Drinking Kool-Aid and Watching the Smurfs

Childhood isn’t a place too long gone for me; it’s what the attic of my head is wallpapered in.

For many of us, childhood was one of the brightest, most promising times.  Therefore, it remains today as a safe, heartwarming place in our minds.  A place where we can return to, like remembering a good dream, whenever we want.  And thanks to the people who are still alive who share those memories with us, we have access this seemingly imaginary fantasy world that we were all once a part of.  In a land called The Eighties.  Or Nineties.  Or Sixties.  (There are several to choose from.)

My literary teacher Michael Chabon explains it (he doesn’t know who I am, in reality) in a way that would make me jealous that he thought of it first, except for the fact if it weren’t for studying his style, I wouldn’t be the same writer I am today.  He refers to mutual collected memories in his book Manhood for Amateurs as “an entire network of tunnels, secret passageways, into the past”. 

We carry the exclusive memories of each other in the hard drives of our own minds, sporadically reminiscing to make sure of the validity of the events, and to glean from the enhanced emotions attached to them. 

The way my mind works, I can’t just simply open a file in my head entitled “Childhood: 1981-1993”.  Instead, these scattered gems are embedded along with all other memories and knowledge.  So when I click on one file, there’s sure to be a random childhood memory hanging on to it. 

And sometimes I just have flashes of them.  Like the Spring and Summer of 1989 (2nd grade) when I played baseball.  The pings of the aluminum bats, the crickets singing their alien songs in the moist, freshly cut baseball fields.  The sun going down as each game began. 

And when I go to that place, I remember how I had the biggest crush on Meg Guice, who never had a clue.  Yes, those were the days were drinking Kool-Aid; my favorite flavor being the short-lived “Sharkleberry Fin”, only second to Hi-C’s “Ecto Cooler”.  When Saved by the Bell hadn’t quite arrived, so The Smurfs pretty much taught me what I needed to know about society. 

Memories of being in Cub Scouts, riding the bus from school every Tuesday to the First Methodist Church, where my parents (the scout leaders) met us there with the aforementioned Kool-Aid and some adventurous craft assignment, like a bug collection (in which Matt Hall brought in a dead bat) or brainstorming about the upcoming Pinewood Derby race (which I won 1st place overall in 1991, thanks to my dad’s craftsmanship). 

I could go on, but I have a feeling by this point, some of your own childhood memories have been stirred up.  Don’t let me interrupt that for you.  Have fun.

The Randomness of Easter

Back in 2004 when I was in Bangkok, Thailand, I was riding in a taxi with my friend Jessie.  We were on our way to visit a Thai museum and she was asking me about American holidays.  Describing what Easter is to a Thai native is somewhat confusing when it’s said out loud:

“Easter is the day we celebrate Jesus coming back to life after he died on a cross.  But it’s also a way to stimulate our economy because everyone buys a bunch of chocolate candy, sends gifts to each other in ‘Easter baskets’, and purchases some sort of pastel colored dress or suit and tie for the church service that Sunday.”

She asked me, “But what do Jesus and chocolate candy have to do with each other?”

The answer?  Here’s the best I can do.

The LSD tripping Easter Bunny and the general populations’ collective excitement over the candy and the traditional gift giving serve as a vehicle to force the non-religious to identify that there is some sort of significant meaning behind Easter.  They may not fully understand who Jesus is, but they at least know that a lot of other people recognize Easter as the day Jesus came back from the dead.

Americanized Easter is a vehicle that is not against Christian Easter.  It points people in the right direction.

This past Easter it occurred to me just how big of a deal that Easter is to Americans, with or without the solid understanding of what the day is actually celebrated.  My wife and I spent the weekend with my family back in Alabama.  We literally had to leave the church service because there wasn’t enough room for everyone to sit.

So we left the Baptist Easter service and hung out at the Methodist church next door.  Because everyone that’s ever gone to church shows up on Easter.  It’s a major American holiday.  More major than I realized.

I kept hearing “Happy Easter” from everyone and seeing it as status updates on facebook.

Even last night Jimmy Kimmel was talking about his mom still giving him an Easter basket, though he’s now 42.  And he talked about how someone stole his friend’s seat before the church service started and all he could think about during the mass was punching the guy who stole the seat he was saving for his friend.

Funny.  And it shows that behind all the silly American traditions, that even the famous and influential Jimmy Kimmel recognizes there’s more to Easter than what’s on the surface.  In his joke he specifically stated that Easter is when we celebrate Jesus.

And I can relate to Jimmy.  I often want to punch annoying people in the face.

Batman or Superman?

I never realized what an epic question it is. But ask someone, while being sincerely enthusiastic, and you’ll watch that question become a conversation worthy of a bonfire setting.

Not a question of who’s better, or more popular, or cooler. Just simply:
Superman or Batman? In fact, I’m learning it’s one of the best questions one human being can ask another.

What do both of these superheroes have in common? They both came out at the same time. Respectively, 1938 and 1939. They both were created by Jews. Respectively, Jerry Siegal and Bob Kane. And they both have had several incarnations of television shows and movies in their 70 years so far.

Superman Pro’s:
He can fly. He has a steady love interest. Well-balanced American values. X-ray Vision.

Superman Con’s:

Nerdy alter-ego. He has a boring day job. He’s a not even a human- he’s a freakin’ alien. Must have easy access to telephone booths.

Batman Pro’s:
Intimidating costume. He has a faithful sidekick. Billionaire. Cool gadgets and martial arts training.

Batman Con’s:
Can’t really fly. No X-ray vision. Traumatic childhood. Lives in a cave and seems to like it that way.

Major differences:
*Superman is an alien pretending to be man. Batman is a man pretending to be a bat.
*In the 70 years of existence of both superheroes, Superman tends to be more popular among who were young during the first 35 years (1938-1973), whereas those who were young during the 2nd half of the 70 years (1974-2009).
*Superman has had more positive exposure through TV shows throughout the decades. Batman has had extreme success through several movies in the last 20 years.

My first instinct was to say that Superman is better. Almost seems like the obvious choice. He’s was raised in the rural Midwest by Methodist parents. He embraces the average American image. And has perfect blue/black hair.

But Batman is more of a real person to me. With the murder of his parents when he was a young boy, he had to both deal with that and take over their empire business. (Superman’s parents were murdered too, but he was just a baby when it happened.)

He is dark and mysterious. And intentionally embraces the whole bat theme simply because he thinks it’s creepy. So he knows it will freak out his enemies. Which he has plenty of, unlike Superman.

To many, I’m sure Superman has much allure simply because he is just that- a super man. With super powers.

But I choose the underdog of the two superheroes. Batman is a real man with no special powers. He is a self-trained man who worked hard to get where he is. He just uses cool gadgets and fights in hand-to-hand combat. Oh, and he has a really cool car.

Vote below:

Snail Trails: Your Memory May Be the Only Proof an Event Ever Happened

Nothing, not even a blank screen. Then suddenly on April 20, 1983, life as I know it began. Not the day I was born, but the day my memory started. With all my family gathered around me at the kitchen table, my first memory of life begins with a song- “Happy Birthday”. Maybe I was simply overwhelmed by that many people in the room at once. Maybe I thought the song had a sad tune. Maybe this is where I got my fear of being in front of a bunch of people with nothing to do or say. But all I had to do was just blow out that giant number “2” candle on my Mickey Mouse cake. Instead, I cried.

Flash forward to the summer of 1985. I put on my cowboy boots, grabbed my He-Man lunchbox, stood by the front door, and announced to my mom, “Okay, I’m ready for school! I want to meet friends.” I wasn’t even enrolled for pre-school yet, but my mom took care of it and a month later I was present at First Methodist’s “Mother’s Day Out” program (the year before Kindergarten: 1985-1986).

Though I was four years old, I can specifically remember that Simon Milazzo had a toy dog that I liked so much that my mom bought me one like his. I remember Meg Guice crying one day because somebody ate her pineapples when she was looking the other way. I remember Laura O’Dell gave me a valentine with a scratch ‘n’ sniff vanilla ice cream cone that smelled really good, while Alex Igou gave me a valentine with Darth Vader that said “Be Mine or Else…”.

I remember having a daily “play time” where we all went to the dark green carpeted fellowship hall where we were often forced to play “Duck, Duck, Goose” or sing and act out “The Farmer and the Dell”. Meg Guice would always want to be the wife when “the farmer chose a wife”. I never wanted to be chosen to play a character.

Instead, one day I wandered off to play with my fire truck. Alex Igou also managed to escape from the group, going to the opposite side of the room. We both got in trouble for doing this so the teacher put us in “time out” together. Alex said to me, “Do you like your truck I got for you?” (It was the one he gave me at my birthday party.)

I used to think I was weird for having such detailed and vivid memories from such an early age. But while in my Childhood Developmental Psychology class in college, the professor asked those of us who had a vivid memory from age two or younger to raise our hands. Twenty-five percent of us raised our hands and then had to share with everyone what our memory was. We were told that having a memory that clear from such a young age isn’t common, but it’s not abnormal either.

When I think of elementary school, I don’t remember much about what I learned, but I definitely remember clear conversations and events starring my classmates: In 2nd grade (1988-1989) while in line for a relay race during P.E., I was standing next to Cody Vartanian and Charles Robertson. In honor of the new Nintendo game, Cody said to Charles, “Skate or die!” Charles firmly responded, “I don’t have to skate if I don’t want to skate and I don’t have to die if I don’t want to die”.

Last week I told the story of breaking up a fight while dressed as a giant wolf exactly ten years ago, during my final month of high school (see “Cry Wolf”). I feared that it may come across like I had in some form exaggerated the details. According to my memory, no one I was friends with was there to witness it. So I was much relieved when Adrianne McClung Smith commented on the story, saying she was fortunate enough to see the event in person.

For many childhood memories we have, however, there was not a “constant” in the equation. In other words, without someone else who was there who still remembers a specific event taking place, in essence it only happened in our own minds. It makes me think of the “if a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it…” question. My immediate response was always to ask if I could put a tape recorder in the forest before the tree fell. My next response was to realize I didn’t care if anybody heard the stupid tree fall anyway.

In the same way, I exclusively hold thousands of memories recorded in my mind. Memories about people I grew up with. Memories these people would never have known happened unless I tell them. Since I am the only person to verify such specific events, in theory they happened BECAUSE I remember them.

All anyone else can do is question the validity of my memory. But I know for a fact these memories are real, not simply evolved from a dream or an old snapshot. Everyone else has this ability though, at least to some degree if nothing else. Every person alive owns exclusive copyrights to memories involving other people.

I am constantly disappointed with the sad truth that even in the year 2009, there is no such thing as time travel. So badly I want to go back to those actual random memories; I want to replay them. In the back of my mind I’m hanging on to this thread of a hope that somehow someday I can revisit my past. Not to change it. Just to see it again, like a good movie.

This hope that when I get to Heaven there will be a series of doors with a different year written on each one, allowing me to revisit- in the likeness of Disney World’s Epcot Center how you can visit several “countries”. Evidently I have a condition which causes me to leave a trail of me behind throughout the history of my life, like a snail. At any given point, I am living in both the present moment and simultaneously each year of the past since my memory began in 1983.

As a writer and as an every day conversationalist, things seem incomplete to me without a nostalgic year or story in there somewhere. Some people have a habit of going off on “rabbit trails”. I end up on “snail trails” instead. My short-term memory is awful- I can’t remember who won American Idol last season. But my petty long-term memory is a little bit Rain Man-esque.