In the ‘70s, my mother was obsessed with Native Americans. I can recall her going to the Waco Public Library and checking out all of these books on Indians, which she would sit up late into the night and read in the living room. She dragged us to the theater and drive-in to see a lot of Westerns, too.
For several summers, my family would drive up to Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, and Arizona. We visited every stuffed buffalo and teepee between there and Texas. In fact, by the time I was six, I’d probably seen more feathers than Lola Falana had in her entire run in Las Vegas.
On one of these trips, we visited a museum where an older Native American woman in traditional dress weaved baskets. My mother was fascinated by this woman. After we had toured the museum, she went back to watch her some more. “Y’all go on to the car,” Mama said. “I just want to watch her a little longer. It’s not every day you get be this close to such authenticity.
It wasn’t long before Mama joined us in the station wagon.
““I thought you were watching your authentic Indian lady,” my father said.
““Authentic, my foot!” Mama snapped her buckle into her seatbelt. “She stood up to go get a drink at the water fountain. When she did, she hitched up her skirt and she was wearing track shoes and tube socks under that buckskin skirt!”
The experience seemed to scar my mother for life, because she refuses to wear knee-high stockings to this day. “I don’t want to be like that little Indian lady in the track shoes and tube socks.”
I guess I should be thankful for the experience, as it probably is most responsible for me never joining a gang.
When I was four we drove up from Waco to Arlington to visit Memaw and Pepaw. It was sometime during the holidays because the pictures show me wearing that little brown, faux fur coat with the matching hood that made me resemble an escaped bear cub from the zoo.
Pepaw took Vicki, my older sister, and me outside to spray paint pine cones silver, gold, and red. My grandfather demonstrated how to hold the can and press the nozzle down while applying an even coat of paint to each pinecone.
One at a time, he helped us paint pinecones. Of course, we then had to do it ourselves, as children do. Vicki, even then an overachiever, painted a spectacular gold pinecone, even then setting the bar much too high for when I came along in her footsteps.
When my turn came, I picked up the can and immediately sprayed myself in the face with red paint. I never liked loud noises or sudden movements as a child, so I guess it should come as no surprise I ended up with a cat as an adult. Anyway, I freaked out. Pepaw tried not to laugh. (Vicki didn’t even try at all, but I was used to her resentment of me being born and ruining her monopoly on the parental attention.)
Pepaw took me into the house and Memaw and Mama tried to to wash the paint off and even used some paint thinner, yet I recall that my nose remained red for a good week. Somewhere in my parents’ photographs lays a picture of my jovial grandfather, smirking sister, and a morose four-year-old boy. If only I had owned a pair of antlers, I would have been Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer personified.
Ironically, Memaw had bought me one of those little plastic Rudolph heads that pin on children’s coats and the nose lights up when one pulls the string. It was my first taste of irony … and it was bittersweet.
Believe it or not, there was once a time where I was innocent and not so worldly.
My Uncle Herschel had a Radio Room for as long as I can remember. He and the other men in my family would retreat to the Radio Room to talk about manly matters and converse with other radio operators from all over the world.
Sometime after the Iran Hostage Crisis, I noticed that Uncle Herschel had a wooden statue of Ayatollah Khomeini on top of one of his radios. He showed it to my father and he laughed and shook his head, while my Uncle Jimmy threw his head back and howled. I had never thought of the Ayatollah as being particularly funny, so I picked him up and inspected him closely, while the men watched me. Still perplexed, I put the Ayatollah back on the radio.
Mama, Aunt Geraldine, and Aunt Barbara came into the Radio Room a few minutes later, and Uncle Herschel offer it to them. Aunt Barbara rolled her eyes and handed it to Mama, but she said, “I don’t want to touch that thing!” Aunt Geraldine scolded her husband. “Herschel, did you dig that thing out of the trash?”
Then Memaw walked in the Radio Room. She picked up the Ayatollah and peered through her bifocals at him. She cursed and told Uncle Herschel that God was going to get him for keeping something like that.
Again, I picked up the Ayatollah and turned it over and inspected it from every angle, but I could not figure out what was so obviously funny to everyone else. A hush fell upon the room. Finally, Mama told my father, “Ernie, take that thing away from him.” I surrendered the Ayatollah to my father, and asked, “What’s so funny about it?”
Uncle Herschel and Uncle Jimmy snickered. Memaw put her hand on my back and said, “Let’s go have sheet cake, honey.” I was ushered out of the Radio Room and fed dessert. “Make him wash his hands, Mother!” Mama called after Memaw.
I forgot about the Ayatollah Khomeini until last year when I went home for the holidays. We were talking about Uncle Herschel, who had died the year before, and it brought to mind all those memories of time spent in his Radio Room. I recalled how he had tried to teach me Morse Code. (It didn’t take.)
“That reminds me,” I said. “What was so funny about that little wooden statue of the Ayatollah Khomeini that Uncle Herschel had that y’all laughed so much about?”
Mama seemed bewildered at first, then recalled what I was talking about. She shook her head. “It was shaped like a penis.”
I thought back to the li’l Ayatollah; now I could see that his turban did resemble the shape of a glans.
“That’s it? That’s what was so funny about it?”
“Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you.”
“That’s not what I mean,” I said. “The way everyone laughed, I expected it to be something more … sophisticated, not something so pedestrian.”
“If I had known the truth wouldn’t be good enough, I would have tried to think of something more clever.”
I rolled my eyes. “I wonder what happened to it?”
“Memaw put it in a bag of clothes and dropped it off at Goodwill.”
Mama and I stared at each for a moment, then both burst out laughing. We both envisioned some little old lady sorting donated clothing to find a tiny, penis-shaped Ayatollah Khomeini at the bottom of a paper grocery sack.
When I was in college, Big Black John foundDonna Summer’s On the Radio: Greatest Hits Volume I &II in my CD collection. This confused BBJ because it was 1990, and the majority of my music leaned more toward European synth-pop and alternative, so, no doubt, he most likely expected to find Kylie Minogue and Siouxsie Sioux in my CD rack–not the Queen of Disco.
Of course, BBJ didn’t really fit the mold of your average African-American male of that generation, either. My roommate, Chris, had dubbed him Big Black John because he stood over six feet, possessed a pear-shaped body, his skin was black, and his name was John. However, what made John stand out is that he always wore a black pork pie hat, long black coat, and carried a stack of vinyl. Furthermore, BBJ didn’t list to hip hop, R&B, or soul music. He preferred the Human League, the Style Council, and Everything but the Girl. In fact, he would often share bits of news gleaned from his correspondence with Ben Watt of EBTG. So, in a nutshell, BBJ had no room to talk!
BBJ wrinkled his brow and gave me the concerned expression that parents typically give daughters who return home from college after having forsaken deodorant and bathing themselves in patchouli. “Explain, Lucy!”
I shrugged. “I bought it because it reminds me of my older sister, Vicki.”
For Christmas 1979, Vicki received a copy of Donna Summer’s On the Radio: Greatest Hits Volume I &II from, ahem, Santa. Across two records, listeners could pop booties to Summer’s biggest hits: “Love to Love You Baby,” “I Feel Love,” “Last Dance,” “Bad Girls, “Hot Stuff,” “Dim All the Lights,” etc. Vicki had always listened to Top 40 radio from a young age, and she frequently bought 45s at K-Mart. (I recall a lengthy quest to score a copy of “I Don’t Like Spiders and Snakes” by Jim Stafford that took several weeks, and when Vicki finally found a copy, she took it home only to discover that it skipped.)
It should have come as no surprise that Vicki would embrace Donna Summer. Sure, we were fans of a few disco singles that were in heavy rotation at the roller skating rink, but requesting an entire album of disco was a commitment. It should have come as no shock, though, Vicki had been flirting with the Bee Gees for a few years. She and her friends had even talked my mother into taking them to see Saturday Night Fever while on an overnight Girl Scout trip to San Antonio. Imagine my mother’s horror when she realized she had been duped into taking other parents’ daughters to see nudity on the big screen while under her stewardship!
At the time, I had not been exposed to much electronic music on American airwaves, however, “Cars” by Gary Numan and “Pop Muzik” by M had recently caught my attention. In contrast to Vicki’s collection, my records consisted mostly of kids’ stuff, the soundtrack to Star Wars, and the 7″ vinyl for “Disco Duck” by Rick Dees, which I still own. Listening to the frantic synthesizers and strings on the Donna Summer records fascinated me.
In my young opinion, “Love to Love You Baby,” with all of it’s moaning and groaning, really stuck out like a sore thumb from the rest of the songs on the album. “You know, it has a pretty melody,” I told my sister, “but I’m not certain that recording a song about being in labor is really in good taste.” My sister and her friend, Cheryl, glanced over the top of the liner notes that they had been reading, exchanged a look, then giggled. I didn’t understand what was so funny until years later.
When I play On the Radio: Greatest Hits Volume I &II, what I remember most is spending time with Vicki after school in early 1980. While she pulled a package of Mrs. Goodcookie sugar and chocolate chip cookies from the freezer and placed them on a cookie sheet, I carefully removed Donna Summer from the paper record sleeves and placed her on the turntable of our mother’s Curtis Mathis entertainment center. It was a huge console that stretched across the width of the living room that housed a radio and color television, too. I’d crank up the stereo and Vicki and I would dance around the living room, doing disco spins and the finger-to-the-sky move. We’d boogie and sing along until we were about to throw up Mrs. Goodcookies, then collapse upon the couch and laugh. We were always careful to turn off the stereo before our parents arrived home.
One afternoon, however, Mama came home early. I spun around just as she opened the front door and stepped inside. I’m sure she heard the thump of the music before she entered the house, but she suddenly swayed as if she were about to fall over and grasped the back of chair. Her mouth moved, but I couldn’t hear what she was saying. My sister shook her head. My mother opened her mouth again, yet still we could not hear her. She reached out toward the curtains and pulled herself down the wall to the entertainment center and turned the record player off.
““Are you two deaf?” she asked.
““What do you mean?” Vicki said.
Mama’s eyes grew wide. “I heard the music before I even turned on our street! When I walked in, the floor was moving in time with the beat; I thought we were having an earthquake!”
Vicki rolled her eyes.
““Don’t roll those eyes at me, missy,” Mama warned. “There are scuff marks on the wall from where the pictures were jumping about.”
Believe it or not, we didn’t get in trouble. We just had to clean the black marks off the walls around the picture frames. Our disco afternoons, though, were never the same after that. Still, whenever I want to relive those halcyon afternoons, I just slip the Donna Summer CD into my stereo and I really do feel love.
People have flocked to a dumpster behind the Dunk & Slurp Coffee Shop and Donut Emporium to see what some say is the image of Mary Tyler Moore. Skeptics say that the image is rust; faithful fans say that it’s a miracle, capturing the iconic mage of Moore, portraying the character of Mary Richards on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, tossing her Tam o’ Shanter in the air in downtown Minneapolis.
The “miracle” was discovered by Mindy Womack, 28, an down-on-her-luck elbow model and Avon representative, who was dumpster diving for something to eat. “I was wrestling with a rat over an eighth of a chocolate-frosted donut, when I just gave up. I fell back into the filth, sobbing, and prayed to God to give me a sign. Then I heard a voice.”
Reports contradict one another about whether the voice said, “Oh, Rob!” or “Oh, Mr. Grant!” However, the sound caused Womack to glance up and spy the visage of Moore on the dumpster. “As soon as I saw the Virgin Mary, I felt like someone had just turned the world on with a smile–and I knew that I was was going to make it after all.”
When this reporter pointed out that Mary Tyler Moore is not, in fact, a virgin, since she did give birth to a son, Richard, in 1956, Womack responded, “Is there nothing the Virgin Mary can’t do!”
In honor of the miracle, and Moore’s charitable work to raise awareness of diabetes mellitus type 1, the Dunk & Slurp now offers the MTM, a sugar-free donut, for a limited time only, since they will eventually be forced to empty the dumpster with the alleged image of Moore.
Until then, the faithful continue to file by to see the miracle. “When you get up there and look into her eyes, you can just smell the spunk in their air,” said Sofia Consuela Margarita Hernandez, 47, a domestic. Naysayers counter that it’s simply the stink of the garbage.
It sees only appropriate that I should celebrate one year of Flashback Fridays with the B-52’s, since I posted my first blog post on February 14, 2011, because I was inspired by how the B’s played their first concert on Valentine’s Day 1977.
The B-52’s released “Love Shack,” the second single from their Cosmic Thing album, in September of 1989. MTV and radio were resistant to play the song at first, because they didn’t know how to market the B’s. However, viewers and listeners responded to the colorful, quirky video. “Love Shack” began selling over 200,000 copies per week, eventually going platinum and selling almost two million. The song charted at #3 in the U.S., #2 in the U.K., and topped the charts in Australia for eight weeks.
The success never should have happened, though. Just a few years before, many in the music business had written the B-52’s off after the death of their guitarist, Ricky Wilson (and Cindy’s brother), shortly before the release of their Bouncing Off Satellites album. The album and singles “Summer of Love” and “Girl from Impanema Goes to Greenland” were not successful, except on Billboard’s Hot Club Dance Play charts, and “Wig” charted at #79 in the U.K.
The B-52’s weren’t sure if they wanted to continue, either. Drummer Keith Strickland began to teach himself to play the guitar like his late best friend, and soon began composing music of his own. One day in 1987, vocalists Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson paid him a visit. Strickland played them a tune he called “There Is a River.” The girls began singing a parody of Morrissey to the music, yet soon began singing about memories of their younger years in Athens, Georgia, which evolved into “Deadbeat Club.” They soon attempted a formal recording session and wrote “Junebug.” After that experience, they knew they could continue as a band.
Director Julian Temple contacted them to write an upbeat song for a car chase in his new film Earth Girls Are Easy; the B-52’s recorded “Shake That Cosmic Thing” with producer Nile Rodgers.
Vocalist Fred Schneider was a big fan of the Was Not Was album at the time, so he rallied the band to record their new album with Don Was, who produced “Junebug,” “Bushfire,” “Channel Z,” and “Love Shack.” Prior commitments kept him from completing the rest of the album, so the band finished it with Nile Rodgers.
Kate Pierson lived in the actual love shack, complete with tin roof, when she lived in Athens before the B-52’s formed. “Rock Lobster” was originally written in the love shack. It burned down in 2004. “Tin roof … rusted,” was a vocal outtake by Cindy Wilson that was added to the song later.
After releasing their first compilation, Time Capsule: Songs for a Future Generation, in 1998, the record company released “Love Shack 99,” which was remixed by DJ Tonka, to promote the album.
Love Shack [Edit] 4’18
Love Shack [Remix/Edit] 4’07
Love Shack [Album Version] 5’21
Love Shack [Ben Grosse 12″ Remix] 7’58
Love Shack [12″ Mix] 6’09
Love Shack [Big Radio Mix] 5’32
Love Shack [Danny Rampling 12″ Remix] ?’?? (I’ve never heard this mix!)
Love Shack 99 [Radio Mix] 4’39
Love Shack 99 [DJ Tonka Remix] 6’28
The music video for “Love Shack” was directed by Adam Bernstein and shot at the home and studio of ceramic artists Philip Maberry and Scott Walker. The band called on friends–including future Supermodel of the World, RuPaul–to appear in the video. The clip begins with the band riding in a big-ass convertible, then transitions inside the home of Maberry and Walker. It’s a fun, exuberant, and colorful video that captures the contagious enthusiasm of a B-52’s performance.
I was already familiar with the B-52’s first album after catching their performance on Saturday Night Live in the late ‘70s. As a kid, I didn’t quite know what to make of them. However, by the time I got to college, we were dancing to “Rock Lobster” at clubs.
I was already familiar with the song “Shake That Cosmic Thing” after buying the soundtrack to Earth Girls Are Easy, so I decided to take a chance on buying the Cosmic Thing album for my birthday that year, after hearing “Love Shack” at Sound Warehouse. I told my friends, “This is going to be a big hit.” They thought it was too weird. Within a month’s time, the music video and song were all over MTV and radio. Suddenly, everyone was a B-52’s fan.
Although CD singles had already emerged in Europe, American record companies had not started to offer them until the Fall of 1989, with a handful of choices: “I Want That Man” by Deborah Harry, “Personal Jesus” by Depeche Mode, “Drama!” by Erasure, “Sowing the Seeds of Love” by Tears for Fears, “Sugar Daddy” by the Thompson Twins, and “Love Shack/Channel Z” by the B-52’s. Frankly, I wasn’t impressed wit the 12″ Mix or the Big Radio Mix, but I enjoyed Ben Grosse’s Remix/Edit and 12″ Remix. I would end up becoming a fan of his remixes for the B-52’s and Book of Love. I’ve never heard the Danny Rampling 12″ Remix, have you?
I talked my college roommate, Chris Pope, into going to the B-52’s concert with me on December 12 at the Bronco Bowl, which is a music venue attached to a bowling alley. The intimate space made the concert special to me; it felt more like friends playing for friends than a band playing to an audience. I remember Cindy wore a purple velveteen coat over matching hot pants and thigh-high boots with a tall hat that reminded me of the hats the female cashiers wore at Burger King in the ‘70s. They sang “Mesopotamia,” “Give Me Back My Man,” “Dance This Mess Around,” “52 Girls,” “Quiche Lorraine,” “Strobe Light,” “Rock Lobster,” and, of course, “Love Shack.” Chris became a B-52’s fan that night. The following summer, we would see the B’s again on August 3 at the Starplex Amphitheater with a larger group of converts.
What are your memories of “Love Shack” by the B-52’s?
Growing up, I remember my grandparents, aunts, and uncles telling tall tales and heavily embellished stories at family gatherings. There were quite a few characters in my family tree, so there was no telling what you would hear between passing the turkey and ladling gravy on your mashed potatoes
For some reason, my Aunt Barbara seemed to frequently have accidents and adventures. I believe she sliced the tip of a finger off while working at the Kroger deli and was once pulled over by a highway patrolman while wearing a nun costume while on the way to work on Halloween.
The most amusing story my aunt shared with us, however, is about the time my cousin, Kelley, decided to teach her mother how to ride a minibike. Things were going well until Aunt Barbara gave the minibike too much gas and shot off with her clinging for her life. Kelley and Uncle Jimmy chased after her and watched in horror as she hit a pothole and her head flew off, just before the minibike fell to its side with her body. When they reached my aunt’s body, they discovered that her head was still–thankfully–attached; it was her wig that had flown off. Unfortunately, she had broken her wrist, I believe.
I don’t consider myself much of a romantic, but I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Valentine’s Day. When I was younger, I enjoyed decorating a white paper bag with pink and red hearts, cut meticulously from construction paper, for the sole purpose of receiving valentines from my classmates. Later, I would carefully peruse the holiday aisle at K-Mart, weighing my options between Peanuts, Looney Toons, and Disney before finally choosing a package of valentines that expressed the essence of my love for all the kids in my class. I would thoughtfully match the valentine according to my rapport with that student. Therefore, my best friend, Kelly, received the coveted Donald Duck in the astronaut suit, while Sharon and her wrap-around retainer received a valentine with a B-List Disney character. Sometimes, if I felt so inspired, I might personalize the valentine with a message such as, “Stay cool.”
On February 14th, I would drop a valentine into each classmate’s decorated bag before gorging myself on cupcakes, cookies, and punch without a second thought for children starving in third world countries. Afterwards, flying high on a killer sugar buzz, we would empty our sacks on our desks and open our valentines. It all went so well until the 5th grade, when in the midst of an envelope-ripping frenzy, I realized that I had forgotten Randy Ferguson. Even though I had worked straight from my home room list, somehow, Randy had been passed over and I lost that loving feeling. I still think of Randy from time to time and wonder what he’s doing now. I wonder if he’s happily married with a family of his own, or whether, instead, he is sleeping on a park bench somewhere, sipping out of a brown paper bag. I question if, perhaps, I could have saved a life if I had only given another ten-year-old boy a piece of card with a portrait of Goofy asking him to be mine. Alas, I’ll never know.
Historically, Valentine’s Day is a celebration of a Catholic martyr who was beaten to death and beheaded because he secretly married couples during the reign of Claudius the Cruel. It seems Claudius had cancelled all marriages and engagements because he believed them to be the reason he had trouble finding soldiers for his army. No roses, candy, flowers, cupcakes, punch, or paper bags decorated with hearts were involved. Strangely enough, it’s sort of like celebrating Vegan Day by eating a sirloin steak or world peace with a boxing match.
Generally, men tend to receive the short end of the stick when it comes to choosing the perfect present to give on February 14th. Anything a woman says from January 1st until V-Day is a possible clue. Some men learn the hard way that when a woman says she really doesn’t expect anything or want him to go to a lot of trouble for Valentine’s Day, it’s basically a lie. Of course she wants him to do something to prove that he thinks she is a goddess on a mountaintop burning like a silver flame! The challenge is to decide whether to give lingerie, flowers, or a diamond, but I say you can never go wrong with chocolate. Even if she’s on a diet or a fitness fanatic, she’ll love chocolate–and if she’s bulimic, she’ll enjoy it twice as much! For men, on the other hand, there is only one obvious choice: sex. Beer can do in a pinch, but, ladies, wouldn’t you prefer to give him something where his attention is on you and not the contents of a bottle or can?
For some, valentine anxiety is not a symptom of the lack of the right gift, but rather Mr. or Miss Right. In their minds, to be single on February 14th is akin to walking around with the word LOSER stamped on their foreheads. They claim to be unhappy because they don’t have anyone in their life. I say to these people, “Adopt a homeless person!” However, they argue that they want someone special. “Adopt a mentally-challenged person!” I reply, but it seems, instead, that they want somebody to complete them. So they immediately look around for a desperate date for V.D.; anyone with a pulse is eligible. The date is typically a recipe for disaster and results in tears and someone hurling flaming shish kebob skewers while the other runs for his life–or at least that’s been my experience.
Somehow, it seems that we miss the whole point, no pun intended, of Valentine’s Day. Instead of thinking of romantic love, which generally focuses on our own desires and yearnings, we should expand our interpretation to include agape, a self-less and spiritual love that we can share with the whole world. Instead of buying your kids more candy they don’t need, suggest they give it to me, or make a donation to an organization that works toward eliminating world hunger. If you know a couple with children that never seem to have time for themselves, surprise them by offering for you and your significant other to baby-sit while they go out and trip the lights fantastic. Then after the kids go to sleep, mess around in the couple’s bed. If you find yourself without a date, take a homeless person to Dave & Busters; you’ll have someone to play air hockey with. But why stop there? Why not extend Valentine’s Day to 365 days a year by giving your time and energy to one of the many organizations that need volunteers? Help do maintenance at a local church, volunteer to mow an elderly neighbor’s lawn, or ask the four-star chef who lives on the corner if he needs anyone to sample his food to make sure it’s not poisoned? One can never be too sure these days …
I always wanted to read to children, so I volunteered to read to the second grade class of a local elementary school. However, it seems that my choice of material was not appropriate. Since children were mentioned in the title, I assumed, naturally that Jackie Collins’ Hollywood Kids would be a good choice, but it seems that unhooking a bra is not something that is covered in a second grade boy’s curriculum. Sadly, he will have to learn that later in the streets. Next, I thought I would draw attention to personal safety with Carolyn Harris Johnson’s Come With Daddy: Child Murder-Suicide After Family Breakdown, but this choice was nixed for reasons never fully explained to me. Finally, I asked the teacher for a recommendation, and she suggested a nature story with animals, one that presents a bold message which children can remember for the rest of their lives. I smiled smugly, knowing just the book for the job. As a result of our conversation, this week, I will be reading from Peter Benchley’s Jaws. Sigh … It feels good to give a gift that will keep on giving. This one’s for you, Randy!
I have a vivid memory of sitting on the porch steps of our home at 434 Bellaire Drive in Waco, Texas–I must have been five years old–and the postman placed a heavy book in my hands that was wrapped in a brown wrapper. Even though I couldn’t read yet, I recognized the name on the wrapper: Sears. I tore the wrapper off and began my love affair with the Christmas Wishbook.
Sears wasn’t the only wishbook we received. In fact, Montgomery Ward actually coined the term before Sears, and J.C. Penney followed later. And every September we received thick paper catalogs from all three retailers, because my mother ordered items from them. Usually, they weren’t sexy things–clothes, drapes, coats, etc.–but the Christmas catalogs were different, because they were filled with happy children playing with page after glossy page of every toy advertised on television and even those that weren’t. In short, it was toy porn.
I must have sat on the porch for hours turning page after page and finding more items by the designer names that I were familiar with at the time: Fisher Price, Mattel, Hasbro, Playskool, etc. I would pore over the pages to make my Christmas wish list for Santa Claus, and I can still remember some of my thoughts as clear as a winter night even to this day.
If I ask for a snow cone machine, I can start my own business and sell snow cones to the neighborhood kids to earn money to buy a car.
If I ask for the Aquaman doll, I’ll need Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, too. After all, I can’t just have one of the Super Friends.
If I ask for a Batman costume, I could fight crime in the neighborhood.
In the end, I usually made do with whatever Santa brought me and my relatives gave me.
As I grew older and learned to write, I began compiling elaborate Christmas lists with comparative columns.
“What does this mean?” Aunt Barbara asked, pointing at the third row.
“It’s the row for the Ghost Gun,” I said. “If you look at the headings of the columns, you’ll see that I’ve listed the advertised prices for all of the major retailers, including page numbers in the catalogs. The red circle indicates the best price, which, in this instance, is K-Mart, but if K-Mart is sold out, you can still find it in the Montgomery Ward’s catalog for just a dollar more.”
My aunt stared at me a moment. “What if I make this easy on both of us and just fetch a ten dollar bill from my purse?”
Eventually, relatives would call my mother each week for my latest update after checking the weekly circulars in the newspaper.
“Nope, Sears is out,” my mother said. “This week J.C. Penney is the way to go for the Fisher Price Little People Castle.”
When I became a teenager, I quit consulting the Christmas wishbooks. Relatives surprised me with British Sterling cologne, Rubik’s Cube, and the newest Pat Benatar album.
By the time I moved away for college, gift cards became the Christmas currency. Then I moved to Atlanta, and my mother called me to get my fax number to send her the family’s Christmas lists. “Do I need to include a cover page?” A year or two later, she began e-mailing me the Christmas lists.
Once online shopping had put most of the catalog companies out of business, my Christmas list returned, albeit as a Microsoft Word document. I’d paste an image of the item, along with a description, and a hyperlink to the retailer with the lowest price. My mother loved it. “I just click with the mouse, give them my credit card number, and then it arrives as the house a few days later.”
A few years ago, I decided at the last minute to buy a particular CD for a friend. I had assumed that I could run out somewhere local and buy the CD, only to discover that all the mom-and-pop CD stores had gone out of business. Much to my chagrin, even the box stores had cut back on the music selection they offered. There was no way to purchase the CD locally; it could only be ordered online. What had the world come to? Buying presents and retail had changed so much since I was a kid, and I was no longer sure that I liked it.
My niece no longer types her Christmas wish list and e-mails it to the rest of the family. Instead, she creates as Wish List on Amazon.com. “Has she updated her Wish List yet?” I asked my sister.
“Not yet,” Vicki said. “She swears that she’s going to do it this weekend.”
I paused. In that moment, I just wanted a simple answer, so that I could buy a present and scratch my niece’s name off my list. I found myself in my Aunt Barbara’s shoes 35 years ago, looking a tow-headed boy with a rudimentary flip chart. “What if I make it easy on all of us and just send her two twenty dollar bills?”
Once upon a time, before the Internet, watch-on-demand, DVD players, VCRs, and cable world domination, people in the United States had regular television.
In Waco, Texas, we had three major networks to watch: ABC (Channel 8), CBS (Channel 4), and NBC (Channel 5). There was also a Public Television station that broadcast on Channel 13, which is where I watched Sesame Street, The Electric Company, and ZOOM. There were also a few non-network stations, like Channel 11 and Channel 39, that broadcast T.V. dramas and comedies that were now in syndication, old cartoons, and movies of the week. Most of the T.V. stations broadcast out of the Dallas/Fort Worth area, but we had a local channel in Waco where the grandmother of a fellow Cub Scout had her own talk show. When it was time for a commercial break, she would step to the side of her set and apprise her viewers of sale items at Piggly Wiggly.
Every Sunday, my older sister, Vicki, and I would scan the T.V. schedule that came with the newspaper, searching for any shows that intrigued us, and then schedule our lives so that we could be in front of the television on the appropriate day and at the correct time. If we weren’t there, we missed the T.V. show. There were no reruns late that day or week. Current T.V. series usually repeated episodes that premiered in the fall/winter in spring summer. Holidays specials were broadcast annually.
Later, after we had moved to Burleson, just outside of Fort Worth, and my little sister, Randi, was born, I used to tell her stories about my family’s days in Waco, a part of our lives that she did not share with us. I remember an evening where she was dressed an old-fashioned, red flannel nightgown with a matching cap, and we were watching A Charlie Brown Christmas on VHS that my mother had purchased at Wal-Mart. I described a December when I was in kindergarten and my parents had taken Vicki and I to K-Mart to shop for Christmas gifts for my extended family. (During the ‘70s, we didn’t have a lot retail stores in Waco. K-Mart was basically it. We had a shopping mall, but it was hardly anything like you’d see today.) My mother was comparing Corningware casserole dishes for my aunt, when Vicki said, “Oh, we’re going to miss the A Charlie Brown Christmas on Channel 4 tonight!”
I remember my world began spinning as I reached out with both hands to steady me. I grabbed my father’s pant’s leg. “Daddy, what time is it?”
My father glanced at his watch, the kind with hands–not digital. “It’s 6:35.”
“We’ve got to go home now, or we’ll miss A Charlie Brown Christmas!” I pleaded. “It comes on at seven o’clock!”
My pleas fell upon deaf ears, though. My parents explained that we had to finish our Christmas shopping, and that if we missed A Charlie Brown Christmas this year, it would be on again next year.
But that was a whole year–a sixth of my life at that time, an eternity. I remember bursting into tears, my tiny chest shaking, as I crumbled to the dirty linoleum tiles in my brown, faux fur hooded coat with matching mittens, and had a meltdown in the middle of the K-Mart Housewares Department. I don’t remember what happened next. (I’m probably blocking it out, due to the trauma of the spanking and stern talk I received as my father dragged me by the hand to our station wagon.) I imagine that I probably sat in the back seat, occasionally sniffing and surely going through the seven stages of grief, as all the other good children of Waco, Texas laughed as they watched A Charlie Brown Christmas while my mother heartlessly compared Corningware. It just wasn’t fair.
The worst part was always the day after. I’d go to school, morose as I sharpened my pencils, while the other children would discuss the details of A Charlie Brown Christmas, Santa Claus Is Coming to Town, or Frosty the Snowman, with great excitement. I could not join in the fun, because I had missed whatever holiday special had broadcast the night before. I couldn’t recite the tag lines. I couldn’t sing “One Foot in Front of the Other” from Santa Claus Is Coming to Town. I couldn’t recount the wonder of whatever new toy had been advertised during the commercial break. In short, I was an outsider. I was reduced to eating my peanut butter & jelly sandwich in silence, my only joy being my Hostess chocolate cupcake with cream filling, and tearing the white curlicue off the top of the frosting in the same way that my parents had torn out my heart.
And then I’d go home after school, and I’d watch whatever holiday special was broadcast on prime time that night, probably Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and I was fine … until I’d wake up in the middle of the night, screaming, a week later, as I realized that I had missed A Year Without a Santa Claus earlier that evening.