Remember when the teacher would hold a spelling bee in class?
The teacher would line us up and ask us, one by one, how to spell certain words. I had always considered myself a good speller. In the third grade I had won a very close spelling bee by remembering that to spell “Thanksgiving” one had to begin by saying, “Capital ‘T’…”
My gift left me in the fifth grade. I’ll never forget it. It was winter, and I wore my jacket while standing up there because I knew I was going to cream everyone and thought I would look cooler doing it with a winter jacket on. I chuckled at the other students who went before me and stumbled on words whose spellings I had mastered years before. Finally it was my turn.
“Judgment,” said the teacher.
“Judgment,” I repeated. “No problem. J-U-D-G-…um…-E-M-E-N-T. Judgment.”
“Wrong,” said the teacher. “Sit down.”
“Wrong?” I could not believe my ears. I was going down in first round? I never went down in the first round.
Oh the shame I suffered that morning. What made it worse was that the boy after me was given the word “brine” to spell. Brine? How easy could it get? Even brine could spell the word brine. I saw that all the skill in the world did not mean anything if Lady Luck was not on your side. That same lucky lad successfully spelled “bountiful” and “personna” to win the bee. Okay, maybe personna was a tough one. To remember that second “n” required something special.
Today, instead of spelling bees, they probably have spellchecker bees. The students are lined up and one by one are given a word that they have to punch into their hand-held devices and run spell check. The skill lies in knowing whether to pick one of the choices you’re given, or click on the “ignore” choice.
Remember that public service message where a guy would suddenly appear on television and say, “It’s 10 o’clock. Do you know where your children are?”
It would be late, and I would be wide awake. I was always wide awake because when I was a child the night was when I felt the most active. And my favorite activity was watching television. I would be sitting in our living room, glued to the television, and all of a sudden this guy would come with that well-known message. And I would think to myself, “What are children doing out at 10 o’clock?”
I tried to imagine what children would be doing out at 10 o’clock. I pictured them playing in cemeteries. What else was there to do at night? I also tried to imagine the reaction of those kids’ parents. I pictured the parents answering, “No,” to the question posed, and then just sitting there, not doing anything. I mean, if they didn’t know where their children were, what were they going to do? Start looking in random places? If they’d asked me I would have suggested checking the cemetery.
I always found the message depressing because it meant that my mother was going to tell me to turn off the television and go to bed. Which meant that I would have to start the homework that I’d put off all evening to watch my shows.
Do they still air that message? If they do, they’ve probably changed it to, “It’s 10 o’clock. Are your children still logged on to Facebook?”
Do you remember when the almost all the shows that people watched on television were sitcoms?
When I was growing and learning about the world around me, most of the shows on television were situation comedies like Friends and Seinfeld. Before that it was Full House and Perfect Strangers. Before that it was Family Ties and Growing Pains. The names of the shows changed but the theme of the shows did not. The shows were all about ordinary people getting into situations that were both strange and familiar, and that was where the humor resided. In every one of these sitcoms there was always at least one episode where:
- a character overextended himself or herself with commitments
- best friends fight over something and then make up
- one character tries to lend expertise to another character’s problem, but the character with the problem just wishes the helping character would butt out, but does not want to hurt the helping character’s feelings
- a character’s professional success makes things weird
- one character learns an embarrassing secret about another character and spends the whole episode dancing around the secret in various conversations
Et cetera, et cetera. These sitcoms were surreal. The characters and situations resembled real life, but we all knew, deep down, that real life never worked out that way.
Sitcoms still exist today. I just don’t know anyone who watches them. Everyone I know watches shows where they demonstrate how to prepare food, or how to put up drywall, or how to kick your addiction to hoarding. The shows are all so…practical. I can learn things from them. In the nanosecond between the end of one show and the beginning of the next (a neat trick that keeps one “glued to the set” as they say) I think to myself, “Gee, I wonder if I should do something like that in my own life?”
It was easier when I could just say, “That would never happen in real life.”
Remember when you could pass a school bus that had stopped to pick up or drop off children?
Getting stuck behind a school bus was such a pain in the neck. It would go so slow through the neighborhood. Whenever I got stuck behind a bus, I would go, “Ugh! I’m stuck behind a stupid bus!” I would look for any opportunity to get around it. The bus making a stop provided such an opportunity.
Then we started hearing about kids who got squashed because they ran out of the bus and crossed the street without looking both ways. I remember being excited when I got off the school bus. But looking both ways before you cross the street was one of those things they taught you early on. When I heard these tragic stories I said to myself, “Well, they should have looked both ways.”
Obviously some people did not agree. Because now school buses have a stop sign appended to their left side that swivels out whenever the bus makes a stop, cautioning drivers from both directions to stop until the bus moves away and retracts the sign. If you get stuck behind a bus like that you’re going to be late to wherever you’re going.
I guess it’s safer this way. I guess tragedies have been averted, and that is much more valuable than the time drivers lose by having to stop for stopped buses.
But I wonder if these kids grow up thinking that all buses come equipped with retractable stop signs?
Remember when sliced bread was made of a uniform substance?
There was white bread and rye bread. These I liked and ate regularly as a child – white bread for school lunches, rye bread at family gatherings. There was also wheat bread and pumpernickel. These breads I despised and would not eat even if it meant starving. But all these breads were uniform, homogenous. That is, they were made of one continuous substance.
The sliced bread they sell today comes with non-bread substances that interrupt the smooth homogeneity of the sliced breads of yesteryear. Nuts embedded, dried oatmeal glued to the crust. Everything is “multi-grain” instead of “mono-grain.” Would you buy a car that was composed of parts from many different cars? Why is this tolerated with our bread? Instead of multi-grain bread they should call it Frankenstein bread.
And the most perplexing part is this “nouveau pain” isn’t any better. “Pain” is right. Wheat bread and pumpernickel may have been disgusting to taste. But these breads did not also challenge the abilities of the alimentary canal.
I understand that some people like the embedded nuts and glued-on oatmeal. To the extent of purchasing bread, you can say it’s a free country. But sometimes multi-grain bread is the only kind of bread offered. And it is offered with excitement, written in colored chalk in block letters on the “specials” blackboard: MULTI-GRAIN!!!
Go ahead, have your multi-grain party. Just leave some white bread for me. Or rye bread.
Do you remember when kids did not wear helmets when they rode bikes around the neighborhood?
Riding your bike was a way of pretending that you were independent when you were well aware that you were completely dependent on your parents. When the buses dropped us off and there was still light we would grab our bikes and ride around our neighborhood like we owned it. We patrolled our territory, and the passersby who saw us knew we had things under control. We were young and free.
And no one wore a helmet. The only kids that wore helmets were kids with some kind of a problem that we did not understand but were sure to make fun of.
If someone fell off his bike and split his head open on the ground, it happened when I was not there. Because I don’t remember that happening. When kids fell off – or were pushed off – their bikes, they got up, cursed whomever was laughing at them, and got back on their bikes. Many of these kids now have kids of their own. Kids who have to wear helmets when they ride their bikes.
I’m sure that at least one person’s head has been saved from being split open because of a helmet. I have no doubt that it is safer now to ride a bike. But when I see them, I don’t think to myself, “Wow. These kids are exercising control over their turf. True, they are completely dependent on their parents, but at least they are showing a desire to be independent.” Instead, I think, “There must be something wrong with them.”
And to no one but myself, I make fun of them.
Do you remember Beavis and Butthead, that cartoon on MTV?
It was spring and I was in ninth grade. A friend of mine quoted some dialogue at the lunch table one day. I watched the show that night and thought it was the funniest thing I had ever seen in my life. It was on at 9:00 or 10:00 p.m., I believe, and I started taping an episode every night on the VCR. The characters spoke to me. I too was a young man who saw the world divided into things that were cool and things that sucked.
One time my mother watched the show and forbade me from watching it anymore. I had to watch and tape in secret. I figured out how to tape the show without the television being on. I would bring the tape to a friend’s house and we would watch it and laugh and I would think to myself, “This show is never going to go out of style.”
The two main characters spent a lot of time watching television. Whenever an image of fire came on to their screen, they would shout, “Fire! Fire!” not in alarm, but in excitement. I too was excited by images of fire at that time.
Parents were outraged. Educators were disappointed. Congress got involved. The “Fire! Fire!” got edited to “Fight! Fight!” which did not make any sense. Until that time I had thought censorship was something that happened only in places like the Soviet Union. Now I knew the truth.
A few years ago while I was cleaning out some old boxes of stuff, I found my tape of Beavis and Butthead. It was marked with a simple “BB” so that my mother would not know what it was. I dusted off the VCR and popped in the tape.
You know something? It was still funny.
Heh heh. Huh huh.