Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Crapbook: 1986 edition

For Christmas of 1986, my family was apparently having too much of a good time to take pictures. I have many from the days following, and few from beforehand, but not a single one from either the Eve or the big day. A first, clearly, but unfortunately not a last.

What I can offer you in the way of photography is this one photo that requires a little context (but is probably funnier without it):

I'm not one of the trees; I'm in the stripes making the face. I had a reputation to protect here.
Just prior to Christmas vacation, all of my school’s first grade students took a field trip to Cornerstone Village in Lafayette, a retirement community. As luck would have it, my grandparents had a good friend, Mr. Woody, who lived at Cornerstone Village and frequently visited us. So they came by and watched our performance. I probably sang something, but was just a background choral guy at best. (This was the year my teacher put me in the upper echelon of her class, paving my way to being in gifted classes the following year, but some things even I can’t do. Good call on her part.)

A soloist I was not, so I did not get to wear the Christmas tree paper bags. But I did get to make a goofy face magnified by the glasses I had gotten that March, while wearing my brother’s hand-me-down shirt.

We had made wreaths and fake holly for the old folks, and I gave mine to some random woman after the show before mingling with Mom Mom, Pop and Mr. Woody. I guess it would have made sense just to give my gift to Mr. Woody, but that's the kind of reasoning you pick up in second grade.

We Have Thrust

My grandparents would once again take us to the YMBC Christmas party, at which I got the Transformer Thrust. A day or two before that party, all of us had gone to Service Merchandise in the Northgate Mall (where approximately 98 percent of our presents came from in the mid-’80s). There, we walked through the aisles and were asked what we wanted for Christmas. It was real easy, because all the Transformers were on one aisle, and we thought about those more than we did about food. I had told them specifically that I wanted Thrust, so 1986 was the year I made the connection between being asked what I wanted and getting it from “Santa,” and a tradition was born — my realization that party Santa Clauses were not the real deal. And I’d go to these parties with the assumption that everyone knew this. So I’d always ask the other kids, “Who is Santa going to be this year?” Now I realize those blank stares they always gave weren’t because they didn’t know.

Family friend Marilyn was at the YMBC with her video camera, and she took a close-up of Thrust. “That’s a beautiful airplane, Ian,” she said as the lens whirred into focus. I wish I had that video.

The Day We Found the Toys

Though the yearlong renovations at my house were officially complete, turning a house that had been two living spaces into one, making our house more aesthetically pleasing and making our attic stairs a lot less dangerous, Colin and I still spent most of our off time at my grandparents’ house next door. This would lead to unprecedented mischief in the 1986 holiday season.

First, some background: Our grandparents lived in a shotgun house they had built themselves in 1947. It had two back bedrooms, the most distant one being known as the “back back room.” That room had a rear door to the “utility room,” which was a small hallway with shelves, appliances (including a Kelvinator Foodarama refrigerator seen in photos from 1950 that lasted until 2000) and canned preserves. It also had a safe. Mysterious!

Floor plan is not to scale. But close.
Colin and I always had full run of the house, because (aside from one lamp-breaking incident around 1983-84 with cousins Amanda and Shawn that made my usually genial grandmother apoplectic), we were good kids who respected the family heirlooms we constantly played with.

Around this time, Colin and I whiled away our latchkey and holiday hours in the back bedroom watching “Rocky and Bullwinkle,” “Petticoat Junction,” “Gidget” and “She-Ra: Princess of Power.” One afternoon, while engrossed in Bullwinkle’s hat-magic hijinks, I heard Colin’s excited cry from the back back room:

“Come see! Quick!”

I rushed into the next room, where Colin opened the door to a dark corner of the utility room. There, to our gaping astonishment, sat a colorful, orgasmic bevy of toys! A toy sailboat! Bedbugs! A stuffed bear that repeats what you just said! And, in a chest, the Potato Head Kids Clubhouse! And finally, the discovery that nearly made me wet my pants, Clock Art!

(Clock Art, made by Sunbeam, was another one of those toys I begged for that has no presence on Google. It consisted of a white, round-cornered square base, a removable clock motor and hands, stencils and markers. The idea was, you could design your clock face, and simply clean it off when you wanted to make another one. Creativity AND clocks? It was one Kermit face away from total Ian pre-puberty-gasm. I would go on to make about 10,000 works of Clock Art in the year that followed.)

Oh, we were like kids in a candy store. Except the store was our private stash of stuff we already knew belonged to us. Several times in the days that followed, we would secretly poke our heads in and giggle. We also made kid bets as to which toys belonged to us.

Of course, being the terrific secret-keepers that we were, we couldn’t help but spill the news of our fantastic finding to our grandmother.

“Mom Mom! We found toys in the back! There was a Bedbugs game and a Potato Head Kids Clubhouse and a sailboat and Clock Art and a teddy bear that looks like a dog!”

Her face. Oh man, her face. But...BUT...

“Uh...mais yeah. Those are toys your mom bought! Because Santa’s going to bring some toys, but he needs help.”

Man, she was good! That sort of on-the-spot thinking clearly resides in the recessive half of my genes.

Bouncing into Baton Rouge

In those days, my dad still lived in Baton Rouge, and Colin and I were still making regular visits. One night, with my dad working a late shift at the radio station, Colin and I visited our paternal grandmother’s apartment, along with our uncle and cousins. My grandmother, “Maw Maw,” gave us Transformers with Toys “R” Us price tags. That really flipped us out, because we knew Toys “R” Us as an exotic toy store that existed only in Nickelodeon promos. My uncle gave me a junior-size Regent basketball in vintage ABL colors. I would later teach myself how to dribble with it. We also spent time with some of my dad’s friends in Baton Rouge, who had a real fireplace and everything!

It was then that I also got Honey Jo Bear and the Transformer Whirl.

Christmas on Cybertron

We held Christmas Eve in the newly renovated den at my house. I remember being wowed by how cheerful our house looked with its new pastels, “futuristic” kitchen and full-size Christmas tree (our first in two years). Dad was also over to visit. He brought a giant gym bag full of joy — specifically, Transformers! Colin got Roddimus Prime. I got Galvatron. This was in the wake of “Transformers — The Movie,” which Mom, Colin and I had seen in the theater. (I had bawled throughout the ride there, knowing Optimus Prime was going to die. I had watched my Aunt Ninnin die that past June, but didn’t cry then. Life is weird.) After unwrapping my present and using the wrapping paper to sop up my joy piss, I breathlessly explained the Transformers canon, how Galvatron was Megatron reformed and other plot points I’m sure my parents took notes on. I also remember a metal Buddy L school bus, which we integrated into our Transformers universe (we just imagined him as a robot, as we did with many toys).

Christmas morning was full of surprises; like I said, Santa had added new presents to the ones that Mom had stashed in Mom Mom’s hallway. And we knew he came, too, because our front porch was covered in Quaker oats for the reindeer! And he had eaten the sausage biscuit Dad left out for him, consuming it so thoroughly that the saucer looked clean enough to have just popped out of our new dishwasher. “Didn't leave a crumb!” Dad marveled. Santa truly is magic.

I’m not sure if Mom knew we had found her stash, but that didn’t stop me from saying things like, “I told you the Potato Head Kids Clubhouse was mine!” The teddy bear that repeated what you said was also mine. Its paw said, “Press Me,” but the S’s had fallen off, so Mom joked that it said, “Preemie.”

New gifts included a Decepticon voice changer for Colin and records for each one of us, to be played on the turntable Mom had recently bought off the Home Shopping Club (I hope she got a toot on-air). Colin got “Then and Now: The Best of the Monkees” — no surprise there, as both of us had become obsessed with the Monkees that year. More surprising was the record Santa left me — an interpretation of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. I’d never really heard classical music before, but I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Colin made the profound observation that Mozart’s initials were W.A.M. Just like Wham! Who broke up in 1986. Talk about Last Christmas!

In our stockings were comic books — X-Men for Colin, Rom for me. This is significant because it was the first comic book I ever owned. I’d read lots of others, but they had either been my mom’s or Colin’s. This was a major advancement.

That morning, we kept the Christmas tradition alive by visiting our Aunt Nona. Colin and I brought Roddimus and Galvatron, and dad locked his keys in his ’86 Corolla. He opened his car with a coat hanger, a technique that I employed many times after locking my own keys in my truck in college. Talk about a gift that kept on giving.

Next time in the Crapbook: 1987, the year I learned how to vacuum and handle big money!

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