My dad comes from a family of five brothers, and all of them have the same laid-back personalities, quiet and enigmatic but with a wicked sense of humor. Getting a gift for him never fails to stump me - because he's so generous, he has very few interests that are his own. Whatever those around him enjoy, he enjoys. That's why he was always there to help out on my weird art projects, or whenever I had rented an obscure movie, he would stick around to watch it with me (even when he didn't understand many of them). Back in the third grade, I had invited him to school as my special guest for lunch. My classmates would say "Hey Matt, is that your Dad?" and I would say "Yeah!"
Anyway -- I just wanted to say thanks, Dad.
Mmmm, Potato Chips
Chip Chat: Red Dot and the Potato Chip
is a charming online exhibit from the Wisconsin Historical Society (via GMTPlus9
). This reminds me of when my dad was a potato chip salesman. For a time (late '80s), he delivered huge cans of potato chips, pretzels and snacks to homes and businesses from his own van. He worked for Charles Chips, which once had a big, cultish following back East -- but by then I believe most of his customers were nostalgia hounds. I loved how the chips came in big tan and brown cans, festooned with their splashy, '50s style logo. Charles Chips came in many different flavors; the one called "Ketchips" was my own fave (odd, since I don't like ketchup very much, but ketchup-flavored chips could easily reduce me to a Homer Simpsonesque drooling fool). From what I could gather, they're still available in bags
, but the home delivery biz is dying out. Here's a story
dated last September of one deliveryman's final route.
And It Has a Working Conveyor Belt, Too
This takes me back -- a do-it-yourself Outer Space Station
for Star Wars figures (via Boing Boing
). I can distinctly remember drooling over it when it first appeared in Woman's Day magazine, which my mom always bought at the grocery store. The person who did this page does a great job of conveying the wonder and kitschy allure of this playset.
A Flock of Seagulls
Something that came back to me during this weekend's TV Land
Three's Company marathon -- the end credits, with Jack, Janet and Chrissy feeding seagulls at the beach. Not only was it a pretty scene, I used to find it a little freaky
how the seagulls hovered there in midair, flapping their wings in the wind (it took several viewings before I deduced that, no, they aren't held up by strings). To a 10 year old kid from Arizona who never went near a beach, it certainly was exotic and weird, that's all. Back to the weblog ...
Kurt Cobain committed suicide 10 years ago
. It seems like just yesterday - and a lifetime ago. Spring of 1994 was a difficult time in my life. I was still closeted, still living with my parents. My older brother was at the worst point in his turbulent relationship with hard drugs. He was stealing from us. In response, my family would mumble a bunch of "co-dependent" bullshit and would either get drunk or flee the situation. When news about Cobain's death came out, I was bummed. He was a gifted songwriter whose work brought me solace. He chose to make himself into a big 'ol rock 'n roll cliche, and we all felt a little cheated. Little did I know that it was a turning point. I shaved my goatee, stopped wearing grungy clothes, moved out and resolved to make a new start. And I never looked back.
The Black Table has some other recollections of Cobain from their contributors.
Ghosts of Third Grade
The Dick and Jane books are being reprinted
especially for nostaligic adults (thanks, Beth!). I don't remember Dick and Jane. The article says they went out of print in 1970, so I must've been too young. However, reading the article reminded me of another "learn to read" textbook from the third grade. It was about a caucasian family that lived on an indian reservation. It centered around a boy and his tagalong little sister. The boy's best friend was a Native American boy. Here's the freaky part - the final chapter had the trio of kids all grown up! Does anyone else remember this book?
In the Softened Hands of God
Earlier this week, actress Jan Miner (aka 'Madge' from those old Palmolive TV commercials) died at age 86
. I used to think Madge was played by Eve Arden
. I also thought - why would a manicurist be so obsessed with dishwashing soap? Then I thought - what kind of beauty parlor would have dishes of mysterious green goo on the tables? And what kind of customer would blindly stick her fingers in them? I think too much.
For Halloween, blogger Robot Johnny lists 10 of the things
that frightened him as a child. Funny stuff! Read on for my own list ...
Seven Things That Frightened Me As A Child
1. The photo of the world's smallest woman from The Guinness Book of World Records. For all I know, it may still be in there - a grainy photo of a normal-sized man standing next to a doll-like woman dressed Victorian style. I only glanced at it once, then had nightmares for months. The thought of it still makes me shudder.
2. The Shining. One summer while my family was staying with my grandparents', everyone decided to watch this movie on HBO. Knowing how easily freaked out I'd be, I ended up going into the adjoining room and drawing. Which I did, only ... I left the door open and ended up watching the whole thing anyway. Ohmygodohmygodohmygod.
3. The distant sound of someone getting murdered in the Ohio Players' song "Love Rollercoaster". One night when I was about 6 years old, we had a babysitter who played this record and told us the ghoulish tale of how a ghastly murder was accidently captured outside the recording studio. Turned out it was an urban legend, of course - but at the time it scared the bejeezus out of me.
4. The growing puppets and killer columns from "The Wiz". In the movie, the lead characters go down in the subway and encounter a creepy guy selling puppets that make weird sounds. He puts them on the floor and they grow into giant sized puppets that chase them around. To make matters worse, the subway columns break free and also chase them around. It's freaky!
5. The tunnel of horrors from "Willy Wonka". Johnny coincidentally lists this one, too - for good reason. Was that really a chicken beheading??
6. The "Sesame Street" Fisher-Price movie viewer cartridge. I had this toy as a kid (see pictures here) and loved it. Except for the Sesame Street cartridge. It creeped me out because I thought there were actual muppets inside this thing and oh my god how did they get in there.
7. H. R. Pufnstuf. I was the impressionable age of 3 or 4 when this was on. Not a good age to be exposed to a show about a giant talking ... thing with weird googly eyes that never stopped moving.
Reason #3,278 Why I'm Pathetic
Happy Halloween! Let's have some fun and try to forget that some of us still have traumatic memories
associated with this day, shall we?
Pimpin' for Plimpton
There have been a lot of famous people dying recently (Donald O'Connor R.I.P.), but I want to write about only one of them - George Plimpton
Plimpton first came to be known as a colorful proponent of participatory journalism, but eventually he was famous for being himself. Mostly my exposure to him came from relatively minor stuff - the commercials for Intellivision (one can be seen here) and his stint hosting "Mousterpiece Theatre," one of the earliest Disney Channel programs. I think part of my fascination was why this upper-crusty, New Englandish guy was hawking videogames and cartoons. Either Mr. Plimpton was extremely well-connected or people back then had a warped sense of humor.
One thing about Plimpton that the obit writers mysteriously overlooked was how he edited the best-selling Edie Sedgwick biography, Edie. I remember reading this in high school ('87) and being utterly enthralled - not so much by Edie herself (who was something of a strung-out loser), but from the book's ingenious storytelling format. It was an oral history made up entirely of quotes from people who knew Sedgwick. I don't know whether this technique was Plimpton's idea or not, or even if it was used first here. But it was a trailblazer. Since then, several books and magazine articles have appropriated the format. I really oughta check that book out again.
Death in the Family
This has been a tough week. Aside from having the most stressful September I have ever had on my job (deadlines upon deadlines upon deadlines), my dad underwent major surgery on his prostate. We went to visit him at home yesterday and fortunately he's doing fine.
We shared a lot of laughs and stories at the house. Mom informed me that my grandfather died the previous weekend. The news wasn't a shock (he had been afflicted with Alzheimers for the last 5 or 6 years), but still it came as a blow. I admired my grandfather not just for who he was, but also because his life seemed so quintessentially 20th century American.
Grandpa lived his entire life in the Midwest, growing up in the small town of Atcheson, Kansas. After graduating high school, he served in the Army during WWII as a radio communications specialist. I've heard that he saw conflict and was psychologically affected by it for the rest of his life. He completed his tour of duty, married my grandmother and had a daughter (my mom) in the Spring of 1945. In the '50s and '60s, he would manage a drug store while raising a family of five in Hastings, Nebraska. After the children grew up, they briefly owned a farm before setting in nearby Lincoln for the remainder of his life.
It was the period in Lincoln that I remember him best. He and my grandmother would tour America in their van with their pet Chihuahua, which seems like the coolest lifestyle possible. He was a no-nonsense, staunch Republican with passions for Native American artifact hunting, Frank Sinatra and Louis L'Amour novels. As a child, he intimidated the hell out of me. But as I got older, I recognized his warmth and humor - and his ability to bring out the best in everyone around him. I'll miss him.
Rockin' the BASIC
"You know what
I loved the most about going back to school in 1990? Computer class." (a droll look back at old school bits and bytes, via Cup of Chicha
You know, today's kids don't know how good they have it. Most computer classes back then were about programming long, long lines of BASIC so that, say, the screen would flash different colors. Whoopee.
In my junior high, circa 1982, we had a roomfull of Texas Instruments computers. Most of what we did was strictly educational, but every once in a while we were allowed to play (contain yourselves, now) Hangman. Whee! It was fun, but I remember one time where my partner only picked names of current video games. This led to exchanges like this:
Me: "Umm, is it Zaxxon?"
Him: "Yeah. You're good!"
Say the word "swat" and you may think "hyped-up summer movie"
. I think "Hot Wheels". The SWAT van
was one of my favorite toys. It had a viewing hole on the back where you could see a little cartoon of the SWAT guys and their fierce german shepard inside - ingenious! In fact, all of the 1979 Hot Wheels
inspire a vague tinge of nostalgia in me. The only vehicle better than the SWAT van was the tiny silver Honda Civic with doors that could open and close. Cool.