Change is the only Constant
This Past summer I had gotten a job as a Yard Duty towards the end of the school year. It was odd for me at first because as a kid growing up I despised authority. Yard dutys' always spoiled Recess. From confiscating playground contraband (Games, Toys etc.) to enforcing the no lockout policy, which made the uncoordinated kid always the last player to be picked by the team captains. And now here I was my own worst enemy! But as I will relate, it was a truly unique experience. Observing from the outside as an adult led me to ponder about my own adolescence. It all started when some of the kids asked me to play a game of "Slaughter"...
I walked over to the side of the school building where they were playing. They explained to me the rules and started the game. There it hit me, "This game isn't called Slaughter, Its called Suicide!" I told the kids and they looked at me if I was speaking Latin. The game itself consist of throwing a tennis ball against a wall and trying to get people out by catching the ball as it rebounded off the wall. Last player left wins. I remembered other people I knew and they called the game "Wall Ball" either way I was curious as to how the games' name have changed. Well I left the game because they were starting to use weird rules they were accustomed to, like calling out "White Magic!" and then I would have to touch the wall. Needless to say I left the game vexed and confused. I went over to the swings and sat down.
As I was lightly swinging I contemplated many things. I thought about how the kids I looked after were into sports now more so than cartoons, and how they would play basketball rather than play Hot Lava Tag on the play structure. As I delved deeper into conscious thought I came to the conclusion that fundamentally kids were still the same. Only the mediums in which they expressed themselves had changed. Well I thought it would be good for me to almost chronologically think about my days growing up and try and document as best I could the different things that I encountered growing up. Everything from the trends that were "In" to the games I played. I will go into some of the major areas that I think most guys my age remember about growing up.Things like School,TV and Movies, Videogames and Toys. This article may seem sporadic at times but I think that may be the best way to enjoy it. So if you will, take a journey with me to the past...
This is a picture of the elementary school I went to. It is not the actual building because they tore down the old campus and put up this new one. The original used to have a big nice yard and 3 playgrounds. The new one lacks any character. They just put up a whole bunch of classrooms to fit as many kids in as possible. The yard that was there before has been reduced to a small playground with a little patch of grass. It is sad to see one large part of my growing up torn down. Wood and iron replaced with plastic and stucco. I spent the majority of my first years of living in those walls that no longer stand.
I don't like to sulk so I wont spend the rest of this article griping. The first day of school for some is terrible. I still vividly remember the first day in Kindergarten. I came in with my mother and the teacher handed me a sticker with my name on it. I couldn't yet read but I knew it was name. There were kids everywhere, running around and exploring their new environs. When the parents left I remember kids were crying and not wanting to be left there alone. Personally I couldn't wait to get started. In Kindergarten for me at least, there was not much math or reading. Mostly we spent the days painting and playing games. Those days went quick.I actually missed the last day of Kindergarten because I had the Chicken Pox. But then in first grade was where things started to speed up. No longer sheltered, us Kindergarten's were introduced to the rest of the school. Where the Big Kids play...
Now that I look back I felt like a wrongly committed prisoner let out in the general population. There were rules you had to know and boundaries you shouldn't cross. Luckily my friend had a third grade cousin who showed us the ropes around school. We were taught not to try and join the games of the bigger kids, unless we wanted to get messed up.We were told that the basketball hoops were mainly for the seasoned players. I couldn't throw the ball to the rim anyways.I was told that once I made some more connections I could try and use leverage around lunchtime by asking for Frontcuts, or if that didn't work asking for Chinese frontcuts. That was when you frontcut your friend then you backcut him, which really ticked off the poor kid behind you. After wandering around I basically was limited to the playground, which I knew too well. However there was this fascinating game the lower class kids were playing next to the big Eucalyptus trees...
I went over to investigate and It was like coming up on a Ant colony but instead of ants, they were kids. It was a funny sight to behold. Here you had these mammoth trees looming overhead and not a single one of the trees seeds were on the ground. The reason being is that they were collected and hid in little burrows that the children had dug out to stockpile the seeds. You had one kid protect the stash while another would go and barter for more seeds. Sticks and fallen leaves were of secondary value and you would have to trade large amounts of twigs and maybe a few rocks for one precious seed. I think that is where a lot of kids got their stock market savvy. A curious spectacle it was.
On the school yard there were 3 ways to get instant respect. How fast you ran, What shoes you wore, and how far you kicked the ball. I will go into Kickball first.
I was an ok kicker but more of a defensive player. You could tell when the good players came up because the whole infield migrated outwards. Of course you had the sly kids who would bunt the ball lightly for an easy first base but most kids wanted to belt that ball as far as possible. Assuming you had a decent kickball (they were taken quick at the beginning of recess) you could really send it flying. And if someone caught your ball before it hit the ground you were out. I remember on one occasion some new kid caught my kick, which was a total show of disrespect and I had it in for him the rest of the game. I would only go for his kicks and tag him out. Poor guy, he should have never messed with a seasoned pro.
I know this may sound frivolous, but shoes mattered even for 8 year olds. The first day of school wasn't "Hey what did you do over summer!" No, it was "What Basketball players shoes did you get?" I really didn't like it. I was the advocate of Chuck E. Cheeses motto, "Where a kid could be a kid." But rather than face the ridicule of my classmates I got a pair of Reebok pumps. They had a little basketball shaped device on the tongue which could be pumped to enhance ones athletic abilities. Of course this concept was theoretical but I thought it worked. I remember one day during school, this girl who I liked came over and she liked my shoes and started pumping my shoes! It was awkward and even though she pressed the pump so many times that I could feel my veins starting to constrict in my feet I didn't say a word. Yes, just one of the many times those shoes put me in odd situations.
Odds And Ends
School is filled with myths and legends, the stuff of imagination. The stories of playground epics get distorted, the rules of games get altered and things gradually shift to accommodate the next generation. Though through the decades certain prodigies passed down ingenious devices and practical solutions to the problems faced in the classroom. One of them is non-lethal combat. As seen here you could take a mechanical pencil and by removing the tip could fire staples at your sworn enemies. The old spitball straw and paper was now obsolete.
Fads come and go like hibernating bears or a recessive gene. Sometimes they might completely skip a generation then the next it will come on full force. At my school fads came like the plague, but lasting only a few weeks in duration. Marbles is a game as old and mysterious as the school janitor. There was the conventional way of playing with a circle in the dirt and blasting your opponents marbles out of the circle. We played a variation of the game. Two players would start off throwing their marbles a short distance in front of them and then would start a deadly game of cat and mouse. Each trying to hit the others marble without missing and them becoming the victim. I can see why Schools sometimes do not allow these sorts of games. As I am sure you know that the winner of these games would get the losers marbles. I remember one time I was challenged by a novice player. I beat him with ease, took his marble and went to find another game. Five minutes later the kid came back with the Yard Duty and she made me give back the marble saying you could not play the game for keeps. Not play for Keeps! What's the point?!
Pogs was probably one of my greatest school age obsessions. I remember It was about the middle of the school year and I had missed a week to go to Disneyland (Thats a story of itself) And when I came back I had to catch up on what I had missed. I was with my friend and he wanted to show me something. We were walking around the corner of a building and I started to hear a strange noise that sounded like metal coins falling on the floor. I came around the corner and was shocked! Dozens of kids were there playing this game with what looked to be milk caps. I soon caught on and made a name for myself in the POG arena. I had purchased a HUGE slammer at a Flea Market and nobody would play me because my slammer would dent their pogs. Pogs were so popular for awhile that major store chains like KFC were giving them away when you bought their food. I crammed down many a Honey Bar B Que wing to get those pogs only to find out nobody wants to play the kid with fast food pogs. Cheerios was giving Goosebumps Pogs away in their cereals as well. I still have my pogs, but sadly no one to play them with. I will just have to wait in the shadows until it revives again...
The dreaded Digital Pet
Some times in life things don't really tickle your fancy but are so popular you get sucked up anyways. That was the case with these little fiends. Call them what you will; Tomagotchi, Giga pets, Digipets, whatever. Everybody in class had one. They were girly in concept. You reared and nurtured a formless blob. Sounds fun huh? Wait till the things get hungry and starts beeping you to feed it in the middle of the night! I resisted as long as possible but soon succumbed and purchased a Yoda pet. You could imagine my glee as I digitally cleaned up the fecal matter left behind by a Jedi Master...
These are a few other of the trinkets that make up my childhood. Actually I was the only one who had collected Garbage Pail Kids which made getting new cards for my collection very hard. Yoyos were big in elementary and had a little comeback for me in middle school. I remember all the newbies would use the Yomega X-Brain yoyo because it automatically would sleep. I preferred the Fire Storm. More control for better tricks. GPK cards are back in production but the novelty of them has worn off. Looking back school was filled with its up and downs. I was always a kid at heart. As I moved up in school it got boring for me. All my friends were more into dressing up and listening to music, there is nothing wrong with those things. It was just that the spirit of childhood was gone. But there was One thing I looked forward to for 9 straight months, an event so cataclysmic and uncanny it can only be stated with one word.....
SUMMERThat's right, Schools out and Summer has started
You have been waiting and finally its here. No school for 3 precious months. Thoughts race through your head, What will you do? Go to the beach? Hang out with friends? Go to Camp? Heck No!
You socialized enough at school. Now its time for a little alone time, I am talking playing Super Nintendo, watchin' Chuck Norris movies and playing with G.I. Joe.
I don't know how you spent your summer, but mine was was inside with as little contact with people and sunlight as possible.
This game and this system is guilty for sapping the majority of the waking hours of my life. I of course started off on the original Nintendo but it was dated by the time I was old enough to comprehend its greatness. I was so good in Super Mario world I could grap the cape and fly through entire levels. I also had a Sega Genesis. me and my brother would spend hours trying to beat Streets Of Rage.
We would go through each level dealing out serious damage to the thugs of the cities underbelly. Carefully conserving our back ups. Then when the times was right we would use the power up when the police would come and fire rockets on the enemy! I loved it!
I moved on to the N64 like every other kid and then the Gamecube and so and so forth. But I still plug in my SNES every once in awhile. I still have not beaten Gradius 3. Theres is nothing quite like the bliss of Side Scrolling action. Thank goodness the Gameboy's are still around providing some 16 bit goodness.
Action films were a large staple of my entertainment diet. Jean-Claude Van Damme, Steve Segal and Chuck Norris were some of my favorites. Movies Like BloodSport and Delta Force were instrumental in my growing up. I remember spending entire evenings watching action movies with my dad. It would be around 11 oclock and he would have to go to bed for work, and I had no school so I would say "Where you goin' Best of the Best 2 just started!" I miss those days.I see now my heroes making lame TV only movies. Steven Segal uses guns in his new movies when before he would just break the guys arm into 4 pieces. The best action ovies ever released came out in the 80's and early 90's. Names like Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenneger reined supreme in the box office.
I could quite literally go on and on and on about my favorite tv shows. But I want to spare my wrists and your eyeballs the torture. Although some shows just have to be mentioned. Married with Children is probably my all time favorite sitcom. Sure it was raunchy and at times, distasteful. Al's family is quite unique from Peg, his lazy wife to his sleasy, but hot daughter. Who can forget Bud and his plastic friend either. I watched just about every episode. From the time his Dodge got a million miles on it to the episode where Bud and Kelly had to find another couch because the old one burned down. The shows long run ended in 97 I think, it was about Kelly getting married (Big Surprise)
I watched wrestling ever since I can remember. Names like Sargent Slaughter and HackSaw Jim Duggin were the biggest things on tv. Everybody remembers Hulk Hogan, The UnderTaker and Brett Harte. But what about the guys who have silently faded away like Jake the Snake Roberts
or Ravishing Rick Rude? When the WWF went to WWE and had the whole "Get The "F" out" campaign I took the advice quite literally and stopped watching. Though wrestling has gotten a little sleazier today it still vaguely resembles the old school formula of big hits and even bigger characters.
Fast Forward Today
I started this article to be the Be All-End All article of my past remembrances. I see now it's a futile effort to cover everything. When I first came here I was amused at seeing the old shows and videos that were up here. Although it seems somethings are better left at being none other than a memory than trying to relive our past in hopes of bringing back some of the joy that childhood has given us. I will write again. I can't stop it now, too many things I wish to cover. So I will leave the rest of this expose in the very capable hands of a friend of mine....Take it away Porkie.