Monday, November 12, 2012

Dick & Jane & the other kid-remembering our old chums!

Who doesn't remember "Dick & Jane", even if it's just as a popular culture memory associated with a vaguely old-fashioned and bucolic view of family life? Dick, Jane, and their generic parents were definitely a product of their time, but that doesn't stop us from appreciating the fact that our old school books were graced with some pretty attractive illustrations. Let's take a look at a few.
Here's our heroes doing what every boy and girl want to do...dressing up and skipping rope with their sister. Safely ensconced behind their white picket fence, Dick and Jane dutifuly help little sister (What was her name....Sally? Suzie? maybe just "sis"?) trip the rope fantasic while being watched by Spot ("the dog"), Puff ("the Cat"), Leroy ("the squirrel") and Stan Musial ("the cardinal"). It looks like the fun never ends until you realize that D & J aren't actually twirling the rope. I guess it's the skipping version of training wheels.
Here's the adult female designated as "Mom" shopping at "the market"...and what a market it is!! Who woudln't want to shop here with all those radiant vegetables cascading out of baskets towards you? The grocer, most likely named "the grocer" or "Food Delivery Technician # 4" looks like your doctor, or at least a Good Humor man. Here he's personally wrapping each individual grape in brown paper for it's perilous trip home, while Jane loads up the shopping basket with the giant economy-sized bottle of suds from the beer & wine aisle.
Farming's a breeze when your animals have learned to assemble themselves by species! Here the farm animals graciously abide by the unwritten farmyard apartheid, with pigs clustering with pigs, chickens keeping company with chickens and sheep looking nervous in the middle of the pack. Dick gets to make friends with "horse", while little sister points to the abattoir located to the right of the picure. Seriously though, I really do love these old illustrations. Even when I first saw these as a kid I knew they were very idealized and unrealistic, but that shuoldn't detract from your enjoyment of them.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Why We Need Halloween

Well it's only a couple of weeks until Halloween, and, in what seems to have become an annual event, you see the occasional news story pop up of some group or individual attempting to ban Halloween from their school, community or organization. Inevitably, it seems, critics of Halloween point to issues of safety ("there's too many 'weirdos' out there") or ethics ("Halloween is 'evil', it promotes vandalism"), or religion ("my non-pagan child isn't going to celebrate a 'pagan holiday', Halloween promotes 'devil-worship'") to try to justify spoiling what has traditionally been one of most fun dates on the kid calendar. To kids, of course, these arguements are all wet. For the vast majority of kids, thoughts of using Halloween as a gateway drug to the order of Wicca or a way to garner "street cred" to impress the local chapter of the Hell's Angels is the furthest thing from their minds. For kids, Halloween is costumes, and candy and spooky thrills. It's a carnival ride with a personal stash of junk food at the end of it. Quite simply, Halloween is just "fun". As adults, however, we like to think that we're able to see the deeper meaning of things. For all the adults who think they see evil lurking behind every smiling pumpkin, I ask that you please consider the following. Halloween is important in a child's development because it's one of their earliest opportunities to practice for their eventual emancipation and development as an adult. When a child chooses or makes a Halloween costume, it's their usually first chance to decide on who or what they want to become. If you think about it, it's their first personal transformation they are, for the most part, in control of. Don't we hope our young adults to be able to basically "create" themselves when they reach maturity? Stop acting like a child and start acting like an adult?Halloween is their first dry run! Once tranformed into a new being of their own choosing, the child at Halloween sets out after dark, exploring new and unfamiliar territory, just as the young adult explores new territory when they move into apartments, dorms or residences. As the child make their way to new and different houses, they are unsure, and perhaps a little frightened, of who (or what!) they will find (still sounding familiar?). Even the traditional call of "Trick or Treat" is a learning experience. While the usual interpretation of "Trick or Treat" is a bold warning to residents to "pay up or pay the penalty", there is also the implication that, while new experiences have a potential bonanza, there is also the danger of having a not-so-pleasant outcome if you don't stay on your toes. That would seem to be pretty sound advice for young adults leaving the nest for the first time, don't you think? Sadly, even the occasional lunatic who spikes candy with with foreign objects or poisons drives that point home. Finally, Halloween is traditionally a time for monsters. For kids, it's a monster they can understand. The big green guy with the bolts in his neck, the gal with the pointy teeth, or the furry, snarling dude with the fangs and claws definitely belong under the category of "don't touch", but they still get viewed as something you can cope with and avoid if you're prepared. If not, they can do some real harm when they spring up in front of you. Young adults need to be prepared for their "monsters" as well. So thank you Halloween. Your early frights and dares and treats and tricks help preare us for the real-life challenges we face when we set out on our own. When we're no longer just "son" or "daughter" or "brother" or "sister", but something new and different; something we choose for ourselves. There's a bonanza waiting to be had out there in the world, and we need courage to go get it. But we also need to be smart, because there are some real monsters lurking in the shadows, waiting to bring you down. Monsters called addiction or abuse or hatred or debt, things we need to prepare for when they spring up in front of us; things we need to control, or they will certainly control us. Maybe this is why, as adults, we end up seeing our childhood "monsters" as our friends.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Remembering The Three Investigators

Anyone remember "The Three Investigators?". In a boy's world of advanture books populated by the likes of The Hardy Boys and Tom Swift, The Three Investigators were, in my estimation, the coolest of the bunch. Officially the title of the series was "Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators, and therein lies the source of their ultimate awesomeness. The Investigators were made up of Jupiter Jones, slightly pudgy but brilliant leader of the gang, Pete Crenshaw, the muscle, and Bob Andrews, the researcher who worked part-time at the local library in the town of Rocky Beach, California. Jupter lived with his Uncle Titus (owner of The Jones Salvage Yard) and Aunt Mathilda, a no-nonsese dame who could always find work to keep boys out of mischef. Of course, even the most time-consuming chores would stop the three lads from investigating mysteries. Heck, they even had their own business card, replete with multiple "? ? ? ? ?" symbols, showing off their willing ness to encounter the unknown. The boys had the requisite "secret clubhouse", but what a clubhouse! It was a trailer in the back of Uncle Titus' junk yard, disguised by layers of detritus (any kid knows the best fun can be found in a pile of junk!). It had multiple secret entrances code-named the "green door" or "red dog", and even had telephone service for quick agent notifications. As the title suggested, the boys actually had contact with Alfred Hitchcock, with whom they would meet at least once a story (sometimes more often). The boys, of course, had full access to the famous director at his studio, and would regularly meet with The Man to consult on a particulalry sticky conundrum, or provide notes on the solution to their latest adventure.("It would make a keen movie!!") Boy's adventure books in general had the greatest art ever seen. and the cover shown here from the Mystery of the Flaming Footprints, usually captured an important moment of action in the book (you were never lured by some kind of phoney baloney cover that showed something that was not in the story...the Investigators were nothing if not honest to the core!). The inside of the cover was a generic but super-cool depiction of the three shamuses creeping through the spookiest graveyard outside of Edgar Allen Poe, equiped for detecting with magifying glass (for locating clues), reel-to-reel tape recorder (for caturing confessions), and something that looked like a transistor radio (for weather reports and spot dances, one might assume).
Lurking on the oppostite page, behind the giant spider-web, was "the shadowy figure". Who was this man of mystery? The villain of the book? Alfred Hitchcock? The editor of Random House books? Whoever he was, he set you up for a mystery that was sure to glue you to the sofa on a hot summer day or a cold winter night. I don't know if the Three Investogators are still being published, or whether "kids nowadays" would know who Alfred Hitchcock was. OIf not, it would be a shame, because the Three Investigators and Mr. Hitchcock always provided me with.... a "Gooood Eeeeevening"

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Monster Bash 2012-Adios Butler!!!

Well, June has come and gone, and this year was the last year of celebrating Monster Bash at Butler Pennsylvania. Next year it will be at the Four Points Pittsburgh North, closer to the city of Pittsburgh, and definitely a larger and swankier locale!! As for Bash 2012, what a great way to wrap up our time in Bulter. This one had an "Eegah" reunion, featuring Richard Keil and Arch Hall Jr., stars of that independent caveman epic and Mystery Science Theatre 3000 favorite!. Pictured is myself with Arch, both of us still looking studly after adding a few years of experience to our lives!! Arch played with the Bash Boys Band on Friday night, which also featured the groovy singing of Kenny Miller, one of the stars of "I Was a Teenage Werewolf". The Bash Boys were in fine form, and despite a few minor slips during the performance of Good Lovin' (it's OK Bobby P.....your lyrics were better than the originals anyway!!!) put on a great show. This was also the second year in a row I hosted David "The Rock" Nelson as a room-mate on Sunday night. Last year I met the Rock as he sat outside the Days inn, wondering where he was going to sleep on Sunday, as his room-mates had left already. Having a second bed in my room I offered him shelter, and a legend was born. This year "The Rock" was in the room right across the hall from me. Being in a similar straight, I couldn't very well ignore his need for a place to stay. I temporarily considered getting a t-shirt made that said "I slept with The Rock at Monster Bash 2012", but I couldn't imagine any sort of positive outcome from it. I have to admit, this was kind of a therapeutic Bash for me. My brother died back in Februuary, and while we only attended one Bash together, I always bought my DVDs with the idea we'd be watching them together when I got home. I'm not too proud to say I shed a few tears during the Bash, especially during the video tribuet to stars we had lost over the past year. Tough at times, but much better haviong come through it. Thanks to Mark Statler for the kind words in the Creepy room. Other highlights of the Bash: The sassy and saucy Martine Beswick!!! This ex-Hammer- and Bond-girl was the hit of the Bash interviews, as far as I was concerned. Full of life and a sassy sense of fun, Martine brought a huge amount of joy to the Bash. Who says age dimishes sexiness??? The second picture is myself with Martine-come back to the Bash soon!! The next Monster Kid Generation: During the talk with Creature From the Black Lagoon stars Julie Adams and Ricou Browning, a young (8-10) boy was sitting near us with his father. Dad told us the Creature was the boy's favorite film, and when he got a chance to ask Ricou a question, his smile was as big as any kid getting a personal tour of Santa's toy factory! It reminded me why it was so great to be a Monster Kid!! Father Mike: The Bash priest and fan himself. I had the chance to talk to Father Mike after the Bash was over on Sunday night in the bar/restaurant at the Day's Inn. What a wonderful human being...full of joy and able to communictae it to everyone he meets. For lack of a better phrase, he's kind of like the Bashers "Friar Tuck"...full of the joy of life and other people!! Like I said, next year the Bash is moving to the Four Points Sheraton. Hope they know what they are getting into!!!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Bazooka Joe-Where Art Thou?

When I was a kid, the kind of bubble gum you chewed was very important. Sometimes, of course, you didn't have a choice. If you needed a fix and all that was available was the local penny gum machine (usually clustered with similar machines offering small toys or novelties for a quarter), you took what was dispensed. When you had a choice, however, cool kids chose Bazooka Joe. Now there may be some "Double Bubble" fans out there who disagree, and as I have aged and matured, I've come to accept the fact that there are those that cling to their sad delusions. But let's face facts. Bazooka Joe tasted better. It gave great bubbles, especially after adding the third or fourth peice to your wad, and most importantly, it offered great prizes for collecting their comics! Look at what was offered here...harmonicas (in case you're invited to an impromptu hobo jamboree and are asked to contribute with a rendition of "My Darling Clementine"), two-bladed knives (double the danger! double the thrills! Useful for fighting off both large and small bears, which, as a kid, you always suspected of lurking near your house, just out of ear-shot) and, in my mind the holy grail of Bazooka Joe prizes, the "exploding battleship". What a write-up! I quote: "A direct hit here "explodes" the ship. With the submarine and 3 torpedoes. Free (my emphasis) for 250 Bazooka Comics or send 55 cents and 5 comics to: Bazooka Box 666 London 12 Ontario". Could any kid imagine a more rapturous toy? "Free", with the measily output of 250 comics and the cost of a stamp! Of course, the challenge was gathering the comics. Greenhorns would try to buy and chew 250 pieces of gum and, while this was an appealing idea, would take far too long before the payoff of explosive mayhem. No, the smart kids had a trick-raid the desks of other kids at school! Ok, so maybe it was a little on the shady side of right and wrong, but let's face it, when the prize is an exploding battleship, you tended not to linger over the fine details of morality. Rifling desks usually took place near the end of lunch hour, when most kids were lingering for the last few moments out of the classroom. There was no small amount of tension as you tried to search desks noiselessly while listening for the footfalls of approaching classmates; kind of like starring in a bank-heist movie, or taking part in a daring prison-camp escape with your buddy Sgt. Rock. Comics in hand, I was ready to order my prize! Then...crushing disappointment! They never had the battleship in stock!! Sure I could order something else, but who wanted a locking diary or a "dainty drop pearl necklace"? I already had a knife, and I had already resolved to avoid hobos whenever possible, so the harmonica was out of the question. Thus, here I sit, years later, still cutching my 250 comics-worth of Bazooka currency. Sure I can read about Joe, Pesty, the weird faceless Herman and the rest of the gang, but it's done with a feeling of whistfulness. What might have bath-time been like with that batleship and submarine, duking it out between the suds? I think this is why I take showers now.

Friday, January 13, 2012

View-Master! Better Than Awesome

Remember View-Master? The little stereoscopic viewer that allowed you to look at colourful picture-reels started in 1939 as a kind of travelogue picture viewer, but in 1966 (the best year ever!!!) the disk subjects expanded to include cartoon characters and popular TV shows!

When you bought the viewer (a nice, comely brown in my era, as you see by the photo), it came with a sample disk titled "What in the World Do You Want to See?". Now at that time, there were a number of things I "wanted to see", few of which are appropriate to mention here, and none of which were addressed on the free disk. What it did show, however, was a little commercial for the selection of disks you could buy that would take you "From Arizona (picture of a girl with a herd of goats in a desert) To Zanzibar!(man kneeing in front of grass hut, inspecting coffee beans). From the Depths of the Ocean (shark about to gnaw on your face), To the heights of Mt. Everest! (man on snowy cliff...could be Everest, could be the snow-bank by my school).From the Ancient Wonders (really cool picture of a model of an ancient Greek temple), To Outer Space! (picture of the model of the Saturn V rocket you wished you got for Christmas instead of those socks).

I still have our viewer, plus six original packs of disks, including Quick-Draw McGraw, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Wonders of the Deep, The Seven Wonders of the World (one disk per set of wonders) Peanuts and, my personal favorite, Prehistoric Monsters. The disks usually came with a little story book that gave you more detail than what they could fit into the tiny window above the image you were looking at. I have to admit, I don't think I ever read one of those booklets, having skimmed them and likely had been discouraged from reading further by slide titles like "Timid Mollusk" and "The Octopus, timid monster of the sea" (both "Wonders of the Deep"). I guess in my childhood innocence I was supposed to wonder what made them "timid", but all honestly, I was too busy wondering if the Yellowfin Grouper on picture #7 could swallow a diver whole to concern myself too much about underwater timidity.

I remembered all this because today I bought an old View-Master packet called "F.B.I Agent" at an antique store today ($2.00, no tax). The cover showed a picture of a stiff-looking fellow in a black suit shaking hands with J. Edgar Hoover. I had hoped at least once of the reels showed J. Edgar modelling a selection of his favorite gowns, but that wasn't to be the case. Instead, we get the story of agent "Bill Brown" from his first days of training at Quantico, to his apprehension of a kidnapper through the brilliant ruse of prentending to ask him directions while two agents leap at him from behind a large red Oldsmobile. Unlike many of the later View-Master sets that used pictures of 3D models, this one featured stereoscopic photos of people dressed like agents, or maybe the Blues Brothers, posed to demonstrate the action of the story. My personal favorite is the riveting "Bob Works Late Making his Official Report" slide, # 13 on disk 2! I can't imagine any child not being thrilled beyond repair thinking of a future of late-night paperwork at the F.B.I.

Eventually View-Master came up with newer versions like the "talking" View-Master, but I'll always have a soft spot for the old brown plastic viewer. Definitely Better Than Awesome!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

How Phobic Are you?

Have you noticed how often people get accused of being "-phobic" about something? What used to be a suffix with a specific clinical definition has become a label that instantly dismisses someone's objections as being rooted in fear and, therefore, groundless. The term has wormed it's way into popular culture which, through it's over-use as a rather patronizing attack against critics, has bled it of any real meaning. You don't like KFC? You must be pullusophobic! Don't like me stealing from your store? How can you be so kleptophobic? Then I started to wonder....what kinds of "-phobics" would describe some classic monster movie stars?

Frankenstein's monster-obviously pyrophobic, what with all those torches being swung at him. Clearly, he didn't appreciate the villager's friendly attempts to show him how to write his name against the night sky. Therapy: Listen to The Doors try to set his night on fire.

King Kong-aeroplanophobic! fear of airplanes! Typical "luddite" reaction when introduced to a new technology-destroy it! Obviously, Kong's son thought him seriously out-of-date, which probably inspired him to dye himself white in rejection of his father's archaic and patronizing attitudes. Therapy: hug a carry-on.

Sinbad-cyclophobic! How else would you describe his aversion to the Cyclops in 7th Voyage? Of course, one could recommend he "get in touch with his inner cyclops", but that would just cause all kinds of potential trouble. Therapy: try to really dig monocles

Captain Patrick Hendry-vegetaphobic! The hero from The Thing from Another World obviously had "issues" with high fibre greens, and may have even struck out with a comely vegan at some point. Therapy: take anger out on "comedian" carrot top.

Major Cummings: cephaloreperophobic! The lead in "Fiend Without a Face" obviously had an irrational bias against crawling brains, as evidenced by his hyper-aggresive behavior towards those shy and misunderstood little critters who only wanted to jump up and hug him! Therapy: embrace his inner cauliflower