I recollect how much different and bigger the world seemed when I was growing up in the 1980’s. Of course, there were always intriguing “adult” things which seemed so alien and remote I wouldn’t be surprised if they became routine. Things like driving, taxes, insurance, death, cooking, and even sex might be in this category. But I also remember the little things which seemed so awesome, mysterious, and provocative at the time, now, as an adult, I really miss the genuine excitement they generated!
So, here are my top-five unexpected things which seemed so much more awesome as a child.
When I woke up in the morning (especially on a school day), and my parents had a pristine orange box of Dunkin’ Donuts on the counter, it was the most monumental event that could happen to a kid before noon. I don’t know why it was so cool. Donuts were always a surprise in my house. I imagined that donuts were one of the most difficult things to obtain and they cost a lot of money. Why else wouldn’t you get them every day?
And I’m not talking about a pre-packaged box of cake-like donuts or a bag of stale donut holes. I’m talking about learning to love the old freshly-baked standards like the Boston Creme (my favorite), the Cruller, the Glazed, the Powered Sugar, the Chocolate Long John, and the old Jelly Donut — you know, even after it’s the last one left and it develops that natural crust after a few hours.
I guess it didn’t seem like donuts were a big deal after I ponied up a few bucks and started to explore my surroundings. When I was 12, I discovered where the Dunkin’ Donuts shop was, and I walked a mile there and back with my very own boxed dozen. My parents were proud of me, but I selfishly ate all my donuts and got sick for two days.
Avoiding would-be molesters and/or kidnappers was a huge subject every parent, teacher, and classmate constantly talked about. I guess that was before everyone focused on all the anti-drug stuff because they didn’t think a toddler would actually get a hold of some crack. Our exhausting inculcation included videos, group discussions, role-plays, written tests, essays, and guest speakers almost daily.
But for all that work and fear-mongering, I have to admit: I felt fairly safe, and it was kind of fun to identify strangers — or chastise your peers for talking with adults they didn’t know. We had a lot of unsupervised freedom at a young age to go anywhere we wished.
Often, I kind of felt like a spy. We had code-words if unexpected people or relatives had to pick us up from school in case our parents were in the hospital. See a squad car? Flag it down! The cops would give you special-edition baseball cards, and you might let them in on some information about weird people in the neighborhood. We were also taught (and practiced) that if a bad man grabbed you, just punch or kick him repeatedly in the testicles as hard as possible. You should scream “NO” really loud, also, to give yourself power.
Today, everyone is on the Internet and communicating with strangers of all ages all the time. It’s just not a big deal anymore.
There are very few mechanical skills a five-year-old can practice and perfect with each passing school year. “Number two” pencils were the tools of the school-trade, and crafting a graphite tip exemplifying the most efficient balance of writing speed, longevity, and accuracy was a respected art. Some kids liked the little plastic mini-sharpeners; I loved to use the big, blister-inducing wall-mounted log grinders.
I had a ritual every morning: I relished taking two or three pencils — sometimes even my entire colored set — and cranking them through the official metal wall sharpener in a blaze. I visualized the sharp, turning gears and applied alternating pressures, and within seconds fashioned writing instruments which would last an entire day without a refresh. It was so satisfying taking some new blunt pencils and creating an entire set of sharpened spears; it’s almost like the reverse feeling of clipping your nails or picking an itchy scab.
Then, as we matured, ink pens were used more and more. Maybe it was indicative that our thoughts, words, and actions would have a more permanent effect on us as we aged. Maybe erasers weren’t cool anymore, I don’t know. And although I can’t hand-write worth a damn now, and I would much rather use a keyboard…well, now that I think of it pencils are annoying to use and they create a mess. I really don’t miss them at all, but the sharpening process was nice.
Getting a New Video Game
There was ONE place to buy new video games when I was a kid: Toys”R”Us. Taking a trip here was a major event, or dare I say a rite of passage? There were no digital download codes, game cards, Amazon sellers, or Game Stops. Even if you wanted to rent a game, you had to go to a “video store” which rented VHS tapes for VCRs; and, if the store wasn’t a franchise like Blockbuster or Planet Video, it most likely had a seedy “adult” section abutting the game rental shelves.
Buying a new Nintendo game at Toys”R”Us back in the day was more like buying Canadian whiskey during prohibition. All the front-covers of the available (and “coming soon”) games were displayed on a six-foot high wall, and under each picture was a blue plastic hanger containing white “slips” representing the games in-stock. You excitedly snatched the slip you wanted and paid for it at the front registers, only to deliver your receipt to a long Plexiglas security room containing all the store’s expensive video games, computers, and electronics. After passing the receipt through a divot in the plastic counter, a serious blue-vested man found your game and slid it back to you. Nary a word was spoken — or, maybe I just couldn’t hear him.
With the lack of purchase sources, game reviews, and product stock, buying a video game in the 80’s and early 90’s was a lot more risky (especially with those crap LJN titles). If you bought a game, you better well be committed to it — even if it sucked. I think that built character. I appreciated when I found a really good game through word of mouth, learned that a game was garbage through a rental, or lucked out on a chance purchase. Today, there isn’t much adventure “outside the game,” so to speak.
I surmise we got ripped off just as much back then as we do now, but if I waste my money on a modern game, I just feel willfully ignorant or unrealistically hopeful. Video games (especially on consoles) are so similar to each other and predictable; either games are too “open-world,” or they are unashamedly “open-wallet” with day-one DLC, lazy micro-transactions, and deceptive season passes. [First-world problems alert.]
Snow is coming? Great! Let’s throw snowballs and make snowmen!
School is closed? Awesome! Let’s build a huge snow fort in the backyard!
The entire city is shut down! Amazing! Let’s tow each other around in sleds in the middle of the streets!
I can’t believe I once thought like this knowing now how much of a pain in the ass any amount of snow can be. Driving is actually dangerous or even deadly, and shoveling is backbreaking and time-consuming. Sure, snow makes everything look seasonal and beautiful, but now I wouldn’t ever consider it “fun.” I don’t have any interest in winter sports like skiing or snowboarding, and I think the high places where people do those things can make fake snow, anyway.
As an adult, I don’t fault children for enjoying snow and frolicking like nothing is wrong with creation during school-enforced snow days. It’s more that I pity the young…for what they love now with such abandon they will hate with such bitterness later.
Maybe that’s ending on a sour note, but what the hell, I’m sure many others can relate to how I feel. It’s fun to complain sometimes. THAT only gets better with age.