The Wonder Years. Sometimes dramatic… sometimes hilarious… always able to strike just the right emotional chord. Growing up, I loved The Wonder Years. I still do in fact; it’s my favorite TV show of all time. Launched in January of 1988, the show took its audience on a magical tour of suburban life in America in the late 1960s, viewed through the lens of teenager Kevin Arnold (played by Fred Savage). The first person narrative (voiced by Daniel Stern) enabled us to see the world through the eyes of young Kevin Arnold, who was coming of age in an age of turbulence and perpetual change. Like so many who watched the show, I was able to easily identify with Kevin — he was the prototypical everyday teenager. On a personal side note, the best compliment I’ve ever received in regards to my writing is that it evokes nostalgic memories of the infamous voice-over but I digress.
Last month saw the 25th anniversary of the final Wonder Years episode, Independence Day, which aired on May 12, 1993. It’s hard to believe it’s been 25 years since The Wonder Years went off the air, so continuing in the tradition of A Very Cutlip Christmas, I figure now is the perfect time to share yet another one of my favorite episodes from this seminal series.
This is a story of roots.
A story of relationships.
And a story of knowing yourself.
It’s a story…
OF MASTODONS AND MEN
In a lot of ways, high school boys are a lot like primitive man.
In fact, about the only difference between my clan and neanderthal man was…
“Hey, you guys wanna shoot some hoops after school?”
“Oh yeah, count me in.”
“Hey Kev, you playing?”
The tribe. That year we were inseparable. We faced all the challenges.
Julie Aidem. We been going out for 2 weeks. And to put it mildly…
She appreciated the little things about me.
“You know, you have a really cute laugh.”
She liked my laugh.
“I thought about you today, Kevin.”
“Yeah, I was thinking about you too.”
She thought about me… lots.
“Yeah, but with the collar up. You know, it really suits you.”
That was Julie. She watched over me. Took care of me. Civilized me.
And if that wasn’t enough.
“Hey Julie! Hey Kevin!”
She had a great dad, too.
“How many times do I have to tell you to call me Ben?”
“Well, finally got that problem solved. Now she’s ready for a little spin.” I admired the guy. He had hobbies, he was funny. A real man’s man.
“Honey, did I hear you say you’re going to take the sports car out for a drive?”
“Thought so, yeah.”
“You remember our agreement: You ONLY drive the sports car on the weekends.”
“Heh, I don’t know what got into me!”
“He’d be off driving it DAY and NIGHT if I let him, wouldn’t you, Ben?”
Not that Julie’s mom wasn’t every bit as fun loving as her dad.
“Hey Kevin, why don’t you stay for dinner?”
“I’d love to, June!”
All in all, it was quite a household. Filled with doilies and laced curtains. And of course, Pupu.
“Quiet, Pupu! Quiet!”
“I don’t get it, Daddy. You’re the only one that Pupu barks at.”
“That’s because Pupu loves Daddy!”
The Aidem family was a model of decorum. There may have been a reason for that.
“So Kev, who do you like for the World Series?”
“I don’t know. I think I like the Tigers, or maybe the Cubs.”
“Oakland’s gonna knock everyone else on their butts.”
“Oh, sorry. NOT at the dinner table!”
A home where people actually said please, and used butter knives. As oppose to say…
Yeah, this was the life. Catered to. Coddled. Taken care of.
Still, at two and a half weeks into the relationship, it was beginning to occur to me that civilization was not without its discontents.
“Well that’s great, daddy….”
“… OH yeah, lemme get something outta my tool box and I’ll get out of your way.”
“Daddy! Look what you’re doing to Pupu! You’re hurting her feelings!”
“Oh, I don’t know what got into me!”
“I’ll go get her a biscuit.”
And suddenly, the thought struck me this guy might appreciate a little male bonding.
And there ya had it.
“Did you miss me?”
So much for guy talk.
“Yeah, of course I missed you.”
The next day the guys were giving me a hard time about Julie.
“Look, I can do whatever I want. I don’t have to ask anyone! I’m playing football today after school, and that’s that!”
“Yeah sure Kev, whatever you say.”
“I’ll be there!”
But there was one little problem. Leaving the bathroom, I heard it…
Maybe that’s when I began to realize… the undeniable truth.
“So Paul, you wanna play some football this afternoon?”
“You got it, Chuck.”
By the next day, one thing was clear.
“Hey guys, what time you playing?”
Still, I had one skill primitive man did not: I could whine.
“C’mon guys! I wanna play!”
“Look Kev, you bailed on us yesterday, and you didn’t even tell us.”
“I got tied up! It was an emergency!”
“It was JULIE, wasn’t it?”
“It was ONE time. I promise, it’ll never happen again. Please?”
A few hours with the guys and I remembered who I was.
Yep, by the time I came home I was a new man.
“Kevin, you have a visitor.”
“… H-Hi. I wasn’t expecting you. So Julie, what’s going on?”
“Oh nothing. I thought you were coming over today.”
OK, it was clear we reached a critical juncture. It was time to set ground rules, here and now.
“Every once in a while, guys gotta, you know, hang out with other guys.”
And there it was. Gentle but somehow, firm.
“I guess you forgot what today is!”
“It’s our 3 week anniversary!”
“I got you a gift!”
Made you wonder if they knew how to gift wrap crow.
“Do you like it?”
“Yeah! I- I love it, it’s great, it’s it’s…”
“You know Kevin, if you wanna be with the guys sometimes, I understand.”
“No, no, that’s not it. It’s just –“
And right about then, something went wrong.
“So maybe it’s time we made more of a commitment.”
“Oh Kevin! This is so exciting! I can’t wait to tell everyone we’re going steady! But first we have to tell mommy and daddy at dinner.”
Not that I’d actually agreed to anything, you understand. Not technically, anyway.
Still, that night outside Julie’s house, I knew I didn’t have the courage to turn back.
Great, the whole family knew. And not only that, now we were gonna have the talk.
The father-of-the-bride speech.
About the birds.
About the bees.
“Duke was a black lab. Eighty pounds. He was so full of fun, and so full of spirit. He was a real man’s best friend kind of dog, you know. And Duke wasn’t afraid of anything.”
“What happened to him?”
“Ran away the day I proposed to June. I still think about him you know. Every now and then, at night…
“Uhh… terrific mash potatoes, Mrs. Aidem.”
“Thank you, Kevin.”
But then, I suppose they don’t call it the inevitable for nothing.
“Kevin, don’t you have an announcement to make?”
At least not around the Aidem household.
“Uhhhh, yeah. Yeah, yeah. I do…”
“Kevin, I think you should stand up.”
And that’s when it happened.
It was horrible. It was amazing. Almost as if Pupu knew I was about to join the ranks of Aidem men.
“Julie, I can’t do this. I just CAN’T! I like my collar down! And I HATE wearing striped shirts! And I don’t like cookies! And another thing, I don’t want to spend every minute with you. I like hanging out with the guys! I’m a HUNTER! And a WARRIOR!!”
OK, maybe I got a little carried away about the mastodon thing, but I wasn’t just speaking for myself. I was speaking for all mankind. For Ben.
“I can’t do it, Julie. We can’t go steady.”
*Aidem girls run off crying*
Over the next few weeks I rejoined my tribe. And in a lot of ways, I was back where I belonged.
I guess I knew there was still some unfinished business.
Between Ben and me at least.
“Hey Kevin. I thought that was you. You look pretty good out there.”
“Thanks. So… how’s Julie?”
“Oh she found a new guy. They’re going steady.”
“Huh, no kidding!”
“Yeah, he looks great in stripes.”
“I bet… hey! You got the car out on a Thursday huh!”
And in a way, I couldn’t help thinking I had something to do with it.
But me, I was just a sixteen-year-old guy, and the way I saw it, there were still a lot of mastodons yet to be slayed.
JULIE AIDEM, MEET SARAH FRANKLIN
Some say high school are some of the most critical years of your life. You made friends, enemies and memories. Sometimes you even broke hearts.
Looking back at my high school yearbook I see a lot of faces that pass through the years. Some I wonder how they’re doing and what they’re up to. Others, I wonder if they ever wonder about me. And then… there’s Sarah Franklin.
I was a junior in high school. Coincidentally, much like Kevin Arnold, my tale happened when I too was 16.
It was a language arts class, and we were watching a great film called Smoke Signals.
It seemed like an ordinary day, a day just like any other. Little did I know, it was anything but.
So I’m sitting there enjoying the movie when I started to notice Sarah giving me funny looks. I didn’t know why exactly, but I knew something was brewing.
And surprise surprise, something was.
On my way out of class that day I felt a tap. When I turned around, Sarah Franklin shoved an envelope in my hands and dashed off. It happened so fast I almost couldn’t believe it. Not wanting to involve the guys with the matter, I kept silent about it throughout lunch. When I got home I ripped the envelope open.
Whatever was inside… I knew one thing… it was more than just a party invitation.
I found a 2-page letter, printed on yellow and green paper. Here’s the gist of what it said:
I know we only see each other in English and Study Hall, but what I’m about to tell and ask you is HUGE. You see, my sister met a wonderful guy 10 months ago. They shared such a wonderful relationship and I’d never seen her any happier before than in those 10 months. Regrettably, good things never last, and his family ended up moving 10 months later. They knew a long distance relationship would never work, so they reluctantly broke up. My sister, ever since, has not been the same and as her big sis I’m looking for a great guy who is looking for a meaningful and loyal relationship. As I said, we don’t really know each other, but from what I know of you, you seem like a really great guy! It’s hard to find a good guy in this day and age who doesn’t use foul language or the like.
So… what I’m getting at is… would you like to meet my sister over lunch? If you’re looking for a great girl who will love and be loyal to you, my sister is the one. Please call me later today between 4 and 9 PM. My number is 867-5309.
PS- If I seem weird tomorrow in English class it will be because you know why!
Wow. It’s not everyday you get a letter like that! But at the time I just wasn’t looking for a relationship. So much like Kevin Arnold did, I knew what I had to do.
To this day I can still vividly remember the enthusiasm and giddiness in her voice as she picked up the phone… but I’ll also never forget how I took the wind right out of her sail in the next few seconds. It was hard. I felt bad. But I knew I had to be honest.
“WHAT ABOUT THE MASTODONS?!?!”
I didn’t quite go berserk like how Kevin Arnold did. There was no talk about being a hunter, a warrior or slaying mastodons. Instead I opted for the classic American way: a quick courteous note followed by friendly rejection.
Like Kevin, I wasn’t ready. I too was sixteen-years-old, and the way I saw it, there too were mastodons yet to be slayed.
Looking back, am I sorry about what I did? In a way, a little bit. Maybe the least I could have done was have lunch with the poor girl. But you know, when you’re 16 you do “dumb” things. Sarah Franklin figured I was different from the other guys. After what happened, she probably hated my guts.
Senior Grad Night. All the seniors were living it up at Disneyland. On one ride, my eyes met Sarah Franklin’s. We exchanged a nod — an unspoken pact of forgiveness. A moment that signified her younger sister was doing dandy in the game of life and that bygones would be bygones.
At least, that’s what I’d like to tell you.
But no such Wonder Years ending.
I really don’t remember what happened to Sarah Franklin. In fact, I hardly recall seeing her around my senior year. We haven’t spoken to each other since that one fateful phone call. Then again, not like we ever did before, you understand.
We’ve all broken someone’s heart. We didn’t mean to… it just happens. Lord knows we’ve been on the other end as well.
Yup, in high school we made friends, enemies and memories. Good and bad. And every now and then there are people you wonder about, and people you wonder if they ever wonder about you. And then there are the Sarah Franklin’s of the world. You don’t really want to remember the memories of the Sarah Franklin’s…
But you do.
Sarah, wherever you are, I hope you and your sister are doing well. I hope both of you have found the right guy (or girl) to share life’s ups and downs with. Cheers.
Growing up in the late ’80s to mid ’90s, cartoons were the best. Cartoons really hit their prime during that time as well. Whether it was G.I. Joe, ThunderCats, Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Duck Tales or Mighty Max, cartoons were as important to me as video games. One of my favorite cartoon shows was X-Men: The Animated Series. It just recently turned 25 years old. Wow. How time flies. Since Avengers: Infinity War came out recently and I just reviewed Marvel Super Heroes: War of the Gems, I can’t think of a better time to share my favorite episode from the X-Men Animated Series than now. It touches on some pretty deep topics that you just didn’t see being broached back in the day. It flew over my head as a kid but when I saw this episode later in my 20’s, it completely resonated with me. Let’s see… it’s got:
The danger of being ignorant
Don’t judge a book by its cover
Accepting others who are different from us
Man’s struggle with whether or not there is a greater power
Originally aired nearly 23 years ago on May 13, 1995, RVGFanatic proudly presents…
“I know, she say. Let’s take a trip, she say. It’d be fun, she say. Huh! Some fun.”
“After what we’ve been through lately, I figured we could use some time off.”
“This is sitting around drinking hot cocoa and getting funny looks from rich folk.”
“Come on, a demon? You must be kidding!”
“I heard it on the train. The whole town thinks they’ve been under attack by some dark creature for months. Must be some local yokel superstition.”
“TELL ME MORE.”
“I’ll make it up to you. We’ll fly to Monte Carlo. We eat nice, lie on the beach…”
“Man doesn’t break a sweat against Apocalypse or Magneto. So WHAT nails him? A pine tree. Wait… OH CRAP.”
“Please, do not worry. This is home to twenty members of our order. We minister to many ski accident victims.”
“Brother Reinhard. Please show our guests to the visitor accommodations.”
“Brother, is it wise to have strangers around at this terrible time? They’re not the usual travelers!”
“Those in need are always welcome, Brother Reinhard. Please have faith in our mission.”
“Yeah. Therefore, would you be kind enough to accept something more appropriate to wear during your stay?”
“Don’t wanna make the natives restless…”
“You should take care where you walk. Some doors on the upper levels open into thin air. The abbey was heavily damaged during the war.”
“So, Johann, besides praying and ministering, what do you boys do all day?”
“Our mission is to give shelter and comfort to all travelers. And, of course, to offer a place to renew one’s relationship with the Lord.”
“Being close to Heaven didn’t help us this afternoon, Father.”
“Are you sure, sir? Have you lost your faith? What is it that you seek?”
“Action. F’rinstance, I hear ya got a demon hanging around here.”
“You mean down in the town, in Neuherzl. Yes. An odd rumor, isn’t it? Personally, I have never myself met a demon…”
“Brother in the ecclesiastical sense — a member of our monastery.”
“I’m sorry I startled you, Fräulein. I did not know you could fly.”
“It’s okay. I didn’t know you could do whatever that was you did.”
“Teleportation. I think of a place I’d rather be, look to it, and I am there.”
“Gambit rather be in Monte Carlo. Think you can work that out?”
“But, aren’t you the demon we heard about?”
“In a manner of speaking, yes. Like yourselves, I am a mutant. But unlike most mutants, my condition was obvious from the moment I was born.”
“The villagers drove my mother away… for bearing such a freak.”
“I never even knew her name. She could be anyone, really…”
“Instead I was found by a family of traveling performers. I became Nightcrawler, the star attraction of their little circus. For their freakish world, I was perfect!”
“But when the spotlight went out, I was still an outcast. Shunned and hated.”
“No, he’s right. Though all people are flawed and all struggle with the capacity for sin, none likes to be reminded of our shared human weakness. My appearance does not make it easy.”
“It did once. But then I found peace by devoting my life to God. He directed me to this place, where they value the character of my heart, not my appearance.”
“No, my friend. God does not give up on any of His children, be it human or mutant. He is there for us in our times of joy, and to help us when we are in pain… if we let Him.”
“Don’t give me that easy answer garbage! I’ve tried! Don’t ya think I want that!! I don’t need a sermon from some circus boy preacher.”
“Fine. Now Gambit got a question. If you’re not the guy who tried to put me out for good, who was?”
“All people of Neuherzl! I can no longer allow such sacrilege! The beast you seek is there! In the monastery!”
“Are you mad? Those are men of God!”
“We are alike, you and I, angry at the world, and ourselves. My pain drove me to seek God. Yours drove you away.”
“Our ability to understand God’s purpose is limited, but we take comfort in the fact His love is limitless.”
“Yet despite it all, people of every faith believe there is a God who loves them.”
“Would it hurt so much to see the world through different eyes?”
“Brother! There is a mob headed up the road from Neuherzl. They must have discovered you are here.”
“Neuherzl is isolated. The people know nothing about mutants. Perhaps I am here to help open their hearts. I must leave so no one will be hurt.”
“Remember, Logan. Those people aren’t bad. They’re just scared. Be careful.”
“Careful? Fifty against two?!”
“I will surrender. It is the only way to prevent anyone else getting hurt.”
“I disagree. Brother Reinhard understands his tragic mistake and has repented.”
“The townspeople no longer look at me with fear in their hearts.”
“The foundation God has built in our hearts can never be ruined.”
“I don’t know. Those quiet little monks were starting to grow on me.”
“Face it, chére, those monks kid themselves. We on our own in this world. Life is random. Deal you a full house, or a busted flush.”
“I will give thanks to you, oh Lord. For though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, and you comforted me. I will trust and not be afraid.”
I love how this episode centers around Logan’s struggle with faith in something larger than himself. TV shows back in the ’90s rarely touched upon such issues, much less cartoons. Nightcrawler’s pure faith, if not admirable and inspirational, is certainly understandable. Len Uhley, who wrote this landmark episode, didn’t shove religion down the viewer’s throat. Instead, he presented it in a way that more or less left it up to the individual to decipher. It didn’t beat you over the head but the message was just strong enough to make you think about things that perhaps may be outside of one’s comfort zone. Very few cartoon episodes have ever made me reflect on my own life and views as much as Nightcrawler did. Is there really a God who exists and cares for us all? Can we find true peace from God’s word? That’s up to each individual person. Nightcrawler did a great job of broaching the subject. Personally, I’m a believer. I became a Christian at 25 back in 2009. I got into it pretty hardcore, but I’m pretty casual nowadays with my faith. It’s more of a private thing these days for me, and that’s how I like to keep it.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t share my favorite faith-related story. Several summers ago, I organized a volunteering gig with some friends of mine. It was a foot washing and feeding event for the homeless. It was a humbling experience. I’ll never forget the first man whose feet I washed. He told me right off the bat, pardon the pun, that his name is Bruce Wayne and that he’s THE Batman. Naturally, part of me thought he was crazy. But as the foot washing went on, “Bruce” shared childhood stories of his father with me, his 29 years in the truck driving business, and shared his dreams growing up. Didn’t take long for me to realize he’s just like anyone else. At the end he thanked me for the foot washing and left.
Not three minutes later, he walked back in to show me his identification card. SON OF A BITCH. Sure enough, there it was, clear as day. Name: BRUCE WAYNE. He wasn’t kidding, he really was Bruce Wayne. He gave me a grin and I returned the gesture as we nodded before he walked out. Later I spoke with the coordinator and she explained to me Bruce is a regular and how his Batman persona is his own personal way of coping with being homeless. Wow. It’s a little bit deeper than just “Oh, this dude’s a crazy homeless guy.” The experience reminded me not to be so quick judging others. Walk a mile in their shoes — or wash their feet — before you decide what their story is.
Len Uhley reflects fondly on his Nightcrawler episode here.
In late 2016, Nintendo released a trailer highlighting their upcoming 7th console, the Nintendo Switch. To say that I was skeptical would have been a gross understatement. I had long lost faith in Nintendo, or at least in their current state. My brother and I grew up on the NES and the Super Nintendo. Both systems were amazing, giving us countless memories. The Nintendo 64 came along in 1996 and was a mixed bag. By the time the GameCube launched in late 2001, my brother and I stopped caring. Neither of the two Wii consoles were able to move the needle on my gaming meter. As for the PlayStation and XBox consoles, they surely had their share of gems but I honestly didn’t care enough to ever buy any of those systems. I was content with my SNES collection and assumed that my time buying games had long come to an end. That was, at least, until I finally played the Switch…
A NEW ERA — FINALLY
As it has been well documented here on RVGFanatic, I got back into the SNES scene nearly 12 years ago (January 2006). It’s been an incredible journey and I have played so many amazing games since then. I more or less finished my collection in 2012 and figured I was set for life. I had no interest in modern gaming. Not that I hated them but rather I just didn’t care enough to play them. That slowly began to change as I heard the rumblings for one, The Legend ofZelda: Breath of the Wild. The trailer, released in early 2017, was breathtaking. If any modern game can bring me back to the fold, Breath of the Wild might be it. For the first time in forever, I found myself salivating over a new game.
I was floored. It was the first time in nearly 12 years that I found myself thinking, “It might be time to buy another system.” I remember one night in March 2017 my bro sent me a funny picture of some guy on the internet declaring it was going to be an epic night. Sure looked like it!
Seeing that pic made me remember all the epic gaming adventures I had long long ago. It was that little seed planted in my head. The Switch launched on March 3, 2017. I didn’t buy one but I remember telling myself maybe Black Friday. Maybe. But I found no deals on the Switch and thus, Black Friday came and went. My brother, on the other hand, struck a bit of gold…
Despite not owning a Switch, he spotted Breath of the Wild on Walmart’s website for the incredibly low price of $29. He jumped on it because he knew I had interest in buying a Switch. Apparently it was a mistake on the website — it was supposed to be marked down to $49 but he made the purchase before the website could correct itself. They honored their end and shipped the game out to him. Coincidentally, I read this on Reddit a few days ago…
[SATURDAY] DECEMBER 2, 2017
After visiting my month old nephew, I hit up the local Target only to be greeted by the last Switch console. I couldn’t resist and pulled the trigger. Final damage following a flurry of gift cards: $267. I walked out of Target cradling the Switch against my chest as though it were Frankenstein’s very own heart! It was my first system purchase in nearly 12 years
Breath of the Wild arrived at my brother’s place later that day. It was like it was meant to be. I picked it up, drove back home, popped it in and was immediately blown away. Honestly, I hadn’t played a 3D “modern” game in forever. These past 12 years I stuck mainly to the SNES. Well, Breath of the Wild has definitely made me rethink my gaming habits. Although I still love and play the SNES, it certainly won’t be the only system I play going forward. Nintendo had officially converted me. I have, pardon the pun, made the switch.
Right away I was flung into the wide open world of Hyrule. It literally took my breath away. Immersive is a word that gets thrown around a lot in gaming circles but I can’t think of a better adjective to describe this game. Best of all, it looks and plays great even on the portable end. In fact, I’ve been playing it only in this format thus far.
As I get older and busier, I find I have less and less time to sit in front of a TV to play a game. The portability makes it perfect to play for 20 minutes while laying in bed before sleeping. It’s also ideal to play while having a TV show on in the background. It’s truly a game changer. The Switch is a versatile little sucker and it’s portable gaming the likes of which we have never seen before. We have come a long way since the Game Boy and Game Gear, haven’t we?
I began going through the shrines and giggling like a little school girl on the inside. I could tell it was the beginning of an unforgettable gaming experience.
Acquiring new skills and weapons is all part of the fun. Each new power gained opened up even more possibilities.
Hunting for food or shooting enemies from afar became highly addicting.
I’m only 12 hours in or so but already I feel like this is easily one of the top 10 (if not 5) best games I have ever played. Quite frankly, maybe even #1.
[MONDAY] DECEMBER 4, 2017
But there was no rest for the weary. A few days later, I went to Best Buy to pick up Doom for $53 following my 20% discount. I haven’t been able to play Doom yet because I want to beat Zelda first. But rest assured, having missed the 2016 version of Doom and hearing what a competent amazing port the Switch version is, I cannot bloody wait to dig into this one!
[WEDNESDAY] DECEMBER 6, 2017
I honestly thought I would just have Breath of the Wild and Doom for now. But you know how these things work.There’s a snowball effect when something comes along and completely captures your imagination. A few days after picking up Doom, my brother told me GameStop was selling Rayman Legends for only $25.
I have Rayman on the Sega Saturn and have always enjoyed it. Plus, the Switch version received rave reviews, so I decided to swing by the local GameStop after work to pick it up. Unfortunately, the GameStop I went to was sold out. But the clerk said there was another location nearby that had 3 copies left. That store happened to be at my childhood mall!
I can’t count the number of times my mom took me to this mall when I was a kid. Every Friday after school we went. It was sort of a tradition of ours. Rain or shine. Seeing the tall Christmas tree there always brings back memories of the mall Santa back in the day. Although the mall has been renovated over the years, the core structure remains. It never fails to bring back a memory or two.
Making the walk down this way was something of a spiritual experience, as sad as that may sound. I’ve walked that path thousands of time. It was always visit Suncoast first, followed by Software Etc., KB Toys, Walden Books and Cyberstation. Being here again brought back a ton of nostalgia for me, and reminded me of my early SNES hunting days back in 2006. The thrill and excitement hanging in the air. That feeling of knowing you were going to come away with a brand new game to add to the ole collection. Hopping around town snatching up games left and right like a mad man. It was more than just collecting games. It was reclaiming bits and pieces of my childhood in whole new ways.
A montage of these classic childhood sights and sounds suddenly flashed in my mind as I entered GameStop and picked up Rayman Legends at the counter. It was now my 3rd Switch game in nearly as many days. Yep, I could feel it coming. And there was no stopping it. I had Switch fever!
[SATURDAY] DECEMBER 9, 2017
I visited Target the next day to pick up a few things. I had absolutely ZERO intentions of buying another Switch game but lo and behold, there I found Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 on sale for $39.99. Before I knew it, a 4th game was added to my rapidly growing Switch library.
I texted my brother about my latest purchase and he said I had gone nuts. He was probably right. But damn was I having fun!
[SUNDAY] DECEMBER 10, 2017
After buying Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2, I thought to myself, “OK now I’m really done. For a while at least.” Well, a while turned out to be less than 24 hours later. The following day, my brother texted me that Toys R Us was selling Lego City Undercover for just $19.99. Lego in a GTA (Grand Theft Auto) setting? Count me in!
While Toys R Us was processing my online pickup order, I searched the web on my iPhone only to discover that Fry’s Electronics was selling Resident Evil Revelations Collection for only $29.99. And of course, there just happened to be a Fry’s down the road from Toys R Us. So I drove over to Fry’s to buy Resident Evil Revelations Collection. Then drove back to Toys R Us to pick up Lego City Undercover. I felt like an absolute mad man; I haven’t done this much game hunting in 10 years!
While at Fry’s hunting down Resident Evil Revelations Collection, I ran across Axiom Verge for $29.99. I was tempted to add it to my tab. Axiom Verge caught my eye a few years back and I was always curious about it. But a quick search revealed Toys R Us selling it for $29.99 plus a 15% discount. I was hoping to pick it up at the Toys R Us location I just bought Lego City Undercover from, but unfortunately they didn’t have one in stock. The closest pick up location was… *gasp*… the old Toys R Us store from my childhood!
[MONDAY] DECEMBER 11, 2017
Going to my childhood Toys R Us meant passing through this old haunt. My cousins lived in the neighborhood nearby and I spent much of my youth visiting my cousins on the weekends back in the late ’80s to mid ’90s. Needless to say, that whole area is incredibly nostalgic to me. It’s also where I experienced the greatest Halloween of my life back in 1994. The infamous night I met “The Lady in the Haunted House” AKA Becky, who has gone on to become a lifelong friend. I actually just met up with Becky a few weeks ago. Going through the old neighborhood was just an added bonus to my jaunt for Axiom Verge.
I stood there for a moment to just admire the scene. This was the same Toys R Us my parents took me and my brother to millions of times back in the late ’80s to mid ’90s. It was probably 10 years since I had last been there. At that point, it was one of the few relics from my past still standing in the same spot!
Who doesn’t remember the classic Toys R Us game slips back in the day? Seeing an aisle plastered with them was like a little slice of Heaven. Some of my fondest childhood memories came from simply strolling through the aisles drooling at the game covers all bug-eyed. Nothing topped the feeling of when your parents relented and bought you a game! Taking that slip out of its sleeve, only to discover it’s the LAST one, and taking it to the special game counter to claim your precious pixelated prize. Cue the Final Fantasy victory theme!
Sadly, Toys R Us long stopped doing the game slips. Nonetheless, being there brought back the wave of memories. I also ran into two versions of Goldar from the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: OG Goldie and that crappy looking version from the 2017 movie.
Ah, Imaginext. In 2004 I ran across a bunch of their sets on clearance from the same Toys R Us location. Huge sets going for literally $5. I remember bringing home a bunch of the sets and my ex being bewildered!
After walking around the store for 15 minutes or so just taking it all in, I made my way to the pickup counter. I cannot wait to play Axiom Verge but first I have to beat Breath of the Wild
Not a bad deal at $27! It looks awesome.
Before pulling out of the parking lot, I stood there to admire my childhood Toys R Us one last time. Even though the inside has long been gutted and rearranged, there were pockets in the store where I remember standing some 25, 30 years ago! R.I.P. Toys R Us.
It’s been forever since I’ve played a newer Mario game. I know I’ve missed out on many great Mario games since 1991’s Super Mario World, so Super Mario Odyssey will certainly make up for some of that lost time.
[SATURDAY] DECEMBER 23, 2017
Earlier in the day I was able to price match Puyo Puyo Tetris and Ninjago at Target. Both were going for $39.99 but Toys R Us was selling both for $19.99. Thanks Toys R Us!
[SATURDAY] JANUARY 13, 2018
I received a $25 gift card for Amazon and used it on Skyrim, a game I’ve never played before but can’t wait to dig into. It ended up costing only $35.99.
[SUNDAY] JANUARY 14, 2018
I spent the weekend out of town with my girlfriend. I was browsing Nintendo Switch Deals on Reddit (shout out!) on a lazy Sunday morning when I came across this promising post…
Lady Luck was on my side as my girlfriend’s town happened to be one of the 63 stores closing down! I was cautiously optimistic but I figured the game I wanted most (Mario Kart 8 Deluxe) would be long sold out. Eh, it can’t hurt to try, right…
After waiting in line (just to enter the store) for some odd 30 minutes, we were finally in. I made a beeline for the electronics section. Lo and behold, I spotted the last copy sitting before my eyes! I bought Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Arms.
I was so happy that I was able to get the last copy of Mario Kart. The rush of adrenaline as we snagged the final copy (and picked up Arms as well) lasted all the way on the drive home. A most serendipitous Sunday!
Thanks for taking care of me, Jennifer!
Later that same night, I dropped by Target to buy L.A. Noire. I had a gift card and paid $38.
Taking place in Los Angeles in the late ’40s, L.A. Noire is another “modern” game I missed out on but can now play thanks to my Switch.
(e)SHOP ‘TIL YA DROP
On Christmas morning 2017, the floodgates were opened when I made my very first eShop purchase. Here are my 34 digital games in order of purchase.
SOME GAMES I’LL BUY IN 2018
And so much more. The Switch’s future is bright and the possibilities are endless. Welcome back to my heart, Nintendo. Welcome back!
It’s hard for me to believe that I would ever feel so invested in a system not named Super Nintendo, especially in the year 2017. But the Switch has made a believer out of me. Being able to play all these amazing games on the go as well as on the big screen TV is a brilliant stroke of ingenuity. Its versatility caters to your lifestyle, as it should, rather than you catering to a system’s limitations. As much as I still love my SNES, I’ll admit there are times where I’m just not in the mood to sit by my TV to play. There are times where I wish I could just play it in bed or during a show. The Switch allows you to do so. Nintendo has something big on its hands here, as evident by the Switch recently surpassing the 10 million units sold mark. This is truly the future wave of gaming.
If you’ve been teetering on the fence with the Switch, it’s time to hop over. It has the same impeccable Nintendo magic that I remember the NES and SNES having back in the ’80s and ’90s. Hell, over time I can even possibly see the Switch overtaking the SNES as my favorite system of all time. Never in a million years did I ever think I would say that. If Nintendo eventually releases some of their SNES classics on the Switch eShop going forward then all bets are off. The Switch is poised for unprecedented success, merging gamers from all generations. Its legacy as one of the coolest systems ever is quickly being etched in stone by the day. Don’t miss out! Nintendo is BACK baby and damnit, they might be better than ever.
Today is September 21, 2017. It marks the last day of summer 2017. Tomorrow officially marks the first day of fall. I can’t think of anything more fitting to write about now than the summer adventure I had in Kenya, Africa seven years ago. I found myself at a missions meeting at my local church in May of 2010. I felt a tugging on my heart strings when they spoke about the Africa trip. GO, the inner voice proclaimed as clear as day. It’s kind of like the “voice” from Field of Dreams, except you don’t actually hear it audibly. You hear it in your spirit. And that day I knew beyond a shadow of doubt, by the grace of God, I would be serving the good folks of Kenya later that summer.
May, June and July were crazy months indeed. We had a team of a dozen and we spent those three months in the States getting to know each other. After all, we were going to be stuck together for two weeks in close proximity 24/7. We sent out support letters to friends and family, hosted many fundraisers, got our necessary shots (big fun that was) and we prepared our hearts and minds for the exciting journey ahead. It wasn’t all smooth sailing though. Violence and protests broke out in Kenya a couple months prior to our arrival date. The US Embassy even urged us NOT to go during the dates we had targeted. That’s crazy now that I think back on it! We had a few members step down from the trip due to the warning and political unrest. It was a decision that each of us had to make on our own accord. I forged ahead and am so thankful I did.
Late July 2010. The day we boarded our flight was actually my 27th birthday. It also marked the first time I would be leaving the good ol’ US of A. Yup, Kenya was my first trip outside the US. I’m not much of a traveler as you can see, but I appreciated the love they gave me (champagne on the house).
I’ll never forget landing after a long 24 hour flight (including layovers). I was sitting next to a Kenyan and we had been talking the final half hour of the flight. He was visiting his family from his new home, Chicago. “You’re going to love Kenya,” he said. “The people here are very friendly and we love to just talk. It’s not like how it is in America, you know. In Kenya, people can sit and talk for the whole day. Try that in America and see how far you get!” We wished one another well as we exited the plane. I remember thinking to myself if everyone in Kenya is like this then what an awesome trip it’ll be. As we waited for our Kenyan hosts to pick us up, we converted our US dollars to the Kenyan currency (shillings). Then we waited outside in the cool of the night, at around roughly 11 PM, anticipating our hosts.
It wasn’t long before a big bus pulled up and a whole bunch of friendly Kenyans jumped out eager to shake our hands and embrace us with a big ole hug. They were our hosts. We climbed aboard and each team member sat next to a Kenyan. I sat next to Jeff who reminded me of a dear old college friend back in the States. You know how you instantly bond with certain people? That was the case for me and Jeff. As we passed by the busy roads, Jeff shared with me that we were going to pass by his ex girlfriend’s house coming up soon. “I was ready to propose to her,” he reminisced. “But I kid you not, the day before, she dumped me. It burned in my heart for a long time.” And then, there it was. In the dead calm still of the night, I spotted Jeff’s ex’s house. An idea flashed excitedly through my mind. “Hey Jeff tell you what. YOU. ME. A BAG OF EGGS. THAT HOUSE. 3 AM TONIGHT.” It was met with the greatest and loudest laugh I’d ever heard. James, sitting three rows back, yelled “PARTY UP IN STEVE’S ROW!”
A pastor that my church back home partners with hosted us in his lovely home. The goal of our trip? Work with the orphans of Kenya and spread the love of Christ through Bible stories and worship over the course of the next two weeks. We unloaded our things and met our host family. The pastor, his lovely wife and three children — two high school boys and a girl about to enter high school. We took bucket showers which was a major adjustment, but it wasn’t too bad once you got used to it. The guys slept in one room while the girls slept in another.
I’ll never forget lying in bed that night alongside four other team members. Our flat single beds were on the ground next to each other in a cramped little room. It was 1 AM. Everyone was dead tired and had already crashed, but I was wide awake. And that’s when I heard it. A cacophony of various wild animals howling and hollering. Dogs barking, roosters crowing (Kenya roosters’ clocks are all messed up), cats screeching, maybe even wild coyotes. It sounded like bloody murder out there. And for the first time, it REALLY hit me… Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore!I closed my eyes and fell off into a deep sound sleep. Early the next morning, we woke up at the butt crack of dawn. One by one, we shuffled off into the restroom like zombies. We all had jet lag but there was a quiet sense of excitement in the air. We gathered at the breakfast table where the pastor spoke to us. On the agenda? Trek out to the local schools, introduce ourselves to the children, and advertise that we’d be working with them throughout the next two weeks.
The 12 of us, along with three Kenyan guides, walked to the first school. It was about two miles away from Pastor’s house. Instead of riding the bus, we wanted to take in the sights and sounds. It was a long dirt path. Along the way we saw Kenyans out and about, and everyone waved to us. I’ll never forget turning the corner and seeing all the children jumping and cheering for us on cue. They treated us like we were rock stars! They even sang a song to us in Swahili. They didn’t know us but they treated us like we were kings and queens. It was a timely reminder of how lucky I was. We introduced ourselves, advertised our program and performed musical skits for them. They watched on with great interest and clapped loudly whenever one of us spoke. It was pretty surreal. They treated us like we were movie stars!
It didn’t take long before the whole room was filled! More songs and musical skits ensued, much to the delight of the children. They were crammed in there like sardines. Yet they all seemed so joyful. It reminded me of the many things we sometimes complain about that aren’t really that big a deal.
The next school we visited was easily the most affluent of the lot. The little children were all dressed warmly and the school was the nicest looking one.
I loved the looks on their little faces as we performed our various musical skits advertising our program in the weeks to come.
The next school was much smaller. They wore lovely red uniforms, except for that one badass rebel there!
These kids stepped up one at a time to declare their future aspirations. Answers of doctors, teachers and nurses filled the air. The session ended with all of us dancing with the children. It was a great time! Then, my two team leaders were called to be at another school at the same time our 5th school visit was scheduled, so they needed a proxy. They appointed me. I was set to be the MC for the next school visit. Wow. I felt anxious and apprehensive, despite having a public speaking and theatrical background. One thing’s for sure… I will never forget that 5th school visit…
It’s been said that the Lord has a sense of humor. So of course the 5th school, the one I was responsible for MC’ing, had to be the rowdiest of the day!
From sheer chaos to a nice calm scene. We finally had room to exhale. Our day of work had concluded and it was back to Pastor’s house for dinner preparation and more planning for the following day. I took a moment to take in this scene before heading back to our team bus. To remember the madness that filled this area not five short minutes ago, and how peaceful it now was.
After heading back to Pastor’s house, we hung out in the living room. The two main facilitators were still out on business, so I led the debriefing session. It was a great, crazy day for all of us. Then some of us headed into the kitchen to help Joy, Pastor’s wife, with making the samosa. Man, I love me some samosa!
This was a typical meal during our stay. Joy is a mean cook, believe that! Although we craved American food, I can’t complain and we always got seconds!
PASTOR LEE: ENTER THE PIMP
After dinner, one of our dear Kenyan host friends, Pastor Lee, called all 12 of us over. It was a classic scene. He sat there in the middle of the living room, in this single person desk (rather random and a bit peculiar right off the bat). He briskly signaled for us to come over. We all thought he had something serious to share. Maybe something deeply spiritual. Maybe he just wanted to pump us up for tomorrow. We all waited for what seemed like forever as he just stared at each of us silently, caught in deep thought, his mouth agape. And then, the most unforgettable line came hurling out of his mouth… “How do you turn girls on?”
We all paused and looked at each other like, “Whoa, did he JUST say what I think he just said? No he dih-ent!”
“How do you turn girls on?” he asked once again, like a child asking for a cookie. In his little desk no less, which looked slightly too uncomfortable for a man of his size to be sitting in…
After the initial shock wore off, one of the girls fielded his inquiry. “We love a man with confidence. That, a sense of humor and poise is very big to us. It says a lot about the guy.”
“Pastor Lee, what do YOU think turns girls on?” one of the guys asked, playing along.
“Well, I use this…” he fumbled around in his pocket and for a second there we all kind of gave each other a funny look like what shenanigans will this be. Lee isn’t a small guy and he barely fit in the desk. His face strained as he reached deep into his pocket. It was quite comical. Finally he pulled out a pen and held it high in the air with a grin plastered from ear to ear, like a knight in shining armor upholding his mighty sword after slaying the vicious dragon.
“That’s your great trick?!” everyone asked.
“Not a trick my friends but a deadly weapon indeed when wielded in the right hands… it is the mighty pen.”
I wish I could find the words to describe the following moments justice. It’s one of those “you just had to be there” scenarios. All of us were looking like “what the hell is happening right now?!” or as the cool kids supposedly say, “Is this real life?!” What a funny, strange man! His verbiage and mannerisms are classic. Add in his Kenyan accent and it’s like Night at the Comedy Club with Lee
“You see,” he continued. “When I have this, this pen I’m holding right here, yes, this one… when I have this, when I am wielding this pen you see here, it is not merely an ordinary pen. Suddenly… it becomes… something entirely more… than just… a regular pen… you see?”
He is what you would call a grade-A classic character. He shared his legendary pickup line: “Hi m’am. Do you have one second? I’d like to show you this cool new pen I have… or perhaps I could entertain you in letting you borrow it?”
He had us rolling in stitches! The girls tried to give him a few pointers in the right direction but Lee was adamant on keeping his pen routine. He claimed it yields him great success all throughout the land of Kenya. It was hard to tell whether this was part of his shtick, whether he was dead serious, or if he was just plain crazy. I guess that’s what makes Lee so special and endearing. You never knew what he’d say but whatever it was, you could be sure of one thing. You’ll be laughing. Sometimes with him, but most often, at him. And I think, that’s the whole point
The best part though was when Lee left and we asked Pastor a burning question…
“Pastor, is Lee a pastor?”
“Lee?! Oh no. Good grief, NO.”
“Oh? We’ve been calling him Pastor Lee all night, and he never once said anything…”
“Of course not. Lee just likes having that title, and he’ll take it from anyone who gives it to him.”
We all looked at each other like “MAN! Bamboozled, by THAT fool?! F*cking Lee!”
The trip was sure to be memorable before Lee. After meeting Lee, I knew I would surely never forget these next two weeks…
BACK TO SERVING
Early the next morning we headed to a local church to work with the children there. They looked up to us as though we were rock stars. It was very humbling.
Walking through these cramped bare hallways reminded me quickly of how good I have it back home. And the small stuff I sometimes find myself bitching about? It’s nothing in the grand scheme of things.
Our Kenyan helpers then took us to the rooftop where we saw the slums stretch out before our very eyes. It was a crazy sight! Later that day we visited the slums and sat in one to speak with one of the ladies. It was maybe 10×10 with no electricity. She lives with her five children all jammed up in there. Insane. The craziest part was when I spotted a baby crawling around in the mud on the road with no parent in sight. Being there in the slums really shifts your perspective. It just reminded me not to take things for granted and not to bitch over the small stuff too much as we humans sometimes have a proclivity to do.
I’ll never forget sitting in one of those slum shacks. We were squeezed in like sardines. I was only there for 15 minutes. I can’t imagine living there. It was a good reminder that the next time I feel like complaining about little inconveniences (i.e. lack of parking spots, light just turning red, etc.) I really should think twice and be GRATEFUL instead. You see this stuff on TV but it doesn’t hit you until you walk through it in your own two shoes.
While we were taking photos, some of the kids below spotted us and played to the camera!
They were so happy to see us. We were greeted and (in some cases) mobbed everywhere we went, like we were the Second Coming. It was nuts.
It wasn’t long before our room filled up with kids. Manning this station was me, Jeff and Theresa. Our station was the Bible story telling hour. The kids were so well behaved and eager to hear us talk. We shared Acts 12:1-19 with them and acted out the story. I played Peter, Theresa played the angel and Jeff, bless that Kenyan’s good heart, played Rhoda the female servant, complete with girly voice and all. Needless to say, it was a big hit with the kids!
The story tells us that Peter was in prison. Back home his people were praying for his safe return. When he actually did, Rhoda answered the door and was so excited that she ran back to let everyone know of Peter’s miraculous return. They told her she was out of her mind. You have to love the irony…
TAKE A CHILL PILL
On the car ride home I sat in the back of the bus with one of our Kenyan friends. I love this dude. We called him E and he’s got the greatest laugh — well alright, it’s tied with Jeff. I just love how Kenyans have this fire and zest for life and laughing. So, E and I were just chilling in the back of the bus. We ended up sharing our testimonies to each other on the ride back to Pastor’s house. The topic moved to girls and E was sharing his angst (at age 20) to get a girlfriend.
“Yeah Steve, I can’t help it man. It’s been on my mind 24/7. I just want a girlfriend. Right now!”
“Man, just chill. You be alright. I tell ya, what I wouldn’t give to be 20 again. You got your whole life ahead of you… you’ll be just fine. In the meantime, trust me, take a chill pill on the ladies.”
“Good points there. I like you Steve. I like you a whole LOTS! *laughs his big laugh* Say, by chance do you have a chill pill?”
I pretended to dump a chill pill in his outstretched hand. “Need some water?” I added.
Right on cue, James, who sat one row ahead of us, offered E his water bottle without looking back. Amazing comedic timing! E and I burst out in laughter and one of the leaders up front said, “Sounds like they’re having a PARTY back there!” Good times.
SWITCHING IT UP
Later that night our team split up and slept in different places. We were working with different churches the next morning so pockets of us left to different locales that evening. It was just me, James, E and Isaiah who stayed at this other pastor’s house. It was a rainy night. This new house was much smaller and unlike the previous Pastor’s house we stayed at, this one was void of any electricity. We had to use flashlights to navigate our way around the house after dark. I really felt homesick that night. Nearly all of my team members were somewhere else and I had gotten used to the first Pastor’s house. This new place felt like we had stepped back into the Dark Ages. Before we headed off to bed, all six of us sat in the pastor’s living room area. We were cloaked predominantly in darkness outside the flickering of a few candles. Heavy rain whipped outside. It set quite the mood! I sat across from Isaiah and he started to share his testimony with all of us. I’ll never forget this. Isaiah is one of those guys who has a booming, commanding voice. He’s a big guy, too. The type that people naturally stop and listen to whenever he talks. I couldn’t see his face in the dark, but his booming voice reached out to all of us as we sat in that small dark living room.
“About three years back, I was hanging out with the wrong crowd. I was doing things I shouldn’t have done. Smoking things I shouldn’t have smoked. Taking things I shouldn’t have taken. One day my friends and I got into a fight with a rival group. Before I knew it, the silver glint of a 9mm gun blinded my eyes. Then I found my legs carrying me. I heard shots being fired off. They zipped right past my ear. I heard my friends crying out and the sickening THUD of their bodies hitting the floor. But there was nothing I could do. Nothing except run. I don’t know how I managed to escape with my life that day, except by the grace of God. At that moment, I knew God kept me alive because He still has plans for me to carry out. I gave my life over to Christ and made it my mission to work with the youth, help show them the right way from the wrong way. I know that’s the calling God has placed on my life and I’ve been happily living it out these past three years.”
Wow. Quite a powerful story. The heavy rain lashing against the windows, darkness all around us, it all enhanced the atmosphere. I could only just hear his booming voice. We’re so bombarded with visuals and technology. It was actually nice to just sit in the darkness and hear Isaiah share his story. It felt like I had stepped into a time machine as it did not feel like 2010. I no longer felt homesick after hearing his moving story. It’s amazing how a little light can brighten up even the darkest of rooms…
The very next morning proved to be damp and moist thanks to the heavy rain throughout the night. It felt surreal just standing in the middle of the road, in this country, so far away from the comforts of home. On today’s agenda: we’ll be heading over to the local church to help hand craft some items for the kids to take home with them. We made thousands of them.
EVERY TRIP NEEDS A LITTLE DRAMA…
During our two week trip we had one day off for pure sightseeing. We went to the museum, the zoo and we even did some shopping for family and friends back home. This was another crazy day because later that night during our daily share time before bed, one of the girls voiced her displeasure that we “wasted” a day where we should have been working with the kids to “make a difference.” I guess no trip is complete without a little drama and internal strife. It was dead silence in Pastor’s living room that night after she shared. After the initial shock of the raw comment wore off, we all shared our thoughts and it was actually quite the breakthrough. We were one week into our trip at that point, with one week left to go, and that night proved to be the catalyst for us bonding like a real team should. Something happened that night. And we realized we really needed to band together as a team to finish what we’d started.
Later that night, in the privacy of guys’ room, James, the male team leader and I stayed up til 3 AM talking about it. The other guys had already passed out. James, T and I just laid there on our beds talking in the dark. James and I encouraged our leader, who was under extreme duress. The next morning an amazing thing happened. Around the breakfast table we were all laughing and talking excitedly about the day ahead. Not once was a word mentioned of the previous night. It was an unspoken catalyst that drew our team closer together. After all, if you can’t be honest with the folks in your fox hole, then who the hell can you be honest with?
FINISHING OUR MISSION STRONG
Our trip ended with a bang. One of my favorite memories was our last day working with the kids. In this story telling hour we reenacted Acts 3:1-10 where Peter heals a lame beggar in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. It was awesome because we had one of the boys volunteer to be the beggar. He sat there shaking and begging. But the best part of it all? The kids began coming up to him to offer whatever they had. That was NOT in the script! It showed the abundance of compassion these kids possess and how truly big their hearts are. Gotta love the little boy there looking on with a concerned look ready to lend a helping hand. I’m not ashamed to admit that witnessing this gave me goosebumps!
Our last day in Kenya was a bittersweet day. At the end we just played with the kids, did Red Rover and danced. I felt like I was 10 years old all over again. Before we piled into the team bus, they all tried to prolong the day. Some even asked if they could come back to the States with us. I’ll never forget their joyful faces and unabashed spirits. It’s an image that’s stuck with me ever since.
The night before we left Kenya we made envelopes for each other and taped them to the wall. Here we could write little notes of appreciation to one another. I felt like a six year old kid on Christmas Eve. That night we all sat around in Pastor’s living room, our last night together, writing our appreciation notes to one another. The only rule was you couldn’t read them until you were on the airplane. One of the girls drew this up for me, because well, I developed a certain reputation on the team. One day I was playing soccer with the Kenyan kids and I scored the winning goal with a mid-air karate kick. Didn’t mean to! I saw the ball flying in the air and I instinctively leaped, karate kicking the ball into the opposing net for the victory. Everyone was cracking up and the soccer karate kick stuck. Hey, I can think of worst things!
The missions trip to Kenya back in the summer of 2010 was one of the best adventures of my lifetime, bar none. I was amazed by the sense of tight knit community the Kenyans have over there. They don’t have much technology but what they DOhave is a tremendous amount of unwavering faith and love for one another. I was also insanely humbled by their hospitality and affection. They were so good to us and I like to think they taught us more than we taught them.
This picture in some ways captures the essence of Kenya to me. They love God and each other so much. Their faith is inspirational. Take this little boy for example. He’s jotting down notes about a Bible lesson and he’s taking it all in. I was blown away. If you’ve never been on a mission trip before but have always considered it, or maybe you’ve been on the fence, then I hope this story inspires you to push through. And even if you don’t have any interest to go on one, I hope this story touched you in some way. I’m a big believer of paying it forward. Acts of random kindness makes this world such a better place for all involved. Be blessed, stay blessed and bless others! Cheers.
This song was all the rage at the time of our Kenya trip. It’s stuck in my head to this day and whenever I hear it still, I can’t help but think back to my times in Kenya over seven summers ago…
There’s something special about having a best friend growing up. Someone you can truly call a best friend unequivocally. A best pal who sticks with you through thick and thin, good and bad, highs and lows. Nothing completes a healthy childhood like having a best buddy. And if you were lucky like me, you had one growing up. This is a tribute to my childhood best friend, Nelson. The greatest times we shared, the coming-of-age adventures of our youth, the falling out, the reconciliation and the most recent events that transpired between us not long ago…
SEPTEMBER 1988: DAY OF RECKONING
In a second, streams of sunshine. I heard a muffled voice that rose like a crescendo.
Great. Armageddon had finally come. The inevitable, as it were. No longer was I a free man. No more watching cartoons all day long. No more playing in the backyard with my brother’s Lego toys while he toiled along at school. I would wave good-bye to my brother and watch him disappear down the block before making a mad dash for his precious Lego stash (which he rarely let me touch in his presence). The sleek black spaceship called THE INVADER had more planets to conquer and it needed me to help it do that. Was I ready to give all of that up? Hell no. But you know what they say about Armageddon — it’s always got a face and a name. And now, a date as well.
Somehow, my mom managed to drag me to Room 1 by eight sharp. I sat in the corner, arms crossed with a scowl carved on my face. And it was then that I noticed a chubby boy sitting in the opposite corner who looked like he wanted to be there even less than I did. By the end of that week, the two of us became friends. Best friends. Nelly and I.
THE EARLY ’90S
Nelson and I had so much in common. We both loved monsters, ghosts, video games, wrestling, cartoons, TGIF, Are You Afraid of the Dark? and the list goes on and on. We lived only two blocks away from each other. On my way to school each morning, I would stop by to pick him up. After school, if he wasn’t at my house, I was at his. My mom often took us to the library. Nelly and I used to borrow all the monster books we could find. My local library had a small monster section that we often raided as though we owned it. And maybe we did. To this day I still vividly remember borrowing the Godzilla book and others from that classic Ian Thorne series. I also remember us believing in those infamous Loch Ness Monster and Bigfoot photos that we found in the library.
We watched all of the Showa era Godzilla movies together except for one: Destroy All Monsters. We read in a monster book somewhere about how Destroy All Monsters featured “all the TOHO monsters in it.” It then became an obsession of ours to track down a VHS copy, but at the time it proved very difficult to find. It’s not like today where with the power of the internet almost any obscure movie can be resurrected from the ashes. Oh no, back then it was the Wild, Wild West. We never did manage to track down a copy of DAM. I remember the author’s comment on DAM to this day. Nelly and I were flabbergasted when we read, “The movie is sadly not as good as one might hope.”
Nelson and I grew livid and defensive. “No freaking way! ALL the monsters are in it! It CAN’T BE ANYTHING BUT AWESOME! YOU BLIND JERK!”
Many years later I finally caught DAM when it was released on a larger scale. I have to say I agree with that author after all. So buddy, if you’re reading this somehow, I take it all back. On a side note, Nelson and I caught the opening night showing of Godzilla (2014) and it was glorious. Can’t wait for the 2019 sequel.
THE BURIED NOTE
Sometime in 1991, Nelson and I had the idea of burying a “Best Friends Forever” pledge in my backyard. We printed our names in blood (or at least, a sharp #2 pencil anyhow) and truly believed that in doing so we would remain best friends ’til the end of time. Ahhhh, the innocence of being eight. As we were preparing to dig a hole in my backyard, a booming voice rang. It was big bro. As big brothers often do, he spoiled our plans. The note, sadly, was never buried.
THE LEGEND OF THE MASKED MANIAC!
Back in 1992, Nelson told me a story that haunted me for weeks. In our hometown, according to him you understand, there was a maniac on the loose. On the prowl. Believed to be… at large. Again, according to Nelson, mind you. He wore a white hockey mask and wielded a horrific chainsaw. He was… THE MASKED MANIAC. Of course, a part of me knew my best friend was just spewing crap, but a small part of me grabbed and held on to the story. So imagine our shock and delight when we first saw Stanley Decker the following year in Zombies Ate My Neighbors. HOLY CRAP! It was Nelson’s MASKED MANIAC come to life!
The Masked Maniac became our little in-joke as the years went by, and I still believe The Masked Maniac is the world’s greatest slasher movie yet to be made.
THE GOLDEN AGE OF FIGHTING GAMES
The Street Fighter II craze hit the nation in 1991. Nelson and I fell in line but it was really World Heroes in 1992 that we truly adored. We both knew Street Fighter II was by far the superior game, but we sort of adopted the lesser touted World Heroes as one of our own. While the lines for the Street Fighter II cab went out the door, Nelson and I were perfectly content playing World Heroes with little fanfare. Nelson bought the SNES port in the fall of 1993 and we played it to death.
One of my favorite gaming memories came in late 1993 when both Super Street Fighter II and World Heroes 2 were jousting for arcade supremacy. On a rainy as hell Saturday morning, my dad dropped Nelson and me off at this gigantic jack-of-all-trades hobby store. I’ll never forget how my dad stopped the car right in front of the store, how Nelly and I streaked out of the back seats and to the safety of the store’s awning but not before the downpour managed to soak our jackets. Upon entering the humongous hobby shop, we wiped our feet and were immediately greeted by the soft Norwegian tunes of Erik’s stage from World Heroes 2. It’s just one of those simple little moments that stick with you forever. One of those magical childhood moments that even now as an adult you can still see vividly happening in third person.
THE FALL OUT
A lot changed in September 1992. I was a 4th grader in a 3-4 combo class that school year. Meanwhile, Nelson was in a standard 4th grade classroom. For the first time ever, we were separated. I met Timmy and Jerome, two third graders in my combo class, and we became good friends right away. At lunch I didn’t know whether to hang out with Nelson and Manny, or my new friends, Jerome and Timmy. I ended up hanging out with Jerome and Timmy more. Not surprisingly, this drove a riff in my relationship with Nelson. The line in the sand was drawn. It’s possible we had a fight prior to this which led to me picking Timmy and Jerome over Nelson and Manny, but I can’t quite remember the finer details.
Later that school year, things began to sour between me and Timmy. Somehow, we went from good pals to bitter rivals. This divided Jerome and our little three man clique disbanded as quickly as it formed.
Around December 1992, my teacher had each of us make a shoe box diorama. The box had to be decorated with things you liked. I chose my family and wanted to depict a typical lazy Sunday afternoon. My mom cooking in the kitchen, my dad reading the paper in the den, and my bro and I playing Street Fighter II on the SNES in our living room. Doesn’t sound bad on paper… until you factor in the cheap cut-out paper I used to represent everything in my shoe box. I’ll be honest, I didn’t do my best on that one…
Timmy, on the other hand, used grand 3D models: small dinosaur toys littered his diorama along with a pleasant looking volcano perfectly situated in the middle. Trees, even! It was a lush depiction of the Jurassic period, no doubt about it. He earned an A while Ms. Holly was kind enough to give me a C. Timmy’s shoe box sure bested mine, but it was what he did later that day that made me snap.
“What grade did you give Steve?” he asked Ms. Holly annoyingly.
“Timmy, that’s inappropriate to ask.”
“Did you fail him? Did you?”
“Timmy! What did I just say?”
I sat there and watched as Timmy grinned his stupid fat grin.
I glared at his scrawny ass from my seat. I saw the stupid bastard grinning like a Cheshire cat as he continued to pester Ms. Holly to spill the beans. He came up to me at the end of the day with his usual smug expression looking all arrogant and cocky.
“Steve, you know what, actually, your shoe box isn’t THAT bad… I mean, you really did justice to your family… after all, they’re all so… lifeless!”
And that’s when I snapped.
Timmy had crossed a line he could not return from. But since we were still in class, I had to restrain myself well enough not to kill him then and there. Instead, I sat quietly in my seat with the rage festering inside. My eyes were glued to the clock counting down until the end of the day… just a few more minutes…
As soon as Ms. Holly excused my table, I bounced out of my seat like I was sitting on a spring. Storming out to where Timmy already was, he turned around, saw the intense look in my eyes and he knew IT WAS ON. He flinched right before I sprinted after him. He zipped through the school courtyard like a little jack rabbit, but I was right on his tail.
Down the 3rd grade sector we ran. No one attempted to stop us. Hell, I didn’t even see anyone around as everything suddenly became a blur and Timmy was the only concrete image I could make out. It was one of those out-of-body experiences. Not before long I managed to grab his shirt. I felt the life being sucked out of his puny body as I pinned him against the wall. Peering deeply into his eyes, I saw the resignation in it. He didn’t struggle, didn’t whimper.
It was the look of the lamb… right before the slaughter.
“Don’t you ever — EVER — insult my family again!”
I let his limp little body go. He held his left cheek as he walked off with his tail tucked between his legs. Timmy never messed with me or my family again following that.
I’m not saying violence solves issues, but at the time it just felt right. I defended the honor of my family’s name. The second half of that school year, Timmy kept his distance and I went back to being best friends with Nelson and Manny — the guys I should have stuck with all along. I guess at some point, every relationship has to go through the fire. Then, and perhaps only then, do you know what’s what.
BACK IN BUSINESS
The very next year saw a reunion — Nelson and I were in the same 5th grade classroom together. The band was back, baby!1994 turned out to be the best year of my childhood. Nelly and I were ten, and ten is a funny age, you know. Some days you feel like you’re five, and other days you feel like you’re 15. It’s a time to relish the twilight years of your childhood, as well as a time to look forward to all the teenage turmoil to come. Not only were we reunited but we also had the two prettiest girls in the whole school in our class: Jennifer and Elaine. Elaine was the “Prom Queen” type. Jennifer was more like the classic Girl Next Door. She was my version of Winnie Cooper growing up.
One spring day after school somehow, the four of us found ourselves walking home together. We never did this before and we never did it again, but there was magic in the air that day. All our friends shot us jealous and stunned looks as they watched me and Nelson escort the two cutest girls home. I remember us walking through the school’s huge baseball field just taking it all in, enjoying the sunshine beating down on us and shooting the shit with the two hottest girls in the entire school.
LAST MAN STANDING
Nelson and I were surrounded by a cast of characters. We were good friends with Manny and Jonathan but Manny and Jonathan didn’t get along. Jonathan was the new cocky kid in town. Manny didn’t appreciate that. For weeks we felt their budding rivalry build until finally, one fateful dreary day it came to a head.
During that lunch period, we were eating our Lunchables and drinking our Capri Sun pouches when the fireworks started AGAIN between Manny and Jonathan. Manny then challenged Jonathan to a game he deemed “LAST MAN STANDING.” It was the challenge to end all challenges. Manny and Jonathan would take turns doing something crazy and then the other had to copy. Whoever fails to do so first loses. The LAST MAN STANDING wins. Manny started it off by sliding down the slide head first. Jonathan followed suit. I winced as his head landed awkwardly on the tanbarks. But in typical cocky Jonathan fashion, he brushed the dust off and asked Manny, “Is that all you got, tough guy?”
It was Jonathan’s turn now. He stood there on the tanbarks, bent his knees and fell backward. He landed awkwardly and got up gingerly, rubbing his back. He grimaced and grinned at the same time. “Try that!” he yelled at Manny. Manny then placed both arms on his shoulders, crisscross style, and did a full on trust fall. No bent knees. No cheapies. It was the real deal. He shot back up like nothing happened. The dude was Wolverine. Now it was his turn. But not before Jonathan could shout, “LET’S SEE WHAT YOU GOT!”
Rookie mistake. Jonathan didn’t know Manny like we did. And that’s when Manny went for the kill.
Jonathan, Nelson and I found ourselves standing at the base of the first tetherball set. There were a total of six tetherball poles in all, each separated by 10 feet. Like a man possessed, Manny sprinted to the opposite end. We stood there staring on in bewilderment wondering what he had in mind. I’ll never forget what I saw next. Manny began charging 200 miles per hour with his right arm fully extended. You could hear the sickening SMACKof steel on bone as Manny streaked past all six metal poles. The sight of his arm jerking backward at a 75 degree angle following each pole made me cringe. After Manny was done, he stood there beaming not five feet away from us. He gestured to the end of the first tetherball set as to say, “You’re next.”
Exasperated, Jonathan threw his arms in the air and yelled, “You crazy son of a bitch!” Nelson and I watched as he walked off. There was only one thing left to do: we raised Manny’s arms in the air and declared him the undisputed champion.
Nelson and I share a passion for all things Halloween (both the movie franchise and the actual day). Anything that had to do with monsters, ghosts or ghouls, we were there.
Every October Nelly and I cranked up our year-round monster love to the max. Telling ghost stories in our rooms, watching horror movies, reading the latest FANGORIA issues — it was such a great time to be 10 years old and have a like-minded best friend.
We entered a phase where we were obsessed with collecting as many horror cassettes as we could. I’ll never forget this one in particular — “Sounds of Halloween.” That cover was epic!
We bought these tapes thinking they were taboo. We’d sit in Nelly’s room, close the blinds and listen to them while swapping ghost stories. I also loved the cheesy warning labels. Looking back on it all, these tapes weren’t that great, truth be told, but it was a time capsule. A sign of the times and days of innocence.
Speaking of things that go bump in the night, we were obsessed with Goosebumps. It was kind of the Harry Potter of the ’90s before Harry Potter.
Nelson’s favorite was The Haunted Mask.
And this was mine.
From that point on, I was hooked. Nelson and I had a friendly competition where each month we’d see who could read the latest Goosebumps edition first. Made for some fun times. Half of the fun was discussing it with your best friend afterward.
I remember seeing these at the local library with Nelson. We always psyched ourselves out and made these books scarier than what they really were. It was all part of the fun.
It was just a magical time. You’d go to the arcade with your best friend to play all the latest fighting games. Then you’d swing by the local book store to peruse the latest EGM and GameFan issue before making your way to the back of the store where they had R.L. Stine’s latest and greatest. Whether you were into Goosebumps or Fear Street, it always made for a good time with your best pal.
In my hometown growing up, Game Hunter was widely revered. It carried nothing but video games and anime (hell, even a few arcade cabs). Everything from handhelds to Neo Geo, you name it, they had it. Best of all, they even carried import games. Japanese versions of games you couldn’t wait to play that would not be released in North America until weeks or even months later! Game Hunter was legendary
Nelson rented Fighter’s History and I chose King of the Monsters 2. Their North American versions were still weeks away. I remember thinking that Nelly and I were the two luckiest kids in the whole town that weekend. Needless to say, we were glued to the TV like a pair of zombies that epic weekend. Great times.
Whenever I see Lee’s bucolic stage, with those damn ducks, the fisherman dipping his line lazily in the water and those moss-covered hills, I can’t help but be instantly transported back to Nelson’s living room on a hot Saturday afternoon of June 1994.
TWO WEEKS LATER — EGM SCORE!
My brother slept at a family friend’s house two hours away. For me and Nelson, this meant only one thing: UNRESTRICTED AND UNLIMITED ACCESS TO MY BROTHER’S EGM STASH!That very first day Kevin was gone, Nelson rode his bike over in record time. I’ll never forget the image of Nelson opening my brother’s drawer and seeing him pull out with both hands a HUGE stack of EGM issues. He looked like a man possessed!
EGM in 1994 was God-like. We didn’t have internet or YouTube back then so EGM was our source of news, rumors, reviews and previews. There’s something inexplicably awesome about flipping through an EGM issue with your best friend back in those days. You could literally spend hours lost in those magical pages…
GRADUATION — JUNE 1995
They say all good things must come to an end. In June of 1995, Nelson and I were facing our final days together in elementary school. We had a hell of a run, but it was nearing time to enter the hollowed halls of junior high. On Friday, June 9, 1995, Nelson, some other friends and I walked to the local theatre to see the opening of Congo. I remember it was our first time walking over by ourselves and we felt like such a big deal. We came late though so we had to sit in the front row and crane our necks for the entire showing. The movie kind of sucked, too, but that was besides the point. We were on the verge of a brand new chapter in our lives, but we were going to hopefully stick together through it all.
Later that night, it was our school’s End of the Year Dance. We all attended but not before we all fished for reasons and excuses not to. Hey, we were 11 and it’s what 11 year old boys do. But in the end we knew we’d regret it if we didn’t. Seeing Jennifer and Elaine there and interacting with all our friends for the final time made it worth it. I remember a lot of multi-colored dots dancing around the cafeteria and drinking a lot of fruit punch. Talking with my friends and enjoying our final days in grade school together. The following week we graduated and I knew deep down that life would neverbe the same…
THE MOVE — JANUARY 1996
Halfway through my 7th grade year, I had to move. Even though Nelson and I would only be separated by about 20 minutes, I knew things were going to be different. Neither of us could drive and it just isn’t the same as when you live within walking distance. We slowly but surely fell out of touch.
FRIDAY: SEPTEMBER 12, 2003
Now a junior in college, it was my tradition every Friday after my final class to hit the gym on campus and play pickup ball. I became obsessed with basketball (see Coach Butler and 9/11 for more). It was on this fateful Friday late afternoon walking out of the gym that I noticed a local news station on campus. Before I knew what was happening, they approached me to ask if I had any thoughts on a hot topic related to my campus. I spoke to the camera for about 15 seconds and afterward they told me I’d be on the 5 o’clock news. I raced over to my cousin’s house in my old hometown to record my 15 seconds of fame. My little cousins were screaming when they saw their cousin on TV. I felt like a rock star. Feeling like I could move mountains, I decided to break the silence and reach out to my old best friend, Nelson.
It had been two years since we last spoke. Hell, I had no idea if he even still lived at the same place. We were 20 now so there’s a good chance he had already moved out of his parents’ place. Only one way to find out for sure, though.
And so, it was around 5:45 on a cool early Friday evening that I swung by the old haunt. Butterflies were swooning in my stomach as I parked in Nelson’s old driveway. I rung the doorbell and waited anxiously.
It was his mom.
“Yes! Hi, does he still live here?”
“He sure does, but I’m afraid he’s out.”
“Oh,” my voice couldn’t help hide the disappointment.
“I know it’s been a while… he’d be so thrilled to see you again.”
“Likewise. Please tell him I stopped by.”
She invited me in for a drink but I told her I should get going. That ol’ road beckons me home. As I started walking back to my car, a huge black Toyota truck came roaring into the driveway. We both stared at each other stunned for a second.
“STEVEN!? Holy shit, how long’s it been?!”
We went to his backyard, the same one where Nelson and I spent many hours of our youth during the dog days of summer, and we caught up on the past couple years of our lives. The skyline was beautiful. The sun was just dipping over the horizon with a light September breeze gently greeting us every few seconds. That evening Nelson and I talked. About the good old days. About Elaine and Jennifer. About college. We talked about LIFE.
It wasn’t all rosy, though. I found out that evening that Nelson had dropped out of college. He felt directionless. He also took up smoking and not just cigarettes. He told me he was trying real hard to quit but it’s just that — real hard. Part of me had difficulty processing the ‘new’ Nelson. I never envisioned him in a million years as someone who would use drugs or drop out of school. But I guess that’s life. Things change and shit happens. On the bright side, Nelson was working as a part-time mechanic and making some money at least.
We ended up shooting the breeze for a couple hours straight as it was soon nightfall. It felt surreal to be back in the same backyard I used to patrol some odd ten years ago. Except now we were no longer 10 year old kids. No longer children of innocence. Now we were 20 and young adults. My life was on track while Nelson’s was a bit more uncertain. And despite the long disconnect and “growing apart,” that evening we found out we would always be friends at the very least. No matter what happens, or where life takes us, Nelly and I’ll always share an unbreakable bond.
FRIDAY: MAY 23, 2008
Nelson and I always have our mini-reunions after x-months of not seeing one another. On this day we decided to catch up over dinner with two other mutual friends. They were a couple — the guy lived next door to Nelson growing up and I used to have a crush on the girl back in college and possibly vice versa. Quite the interesting evening it turned out to be. The four of us shared a lovely dinner at a steak house. Afterward Nelson and I drove to the theatre to catch the new Indiana Jones movie.
On the drive over, Nelson shared some very deep issues with me. He talked about how our friend Jake possessed such natural charisma speaking to the waitress serving us, and how much Nelson wishes he had the same ability. I encouraged him with a little pep talk and told him to keep his head up.
“Wow Steve… no one has ever believed in me like that before. My whole family’s kind of written me off a little bit y’know… it’s nice to see you have my back and believe in me.”
I know, it was a sappy little moment, but I tell ya, Nelson is my guy. I’ll always believe in him and want the best for him. It’s not easy to be real like that, to open up and be so vulnerable to another person. We all have our shortcomings and having support is key. It takes a lot of guts to share something so personal.
MY KNIGHT IN SHINING ARMOR
That spring 2008 semester I student taught at my childhood elementary school. Yup, the very same one where Nelson and I met and became best friends. My dream was always to return home, teach there and give back to the community. It was a blast coming back to the old digs. One day after school I went to my car and found in my haste earlier that morning I’d accidentally locked the keys in the car. D’OH! Fortunately, one of the back windows was opened about two inches. There was *JUST* enough space for a clothes hanger to maybe prop the lock open.
Luckily, my grandmother happened to live just half a block from where I parked my car. I walked over and she loaned me an old wire hanger. Much to my chagrin, the wire proved too weak to get the job done.
Then I called Nelson, who still lived in that same house about a block or two away from our old elementary school. After describing the embarrassing situation to him, he was on his way.
Next thing I know, as I’m standing there on the sidewalk by my car, in the far distance I could make out Nelly coming around the corner on his bicycle! The scene from The 40 Year Old Virgin immediately flashed in my mind, complete with the cheesy ’80s song “Heat of the Moment” blaring in my overactive mind.
Nelson brought one of those back scratchers, and this was the result:
But then we applied a little force, pushing the stick down. It slid down and we managed to prop the lock open!
My ’92 Honda had been through the wars and the back right window stopped working a while back, so it was opened an inch or two permanently. I covered it with some tape… it all looked very tacky as you can see. But this defect allowed me to skip calling AAA which I didn’t have at the time. At first the stick wouldn’t go in but a couple clever angle squeezes and it just barely made it through.
I treated Nelson to lunch afterward where we laughed about this incident and just talked about life, carrying on our conversation from a few weeks ago. There’s something about connecting with someone who knows your history as well as you yourself do. There’s something very special about that.
FRIDAY: MARCH 26, 2010
While I studied to earn my teaching credential in college, I minored in Theatre Arts. I’ve always been fascinated by acting, and I love the camaraderie that it naturally builds. Rehearsing late nights, even past midnight, has a funny way of bonding people. Well, on this night I was playing a Roman soldier and we opened to a house of 2,000 people. Among the two in that audience of 2,000? Nelson and yes, my childhood crush, my Winnie Cooper… Jennifer. It meant so much to me that they both showed up. It was a great night.
SUNDAY, MARCH 29, 2015
Fast forward five years. Nelson and I crossed a major item off our bucket list: attend a freaking WRESTLEMANIA. WrestleMania 31 was one of the greatest live events I’ve ever been to. We had pretty decent seats and it was a childhood dream come true. Hell, we got to witness Sting’s first and only WrestleMania match!
FRIDAY: AUGUST 5, 2016
Nelson and I share a special bond where we may go months without contact but whenever one of us gets in touch it’s like we never left. Precisely one year ago, as I write this, I decided to visit Nelson’s new place in Southern California. We set out to visit Disneyland since it was about 30 minutes away from his apartment.
As I was about three miles away from his place, I passed through a neighborhood that I couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of déjà vu. That’s funny. How can it be familiar if I’ve never been here before?
It suddenly dawned on me. Was it? Could it be? No way. I passed a few traffic lights before finally pulling over. I had to quench my curiosity before heading to Nelson’s. Busted out my phone and typed into Google:
“HALLOWEEN 1978 FILMING LOCATIONS”
A website came up and an address in South Pasadena was given. My hands were shaking as I punched said address into Google Maps.
“1.8 miles away”
I had just driven by one of the iconic Halloween filming locations! HADDONFIELD IN THE FLESH! The Halloween super geek in me was coming out big time. What were the odds that my childhood best friend (who also loved the Halloween franchise) would live three miles away from Haddonfield?! It was a moment of true serendipity. I texted Nelson to tell him I’d be coming 30 minutes late. I had no doubt we would return later but for now it was a personal pilgrimage I simply had to brave for myself first. And this is what I recorded on that serendipitous day:
Following this, I drove the three miles over to Nelson’s. I showed him the pictures and video I took. He couldn’t believe it! He moved to L.A. about seven months ago but had no idea he lived just three miles away from “Haddonfield.” Next thing you know, we found ourselves on an impromptu trip down memory lane. What initially began as a trip to chill with Mickey turned into a trip of HUNTING THE BOOGEYMAN. We ended up driving all over South Pasadena that late afternoon looking for a ton of Halloween nostalgia live in the flesh. This is what we found that day…
HUNTING THE BOOGEYMAN
Michael’s house was demolished and moved to a new location. It now serves as an office. Despite the disappointment of that, Nelson and I still sat there in awe. Reminiscing and laughing about the good old days, that’s when we noticed a DirecTv satellite dish on the side of the house. We also could hear the loud humming of an air conditioner. It was a hot August day in Haddonfield… the dog days of summer indeed. That’s when the line of the day was uttered by yours truly. “What the hell, Michael Myers watching Game of Thrones with the AC on? DUDE IS GETTING SOFT!” Nelson added, “What’s Michael Myers doing browsing PornHub!?”
We laughed hard for what felt like minutes. We laughed so hard we both had tears in our eyes. Man, I hadn’t laugh that good in quite a while. A mere hour prior to this, we both just assumed we’d catch up a bit and find Mickey. Little did we know! Instead, we found ourselves reconnecting and hunting a boogeyman who has haunted us both since childhood. Suddenly, we were chasing a ghost from our past. A ghost with no face. “And the blackest eyes… the devil’s eyes.” Rest in Peace, Donald Pleasence.
Each filming location foray brought me and Nelson closer to the edge of a bygone era. An age we both thought had all but disappeared. It was like slipping through the back door of a time machine. Suddenly, we were wide-eyed kids again. Completely unjaded and uncorrupted by the foul orders of life and the cruelties of growing up.
Wow. Standing there taking this picture sent goosebumps up and down my spine.
Next on the list was the old elementary school featured in the 1978 film. It still looked pretty much the same. It was crazy thinking it had been almost 40 years since Michael stalked Tommy here.
Here Nelson and I sat in his car on a street used in the filming of Halloween. We shot this quick video below:
After this, Nelson and I decided to drive around L.A. randomly and then get some dinner.
You can’t go to L.A. and not take a shot of those beautiful palm trees.
What else would two guys in L.A. do on a Saturday night but break out the good stuff? Nelly and I hit up the local laundry mat so he could have some fresh clothes for Disneyland tomorrow.
The laundry mat had a Neo Geo cab! How cool is that? That led to some natural reminiscing about World Heroes and the like.
Nelson took me to Shakey’s Pizza Parlor for dinner. It was the ultimate haven for comfort food. We ordered a large piping hot pepperoni pizza, some chicken and potato wedges. I probably consumed like 2,500 calories alone but it was damn worth it. Totally hit the spot!
After dinner Nelson drove us through a fancy part of town. We drove up to the top of this hill and it overlooked the city. It was nice to get away and just shoot the shit with my old best friend. Every once in a while it’s nice to drive far away and get away from it all for a bit. Nelson smoked a cigarette as we talked. I stared at all the tiny houses below, and wondered what was going on in that house with all the lights turned on. Nelly and I just stood there reminiscing for a bit before talking about current life. My teaching career. His new life in L.A. It was a good night to be alive. Hanging out with your old best friend. Then Nelson asked me if I had seen Stranger Things. I laughed. That’s exactly the show we would have watched as kids. We drove back to Nelly’s apartment and watched Halloween to end the evening. After everything that went down earlier that day, it was the only proper way to close out that night.
Nelson and I went to Disneyland the next day and we had a blast. We left the park around 9 PM because his back started to flare up. He took me to this local Chinese joint that he said was legit. We spent the rest of that night eating some of the best Kung Pao chicken I ever had and reflecting back on the highs of our little two day adventure. It was truly a magical weekend — the kind that stays with you for life. Hunting Michael and Mickey with your childhood best friend all within 24 hours? Can’t top that.
It’s crazy that Nelson and I have known each other now for nearly 30 years. I always have a great time with Nelson. It doesn’t matter how long we go without communication. The second either one of us reaches out, it’s like we never left. Those friendships are the best. Maybe we’re no longer best friends, but I’m grateful we still keep in touch and that we still know how to have a good time together. No matter what happens going forward or where life takes us, there will always be a special place in my heart for Nelson. My childhood wouldn’t have been as awesome without him, and the memories we have forged over the years — all the ups and downs — have played a role in who I am today. That’s priceless and I’ll always cherish the experiences we had. Here’s a toast to Nelson and all the best friends out there. Cheers!
Earlier this week, on July 2nd to be precise, Bret “The Hitman” Hart turned the big 6-0. That’s right. If you grew up as a wrestling fan of the late ’80s/early ’90s then you know Bret Hart was one of the key figures of the industry and remains highly regarded as one of the best wrestlers to ever lace a pair of boots. Born on July 2, 1957, Bret came from the Hart family. One of the most famous families in pro wrestling history, Bret developed his craft at a young age in the infamous Hart Dungeon where his father, Stu Hart, and his 87 brothers applied various stretch holds on the poor lad. My uncle Jimmy introduced me to wrestling in 1987 and I’ve been a fan ever since. I fell in love with the action and larger than life characters. I became a Bret Hart fan early on. It was evident that he was born to be a wrestler. They didn’t call him the EXCELLENCE OF EXECUTION for nothing!
Bret began his WWF career tagging with his brother-in-law, Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart. Together they formed one of the most memorable and successful tag teams in the World Wrestling Federation. Bret’s impeccable wrestling acumen was sharply complemented by Jim’s sheer brute force. Managed by “Mouth of the South” Jimmy Hart, the Hart Foundation ruled the tag scene and soon became fan favorites.
My brother and I loved Demolition, we loved the Rockers… but DAMN DID WE LOVE the Hart Foundation. I remember the highs and I remember the lows. They won the tag titles twice and we cheered. However, their shocking defeat to the Nasty Boys at Wrestlemania VII left a very sour taste in my mouth. I remember Jimmy Hart, who was then managing the Nasty Boys, gave his megaphone to Knobbs or Saggs, and they bloody took off Anvil’s head to win the tag titles. It was a dark day for Hart Foundation fans everywhere. The team split up after that when the WWF realized Bret’s potential as a major singles star. He went on to win the WWF Championship five times, before leaving the company after the infamous 1997 Survivor Series screwjob in Montreal.
In the wrestling business there’s a famous saying… NEVER SAY NEVER.After nearly 10 years of not being a part of the WWE in any fashion, Bret Hart was announced to headline the 2006 WWE Hall of Fame ceremony. It was a huge moment in the industry and for all Bret Hart fans. This was his big homecoming. ONE NIGHT ONLY. April 1, 2006. It was one of my favorite Hall of Fame speeches ever. Tonight we relive the memories of that unforgettable evening.
BRET HART’S INDUCTION VIDEO INTRO
Alright, and now to induct Bret “The Hitman” Hart… there are some people who need no introduction. But if you don’t give this next guy one, he’ll open up a can of whup ass on y’all and I don’t want that to happen here tonight. I’d like to say a lot of nice things about this guy but… I rather be honest. He’s… [WHAT! -Audience]he is NOT a nice man [WHAT!]. As a matter of fact, [WHAT!] he is the meanest [WHAT!], he is the toughest [WHAT!] son of a bitch in the WWE… STONE COLD STEVE AUSTIN!
You know, I was going through my bag in the back and…
Call it a hunch but I think the crowd wants a Steve Austin vs. Hulk Hogan dream match . The great Mean Gene Okerlund has seen and heard it all in this great business, but even he is taken aback by this rabid fan response. The crowd is absolutely LIT here in Chicago tonight.
You know it’s funny… I was uh, I was going through my bag in the back and I couldn’t find something. I lost something. I went in the back looking through my bag and uh, I found a can of WHUP ASS and it had Hulk Hogan’s name on it.
*CROWD POPS LIKE CRAZY*
It’s a good night to be up here today with all these legends and uh, it’s fun for me. And it’s a great honor and I know everybody’s been saying that but I really mean it, because I ain’t the most humble sumbitch in the world.
You got the Blackjacks over here. The black trunks, the black boots, the black vests, bad attitude. If I coulda ridden down the road with you guys, it woulda been great.
I never told Sherri this but I’ve always been in love with her. I just thought she was sexy, gorgeous and just a tremendous work — I just loved everything she did.
You were talking about the blondes a little bit earlier in the evening — I just love everything you did.
A lot of people don’t know this but I traveled up and down the road with Tony Atlas. And uh, where’s that cheapskate Mick Foley, because he traveled with us.
And everybody knows that Tony was a great bodybuilder, and he’s a great powerlifter, and a great wrestler too, but he’s also a great beer drinker.
And we’d ride up and down the road… he was good but he couldn’t drink as much as Stone Cold could, I’ll tell you that much right now. But we’d drink beer until the late hours of the night, and then me and Tony would go to the gym. I’d be working chest, bench pressing about 225 for about four, five reps, and Tony would be over there bouncing 500 off his chest about 10, 15 times. IT REALLY PISSED ME OFF!
So it’s good to be here tonight. And uh, you know, I’m here to talk about a guy that I’ve always respected before I even knew him. And you know, I’ve always had a deep respect for the great workers in the business, the great technicians, and the great storytellers. And uh, Bret “The Hitman” Hart never was the biggest guy in the business. And Bret never was the flashiest guy in the business. But I always had an unbelievable chemistry in the ring with him. I knew that any time the bell rang there was a trust and there was a level of respect in there between us and just, good things always seem to happen. And I remember one time I was laying at the house on my couch and I was watching Monday Night Raw. Of all things I had a busted knee. And I’m listening to the announcing — this was back when Vince McMahon used to do the announcing — and it was Wrestlemania 13 right here in Chicago at the Rosemont. My favorite building to wrestle in… it’s just a magic environment. And I hear Vince go, “Yeah, and in a submission match it’ll be Bret “The Hitman” Hart vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin!”And that was news to me, because I was watching the broadcast and I didn’t know a DAMN thing about it.
And it got me kinda hot because I’m not a submission wrestler. You probably know that from watching me; I only got about three offensive moves.
So when I showed up to Chicago that night, I remember I needed to get in shape for the match, but I had a busted knee. So I stopped drinking for about 17 days. And uh, Lanza commented on how good I looked. And I remember going to the match that night and I was thinking it was at a point in my career where I needed something big to happen. The King of the Ring had already happened, I cut a promo which kind of put me on the map, and this was kind of put up or shut up time. It was a semi-main event that night, a submission style match and I just knew that we were gonna go out there in my favorite town to work and my favorite building and completely stink the joint out. What we did was go out there and, things happened, and it was the greatest match of my career.
*Crowd claps respectfully*
I’ve had a lot of great matches after that but Jack Lanza came up to me and he said, “You’ll probably never have a match like that again.” And he kinda was right, we never really achieved anything like that again. But any time I stepped into the ring with Bret, whether it was overseas or here in the States somewhere, I’ve wrestled him a million times, and Bret was a guy that always showed up. He didn’t miss his shot, now he always showed up LATE, but he never missed his shot. So I’m proud to induct him into the Hall of Fame tonight. He’s a guy that’s always called himself the excellence of execution. He lives that, he breathes that, and he truly believes it in his heart. And that’s why he was so good. He’s the best there is, he’s the best there was, he’s the best there ever will be, he’s Bret “The Hitman” Hart!
Thank you! I just wanna say um… it’s an honor to be here and it’s an honor to be up here with so many uh great legends like everybody said. And uh… you know, nobody’s more surprised and more amazed to be here than I am. But uh, this is a big night for me.
And despite what anyone thinks, many years ago when I had my fallout with Vince McMahon at the 1997 Survivor Series and all that, I made a promise to myself THAT DAY, that if they ever asked me to do the Hall of Fame I would be here.
I wanna say that while I’ll never forget what the WWE took away from me, I also wanna say that I’ll never forget all the great things that they gave to me. And I’ve had a great great life and I’ve had a great career here. And first of all I want to thank the McMahons, especially Vince, for giving me the chance to work on his canvas.
*Fans jeer at the mention of Vince*
Every night that I went out years ago when I first started, I uh, I was just honored to be in the ring and wrestle for the WWE.
You know when I think back years and years ago, when I was about uh, well three years old I think, I was watching my first wrestling matches on TV and I was watching Killer Kowalski. And uh, I think in my family everybody just became ingrained from the very start to love this business and love the circus life. My family growing up, I mean, everybody loved wrestling and we always been grateful for all the funny adventures and stories that we’ve had through this great business.
I want everyone to know that I came here to celebrate my career, not to mourn over it. And uh, I had a fortune cookie today that said uh, “You’re welcomed at any gathering,” on my Chinese fortune cookie today.
I want to go back to when I was a little kid. I remember going to the wrestling matches for the very first time, and I’d be riding in the car down to the wrestling matches with my brothers, and right from the very start I can remember I’d be riding in the car and my dad would pull up to the hotel and uh, I remember when I was real young they picked up the midgets.
And uh, I remember I thought “Cool, finally I got some wrestlers that I can play around with,” you know. And it was uh, I remember Sky Low Low and Little Beaver and that whole bunch, they just all get in the backseat.
My dad had a big stretch limo with four different rows of seats, just enough for all us Hart kids and uh, he let the midgets climb in there and they get in the back and I can remember I thought, “Great.” And I remember trying to headlock them and stuff like that.
And if you ever uh, if you knew midget wrestlers you know that you don’t want to be headlocking them — they don’t appreciate that too much.
But anyway, wrestling’s always been part of my life. I can remember my first experiences with wrestling. I was about uh, 10, 12 years old and I’d go down to the basement, and my dad had all these huge wrestlers. And I remember you were kind of safe when you were about that age — 12 you’re OK you know — you could sit down there and as long as you didn’t say anything. And it was pretty interesting to watch my dad put these guys into all these holds and they’d be screaming for their lives down there. I think my mom sometimes, I don’t know what she thought, I think she sometimes phoned the police. She was worried someone’s getting killed down there.
My dad was an amazing character and I want to say first that… I owe everything I am today to my dad. And uh, the man I always longed to be was the one I first thought my father was. He was a one of a kind guy in this business. And I can remember when I first got in, I always introduced myself around the dressing room as Bret Hart, Stu Hart’s kid, and this was always my passage to safety. Everybody I know who really understood him and got to know him loved him. He was everything that was good about the wrestling business. I know he’d be really proud of me standing here today.
*Crowd applauds respectfully*
I uh… got all kinds of funny stories and memories. I’ll try to not go too long here. It would only be right for me to tell a few funny stories about my brother, Owen.
My brother Owen was uh… he was a hilarious guy.
*Crowd chants O-WEN! O-WEN! O-WEN!*
I remember being on the road getting a call from somebody telling me that someone from delivery service was giving me a free pizza. I think I already eaten… but they would sell me on it. It was free and bringing it up and it’s on the house. And I was like OK. And the next thing you know I would be arguing with the guy about how he wanted me to pick my toppings — what kind of toppings I wanted. And it was like OK. So I started going through the toppings and then he starts pushing more toppings on you. Then finally he tells you after all that he’s going to charge you for the toppings. And you go through this charade… anyway, that was Owen.
*Crowd laughs and cheers*
One time we were checking into a hotel in Dayton, Ohio. All the wrestlers were walking in and uh, “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan [HOOOOO! -Crowd] was there with his wife, and he went to his room.
We were all standing around the front desk signing in. Duggan phoned down and asked the guy at the front desk, “Where’s the gym?” The guy puts his hand over the phone and he goes, “Anyone know where the gym is?”
And Owen goes, you know, “Give it to me.” So he hands the phone over to Owen and Owen gets on the phone and of course, Jim, Hacksaw just thinks it’s somebody at the front desk. Anyway, Owen tells Hacksaw, “Why don’t you look it up yourself, YOU LAZY BASTARD.”
So Hacksaw got all worked up and Owen tells him,“If you wanna do something about it, come down here and I’ll kick your ass.”
Hacksaw couldn’t believe it. So then Hacksaw, you know, he’s getting dressed to come down to the lobby to straighten out this front desk guy. And I remember Owen just hands the phone back to him and the guy goes, “Don’t do this to me!“
Owen goes, “Don’t worry, just tell him it’s me… Jim Powers.”
*Crowd erupts in laughter*
Hacksaw comes down to the lobby and the guy goes, “Hey, it wasn’t me! It was Jim Powers.”
*Crowd erupts again*
I remember that night in the dressing room, Hacksaw came up to Jim Powers and uh… well, that was funny anyway.
If you knew Owen, I’m sure he pulled a joke on you somewhere.
I remember in the beginning of my career I had a chance to uh… I got called and they said they needed me to take the Dynamite Kid’s place. He was going to wrestle in Madison Square Garden against the great Tatsumi Fujinami from Japan. Anyway, Dynamite Kid couldn’t get across the border and I was called up at the last minute.
I remember I got to the building — this was such a big thing for me… I was only about 20, 21 — and I remember I was walking through the lobby getting ready for that big walk over to Madison Square Garden and I kept thinking to myself, “One day I get to tell my kids that I wrestled in Madison Square Garden.”
*Crowd claps respectfully*
Anyway, they met me, the Japanese guys that brought me in for this. They stopped me in the lobby and they said, “We have to take you off the card. You don’t have a big enough name to wrestle in Madison Square Garden.” And I remember that in the beginning of my career…
When I first got to the WWE in 1984, I was fortunate and lucky enough to be a part of this new surge in wrestling thanks to Hulk Hogan, Vince and the whole team of wrestlers that took wrestling to a whole new level.
Back in those days wrestling was pretty tough. I worked 304 days my first year and I think I worked pretty much close to that for the next six years that I was in the WWE. Double shots. It was a tough life. But I want to say I would never have made it through those years if it hadn’t been for my tag team partner, Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart.
*Crowd pops for The Anvil*
Jim Neidhart was you know, he was just the greatest character. I got a little pug over in Italy right now that I keep just because I think he reminds me of Jim. He’s got those sad puppy dog eyes you know, and he always wants you to have one more round.
I got so many funny memories and stories of Jim Neidhart, but I’ll just tell one. I remember Owen had just flown in; I think he was getting a new start with WWE back in 1991, maybe. We just did one night in Texas — I worked with a guy named Skinner. Anyway, all the wrestlers were kind of celebrating and I took Owen to a strip bar in San Antonio…
*Some fans scream YEEEEAAAAH!!*
Owen wasn’t really prone to those kind of places but I managed to talk him into it because it was a big night for him. He was starting back in WWE and he’d flown in from Germany. And it was a crazy night, that night in Texas, I’ll tell you that much. We were all drinking in the bar and everyone’s kind of talking and stuff…
And Vince had a few soda pops somewhere else. He was primed and ready that night. I bet Sergeant Slaughter remembers this — he was driving, thank God.
But anyway, I remember just kind of hanging out in the bar with Owen. And Hulk, you know, he could always stir up shit, you know.
He was stirring up the Legion of Doom. Hulk got them all worked up. And I remember Hawk and Animal were talking about how they were going to do their finisher on Vince.
*Crowd erupts in laughter*
And I remember watching it and I’m thinking, “No way. They’re not gonna do it. Nobody would do their finisher on Vince.”
And um, next thing I know I see Hawk saying he’s not kidding and Animal’s kind of going along with it. Quite a few of the wrestlers were starting to mark out over this, and see if it’s gonna actually happen.
Anyway, next I see Animal come up behind Vince. And like I said, Vince was already in a pretty good state of mind. So Animal came up from behind and he hoisted Vince up. I look and there’s Hawk right there on the little table with the poles.
And uh, I’m waiting. I’m watching. I’m thinking, “Here it is… they’re gonna take Vince’s head off.”
Hawk came off the table with a little powder puff clothesline and I remember Hulk, Beefcake and everybody kind of caught Vince and set him down. I think they even gave a little golf clap.
And I remember I had a beer in my hand. I think I had a shot of Jack Daniels. And I can see Jim pulling on his beard. He goes…
*Crowd laughs and cheers loudly*
I remember thinking, “I better get the hell out of here.”I couldn’t set my drinks down fast enough. I told Owen, “Listen, I gotta get out of here RIGHT NOW.” Next thing you know, Jim’s got Vince up in the bear hug position…
I remember Hulk looking at me like, “So… what’s gonna happen here?”
Jim Neidhart… I remember so many funny stories about him. I can’t resist telling this one. Whenever we stayed at a hotel we would always forget to put the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the doorknob. We’d be lying there in bed and I can hear the maid fumbling with the key to come into the room. I’d be sound asleep and I remember just sort of hearing Jim pull the whole blanket off, and just be lying there like a big old starfish.
And then you see the maid come in. I mean, we went through this quite a few times. It was standard Hart Foundation. You hear them scream and run out of the room as fast as they could. Over a period of time I think we could do it in stereo, you know. Anyway, I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart.
*Laughter and applause*
There’s a lot of wrestlers I wanna take the time to thank. In my early days, I’ll never forget Cowboy Bob Orton, Roddy Piper, Don Muraco, Mr. Fuji, Iron Sheik and so many others that uh, every night, they were my family. And uh, I love those guys. I had some uh…*Fan interjects, “ONE MORE MATCH!“*
“ONE MORE MATCH!
ONE MORE MATCH!
ONE MORE MATCH!”
I wish. I wish I could have one more match. I wanna take the time to uh, think about and remember some of my great matches and great experiences I had. I’ll never forget the matches I had with Mr. Perfect, Curt Hennig.
He was uh, he was just the greatest guy to work with every night. I never looked at working with him as work. It was a night off. He was just the greatest guy to work with every night. He was just so much fun and he was so safe and so careful. And I miss him.
I remember wrestling Curt Hennig in Anchorage, Alaska. It was sold out and I remember it was a big crowd. Andre was working in those days with Warrior, and they were going about 25 seconds every night.
So they needed some extra time, you know, for someone to do the work out there. I was working with Curt that night, and I don’t think I ever had a bad match with him, but I remember that night we uh, we just had such a beautiful match that I’ll never forget it.
Another guy I wanna tell you a story about is Earthquake.
Earthquake, you’re in my prayers.
Wherever you are out there I hope you’re doing OK.
I remember we were flying from Columbus up to Seattle or something, and we had about a six in the morning flight. I remember we got delayed for hours and everyone was sleeping on the floor near the gate. It took hours and hours. And everyone was really tired and really cranky. We finally got off and we’re in the air on our way to Seattle. Poor Earthquake, he was in the very last seat in the airplane. You know, he was a big guy so he was against the wall sleeping with his head down. I remember going to the back of the plane to use the bathroom, but someone was already in there. And uh, Jimmy Hart was across from Earthquake, and I was talking to Jimmy.
Anyway, this little black kid came up and he was about four or five years old. He wanted my autograph and I remember I signed it for him, and then he asked Jimmy to sign it. And then he looked over at Earthquake and he goes, “Should I wake this guy up?”
Jimmy Hart goes, “Yeah go ahead.” I say, “Yeah, he’s a pussycat.” But Earthquake had a long day, you know, he had about enough. I remember this kid pulling on his coat like “Hey hey!”
And I remember Earthquake just looked up, and his eyes were like red holes. He yelled at the little kid and told him to GET OUT.So then he put his head back down…
… and he just leaned back and I couldn’t believe it, he just slapped Earthquake as hard as he could right on the forehead.
*Laughter and gasps ensue*
And I remember Earthquake, good thing he had a seat belt on, he tried to explode out of that seat. And I remember Jimmy Hart was trying to find a place to hide and I remember I kept praying whoever’s in the bathroom better come out, you know.
Anyway, as you can tell I had a life filled with all kinds of characters, and great stories and memories… and uh…
*Fan shouts, THANK YOU BRET!*
I wanna say that everything I did and accomplished in wrestling I did it for my kids. Everyday, you know, you get up and it’s not the easiest thing in the world to go out there all the time and entertain everyone else’s kids. It seemed like birthdays, Christmas, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Easter, you’re just always entertaining somebody else’s kids, and you’re always packing your bags. Your kids pay the ultimate sacrifice. I just want them to know that everything I did, I did it for them.
I remember a few months before “THE SCREWJOB” …
*Fans boo vehemently*
I uh, I was trying to put my youngest son, Blade, to bed. It was in the summer time. I ordered him to go to bed and he went up. I remember he got really mad, and he’s got a pretty bad temper anyway.
He was slamming doors and making quite a fuss. I remember finally putting him in his room. I went back downstairs and I was sitting in my kitchen. Like half an hour later, all of a sudden I see Blade come down. And he’s got on Shawn’s t-shirt.
And he’s got the Shawn glove and he’s looking at me like this and he’s opening his hand.
I still put him to bed. I remember telling Shawn that story. But uh, you know, when I think back to those days of the Hart Foundation… with um, Brian Pillman…
*MASSIVE POP for Pillman*
Jim Neidhart, The British Bulldog, Owen…
Those were the happiest days of my life.
And I uh, I always look back on those days with a real deep fondness.
And I was lucky — I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for the great fans I’ve got all around the world. If I could give any advice to all the young wrestlers out there: never forsake your fans. Never forget them. Because if he’s a fan of yours, you’ll want to hold on to them for as long as they’ll take ya.
I wanna say that I was a real world’s champion. I traveled around the world, and uh, I was really proud to be a world champion. I wrestled in India, Israel, South Africa, the Philippines. I wrestled in so many places. And Germany, I wanna say a special thank you to all the fans I had in Germany. I remember they knocked down the barricades just to come up and give me a big hug before my match, or after my match. It was a beautiful experience that I’ll never forget. They were probably the most loyal and devoted fans I ever had. Canada, you know… I was always a Canadian first. I never ever forgot where I came from.
People always say why would you wear pink? Pink was a very special color for me. If you mix a little red and white together, you get pink. Sometimes I thought maybe I should have had a better color throughout my career. Maybe black and gold or something would have been a little nicer. But you know, there was something very neutral about pink as a color. I always said it took a real man to wear pink. Pink can be whatever you want it to be. And I uh, I love the color pink.
I’m getting ready to close but I wanna say that uh… to the wrestlers… you need to pace yourselves for the long haul. And it’s not so much about hurting one another. It’s about respecting the art.
I wrestled for 23 years, and it’s not easy to go out there every night and describe yourself as the best there is, the best there was and the best there ever will be. But I wrestled 23 years and I never once injured one wrestler ever. That I know of, anyway. And I was a pretty physical wrestler. And the whole business is about trust and respect. And there’s a deep meaning behind the words, “Doing the honors.”
I wanna thank every wrestler that I ever worked with anywhere around the world. And in closing, um, I want to thank my wife in Italy. When I had my stroke a couple years ago, I remember I got emails and letters from fans all around the world saying they were praying for me. And they must have been praying good because I was lucky and fortunate enough to have been blessed with a great recovery. And I’m standing here today.
If I didn’t have the recovery that I had, then I would never have met the sweet angel that saved me over in Italy. She’s over in Italy now with my pug and I just wanna say hi to her. Cinzia, thank you for being my angel.
And uh, I wanna thank everybody for all the great memories. Wembley Stadium, all my fans in England…
That was my favorite match that I ever had, and I’m happy to tell you that. And I wouldn’t change that minute, that moment for anything.
I guess I’m gonna wrap up here but I just wanna say that uh, to all the wrestlers and everyone around the world, if I could give only one message to them it would be this. “The best chance you have if you want to rise to the top is to give yourself up the loneliness. Fear nothing, and work hard. One thing you’ll discover is that life is based less than you think on what you’ve learned and much more than you think on what you have inside you right from the very beginning.”
And I’m happy to say that uh, you don’t have to worry about me anymore. I’m good, I’m happy to be alive, I’m glad to be here. And I thank each of you for coming out here tonight. THANK YOU VERY MUCH.
The pink and black attack.
The excellence of execution.
The best there is.
The best there was.
The best there ever will be.
Whatever you want to call Bret, he was a wrestler for the ages. His Hall of Fame speech still gives me goosebumps to this very day. Although I was never in the wrestling business, there is a strange nostalgic bond I have with these crazy larger than life characters. Even though they don’t know me, I feel like I somehow know them. They almost feel like distant uncles you only see every other Christmas. I guess that’s why I still follow wrestling today. Not as religiously as I once did, mind you, but I’ll always follow the product and be a fan for life. Always looking for that chance to jump out of my chair and mark out like I’m five years old again watching Hulkamania reign supreme. The WWF (now WWE) has given me many fond memories over the years. Whether you like or dislike pro wrestling, there exists a special brotherhood and fraternity within wrestling circles. You see it clear as day through Bret’s stories. Every week these guys and gals go on the road, traveling thousands of miles, sacrificing their bodies, their families and more. To all the wrestlers out there, and especially to Bret “The Hitman” Hart, thank you for everything. Through all the ups and downs I will forever be a fan.
Spider-Man: Homecoming hits theatres tomorrow on July 7, 2017. The masked superhero has a famous saying: “Your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.” It’s a perfect time to share a Nintendo story from my youth. It’s a story that’s going to be featured in Jeffrey Wittenhagen’s upcoming Nintendo book. Thank you Jeff for allowing me the honor to be a small part of another one of your great books. To all my readers here on RVGFanatic, here’s my story in full below!
YOUR FRIENDLY NEIGHBORHOOD NINTENDO MAN
I’m instantly bombarded by a tidal wave of memories whenever I think about the 8-bit Nintendo. Like so many others, I grew up on the NES in the late ‘80s. Born in 1983, I was just old enough to appreciate the NES when it started hitting its stride in North America circa 1987. I have fond memories of all those lazy carefree Sunday mornings spent playing the likes of Contra, Mega Man 2 and Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! just to name a few. Nintendo help made my childhood fun and memorable. Back then gaming was a brand new experience to me. There were no fancy 3D graphics, no complex controller layouts and no lengthy 10 minute tutorials to sit through. The NES gave you two buttons; all you had to do was press start and you were good to go. Sometimes simplicity can’t be beat. There aren’t a lot of bells and whistles — the NES is proof that a game doesn’t have to be overly fancy or complicated in order to be great.
My uncle bought a Nintendo for me and my brother in 1987. I still remember the humble collection we managed to amass through the years…
My childhood is filled with fond memories of myself, Uncle Jimmy and my brother Kevin switching off for hours on end as we sat glued to our television set playing the latest NES titles. Hell, the NES was the ORIGINAL Nintendo “Switch.” After all, those halcyon days were all about switching off with my brother and uncle on Contra as we attempted to save the universe on a nightly basis back in the summer of 1989. Hanging out with my uncle and brother blasting alien scum to Kingdom Come was some of the greatest times of my childhood.
Another fond memory I carry with me were all the rental stores that populated my area. There had to be a good 10 video stores all within a 30 mile radius back in the late ‘80s where I lived. From the established titans of the industry (Blockbuster) to all the little quirky mom and pop shops, it was an entertainment mecca with more goodies than you could watch or play to cover the span of ten lifetimes.
My favorite store of the lot hands down was Evergreen Video. I blame Evergreen Video and its owner, Tom, just a common man working hard for the American dream, as the source that corrupted me. One day in the late ’80s my dad was driving me and my brother around. We spotted Evergreen Video by chance when we made a pit stop in a small plaza to pick up a few items. I had never seen Evergreen Video before but on that day there it stood. Its big bold green letters silently called out to me and my brother, beckoning us over. We found ourselves breaking into a brisk stroll as we made a beeline for the store, our legs suddenly on a mission of their own.
I can still hear the little chime that rung each time someone entered the store. It was a quaint shop with lots of family videos. You were immediately greeted upon entry by four tall wooden shelves that began near the entrance and ended close to the register counter, which sat roughly 60-70 feet straight ahead. Two columns of towering tan shelves rested on each side of the store, freeing the middle aisle for a clear walk to the counter and a good look at the man who owned the store, Tom. Rocking brown rimmed spectacles and a beard like it was 2014, Tom became something of an uncle figure to me and Kevin. You would often find Tom invariably sporting a flannel shirt of one kind or another. In fact, he was the spitting image of Al Borland (played by Richard Karn) from the ‘90s TV sitcom, Home Improvement, only with glasses.
Up front and to the right sat a small wooden shelf. There Tom kept his collection of 30-40 NES games. Tucked away in a corner, it was this little heavenly nook that my brother and I always made a mad scramble for every Saturday afternoon. The smell of the oak wood shelves permeates to this day. If there was ever a quintessential mom and pop rental store, Evergreen Video surely was it.
Tom worked there every Saturday afternoon, rain or shine. And no matter what, we could always count on seeing his big smile greeting us behind the register counter whenever he saw us trampling in. I still remember some of the games I rented from Evergreen Video…
… just to name some. Back then there was no YouTube or anything to really scope these games out. You basically rented them on a whim based on the cover art and how cool the back of the box looked. It made for hit and miss rentals and some crazy times. You just never knew what you were going to get. In some regard it was almost like the Wild Wild West back then!
There was a certain purity to those days that I miss. The same can be said for the purity that courses through the 8-bit veins of the NES itself. Timing is everything in life — the Nintendo and the late ’80s simply went hand in hand and everything else that came along with it, including mom and pop shops.
Tom was so good to us; he even held games for me and Kevin. My brother would call and ask for a game and if Tom had said game then he would hold it for us. I remember him telling us once, with a big smile, “Only for you guys.” Maybe he said that to every kid customer of his, but damnit I like to think he meant what he said. And I don’t doubt that he did because that’s just the kind of guy Tom was.
There’s one story in particular that I’ll never forget. One time we came in to pick up TMNT II: The Arcade Game. We met Tom’s son that day. He was playing the game on the small TV that sat behind the register counter. I felt so bad when he was forced to turn the game off just so we could rent it. He was on the snowfield level battling the wolf boss, Tora. I remember Tora flashing and blinking red as Tom told his very own flesh and blood, “Sorry but these boys need to rent the game now.” I’ll never forget the poor kid looking absolutely crushed, wanting to carry on like any TMNT loving kid would, but he respected his dad far too much to disobey. I always felt guilty about that! Tom had this incredible knack of making me and Kevin feel like we were part of his family. It was top-notch service the likes of which you can’t buy. The kind of genuine service you can only find at a mom and pop shop.
Being huge fans of Double Dragon II, Kevin and I couldn’t wait for Double Dragon III. When it finally arrived in early 1991, my dad took us to Evergreen Video to rent a copy. The drive home was filled with visions of spinning roundhouse kicks and crazy throws galore, but alas, when we popped the game in it refused to play for some reason. My dad promptly called Evergreen Video to inform Tom about the situation and Tom told us to come back for a no-frills exchange. We ended up picking Battletoads as a replacement rental. While we were disappointed that we couldn’t play the eagerly anticipated Double Dragon III, we made the most out of that weekend. More importantly, Tom’s great customer service and integrity once again shined like a thousand stars shimmering in the night sky.
But here’s the part that blows my mind. A few weeks later we made our usual Saturday afternoon trek to Evergreen Video. Tom surprised us when he revealed a brand new copy of Double Dragon III — reserved just for us! He said he was waiting on us to come by because he knew how disappointed we were that his previous copy didn’t work. He wanted to make things right, but he already did that with the Battletoads exchange. It exemplifies the kind of upstanding man Tom was. He always went above and beyond the call of duty. If Yelp existed back in 1991, Evergreen Video would have gotten 5 stars all day! As for Double Dragon III, let’s just say some sequels disappoint.
Early 1992 was an interesting time. There was a changing of the guard. You could feel the shift in the winds, and you could see the writing on the wall. The 8-bit NES was being phased out for the brand new 16-bit Super Nintendo. And with it, Evergreen Video. Business wasn’t booming for Tom in early 1992 as it was in the late ’80s. When the Super Nintendo came to the US in late 1991, Tom bought some SNES games to keep up with the times. I rented Ultraman and sadly that was the last game I would ever rent from Evergreen Video. The beginning of one era (the SNES) marked the ending for another (Evergreen Video).
One innocuous Saturday afternoon in early 1992 my dad took me and Kevin to Evergreen Video to return Ultraman. Unfortunately, that trip proved to be our last. Tom told us he and the family were moving on. But because I was so young I didn’t really grasp his heartfelt admission. I just assumed he would still be there next Saturday and the Saturday after that. Because it’s Tom. And that’s what Tom does. After all, he’s your friendly neighborhood Nintendo man.
But reality crushed me when my mom took me shopping in that same plaza a week later. I stole a glance inside the remains of Evergreen Video. What was once a simple but lovely store that provided me with so many good memories was now a broken, fragmented shell of its former glory. A part of me expected to still see the wooden shelves and Tom’s friendly mug situated behind the register counter. Instead, what I found that day was an empty store torn down in shambles, the floor littered with debris. I felt like crying as I peered in through the glass pane. I lost a little bit of innocence that day. From that moment on I forever realized that things don’t last forever, no matter how much you want them to.
The last time I visited that plaza was June 2008. I had just graduated from college with a teaching credential. My cousins wanted to celebrate the occasion by eating at a Chinese restaurant. Of all the places they could have chosen, of course it had to be at a restaurant in that small plaza near the defunct remains of Evergreen Video. But of course. It was a surreal night. I just graduated from college and was looking forward to the future. But returning to that childhood plaza for the first time in what had to be over a decade got me far more emotional than I thought possible. After dinner my cousins declared a movie night at their place. But having unfinished business, I told them I would drop by later. As they drove off I stood outside the restaurant all by my lonesome. I slowly turned my gaze to the classic spot where Evergreen Video once proudly stood ages ago. My heart started racing as I knew what stood before me: I was on the verge of facing a huge part of my childhood for quite possibly the last time ever. I knew what I had to do…
The building was vacant. I peered inside as memories came flooding back. I saw a montage in my own mind playing. Rushing in, pushing the door open, hearing the chime of the bell and being greeted by Tom’s friendly smile. Making a beeline for the NES games, admiring the art on the boxes and hoping you would pick a good game to play for that weekend. All those images flashed in my mind one after the other. And then I was snapped back to reality. I said a quick silent thank you to Tom. Turning my back to the store, I stood there for a minute to take in the cool early evening air.
I reminisced about the past while also eagerly anticipating the future. I had just graduated and was on my way to achieving my childhood dream of having my own classroom, my own students to teach and to be a positive male influence in their lives. Not unlike how Tom was to me all those years ago in his own unique way. Alas, as the final shards of sunlight pierced the storefront, I decided that was enough reflection for one night. Placing my childhood memories back in the box, I texted my cousins that I was heading over and made my way to my car. I stole one last glance at the place where Evergreen Video once stood tall and proud. I gave Evergreen Video one final knowing nod as the engine roared. The night was still young… and so was I.
That fateful June evening of 2008 was the last time I visited that small plaza where Evergreen Video once stood. It’s crazy that it’s been nearly 10 years since I’ve been back to that area. I’ve since gone on to fulfill my dreams of becoming a teacher. I like to think Tom, wherever he is, would be proud of me. To this day I have no idea where he is or even what he’s up to. I never knew his last name. It’s been over 25 years since I last saw the man. It’s sad to think there’s even a chance he may no longer be alive. But wherever he is, in whatever state or space, I hope he’s doing well and at peace.
Tom was a uncle figure to me and Kevin growing up, and Evergreen Video became much more than a mom and pop video store. It was a connection and bond held between strangers turned family. A bond that formed much like the bond that video games can help forge between people from different walks of life. And the NES certainly did that. Whenever I think back to my childhood, I invariably think about the NES, Tom and Evergreen Video. It was a different era. A simpler time. I’m grateful that I got to experience gaming’s golden age growing up. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Long live Nintendo, and long live the memories of Tom and Evergreen Video.
They say the only things certain in life are death and taxes. How about change? Times change, people change. Whether we like it or not. Hell, I’ve been using the same oven mitt for twelve years. Changes are happening in the world as well as our very own. Maybe you had a best friend. All relationships go through a change at one point or another. It’s inevitable. Life happens. Maybe one person is hanging onto the past, while the other has moved on. And it’s not always a question of who changed, but who hasn’t. Often times it’s unsettling, especially when you see an old best friend you haven’t seen in years. You always wonder, is the magic still there? Or have you both grown apart? You find yourself wondering, do we have anything left in common, other than the past? One thing’s for sure: it’s not easy saying goodbye.
If you’re lucky, you had a best friend at some time in your life. A best friend you hung out with, grew up with. Are you still best friends with that person? Or have times changed? The following story is something many of us can relate to. I know I sure can. It’s about two best friends, the good old days and the passing of time. It’s my favorite episode from one of my favorite shows, Home Improvement.
SHOW HISTORY AND LEGACY
Home Improvement was one of the most watched sitcoms of the 1990s. Debuting just one month after the Super Nintendo did in the US, the family sitcom comedy exploded into American households coast to coast on September 17, 1991. The show centered around Tim Taylor, an accident-prone father of three out in the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan. He also was the host of a lowly rated cable tool show, TOOL TIME, where in each episode audiences were almost guaranteed one of the following: Tim cracks on Al Borland (Tim’s assistant), Tim cracks on Al’s hefty mom, or Tim causes an accident. Sometimes all three. TOOL TIME played nicely as a show within a show. Back home, Tim’s plucky wife Jill held down the fort while neighbor Wilson Wilson (yes, Wilson Wilson) imparted much of his vast wisdom to Tim in almost every episode, with the amusing gimmick of the audience never being able to see Wilson’s face. As the series evolved, Jill goes back to college to gain her Master’s Degree, the boys grow up and adopt their own trademarks. Young Mark becomes a goth-type, middle son Randy becomes an outspoken environmentalist and Brad becomes entrenched with his blossoming soccer career. Meanwhile, Tim goes through the various stages of being a father, husband, employee, brother and friend. The sitcom ruled the ’90s, winning numerous awards and nominations. The final episode aired on May 25, 1999. Home Improvement ran for eight seasons airing a total of 205 shows. To this day, reruns can be caught on syndicated TV, DVD box sets have been released and fans still regard it fondly as one of their favorite sitcoms of all time.
What accounted for the show’s mega popularity among viewers? Sure, people got a kick out of Tim blowing things up and knocking out Bob Vila with a 4×8, but there was more to it than that. All the characters were immensely likable. You had the never-ending philosophical wisdom of wacky Wilson, Al’s wonderful rapport with Tim, rock-bottom Benny, and of course, who could forget the gorgeous Debbe Dunning as the Tool Girl? Most importantly, the show was funny and it had heart. Some episodes were plain silly while others dealt with serious life matters yet managed to do it in classic Home Improvement fashion: handling it with the right touch of sensitivity while maintaining the lighthearted sense of humor the show was so well known for. Episodes about drugs, cancer and death are only a few examples. This was nothing new among TV sitcoms (Full House and Saved By The Bell had already dealt with such issues) but Home Improvement added its own spin in successful fashion. It was a classic sitcom and the last one I ever really cared about.
R.I.P. EARL HINDMAN (WILSON WILSON)
Besides Tim, Wilson was my favorite character. Imagine living next to him and having the luxury of hearing various 14th century quotes and anecdotes to lift you out of any sticky situation. Now that’s a neighbor right there. He also had the ingenious gimmick of always having his face obscured. Usually by the fence but later on the producers found more creative methods that ranged from silverware to even medieval knight helmets!
SPECIAL GUEST APPEARANCE
Christopher McDonald makes a special one time guest appearance in this Home Improvement episode. You might remember him. He’s been in over 80 films and usually plays the devious bad guys or pompous assholes. Brief résumé:
Shooter McGavin from Happy Gilmore
Tappy Tibbons from Requiem for a Dream
Thelma & Louise
Grumpy Old Men
Portrayed Joe DiMaggio in ESPN’s original The Bronx Is Burning
Voice actor (Iron Giant, Superman: The Animated Series,Batman Beyond)
This is a story of two old best friends…
The passing of time…
And that inevitable mistress we call change.
Whether we wish for change to happen or not.
Always has, and by God, always will.
BEST FRIENDS FOREVER… OR BEST FRIENDS 15 YEARS AGO?
“Now remember what I told you. Plant your elbow inside your knee like this. Alright, and don’t just lift your arm, pull the weight to your shoulder. GOOD, good. Now exhale. Try grunting, it helps.”
“ARR! ARR! ARRRR!”
“Good job. You gonna be real strong if you keep this up.”
“I wanna be the strongest one on the football team.”
“I can see it now. Bradley Taylor, the muscular son of Tim Taylor carrying the ball, he’s got sixty people dragging behind him. 30, the 20, the 10 — OH — he fell because his muscles are just TOO big!”
“Yeah, the one IN YOUR HEAD.”
“Wrong honey, this is the Tim Taylor Testosterone hour. I got an idea. Let’s flex for her. Drop the weights. Alright guys, prepare yourself, ready…
“Well stick around and I’ll smear you with bacon grease.”
“I’LL BE BACK!”
“Tim, don’t forget to pick up some videos tonight after work.”
“Yeah Dad, how about we get Bury Me Again?”
“Hey NO! It’s family night!”
“Yeah yeah honey, it’s family night… oooh how about… Bayonet Hell?”
“Hey, it’s my turn to pick. You’re going to get Sound of Music.”
“I’ll get it.”
“Calling from Akron?”
“No, he’s in town.”
“DO NOT invite that slug over here tonight.”
“Come on… he’s one of my best friends.”
“… I gotta work. Be working all day… uh huh… Come over there… yeah… yeah it’ll be great… uh huh… Not even with your lips, haha. Alright, see ya then.”
“Please say he’s not coming over tonight cause it’s Family Night, and the chili, cornbread, the Sound of Music.”
“I didn’t invite him OVER. I said I’ll meet him after work. We’ll go have a couple beers. I’ll come home after that.”
“Yes. Why are you so hard on Stu?”
“The last time he was here he shook up a beer and sprayed it all over the family room.”
“Foam fight. He likes to clown around.”
“His idea of clowning around is drinking and making body noises.”
“So? He likes to drink beer and make music.”
“Playing ‘The Girl From Ipanema’ in his armpit is not musical.”
“You ever tried that?”
“That’s it from me, Tim the Tool Man Taylor, reminding you to get those storm windows and doors in early… CAUSE YOU NEVER KNOW, when that storm’s gonna come rollin’ through. See ya next time.”
“Hey buddy! Good to see you!”
“And you too!”
“Wait a minute, Al. Come over here, c’mon. This wild dog here was my college roommate. Stu Cutler, Al Borland.”
“Kill me, juuust kill me now. She looks even better in person. Introduce me.”
“Because she’s a coworker, a good friend of mine and you’re nothing but dry hog phlegm.”
“Watch my move.”
“Bye Tim, see you Monday.”
“Ahhh boy. It’s good to see you STILL have it, Cutler. She’s not your type, man. SHE CAN SEE. Now come on, let’s go down and get a beer. I’ll get changed up and go.”
“I thought we go to the place on the corner we like.”
“You’re not gonna take me home to dinner?”
“I thought maybe just you and me go out together.”
“She’ll understand. It’ll be like a guys’ night out.”
“No, of course not, you’re ALWAYS welcomed at my house.”
“WELL LET’S GO!“
“Jill will be so surprised to see you.”
“I can’t wait to see her face!”
***15 MINUTES LATER***
“Oh good you’re home. You got rid of Stu fast.”
“I didn’t get rid of him — he’s parking his car.”
“Jill, he really misses you. He likes you.”
“No he doesn’t, he just likes to make fun of me and crush beer cans on his head.”
“Well, they gotta be crushed if you gonna recycle them… aww, I couldn’t get rid of him. I couldn’t say no. He’ll just come over, have a beer and that’s it.”
“Well OK, but if he crosses the line I’m personally going to throw him out.”
“What’s crossing the line?”
“After ONE beer, he is GONE.”
“READ MY MIND!“
“Come on in, buddy!”
“Yeah, I have. Thanks.”
“Well it sure would. Timmy, you’d be visiting us tonight. And Jill would be a satisfied woman.”
“Haven’t even cracked it. So, where’s the boys?”
“They’re across the street.”
“Well, get them over here Jill. I gotta see those wild puppies!”
“Well, they wouldn’t want to miss the Stu-ster. Brad, Randy, Mark!”
“Hey come on!”
“Ah I wasn’t gonna do it, Timmy. Just wanted to see that look on Jill’s face…”
“Randy! WHOA LOOK AT YOU!”
“The Bradster! You guys are getting so big! Pretty soon you’ll be able to take the old man.”
“Marky! God you’re getting so big and strong.”
“We’ve been lifting Dad’s weights, wanna see them?”
“Well sure, where are they?”
“In the garage, come on.”
“Daddy’s been posing for mommy.”
“Did he cross the line? You gotta admit, it’s an interesting way to begin Family Night huh?”
She looked good, she looked fine, she looked good she looked fine, and I nearly lost my mind!
Oh Taylor! Think quick!”
“I’m way ahead of ya. I’ll get him to go.”
“Hey guys, you go inside and help set the table. I’m gonna talk to Uncle Stu.”
“Oh not so fast poser. I got 150 pounds on here. Boys, I don’t think the old man can bench press this.”
“Show him, Dad.”
“Yeah, do it.”
“Are you OK Dad?”
“It’s easy when you use the right form.”
“Hey, remember how we used to go to the gym, practically kill ourselves trying to impress Donna Gilmore?”
“I haven’t seen or heard from her in years.”
“Hey remember, you and me and Donna driving around in our ’68 Impala, top down, her blonde hair blowing in the wind… gosh she was a beauty.”
“That was a 327 small-block, man. It had an Edelbrock Holley 850 dual feed on that thing. It had tubular headers, glass packs. Chromed the kanuter valve, hahaha!”
“Hey, you know what I got?”
“I know what you got!”
“Picture of that Impala!”
“There’s that screaming machine.”
“This would be a classic today if it weren’t for that little fire we had, and I know I turned that fuel filter on. It wasn’t my fault!”
“Don’t you wish we could go BACK… live those days all over again?“
“Just look me straight in the eye, and tell me that wasn’t the BEST time of your life.”
“… It was good… it was good… listen Stu, Jill and I were talking, tonight’s Family Night — “
“Wait, you’ve already made me feel like family. You know what we need here? Another beer!”
“Hey no prob — I’ll just go get some more.”
“Ha… oh wait… *burp* AH, there it was.”
“I told you I’d get him to go after one beer...”
“I know we used to be friends in college and everything, but do you, um, like Stu now?”
“I know he can be a pain, but we shared a lot of good times.”
“Well, if you just met him today for the first time, do you think that you would become friends?”
“He’s a lot of laughs.”
“I guess I just don’t get it.”
“What you doin’?”
“OH just pounding myself some horseshoes.”
“Wouldn’t a pair of loafers be more comfortable?”
“Nono no, Tim. These are shoes I toss. Look at this. Perfect weight. Perfect balance. Aerodynamically correct.”
“Make your best pitch, Timmy.”
“I got this old friend in town, and I always think we’re going to have a lot of fun, but instead we always talk about all the fun we used to have.”
“Well there’s nothing wrong with reminiscing, Tim.”
“But he thinks I’m the same guy I was 15 years ago.”
“Mmm hmm, mmm hmm, mmm hmm.”
“Well it sounds like he’s spending all his time looking backwards, and you’re spending yours looking forward.”
“That’s it, I can’t keep up with this guy. The THOUGHT of crushing a beer can on my head makes my butt QUIVER.”
“I don’t know what to do about him.”
“Well it sounds to me like you’re having a hard time saying goodbye.”
“You see Tim, I believe it was St. Paul who said, When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I THOUGHT as a child. But when I became a man, I put away childish things.”
“Hey! Guess who I ran into down at the store? Mike FORSHAY and TINO!“
“Oh they’re still a couple wild dogs. They’re going down to Club Piranha and get crazy. I told them you and I’ll meet them there.”
“I’m not going to Club Piranha.”
“But you have to go! You remember back in college the four of us stayed up 36 hours and then drove halfway to Mexico City, with the emergency brake on?”
“I’m not going out tonight. Stu, I thought we were gonna stay here. You know, watch TV, the video, chili with the kids.”
“Oh right, the family thing… NO PROBLEM. I’ll call Tino and Forshay, they can get a keg of beer and come OVER HERE!“
“Tell you what, why don’t you go down to Club Piranha, you hang out with those guys.”
“… Sound of Music. Maybe I will go down and meet Forshay and Tino. Would I be a real jerk if I skipped dinner and kind of headed out?”
“No, not at all, skip.”
“I just don’t want to disappoint Jill.”
“Don’t worry about it. It’ll be rough but I’ll be able to smooth it out.”
“Well buddies, heh, I gotta be heading out.”
“Jill, I know this is going to be a tremendous disappointment to all of you. Stu can’t stay for dinner or the movie.”
“I ran into some old buddies. We’re just gonna go out, have some uh, coffee, and talk.”
“Goodbye, it was nice to see you.”
“Good to see you too.”
“Always do… hey, next time I’m in town, I’ll give you a little more warning when I call.”
“OK, alright, everybody can see?”
“Wait, I’ll need my box of tissues.”
“Last time we showed you how to install an aluminum storm window on an existing wooden frame. Today, we hung a storm door on an existing wood frame.”
“Now, the important thing about putting a door in is hanging it, cause if it’s not hung well, then you got a problem. Right Al?”
“When installing a door, you gotta make it fit exactly like it’s supposed to. So make sure your hinge is aligned with the king stud.”
“It’s also very important to remember that doors often change with age. The older a door gets, the more warped it becomes.”
“SO, remember, check those doors, as they may not fit like you remember.”
I was only a kid when I first saw this episode. It wasn’t until years later, in my 20’s, that I realized what a poignant and powerful episode this is. We’ve all been there at some point. We had a best friend from long ago that we kind of lost touch with over the years. Then, one day seemingly out of the blue, circumstances bring our lives back together again. Sometimes it’s a natural seamless transition. We carry on as if we never left. But other times, the past is all we have in common, and we carry on without that person ever entering our lives again. You never know which way it swings. Personally, I’ve had both. Thankfully, my childhood best friend, Nelson, and I still keep in touch today. We don’t talk like we once used to, but the thing about our friendship is we can go months without contact but as soon as we do, it’s like we never left. Those friendships are the best. So, remember, change is constant. Sometimes it seems to happen slowly. Other times, it comes in crashing waves. And that things and people definitely do change with age. Like Tim did, the important thing to keep in mind is knowing who you really are today.
My favorite TV show growing up was The Wonder Years. One of my favorite episodes from that show was “A Very Cutlip Christmas.” As I write this, it’s Christmas Eve 2016. I’m reminded of this excellent episode which I’m replicating below.
Following the episode recap, I’ll share a story of my former 8th grade language arts teacher, Ms. Haas. In a lot of ways, Ms. Haas and Coach Cutlip reminded me of each other. These are stories about peer pressure, standing up for what you believe in, and the indomitable human spirit.
I hope you enjoy.
A VERY CUTLIP CHRISTMAS
It’s a time of miracles. When reindeer can fly and Frosty never melts.
Then you get older. Somehow… things change. The magic begins to fade.
Until something happens that reminds you… at Christmas time, miracles still can be found. Sometimes in the most unexpected places.
Ed Cutlip. Better known as Coach Cutlip to his students at RFK. He was a robotic man who rarely showed any kind of emotion, and worked a relentless whistle. It was December of 1970. He was Scrooge in a baseball cap.
“In my grasp, I have a message from Richard Millhouse Nixon. Our chief executive has entrusted me, as a physical educator, to see that you men are AT or ABOVE the national average. Over the next several days, we will be doing chin-ups, pushups, situps, shuttle runs and more. You men will be ready for the President’s All-American National Athletic Test.”
After a grueling workout, the guys were talking in the locker room.
“Man, if only we had some dirt to take down Cutlip!” Tommy said.
A sweaty Doug croaked, “The man’s a monster!”
One thing’s for sure, Coach Cutlip was certainly lacking the holiday cheer.
Later that day my mom took me to the Brightland Mall. All around me I saw blatant cheap Christmas consumerism. What happened? Then, I heard it.
“HO HO HO!”
I looked over my shoulder and saw the mall Santa. There, a long line full of little kids awaited their turn patiently. In its own tacky way, it reminded me of what I had been missing.
But as I was sitting there, a funny feeling overcame me. Why did the mall Santa seem so familiar? And then it hit me…
It was CUTLIP!
Likewise, he spotted me. He jumped up, embarrassed, and ran to his shack for cover. It was horrible. It was BEYOND horrible. The first time I had seen a teacher outside school, he was stuffed with a pillow.
The next day at school I tried to block out the disturbing images. Luck be my lady, who bumped into me in the hallway?
“Ah, morning Arnold.”
I looked up at him, trying to read his expression. Had he really seen me at the mall, and did I really see him? I decided to engage in some small talk with the man.
“So, how are we?”
He wasn’t even looking at me. His eyes were trained on a clipboard as he jotted down some notes casually.
“Any, uh, adventures since I last saw you, Arnold?”
“Um, no, not really. Well, I did go shopping at the Brightland Mall…”
Cutlip shot up like a jack in the box. “Oh?”
“Never been there myself. I don’t get out that far.”
“See you in gym, Arnold.”
And with that, he walked away. Wow, maybe I imagined the whole thing at the mall. Was this just one big miscalculation? Feeling full of holiday cheer, I shouted “Merry Christmas sir!”
Then he turned around. And right then, it hit me.
There were moments in my life which I regretted. I knew this was one of those moments.
That day in gym, I knew it was D-Day. I KNEW TOO MUCH. He was going to lash out on me, make me his whipping boy.
In his typical firm manner, Coach Cutlip called me out during gym class.
I cautiously walked toward him, with all my classmates watching. “Yes sir?”
“Why don’t you keep time?” he handed me his stop watch, smiled and placed his hand on my shoulder like a father figure.
And then I realized… KNOWLEDGE IS POWER!
But my friends — that was another matter. While I had it made, they were sweating and suffering. After class, they called me a turncoat, a teacher’s pet, even worse — “Cutlip in training.”
I knew they were right. There was only one thing to do.
“I have to tell you something, Mr. Cutlip.”
“Please, call me Ed.”
But before I could go on, he offered me a piece of paper.
“It’s my personal permission slip, you don’t have to take the National Athletic test.”
“That’s the thing. I don’t want to be your time keeper. I don’t want to sit out. I –“
“Say no more,” he interrupted sternly. He came close to my face. “I see how it is, Arnold. I played a little ball in my life, too. I’ll see you in GYM.”
He ripped the note into pieces. And that was that.
Later that week, I was going off on Cutlip during lunch time with the guys.
“He’s making my life a mess, just because I saw him working at the Brightland Mall!”
Doug perked up. “Cutlip works at the Brightland Mall?”
Before I could say anything, a girl passed me a note.
I sat there at his mercy. I had no idea what kind of torture I was in store for. I saw him reaching in his desk. He was going to pull out a knife, a bat, or possibly a gun.
“20 percentage employee discount. You know, Arnold, to a man who’s devoted his entire life to public education, the opportunity to buy whole sale is nothing to laugh about. HAHAHAHA.”
“May I go now?”
“Wait, that’s not the only reason I’m working at the mall. My mother — Esther Cutlip. If it weren’t for my help there’s no telling what kind of catatonic state the woman might fall into.”
“… That’s nice, sir.”
I wanted the bell to ring, the fire alarm, an earthquake, anything…
“Tell me Kevin… have you ever been inside a Santa outfit?”
This was reaching critical mass!
“It’s hot, and it’s SWEATY.”
I couldn’t take it any longer. “STOP! I don’t want your fruitcake, or hear about your mother. It’s none of my business! I’m not gonna tell anyone you work at the mall so let’s just drop it, OK?”
I had enough. I was sick of this game. I headed for the door. And then…
And right then, for the first time, I saw the man as a human being. Not a great human being, maybe not even a good human being, but a very lonely human being.
“Don’t worry. Your secret’s safe with me, Mr. Cutlip.”
Going home on the bus that day, I was feeling pretty good. Until I saw Doug, Tommy and Randy anyhow. I had already spilled the beans.
“C’mon Kevin, where does he work? Orange Julius?”
“Forget it, I’m not gonna say.”
“That’s cool… we’ll just go look for him. How hard can it be?”
Were these guys serious or what! I knew what I had to do…
“What are you doing here, Arnold? You’re not going to sit on my lap are you?”
“Good, because you know you’re too old, right?”
“Look, I’m sorry.”
“I kinda slipped and told some guys you work at the mall. They’re coming to look for you any minute now. I think you better just hide out in your shack until this whole thing blows over.”
“Let them come if they must. I AM WHO I AM.”
With that, he stood up tall and proud. I’ll always remember that look on his face.
He was at once heroic…
“Move along, Arnold.”
I made my way to the guys, helpless, outnumbered.
And then, it happened.
First, Doug stared directly into the eyes of the man who had taught him gym for three long years.
Then Randy and Tommy looked long and hard.
Those three skeptics gazed straight into the eyes of Coach Cutlip not thirty feet away.
But all they saw…. was Santa Claus.
It was a miracle. He stood there like some patron saint. And for that brief moment of Christmas magic, Ed Cutlip got to be all that he ever wanted.
STANDING UP FOR MS. HAAS
It was Spring of ’97. I was in the 8th grade. Our language arts teacher Mr. Simon was replaced by Ms. Haas mid-year. Family matters forced Mr. Simon to move out of state. Everyone loved him. In retrospect, I guess Ms. Haas never stood a shot.
She was the strict, serious type while Mr. Simon was more of a big brother — goofy, fun and graded pretty easy. Ms. Haas on the other hand was a tough grader. She was in her mid 30’s but already had a balding spot which my classmates often poked fun at (behind her back, of course).
So, pretty much everyone hated her guts. I kinda liked her, though. Though she was a hard grader, she was fair. And I respected that. I respected HER.
One day during SSR (Silent Sustained Reading, which we had for 20 minutes) there was a note being passed around. I noticed each one of my classmates writing something down on that piece of paper. I was the last one to receive it.
It was a petition. A petition to fire Ms. Haas.
IF YOU WANT MS. HAAS REMOVED, SIGN HERE
There were 25 plus signatures. The kid sitting closest to me — Andre — noticed my hesitation to sign.
“C’mon man. Sign it already.”
I looked over at Ms. Haas sitting in the corner, reading a book. Had she noticed this piece of paper going around that demanded her immediate removal? She had a stoic look on her face, so I couldn’t tell, yet… she ALWAYS had a stoic look on her face… as though someone sucked the life out of her many many years ago.
I looked back at the petition. I skimmed through the signatures. According to my count, everyone had signed it. EVERYONE.
Andre nudged me on the shoulder. “Yo man, you gonna sign it or what?”
I clearly recall to this day asking myself this question: “Does Ms. Haas deserve to be fired?”
To me, the answer was no, so… I put the pen down.
“Yo man, what are you doing?”
“I ain’t signing it.”
“What? Are you crazy? You actually like her?”
I glanced over to see if she had noticed this commotion. “She’s cool.”
“Man, you’re crazy,” he grimaced, snatching the petition away from me.
The rest of SSR I didn’t read. I kind of sat there with my eyes transfixed on the same paragraph, thinking about what just went down. I stood up for what I believed in. I wondered if Ms. Haas was aware at all that 97% of her students wanted her fired. I couldn’t tell from my vantage point, so I crumpled up a piece of paper as an excuse to get near her desk.
As I approached the wastebasket, I caught a glimpse of her face peeking right below her book. And what I saw that day I would never forget. Her eyes were red and watery. Ms. Haas was crying. She looked up to see me approaching and quickly wiped her eyes. I immediately looked away and hustled back to my seat, my crumpled paper still in hand.
After class (it was my last class of the day) my mom drove me home. I convinced her to drive me right back. I just had to pick up my boom box. At the time, Puff Daddy’s “I’ll Be Missing You” was a huge sensation, and I had the crazy notion that maybe, just maybe, it might cheer up Ms. Haas.
The campus was eerily quiet as I made a beeline toward Ms. Haas’ classroom around 3:30. As I entered, I saw her sitting at her desk in the corner. Her eyes were still red, and crumpled tissue paper could be seen strewn about her desk.
“Oh, hey Steve, what are you doing here?” she stammered. Ms. Haas was completely caught off guard.
And suddenly, so was I.
For a second there I didn’t know what to say! What was I doing back here? I figured then and there that I must have been a sight for sore eyes, boombox and all!
“I just wanted you to listen to this cool new song. I don’t know… I thought maybe you might like hearing it.” Wow, that came out smooth, Steve. Way to go.
By the way, looking back, I had no idea about the 1989 film Say Anything or the scene where John Cusack holds the boombox over his head to woo his crush. I guess from Ms. Haas’ perspective, she might have had an awkward flashback there… totally not my intent!
Ms. Haas gave me what could only be described as a perplexed half smile, completely unsure what to make of the situation. Plugging the cord into the socket, I pondered briefly about whether this whole thing was wise or not. Alas, there was simply no turning back now. I hit PLAY and stepped back, waiting for the track to begin. Needless to say, those 2-3 seconds felt like an eternity. I stared at the boombox on the ground, too shy to look up at Ms. Haas. She was probably doing the same. I’ll never know for sure, as I kept my eyes on that boombox for all dear life. At last the lyrics began filling Ms. Haas’ 8th grade classroom, wall to wall.
Seems like yesterday we used to rock the show
I laced the track, you locked the flow
So far from hangin’ on the block for dough
Notorious they got to know that
Life ain’t always what it seem to be
Words can’t express what you mean to me
Even though you’re gone we still a team
Thru your family I’ll fulfill your dreams
In the future can’t wait to see if you’ll
Open up the gates for me
Reminisce sometime the night they took my friend
Try to black it out, but it plays again
When it’s real feelings hard to conceal
Can’t imagine all the pain I feel
Give anything to hear half your breath
I know you still livin’ your life after death
At some point during the song I managed to muster the courage to look up and see Ms. Haas’ expression. She had a funny look on her face as the song continued on. The lyrics reverberated throughout the classroom.
Every step I take
Every move I make
Every single day
Every time I pray
I’ll be missing you
By the time the song ended, you would never guess that Ms. Haas had been crying earlier that day at all.
“Oh my God,” she started. “This song… it was originally the Police’s…”
I didn’t get it. “The police owns this song?” I imagined donut-eating cops.
Ms. Haas chuckled.
“Steve, I’m going to date myself here but the Police was a band a good number of years ago led by a guy named Sting. In 1983 they had a smash hit called EVERY BREATH YOU TAKE. The background music from that song, well, it’s exactly the same background as this new song!”
Ms. Haas went on tell me a story about how she grew up a HUGE fan of the Police. One time they came to her town and she and her best friend got tickets to the show. But a day before Ms. Haas got herself grounded. However, with the help of her best friend, a trusty rope and a two-story window, she managed to sneak out and make the show. It hit me right then and there that Ms. Haas was once vibrant, and full of life.
Ms. Haas was human, too. Very human, in fact. More than we knew.
And right before my very eyes, Ms. Haas became full of life again. Her eyes sparkled as she regaled me with the greatest tale from her youth. And for those few couple minutes, I saw a side of Ms. Haas that no other 8th grader had ever seen before. Ms. Haas was not only smiling, the woman was practically beaming.
“I know it’s hard to believe, Steve, but trust me, in MY day I was quite the little rascal.”
We both shared a good chuckle. I left school that day with a completely brand new perspective of my 8th grade language arts teacher. Ms. Haas was more than Mr. Simon’s fill-in replacement. Ms. Haas was more than a strict educator in her mid 30’s, victimized by a premature balding spot. Ms. Haas was a woman who had seen the ups and downs of life. And for that, I respected her all the more.
The following week, Ms. Haas announced to the class that she was leaving. In a weird way, the 8th grade students got their wish after all, but I knew that Ms. Haas went out swinging on her own. It was her call, and hers alone. At least, that’s the way I like to think of it, and I’m sticking to my story, no pun intended. Of course, we were all leaving as well. We had four years of high school to look forward to. Everyone was moving on to the next chapter in their lives. It only seemed fitting. I remember looking at Ms. Haas that day as she made her announcement. She looked right back at me. There was no cliché Hollywood wink or gesture exchanged, but I know in my heart of hearts that Ms. Haas was finally at peace. And I know that we both said to each other, in our own unique and silent way, “Thank you. Thank you for everything.”
I still think about Ms. Haas from time to time and that fateful day I re-entered her classroom armed with a boombox and Puff Daddy’s “I’ll Be Missing You.” Sometimes I wonder where Ms. Haas is today. I like to think she’s off somewhere, in her own little corner of the world, at peace. Perhaps she and her best friend are living next door, with their Sting posters proudly draped over their bedroom walls. Perhaps Ms. Haas is married now with a family to call her very own. Wherever she may be, I just hope she’s happy.
Teachers come and go. But a select few you never forget. Life lessons can come in a wide variety of forms. Ms. Haas taught me indirectly the importance of standing up for what you believe in. Even when everyone else is going in the other direction. The popular choice isn’t always the right choice.
Halloween. One of my favorite times of the year, October brings to mind so many fond memories. I love Halloween — the ghoulish sights and sounds, the trick or treating tomfoolery, the spooky atmosphere, watching horror movies on a rainy night in the dark, playing scary video games and so forth. I just love everything about it. Hell, Halloween is one of my favorite movies of all time. Tonight I’m proud to share three different stories all related to Halloween. So kick back, grab a cold one and enjoy…
But first, click here as the theme accompanies the text to follow:
THE NIGHT HE CAME HOME
In 1989 my uncle took me to a local mom and pop shop called Video Mart. The box art of HALLOWEEN captivated my six year old imagination. It was my favorite holiday. And I always had a thing for horror, even at six. My uncle was the cool, laid back type, so he obliged, renting the film thinking I could handle it.
I ended up watching the film largely behind my couch, and that night I had a nightmare of Michael Myers chasing me. I became a life long fan from that point on. Go figure.
There isn’t a Halloween that goes by where I don’t pop in at least one of the Halloween films. Besides, there’s something else that will forever connect me with the famed horror franchise…
So what is Halloween? For those living under a rock for the last nearly 40 years…
Made and released in 1978 on a shoestring budget, it went on to win the hearts of horror fans everywhere, plus critical acclaim. It had a classic mysterious villain, a great lead in Jamie Lee Curtis and took place in the fictional sleepy midwestern town of Haddonfield, Illinois. And in one night, Michael Myers turned Haddonfield into his own personal bloody playground.
HUNTING THE SHAPE
Nelson and I were best buds from Kindergarten-7th grade. That’s when I moved. We reconnected in the 2000s. Over the years we’ve kept in touch and although we’re no longer best friends, we have history of over 25 years. It’s one of those things where we may go weeks or even months without contact, but whenever we get back in touch it’s like we never left.
Two months ago I decided to visit ole Nelly for the weekend so we could catch up and hang out. We set out to visit Disneyland since it was about 30 minutes away from his place. Yup, weekend at Nelly’s.
Driving on the way to Nelson’s, my heart stopped when I saw a striking neighborhood that rang some serious deja vu bells in my head. As my car rumbled on down the road I couldn’t help but burn a hole through my rear view mirror as I desperately tried to steal a glimpse at what I just drove by. Was it, could it be? No way… I passed a few traffic lights before finally pulling over. I just had to find out if my gut was right or not before heading to Nelson’s. Busted out my phone and typed into Google:
“HALLOWEEN 1978 FILMING LOCATIONS”
A website came up, and an address in South Pasadena was given. My hands were shaking as I punched said address into Google Maps.
“1.8 miles away.”
I had just drove by one of the iconic Halloween filming locations! HADDONFIELD IN THE FLESH! The Halloween super geek in me was coming out big time. What were the odds that my childhood best friend (who also loved the Halloween franchise) would turn out to live 3 miles away from “Haddonfield” ? It was a moment of true serendipity. I texted Nelson and said I’d be coming 30 minutes late. It was a personal pilgrimage I simply had to brave for myself solo first.
And this is what I found that fateful day…
After geeking out (and possibly even vlogging the moment), I drove the 3 miles over to Nelson’s. I showed him the pictures (and possibly video) I took. He was marking out too. He moved to LA about 7 months ago, but had no idea he lived 3 miles away from “Haddonfield.” Next thing you know, we’re on an impromptu trip down memory lane as we drove all over South Pasadena looking for a ton of Halloween nostalgia live in the flesh.
This is what we found that day.
Michael Myers’ house was demolished and moved to a new location. It now serves as an office. Despite the disappointment of that, Nelson and I still sat there in awe. Reminiscing and laughing about the good old days, that’s when we noticed a DirecTv satellite dish on the side of the house. We also could hear the loud humming of an air conditioner. It was a hot August day in Haddonfield… the dog days of summer, indeed. That’s when I said, “What the hell, Michael Myers watching Game of Thrones with the AC on? DUDE IS GETTING SOFT!” Nelson added in, “What’s Michael Myers doing browsing PornHub!?”
We probably shouldn’t have cracked up so hard, but we did. Nelson and I laughed up a storm until we were nearly teary eyed. Man, I hadn’t laugh that good in quite a while. A mere hour prior to this, we both just assumed we’d catch up a bit and find Mickey. Little did we know! Instead, we found ourselves reconnecting and hunting a boogeyman who has haunted us both since childhood. Suddenly, we were chasing a ghost from our past. A ghost with no face. “And the blackest eyes… the devil’s eyes.” (Rest in Peace, Donald Pleasence)
Each filming location foray brought me and Nelson closer to the edge of a bygone era. An age we both thought had all but disappeared. It was like slipping through the back door of a time machine. Suddenly, we were wide-eyed kids again. Unjaded and uncorrupted by the foul orders of life and growing up.
Wow. Standing there taking this pic sent goosebumps up and down my spine. The best part about this whole ordeal was the complete random unplanned nature of it all. We didn’t even know Haddonfield was right in Nelson’s backyard! It’s true — sometimes the best things in life are completely unexpected.
All in all, it was one of those epic weekends that stay with you long after the twilight of Sunday passes. Every once in a while you just need to get away from it all and have a good old fashioned adventure with your best buddy.
DOUG’S HALLOWEEN ADVENTURE
October 30, 1994 is a night I’ll always remember. Halloween Eve. On this night a cartoon episode entitled Doug’s Halloween Adventure aired. Little did I know then just how much my real life Halloween adventure THE VERY NEXT NIGHT would reflect what happened in this epic episode. But more on that later…
Doug was pretty much the cartoon version of The Wonder Years, and I absolutely loved it. This episode is the best one of the Doug show, and possibly of all shows. It just fits the Halloween mood perfectly and to me epitomizes the word “adventure.” I’m proud to present a retelling of this awesome tale. Enjoy.
It all started a LOOONG time ago, when the powerful Baron Von Hecklehoffer fell in love with a beautiful maiden. To win her love, he built a gigantic mansion. It took him seventeen looong years, but he did it.
Finally, on the day they got married, he brought his new bride to the house.
He forgot to put in a floor.
And ever since they plunged to their horrible bloody deaths there’s been a CURSE on the house.
And few have dared to enter it. OH SURE, there were people who said they didn’t believe in haunted houses, at least until they crossed…
THE THRESHOLD OF DEATH!
Let’s just say — they never stayed too long…
That is… no one living…
… Until one day, a scary hooded guy, whose face nobody ever saw, decided to put the house to better use…
And right in the middle of the park is the scariest ride ever – a ride through a real haunted house — BLOODSTONE MANOR! MWAHAHAHAHA!
“And tonight is the grand opening, and you and I are going in! Cool, huh?!”
You know, Halloween is usually my most favorite holiday.
Free candy, spooky pumpkins and costumes, but this year was a little different. This year Skeeter was making me go to the grand opening of the scariest ride ever made.
I was hoping maybe I wouldn’t be TOO scared, because I was going as somebody really great — RACE CANYON.
“HA! I made it. The infamous Bloodstone Manor!”
“Not so fast, Doctor Canyon. Are you ready to cross the Threshold of Death?”
*Doug whips a rope around the neck of the hooded guy*
“What’s the matter, big boy? You look… whipped!”
“Nice going, Doug!”
“No problem, Doctor Canyon.”
“Oh, and nice outfit.”
*Doug slides down the stairs*
“Awww, is little Dougie dressed up to go twick-or-tweeting?”
“No Judy, I’m going to Bloodstone Manor. You get in free if you wear a costume.”
“Bloodstone Manor?!? I hear that’s unbelievably terrifying!”
“It’s just a ride, Judy. How scary can it be?”
Find out tonight at Funky Town when Bloodstone Manor opens its doors to give you the scare of your life — or DEATH! Wear a costume and get in free. But once you cross the Threshold, there’s NO turning back!
“Trick or treating? But Doug, I thought we were going to ride Bloodstone Manor?”
“You’re not gonna pass up free candy, are ya, man?”
“But there’s gonna be HUGE lines if we don’t get to Funky Town early! We might NOT get on!”
“That’d be terrible… well, I guess we better get started trick or treating.”
“Uh, Doug, don’t you think we’re a bit too old for trick or treating?”
“Naw, you’re never too old for free candy.”
“8 o’clock! C’mon man! Let’s get to Funky Town! We only got two hours!”
Two hours? How much longer could I stall? We already been around the neighborhood twice.
“I told you we’d scare the pants off them! You should have seen your faces. So, who are you two supposed to be? A hobo and a bath tub?”
“No, man. I’m a spaceship from Space Munks, you know, the video game! And he’s Race Canyon.”
“HA! Oh brother! YOU’RE Race Canyon? More like… Race CHICKEN!”
“Hey Roger, let’s see how brave Race Chicken is!”
“Yeah, he can be the first one to TP Mr. Bone’s house!”
“C’mon Race, let’s see you in action.”
“But Roger, we can’t do this.”
“I am not chicken, it’s just — ”
“Then DO IT why don’t cha?”
Who was I kidding? How was I gonna cross the Threshold of Death when I didn’t even have the nerve to TP a house?
“C’mon Doug we gotta go!”
“I can’t, Skeeter. I’m sorry but…”
“What do I need that hat for anyhow? I’m no Race Canyon.”
“Hey guys, whacha doin’? Trick or treating?”
“Naw uh! No way, no, nope, no…”
“Yeah, me neither. My dad’s taking me to Bebe’s costume party. Cool costumes. Are you some sort of spaceship, Skeeter?”
“And you, Doug, you look like — ”
“I know, I know. A hobo.”
“Actually I was going to say Race Canyon, but without the hat.”
“You really think so?”
“Yeah! If you were a little taller, I’d say you were the spitting image!”
“I’ll handle this. BEAT IT!”
“Say Patty, I don’t suppose you and your dad could drop us off at Bloodstone Manor? Gotta cross the Threshold of Death.”
“All right, man!”
*GET YOURSELF TO FUNKY TOWN!*
“I can’t believe it. You guys are going to Bloodstone Manor, and you’re not scared?”
“Of course not.”
“Well I am! I’d never go on it after what happened to those two guys.”
“Well, you can’t let a little — two guys, what two guys?”
“Yeah, they say when they were testing it, two workers rode in, but the only thing that came out… were THEIR SHOES! MWAHAHAHAHA!”
“Daddy! Stop it.”
“Well, you can’t believe everything, who told you this?”
“Skeeter. See ya!”
“What’s this about shoes?”
“Oh they’re just rumors, man. Like that stuff about the maniac.”
“Maniac?! What do you mean, maniac!?”
“Well they say the guy in the hood, you know the guy who bought the house and brought it here, some people think he’s STILL in there.”
“You can’t believe every — oh maaan! Look at that line. Eight-thirty. Oh that’s just great!”
*75 minutes later*
“Nine forty-five. Fifteen minutes til it closes. We’re almost there!”
“Step all the way into the strange realm of the supernatural. Abandon all ye food or drinks”
“What’s happening?! Can you see!?”
“Well, if it ain’t Chicken Boy and Bath Tub, thanks for saving my place!”
“We didn’t — ”
“Attention everybody, the park is now closing.”
“Hey, we still got fifteen minutes!”
“Why don’t you go to the gift shop. I’m outta here!”
“You guys thinking what I’m thinking?”
“Roger, the guy says they’re closed.”
“Who, that loser? We still got fifteen minutes. We’re within our legal rights.”
“I dunno, Roger…”
“He’s right, man. We still have fifteen minutes before the park closes up.”
“Alright then. Let’s do this….”
“Welcome. I have a special treat in store for… TRESPASSERS. As you can see, there’s no way out of this room, except for…
“Ooooh man, now what are we gonna do?”
“Easy, Roger. There’s nothing to be — ”
“You’ve crossed the Threshold of Death. There’s no turning back now.
I see you found the dining room…
*TICK TOCK TICK TOCK*
And I see by the grandfather clock it’s time to eat. Sit down, SIT DOWN! You don’t want your food to get cold, do you?”
“I’m not so sure I feel hungry…”
“I thought you might enjoy a small salad!”
*Ride comes to a screeching halt*
“Hey! What’s going on?”
“What is it, Skeet?”
“Wait a minute, Roger. I’m sure we can find a way out somewhere if we just don’t panic.”
“Hey man, it looks like there’s some stairs leading down!”
“NO WAY, I ain’t going NOWHERE!”
“Oh c’mon Roger, quit kidding.”
“Wait, Doug! Don’t leave!”
“What is it, Roger?”
“Did you hear something? I thought I heard something.”
“We’re getting outta here. We’ll find somebody to get this ride going again.”
*Doug and Skeeter set off while Roger stays back*
*10 minutes later*
“That must be Roger over there, c’mon Doug!”
“I think I may be scared now…”
“HELP ME! DOUG! SKEETER!”
“What are we gonna do, Doug?”
“Where IS everybody? You thinking what I’m thinking?”
“No Skeeter. We can’t leave Roger behind. We gotta go back.”
“I was afraid you’d say that.”
“AHHH! W-W-We were just looking for our friend, sir, and we think… he might be here in your… lovely home?”
“Your friend is NOT here. GET OUT!”
“Yes sir. Thank you sir. C’mon Doug. You heard the nice maniac… Roger’s not here.”
“C’mon guys! This way!”
“Skeet! That’s Roger!”
“No, man! It just sounds like him. C’mon!”
What was I doing? Running away like a little chicken, just like before. Leaving Roger at a time like this.
“Doug! What are YOU doing?”
“Excuse me, sir, we’re not leaving without Roger.”
“Over here, you morons! Alright, when I see them coming I’ll shout TRICK or TREAT, and then you guys CREAM them, got it?”
“Roger’s outside, but how?”
*Maniac hits rewind*
“Those goons. I bet they think I’m a chicken. AH HA! Well, we’ll JUST see who’s the chicken!”
“So he tricked us!”
“… That rat! We go through all this trouble and now we get EGGED.”
“Hey! Can it! They’ll be out soon. I wonder what’s taking those guys so long?”
“Shut up Boomer!”
“I didn’t say anything, Roger.”
“What the — ! Y-Y-Y-You’re….”
“WE’RE GHOSTS, THAT’S WHAT!”
“You got that right! Ch-ch-chicken! Don’t haunt me, Doug! I’ll do anything!”
“IT WAS ROTTEN OF YOU TO TP ALL THOSE HOUSES.”
“We’ll clean them up, honest! All of them!”
“Oh yeah, I mean, don’t worry about that. We’ll clean them up!”
“Yeah sure sure, whatever you say!”
“Did you see their faces?”
“Yeah man, I don’t think I’ve ever seen them run so fast!”
“Boy, and we couldn’t have done it without you, sir.”
“… W-W-Wha’d’ya say we head home, Skeet?”
“S-S-Sounds good, man.”
Tonight, I think I did Race Canyon proud. Not only was I brave enough to cross the Threshold of Death, but I even went back to save Roger.
I wonder if Race Canyon ever had to run all the way home?
STEVE’S HALLOWEEN ADVENTURE
The very next night I experienced the Halloween of a lifetime. It’s a true story that I’ve shared probably over 100 times. It was one of the greatest nights of my life. A storybook-like Halloween that not even Hollywood could script any better.
Growing up I never met a single kid who didn’t look forward to this particular night. It’s the time of the year where the days grow short, and the nights grow LONG. A night where goblins roam the streets, where the moon reigns supreme, and where the clamor of sneakers crunching the gravel can be heard in the passing of the howling wind.
As a kid I had a dream. It was a simple dream. I was a simple boy. I always dreamt of having one memorable Halloween for the ages. Now I don’t know what I did to piss off the Halloween gods, or druids, but for Halloween ’91, ’92 and ’93 I was sick to the point that I couldn’t go out. Thus, I missed out on Halloween when I was 8, 9 and 10 years old. Time was running out. I still had yet to experience THAT ONE Halloween I could call my own. So that year, 1994, I didn’t care if I came down with Malaria. Not even Mother Nature’s wrath could stop me THIS year.
My best friend, Nelson, spent the past three Halloweens with his cousins. Me getting sick around Halloween time had become… tradition. So every year I told Nelson to forget about me and go crazy. That backfired in ’94 when I realized he had already made plans with his cousins out of town. He invited me, but believe it or not, I declined my best friend’s offer. Why?
My cousins lived in a grand neighborhood. It was full of two story houses shoulder to shoulder — a never ending army of steamrollers. Houses decked to the nine. The Halloween atmosphere in this neighborhood was off the chain. I remember it well from 1990 — the last time I was able to go trick or treating. I was determined to return to that majestic neighborhood for Halloween 1994. It was a strong feeling in my gut — I just knew I HAD to be there. I didn’t know what would happen. I just knew I needed to be there on that night.
HALLOWEEN NIGHT 1994
My cousin Vivian picked me up and drove me to her place. There I met her cousin, John. Like me, he was 11, so we hit it off quickly. And with an air of mystique in the, er, air, and the moon out in full force… it was grounds for a perfect night of Halloween mischief.
All of my cousins had Halloween parties to go to, so they left me and John to our own devices. It was 8 PM. The night was young. And the night was now ours to rule.
The first house an old man opened the door and in the background I heard:
Dun dun dun dun… DUNT DUNT… DA DUNT!
His living room was lit only by the glow of the television, whose flickering images made shadows dance against the wall like primitive tribal warriors.
The old man dropped Snickers and Skittles into our Halloween bags. “My Packers kickin’ some butt tonight. You two have a good one now, you hear.”
A couple houses later, we were walking up the steps casually when a flying corpse blindsided us from out of nowhere! John and I jumped back as we watched the corpse swing back and forth. A laugh came from behind the black curtain, which draped the entire porch. A man in his late 20s peered out from behind the curtain and waved to me and John. “GOTCHA!” He grabbed his corpse on a rope and reset it to its original starting point.
He showed us the small hole he’d cut in the black curtain to prey on poor unsuspecting trick or treaters. Said we were his first victims of the night. We shared a hearty laugh while he passed out the candy. Then he spotted some new blood quickly approaching.
“Alright boys, if you don’t mind, I best be getting back to my command center! Thanks for… dropping by! MWAHAHAHA!”
I watched as he ran up the steps and behind the thick black curtain, which was impossible to see from far away in the dark of night. I remember smirking to myself thinking that’s certainly ONE way to stay young! And that meeting him was like meeting a zany Wizard of Oz or rather, a Wizard of Halloween Town.
STEP RIGHT UP…
John and I were just trick-or-treating and having a good time being carefree kids on this most mystical of nights.
We made sure to point out all the macabre decorations, of which, ON THIS NIGHT, in this neighborhood, there were hundreds. Once again this neighborhood lived up to the hype. It WAS Halloween Town. Part of the fun of trick or treating is seeing all the houses decorated to the nine. And we were not disappointed on that night.
An hour flew by. It was now 9 PM. We were standing here when, suddenly, we heard a scream in the not too far distance. “The hell is that!” I said excitedly. We ran the next block over with great hope. There we found a cul-de-sac.
At the very end of the court stood a towering 2-story house that looked like it jumped out of a horror movie. John and I looked at each other in bewilderment as we made our way to the ghostly abode. Upon reaching the driveway, I heard something I’d never forget…
The blood curling shriek sent a chill up and down my spine. Next to me stood a monstrous executioner. “What is this?” We pointed to the line of kids just ahead of us on the driveway.
“Welcome to the Johnsons’ Haunted House!!!”he bellowed, his shiny ax gleaming on his broad shoulder in the faint glow of the street lamp. “Free of charge but beware… once you go in… there’s NO GOING OUT! MWAHAHAHA!”
John and I grinned at one another and hi-fived. Wow, a haunted house! And free, too! Neither of us had been to one before, and I’d always wanted to. This was turning out to be THE perfect night…
As we waited in line my imagination ran away. I thought back to last night — Doug’s Halloween Adventure. Was this a ride? No, it’s only a 2-story house, silly. My mind was racing a million miles a minute. I never felt so alive before.
Moments later, I glanced up. One window was lit under the glow of the moon. More screaming came from the garage. It was so intensely atmospheric, and to an 11-year-old, it was pure Heaven! There was a raw rush of adrenaline flowing throughout my body, and you could cut the anticipation in the air. All of us kids standing in line there that night were psyched to the gills!
8 minutes later John and I found ourselves at the gate. The night was so pitch black I couldn’t even make out my own hand in front of my face. The gate door creaked open with a loud sound effect. A light mist splashed its way into my eyes. In the near distance a loud chainsaw was buzzing. I wondered, “If I take four steps forward, would my head get chopped off?”
We forged on ahead, spider web tangling in our hair. Taking a turn on our left to the garage door entrance, we followed an S curve. Strobe light hit us from every which angle, and horror movie icons flashed in the darkness at all turns! Freddy, Jason, Michael Myers and big ol’ Leatherface all on hand! And they were authentic. The knife Myers held was real, as was the chainsaw wielded by Leatherface.
Near the end a large trash can lid had a note scribbled across it…
“WARNING: REMOVE THIS LID AND DIE!!!”
John gave me the honors. So then, in the strobe-lit madness, with a ghoulish soundtrack playing loudly in the garage, I popped the lid open and out jumped a werewolf! For amateurs, the whole setup was unbelievable, full of first rate costumes, props and creativity. BRAVO, JOHNSONS!
Finally we made our way through the garage door, leading to their living room, which led to the front entrance where the haunted house trip concluded with candy. John and I were absolutely THRILLED. We thanked the Johnsons for their awesome efforts. Never in a million years did I ever imagine anything like this would happen…
ONE FINAL THRILL
John and I were walking the streets now, trick-or-treating some more and talking excitedly about what we just went through. Did we pick the right neighborhood or what! And just when I thought it couldn’t get any more eventful… IT DID.
It was 9:45 now and the streets became incredibly dark. Everyone was gone. No more trick-or-treaters in sight. I looked up at the huge 2 story houses that lined the streets like an army of steamrollers. All the lights were now switched off. It was odd. It was… eerie. Like a ghost town. The mist started to roll in… it was getting to be that kind of night…
John and I were walking down this long dark street when, out of the mist, came these five taller and older boys. They must have been 13 or 14 years old.
Looking back, we probably should have turned the other way, but that night of Halloween 1994 we didn’t. Both parties kept walking toward one another… until we came face-to-face. The one in the middle was evidently the leader as he walked slightly ahead.
He stepped up to me and John. The five of them stared the two of us down.
Then, without warning, the leader snatched John’s candy bag!
The bullies laughed, hi-fived one another and jogged off into the dark night.
I’ll never forget that look on John’s face. A look of hopelessness, a look of devastation.
Two hours’ worth… gone. Like that *snap fingers*
I peered down that long dark street into the mist. By now the bullies were getting smaller and smaller until I could barely make them out.
I stared back at John once more. He was still frozen in a state of dead shock. Then, without saying a word, I dropped my bag and sprinted after the bullies.I snapped. I didn’t really think about it, but between seeing the violated look on his face, the adrenaline coursing through my body, and the INJUSTICE of it all, something inside me SNAPPED.
And the weirdest thing happened as I ran. Everything around me blurred. I became the only concrete object amidst an army of gorgeous 2 story houses. I saw myself running in third person… saw the moment happening from BEHIND MY BACK.
I had an out-of-body experience.
As I closed in on the unsuspecting bully, I swiped back John’s bag. I stood there with the bag firmly in my grasp as the lead bully whipped around to face me.
Another staredown ensued. It lasted 20 seconds, but felt more like 20 nights.
By now his goons came over and it was five of them all glaring at me. I didn’t know what was going to happen, quite frankly, at that moment I didn’t care. All I knew was, I wasn’t going to be the first one to blink. I stood my ground. Stared back at them. Come hell or high water, I wasn’t about to back down.
I matched him eyeball for eyeball. His painted pirate-y face against my cheap Walgreens $1.99 white skeleton mask. And when it was over, only one glare was left standing, and it wasn’t his.
Easing off, he signaled for his cronies to follow suit… and they left. Not a single word was ever exchanged between us.
I watched them disappear into the mist of the night as John caught up to me, huffing and puffing.
I handed him his bag. We didn’t say anything. Not because we had nothing to say, but because we knew nothing needed to be said. We just stood there, two 11-year-old boys, in the middle of one of the blackest nights I’d ever seen.
There isn’t a Halloween that passes where I don’t think back to that fateful night in ’94. I remember it vividly today as though it happened just last month. Finally, I experienced the Halloween I always wanted. But in my wildest dreams growing up, I never imagined it’d be what it turned out to be. It was the greatest Halloween a kid could ever ask or hope for.
EPILOGUE + THE SEQUEL (HALLOWEEN 1995)
My cousins moved from that great neighborhood many years ago… about 20, in fact, circa ’97. It was pretty much my second home growing up. In 1995 I met up with John again, both of us looking to reclaim the magic of the Halloween before. We had a blast in ’95. It was my second favorite Halloween and a worthy sequel indeed. We trick or treated in the same neighborhood, but sadly the Johnsons were not able to do their traditional haunted house this year. Something about their sons not coming home from college in time, I recall. Still, John and I told the parents how much their haunted house last year meant to us. In turn, they told us they did it for kids like us… that they were only doing what they could to make Halloween extra special for at least one kid. Hey… I can think of at least two. And I’m sure the Johnsons have created fond Halloween memories for dozens and dozens of lucky young trick-or-treaters. God Bless them. More on them a bit later.
After we circled the neighborhood once or twice, my cousins took us to the local haunted house. It was my first taste of the “REAL” thing. What a HIGH that proved to be. When you’re 12, it’s Heaven. We were a group of seven. Going down one dimly-lit hallway, out of nowhere Michael Myers appeared and chased us down the hallway and into the next room before disappearing back in the shadows. Being stalked by my all-time favorite villain was a nightmare come true. The first time I saw the original Halloween in 1989, I dreamt that night Myers was stalking me. Six years later, 1995, that nightmare became reality!
Halloween ’95 was a worthy sequel indeed, but as great as it was, the original (’94) was that much better.
In October of 2003 I shared my Halloween ’94 adventure in college for my public speaking class. My professor loved my story and speaking style so much that she asked me to share that same story later that month at a night workshop for beginning storytellers. I gladly obliged, and had a blast sharing my story with a room full of freshmen. Because it was at night and closer to Halloween, it made my story that much more effective. In all, I’ve probably shared my Halloween ’94 story at least 50 times, easily.
H10 — HALLOWEEN ONE DECADE LATER
TEN YEARS LATER… I returned to that same ole neighborhood. I went trick or treating with my (at the time) girlfriend, and guess what I discovered…
The Johnsons STILL live there and they STILL do the Halloween haunted house! Every year, in fact. I nearly ran up to the end of the line! I felt like a little 11-year-old kid again (I was 21 at the time).
It was surreal going through it ten years later. As Mr. and Mrs. Johnson handed me a Snickers bar at the exit, I told them I was a 11 year-old-kid 10 years ago who loved it so much. They almost fell over! We talked for 10 minutes. About the haunted house, about how the S-curve was first implemented in 1994, about the neighborhood… about LIFE.
It was SO good to know some things in life stay the same. In an era where people move often and stop doing traditions — those damn Johnsons still live in that gorgeous neighborhood… and every Halloween… they recreate the magic for kids… kids like John and me… kids who I hope will experience the kind of night we did on that fateful Halloween of ’94.
Six years went by. It was now 2010. On a whim, I decided to take a trip to Kenya for a missions trip. I was passing out pledge letters and decided what the hell, I’ll stop by the old neighborhood and see if the Johnsons are still there. They were, but Bill had passed away due to cancer. I didn’t know him per se, but the news crushed me. On the bright side, Becky and I got to reconnect, and we keep in touch even to this day. Most recently, she retired after over 30 years of teaching, and we met up for lunch this past summer to catch up and talk about life, Bill, Halloween and such. There isn’t a Halloween that passes where I don’t think of Bill and Becky. I’m grateful our paths crossed.
I will always love this time of the year. The crisp cool October night air. The falling leaves. The days growing shorter and the nights growing longer. Halloween will always hold a very special spot in my heart. It’s given me some great memories over the years, and who doesn’t enjoy snuggling up with a bowl of popcorn and a horror movie on a rainy night?
This year marks the 22nd anniversary of one of the greatest nights of my life. Life is crazy. The lady in the haunted house — Becky Johnson — who knew meeting a random stranger on a night 22 years ago would lead to a lifelong friendship? One of these days Becky and I have to recreate the haunted house. In the memory and honor of Bill Johnson. Perhaps Halloween 2017.
Whatever you end up doing this year, I hope you have fun, stay safe and create some fond memories. Oh, and one more thing…