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Archive for the ‘1980s’ Category

There’s a group of guys that gets together every Sunday afternoon and plays a fairly organized game of wiffleball at the little league fields next to our house. Regrettably, I am not one of those guys, but I support them nonetheless. They have what looks like a manual scoreboard, a video camera on a tripod, and at least 4 regulars per team. By the way, when I say I “support” them, I mean I am fiercely jealous of them.

Seeing these guys play reminded me of days of yore, when assembling friendly sporting events was the most significant source of stress in my life. I had it so good. I spent the majority of my time with friends playing baseball, basketball, street football, floor hockey, and something called ‘Aviva Ball’ which we ever-so-creatively named after the company that produced and stamped its name on the sponge-like ball used in competition. We also had something called the “Ball of Hope” but I can’t recall if we ever successfully integrated it into a game. Regardless of the contest, we always had to modify the rules in some way to accommodate our circumstances. Here are some examples:

crappy baserunner

Ghostmen

Any form of baseball was always the most difficult sport to organize. To get a good game going, we needed more bodies than necessary for any other sport. One on one was ugly (though played often- what stamina we had as kids), and two on two was not much better. When we were fortunate enough to have the players necessary for a baseball game, there would still be the inevitable need for the ghostman. The ghostmen were an imaginary roster of invisible baserunners, always ready to pinch run for a real-life player whose services were needed in the batter’s box. Ghostmen were perfectly impartial and shockingly similar in speed to the actual players, as they reached each corresponding base at the exact instant their human counterpart reached their next station. Sending ghostmen to do the work of humans is by far one of the most innovative advancements in human history, and yet we stop using it around age 12.

this is the only one we have!

Lost ball rule 

Most games played by children are likely supplied with one official ‘game ball’. Spares were a rarity, so these game balls had to be protected with vigilance. Some of the fields and yards where we played had built-in obstacles or restrictions such as fences, dog-protected neighboring yards, inaccessible nearby roofs, or closed-for-the-season swimming pools. If a game ball were to enter any of these territories of no return, the game was over. Countermeasures had to be put in place to deter this type of transgression. If a hitter was to foul a ball up onto a roof or into a neighbor’s yard, that was an automatic out, and they were tasked with rescuing the ball from it’s purgatorial fate. In the most extreme cases, losing the ball was a forfeit of the entire game. A punishment fitting of such a heinous crime.

Shirts and Skins

Some of you reading this had no problem with ‘shirts and skins’. You people were the reason that people like me hated it. Proud of your body, eh? What’s that like? Must be nice to willingly shed your shirt to promote unity with your team. I’ll be the guy in the corner faking a sudden injury to avoid the game until teams are re-drafted and I make the ‘shirts’ squad.

Throwing the ball at people to make an out

Another ill-effect of a baseball game with undersized rosters, this rule was another brilliant contrivance of adolescent ballplayers. “Hey, since we don’t have a first baseman, if I drill you with the ball as you scamper to first base, you are out.” Great idea. I couldn’t wait to hit a ground ball to the pitcher so he could pelt me square in the back from short range with a hard plastic ball. My favorite! The best part was that after you got nailed the first time, there was a throbbing red target on your skin so the next time you were running for your life on the basepaths there was a brightly-colored target to aim at.

in retrospect, this would have been an ok All-Time QB

All-Time QB

The curse of the odd number of available players. By far the most revolting of childhood game rules, the All-Time Quarterback was the most corrupt abomination of sportsmanship ever. On a small enough field, any size football game was possible. However, whether it was two on two or six on six, the problem arose when there was that one extra person. Someone would inevitably volunteer to play all-time quarterback, a position unique in that it was the only place in all of sports where you were guaranteed to be instrumental in every single play of the game. So much so that all time QBs were basically a pre-pubescent puppet master of sorts, the fate of the entire contest was subject to their whimsy. Without fail, every all time QB would be seduced in the huddle by one team more than the other, and the QB would play just a little bit better for that squad, compromising the integrity of the game. Maybe his best friend was on that team, maybe he had a crush on a teammate’s sister, perhaps he owed one guy a favor. Whatever the motivation, the payoff was obvious. All time QBs always sucked for one of the two teams. If only we could have called in a ghostman to do the job.

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Thanks to the fine folks at Plaid Stallions we have the page you see below from the toy section of the 1983 JC Penney catalog.  If you are anywhere close in age to me, the JC Penney catalog was one of the most highly anticipated and visually gratifying annual publications to grace your parents’ coffee table on a yearly basis.  This bad boy regularly weighed in at about 14 lbs and promised a whopping 20+ page toy section.  Before the days of the internet this was our only link to seeing all of the new toys that the various manufacturers were unleashing on the public each new season.  My friends and I would drop the book on the floor , gather ’round and rifle through its pages until we reached the Star Wars, G.I. Joe, Kenner Super Powers, LJN WWF Wrestling Superstars, Transformers, and Masters of the Universe pages.  We’d even check out the GoBots.  Somebody had to.  We’d exclaim “Whoa!”  “No way!” “Far out!” (no one still said ‘far out’ in 1983 but The Brady Bunch was my favorite tv show at the time so my vernacular was a touch outdated).  We finally had some research material from which to compile our birthday and Christmas wish lists.  Let the wishing begin!

Recently Plaid Stallions posted a few pages from the toy section of the 1983 JC Penney catalog.  Awesome, right?  I jumped at the opportunity to stroll down memory lane and peruse JC’s wares.  It appears that this particular year’s toy section was set up to look almost like a comic book with mini-storylines and such.  The action figures are exchanging a little chippy dialogue and self-promotion, which was a cool marketing idea.  What made this concept work is that the characters are conversing in terms that are consistent with the respective cartoons, movies or comics that they came to life in.  G.I. Joe expressing their continued discontent with those jerks from Cobra, Jabba the Hutt bragging about all of the awful things he can do to Han Solo, even the My Little Ponies are sitting around staring at themselves in the mirror and admiring their perfectly groomed pink and mint green manes.  Then you get to the Masters of the Universe (He-Man) page.  Have a look for yourself:

What in the blue hell are these guys talking about?  I don’t even know where to start.  Skeletor enjoyed his trip with his adventure book and record?  What is he, seven years old?  I hope you didn’t spill your juice box on the Talon Fighter’s new upholstery.  Hi, you were arguably the most menacing and nightmare-inducing evil arch-enemy of the 1980s and you enjoyed your f’ing adventure book?!  Well I’m glad you enjoyed yourself; now that you’re here maybe you can straighten out this asshole He-Man who for some reason is plotting the siege of Castle Grayskull, you know, his OWN base of operations?  By this logic, millions of kids in 1983 must have been turning the page expecting to see the ewoks violently overtaking the Ewok Village ($19.99 sale price, by the way- would have pegged that for a larger ticket item back in the day).  As we trudge through the slowly disintegrating Masters of the Universe continuum, we see Mer-Man riding He-Man’s trusty steed, mumbling something about “invading in his Panther Battle Cat”.  Wow.  Not your cat to invade, guy.  Not sure what that cat has been through behind closed doors with He-Man, who judging by his outfits was definitely not above an occasional cat invasion, but still.  Mer-Man was one of Skeletor’s TOP henchman!  He had a better shot of secretly entering Castle Grayskull by catapulting himself through one of its green stone-lined nostrils than he did of getting within 15 feet of Battle Cat, let alone riding into battle on him.  What’s on the next page?  Is Darth Vader just gonna “take the Millenium Falcon for a little spin”?  Not to be outdone, Man-E-Faces continues the ass-hattery with a comment about wiping out the heroic forces, of which he is one.  Sure, Man-E had some identity issues when he was in green beast-mode, but at this point it seems like schizophrenia was the least of his worries.  He’s got to run interference with Ram-Man and Trap-Jaw while Mer-Man finishes invading Battle Cat.  Victory will soon be yours Mer-Man, nobody here is gonna try to stop you.

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too many things living in here

So for the last 12 to 15 years I have been jotting down ideas, stories, jokes and memories.  Sometimes its a line or scene for ‘this novel I’m gonna write’, or ‘a screenplay that I’m gonna knock out with my friends’, or ‘my standup routine for an open mic night at some comedy club’.  Not gonna happen.  That said, I still have sheets of paper, Blackberry voice recorded notes, and calendar reminders full of crap that I swore I would use someday.
I had been perfectly content to just let all of these notes live out their lives in their respective idea dungeons until something started to happen more frequently.  They started popping up in other places.  My ideas, my shared ideas with my friends, inside jokes that had mainstream funny potential, many of them arising in movies, tv shows, other people’s tweets, and other medium.  The example I will provide that was supported by the most material evidence and character witnesses was our “Strength in Numbers Theory” that examined the perceived hotness of female bar patrons.  This exact concept was portrayed on a hit CBS comedy and given a similar name.  Damn.  As plenty of my friends have agreed in the past, the only difference between us and the employed writers and performers of the world = ambition.  This blog was born as a way to document these silly musings and concepts which will forever be tagged with a datestamp as a way of planting our flag on the joke.
When I was about 8 years old my folks took me and one of my sisters to visit some family friends who had a lake house.  I actually don’t know exactly how old I was, but I hate to say “when I was a kid”.  I have no idea how people are always able to remember exactly how old they were when referencing certain events.  My memories exist in more of a Venn diagram than a timeline.  Anyway, this was my innaugural voyage to a self-contained body of water.  I had been to the ocean before, but as far as I recall no previous lake excursions.  The most important lesson I learned that day was not to lean over the side of a canoe to look down into the water.  My beefy 87 pound frame provided enough of a weight shift to flip the sea-faring vessel upside down and send my unsuspecting parents plunging into the depths of Canisus Lake (which I now refer to as “Lake Wrestlemania” – story to follow).  Ever the survivalist, I grabbed one of the canoe’s bench-like seats and held on, hanging for what seemed like hours in the air pocket between the inverted boat and the water’s surface.  My dad was pretty impressed with me.  My lasting image of that afternoon is the contents of my father’s wallet laid out to dry on a towel on the flipped-down tail gate of our sweet station wagon.  Good thing this was pre-cell phones.  That aside, the real reason I speak of the lake trip today is because I want to give you some insight as to how I perceived the world as an 8-ish year old boy.
At some point during the lake day, I found myself sitting alone on a deck or pier of some sort.  Gazing at my surroundings, this was my inner monologue:  “I can’t believe people swim in this.  I got in it once and there was all this slimy disgusting seaweed that touched my feet and scared the shit out of me.  I’m never going in a lake again.  Swimming pools are SO much better.  There’s never any creepy vines reaching up and touching your feet (seriously, how horrific?!), and definitely no fish or other mysterious sea creatures. Seriously, how would I know if there was a massive nasty fish coming up to get me in a lake?  You can’t see anything!  The water is so dirty.”
OK here’s where it get’s good: “Hmm.  The best part about a pool is that it has a liner at the bottom (no seaweed) and it’s chlorinated (so the water stays clear).  Why wouldn’t they just put a big liner down in this lake and pump some chlorine into it??  Then this whole place would be worth a damn.  The liner would have to be a little stronger than a standard residential pool liner, what with all of the jagged rocks and debris that presumably inhabit the bottom of this lake, but nonetheless, a sturdy idea.  Certainly I can’t be the first one to think of this concept.  I’m sure it’s already in the works.”  Yes, surely there is a group of like-minded lakeside residents somewhere in central/western New York State who is heavily lobbying local policymakers to get that lake lined and chlorinated ASAP.  What was the holdup?  Stupid red tape.  The concept was rock-solid.  
I rode home that day in my preferred manner of travel: in the backward-facing third row of  that yellow Chevy Caprice station wagon.  It never occurred to me that the millions of  aquatic organisms that lived in Lake Wrestlemania would object to my plan.  What has occurred to me in reflecting on that day is that I prefer controlled environments.  Give me a contained swimming pool over a sprawling body of water any day.  I can see my feet.  I prefer driving over riding because I’m in control.  I like safety nets and soft landings.  I venture out of my comfort zone just once to lean over the side of the boat to peer into the deep abyss and what happens?  I dunk my family in the lake.  Not cool. Writing this blog is in a lot of ways venturing out of my comfort zone, but I’m in control of it.  Somehow putting all of these silly thoughts and jokes to paper makes me feel like I’m in control of their fate.

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