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70's and 80's Recollections

This page is completely self-serving in its attempt to recapture memories that have shaped who I am.  (Incidentally, congratulations to all the 70’s marketing departments of toy, snack, and pro sports companies.)  Of course, none of this would be possible without the annual Sears Christmas Wish Book Catalog, which would arrive at our house in early September allowing me a mere three months to complete my research for completing the optimal Christmas wish list with databases, cross-references, and numerous drafts.

 

I also owe a tremendous gratitude to afterschool tv reruns which allowed me to solidfy the memorization of episodes and fine-tune a believable dialogue delivery for future round-table discussions with my elementary school colleagues on analysis of Gilligan’s Island, The Brady Bunch, and Leave It to Beaver.  Also I would be remiss if I didn’t give these shows some credit for me from any potentially mind-expanding and personal growth educational opportunities.  Last, I can proudly state I still know the opening and ending verses of Gilligan’s Island AND The Flintstones.

7. My Mid-70s Tour of Duty

It’s 5am. Been up since 4:30. Finding it difficult to focus on the mission today.

The Ag Report just began. That means 30 minutes and counting to Casper. Just need to focus. Going to be a long shift. Need first round of rations to get the edge- Rice Krispies, top off with a mountain of sugar.

5:45 Find myself cheering against that lame friendly ghost halfway through the story. Why would anyone want to be his friend? Not because he’s a ghost, but because he comes off with…an oatmeal sans sugar breakfast personality. 15 minutes to Bullwinkle to wash away the taste of this garbage cartoon.

 

6am Finally, sugar starting to kick in. High expectations for a Whatsamotta U & Mr. Peabody/Sherman story.

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6:28 That makes my work all worthwhile! Now two minutes to dash to kitchen, decide Fruity Pebbles or Apple Jacks to get into 3rd gear for SuperFriends!

6:31 Made it just in time for intro! Went with Fruity Pebbles. Sense of balance is improving dramatically by carrying cereal bowl filled to brim with milk to sofa, placing on arm rest and chowing down. Spill chance %? Zero! This is ambrosia, food of the Gods. I have my right arm securely but gently wrapped around bowl, and I’m already sitting at the appropriate angle to watch the tv screen intently so there’s no adjusting, no bouncing until I can turn this bowl upside down and not a drop will fall. Now, to the SuperFriends. What asshole can they jack up today? Aquaman is sweet.

7:35 Hong Kong Phooey isn’t do it today. Check Jetsons. Ahh, repeat. Have a few minutes to regroup. Starting to feel a little puckish.

7:50 Catch Schoolhouse Rock. See if we can catch the preamble thingy. The tune is catchy “We the people in order to form a more perfect union…” Topic is a bit old though…almost two hundred years ago. Lets move on to something happening now, like Sonny & Cher!

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8am Apple Jacks has been ripening in milk for five minutes. Perfection. Roof of mouth has been protected. In fact, don’t even have the necessity to chew them. They

go down well with the pinkish hue tainted milk. Why don’t they sell Apple Jacks milk as its own product? I’d drink it every day.

 

Wacky Races gets too convoluted with all its characters. Would like to laugh like Muttly though. This will be a good time to get build up stamina with station training- bounce on sofa and touch ceiling. Jump from sofa to chair to beanbag to tv. Change channel without touching the floor. Good workout! We’re halfway there! Don’t let up!

8:30 caught another Schoolhouse Rock- Multiplication song rocks! Flipped channel right to Bugs just in time for beginning! Please Please Barber of Seville or Hasenpfeffer!

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9:15 Ralph Wolf and Sam Sheepdog take the spotlight! Magnifique!

9:30 Scooby Doo!!!! I have to say those Scooby Snacks look sooo good. Can’t some candy company come up with something like that for me?

9:56 It was the amusement park manager?? Didn’t see that coming.

10am Now, time to get serious! A break from the kids’ cartoons to reality- Land of the Lost! I’m sure Chaka has a dark side that’s going to come out one of these episodes.

Holly and the pigtails….

10:30 More reality! Sigmund & the Sea Monsters. I wish I could hang with Sigmund. Wonder if he goes to the bathroom…

 

Speaking of bathroom, have to figure a good time period where I don’t miss any of the episode. Timing will have to be impeccable. And, as I’m going through the kitchen, might as well finish up the food portion of the shift with a bowl of Grape Nuts. Don’t forget sugar in bowl before putting in the cereal, and then topping the cereal off with a generous spoonful.

 

Surprisingly, I’m feeling very buoyant and bounding with energy. After this shift is over,

I should think of something productive to do.

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11am Fat Albert. Rudy is so smooth. Can’t wait to wear clothes like him when I get older. Listen closely for this week’s No Class joke. It will be used during Monday Morning recess time. Oh, have to remember to call Aquaman for Monday Morning Superfriends playtime too.

 

Yes! Russell always gets Rudy! Wonderful comedic timing. Honestly, I can’t understand half of what Mushmouth says. You’d think he would eventually become embarrassed and just not talk anymore.

11:30 Energy depleting fast. Here comes Kukla, Fran & Ollie. Another foreign children’s film…? This is 1974 and I live in the U.S of A. Let’s see animated cartoons or very cheap costumes on cute monsters. It’s not the Cold War anymore. It’s not the Age of Aquarius. It’s the Age of Shameless Marketing to Easily Influenced Children! Evil Knievel! Six Million Dollar Man! We are not as easily entertained as our parents were. We need more than a doll than doesn’t speak and doesn’t need a change of clothes, unless it’s an action figure, who has to stay in his costume lest his secret identity be found out. That said, still waiting for response from toy company on my idea for faces of secret identity with a mask added for super hero. I don’t understand production so I’ll leave that to them.

Anyway, think I’ll punch out right now. It was a grind this week. Compelling storylines and characters were a rarity. This tour finishes in Spring 1975. If I’m not burned out, might re-up for one more year. In this kind of work, you can’t plan too far into the future. Before lunch think I’ll go outside and run around the house 100 times.

6. Brands Are a Man’s Best Friend

I don’t get it. My wife can look at a purse, handbag, or shoes and know if it’s a Louis Vitton, Cartier, or Chanel. The fashion brands. From someone who wore pink corduroys his mother had picked up at a garage sale, the ability to understand AND the interest to understand is beyond my comprehension, especially when you see the price tags.

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Though when I was an impressionable young boy I was manipulated by corporate marketing executives at an alarming rate. My own branding consciousness got out of control in the late 70’s when I was in a sports fugue state. I wanted, I desired, I needed any goods that could associate me with my teams, especially if they had cool colors and logos. Even I knew it was a serious addiction when I put a purchased Tampa Bay Rowdies pennant on my wall despite never watching a soccer game in my life. It was a call for help.

Now before all of you look at me in pity, just hold on a sec. It was a different time. Nowadays anything is available anywhere. Back then, we had a choice of items available in the Sears catalog, at a pro sporting event, or a special marketing campaign. I once scored a San Antonio Spurs t-shirt from five Rice Krispies box tops and $1. (Looking back, why the hell didn’t I go all over town collecting box tops?) What a deal!

Nary those options, it took research, some ingenuity, and, most importantly, a very forgiving mother who would dutifully put out stamps for envelopes going to most major league franchises, and major university bookstores, asking for catalogs and information on where to buy the team’s goods. As my mother would soon find out, the stamp expense was going to pale in comparison to product costs mentioned in all those catalogs the marketing departments of those teams joyfully sent to me.

 

By showing my commitment to my branding product project, I was able to coerce my mother into investing in my hobby. This is where I did some of my best psychology experiments. Never knowing how the capital provider (mom) would respond to a purchase requisition, I had to figure in how much she thought my attachment to the team was, compare it to the cost requested, and determine whether the investee (me) needed said funds. I remember getting a very cool DePaul Blue Demons no sleeve t-shirt that had Property of Blue Demons written on it.

A Houston Astros cap. Some

requests were deemed unnecessary and unreasonable. I wasn’t going to be getting a jersey or jacket. Those would never pass the cost check. One item that did pass and I threw it in as a lark, never in my wildest imagination would it get okayed was an official University of Arkansas “Hog Hat”. It was plastic mold in the shape of a very stout razorback hog with some foam coating to help rest on your head. I often saw them on tv at Arkansas football and basketball games. Yes, I wore it occasionally. I was a weird kid and it got me attention, aligning me with a team no one else had a clue about in northern Minnesota.

 

I never got a chance to accumulate my psychology data and see if I could establish some boundary lines, but I think I can safely say most purchases were accepted if I commiserated with her complaint the room was hot and if my dad had not been out drinking the previous night.

 

There was another time my mother shocked me. At Christmas in 1986, I had started to put my childish sporting team brands behind me. Now I was sporting a mullet and some scraggly facial hair under my nose, masquerading as a very poor moustache. Very mature look. Anyway, my mother gave me an item I didn’t even knew existed, but she knew I wanted dearly- a University of Maryland Len Bias basketball jersey. Len Bias has tragically died the previous summer. It was all over the news for months and I think my mother had seen it mentioned on tv and on her own contacted the university. It’s a wonderful thing to see your parents do such a nice thing after you’ve trained them for so many years.

 

I wore that jersey for the next several years every time I played basketball and I can’t remember the number of times I was asked where I got it and it I wanted to sell it.

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And that was that. Time to put away your juvenile interests, Peter Pan. Time to don suits to look professional and be bored silly. Coincidentally, when all this shaving and professionalism was going on, suddenly there was a proliferation of pro team goods available at every shopping mall, sporting events, etc. I think my mother believed her religious faith had staved off the deluge of goods until I was out of my teens. But I was fine with it. Honestly, I thought the jerseys looked horrible on adults. Maybe it was because I personally couldn’t afford one, but I never looked at one and thought how can I get one. Maybe it was the thrill of the hunt. If they’re available to anyone, what value can that have? Anyway, my sports team branding days were kaput.

 

They were done…until May 2020. I had noticed online a human interest story on one of my childhood heroes, Andre Dawson, Hall of Fame baseball player. He now owned a much needed funeral home in his hometown and was the main employee jack-of-all-trades in its operation.

I was impressed with my man and passed along the article to my sister who responded that she had heard his story on a radio show. This set me thinking that I wanted to honor him somehow. How to pay homage? I looked on the internet for Andre Dawson goods and I saw his jersey and had that feeling I hadn’t felt in 30 years- how can I get that?

I realized years prior when the caps and jersey explosion happened the reason it didn’t interest me was simple. It wasn’t the ease of obtaining the jersey. It wasn’t the cost. It was the jerseys themselves. Current player jerseys were being sold. But these athletes weren’t the players that I copied batting stances, shooting or throwing motions. They had neither formed my childhood memories, nor had me staring at their trading cards. They meant nothing to me. But Now! Old retired players of the past had their jerseys available, and the toothpaste was out of the tube.

Once I purchased Andre’s Montreal Expos road jersey, I found my fingers still tapping.

Now I had to pay homage to George Brett, and since I had now found a time machine back to my youth, I decided to make a list of my favorite players in each sport and find jerseys or shirts to brand myself, similar to tattoos. The list grew, and included Andre’s Expos home jersey, along with his Cubs home jersey. George’s home and away jerseys. Ken Stabler, Jack Tatum, Chuck Muncie, Kellen Winslow, Mike Schmidt, Drew Pearson, Rod Carew, Dave Cowens, George Gervin, Sidney Moncrief(pro & college), Fernando Valenzuela, and even Thurman Munson from the hated Yankees (I always respected him).

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I had collegiate jerseys made of Michigan’s Rickey Green and Rick Leach, Notre Dame’s Ken McAfee, and DePaul’s Clyde Bradshaw. I found Maryland’s Len Bias jersey and teammate Adrian Branch’s Australian Basketball League Brisbane Bears one.

The shopping spree culminated with a 1976 Philadelphia 76ers warmup jersey. This purchase was odd as in my childhood the only team that rivaled my hatred of the New York Yankees was the Philadelphia 76ers. I loved any team that played against them, but strangely this glorious item I once looked at with distain I was now staring at lovingly.  With a red white blue collar, a shape of Independence Hall and the ’76 symbol on the front, the cracked Liberty Bell on the back. It contains all the funk this white old man can handle and then some.

The nostalgia drug is a strong one and led to a few more relapses. This time the brand shirts I sought were movie/tv related from my period of self-realization- Jaws, Rocky, Farrah Fawcett, ABC Wide World of Sports, and the coup de grace, Battle of the Network Stars. And with that itch scratched again, I felt relief. Will I ever wear all of these?

I answer “Who cares?” All I know is that 10-year old Ryan comfortably knowing they are all in his closet, ready to be called up at any time.

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5. When I Learned There Is No God

October 9, 1977. 10 years old. It wasn’t supposed to happen that soon, though looking back, being born and raised in northern Minnesota I should’ve picked up on the signs earlier. Ignorance aside, I had been unfairly deceived earlier that summer. In fact, my belief in the Lord was at its maximum peak on June 8, 1977. What transpired in four short months that destroyed a childhood and bore a cynic is the story I’m about to recreate, forcing me to relive this precipitous fall in the hope it will ease the heaviness and help me live a prosperous tranquil life for my remaining days on this earth.

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See, my life was completely 100% invested in sports (when I wasn’t thinking about Farrah Fawcett or Suzanne Somers), and in the baseball realm it was invested in the Kansas City Royals, with my hero, George Brett, leading the way. I locked into the Royals the previous season when George won the batting title over Minnesota Twin Rod Carew, and then in the playoffs when they faced the big shot city slicker New York Yankees. George was feisty and fantastic and they took those big shots to a final Game 5, tied in the ninth inning, when Chris Chambliss hit a HR to send the Yankees to the World Series and left my Royals sucking their teeth, being presented with the Hardest Worker trophy.

Now it was spring of ’77 and after spending the last few months devouring The Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, Baseball Digest, etc., hope was bursting at the seams and expectations flowing over. I knew the starting lineup, the batting order, the platoons, the rotation. The Royals had the champion gene look, and I knew this was a story of underdog losing round one and avenging the previous loss in round two.

I jumped up every morning to check the box scores in the newspaper and picked through the Royals’ games thoroughly to get a flavor of their games. It wasn’t very often they were on The Game of the Week on Saturday afternoons so this analysis helped cloak me in Royal Blue. This was the process of being a fan for a team far away from your home. It wasn’t as if my family would be going to Kansas City (700 miles) to take in a game, and I never even hoping or spent one thought hoping or wishing for it. The closest MLB park was in Bloomington, MN (350 miles), Metropolitan Stadium, for the Minnesota Twins and I didn’t even summon a prayer to go see them. I had seen them on The Game of the Week and accepted my lot in life as someone who admired from afar. I hadn’t been selected by the Lord as one of those kids at the games with the gloves dangling from their weak wrists waiting for a foul ball, and I was fine with it.

Then something changed. Someone else wished and hoped FOR me. It was my parents. I wasn’t aware but my dad had friends in high places- The Schweigert guy, responsible for delivering delicious pork goods to stores all over the Midwest and, most importantly, the exclusive supplier of hot dogs to the Minnesota Twins. Dad tells Hot Dog guy his goofy kid digs the Royals, Hot Dog guy does his thing, and my mom presents to me actual paper tickets for the K.C. Royals vs Minnesota Twins game at Metropolitan Stadium June 8, 1977. I think all I could feel was fear and trepidation, wondering what accident, sickness, tragedy was going to befall us to prevent me from being able to be present at the game.

I mean, c’mon, I wasn’t one of those chosen kids. When did we ever drive 350 miles? Especially to go watch a ball game. To this point, the most beloved car trip we had taken was six miles north of home to Dairy Queen (strawberry malt or banana split with just strawberry topping), and even that wasn’t frequent enough to be taken for granted. Me and the Kansas City Royals in the same vicinity? Didn’t seem even remotely possible even after I had seen the tickets. And seen them I did. For a week, every day I went to my parent’s bedroom to look at the tickets on the dresser. Were they official? Do we have the correct date? I had to be vigilant to make sure nothing had been overlooked. Additionally, I laid low all week to avoid getting a cold, get hurt playing, or getting in trouble that would prevent us from going. I just shut my bedroom door for a week, set the timer, and just counted down.

Of course, being from northern Minnesota, I did my civic duty and checked the weather forecast every day, looking for the massive storm cell that would prove to be the barrier to keep us from traveling. Once stranded at home I’d be forced to listen on the radio broadcast on that day that they had never seen brighter skies in the Twin Cities area. Imagination is a wonderful thing for 10 year olds, isn’t it?

 

So there we were in the car headed south to Minneapolis/St. Paul, me alternately checking my mother’s purse that the tickets were indeed in our possession and looking up at the sky trying to determine what direction those clouds were headed and if they consisted of rain. Right around late afternoon when we entered the outskirts of the metro area, the clouds vanished and the sun shone of hope, the hope I had previously kept to myself in fear of being let down. And when we pulled into the parking lot of

Metropolitan Stadium, I was beginning to feel blessed. The Lord hadn’t struck any of us down. In fact, the Lord had provided us his generosity with tickets, a safe trip, and wonderful weather. I was ready to walk on the hot coals for our Creator if he could just get us into the stadium. I was fairly sure some official person would look at the tickets, then us, and then expose us to anyone within an earshot exclaiming in an old movie persnickety hotel concierge voice, “I’m sorry, you can’t use these. You don’t belong here. Go away. Go back up north, you vermin.”

 

Luckily, we had a pimply-faced high school kid take our tickets and our secret was safe. We made our way through the concourse of the erector set-like stadium and I had my first sight of a major league park- beautifully manicured grass, groundskeeper watering the dirt, and the wonderful overwhelming scent of chewing tobacco. And about 25 rows below in front of the 3rd base dugout, right in front of me just hanging out were my Kansas City Royals. I wish I had photos of this as I’d like to know what I looked like during my first experience of being high. We were standing at the fringe of the box seats and I was soaking in all the ambiance I could as I’m was sure once we went to our seats I’d never experience a view like this again.

 

As mother showed the usher our tickets, instead of pointing a finger up to the 2nd deck for hicks, he proceeded walking down TOWARD the field. Don’t tease me, Mr. Usher. Each step closer is raising my belief in humanity and eternal life. Finally, he stopped. The podunks who had driven 350 miles to the big city were sitting in the 1st row behind the 3rd base dugout which was occupied by THE Kansas City Royals. I was at Jesus disciple level.

 

Standing in front of me was Manager Whitey Herzog, Amos Otis, my mom’s favorite Freddie Patek, and hooooly shit (sorry God)- my hero- George Brett. My mom said in her later years she could still see my face all lit up like a pinball machine that night. Yeah, I got all their autographs (except Larry Gura-jackass-he’ll get his). Got to see Frank White and Hal McRae look into the crowd for the dumbasses shouting blatantly racist barbs just before they returned to the dugout. Got to hear professional beer peddlers blurt their signature pitches. I can still clearly hear the mellifluous “Cold beer. Bottle of beer!” from a man who had been smoking non-filtered cigarettes for a few decades.

 

The Royals lost 9-8 in 10 innings, but I didn’t care as this was the single most wonderful

day of my life, a transcendental moment that can only happened with an assist from an almighty being.

 

After that game, the Royals seem jumpstarted by meeting me and ran to a 102-60 record, easily winning the division and earning home-field advantage in the American League Championship Series against, yes, the New York Yankees. Buoyed by my faith, I wasn’t fazed by the opponent and was feeling optimistic, even cocky after Yankee Killer, Paul Splitorff was masterful in a Game 1 victory. This put us in a VERY good position. There was still one game at Yankee Stadium, but after that we had three games at Royals Stadium and we only had to win two.

 

Lost game two, but asking for two wins at Yankee Stadium seems like asking the Lord for two miracles, so no problem. On to K.C.!

 

Game 3 was crucial and Dennis Leonard was up to the task throwing a complete game to put the Royals on the brink of the World Series with two games to go!! Just needed one of the last two. And with Splitorff throwing a Game 5 if necessary, it took all my willpower to suppress my celebrating. Also, the Yankees were infighting and grumbling, the story was set for redemption, faith, and good over evil.

Game 4 was Saturday afternoon, October 8. Nothing was going to keep me from witnessing the moment the Royals eliminated the Yankees. Unfortunately, Larry Gura, who spurned my autograph request in June, got rocked from the start and the Royals fell behind. Still, the gritty Royals fought back and got to within 5-4 in 4th inning. The Yankees were now reeling and needed to peek into their bullpen. This was perfect. Royals would drill the Yankees relievers, wrap up the game and Splittorff would be ready for Game 1 of World Series. That’s EXACTLY how I would’ve written the script.

The only problem was Billy Martin, Manager of the Yankees, knew what I knew. He had no option other than to go to his closer, Sparky Lyle, the Cy Young Award winner. Note to non-baseball people, the closer typically only pitches the 9th inning when they are ahead, thus “close” the game. Occasionally, they might come into a jam in the 8th.

Almost never in the 7th. And no %#&*#% way will they ever come into a game in the 4th inning!!!!!! Except today. Billy knew Sparky was their only chance. Sparky came in to get the last out of the 4th inning and didn’t leave until he finished it in the 9th. Five 1/3 innings of relief.  My celebratory feeling dissipated and the clouds of anxiety arrived, hovering just above me. Where was the Creator of the Universe when you needed him?  Maybe this was the work of the Devil?

Game 5- October 9, 1977

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Game 5 was to be in the evening after all the football games of the day which gave me an opportunity to stew about this all day long, which I spent ta to telling myself to take deep breaths. Look, it was in Royals Stadium. Home field advantage.

We had our ace, Paul Splittorff going which had to make the Yankees feel ill. Also, news reports had Billy Martin benching star Reggie Jackson as he couldn’t hit water falling out of a boat against Splittorff. It could still be a glorious evening. And it was right up through the 7th inning. Royals had a 3-1 lead going into the eighth. Just needed to get the leadoff guy out and keep the boot on the Yankees’ throat.

 

Willie Randolph leads off with a hit. I think something just came up my throat. Splittorff leaves. Now I’m having trouble keeping down whatever is in my throat. With two runners on, one out, this is the moment when all my toil is redeemed by the Lord. Billy calls his star Reggie off the bench to pinch-hit. Perfect. He will either strikeout or hit into a double-play. Please!

I’m now begging. I’ve prayed. I’ve given. Now I want something in return!

 

Reggie gets a hit and there is a feeling in the air that this wave of Yankee confidence is growing in power. So the Lord wants to punish me by forcing me to witness this? Well, I can only combat that by fleeing to my room and shoving my face in my pillow to shut off everything. How much fun is it now, God, that I’m not paying any attention? Maybe my lack of interest will stem the Almighty’s contempt in me.

 

I wait for someone from my family to come tell me its ok and to come back to watch- but they didn’t. They had no good news to report OR… maybe they wanted to surprise me when it was all over. I’m sure that’s it, so I crept back near the tv room. I asked if it was ok to go in. No reply. When I heard the announcers mention Yankee comebacks I bolted back to my room with the alacrity of a scared jackrabbit. I put the pieces together. The Lord did purposely hurt me. I sobbed, showing contrition, hoping it would turn the tide. My mom came to my room. I wanted hear her in a vibrant tone say the Royals won, but she didn’t. All she did was rub me on the back and say “I’m sorry, Ry.”

 

The water pipes broke in my eyes and my pillow was a casualty. The shrieks and hyperventilating only victimized myself. I would’ve enjoyed it if the Almighty had been forced to listen to my suffering, but after that June to October play’s conclusion I had to come to the determination not even Satan would play a 10-year old so viciously. Therefore, through scientific deduction I can only conclude there is no God.

 

Epilogue-

 

My finding was confirmed the following week as the Yankees won the World Series behind Reggie Jackson hitting three home runs in Game 6 and having a candy bar named after him.

4. Indentured Servitude

As a 10 year old and youngest member of the family, I often found myself on the sideline when it came to “helping out”. Yes, being allowed to have my milk and oatmeal raisin cookies (FYI-the best cookies) while watching Brady Bunch reruns is a position I’d love to be in again, but never being “needed” was also concerning. Other classmates talking about sparkplugs and manifolds made me feel I was destined to become a “Mama’s Boy”, a phrase my father was oft heard repeating just about the time I was heading into the house crying.

 

It was time I had to get off the dole, so I applied for the position of part-time mower at the family yard. I watched my brother push a mower with subtle confidence and thought I could find the time in my schedule every so often to walk back and forth pushing a machine. In the lawn management foreman’s infinite wisdom he turned my offer down flatly. I think he told me they were fully staffed. Of course, now I realize how unprepared I was to handle a job, negotiate a fair contract, be a man of menial labor. But at the time, I just wanted to prove besides my adorability and impish charm I was to be valued. I could do something beneficial for the family. While I would prefer to develop a most effective tv schedule meeting everyone’s needs or assign cereal to each member, I knew personal growth involved sweat and toil, i.e. yardwork.

 

How naïve. So green. I want to tell that boy to go back inside and curl up to Leave It To Beaver. Couldn’t I run various probability scenarios through my mind and use analytics to do a risk/reward assessment? The foreman was a shrewd card player and had gotten a look at my hand with my sudden interest in work. Now he played it like Cool Hand Luke by raising the bet a little.

 

“Hmmm… I’m not sure. Mowing is not fun and games,” he said.

 

I raised him by telling him I’ll show him right now I’m old enough and mature enough.

 

He called,

“Ok, here, just mow this square.”

 

There, check this hand out. I zipped up and back with a nice pace, completing the task as good as, if not better, than my brother…

 

At first glance it appeared I had emerged victorious, but looking closer, the jackpot was his.

 

Being inexperienced and blindly unaware kept me from realizing I had just auditioned, interned, and received the baton as the new lawn mowing attendant, which had an unbreakable contract until I moved out and my foreman and supervising manager signed off on it.

 

The supervising manager didn’t have many dealings with the staff regarding lawn details, and that was fine with me. If she did have to talk to me it was not going to be how pleased she was with the work, so the less involved, the better. My immediate supervisor was the foreman. In addition to poker, the foreman was deft in negotiations.

As this was my first job I was excited I would have comic book money galore so I inquired as to the compensation, stock options, bonuses I would receive.

 

“You ARE getting paid. You have a roof over your head and you get fed every day.”

 

Child labor laws hadn’t been officially recognized quite yet in this area of the United States.

 

The yard took 2-3 hours each time, and with regular rains, twice a week was not rare. Now to the amateur eye, this may appear to a small chore where summer days are long and lazy. But that untrained eye would not discern the additional related activities, such as-

Cleaning out the bottom of the mower (15 min)

Adding gas and oil check (10 min)

Bitching about all the above (4 hours)

 

Here are the top excuses used in the bitching process-

It’s too wet, clouds look menacing, grass not long enough yet, after this show finishes, and, the best one, the mower didn’t start. It was always available to be used on any necessary mental health day for a 10 year old. An there was never a better Carpe Diem Day than when you did a half-assed tug of the lawn mower cord and it didn’t start. The excuse was set. It didn’t start. That was the truth. From that point until 6pm you owed it to yourself to make that day count because when the foreman came home and

pulled the cord your Seize the Moment Day was possibly going to become My Throat was Seized Day.

 

The dressing down one took on those days would make me vow to never try that stunt again, but that’s why there are rehab centers. People swear not to do something, and they end up doing it. Most of us are recidivists, and I was an abuser of “the mower didn’t start” excuse around three times a summer.

 

Around the age of 12, I started requisitioning for a riding lawn mower, promoting the efficiency and time-savings. The foreman was quite old-fashioned, hard-headed, stubborn, and just plain mean. He saw lawn mowing as an opportunity to “build up my legs”. Well, maybe I should thank him because that is the only part of my body that resembles an area on a body builder. Though I think the real reason he eschewed a rider was, besides costing money, he didn’t want it to appear the tail was wagging the horse.

 

In our contract, apparently in small print, he had the option to utilize me in the fall and winter when grass quit growing. Suddenly, on a whim, he developed an interest in cutting wood and burning it throughout the winter to cut back on heating expenses. My job was putting the wood down to cut, getting out of the way, and putting down another log. After the cutting was the picking up the pieces and stacking. I was not aware how knowledgeable this Abe Lincoln-wannabe was at stacking wood. He would explain the essence of the stacked pile and the functionality of a properly stacked pile of wood. Despite knowing all the subtleties of a properly constructed wood pile, he lacked some serious foresight on where he wanted the wood pile. I got a lot of experience in wood pile stacking, which I haven’t been able to use in my adult career yet, because the foreman liked to change up the spots and needed the pile moved every few weeks. It was almost liked he didn’t care to see my sloth-like presence in the winter and decided to unilaterally transform it.

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When I reached my teen years and started high school, I had been an indentured servant for five, six years, my tolerance decreasing and my vocabulary expanding. This was never more apparent than when the foreman began having visions. These visions included developing the yard to include the five-acre plot where our horses used to be kept but now just existed as a resort haven for insects, snakes, and weeds. So many weeds. Some that had stems as thick as fully grown bamboo and reached 10 feet tall by late summer, which is exactly when the foreman introduced me to his project plan and handed me some new responsibilities. Cutting down alllllll the weeds so he could advance closer to his addled-brain vision. This period of the summer also coincided with summer football practice, a rare event which sucked the life out of every participating teenager, so the fact he waited until the END of summer when everything has grown to its full capacity to unleash his brilliance was going to be a major contention with labor.

It was a sticky August early evening that just smelled of resentment and unfulfilled wishes. A collision of considerable magnitude was going to occur when the foreman found his weeds still breathing and the scythe placed exactly where he had put it the day before. Management vs Labor in a long-awaited battle of wills where possibly only one would survive.

As the teenage lawn attendant, I knew I would be getting my driving license soon so this laborer’s stance against management lessened as car usage privileges would most certainly be brought up in negotiations. Thus, I acceded to the foreman’s demand, but that didn’t mean I had to enjoy it. Encompassed by weeds that hung over me like those bully trees in The Wizard of Oz, I started the process of slicing, chopping and dropping these weeds like a skilled swordsman. It was actually cathartic. Just thought about the foreman, sprinkled in a few obscenities, and the event was made somewhat enjoyable, until…

 

the foreman suddenly appeared from the dense brush in mid-sentence of a wonderfully scripted string of foul-mouthed words that featured him as the subject, or object, I can’t remember. It probably wasn’t worded grammatically correct. Anyway, absorbing the awkwardness of the situation, I knew I could go one of two ways- shut up or continue with the same verve. I double-downed and frantically wielded the scythe in an uncontrollable fashion, thrashing back and forth exclaiming “#@*&%?@#!”

 

The foreman double-downed too!

 

“Thatta boy! Yeah! Get angry! Yeah! That’s it! Good job!”

 

While I honestly possessed the foreman’s stubbornness I lacked the staying power. I slowed to a rolling stop to find I HAD HAD blisters on every pad of my hands and fingers, but had ripped open all said blisters, completely torn off the blistered skin, and now was left with two hands filled with raw dark red dots indicating a severe lack of epidermis in

those areas.

 

While my hands had been sacrificed in the battle, a mutual respect was gained between the foreman and myself. We worked together to develop a beautiful landscape of the five acres all the way to the river of the property. Of course, this resulted in more job responsibilities, specifically the mowing job going from three hours to eight -hours. Surprisingly, this time the mowing got done regularly and without tricks or excuses, possibly related to car usage privileges.

The foreman’s visions didn’t stop there. If you grow them, they will come. The growing meant pumpkins. As for who will come, well I wasn’t privy to that info. The plan was to utilize the entire yard for a cottage industry of pumpkin/gourd production. This required turning over our lovely new yard shovel by shovel into a garden, which would become a revenue-generating hobby farm.

 

The completion of the foreman’s dreams happened right about the time I, the youngest and last of the brood, was leaving home. Of course, I would make it back each year, along with the others, for a harvest weekend that begat annual get-togethers and many of the family’s best memories.

 

So it was us, the ones who will come. I can still see the supervising manager observing from her home base director’s chair, and the foreman directing all of his now independent adult children, carefully observing how the pumpkins were carried, proper cleaning methods, and, most importantly, making sure no one break a pumpkin stem, the most punishable offence at the pumpkin harvest.

 

Inevitably, with all of us going to find our own paths, the harvest weekends and hobby farm died a slow death, becoming mainly a

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mowing yard again. Only this time, a riding lawn mower was deemed to be the way to go.

Every year around August I find these memories swarming my mind, like sturdy Minnesota mosquitoes. You know what, I don’t miss mowing. I even own a house with no yard. Just a rock garden. Honest. I decided I’ve mowed enough for a lifetime. And I still think my presentation to follow Mike Brady’s’ idea and put artificial turf down as a yard could’ve been a monumental change in the U.S landscaping history.

 

Despite my long-checkered career and harsh criticism I received as a lawn attendant for the foreman and supervising manager, I would give anything for one more weekend of domineering demands and brusque orders. No mowing though please.

3. Bubs

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According to the sign on the side of the road, the small village where I grew up had a mere 338 people, but every time we had a pick-up baseball, basketball, and football game it seemed at least a 100 of that population was right around our age group and always available.  A game of bike-tag created far more traffic in the five by two block town than the number of automobiles seen that day.

 

Nothing was ever scheduled, ever planned.  You just stepped out of the house and unconsciously followed the assortment of screams and shrieks coming from a concentrated area.  This was how we spent all day, morning to evening, in the summer. No parental involvement, unless it was to get a tuna fish sandwich and some chips. Followed by guzzling Kool-Aid straight from the pitcher, spilling a few drops on the floor creating an adhesive muck later used in mouse trap R&D.  Completing the lunch break experience required leaving just an infinitesimal amount of liquid in the container to foist the refilling responsibility onto another, praying to God it wasn't mom.  Incidents like this made us persona non grata in the house during the day.  I didn't understand it then, but now its become so obvious.  Who wants their kid watching The Price is Right, Wheel of Fortune (yes, morning Chuck Worley edition), and General Hospital?  But some days, late July/early August it was even too hot to play sports, too humid to complain.  And we didn't have matinee movie theatres.  No game arcades.  All we had was Bubs.

 

To try to explain who Bubs was in a single sentence is an act of futility.  In the simplest term, he was our Renaissance Man.  In sports, he was the fastest, strongest.  In comics, he always had the latest, most popular editions.  He was also the most artistic, drawing muscular superheroes with an uncanny similarity.  He was the first one into KISS.   And during the dog-days of summer, he was a one-man Harlem Globetrotter-like entertainment extravaganza.  We would just plop our butts down on the grass and let Bubs take the reins.


He would recite Rich Little's latest appearance; he would transform into The Incredible Hulk at cars passing through our zero stop light hamlet.  He would sing and dance his latest songs he had written just for us.  It's hard to recall Hairy Larry and Booger School without tears welling up in the corners of my eyes.  Many an afternoon was spent watching this routine, sometimes

altered to introduce recent news items.  I recall, with no request on my part, Bubs going over scene by scene a whole movie he had just seen.  A one-man show on a movie called Star Wars which left quite an impression on him.  I think the time it took for him to go over the whole movie was comparable to the movie run time , or at least it felt like it to me.  Although I had no interest in the movie and didn't really listen to what he was saying, I was still mesmerized by the level of commitment he made to something he relished.  One time on our first day back from Christmas vacation, the day when most wear something they got for Christmas, Bubs went all in.  No reservation or qualm in wearing legitimate football pants, an 88 purple jersey representing his hero, Alan Page of the Minnesota Vikings, and the very large and very plastic shoulder pads not so cleverly hidden under that jersey.  Though we all stared and thought it was a bit unconventional, it was Bubs and wasn't questioned.  While I wasn't going down the same path to copy his look, I was impressed with his lack of concern of what others thought and his courage to stand out, especially as our circle widened.

Our town is a few miles south of a mid-sized city that had five elementary schools we played against in sports.  The "city kids" looked down at us.  Understandably.  We didn't have a McDonalds or Pizza Hut.  Bubs used this distain from them and, as our William Wallace,  reinforced our crew with unity by dubbing us the Mutants.  There's not a better term that would've mobilized us.

 

I don't know the exact breakdown of the ancestral background, but us Mutants had a distinctive Eastern European look, slipping into puberty much earlier than those decidedly Scandinavian kids from the city.  This provided a rather colossal advantage in our sporting events.  We dominated everything.  Among the Mutants, besides being the fastest and strongest,  Bubs again stood out as the hairiest, covered in hair from head to toe at the age of 11.  At the time little did we know how intimidating our rapidly changing bodies were and the impact it left on those city kids.

 

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From middle school we were mixed together with the city kids who eventually transitioned into friends.  One guy, Kurt, told me in later years he went home after a basketball game shellacking at the hands of the Mutants.  He pleaded to his mother those small town kids were older, had hair under their arms and on the legs, and one was named Bubs.  Kurt's mother was having none of it and told him to go to his room, scolding him for lying and that NOBODY had the name Bubs.

 

The Fall of 5th grade had a flag football league with those same city kids.  They stood no chance.  I was probably the 5th fastest on our team and was still faster than any kid from any city team.  This is no exaggeration.  The coaches of this league did not even bother dealing with us.  Their time and effort were completely monopolized trying to help the city kids.  Mind you, not to try to win the game. That wasn't going to happen.  These coaches were forced into cheerleader mode trying to keep the city kids' precious pride from being trampled, possibly sending them away from the game forever.

 

Bubs was on a completely different level than everyone then.  I can still vividly see him scoring touchdown after touchdown.  Mostly I remember him carrying the football and describing the play as it developed…in Howard Cosell's voice! "and Bubs is going down the sideline.  No one is going to catch him, 30, 20, 10, Touchdown Bubs!"

 

As we got older, entering new schools, we slowly drifted apart- different classes, different friends entering the fold, but the Mutant bond was never broken.  In middle school as a 6th grader, Bubs beat up an 8th grader, solidifying not only his reputation as not to be messed with but it also made us Mutants untouchable.  Association with Bubs made the halls much easier to walk down. 

 

In high school, despite being talented in sports, Bubs put them aside.  I think he didn't want to be confined by coaches or labeled as a jock.  He had a lot he wanted to accomplish and strived to expand his voluminous talents, such as becoming teacher's pet in all the art classes, singing lead in a heavy metal band, and developing the perfect Jesse "The Body" Ventura imitation.

 

As I was on the straight and narrow track of school and sports, interactions with Bubs became sparser, but we always picked up where we left off.  The last time I saw him was at a local watering hole and without even a hello he launched into a 15-minute routine of Vince McMahon and Jesse Ventura.  I should’ve appreciated it more than I did.  I'm now in my 50's and been to many places around the world, and I still don't think I've met someone more original than the kid who grew up down the street from me in that elevator town in rural Minnesota.  And when he died in that car crash at way too young of an age, I can't say I was surprised.  People like him you just don't see getting old and having pains and aches I have now every time I stand up.  They are immortalized at their peak.

 

I remember the first day in kindergarten where the teacher referred to him as Bubs.  You know, I never found out why he was called Bubs.  Some of you might say this is because this character is a figment my imagination, that Bubs is my Tyler Durden.  But I can tell you, and Kurt's mom, he 100% most certainly did exist.  More than most of us.

2. Can't Even See The Strings

Puppeteer (pə-pə-'tir)

-one who manipulates puppets

 

Being born with a few years between you and your siblings creates a couple of interesting dynamics among the family.  One, it allows the woman who brought you into the world complete focus on "her baby", something she did not have time for with the others.  Two, this focus brings a sense of safety to the young one, something the others also most likely never experienced.

 

The others, as we refer to in the most complimentary way, were rushed into the world like they'd been drafted, subject to rigorous drill training- straight lines, shirts tucked in, lips zipped.  The drill sergeant they had been assigned was called Mom, and she had a hair-trigger temper that did not tolerate individual likes or dislikes.  They were a corps unit and needed to be run efficiently.  Although their tour of duty was demanding, they learned skills and developed into fine soldiers, err, I mean, sisters and brother.

 

With the new enlisted boy's arrival, this trained unit was looking forward to supervisory positions where they could give back some of what they had experienced over the past few years.  Shockingly, they found opportunities scarce and that the drill sergeant took a more hands-on kinder, gentler approach with the new recruit.  The drawing of Mother Mary and the baby Jesus comes to mind. The heretofore militaristic mom wallowed in the baby's idiosyncrasies and individual nature.  She also made it known the others were to be 100% supportive in the rearing of this special newbie, included in their support responsibilities were housework and yardwork.  With everything taken care of at home, the mom and baby often took leisurely trips to the library to get a limitless supply of books, followed by a trip to the grocery store for an endless supply of sugary cereals with toys at the bottom of the box. (FYI-those toys were extracted from the box within two minutes after being brought into the house.)  This was the strict set regimen that I, aforementioned as the baby, led until turning seven years old.

 

The period of me being carried around on a pillow ended as soon as society deemed I was to attend an institution to while away the days with others similar to my age.  My siblings were just truckin' on the slippery slope of middle school with smiley stickers sewn on jeans.  They were looking to the near future to catch some of the Spirit of '76 while my dearest mommy was entrusting me to the great unwashed outside my inner circle.  I found myself on my own in a neighborhood asylum .  This is where I learned the hard way the answer to "Do you want your mommy?" was "no."  Any hesitation to respond or any other reply was mocked and ridiculed, not to mention resulted in finger-pointing, always the most damaging of the insults.  Until then I had always enjoyed when my mother pulled me out of school, but this bizarre Children of the Corn-like group, including the former Nazi guards masquerading as teachers, made it seem less than acceptable.  I was confused, befuddled at this new order.  Lucky for me, my personal night bodyguard who slept in the same bed with me, my older brother, who until now looked upon me as a diversion to slip under the radar of our parents, started to take an interest in helping me survey the landscape of elementary school. 

Good ol' brotherly advice.  Lookin' out for each other.  At least, that's what I was led to believe.  In truth my older brother had discovered his little brother was having difficulty making the transition from mommy's embrace to this Lord of the Flies institution.  A vulnerable little brother in need of guidance.  This is what older brothers live for.  Using their younger brethren for experiments and frivolity.  As I look back these are some indelible scenes when my brother honed his manipulative puppeteer skills by duping me into doing everything he told me to do, making me a pawn in his game, a puppet for his amusement.

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Case 1

After picking myself up and dusting myself off numerous times in learning to ride a bike, I had finally been gifted a brand new bike of my own, widening the boundaries, giving me slightly more freedom.  Now I could easily navigate a trip down to the park or school.  But with freedom comes responsibility.

One day after a disagreement with my sitter, a serious matter where she probably tried to make me eat an olive loaf or liverwurst sandwich, I found myself still red with anger into the evening, unable to swallow any pride.  Just seething, trying to come up with a plan to exact revenge.  Unfortunately, a five-year-old is severely limited in developing options in the retaliation arena.  Lucky for me, my brother lent a friendly ear to my story of discontent.  In an Eddie Haskell-like performance, he suggested an option not readily available in my payback file- ripping up my sitter's garden vegetables that were just about ready to be picked.  Wow.  The perfect crime. How will anyone pin that on me?  Can't fingerprint carrot tops and cucumbers plants.  But, somehow, for some reason, I was implicated in the crime from the get-go, and my alibi crumbled under intense interrogation.  Maybe my brother set me up?  Regardless, I lost my bike privileges for a few days with the addendum that my sitter had full reign of MY new bike and could ride and ride as much as she wanted.  This led me to shifting to the right side of the law where I still exist.  Although my brother's involvement was recently divulged to the public, it was kept silent for almost 50 years. For all this time, it was thought I was the mastermind of this incident and led myself to being branded, and still being referred to, as Rynder-Binder-Kick in the Hinder, a pejorative term used around the neighborhood that has forced me to live in infamy for the rest of my life.

Case 2

 

Summertime in the U.S. used to mean free time- time to sleep in, time to run wild all day with no parental involvement, time to sit in front of the tv set when the temps hit 90 degrees, humidity at 90 percent.  I remember watching reruns of reruns and the same commercials over and over, allowing them to solidify within my brain matter for eternity.  Even today if someone starts a sentence with "My" and leaves a sliver of space I will jump in with "bologna has a first name."


Lucky for me, my brother was usually directing the shows we watched.  I had nowhere near the experience of running a tv schedule during the weekday. ( Saturday morning was my instrument of choice and I played it like Stradivarius handled a violin.)  During this important creative period of my life, my brother occasionally undertook the role of choreographer for commercials we watched no less than 100 times each day.  One commercial really stood out and required weeks of concentrated practice- Fig Newtons, horrible in taste, pure genius in commercial production.  They had come up with an advertising scheme showing a plump middle-aged goof dressed in a fig costume introducing a dance- The Newton.  With no less intensity than Bob Fosse, my brother

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over and over repeated the lyrics, demanded crisp movements, and exacted the discipline to beat the timing into me.  But most of all he taught me to enjoy the spotlight by heaping praise upon me.  I had no inkling why we interrupted our tv viewing time to endure such an arduous rehearsal regimen.  The workouts even bled into our bedtime, going over lyrics again and again in bed until I fell asleep from exhaustion.  I guess I saw how much he enjoyed it so I willingly accepted all his teachings and attention, similar to the Jonestown disciples. 

 

Remarkably, lucky for me, right after I had perfected the dance my brother just happened to let our father's softball team know that I would like to perform The Newton for all after the game.  With some slight provoking and his assurance this was the right place, the right time to debut our hard work, I made my way to the 3rd base line for all to see.  This was my first performance for a non-family crowd.  I morphed into the Fig Newton character from the first line and don't even remember what happened next, but I think I became the Fig Newton in that moment.  The resounding clapping and hooting from the crowd was electric.  And my brother, lucky for me, ever the impresario, had subconsciously prepared me for an encore.  He barked "I Want to be Loved by You. Now!"   This meant discarding the Newton persona and shifting 180 degrees into Ginger Grant of Gilligan's Island. An extremely difficult transition, but my brother and his training had me ready with enough confidence to channel  Ginger's allure.  I can still see the men laughing and cackling, though I don't clearly see my father's face.  Possibly he turned away concerned about my obvious delight in taking center stage.  I don't recall seeing my brother's face either.  He was probably off in pre-production for my role in his next young brother freak show.

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Case 3

  

As I got older, now hardened to society's unwritten rules about being tough, I looked to two people to guide me.  Fonzie on Happy Days (a given) and my brother.  Fonzie was easy to emulate, but when you needed reinforcement and encouragement, lucky for me, my brother was usually there.  Never give up and keep trying were the oft-repeated themes he used.  Though not necessarily to strengthen my character but more so that he needed a body to pummel.  Games tended to end quickly with me running to mom with tears down my cheeks, so he learned being more generous in his temperament toward me allowed him to inflict that much more punishment.

 

For example, a game of basketball where my shot was constantly rejected and I got muscled out of a rebound was quickly halted with a "Maaaaaaaahhhhhhm!" and some quickly generated waterworks.  But my brother had an uncanny sense of pushing me right to the brink of out and out bawling and then letting me get a rebound.  This was immediately followed by a brilliantly timed shout of "Cowens!", the star player of the Boston Celtics.  The calling of the name didn't register with me. I had no idea who he was or what that name signified. What I did know was the intensity of his delivery hooked me.  To me it meant, "With that kind of desire nobody can stop you!"  This ploy worked miracles on me just like toy commercials- I wanted, no, I NEEDED to have that flimsy piece of plastic that will cease to work after two days of playing with it.  I NEEDED vocal reinforcement.  

 

In the fall we would have our extremely tedious game of two-man football.  He would kick off, I would return the ball a few yards then get destroyed by a jarring tackle that I partially blame for my shoulders easily dislocating nowadays..  Here he utilized the name Mcafee, a big strapping tight end for Notre Dame.  Every time after he pulled himself off me and witnessed a quiver of my lip he was quick to wrangle up a "Mcafee!" and I would grit my teeth and get ready for another dismantling.  At least until he would eventually shove me into dog poop, which then nothing could stop me from wailing all the way into the house instantly ending our brotherly bonding time.

 

I was prepared to end this by saying his spell of puppetry ended many years ago as I entered my teen years and became a man, or as close as I can become, but that would be untrue.  Last time I saw him was two years ago. 

Like in a dream, I woke up to find myself on top of a ladder positioned on a A-frame roof painting the trim of a higher A-frame roof, standing on a ladder ABOVE the step on the ladder where it's written to NOT step above.  I wish I could be angry I fell for it again, but, in truth, I'm just glad I didn't end up in dog poop this time.

1. The Three Eras of Sears Wishbook

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Being an only child, well, not an only child. I mean I had two sisters and a brother but they were already elementary students while I was just a gleam in my parents’ eyes. Thus, although I was privy to all the hair-pulling, punches, blood-curdling screams of siblings, for all intents and purposes, I was just attending the wrestling matches alone, only participating when I ended up as collateral damage.

 

Due to this diplomatic immunity status, I was, conservatively speaking, spoiled. I know what you’re imagining now that you read that, but I mean spoiled in the sense that I only got what I wanted. At the peak of my Fisher Price dynasty, I had under my domain the one-room school house (with bell), the barn (with mooing door function), and, wait for it, the airport, complete with elevated parking ramp, operable elevator and airplane. Though in retrospect, with the number of accidents this plane encountered under my watch, the airline should’ve ceased operations followed by an FAA investigation.

In addition to the impressive Fixed Asset Infrastructure of Fisher-Priceopolis, I also had enough diverse citizenry to propagate without any concern of inbreeding. While many of the inhabitants of my FisherPrice world had milquetoast personalities, specifically the Farmer and his brood, one lad stood out among everyone- Butch (named by me). This bad MF’er had his cap on sideways, a disgruntled brow, and a stare as serious as a heart attack. My worst nightmare as a child was the fear of running into such a social malcontent in my other world of compulsory school education.

 

As for the Fisher-Price women I had in my corral, I can now admit the school marm with her hair tied back oh so tightly and shapely well-proportioned figure would’ve been very detrimental to my studies if she had existed at the local school. Despite these high marks she receives from me, she was always relegated to the school house, occasionally the barn for a tryst with the Farmer, but she was never seriously considered as a candidate for air transportation. Those private jet remote island resort junkets were only accessible for those blond-headed flight attendant strumpets. They ran the Fisher-Price community like the mean girls they are and flaunted their cosmopolitan sophistication. But little did they know, similar to 70’s horror movies where the bad girls get their comeuppance, luck would not be on their side today. Their dates will not be with pilots tonight. No, the flight conditions will be less than optimal, possibly tragic. That’s right, the girls working Fisher-Price Air 001 today have a date… with destiny.

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This era bled into the Fisher Price Era, and rather than bringing peace and harmony to our beloved community, this fusion of simple God-fearing Fisher-Price-ites and mega-ego self-involved superheroes and villains resulted in destruction rarely seen in this universe. There were plane hijackings, kidnappings, bomb explosions, and an uncountable number of innocent civilian deaths amongst the rubble. Quite similar to a Michael Bay movie except the acting was much better in my stories.

 

Trouble usually began with the action-figure (not doll) Joker, with the eponymous Jokermobile (equipped with boxing glove punch to whomever opened the rear door), and the Penguin running rampant over the citizens of Fisher-Price land. After the Fisher-price people had their utopian lives yanked out from under them, some gratuitous violence (not necessarily Deliverance style) would ensue before The Caped Crusader and his strange little tart city ward Robin would be rousted out of the sweet 3D Batcave by the an actual functioning but flimsy-wired Batsignal (no batteries included).  Attempting to restore this area back to its idyllic days, 

they would enlist, in order, Aquaman , Cornelius from Planet of the Apes, and a battle weary G.I. Joe who’s main task was in the capacity of clean up and medical pre-op. I didn’t think it was humane to put him back on the front line with his previous tours outlining his stressed face, though he was equipped with the most manly, most luxuriant beard I have seen to this date. He was such a cool cat a neighbor lady/sitter took it upon herself to sew him various outfits. I have yet to take a look into the psychology of voluntarily making outfits for an extremely virile and testosterone-oozing plastic male form, and maybe I should let that file stay shut.

 

The destruction and mayhem often resulted in the Fisher-Price educational system, agricultural supplier, and flight transportation center to be strewn about the entire living room. Turned over hassocks accentuating the chaos and nameless Fisher-Price victims found two weeks later under the recliner spoke volumes to the necessity of better law enforcement. I can only speculate that the cost of rebuilding this village in today’s dollars would be problematic, possibly forcing the survivors of these heinous crimes to start over in another Fisher-Price world.

 

As the Joker was wont to escape and really committed to his plan, he would do it all over, again and again. But eventually the hot fire burning in the Joker’s belly lessened, and our villains and protectors suffered a gradual decline into oblivion. It became evident all their power, all their aura was an illusion. This power that had no boundaries was all in the fabric. Once these extremely tight-fitting nylon costumes, strained to its limit, started to shred, our heroes were exposed as mere freakish charlatans. Once the shreds became holes, they were ostracized. The superhero spirit vanished and was replaced by a titanic wave of embarrassment. The Action Figure era ended in a whimper with a slap-dash packing and all characters and evidence of this period were banished deep into the attic.

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Before the Internet, before mall sport shops with every team logo’s goods imaginable on display, there was one and only one avenue to distinguish yourself among your classmates and tell them where you stand on team representation- The Sears Wish Book.

 

Growing up in northern MN in the mid 70s, I felt smothered in purple and #10 jersey shirts, purple and gold winter knit hats, sweatshirts with a side helmet profile of a Viking horn prominently displayed. This was my opportunity to join the group, fit it, make life simple. Nope. Couldn’t do it. Wouldn’t do it. Father’s influence? Mother’s influence? I don’t know, but the heart knows what it likes and it liked the scragglyhaired, unshaven slinging southpaw QB of the Oakland Raiders, Ken ”Snake” Stabler. I needed to make a stance this was the guy, the team, the hill I was going to die on and nothing better represented that spirit than the Oakland Raiders helmet, possibly the greatest sight I had seen up to my 

10th birthday. It was a silver helmet with a pirate on the side. The pirate had a patch on his right eye and there were two swords intersecting. Two colors- silver and black.

 

So with the help of the Sears Wish Book and its photos of football team logo jersey shirts, sweatshirts, clocks, socks, bedspreads, knitted hats, I was able to get fully fixated on Raider goods. Can you imagine having the Raider logo look after you while you were asleep? Being awoken by a Raider clock? Putting on the silver and black socks? This Sears Wish Book was truly a wish book, where wishes were answered by ensconcing oneself in the logo of your favorite team. One item I’ve tried to forget because it was just so unlikely to ever come to fruition. Jackets with the team logo on the front and shiny team colored coordinated plastic sleeves. It looked like maybe you were a part of the team, maybe they would forecasting their interest in you when you would become an NFL player. A sweet ass letterman-like Raider jacket…as much as I had envisioned myself in it, and looking much better than the clown kid model who probably got his pick of anything he wanted, the risk/reward ratio for betting on this jacket was too great. I knew this at 10 years old. This was going to be a one-shot deal at Christmas so I needed to make it count and insert the proper message seed into mother’s ear.

 

The plan was hatched by early October and it should begin to sprout just in time for holiday shopping. Although I would like to, including some other teams cool gear, the profile of the Raider helmet on a sweatshirt was a necessity. If it all came down to just one item, it had to be the sweatshirt. Winter hats come off inside, plus seasonal. Jersey shirt cool, but no one-eyed pirate. The sweatshirt could be worn day after day killing two birds with one stone. It would proclaim my partnership with the Raider organization, while at the same time denigrating all the sheep with their lame Fran Tarkention jersey shirts.

 

So with much pleading, and probably crying, I got my Oakland Raiders sweatshirt for Christmas, and as luck would have it three weeks later Kenny Stabler and fellow Raiders crushed the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl XI 32-14. This game and this sweatshirt framed my future. I was now on an island, alone. I was a contrarian. No longer viewed as uncommitted in support of the local teams. I took a stance. I was now an enemy.

 

At least until a couple years later when for some reason still not completely understood, I fell for a new team. This team had no logo, no team colors, and not a pro team, at least that’s what I believed back then. This group was mesmerizing in a way I had never felt before, located in a section I hadn’t stopped to look at previously-the ladies brassiere section. I found being alone was helpful in being able to enjoy the adventure, to wallow in the elegance of the presentation and to leisurely peruse the goods. The Sears Wish Book truly did answer wishes, wishes I didn’t even know I wanted.

 

Finally, I felt bad for the Oakland Raiders and Ken Stabler, tossed aside like yesterday’s newspaper. I had to explain the heart truly is fickle, and even though this new road looked precarious, I was going down it and didn’t think I’d be back for awhile, maybe never.