Cornfield Meet

Things collide here.

This is Me in ’83 – Teenagerdom

Thirty years ago, I became a teenager.

I wasn’t a huge fan of cake, so mom made me these amazing frozen mint pies with Oreo cookie crusts.

I also received a speedometer for my bike:

 

Three decades later, I spent a good chunk of my birthday playing a 1980s-era video game (Gauntlet) with my brothers, and the evening with my immediate family – having pie.

 

 

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November 17, 2013 Posted by | 1980s, geek, Ohio | , , | 2 Comments

This is Me in ’83 – Halloween

Have I mentioned that in 1983, I was really, really into reading my Dungeons & Dragons stuff? 

Inspired by that source material, I cobbled together my own fantasy adventurer’s costume for Halloween:

No parental assistance required: Sweat pants and a sweatshirt that looks like I removed the collar for that deep-V look that’s all the rage among dragon-slayers; cape from an old…bedspread, maybe? I can remember the material was heavy, but also kind of clingy and stretchy; tunic-vest-thing that I cut and stitched together myself out of some burlap-type cloth mom had around; and a belt that I probably wore every other day of the year, too.

The sword? A yardstick covered in aluminum foil, of course. Which means it stands to reason – as if it’s not completely clear already – that yes, I am in fact wearing a foil hat. (Technically, my helm was a white knit hat covered in foil. Still: FOIL HAT.)

And now that “foil” sounds funny, I’ll move on.

If I remember correctly, my fellow D&D wannabe Mike S. wore a pretty slick elf ranger costume he and his mom had made.

More than once, I think, Mike and I took advantage of the trick-or-treat scheduling differences between the village of Hartville itself – where he lived – and Lake Township: One usually scheduled it on Halloween proper, while the other set it on the closest preceding weekend night, or something like that, making it possible for us to hit both of our neighborhoods. I seem to think we also really liked going out in the early hours of trick-or-treat, dropping off our candy haul at home, and then going back out after dark to roam the neighborhood and try to scare the kids we knew.

Other bits and pieces nicely caught up in this photo: The Halloween decorations – store-bought and handmade alike – that my mom put out every year; the long-gone brick fireplace and wood paneling of our family room; the wooden set of coasters in their little boxy holder up there on the mantle (these go back practically to the beginning of my memory).

For all the dorkiness captured in this picture – of me, that is; nothing against our family decor – I remain oddly proud of this costume, since I made the whole thing myself.

Plus: Foil hat.

October 28, 2013 Posted by | 1980s, geek, Ohio, photos | , , , | 4 Comments

This is Me in ’83 – Movie Mix-Up

National Lampoon’s Vacation came out in July, 1983.

I’d heard about its hilarity – possibly from my parents – so when my friend Mike H. invited me to go see a weekend matinee showing (the school year had already started), I was excited – and a little nervous to ask my parents for permission to go see an R-rated movie. I was surprised at their immediate approval, but in retrospect, Vacation is pretty tame. Not PG-13 territory, for sure, but only brief nudity, and certainly no language I wasn’t hearing every day in junior high.

It was sunny on the Saturday that Mike and his mom picked me up, and we headed to the Belden Village Twin Cinemas.

I saw a lot of movies there growing up: E.T. and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century come to mind, and I feel like saw Star Wars at Belden Village at least once, maybe during one of its re-releases.

The “Twin Cinemas” may have once been a pair, but I remember the business as a quartet of theatres – two houses each in a pair of adjacent strip mall buildings. They don’t exist as theatres anymore – the buildings are now home to things like Panera, Cici’s Pizza, and dental offices. You wouldn’t be criticized for wondering how the hell they ever had movie theatres in there, and it was only when I was older that I realized how relatively small the theatres were.

So Mike’s mom drops us off at the theatre. It has become clear during the drive that she is not attending the movie with us, but up to this point, I was figuring she was going to come along and buy our tickets. Now, though, I’m wondering how the heck a couple 12-year-olds are going to get away with purchasing admission to an R movie, and I’m silently freaking out.

Mike and I get out of the car and start walking toward the building where Vacation is showing. Before we get inside, we hear his mom calling after us. She has pulled the car up to the curb and calls from the window, “Where are you guys going?”

“To see Vacation,” Mike answers kind of sheepishly – he’s failing at nonchalance – while gesturing at the theatre.

And then the light bulb goes on: Mike has either lied outright or played a little misdirection/obfuscation with his mom, who clearly has no idea she was aiding and abetting a couple of would-be R-rated movie-crashing pre-teens.

“That’s rated R,” she responds. “I thought you were going to see Eddie and the Cruisers.” And now she’s pointing to the building next door.

“Oh,” Mike responds. What choice did he have? “Yeah. OK.”

I had no idea what the heck Eddie and the Cruisers was, but I admit I felt a little relief that I wasn’t going to have to pretend to be 17 years old to see it.

Eddie and the Cruisers was released on Sept. 23, 1983. (Which means Vacation was still running after nearly two months – I think that was kind of ordinary for the era, although that kind of theatrical run seems unheard of now, unless you count dollar-cinema runs.)

I barely remember anything other than disinterest from that viewing, and the movie became a punchline to Mike and me.

I didn’t see Vacation until it hit cable.

September 23, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

This is Me in ’83 – Saturday Morning D&D

I started to write up my memories of the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon, which premiered on CBS Sept. 17, 1983, and then realized I’d really like to contribute this particular bit of recollection to GeekDad.

DDGeekDad

And I’m glad I did, because it’s been really cool seeing the responses on GeekDad, Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr, and realizing that hey, I struck a nice nostalgic nerve with this one.

We even made the official Daily D&D!

Owly Images

I didn’t want to overload the GeekDad post with pictures, so here are a couple images from the cartoon’s closing credits that I mentioned. Still gorgeous and a little sad, somehow – but in that good sort of way. (And I think I figured out why I love them so much. It’s an amusement park at dusk. Weak spot.)

ddcartoonclosing

ddclosing2

September 20, 2013 Posted by | 1980s, geek, Television | , , , , | Leave a comment

This is Me in ’83 – Seventh Grade

In the fall of 1983, I started seventh grade at Lake Middle School.

8384yearbook

Technically, this yearbook itself is from 1984, since we received them toward the end of the school year. However, since I did pretty much nothing in the way of extracurricular activities, I can guarantee that half the pictures of me in this book are from the beginning of the school year.

I can make this promise because I am only in two pictures. Here’s the first – my official seventh-grade portrait, as it appeared on page 50. Row 6, first column, surrounded by a group of fellow B-name kids that wouldn’t change much over my entire 12 years at Lake. (This guy’s picture is in row 5, column two.)

7thGradeFall

Why yes, those are plastic-rimmed prescription glasses that darkened in sunlight – and apparently, under certain bright indoor conditions as well – because after all, it was August, 1983. And according to my extensive television research, every girl was crazy ’bout a sharp dressed man.

Digression to the future: That seventh-grade me still regularly read his Fiend Folio – with its unforgettable image of Lolth, Demon Queen of Spiders –

LolthFiendFolio

– and other Dungeons & Dragons materials, even if he never actually learned to play. Those memories add another level of enjoyment to this picture, taken almost exactly 30 years later at Gen Con:

MeAtGenCon

Back to the past, then:

My only other appearance in the yearbook is in the photo below.

7thgradeband

I’m thinking I’m second row, third or fourth chair clarinet. My face is hidden, but I’m pretty sure that’s my unruly hair within the red circle:

ImWithTheBand

Seventh grade at Lake Middle School was also notable in that thanks to a shift in student distribution (the middle school had housed grades 6-8 the year before, but handled grades 7-9 in 1983-84) my classmates and I got to be the youngest class in the building for a second consecutive year. Yay.

August 31, 2013 Posted by | 1980s, geek, Ohio | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

This is Me in ’83 – How I Spent My Summer Vacation

It’s been two full months since my last “This is Me in ’83” post, and yet the break seems somehow fitting, because man, was my summer of ’83 just packed.

For starters, it was my first full summer as a member of our church youth group, and while I’d attended the weekend winter retreat at Camp Wanake, the week-long summer retreats to Lakeside, Ohio were the stuff of older-kid legend.

Our youth group always rented the same big old three-story house: It was called Rockledge – still is, in fact (although only the second and third stories are available to rent now, and specifically not open to youth groups).

The week had a fair amount of structure: One day was spent on a trip to Put-in-Bay, for instance; another included a visit to the beach at East Harbor State Park. Evenings always included some kind of group after-dinner activity. But we also had what felt like a ton of free time to spend playing mini golf or shuffleboard or getting “suicides” (fountain drinks with a bit of each kind of pop mixed in) from the snack bar/video arcade down by the dock. I also liked walking around on the rocky part of the lakeshore, dodging the waves and the spray when the lake was choppy.

We could just wander around the town, checking out the limited book selection in one of the shops, getting ice cream and, in the mornings, fresh donuts. (There’s a place called The Patio – I’m pretty sure it’s the same place I remember – that served up the only cake donuts that I ever really liked. Raised donuts have always been my preference, but fresh baked cinnamon-sugared donuts still warm from The Patio? Dang.)

What I really remember was kind of neat feeling of independence.

The only photos I have from Lakeside ’83 are Polaroid instants of other people: a shot of a cross-dressed singing quartet from our “skit night,” and a picture of my friend Aaron – our junior high youth group years were really where our friendship started – performing a song-and-dance routine doled out each night as punishment to the last person to show up for dinner.

So: No Lakeside ’83 photos.

Later that summer, though, I spent a week in Roanoke, Virginia, staying with my friend Jacob. He and I had been best friends from (I think) third through fifth grades – the entire time he was in our school district. When his family left Hartville, it was the first time I’d had a real close friend move away.

I don’t remember how I got down to Roanoke – maybe our parents each drove halfway or something – but do remember a really fun week.

We spent a day at Lakeside Park (no connection to Lakeside, Oh.); we watched MTV in hopes of seeing the video for “Mr. Roboto” (We didn’t. We had to settle for “Don’t Let It End.” Which isn’t even close.); we saw Return of the Jedi – a repeat viewing for me, but I think it was Jacob’s first time; we drove up to the Mill Mountain Star.

Jake’s parents had a station wagon, and we loved riding in the way, way back, in the rear-facing bench seat. The A-Team had made a big splash earlier that year, and one day on a trip to a department store, Jacob and I had convinced his mom to buy us a couple plastic M-16 rifles with the built-in ratatatat-type noisemakers. We sat in the wayback with the window down and pretended to shoot stuff all the way home. (I know. And this was in the era well before toy guns had to be made in tiger stripes and fluorescent colors. These were solid matte black plastic.) We spent a lot of time that week running around Jacob’s yard, surviving as soldiers of fortune and helping people who had problems that no one else could solve. Jacob took this Polaroid shot of me crouching in wait – and though he warned me that you couldn’t even see my rifle against the dark green bush, I told him to take it anyway:

Cover me, Faceman.

So that was obviously a great week.

Finally, there was that summer’s annual family trip. We used to caravan to Lake Cumberland in Kentucky with our neighbors, the Millers. Our families would rent a houseboat together, and we’d spend a week on the lake inner tubing and waterskiing.

The summer of ’83, the trip was extended, if I recall correctly: They swung down to Roanoke to pick me up, and then we took a side trip through the Great Smoky Mountains on our way to Kentucky. We did some tourist-y type stuff, visited the Clingmans Dome Observation Tower, and stayed at a campground that had a stream running through it, with some rocky rapids ideal for tubing: (Note: Same tennis shoes as in the previous picture, now available in Soaking Wet.)

…and here’s me ruining a perfectly good family photo: Yes. I’m hilarious. And yes, I’m wearing the same damn shirt as when Jacob & I were A-Teaming it up. I like to think maybe Jacob’s mom was kind enough to do a load of laundry the week I was visiting – otherwise, my overly dramatic “something stinks” look here exhibits a painful lack of self-awareness.

Onward, then, to Lake Cumberland. In addition to the waterskiing and inner tubing, the shore was loaded with steep, rocky ledges perfect for jumping from. You could also find crinoid fossils by the handful, and geodes on occasion as well.

Such style. And waving? Living. On. The. Edge.

All part of the summer of ’83, which, in retrospect, was pretty freaking cool.

August 5, 2013 Posted by | 1980s, eighties, Family history | , , , , , | 1 Comment

This is Me in ’83 – WarGames

WarGames came out just a few weeks after Return of the Jedi, yet the films seem to embody two such different personal eras for me. One marked the close of the most influential storytelling in my childhood, the other feels very much tied to my early teenage years.

Not quite five years ago, Adam and I went to the WarGames 25th Anniversary theatrical showing. Here’s part of what I wrote the next day:

WarGames starts, and sonofabitch, I’m so far back in time I’m stunned. Not just drawn into the movie itself, but shocked at the deep nerves it’s hitting: God, I can actually remember what it was like lying awake late on summer nights like this, hearing the wind in the cornfield behind our house and wondering what the hell WOULD happen if there was a nuclear war. And it wasn’t sci-fi cool post-apocalypse stuff, it was scary and sad and lonely.

David Lightman’s onscreen obsession with video games – and how sad is it that I think I caught a flaw in his Galaga game during the movie? – and computers was echoed in my real-life addiction to our Atari and later the Timex Sinclair 1000 that I bought for ten bucks, and then the Commodore 64 I finally talked dad into. I wanted so much to program a BASIC “Joshua” that I could pretend to play WarGames with, and I still love the sound of computer keys that clack and aren’t velvet-wrapped tickings. And has there ever been a computer voice better than Joshua’s?

Plus, you know, David Lightman the DORK, hooked up with Jennifer the BABE, and being a guy right on the edge of teenagerdom and still wearing thick plastic glasses and sporting brown corduroys regularly, I took this as was a sign of hope, just like when Billy Joel married Christy Brinkley.

And the last 20 minutes or so were as tense as they ever were. I couldn’t blink when those white glowing dots and their cold static hum explosions started mushrooming over the world map one by one, then in clusters, then in hyperspeed fireworks followed by those amazingly perfect final few lines from Joshua echoing through a NORAD movie set in the 1980s and reaching to a theater two and a half decades later.

Now, I could be wrong on the timing, but it seems very likely that the summer of 1983 was also when my friend Mike and I took a kids’ introduction to computer programming class at the Stark County campus of Kent State University, working on Timex Sinclairs. While I can’t say for certain it was that year, I do have a vivid memory of our instructor challenging Mike and me with a problem one day, offering a pad of graph paper as a reward because he knew we loved using the stuff for Dungeons & Dragons.

I probably didn’t see WarGames more than once in the theater, but it was one of those movies we recorded onto VHS and watched over and over again. And as I wrote for GeekDad, it holds up.

June 4, 2013 Posted by | 1980s, eighties, Film, geek | , , | Leave a comment

This is Me in ’83 – Return of the Jedi, Opening Night

Truly a high point of 1983.

GeekDad has published my two-part recollection of seeing the final chapter in the original Star Wars trilogy on opening night – 30 years ago this weekend.

What You Take With You: Return of the Jedi, Opening Night ’83 – Part One 

What You Take With You: Return of the Jedi, Opening Night ’83 – Part Two

Lapti Nek and Yub  Nub forever.

May 24, 2013 Posted by | 1980s, geek, Ohio, science fiction | , , , | Leave a comment

This is Me in ’83 – More Bee

When last we left our intrepid sixth-grade speller, he had landed among the 14 qualifiers for The Repository Regional Spelling Bee. Judging from the picture in the newspaper’s April 3 bee preview section, he was as shocked as anyone else by this turn of events:

April3RegionalBeePreview

A few things jump out at me from the full page Repository bee preview:

  • This is page 48. FORTY-EIGHT. Granted, it’s a Sunday paper, so it would have been big anyway, but seriously, kids, Sunday newspapers used to be fat.
  • Another sign of changing times: Each speller’s profile includes their name, parents’ names, grade, school, and home address.
  • The seven-paragraph story – “National title is goal of 44 spellers” – was written by M.L. Schultze, who went on to become the paper’s managing editor and oversaw a lot of impressive investigative projects. I still hear her work several times a week on WKSU. Her husband, also a former Repository editor, once interviewed me for a reporting job and later recommended me to the Independent over in Massillon.
  • Recognizing that not everyone would be thrilled to find their middle-school selves on the internet, I chose not to scan the entire page. Laugh at me all you want, but know this: I am far from the only guy in this bunch sporting plastic-rimmed glasses and a not-quite-mop of barely-controlled hair.
  • There is also a fair amount of hair feathering by both genders. I would not attempt the middle-parted ‘do for at least another year.

A few weeks had passed since the Stark County bee, and I had continued to study and obsess with as much focus as a sixth-grade nerd could muster when there was Atari to play and Dungeons & Dragons to learn. (One concrete memory: Dad reviewing my study guide with me, and making up a mnemonic device for remembering “abundance” which I have never forgotten. “Remember,” he said, sticking his butt out behind him, “it’s A BUN DANCE,” throwing his rear from side-to-side stressing each syllable – and cracking me the heck up. And now you need never wonder where my cheesy sense of humor comes from.)

The Thirty-Seventh Regional Grand Final Spelling Bee sponsored by The Repository was thirty years ago today, at 1:30 p.m., in the auditorium of the former GlenOak High School East Campus. My parents went to their seats while I got a number to hang around my neck – I was speller number 30 – and stood nervously in line with the few dozen other spellers. And man, were those eighth-graders intimidating. They were the oldest kids allowed to compete, and they occupied 28 of the 44 spelling spots. (Although I will confess that middle school is where my “Smart Girls Are Hot” crush tendencies really took hold, and about two-thirds of the field here was female. So, there was that.)

Being thirty spellers in was a relief. Even in the first round, by that point a few kids had already bowed out, and the bee had settled into its rhythm.

I don’t remember what my first-round word was, but I can easily recall the stomach butterflies that took flight when it was my turn to step up to the microphone, and the sense of relief when The Pronouncer spoke my word … and I knew it.

For me, there was a very particular sense of hellish anticipation standing at the front of the stage, and a crazy relief that washed over me each time I was given a word that I knew. And though it came with its own little razor-edged “Okay-now-don’t-rush-and-don’t-screw-it-up” moment, and there was still that eternity to wait after completing the word to see whether the judges would tap their tiny, soul-crushing desktop bell signaling an error, hearing a word I knew was a glorious, near-tear-inducing thing. I was never one of those kids who could think through word origins and usage  to make a highly-educated guess if I didn’t know a word. Either I knew it or I didn’t. I was either solid, or full-on guessing.

And then it was back to my seat to stare out into the darkness of the auditorium and look for mom and dad and wonder how many more rounds I could last.

Mom kept score in the bee program, noting in ballpoint pen the order and competitive round of each spellers’ exit.

Unlike the county bee, of course, with its 14 qualifiers, here at the regional, There Could Be (Bee? Nah. Too easy. – jb) Only One.

Fourteen kids dropped out in the first two rounds, and another eleven over the next two. After six rounds, there were less than a dozen of us left, and the competition had gotten tougher: The field only contracted by one in round seven.

Round Eight: “Balletomane.”

Well, dang. Never heard that one. Got the first half right, swung wildly at the second, and went down as the seventh-place finisher.

April9RegionalBeeResults

Four spots off the podium, as they say in the Olympics. (Instead of silver and bronze medals, second- and third-place regional finishers got, respectively, an electric typewriter and Webster’s Collegiate Thesaurus; and The World Almanac.  And if I couldn’t go to D.C., I really wanted that electric typewriter.) And although I don’t think I realized it at the time, if mom’s scorecard is correct (there’s a little confusion in spots – looks like dad handled scoring at a few points), I was the last speller standing below seventh grade. Of the six kids who beat me, four were eighth-graders – the highest grade allowed. And the fourth-place finisher was a fellow Lake Middle Schooler, making ours the only school with two top-ten finishes. Go us.

But no prize for me, other than this:

dictionary

I have never bought another dictionary, nor felt like I needed to.

And so ended my ’83 Bee Season. The kid who had won the previous year’s regional repeated his feat, went to D.C., and dropped out on a word I knew – either “kudzu” or “menorah.”

I competed three more seasons, accumulating something like five or six of the “younger reader”-type dictionaries awarded at the middle school and county level (one of which is still around), and two Repository-presented American Heritage dictionaries. I think the other one may be at my mom’s house, or belongs to one of my brothers, or was maybe given away during college.

My seventh-grade year I was an alternate for the regional, having slipped up on “taupe” at the county level. I’d never heard of it. In my final year of eligibility, I placed sixth at the regional, missing “restauratrice” because again, I had never heard the word, and also because it makes no freaking sense at all that there’s not an “n” in a word with “restaurant” at its core. I  mean, really.

(Another of dad’s annual bee suggestions: “Hey, if you miss a word, instead of leaving the stage immediately, you should grab the mike and holler, “Anesthetist! A-N-E-S-T-H-E-T-I-S-T!” Because that was his job, and he knew I loved telling other kids that was his job, because it almost always led to, “He’s a what?” “An anesthetist. He puts people to sleep.” “What?!? Like you put a dog to sleep?!?”)

As a pretty skinny kid with state-mandated-minimum athletic talent and little real competitive sports drive beyond the backyard, I really enjoyed my bee seasons, despite what my mom may tell you about how much I complained about studying for them. I liked being good at spelling, and I liked that for a few weeks every year, it was “my thing,” the way some kids were talented in sports, or others built models or drew cartoons or solved Rubik’s Cubes.

Also, if there are any spelling errors in this entry, I made them on purpose. As a test.

April 9, 2013 Posted by | 1980s, Family history, geek, Ohio | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

This is Me in ’83 – Bee Season

This letter is 30 years old today:

Me83RepLetter

Of special nostalgic note to longtime Stark County residents: Remember when the 216 area code covered all of Northeast Ohio, and not just Cleveland? I miss that metropolitan inclusion.

I had Bee Fever, man. And the only prescription? More Bee.

The year before, I had won the Lake Elementary fifth grade spelling bee, earning me a spot in the Lake Local bee and planting the seeds of my obsession with reaching the national bee in Washington, D.C. My teachers gave me a slim, stapled Official Spelling Bee Study Guide booklet, and every night after dinner, I’d spend time studying and having my mom and dad quiz me.

I remember the nighttime competition in the Lake Middle School cafeteria, feeling strange in this bigger, newer building, and going up against the older kids in grades six, seven and eight on their home turf. I seem to think I made it several rounds in, and that a place in the Stark County bee was within my grasp, since the school sent the top five or six kids, as I recall.

And then: agate.

Which I spelled “a-g-g-o-t,” since that’s exactly what it sounded like when the teacher read the word to me.

Agate had been in the study guide, but the booklet didn’t include pronunciations, and my parents and I, not being familiar with the word (to be fair, there were a lot of words in there we didn’t know), had thought it rhymed with “inflate.” I even checked the dictionary when I got home just to make sure it didn’t have an alternate pronunciation.

So: One year later. Late winter, 1983. I don’t remember how the sixth grade representatives to the Lake Middle School bee were chosen, and I don’t recall much of that bee other than it was in the cafeteria again – which was now my home turf – and how it felt when there were just the county qualifiers remaining, and I was sitting among them.

The Stark County Bee was Saturday, March 12, in one of the larger local school districts – I’m thinking it was Perry Local, down between Canton and Massillon, but it could have been in Jackson. And it was even weirder being on someone else’s school auditorium stage than it had been competing against the older kids the previous year.

There were 65 of us there. I don’t remember a single word I had to spell, but I also don’t remember worrying about any of them or feeling like I had to guess.

Me83CountyBee

Regional qualifier, baby! One step from the Big Bee itself! I’m the skinny, thick-rimmed-glasses blur wearing the plaid shirt in the front row. And I’m holding a dictionary, because that’s what they always gave the winners at these bees. I think I had one from the Lake Middle School bee already.

Another girl from my school, who was a year older than me, also qualified.

As the letter up there indicates, I had a little less than a month to study for the regional at the old East Campus of GlenOak High School – directions to which were indicated with this wonderfully simplified map:

Me83GlenOakMap

It was time to buckle down and keep on spelling.

March 18, 2013 Posted by | 1980s, Family history, geek, Ohio, Uncategorized | , , , , , | 2 Comments

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