Christmas of ’87: The Day

I think I have written this three times and each one was longer than the last. I cropped photos, recounted each toy I could remember and gave extensive detail to what they were and where they came from. It was exhausting and ultimately it came out flat. There are probably thirty thousand blogs devoted to archiving toys from the 1980’s and brother, this ain’t one of them. I never had the knack for specifics when it came to cartoons or branded toys. I take my hat off to those who do and heaven knows, I read these blogs which devote that certain energy but this little space of mine in the internet is more personal.

It was a restless night back in ’87. There is so much anticipation a little kid has on the eve of Christmas. I don’t think it’s about gifts either but rather the culmination of months of excitement all coming to ahead. Everything seemed to be so still and peaceful back then. I have a vivid memory looking out my window on to my street, all the houses decorated and lit with not a single soul to be seen. It was so serene.

I drifted off to sleep trying not to think about Christmas morning. The longer I dwelled the later it got. Instead I would pretend I was an Imperial officer having to prepare navigational charts for a Star Destroyer. (I was a weird kid) That was  an instant sleep remedy for me. Boring fantasies make me sleepy even today.

Like any kid at the ripe age of ten, once 5am came around, my internal clock kicked in and I was vertical. I moved slow and deliberate, creeping down the stairs, unsure what time it really was. I made my way to the den and flipped on the lights.

That’s the sight every adult has in their heads when thinking of the magic of Christmas to a child. That moment when you wrestle with yourself how Santa came while you slept and left you something. The smell of Scotch tape, wrapping paper and pine so early in the morning as you shiver with excitement and the fact it’s also 34 degrees outside. Then the long wait since getting the parents up probably wouldn’t be the best idea so you sit in the middle of the gifts, taking it all in and hold out until sunrise.

This was Christmas of 1987. The one that stands out above the rest. It isn’t because of a certain toy although it was the year I got Megatron and broke off one of his legs by going against my Dad’s suggestion of “not forcing it”. I think that year stands tall because Christmas seemed to permeate every aspect of my young life. The Christmas TV specials were amazing, the toys of that era were second to none and it felt as everyone was in the spirit. I have not felt that in years. And I am scared I probably never will.

I have memories. That is what Christmas is really all about, anyway. We come together and share merriment in an event that is logged in our hearts for years to come. Kind of magical, if you ask me.

So Merry Christmas to you. Don’t let this time go by without remembering what it is all about. Tell those around you how much they mean to you, keep the loved ones a little closer and hold out your hand to those who might not have someone. Think of the troops far off, kids who aren’t waking up to piles of gifts and the people who do not have a roof on cold nights.

Peace on Earth, good will toward men.

Good night and thank you for sticking with me this season. Hope everything amazing happens for you. Merry Christmas.

 

Crazy Christmas Martini Sets

A few weeks ago I was cruising through the grocery store and walked past a rack of magical red and green martini shakers and thought, “Will/Bill, should probably talk about these” but instead I put them off for a later day. That day was yesterday when I found an evening to go out and finally buy them. The problem was they were nowhere to be found. Absolutely my luck.

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The gods, however, took pity on me and I only needed to go to eleven stores before I found the same display with three Holiday Martini Shakers. This time there was an extra one in the group, pomegranate. I scooped up all three and headed for the door. Well, first the register. That’s when I learned the value of having a membership card to the grocery store because the price on the display said $4.99 but upon checking out it jumped to a gut-punching $7.99. So, this vlog cost a bit more including higher quality booze. I can’t handle the charcoal filtered plastic bottles like , Mr. Miller’s vodka.

I apologize for the length but I had to cover all three and show you how I can screw up the easiest of martinis and margaritas. Plus, I got to use my office blender and I love showing that thing off.

Turn off the brain and watch me make a mess.

The Christmas of ’87: Part 3

It was a busy Christmas back in 1987. I battled CCD bullies and was humbled by a ceramic log fireplace but each of those unpleasantries were mere flesh wounds because it was approaching the end of December and Christmas Eve had finally  arrived. I have always loved this day although as I get older, the thrill has diminished quite a bit thanks to all the adult procrastination leading to mall trips, late night wrapping sessions and annoying family members who suck to shop for.

As a little kid, however, Christmas Eve was the day full of excitement. I actually enjoyed that day over Christmas because anticipation mixed with tradition is…well it’s just tits. I know when you blog about your ten-year old self, “tits” is inappropriate but I have never been able to use that phrase before.

Speaking of tradition, Dad and I started one that year. It’s our annual “run around the mall the day before Christmas and look for a joint present for Mom” tradition. You may think this is a lame one but actually it’s one of my favorites. We get up early and head to over to Hardee’s to get sausage biscuits and cinnamon raison biscuits which came in styrofoam boxes. God I loved those little tandem biscuits in boxes. I would absolutely drive a grass-covered hybrid Smart Car fueled by duck spit if it would balance out the carbon footprint of the Hardee’s cinnamon biscuit boxes and bring them back.

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Also, 1987 was the year Hardee’s and the California Raisins teamed up together and every kid had at least four Raisin claymation characters in their pockets at any given time. I didn’t really think about that until I committed to this post. AND A Claymation Christmas featuring the said Raisins also debuted that same year too. Food for thought!

After we ate and Dad finished reading part of the newspaper, we would head out to brave the mall. As a kid, crowded malls during Christmas Eve were as much fun as any amusement venue. Perhaps it was the anticipation of the next morning as we cruised by KB Toys but I think I just really loved this time with Dad. I would always ask him how people build houses and in his engineering way he would tell me the steps salting with laying a foundation. It was my own little weird way of having multiple lines of entertainment. Probably why I have the TV on while blogging and catching up on Twitter all at the same time. But in 1987 I had to rely on mall scenes and Dad’s very detailed step-by-step description on how to build a house and why planes fly.

After a successful mall trip where I am sure we bought Mom earrings and sweaters, we would head home and get ready to go to the Keller’s for Christmas Eve dinner. The Keller’s were family friends who had a dozen kids ranging from 19 to 28. They were all way too old to share anything in common with but I remember all of them treating me really nice. Or like a pet. Actually, now that I think about it, I was more like a puppy to them.

When you are the only child at a dinner party during Christmas Eve, a lot of the attention is on you. I never liked that. Especially when you are a shy kid who HATES when people watch you eat. I have always been weird about that and even today on business trips, I have a real hard time eating alone in a restaurant and usually opt to get food to-go and eat on a strange bed. It was doubly hard that most of the Keller’s kids were pretty college girls.

Mr. Keller was a 747 pilot for United Airlines and a very boisterous fellow, to say the least. He and my Dad (who is a little more reserve) would joke and laugh out loud in audible volumes which made the dog under the table retreat upstairs. I didn’t care for Mr. Keller too much because he was the total opposite of my Dad in every way. I am sure he meant well but his larger than life character didn’t translate to a kid who was the master of the “quiet game”. One time mom forgot to tell me the game was over on a Friday afternoon and I had to write “is it over?” on a piece of paper the next evening. Guess who got a toy for that guilt session?

Where was I? Oh yeah, so Mr. Keller didn’t exactly strike me as “father of the year” but then he asked me a question which changed every negative feeling I had towards him.

“Billy, are you ready for Santa to come? NORAD spotted him somewhere over the Pacific ocean earlier.”

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I was at the age when Santa was a possibility but not a probability. I had my sever doubts especially when his letter from last year had the undeniable likeness to my father’s handwriting. But when a 747 pilot says “NORAD”, that puts  a different spin on it. And then Mr. Keller really shined it on by telling me back before I was born he was in the Air Force and he had to reroute his squadron because Santa was in the same airspace.

This was like drinking out of a firehouse for an excited ten-year old. I had to know more so I asked him, “What’s NORAD?”

“That’s our line of defense incase the goddamn Russians pull some shit.”

Mrs. Keller didn’t miss a beat when she interjected with “WHO WANTS PIE?”.

Mr. Keller’s well-intentioned thought getting a kid excited about Santa kind of backfired because I most likely asked him 500 times for an updated NORAD report. It must have been a bit ironic for a retired Major to have to give situation status reports to a kid in the twilight of the Cold War but we are talking about Santa. The hope for me finally getting a helicopter was still yet alive!

The evening grew late and soon the thirty minute process of gathering coats, Mrs. Keller forcing us to take leftovers and drawn out tipsy hugs came to an end. And for me, who was ripped on orange soda and chocolate with renewed faith in Santa, I was ready. I was ready because we still had one more Christmas Eve tradition left; the first present!

Last year, you might recall, I got Top Gun on VHS which led to a root beer incident. That was a wound still fresh in the family of three so my parents wisely chose to delay the first gift until late at night.

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We came home, plugged in the tree, turned on the new stereo to the Mannheim Steamroller’s Christmas album and I got to choose one of the ten gifts that tortured me for the past month under the tree. It took me approximately 0.0078 seconds to grab the one I absolutely knew what it was. Well, I knew what it was but not which one it was. You’ll see in a second.

Like my buddy, Matt, who runs Dinosaur Dracula states, “Even before I started tearing away the wrapping paper, I knew it was going to be a Nintendo game. Those boxes had a distinct weight, shape and feel.”.

It was absolutely a Nintendo game and when I ripped away the paper it revealed the talk of the playground and the game every kid wanted, Metroid. This Christmas of ’87 was truly one of the best. I begged to play this before promising to be in bed before Santa arrived and with a hesitant yes, I was able to kill that Mannheim Stream roller shit and crank up the Nintendo.

This is the sound that is forever linked to Christmas 1987. It is the sound of heavenly bliss and childhood nostalgia.

As quickly as it began it was over because the folks were getting tired and their work was just beginning. I was rushed up to bed, still on a sugar high and Metroid craze but I had to sleep. Santa was well in our airspace and if I wasn’t in bed, who knows the consequences? I wasn’t about to risk my ridiculous wish list which I wrote to him last summer on a night of insomnia.

I was going to make this a three-part series but in order to avoid a 3890 word post I have decided to add one more part. Stay tuned for the Christmas that put its shadow on the wall and no other Christmas could possibly live up to.

 

The Christmas of ’87: Part 2

The worst was over for that year. I was back in my own little world, safe from asshats like Mrs. Conners, Bobby and his friend, what’s-his-face. Not only did I not have to see them again, I didn’t have to attend CCD for the rest of the year. But all that was like a distant dream to me because it was happiest time of the year for a ten-year old and I had business to attend to.

Is it just me or did Christmas break seem like it was month-long back in the 1980’s? I suppose time moves a little slower when you countdown to a day rather than hurrying like a madman before it arrives. Regardless whether it was perception or an actual month break, it seemed long enough to forget math. But no matter, the weeks leading up to Christmas day was filled with fun like my favorite activity, searching for hidden presents!

I was a kid who could be left home alone for certain periods of time during the afternoon. Once Christmas break hit, Mom would run errands like the grocery store or lunch with friends and she felt a few hours unsupervised wouldn’t be so bad. After all, I proved what I could do to someone with a bible and we own around fifty of them.

These little spans of time alone were perfect for me to get snooping. And also the perfect time for me to play around with the new gas powered fireplace Dad had just installed. It amazed me. With the turn of a key and press of a button, I could have a roaring fire by the tree. It was also the perfect opportunity for a ten-year old boy to do something insanely stupid like, for example, toss in a couple of M-80 firecrackers I had been saving under the bed since the previous 4th or July. I can not explain why this was something I had to do but I had to do it.

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Mom wasn’t even out of the subdivision before I had that fire turned on high. Without giving a second thought, I tossed both M-80s into the fireplace and stood back, cupping my ears. Within seconds I saw a the distinctive spark of the fuse from the first firecracker and with an incredible blast, it blew exploded flaming paper out from the stone fireplace and onto the carpet. That sent a ten-year old into a panic and I stomped out the little flames and turned off the fire in one swift motion.

Then there was the issue of the second M-80. It didn’t go off. I was caught in a situation of unexploded ordnance and a possible life grounding event. I had to retrieve the M-80 somehow without blowing my fingers off and even more so, not get in trouble with only a week left before Christmas. As I collected the bits of the exploded firecracker, Mom came home early because she forgot something.

BUSTED!

Boy, there was a lot of yelling. I remember this pretty clearly because for the next…well…ever, I was not allowed to even look at the fireplace. I was marched up to my room but there was a silver lining. She had no idea about the M-80. That is  a secret I have kept until now.

The one plus about the pre-cellphone and cordless era was I could count on Mom never being more than ten feet from the kitchen thanks to a lan line. That meant I was free to slip out of the room and look around the closets for any gifts that might be hidden. As long as Mom kept yapping, I knew I was free to roam around. And the second I heard the phone hangup, I knew I had 0.05 seconds to get from a closet and down the hall to my room. But such risks brought such sweet rewards.

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Behold what I found under a pile of coats, still in the old Toys R Us bag. The GI Joe Cobra Night Raven! I was overjoyed. I didn’t even know this was apart of the Cobra inventory. I sat there looking at the box of awesome when I heard Mom begin her famous long goodbye. You know the one moms do, “Okay…alright…you too…bye now”.

I placed the coats back over the box and with ninja speed and stealth, I raced back to the bedroom. I had to brief the Joes about the new ride they will have in seven short days.

I remember that magical feeling of finding such a big gift and knowing I would be the envy of the neighborhood. I daydreamed about the fantastic battles ahead and sending Shipwreck and Snake Eyes past the speed of sound. There were plenty of doodles with a big black plane strafing jeeps, I am sure.

That Christmas was also the one when I found the famous Tomahawk helicopter too. But I already wrote about that. You won’t have to revisit my gushing over a toy unless you want to. Okay, here is a link.

Later that evening, after dinner, we settled in for a night of Christmas specials. We didn’t have cable then so the primary channels were ABC, CBS, NBC and the dreaded PBS. I had the VCR primed to record every special from How the Grinch Stole Christmas to Merry Christmas Charlie Brown. It was a pure magic and I was at the right age to love the Hell out of them.

We sat there with the lights turned off, the tree aglow, basking in the warm fire as The Muppets Family Christmas aired. These are some of my best memories as a kid. Laughing with my Dad as we watched Animal scream, “PRESENTS! PRESENTS! PRESENTS!” we ate chocolate covered pretzel sticks and I dreamed of my big black jet that was soon to grace the skies of my imagination. Mom sat in her chair, cross stitching something to give to someone. It was a perfect pre-Christmas night full of everything that makes the holid-BABOOM!!!!

Great Jesus’s Ghost, I fucking forgot about the other M-80 firecracker that never went off! It was such a tranquil night until a great explosion that sent all of us to the ceiling. Dad went to great lengths to not use profanity around me but after that shocker, I remember quite a string of obscenities.

Upon investigation, somehow it was ruled the cracking of one of the ceramic logs which sounded like a firecracker was the cause of the blast. The bits of the M-80 must have burned up in the back of the fireplace because the rest was never found. I kept that secret until just this second. You are the only one to know.

We sat back down, a little shaken but otherwise fine. I don’t think my heart slowed down until my bedtime at 9:30. It was the second close call for a grounding over the same stupidity and I can’t believe I got away with it especially since just hours before I was sent to my room over the damn fireplace. Santa might see me when I was sleeping but I knew I what I was getting and it wasn’t punishment. It was a Night Raven.

That concludes part 2 of the greatest Christmas ever. I might drag this all the way to a part 4 but for now, I will leave you with the entire Muppet Family Christmas special. It’s glorious and wonderful and a few years ago I did full review of it. Here’s the link to that too.

Goodnight, you amazing person you.

The Christmas of ’87: Part 1

WARNING: A little sad at first but it preludes a hilarious journey

We all have a Christmas which stands out a little more than the others. It’s the one that makes our heart skip a beat, brings back that certain excitement only kids get because the obligations of adulthood are still years away and Santa was absolutely the go-to when it came to our list of wants. We all have that one. Mine was Christmas of 1987 and brother, it set the bar so high, the years that followed never came close.

I remember the build up to that Christmas which never ceased in momentum of excitement and had me pacing the Eve, sick from too many Nestle Crunch Bells and worries that the inbound Santa would see me awake. But it didn’t start with such bliss. Actually, it could have been a Christmas to forget if it wasn’t for the “shot heard around Marietta” one fateful late November monday afternoon. It was my little “A Christmas Story” incident that is still talked about today in small circles with the family.

Growing up Catholic, I was forced to attend CCD classes one day a week after school. It was a version of bible study, all with the design to get a kid from baptism to confirmation without forcing the parents to spend thousands on a private Catholic education. I hated it. No kid ever liked to learn about why we are forced to go to church. It was like getting a quiz about the injection you were about to receive. But I hated it for another reason as well.

Every monday I would get home from school, have a snack and then collect my CCD workbook and pencil, get driven to St. Ann’s church and mingle with the hundreds of other kids until 4:00 rolled around and we separated into grade level classrooms to waste an hour listening to a lay person with no teaching ability. My real issue then was the fact everyone hated me. I was the only kid from another school since they built a new Catholic church closer to Mt. Bethel (my school). But, my mother had served for years in this church and there was no way I would switch just because it was five minutes closer.

Not being liked was a real issue for me back then for a couple of reasons. One, I had no siblings. There was no one to beat me up or compete with. My folks treated me as if I could do no wrong and everything was a gold star. I am sure that was a weakness which was obvious to kids I didn’t know but in my particular school, I was actually pretty popular. We had all grown up together since kinder care, so to be flung into a completely new environment with rich kids who all went to a different school together was like swimming with sharks. But that was only the start.

I didn’t understand this back then but it came to light later that my mom didn’t get along with a few ladies at church. One of these ladies in particular was Mrs. Conners, my CCD teacher for that year. In her disdain of my mom she fell right in line with my peers who teased me relentlessly in class. There was no safe zone for a kid who was forced, ironically, to learn about being kind to others for an hour after school. As an adult I can’t imagine being cruel to a kid who is obviously the target of class harassment and even more so, joining in on that behavior. But, the scummiest people can hide under the vail of religious institutions. Probably explains why I don’t go to church much anymore.

All of these factors were pretty bad but the leader of this torment was a kid named Bobby Clark. That is a name I will never forget. I don’t think many people forget their bullies. He was the devil who was the most popular in his own school and also the most popular in CCD. Even the fifth graders liked this kid and if memory serves me correct, it was in part to his big brother who had gone on to middle school, leaving a legacy Bobby could sail on.

From day one, Bobby never let up on me. At first I was more confused at why he didn’t like me and how all these kids can’t be laughing at me. I just didn’t understand but when we were waiting in line at the carpool area, Bobby and his buddy took things to a new level, challenging me to a fight as all the kids in every grade level laughed and taunted. I really didn’t want to fight but in a circle of shouting kids, you just can’t get hit in the mouth without doing something. And that’s when I found out what a shitty fighter I was as both Bobby and his buddy (Mike, I think) pushed me down and pounded the piss out of me.

As a boy in grade school, the worst thing you can do before, during or after a confrontation is cry. I knew this. It sticks in kids heads and you will wear that stigmata for years after. Not quite the same as shitting your pants but close. It’s a weakness and that afternoon I showed it after getting the wind knocked out of me. I couldn’t help it, all the adrenaline and anger came out in a rage of tears. I tried to stand up and run through the crowd looking for my dad who always picked me up on his way back from work but when I got to my feet my arm was grabbed by Mrs. Conners, screaming at the top of her lungs like that trombone teacher-talk only Peppermint Patty understands. Bobby looked at her and in a classic dick fashion stated, “He started it”. The other kids agreed and through my tears and disbelief of what just happened and what was about to happen, I sobbed harder, giving up all hope of redemption.

Mrs. Conners whisked me back inside and down to the bathrooms to clean up. I can’t fully remember what she said but it was essentially, “wash your face to stop crying and if you don’t tell your parents I won’t turn you in for fighting”. CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT SHIT? That really happened.

I collected myself, after a few of those multiple hyperventilating inhales, I opened the door and Mrs. Conners was there handing me my workbook and walking back to the curb to personally see me to my Dad’s truck. I honestly don’t remember the ride home but I remember not eating dinner and playing sick the next day from school. It was insult to injury because I still had to go to the doctor’s and get my finger stuck.

I thought a lot about the events from the previous day and had many fantasies about pulling a lightsaber on Bobby. But in my stomach, I felt completely defeated. Not only was I the gross kid to everyone but also the baby who cried. It sunk in and there was no one who could help.

I pleaded to not go back that following monday but the first week of Advent (Catholic thing) was then and it was a special mass and all grade levels from Monday, Tuesday and Thursday had to attend.

I remember a lot of detail, huh? Well, you’ll see why.

There had to be at least six hundred kids from first grade to eighth sitting in the main church. My class was smack in the middle and I felt every eye on me because I was sure that last week’s incident spread like wildfire. Bobby walked taller looking more smug than usual and the respect of his peers shown through their idolized gaze. Maybe I am being dramatic but that really was my perception. I was the slug. The weirdo no one would talk to or be caught being nice to for fear of reprisals. Even Mrs. Conners scowled in my direction, raising her eyebrows as if to say, “Remember what we talked about?”. It was as bad as it got for a privileged kid who should have been thinking about GI Joe and Optimus Prime.

It’s hard to rationalize this but what happened next, in my opinion over the years, is nothing more than divine help. Bobby sat directly in front of me next to his jock crony, Mike. They whispered and teased, glancing back every few seconds. Bobby writing “Hi gay” on his palm, pretending to stretch making sure I saw and also everyone else did too. The rage was welling and I couldn’t believe I was the butt of all these jokes and it seemed the entire CCD crowd was too. I tried to ignore it and just read words out of the thick bible/songbook held in the pew’s shelf. I had to distract myself to keep from crying again. I felt it coming on and that heat in my face building. I wrapped the book mark ribbon tightly around my hand and clenched it in my fist.

Then, loudly, Bobby put both palms to his face and blew, loudly mimicking a fart and shouted, “EWWW BILLY!”.

The entire church erupted in laughter. I was in the middle of thirty kids on either side and there was nowhere to go. I felt the tears run down my cheeks and then I made the decision. It wasn’t like a blacked out moment of adrenaline but one I made very delibrately to avoid sitting there in tears as hundreds of eyes witnessed my humiliation. I stood up and beat the shit out of Bobby and Mike with a bible. I swung hard, smashing the four hundred page good-book time and time again until the red ribbon separated, sending the bible sailing. Then my fists, fingers and elbows took over.

There were screams, I am sure, but I didn’t hear them. Mrs. Conners was trying to climb the pews to separate me from the fury I was unleashing on the two boys but it was a slow process because we were packed in there like sardines. I hit those kids so hard and so often, everyone around stood out of the way. When the teacher finally got there, she herself was hit (accidentally) and screamed bloody murder. I was probably 60lbs at most and unless she had that glass-bone disease, I think she greatly exaggerated.

I was separated from the two boys who were openly wailing at that point. I still had fight in me but not much. I hadn’t exerted that much energy ever and it went right to my stomach and the second I got outside I puked. I had been carried out by a male teacher who sat there saying words like “buddy” and “it’s okay”. I felt a sense that it really will be okay.

I sat in the church office across the street until my Mom came to pick me up. I remember there was a lot of apologizing from her and I had a long quiet ride home. Then Dad came home.

It was obvious that it’s out of character to for me to beat the shit out of kids with a bible in church. Possession was probably not out of consideration but it soon became obvious I was being tortured for months by my peers and when I told him that Mrs. Conners made a deal not to tell them, he lost his shit.

I don’t know the repercussions my Dad laid from my last CCD class as a 10 year old. All I know is I no longer had to go and later in the week, word spread in my school about how I “blessed” Bobby Clark to tears with a bible. That lived on well into high school.

My December of 1987 took a huge upswing and I think a little guilt led to my greatest Christmas ever and it all started with a find in my parent’s closet. You’ll remember this one tomorrow.

I still think about that time in CCD. I think of kids who experience this not once a week but everyday in school. It never left me and I have always looked for kids who might not fit in like Michael Garucci in high school who gave out Glamour Shots our freshman year. Someone has to take them aside and lead them away from Bobby Clarks.

I also think of people like Mrs. Conners and how at ten years old I can still remember what she said. Kids remember. Be mindful what you say and the example you set. Always pull the struggling ones by your side and teach the stronger ones how to do the same. Don’t be a kid like the ones you are in charge of.

And I hope Bob still twitches at bibles.

Tomorrow is all about the best Christmas TV specials and my Christmas finds on the road to the best Christmas ever. It’s a three part series. Goodnight.