Sometimes eleven-year-old straight boys like listening to Doris Day.

The year is 1996.  I am a fifth-grade student at Fountaindale Elementary School.  Fifth grade was the last year before the jump up to middle school, so I was pretty hot shit as one of the senior elite.

I was on the television in every classroom every single morning with the morning announcements.  The Vice-Principal himself drove to my house to pick me up one snowy morning so I could make it on the air in time.  I was a big deal.

So when Mrs. Music Teacher (whose name I have long since forgotten) told the fifth-graders that we would be able to vote on the song we sing at elementary school graduation, I was ecstatic.  I’m Artie Sievers, I said to myself.  I’m le grand fromage.  I’ll pick out something and, of course, everyone will think it’s golden.

I began the search.

My taste in music as an eleven-year-old was not much different that it is today.  That is to say, I was a sixty-year-old man.  My cassette tape collection ranged from Elvis Presley to The Beach Boys to Tchaikovsky to Ray Stevens (yes, the comedian) to some choice musical soundtracks.  One of my most prized possessions, however, was a tape that, if memory serves, was simply titled “Hits of the 50’s.”  An auspicious album, to say the least.  On it were my rock-out jams: El Paso by Marty Robbins, The Battle of New Orleans by Johnny Horton, Mambo Italiano sung by Rosemary Clooney, and other gems.

One piece from that album, though, stuck out as a prime candidate for our fifth-grade graduation song: Doris Day’s Que Sera Sera (Whatever will be, will be).  This, I thought, is a masterpiece of tone.  This is what we want to communicate to the world: we leave elementary school behind to venture into the unknown.  We are scared and unsure, but whatever happens, happens.  We can’t control it, so let us not try.

My eleven-year-old mind exploded with genius.  I was so proud of myself for identifying this.  And – I remember thinking – the parents in the audience will love it!  It’s an old song, and all old people love old songs, right?  Oh, I was going to score some big points with this choice.

We were instructed to cue up our cassette tapes and bring them in to Music Class.  When the big day came, children filed into the room depositing their cassette tapes onto the table by the stereo in the front of the room.  I hadn’t bragged about my choice beforehand to anyone.  I thought I’d let it be a surprise.  I placed my tape with the others and took my seat in the brown vomit-colored risers.

Mrs. Music Teacher (whose only feature I can remember is a mop of purple hair on top of a teardrop face) played each cassette, one by one.  Some were good choices, I recall.  Some were ridiculous, heavy metal anthems that I’m not sure you could even find a choral arrangement for.  And some were flat-out bad.  I remember one kid brought in a recording of an instrumental piece.  All were contemporary music, though.  These children basically just brought in their favorite songs.  Anyway, finally the moment came when Mrs. MT placed my tape in the stereo.  I held my breath, waiting for the inevitable unanimous approval.

As the song started, however, I heard sniggers.  I heard mockery.  I heard all-out guffaws.  I heard “What the heck is this song?!”  I heard “This sounds like something my grandpa listens to!”  I heard “Turn it off!”  I heard “Who brought that in?  Who did it?  Huh?  Come one, who brought it?”

I opened my mouth to identify myself, but instead of doing so, I started laughing as well.  “Yeah, this is horrible,” I said to the kid next to me.  “Did you bring it in?”  The kid shook his head no.

Mrs. MT politely shushed us all and allowed the song to finish.  She betrayed no opinion on the material, but continued on with the next prospective selection.

When it was time to vote, nobody raised their hand for Que Sera Sera, including me.  In fact, a couple of kids still laughed when Mrs. MT held it up.

At the end of class, everyone went up and took back their cassettes.  I left the room without picking mine up.  A few days later I was able to snag it back when nobody was looking.

I don’t have it anymore, but I’d love to find the album again.  Still love those songs.  🙂

PS – The song we sang at our graduation was The Greatest Love of All.  Gag.

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Sometimes it’s Hat Day.

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You wake up and throw off your Goosebumps sheets.

You brush your teeth and take a shower.

You get dressed in a simple t-shirt and jeans.

You drink your chocolate milk and eat your Crunchberry cereal.

You give your creation a once-over:

It’s a tricorner hat made from newspaper,

With curved appendages made from continuous form paper,

With yarn flowing down the back,

And a big horn on the front, spray-painted gold.

It’s a masterpiece.

You can’t quite remember if your idea was to look like a cross between a pirate captain and a unicorn, but you certainly pulled it off anyway.

You strap on your backpack and your mom snaps a picture.

You ride the bus to school, not even registering the odd glances given to you by the other children.

You get to your first-grade classroom and Mrs. Dirk says “Lookin’ good!”  She gives you a thumbs up.  She herself is wearing a top hat that looks like it was eaten by moths long before you were even born.

You sit down at your desk and look around – Michael has on an Orioles cap.  Stephanie is wearing a Redskins cap.  Stephen sports a little league cap.  Linda has a small tiara.  Most kids are wearing nothing at all.  Besides their own hair.

No one else has gone to such lengths as you.

No one else has sired such a winning testament to their artistic identity.

No one else deemed it necessary to share said artistic identity with the class.

No one else stayed up until midnight with their dad spray-painting their horn.

No one else stayed up until midnight with their mom cutting and pasting their yarn onto the back.

No one else had their parents take a picture before they left the house.

No one else is a pirate captain slash unicorn.

But damnit – who cares what the haters say?

It’s Hat Day, Artie.

And you look super fly.

Sometimes things are never as they seem. Or, why Eureeka’s Castle was actually a Steampunk Horror Nightmare

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Eureeka’s Castle (yes, there are two ‘E’s in Eureeka – more on that later) was a children’s television show that aired on Nickelodeon from 1989 to 1995.  I remember it fondly – the anticipation as I heard the plinking music come out of my family’s wooden console tv set, the joy of watching the Jim Henson puppets sing and dance, the satisfaction of quality Nickelodeon programming.

Looking back on it, however, I realize it was a dangerous, horrifying Steampunk nightmare show.

Let’s take the opening:

We start with a giant.  This giant is walking through the countryside, which in itself is a frightening thought to any sane bucolic denizen.  But the camera pulls back even more to show that this giant has his nose stuck in a book!
What?!  So not only is he traipsing through these rollings fields and hills, but he’s not even watching where he’s going??  How many innocent farmers and shepherds died in the wake of this giant’s carelessness?  How much blood covers the bottom of those ginormous shoes?

Moving on – the giant notices a castle nestled in these hills and puts down his book (I’m not even going to talk about how he apparently just tosses the book aside, no doubt crushing several loyal serfs of the castle into jelly).

The castle has a huge hand-crank on the side.  What kind of castle has a huge hand-crank on the side, you ask??  A Steampunk castle has a huge hand-crank on the side!  As the giant proceeds to engage the device, we are shown flashes of what lurks inside the walls:
With one turn of the crank, we see algae-covered gears rotating, their teeth interlocking with vicious force.  With another, we’re shown various figures that come to life – monsters covered in fur, talking mice, dragons, bats, fish made out of stone, and a couple of humanoids who don’t look quite human enough to me.

Now, if the entire castle is mechanical, and needs to be “turned on” with the turn of a crank, then we can assume that these creatures that spring to life are also subject to the turning of the crank as well.  So these beasts are really not alive at all, but some sort of automaton army with artificial intelligence!  That’s beyond frightening!

Why does this giant have this castle filled with AI automatons?  Well, he was reading a book when we first saw him and he said it was “very interesting reading.”  Might it have been Sun Tzu’s THE ART OF WAR?  Is this giant planning a full-scale war against humanity using his mechanical army of creatures?  Are there other castles strategically placed throughout the world, ready and waiting for him simply to come over and turn the key?  Might this be the end of human-kind, leaving the world to be run by this maniacal giant and his army of mechanical creatures??  This does not bode well…

The creatures themselves are – of course – terrifying:
– There’s the kamikaze bat who could easily be outfitted with a bomb and sent out to a major metropolis.  He’d find a building to crash into in no time, taking hundreds or thousands of lives with him.  He also has a pet spider, who could also be outfitted with a bomb set to blow as soon as he’s scurried into a small space that only a spider can get to.
– There’s the dragon whose tail does not obey him.  Even if you could get the dragon to change sides in the great war against humanity, his tail would still act of its own accord.  Also, the dragon’s sneezes are big enough to shake the entire castle.  All the giant would have to do is to plant the guy in the middle of Grand Central Station, give him a sniff of pepper, and the whole place would come tumbling down!
– The talking fish fountain has to be spitting out acid.  No normal fountain that spits out water could talk and sing in harmony.
– The two monsters who live in the sewers of the castle will forever haunt my dreams.  The giant could set them loose in the water lines and they could enter your homes!  Their crazy long limbs would grab you before you ever knew they were there.
– The guy named Mr. Knack is interesting.  He seems to be a handyman of sorts, and he pushes around the cart filled with seemingly useless junk.  Perhaps this is the automaton programmed for internal repairs.  It’s genius – if the giant has multitudes of castles around the world, he would not be able to service them all in a timely fashion should one of the parts go out of whack.  So what he has done is to install a mechanical repairman to wander around with his little tinker cart, taking care of anything that needs his attention.  Genius.  Super evil genius.
– Finally, Eureeka.  What exactly IS Eureeka?  First off, let’s take her name:  There are two “E”s, creating “reek” in the middle of what was once a normal word used for illumination and creation.  So obviously something has gone awry here.  We know she can’t be exactly human because she has those horns coming out of her head.  Some sort of mechanical troll, then.  And she claims to be a wizard-in-training.  Like Harry Potter?  But who is teaching her?  The giant?
Perhaps we will never fully understand the reasoning behind Eureeka’s presence in the giant’s diabolical Army of Death castle, but let us be wary of her anyway.  I trust nothing that outwardly perky that has horns and is probably an automaton.

The mechanical creatures are terrifying, yes, and their predilection for human bodily harm is evident in the examination above, but I would like to add one more layer of horror on top of the already steaming pile of nightmares:

These automatons are trained in psychological warfare, as well.  They have been programmed by the evil giant to confuse and confound the human race, thereby making it easier for them to attack us.
Just look at the words to their marching death-chant:

You, Me, You, Who?
You we you see you we who?
Who me?
No, you!
Don’t you see?
You!
Me?
Me!
Gee.
Gee what a wonderful place to be
Castle, pastle, hassle, tassle!
You, us, they, we,
You we you me one two three!

If that’s not enough to singe off your brain stem then I don’t know what is.

In conclusion, what may seem at first like an innocent, enjoyable children’s television program is actually a blood-curdling, terrifying, Steampunk nightmare from which you can never awaken, because it will end with the annihilation of all humanity, leaving the world to be run by the evil giant and his army of automatons.
And that’s just the opening…  What other horrors lie in store in Eureeka’s Castle?  And when will Wes Craven make a film version?

Sometimes you feel like a nut. Because nuts don’t have summer vacations. And neither do you.

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Remember summer vacations?

Remember that time when they were all you thought about the last few weeks of school?
Remember how, as soon as that last day of school (usually a half-day) was over, there was this enormous weight lifted off your shoulders and the world literally felt different?  The smells were different, the sounds were different, the feel of the sun on your skin was completely different than the sun on your skin the day before.

Remember how you would go home and wake up at your leisure for three months?  And, even if you didn’t, it was because you were going to band camp, or Boy Scout camp, or basketball camp, or generic summer camp, or some other kind of definitely-more-fun-than-staying-at-home camp.  Or getting up early to fly or drive to a vacation destination.  Or just because you could, because it was summer and you could do whatever the heck you wanted.

Remember how you would go to the beach and it would be completely packed with everybody else in the world on summer vacation?  And how it didn’t matter, because that was the only time the kids were out of school, so it wasn’t as annoying as it should have been?

Remember how you felt like you were doing something wrong when you went to a store or a restaurant in the middle of a weekday?  And how you kept waiting for someone to ask you why you weren’t in school?  And how it felt really really really good to be doing that something wrong?

Remember those days in the middle of the summer when you were bored out of your mind because you had absolutely no idea what to do?  That was when I started to employ my younger brothers to lip-sync along to musical soundtracks as I filmed them on the trampoline.  But that’s another weblog post…

Remember how, after that mid-point, you realized that summer was already halfway over and you didn’t do a fraction of what you wanted to?  So you put on your gettin’-stuff-done cap and you packed as much fun as you could in that last month.  This, unfortunately, contributed to the old adage “Time flies when you’re having fun,” so the summer was over long before you were ready for it.

Back-to-school shopping was fun, don’t get me wrong, but it was always the last vestige of a dying way of life, and the stress of a new school year with new teachers and new classes and new responsibilities and new things you have to do loomed out there on the horizon.

Remember how that last day of summer before you went back to school was a complete blur?  How you could never quite remember what happened, because your mind was clouded with so many different thoughts and feelings?

And then remember that first day of school, when you were at once excited to be doing something new but still mourning the death of those three lovely months of nothingness?

I miss that.

These days, my summer vacations are haphazardly thrown together and stuck in all over the calendar.  I took a week in the winter, I take a day or two here and there, I have these weeks off so I do some stuff there…  Gone are the days of a large time-frame given to me to use exclusively for vacationing.  In that respect, I envy those who work in the field of education.

Still, I always seem to make it work, even if it’s rushed and slapdash.  Unfortunately, summer now resembles the rest of the year.  It smells the same, it sounds the same, and that sun feels exactly the same as it did before.  The magic of it has disappeared a little.

I think, as adults, we need to strive to get that magic back.  And that’s my summer resolution.  🙂

What’s yours?

 

(Also, I’ve used the word “magic” in A LOT of my posts…  What’s up with that???)

 

Sometimes you learn things from Jungle 2 Jungle.

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I watched Jungle 2 Jungle today.  It was the first time since I first saw it in theaters when I was a kid.  Here are the life lessons I took away:

1. The stock market is difficult.  Also, they wear bright colored jackets and nametags so people know who they are.  They’re like costumes, and they even have a coat check dressing room adjacent to the trading floor.  So basically the stock market is like a big play.

2. Mimi-Siku means “cat piss.”

3. Fruit increases flatulence, according to Tim Allen.

4. The 90’s were a very different time, when a thirteen-year-old boy could fly on a plane and walk through the airport shirtless, shoeless, and carrying a bow and arrow.  And nobody gave him a second look.
Also – You could crawl out one of the windows of the crown on the Statue of Liberty and nobody would try to stop you – they’d just take pictures.  Also, you could get released from the police within hours of committing this act.

5. No one in big cities carries a bag or has anywhere to go ever.  They’re just always completely bagless and purseless, totally game for some impromptu dancing in front of a street performer who doesn’t look like they have a license.

6. I miss the original Game Boy.  And the cool light/magnifying glass you could get with it.

7. Unconscious cat humor is always effective.  Especially when it is paired with tranquilizing blowguns.

8. David Ogden Stiers is amazing.

9. It’s always funny when someone says “That’s gotta hurt” after watching someone else get kicked in the crotch.

10. If you live in Lipo Lipo and you give a girl a pot, it’s like friending someone your crush on Facebook – things are gonna get real.

Sometimes you write a post about your thinger.

A few posts ago, I recalled a childhood story regarding me, magic, shoplifting, and prison.  You can find it here: https://rtcvers.wordpress.com/2013/05/31/sometimes-you-tell-your-six-year-old-hes-going-to-prison/

As a response to that story, I found several people in my life bringing up another traumatizing event from my more tender years.  It is a tale of pain, misunderstandings, and body parts (as is any good tale).  And since it is perfectly acceptable to put embarrassing stories about your childhood on the internet, I present it to you now.  Sit back, relax, and journey with me to suburban Maryland, circa 1990.

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In my family, we have all boys.  Three boys.  No girls.  My poor mother never got to pass on her womanly wisdom to another of her own kind.  She instead had to learn to live peacefully among this alien race of men, not unlike Leia and her brief stint among the Ewoks.

There were no Barbies in this strange land; there were no dresses and tea parties; there were no Easy-Bake Ovens (well, except for the one time my little brother asked for one for Christmas, but that’s another story).  My mother had to learn the practice of alien customs, the use of alien tools, and – most importantly – the language.  And the word around which our world was built was THINGER.

Now, Artie, what in the world is a thinger, you may very well ask.  Well, reader, please allow me to expound.

Urban Dictionary likens the use of “thinger” to something akin to “whatchamacallit” or “thingamajig.”  It purports that “thinger” can be used to describe that which has no name, or that whose name name cannot be recalled at the moment of description. i.e. – “Hand me that orange linking thinger, Billy Bob,” or “I went to the store and bought one of thos paper towel dispensing thingers.”

This was not necessarily the case with my family, however.  In my family, it was a moniker for that certain special something that all of us boys had but my mother lacked (and I don’t mean moxie, kid).

I should have really queried my parents before I sat down to write this, as I’m not certain as to the date or origin of the word.  I’m not certain who coined the term, and under what pretenses.  Was it used to replace the scientific descriptor?  Was it adopted after I, as the eldest child, discovered my own and created a suitable sobriquet?  Or was it just a vernacular handle that was founded before I even entered as the third wheel into my parents’ relationship?

Whatever the case may be, “thinger” was as much a part of me as, well…

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[I would like to take this opportunity here to showcase the pronunciation of the word.  The g is not stressed as in “finger,” but is softened as in “singer.”  It lives quietly in the back of the throat.  (Insert joke about a thinger in the back of the throat here.)]

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Now that you’re introduced to my thinger, I shall relate the story:

One day little five-year-old Artie was sitting at the kitchen table.  He had before him a bowl of chicken noodle soup, the steam billowing over the edges.  It was a cold winter’s day, and the soup was perfect to warm little Artie up.  His mother busied herself with something or other by the stove or the kitchen cabinets or something.  She was off to the right, if you’d like to picture it in your mind.

Artie sipped bits of broth from the spoon, slurping with glee.  What a wonderful lunch he was having.  All was right and good in the world. 

Treachery brewed nearby, however.  Something distracted little Artie.  Was it a chunk of chicken that was slightly too warm for his sensitive little tongue?  Was it something heard on the television in the next room?  Or was he just a clumsy little boy, too proud of his own motor skills to really monitor them in the way he should have?

Whatever it was, Artie spilled the soup. 

And oh, a spilled spoonful of soup was never so fraught with (the aforementioned) treachery.  The piping hot liquid spilled directly into the lap of little Artie, creating a sensation between his legs that made him cry out in anguish.  Little Artie let out a yelp of pain, throwing the spoon across the kitchen in agonizing rage.

Mother called from the other side of the room:  “What’s wrong, Artie?  What happened?”

“I burned my thinger!” Artie screamed, his speech garbled in torment.  “I burned my thinger!”

Mother cooed in a sympathetic voice: “I’m sorry about that, hon.  Just put it in your mouth.”

Artie’s breath caught in his throat.  His eyes widened in bewilderment.  He froze, at once confused and horrified at the suggestion by his own materfamilius. 

Poor Mother – she had misheard the boy.  Thinking little Artie had said “finger,” she assumed she had given him a perfectly logical suggestion for what to do until she had completed her own chores and could come over to look at it herself. 

Now she gazed at her son and saw the befuddlement in his eyes.  She saw the wheels in his mind churning, trying to decipher the real meaning behind what she had just said, and trying to decide how to actually make the suggested action happen, if that was in fact the proper procedure for such a set of given circumstances.

Suddenly, it clicked.  She had made a terrible mistake.  “Oh no!” Mother cried.  “No, don’t try to put that in your mouth!” 

The aftermath of the event is lost to the ages, as it has never been included with the story told to me.  (This anecdote has been included in the catalog of Little Artie Stories since I can remember.)  Mayhaps little Artie went to change his pants.  Mayhaps a bag of ice was used to lessen the burning sensation.  Did he finish the bowl of soup?  Did he run screaming from the room?  Alas, we do not know.

I am happy to report, however, that my thinger is fully operational and suffered no residual damage after its harrowing ordeal that fateful day.

 

Did anyone else have child-speak words for body parts?  Have you ever burned them?  Has your mother ever told you to put them in your mouth?  Please share.