubble in the side that was allegedly filled with air.  I was sure that the sneakers would make me float and deliver me from the clutches of the gangs that roamed the hallways of the middle school kicking the backs of students’ feet while they walked.  Oh how I was disappointed to find that the Nike Airs respected the law of gravity, although the gang members were impressed by my insecure obsession with fitting in.

And then came the Reebok Pump.

Yes, my first understanding of the word “pumps” in relation to footwear was not high-heeled women’s shoes, but rather sneakers that had an inflatable pouch inside the tongue.  There was a bright orange rubber button at the end of the tongue that one would push repeatedly, particularly during class, to inflate the tongue, giving a more snug fit and greater basketball dunking capability.

The price of the sneakers was even more impressive than the inflatable tongue.  At well over $100 a pair, perhaps even as much as $200, the Pumps were as unattainable for me as Z Cavaricci pants.  I remember writing my Bar Mitzvah speech on the Exodus from Egypt, while fantasizing that I would receive enough money to buy a pair of Reebok Pumps and Z Cavariccis, and then stroll the hallways at my school and earn the kind of superficial respect of my peers that you see only in B-movies from the 1980s.

But the Reebok Pumps were not all fun and games.  There were reports of people who pumped the Reebok Pumps so much that they cut off the circulation to their feet, which then had to be amputated, and replaced with Prosthetic Pumps.

And there were reports of people being mugged for their Pumps.  How difficult it must have been to deflate and untie one’s sneakers at gun point, and then have to hold the gun while the mugger put on the sneakers and pumped them.
For me, however, the Reebok Pumps remained a fantasy.  At first I told myself that the price was too high, and that I was much better of selling my family’s cow for beanstalk beans than a pair of sneakers.  But I think the real reason was that I did not see myself as a pumper of sneakers.  In fact, it turns that I am not even a fan of high-top sneakers at all.  Today I walk the Earth in a pair of low-top loafers that can be removed easily at the threshold of my home lest the freshly swiffered floor be smudged.  The shoes are dark brown and non-descript, and say absolutely nothing about their wearer except that he loves toxic waste.

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Remember When Playgrounds Were Dangerous?

The playgrounds of today do not look like the playgrounds that I played on, when I ran around with my jacket unzipped and in blissful ignorance of the fact that I would one day have more conversations with Time Warner Cable than with my parents.  Gone are the monkey bars, the jungle gyms, the pieces of metal welded together in the shape of something that was at the same time a slide and a medieval torture device.  No longer can children test their courage and their parents’ coronary strength by climbing to the summit of iron structures, where one slip would send a child pinballing down to an unforgiving concrete surface in an indifferent universe.

Playgrounds today are made of single pieces of plastic, their summits so low that children can eat on them without having to sit on telephone books—not that there are any telephone books left to sit on.  The concrete ground has been supplanted by rubber foam, and the swings are allowed a maximum swing of five degrees in either direction, and even that much requires clearance from air traffic control.

Look hard and you will see the city of wood and metal that once was there.  See the tiered wooden maze with splinters and exposed nails.  Run your hand over the rubber ground, and you will feel the sea of pebbles that once washed over Velcro sneakers, and drove little rocks into the soles of little feet as those feet dropped from the monkey bars.  Sniff the air, and you will smell the charred pieces of wood that littered the playground, with which the children would draw pictures of bison and of teachers they despised, just like their ancestors did on cave walls some 40,000 years ago.

And along the perimeter of the southeastern quadrant lay a line of giant rubber tires, each one the width of three children, or one and a half of the children we have today.  The tires had been implanted into the pebbled earth on their sides, forming a tunnel that the children could crawl through, and catch their Champion sweatshirts and scratch their rosy cheeks on the wires that protruded from the tires as a testament to the thousands of miles that those tires had traveled before being retired to the playground where they could bring joy to all children.

Crawl through that tunnel of tires.  You are led to a three-story rusty metal cylinder in the shape of  rocket.  Children climb up to the top of it with only cold metal rungs to keep them from falling to death or paralysis.  At the top of the rocket there is the opening to another tunnel.  This tunnel is horizontal and is made of the same wooden planks as the charred and splintery maze.  In that tunnel three stories above the world, a boy can meditate on what it means to be young, and dream of one day having a television in his room.

Listen!  Hear the cries of a child who slipped off a giant metal sea horse placed on a spring.  The child split his lip when he hit the pebbles, and he leaves a trail of blood as he is led to the nurse’s office.  The other children observe a moment of silence out of respect for their fallen comrade, and after that moment go back to their wanton cruelty.

Here, in this playground whose spirit will not leave, is where blood was spilled and teeth were lost, knees scraped and ankles sprained, skin pierced and lockjaw contracted.  And where heroes were born.

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Remember the President’s Fitness Test?

When I was in elementary school and completing my gym fellowship, after the square dancing seminar but before I had to defend my thesis on crab soccer, we were advised that we would all be participating in something called the President’s Test on Fitness.  The President’s Test, as we called it, was a series of five events by which we’d all be embarrassed in front of our peers: the shuttle run, pull-ups, sit-ups, the sit-and-reach, and the mile.

The shuttle run sounded interesting at first because it contained the word “shuttle.”  This was a more innocent and simpler time in America, and shuttle launches had yet to become boring.  I and my cohorts all had being an astronaut on our “when I grow up lists,” usually just behind baseball player, football player, and He-Man.

The shuttle run, however, was nothing like going into outer space.  A pair of erasers was placed at one end of the gym, and a starting line at the other end.  One by one we would sprint from behind the line, grab one eraser, run back to the starting line, deposit the eraser in hand behind the starting line, sprint back to the other eraser, grab it, and run back to the starting line before you could hear the other students making fun of how slow you ran.

Pull-ups involved taking an overhand grip on a horizontal bar set higher than you, letting your feet dangle for a few moments, and making it look like you were making a diligent effort at doing a pull-up without making so many funny faces that you became known as the kid who makes funny faces when he is trying to do a pull-up.  Today the pull-ups are probably done in a private room so that only the gym teacher gets to laugh at the funny faces.  But in those days public humiliation was one of the five food groups.

Sit-ups were easy.  You just had a partner hold on to your feet while you did as many sit-ups in a minute as possible.  I used to gain a competitive edge by playing with my partners Velcro sneakers, unfastening and re-fastening the noisy fibers over and over to disrupt his rhythm.  Or if he came from that sect who wore KangaROOS, I would search for the little hiding place in the footwear that held the student’s milk or drug money.

The sit-and-reach was something that if on television today would say “Do Not Attempt” at the bottom of the screen.  The subject sat on a mat with legs straight out, and a wooden box with scored measurements was placed at the end of the feet.  The student would then be asked to bend forward and stretch his or her arms as far as possible past the feet.  The performance in this event would be measured by the farthest measurement the student’s fingertips could reach on the wooden box, divided by the number of screams emitted as the gym teacher pushed on the student’s shoulders, shouting “Come now, you can reach farther than that!  Don’t let those European kids beat us!  You owe it to your country!”

Because that was the original purpose behind the President’s Test.  The council that eventually created this wonderful opportunity for American children was established in 1956 by then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower after he saw a study that showed European children to be more fit than American children.  I, however, did not know or care about the patriotic origins of the requirement that I trip along a dusty track, heaving and wheezing and flailing my arms like a whirligig, taking enough staggered steps in my Velcro sneakers to hopefully add up to a mile.

The President’s Test has probably been redesigned to include meditation and yoga and an exercise where you try to name as many vegetables as you can in under a minute.  The tests are all done in private rooms, and everyone passes.  And most of all, true to the origins of the test, the mile is only a kilometer.

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Remember When Genre Was Genre: Digesting the Writer’s Digest Conference 2012 (Part 2)

All of the speakers at the Writer’s Digest Conference that I attended last weekend were excellent.  One of them who stands out in my mind is Donald Maass, who spoke about writing for the 21st Century.  I thought he was going to tell us to write about robots or the aging baby-boomers.  But he was talking more about the way to write a book rather than on a particular topic.

For example, Maass led us through some questions to ask ourselves about our novels.  What is something that would blow your novel sideways?  What is the main character’s one unshakeable belief?  How can we become dead Swedish authors?

He had us write down the one thing that we cannot bear to write down, one thing that we cannot say even to ourselves.  After checking that no one was looking over my shoulder, I jotted down my one thing and covered it hastily with my hand.  I saw what Maass was doing.  He was showing us how to bring emotion into our books, how to make the reader feel something.  What my novel needed, obviously, was for the main character to confront people who keep sitting there sniffling instead of blowing their noses.

Maass also made a prophecy; that cross-genre novels would be big in the 21st Century.  Like crossing paranormal with family epic.  Terrorist with romance.  Ketchup with mayonnaise (the last few are my examples).  In describing the book that people are looking for in the 21st Century, he kept using the words “high intensity” and “emotional,” and said that we should try to show a change occurring over many steps.

Maass’ talk was so electrifying that I was taking notes even before the audience members had finished telling their personal stories disguised as questions.  The notes were for a novel—a novel that was going to blow the doors off every library in the world.  A novel that would be open, face down, on nightstands everywhere.  A novel that would sit on everyone’s shelf from sea to shining sea.

And then I remembered that the novel of the 21st Century would be just electrons and computer code.

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Remember When People Were Quiet in Libraries?

Courtesy of adm/flickr

The first rule I ever learned about the library is that it is not pronounced “lie-berry.”  The second rule I ever learned about the library is that you’re supposed to be quiet.  This second rule was enforced by popular culture.  For example, the apparition in the library at the beginning of Ghostbusters does not say “Boo” or “Ebenezer Scrooge,” but “Shh,” holding its translucent index finger to its translucent lips.

And that has been my approach to libraries throughout my life.  No talking loudly, unless you want to get attacked by a ghost.  True, rules of society change.  At weddings, instead of throwing rice, people blow bubbles.  “You’re welcome” becomes “No problem.”  What was once a highlight-worthy tackle becomes a 15-yard penalty.  But I always thought that the library, the sanctuary of reason, would remain a quiet place.

But evidently that rule, too, is under assault by the rules committee.

Just this past Saturday, I visit my local library branch to see if the copy of Harry Potter and the Fire Breathing Insurance Adjuster that I reserved has arrived.  It turns out I have to wait a few more weeks, so I take a seat in the club chair by the window with a copy of The Collected Clifford Books that I’m re-reading for my adult education class, “International Politics and Large Cartoon Dogs.”

I am not, however, alone in my nook.  The young man at the desk adjacent to my chair is wearing a red hooded sweatshirt, jeans, and sneakers.  All young men these days wear hooded sweatshirts, jeans, and sneakers.  His black fleece jacket and backpack are lounging on a chair next to his desk.  The backpack has black mesh outer pockets through which I can see pencils, pens, and an iPod suspended in a nest of thin white wires.

Something on his person vibrates and he answers his cell phone in a loud, clear voice.  “Hi…Yeah, I’m just trying to get this homework done…I don’t care about the grade anymore.  I just want to be done….”

I’m wishing he just wanted to be done with this telephone conversation.  I clear my throat loudly a few times but he does not turn around. A lot of people are sick these days, and perhaps he thinks that I am just another library patron who is a little under the weather.  I consider peeking out over the top of the desk, but in law school I was trained to be confrontational only for money.

So I move to another portion of the library.  There is a seating area on the second floor, over by the children’s reading room, where I can relax with my book and admire samples of finger painting from local artists.  I am once again engrossed in my reading when I am disturbed by three-year-old child who is lying face down on the floor, kicking and screaming into the carpet.  A woman I presume is the child’s mother is standing next to him, telling him that this is no way to protest the BCS ranking system.  I wish she would take the child away and channel its energetic fury into something productive, like a blog, but she makes no move.  I’m glad when I hear the child start to run out of breath, but then a librarian calls a number, and a new child steps up from the front of a long line of children, hands a small piece of paper to the librarian, and replaces the out-of-breath child on the floor and commences kicking and screaming with a fresh pair of lungs.

I make another lap around the library, searching for a quiet place.  At the back of the library there are some people talking as if they are contestants on a game show.  In the foyer there is someone playing Angry Birds with the sound on.  In every corner of the library I am assaulted by the noise of patrons who seem to have forgotten that one is supposed to be quiet in the library. 

I finally get up the nerve to complain to the head librarian.  And she tells me, in a voice better suited to the floor of the Senate, that the library has a “no shushing” policy.  Guess I missed that initiative in the last budget vote.

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Remember When You Couldn’t Buy Things Online?

When I send my mental archivist for some good ol’ Christmas memories from my childhood, she brings me back not caroling or egg nog or chestnuts warming on a hot plate that we picked up from QVC for three easy payments of $19.95, but rather images of long lines at Macy’s and Sears and a store called “A&S,” which I think stood for Aimless & Shameless.

My mother would drag my brother and I throughout the mall for the annual drag-a-thon, lugging a 30-gallon paper shopping bag with twisted rope handles that held our winter coats.  All that shopping, and the only shopping bag I remember is the bag with the coats.

And even more than waiting in line, I remember the carpets of those legendary department stores, beige and not too rough when you lay your face upon it, being mindful of the fallen staples and people walking around with sugar plum fairies and God knows what else dancing in their heads.  For following your mother around while she did her Christmas shopping was exhausting, particularly when we were not being energized by our usual line-up of televised cartoons and sit-coms.

One of the perks of being a kid is that you can lay down on the carpet of a department store and no one calls the security guard.  But it’s only department stores that seem to share this understanding.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art…not so much.

But waiting in long mega-lines that wrap around Saturn is, of course, part of my memories of shopping in physical stores with my physical legs and physical wallet.  I remember arriving at Macy’s one time with the intention of getting only a gift-card.  It was late afternoon and the tension level was at least a Code Orange.  I asked a security guard where the gift cards were, and he pointed to the register.  The gift cards were indeed at the register, and leading up to the register was one of the aforementioned mega-lines.  I asked the same security guard if it was really okay that I just step in front of all these people who had been waiting not-so-patiently, and he again pointed at the register, which I interpreted as a “yes.”

So I walked up to the register and grabbed a card, and started to address the cashier, and the man at the front of the line, holding four very large shopping bags bursting at the seams, said something to me that I cannot print here.

“No, it’s okay,” I said, waiving him off, “I’m just getting a gift card.”

When I got out the hospital I decided that it was perhaps time to do my shopping online.

My early forays into online consumerism were not success stories.  I ordered a black faux-leather swivel desk chair so I could pretend I was Dr. Evil.  But they sent me a burgundy chair instead.  I’m doubt you’ve tried it, but it is very hard to look evil in a burgundy chair.  So  I called up the online merchant and they said to put the chair outside my apartment and that it would be picked-up and replaced with the chair I ordered.

I did what they said and they sent me a new chair.  Unfortunately, the new chair was burgundy, too, and they had forgotten to pick up the old one.  So now I had had two burgundy chairs in my apartment, neither one of which I could use.  It looked like I was running a furniture store.

I’ve become much more adept and sophisticated since then.  Last year, I ordered for my wife a digital camera.  I typed in “digital camera” and the search engine returned so many results that I had to order more RAM for my computer to hold all the results.  Luckily for me, that too was available online.

When I was finally able to view the results I saw that I didn’t know very much about digital cameras.  Before I started my online search, I had thought that the only choice I had to make was the color.  Apparently the color is the last choice you have to make.

The choices come in layers.  First, what kind of a camera did I want?  There was a “Point & Shoot,” a “Compact System,” and a “Digital SLR.”  I looked around for a “Takes Pictures” kind of digital camera but I guess they had that one on backorder.

The second layer of choice is whether you want a standard, long-zoom, touch-screen, or waterproof camera.  I was hoping to find one that could be dropped from the viewing gallery of any of the world’s great museums and still work…but again that option was not listed.

Then the third and, at least for me and my eyeballs, final layer of choices were the specifications.  Megapixels, optical zoom, digital zoom, auto flash.  There was even something called “burst shooting” which I had thought was available only with machine guns.

I downloaded all of the specifications of the different cameras into a spreadsheet and compared them.  For days and nights I pored over the spreadsheets like an economist, trying to find the digital camera that would give my beloved the most Pareto-efficient picture possible along with a cute carrying case.  Most of the data fit neatly into linear models, except for the option that allowed a photograph to be directly uploaded to Facebook without exercise of judgment.

Soon it was December 20, the last day for guaranteed Christmas Eve delivery while still getting the Super Savings shipping discount.  My hands were shaking too much to type so I called up the store directly.  And when I was I asked what I wanted to buy, I said, “A digital camera.”

“Oh, great, sir.  We have plenty of those.  What kind of digital camera would you like?”

This was it.  The moment of truth.  The moment when I put to use the superior knowledge that could be gained only from online shopping.  I took a deep breath.

“Um, a pink one,” I said.

Happy Online Shopping, Everyone!

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Remember Elementary School Teachers?

Today I have the distinct honor of guest posting at Lessons From Teachers and Twits, the blog written and hosted by Renée A. Shuls-Jacobson.  As anyone who visits this site will know, Renée has been one of my most loyal readers and diligent commenters, and is one of the main reasons that my first year of blogging has been so much more rewarding than I thought it would be.  Her fun personality and support encourages me to keep going when I might have given up and bought a Playstation or something.  And so I am excited and proud to finally be able to contribute to her blog, which is totally awesome and way more popular than mine.  Please check it out by clicking the graphic!

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