Thursday, December 16, 2010

Christmas Crapbook: 1985 edition

For about a one-year period during a massive home remodeling, my mom, brother and I stayed at my grandparents' house next door. It's a testament to how often we were there anyway that I barely noticed. My grandparents were more than accommodating, placing a TV in the back bedroom so we could play Atari. That room became Party Central for my brother and I, where we did everything from Atari-playing to playing hide-and-seek in the giant walk-in closet and various nooks and hallways (and, of course, pillow forts aplenty). Not bad for a shotgun house.

Outside, we played on the swing set, which had been there since the 1950s. In 1985, Pop, noticing that we were swinging to see how high off the ground we could make the entire structure pop a wheelie, weighed it down with concrete in gallon milk jugs. It helped, a little (you still had to swing opposite each other as counterweights). Pop cut, roped and painted the swing boards himself, painting them white with a red number. Mine was 5, because that's how old I was. Colin's was 72 in honor of Refrigerator Perry.

Our other main activity was riding our toy cars up and down the sidewalk. With the Corvette and Knight Rider both out of commission (R.I.P.), my brother and I used our older fleet, including his yellow-and-black Bouncer and my fire engine. But, for who knows what reason, I preferred the Tomy car above, which I fittingly referred to as the "white car." My great aunt Ninnin had bought it for me at a garage sale, and it became an extension of me. You can see it in the picture above, taken around early December. Pop had just bought a new Ricoh 35mm camera, which ensured that our Christmas memories would sort of resemble real life from here on out. At least for the most part. (And yes, that's the same Bright Eyes outfit I wore in 1983. Told you.)

(Interesting side note: Pop labeled all of his pictures, and his quirky way of denoting the holidays was to write "Ex Mass 85" on the back. Apparently that became too much to write, because at some point he abbreviated that to "E. Mass 85." He was educated and wrote a lot, so I'm guessing he thought this was as funny as I find it.)

Mom got her sons in the spirit of the holiday one night by telling us a bedtime story based on the Christmas carol "Up on the Housetop," in an exaggerated Cajun voice. "Mais, den I heard t'ree clicks." Still makes me laugh.

As always, there was a YMBC Christmas party. Pop apparently left his new camera behind, because I know of no pictures from that evening. I do, however, remember getting a book whose main protagonist was "Little Puppy." I think it was about him sharing a ball or growing up or something.

What I do have are a pair of photos from my mom's office Christmas party for kids, which aren't dated but I ascertained largely from the shoes we're wearing as being from 1985.

 I like how it looks like only I got a present. I guarantee whatever it was, Colin got it too.

We spent Christmas Eve at my grandparents' house, fittingly, and a lot of family and friends stopped by. There are plenty of great shots from that night. One day, when I have access to them, I will put them here. Apparently, I only bothered to archive the toy shots. But then, that's what you come here for, right?

On Christmas Eve, my brother got the Transformer Jetfire (made of metal!) and I got the Tomy Super Vision. Presumably to shut me up, since I had for several months carried around a store ad with the Super Vision picture, exhaustively describing it for anyone who passed by. If you've never heard of the Super Vision (and judging by its impossibility to find on Google, you haven't), it's a toy that consisted of a long strip of cartoon pictures you could move a periscope over. The picture in the periscope corresponded with the picture — for example, if you ran it over a building, the periscope would show you the interior. That's cool as hell when you're a little kid and have no concept of how it works. The knob that moved the strip clicked very loudly, making it a very annoying toy for everyone else. In any event, when I find mine, I will document it thoroughly. Apparently, no one else has done so.

My haul for Christmas 1985. And like with most other years, it seemed endless at the time.

Among the highlights: a Fisher-Price radio with microphone. A sort of proto-karaoke machine that I was my primary radio for the next three years. I heard lots of classic '80s tunes for the first time on that thing. The Whiz Kid computer was a ton of catchy educational fun until the flexible strip of circuitry between the keyboard and the console broke (I may have even snipped it myself. What is it with me and circuits?). Spirotot was a junior version of Spirograph. I remember my brother and I using one of its pieces to play a real-life version of Yars' Revenge. Lights Alive was a budget Lite Brite that I also played incessantly. About 10 years later, my sister got one as well, and I think I played with it more than she did. Finally, there are the Atari games. Asteroids and Missile Command, actually my brother's, partially obscure my E.T. game (apparently they still had some to sell in 1985). Our Atari was broken in the sense that you couldn't point anything upward, and I had the same gripes everyone else had about E.T., but I just chalked it up to my broken Atari. Also, that I was 5 and not too smart. (I did, however, love the game and finally beat it after procuring a fully functional 2600 and years of trying.)

I'm impressed by the collective technological power of this swag, and God only knows how my mom pulled this together. What's odd here is the glaring lack of Transformers, though that's probably because we had most of them by then. Of course, a look on Colin's side of the room also addresses this travesty.

 I think this speaks for itself.

Colin seems really enthused about his Voltron. Easy, tiger. Or should I say, lion? Just because his face is blue doesn't mean he needs all his blood rushing to his head.

Those robots on the table to Colin's right are "Magic Mike" robots. They were our first unwrapped presents, and probably what we played with most. Colin had the gold bot; the silver Mike is mine. When you turned them on, they moved and spun in all directions at random while their eyes lit up red. When you pressed the big red button on top of its head, it stopped and made one of two sounds: a siren, or an intercom-like jingle followed by a masculine robot voice saying, "I am the atomic-powered robot. Please give my best wishes to everybody." Which we did, repeatedly, on my grandparents' kitchen floor. Bonus feature: if you poured household oil down a specific hole on Magic Mike's head, he would emit plumes of smoke. Wicked!

Mike-squared lasted for years. Colin's lost an arm at some point, but I believe it's still among our old toys. Mine went AWOL from sheer exhaustion.

Not pictured: The Castle of Lions, Voltron's equivalent of He-Man's Castle Greyskull. Still in our house to this day, along with the mostly intact Voltron.

On Christmas morning, Pop gave me a piggyback ride from the bedroom to the living room, as he often did. We were barely out of the bedroom before Colin leapt up to us, brandishing his Voltron and carrying on gleefully. I knew I'd be too excited to contain myself when I got to see what Santa left me!

OK, I actually was really joyful. Allow me to explain: at the time, I was going through a phase when I thought smiling for a camera was cheesy. So I never did so. Sometimes I made goofy faces that made my jaw look dislocated; other times, I just tried to stay cool. But for the most part, Pop tended to take pictures when none of us were posing, which many photographers will tell you makes for the most interesting shots. I concur.

Barely visible in the pic above: the first VCR our family ever owned, a Samsung. It had a remote control with 8 buttons and an 11-foot cord that attached to the back of the machine. Convenient!

We also received Fisher-Price walkie-talkies, which BLEW OUR MINDS. Our primary conversation went like this:

Me: "Come in, Colin!"
Colin: "Press the button when you talk."
Me: "What?"
Colin (Shouting across the room): "PRESS THE BUTTON WHEN YOU TALK!"
Me (Shouting across the room): "OK!"

Later, we'd communicate with foul-mouthed truckers. Seriously.

Stocking time! I have no idea what's in my hand, but I remember the stocking had a Chargertron, which had a burning smell to it that brings back fond memories. That "Come in! We're Open" sign on the chest of drawers is one of those random things I always begged my mom to buy for me. Who knows why.

I make like Godzilla on my Matchbox car wash while Mom and Colin enjoy their own presents. Mom will probably stress to anyone reading this that she never wore those glasses in public, and is probably going to be mad that I posted this one at all. I vow to mitigate that when I get my hands on the Christmas Eve photos. She looks even better in those (not that she doesn't look good here). As for the TV, well, I have no idea how we got our hands on "Speed" nine years before it was made. Maybe Marty McFly went into the future and got it for us.

This is an interesting picture. And not just because Colin's showing off his remote control car (a gift from my dad), but because it wasn't developed until 1995. That year, I found a cartridge of pocket-camera film in the glove compartment of Pop's station wagon, pictured above in its glory days. When we developed it, we found pictures of me on my way to my first day of kindergarten and this single snapshot of Christmas Day. Apparently one camera wasn't enough for Pop to capture the day!

By the way, that Trans Am is most definitely not ours. My cousin Jody and her 2-year-old son Brandon came to visit, pictures were taken and gifts were exchanged.

My cousin Brandon learns to wash toy cars. He graduated from LSU in 2011.  There is a connection here.
Later still (maybe a few days after Christmas), my grandparents gave my cousin Ryan a Pillsbury Doughboy puppet. I wanted it.

At some point that morning (presumably after I got dressed), my dad drove in from Baton Rouge. I remember him driving up in his mom's yellowish-orange Monte Carlo, because his truck was in its final days (he bought a new Corolla three weeks later). He brought a couple of presents, including remote-control cars and this thing, which I can't be bothered with because I'm playing with my Muppet Babies. Sorry, Dad, you know better.

A Christmas Day tradition of ours was to visit my aunt Nona across town, and 1985 was no exception. We did this for most Christmases all the way through 2006, and I imagine she's still at it. We have a ton of pictures of so many family members at this gathering.

This pic is perhaps my favorite one of all. It's got myself (making a typically goofy, WTF face), Pop, Kermit and Dad. And how about that Pepsi label? Come to think of it, this entire photo looks like the kitchen scene from Weird Science, where everything turns blue. Hey, it was 1985!

All evidence suggests this is a picture from 1984 (or New Year's Day 1985), but I only remember my New Orleans cousins Amanda and Shawn visiting after Christmas in 1985. My main memory: us near the swing set, doing TV theme songs on my Fisher-Price radio. When it was my turn, I was out of ideas, so Amanda whispered in my ear, "Do 'Believe It Or Not.'" So of course, I immediately performed, "Superman, duh duh dunt-da-da-da!" We also spent a big part of that day talking about how big and what color our brains were. Mine was brown and flopped over my ears.

Either on or the day after Christmas, my dad took us to Baton Rouge. We visited my Aunt Pam's and Uncle Pie's enormous (to me) house. They had three kids, the oldest being 17 and 11 (OLD to us) and an 8-year-old son, Joey. Colin and Joey both had Voltrons, and while Joey had the action figures as well (Colin didn't), one of the arms on his Voltron had broken off. Do we ever have it all? I remember him being justifiably pissed about that. We also took some Polaroids of all of us together, and I'd kill to see those.

When we arrived at my dad's apartment, Santa had visited there too! Among Colin's spoils was a Nerf pool game you could attach to any table. I received an album of scratch-and-sniff stickers. We also got a Poky Little Puppy video that was in constant rotation for the next year or two. I still have it stored away. But the present I'll never forget is the Rainbow Brite bubble toy. Seriously. Granted, it was sweet — it was a giant red paddle with numerous loops that made hundreds of bubbles with each swipe. But still. Rainbow Brite. You're never living that one down, Dad. At least, not until 1986.

Next time in the Crapbook: 1986, obviously, which unfortunately I'll have to carry almost entirely with my prose. And Transformers.


venessalewis said...

WOW! You worked hard on this! And did you put that Rainbow Brite reference in there just for me? I know you did! LOL!

See, I thought your dad was a cool guy, his exquisite gift giving taste just proves it. You should consider yourself LUCKY to get a gift so fine as a Rainbow Brite bubbles young man. Do you know you were spreading not only bubbles but color and love to the world with each swipe?!

It' soooo funny how your mom obviously had your personalities pegged early on. Ian the intelligent child gets the technology edu-toys. Colin? Ah, just give him some the typcial boy toys, cars and Transformers. And yet you always wanted his stuff!

Best thing about this blog?: That '84 World's Fair shirt. Did you go to the World's Fair? Have we talked about this? there were some memories too.

Ian McGibboney said...

Thanks, V! You're right in so many ways. Dad and Pop were very gender-neutral with regards to Rainbow Brite and watching shows like "My Little Pony" and "She-Ra." I don't know what their intent was (insert joke here), but what I got out of it was that boys and girls weren't that different. Frankly, I needed that lesson and I'm glad I got it early. And you're right about my mom. Though to be fair, she did give him a telescope in '85, and me a whole set of matchbox cars. We eventually met in the middle.

By the way, it occurred to me that I had omitted a HUGE chunk of the holiday, our Magic Mike robots! So I added that part. Actually, I've added to several others since their publishing as well. Ian's work is never done!

Ian McGibboney said...

As for the World's Fair: I did not go, but I distinctly remember the license plates that year. In the summer of '84, I remember playing with one at the YMBC family reunion. Later, I kicked myself for not keeping it. Only much later did it occur to me that that was somebody's brand-new plate, and they needed it for their car, and it wasn't there for my selfish needs.