Rich Kids Had Disney Channel (aka: I Wanted My MTV)

1980s Television*Old lady voice* Back in the olden days, when boys wore mullets and girls pumped their bangs six inches high, my friends and I were hooked on two amazing new-fangled inventions. No, not the Wheel (very funny, kids). No, not velcro sneakers. More amazing. No, not personal computers…okay, a lot less amazing than that. Give up?

See, back in those days, cable TV is what separated the Haves from the Have-nots. Pretty much everyone watched the same cartoons and sitcoms on network TV, or were maybe lucky enough to subscribe to HBO or Showtime. But at school, we gathered around the rich kids, our envious ears drinking in every morsel of their adventures with the cable channel only rich kids could afford – The Disney Channel. Oh sure, we sang along to Kids Incorporated. But we all knew that it was little more than a shallow imitation of the Mickey Mouse Club.

rich kids Disney channel 80sThen suddenly, thanks to the violent public riots and cries of “I want my MTV!” (Okay, maybe there weren’t any riots. Hard to remember — I was pretty young.) all the not-so-rich schoolkids became hooked on the two best channels ever – Nickelodeon, and his wild-and-crazy big sister, MTV.

At last! At last! We could run home from school and be entertained by green-slime-dumping shows like Double Dare and You Can’t Do That On Television. And…and…okay, that was pretty much it, since in those days, Nickelodeon had super lame shows, like Spartacus and Star Trek the Animated Series. Then at 5:00 each evening, Nick transformed into this kooky black-and-white world of Mr. Ed, The Donna Reed Show, and some show about identical cousins.

So yeah…sadly, those were not Nickelodeon’s best years.

I want my mtvMTV, however, was another story. Back then, MTV lived up to its name. It was all about music, all the time. After school meant the hottest music video countdown with V.J.s like Pauly Shore (Yeah buuuud-dy!), Adam “Amazing Hair” Curry, Julie “Wubba Wubba Wubba” Brown, and the other Julie Brown, who was witness to the great Homecoming Queen’s Got a Gun massacre of 1980-something. Our fresh, gold-medal-wearing hip-hop crowd got to jump around the Yo! MTV Raps! And my hard rocker friends and I got to rock out to Headbanger’s Ball. And every New Year’s Eve, without fail, my friends and I would flip on the Top 100 Videos of All Time, even though they always ended with Michael Jackson Thriller.

But now, I don’t think anybody really wants their MTV anymore.

Now don’t take me wrong – I’m not the type to look back on the 80’s and call them The Good Ol’ Days, when everything was better. Honestly, every decade has its share of things excellent and bogus. Just look at Nickelodeon’s glorious conversion during the semi-recent Jimmy Neutron and Spongebob Squarepants era. MTV, however, seems to have lost its soul. Turn it on today, and you’re likely to never see a single music video. Instead, it’s all Teen Mom and True Life reality shows. Will this sad state of affairs lead to another violent uprising led by music-starved fanatics? I only have one response to that.

I don’t know. (Cue bucket of green slime).

* My apologies to you clueless rich kids who were too busy watching Disney Channel in the 80s to get that last reference. Wubba wubba wubba!

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Top Ten (aka: Handwritten Letters to C.J.B.)

Letters CJB (2)

Dear C.J.B.,

Remember me? Tiare/J.K./Princess? The girl you met at a forensics speech team competition in the Bay Area when we were sophomores at different colleges? The girl with the strange tendency to break out singing girl scout songs and commercial jingles, or quoting Shakespeare in a British accent?

I found your letters today.

There are so many. Dozens of letters, resting in their envelopes. All hand-written on paper in your familiar handwriting. All filled with little side notes and underlines and funny quips and movie quotes. Remember? We wrote about a little of everything, and a lot of nothing. Politics, school, Bruce Li. My obnoxious college roommates, and your family and Pembroke Welsh Corgi. Our faith, our friends, our life goals, and shallow TV shows.

Remember the letters I sent you? I wonder if you kept any. I know, I know..I went a little overboard by writing in every existing color of ballpoint pen, or using colorful stationary and confetti in every envelope. And I snet you stories, and poems, and shared every detail of my life as an independent 17/18/19-year old. But you went overboard, too. My favorite is the letter with the stick of chewing gum taped to the top (“Before you start reading, have a piece of gum.”). I also loved the doodles, and the corny jokes, and the way you wrote my name in a zillion silly different ways (“Dear Erait…”). When I was a counselor at camp one summer, you sent me a newspaper clipping every week of David Letterman’s Top Ten. Oh, they made me laugh so hard! This one was my favorite:

Top Ten Rejected Titles for the Movie ‘Speed’ – June 21, 1994

10. The Speedstones
9. Jurassic Park 2: The Exploding Busosaurus
8. Honey, I Drove the Kids Really Fast on a Bus
7. Faster, Bob Barker is Chasing Us!
6. Creepy Guy in the Window
5. Debbie Does Greyhound (Times Square Only)
4. El Autobus Muy, Muy Rapido
3. Dave Letterman’s Drive to Work
2. That Whacky Big-Ass Bus
1. Mrs. Busfire
Remember the few times we managed to get together in person? That time at Fisherman’s Wharf, when you gave me that adorable teddy bear, whom I named C.J. after you. And we visited all of the little cheesy touristy places, like the Earthquake Experience? And that time when I showed up, unannounced (how rude!) at your house in the city, along with several of my Girl Scout camp counselor friends, and met your family and (sweet) dog? And when you and my sister dragged me to that Star Trek exhibit. Oh my god! I totally forgot what a Trekkie you were, although you didn’t seem nerdy in the least. You even managed to talk me into trading shows with you — if I watched Star Trek the Next Generation, then you would drop your pride and watch Melrose Place. The hilarious thing is that I ended up (not hating) STTNG, and you became crazy about Melrose Place. (!)

I am sitting in my bed, filled with nostalgia, and smiling at the memories. You were one of my best friends. One of the few people who really got me — who looked beyond my unusual surface and saw a gem. And you were a gem to me, my old friend. You and your Jeet Kune Do and action movies and being an overachiever. I know…life changes. You are a successful lawyer now, just like you said you would become. And your wife is a brilliant doctor, and your daughters are absolute dolls. I could not feel more happy for you, and for how your life turned out. I will keep your letters, and the way you made me feel, forever. You were, without a doubt, one of my Top Ten.

Live Long and Prosper,

That Tiare Girl

Who Killed Woodsy the Owl? (aka Happy Earth Day!)

Celebrate Earth Day

“Happy Earth Day, guys!” I greeted my kids as I picked them up after school today.

Blank looks. Confusion. “It’s Earth Day?”

Woodsy the Owl I was appalled. Not one of my children’s teachers happened to mention Earth Day, one of the few holidays I actually kind of like to celebrate? I planted a garden today! I baked fresh fruit tarts for an after-school treat! I went jogging in the fresh air, feeling grateful for the blue, smog-free skies and trees full of shiny green leaves. But my kids? Stuck indoors, as usual, taking exams and solving math equations. Ugh. Suddenly I felt a wave of nostalgia for my childhood in the Bay Area, which happens to be full of earth-loving, crunchy-granola, rich ex-hippies who make sure that every child learns the importance of keeping the Bay clean and bluish (which is better than brownish, trust me). I especially miss Woodsy the Owl. Does anyone else remember Woodsy the Owl? Good old Woodsy used to teach us kids how we should “Give a Hoot, Don’t Pollute.” I’m sure that by now, someone has run him over with their gas-guzzling SUV. Poor Woodsy. He only wanted to save the Earth, just like me.

“That’s okay,” I told my kids. “Anyway, every day is Earth Day.”

Hoot Hoot!

Ways to Celebrate the Earth Every Day

1. Park the Car – Walk! Ride Bikes! Unless you have a disability or serious illness that prevents you from exercising, there is nothing stopping you from driving less and walking or biking more. My kids and I often ride bicycles to the store, to the library, and to the park. We carry our cargo in backpacks, or strapped to bicycle baskets. When my younger two kids were small, I happily carted them around town in a bicycle trailer attached to the back of my bike. Not only is bicycling better for the earth, it is also better for our bodies.

2. Reduce Your Use of Chemicals – Many cleaning detergents can be made using inexpensive, all-natural ingredients. Or, if you don’t want the bother, look around the cleaning aisle. There are many terrific brands of pre-fabricated natural or non-chemical cleaners.

3. Wash and Dry Less – In our house, I have a rule about laundry – unless they are actually dirty, jeans, pajamas, and towels get used twice before going into the laundry. (Do not enforce this rule for shirts and socks – phew!) I also have a retractable clothesline outside for occasional line-drying, which saves on energy. Well, electric energy, not physical energy.

4. Grow a Garden – Two years ago, our family built a raised bed in the backyard. Now, each spring, the kids and I prepare the garden bed and choose the seeds. Then each summer, we enjoy a lovely crop of fresh, organic vegetables. It’s the best! Before building the raised bed, we usually grew tomatoes and herbs in pots, which works well if you are low on space, or, like us, low on sunny areas for planting. Keep it organic – better for the earth, and better for your body (are you starting to see a theme?).

5. Spend Time in Nature – Go hiking. Stroll through your local parks. Try birdwatching, or hunting for local flowers or wildlife to photograph. Eat dinner outdoors. Go camping in your state and national parks. I highly recommend becoming familiar with the principle of Leave No Trace, so that future generations will be able to enjoy the same beautiful, unspoiled views and wildlife available to us today.

Saturday Night at the Drive-in

Tonight our family went to the drive-in cinema for the first time. Well, a first for the kids anyway. I spent many summer nights at the drive-in with my family when I was growing up in the 80’s. The funny thing is, nothing has changed. (Well, except for the way the sound plays from your car stereo instead of those clunky metal boxes that used to sit in your window). Seriously. Same 1960’s space-age snack bar. Same stale popcorn. Even the playground was still there, where my brother, sister and I used to play on the old metal slide and swing on the swingset. Who cared about watching a movie when we could swing in a dark playground at night, pretending to touch the stars with our toes? Family movie nights at the drive-in were the best thing ever.

Of course, that’s nostalgia for you. In reality, the drive-in movie screen seemed so small from where we were parked, I’m pretty sure we could have seen a clearer picture on our living room TV screen. And maybe the sound was better on the stereo, but here is what it actually sounded like inside of our minivan:

Child 1: Can we open the windows? It’s too hot!

Child 2: No, I’m cold!

Child 3: I can’t reach the popcorn way back there.

Child 1: The stereo’s too loud.

Child 3: This movie’s boring. Can I go play on the playground?

So much for family movie nights at the drive-in. Maybe it would have been more fun if we’d been more prepared, like the drive-in cinema veterans, who were camped out in the parking lot in folding chairs, drinking cold drinks from their coolers while their kids entertained themselves with glowsticks. Or even better, maybe the drive-in is best suited for young lovers, taking advantage of the dark parking lot by making out in the backseat. (Hmm…that’s an experience I missed out on. Could be fun).

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“So guys, what did you think about the drive-in movies?” I asked as were were driving home late at night.

Child 1: It was great!

Child 2: I liked it better than a movie theatre, because we could still talk during the movie.

Child 3 (in a very sleepy voice): That was awesome!

Huh. So maybe when you’re a kid, no matter how crummy the movie or how tiny the screen, or how stale the popcorn, there is something about being gathered with your family, watching movies on a big outdoor screen, that gives the drive-in cinema a kind of magic. And maybe when my kids are grown-up, they will look back with nostalgia at the space-age snack bar and nighttime playground and remember family movie nights at the drive-in as the best thing ever.

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Remember these speakers?