1. Watching all the crazed, clearly-drug-inspired cartoons on Saturday morning.
I would leap out of bed at the earliest crack and race to turn the TV on and then sit there, glued, for hours. My favorite reefer madness was this thing called “Lidsville”, about a real boy and a special land where the hats were alive and they lived in colorful houses, also shaped like hats. (I am so not making this up, even though many people today think I’m insane and must have been dropped on my head at birth.)
I even had a “Lidsville” lunchbox, the rectangle metal kind that had that little swing-out bracket thing to hold your thermos. I carried this treasure to school faithfully, until the tragic day when I dropped and broke said thermos, shattering it because the insides were made of glass back then and you couldn’t get all dumb-ass with your transportation skills. But jack it up I did, and I had to drag the rattling thermos home and explain myself to Mom concerning my disappointing behavior.
2. Wiring myself up on a candy-based breakfast.
Whilst watching the stoner toons, it was a prerogative that you consume bowl after bowl of cereal as you sat cross-legged directly in front of the TV. And you weren’t doing it right unless you added tons of sugar to your already-sugared cereal. This made things heavenly, and after you crunched your way through the top portion, you would be rewarded with the leftovers at the bottom, a milky and creamy sugar pudding. You could mainline that manna and then go invade a small country.
3. Going outside and playing for hours without any electronic devices or Internet access.
This is a true story. Once upon a time a child could simply walk out the front door, possibly gather other little friends although this was not necessary, and then come up with his own entertainment that would last the entire afternoon. And here’s the most startling aspect of this story: physical activity actually took place. Yep, games were invented on the fly that involved running, jumping and hurling each other from the tops of trees and storage sheds.
One didn’t sit around and wait for a parental unit to purchase yet another toy. Couches were not involved. Unless the couch had been abandoned and was waiting patiently on the curb for disposal. Then the couch became the Starship Enterprise and everybody got to kill space aliens with their stick ponies, which secretly doubled as machine guns.
4. Avoiding toys that could kill.
Not that we didn’t have any toys, mind you, of course we had those. But apparently the country as a whole didn’t have a lot of regulations when it came to the toys of that time. One especially brutal invention went by several names, but we knew them as Klick-Klacks. In short, you had two acrylic balls the size of, oh, large plums I guess, one at each end of a string, and the string had a little ring or stick in the middle. So far, so good.
You held on to the ring and let the balls dangle (yes, they looked like day-glo testicles at first glance), then began to jiggle the balls in a manner that would make them bounce further and further apart. The end goal (although this proved elusive for many) was to get the balls to bounce against each other hard enough that they would rocket around a circumference, slam into each other at the top of said circle, and then hurtle downwards again, rinse and repeat, ad infinitum. If one did things right, it sounded like a woodpecker on crack.
The deadly part? When you screwed up and one or both of the suddenly very-weighty balls would slam into your head or other delicate body parts. You only had to do that a couple of times before you threw the damn thing in the toy box, never to look at it again. (Oh, and the balls could also explode and blind you with the fragments. Suffice it to say that they eventually disappeared from the stores.)
5. Dancing with excitement as the ice cream truck rolled down the street.
One minute, the entire block would be completely deserted, tumbleweeds blowing. Then the maniacal sounds of the jangly truck would break the silence, and suddenly you had 400 hyperventilating kids shoving each other out of the way and thrusting their grimy dimes at the probably-medicated vendor. Slurping would then ensue.
6. Hoping to enjoy some fine local cuisine, urchin-style.
The absolute best restaurant in the entire world was McDonald’s, bar none. (Okay, Dairy Queen was a close second, but some of those places were really old and smelled like grandparents.) The McDonald’s were newer, sometimes came with playgrounds, and often offered cheap prizes that would infatuate young minds. It couldn’t get any better.
And the French fries? Oh. My. God. This was back in the day, when nobody knew squat about healthy eating except for certain hippies and chaste librarians, so those fries would be dripping in grease and completely coated with enough salt that your tongue would actually burn if you ate too many. Good times.
7. Listening to Lobo sing his catchy, heartfelt tunes.
Granted, I was still basically a kid, but I was also a very serious little munchkin at times, in that introspective, budding gay-boy way where you search for meaning wherever you can find it. So I was often perusing “adult” songs whilst my cohorts had a repertoire limited to Sesame Street ditties. And something about the way this man sang and what he said had me mesmerized.
Now, some of you won’t care a hoot for this list, and others of you (“of a certain age”) will squeal and run try to download these titles: “Me and You and Dog Named Boo”, “I’d Love You to Want Me” and “Don’t Expect Me to Be Your Friend”. Put on the headphones and reminisce.
8. Playing with my G.I. Joe doll.
It was extremely not cool for boys to play with dolls, unless it was one of these. He was all manly and stuff, with his buzz-cut and plastic pectorals. (No penis, though. I checked this out immediately.) You could pull a string in his back, and then he would bark out orders, telling you to run sink a battleship with your bare hands or topple a Communist dictator. It was great fun until his string broke or his voice box got jacked and it sounded like he had emphysema. Then he was relegated to the bottom of the toy box with the Klick-Klacks.
9. Begging to go see The Exorcist.
I had no idea what this movie was about, but there were whispered rumors that people were fainting and even dying at the screenings, and who wouldn’t want to go see something like that? (Mom even had a tattered paperback copy of the book that lived on her nightstand for a bit, so this would provoke me ever more, what with that odd, creepy image on the cover. What the hell was that thing?)
But alas, it wasn’t to be. I wasn’t allowed to go see it, not at that time, anyway. I had to wait a few years for cable TV to become popular and then I got to watch it on a brand-new “pay channel” called HBO. At which point I remember thinking maybe that Ragan girl wouldn’t have acted up so much if she’d just cut back on the sugar in her cereal. Or the McDonald’s fries. Something.
10. Watching Emergency! on TV.
I really don’t remember exactly what the TV series was about, some mess involving folks that would go save other people who didn’t have enough sense to not get in car accidents or fall off buildings. But I do remember that I was smitten with Randolph Mantooth that played one of the paramedic heroes. It was quite nice when an episode involved fire, because he would get sweaty, and I was constantly fantasizing about getting myself into situations that required him to rescue me.
Sadly, when these episodes would end on a Saturday night, it meant that I didn’t have much longer before my personal freedom was rudely curtailed, as my designated bedtime was on the horizon. I would often fight this injustice, of course, because I was firmly convinced that I was much smarter than all the stupid adults with all their rules and questionable movies that only they could attend.
But it was a losing battle, naturally. And eventually I would be tucked in and bid night-night. I would then wait for my parents to go become distracted by whatever they did when offspring were presumably quarantined for the evening. Then I would reach over and turn on my little tiny-watt radio, real quiet, and wait for a Lobo song to play…