Pac-Man

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He’s number one. Of all time. Space Invaders, Donkey Kong, Asteroids–none of them can match the sheer number of quarters this eyeless, pie-shaped glutton gobbled down during the heyday of video arcade gaming.

Maze games always did well, because life itself is a sort of maze, and these games give the people playing them a short-lived, but potent sense of control over their own existence. But Pac-Man was more than just a “successful maze game,” it was a phenomenon that eventually reached the point of epidemic. A national fever! Listen, if you can get two living legends–Bill Buckner of the Boston Red Sox and Jerry Garcia from the Grateful Dead, to come together in a studio over a long weekend to record a top ten hit you know you’ve attained some real cultural cachet.

Let’s put it another way. I never saw those nasty, annoying Centipedes get their own Hanna- Barbera TV show. I never saw Zaxxon lunch boxes. I never saw babies being named Tron. This guy was the king. He was Ali, he was George Steinbrenner, he was Justin Bieber and Elvis Presley combined.

Even today, some 30 years later, you still see people wearing Pac-Man costumes come late October. The retro gaming site Freepacman.com gets more hits than the Obamacare website does. Young girls you’d think were too young to have even heard of this yellow fellow turn out to have him tattooed on their hips or arms. The sampled sounds of Pac-Man hard at work are the source material for some of the 21st century’s most innovative electronic music. Geez Louise, in Norway, the home of black metal, half-insane Satan worshippers have been known to stage life-size games of this in huge mazes where the participants, ghosts and Pac-Man both, actually fight to the death during the course of play.

Amazing.

 

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Rubik’s Cube

Rubik's Cube

Developed out of nothing in Hungary, one of the top two coolest countries on this big blue marble we call Gaia, Rubik’s Cube swept the nation like no other cube since the ones made of frozen water.

This brightly colored, hand-held game resembled Lindsay Lohan’s celebrated FireCrotch in one significant way. At some point, everybody you knew had their paws all over it. They sold so many of these, I think there was 1.7 of them for every person in the United States. That is remarkable. What you did with it was up to you. Most gave up after 20 minutes, some persisted from 5 to 20 hours and managed to get one side uniform. Others pried every single cube off the damn thing and then one by one stuck them back on, 9 of the same colors to a side, until the puzzle had been “solved.” They then brought it to school, where they immediately got laid, sometimes even by their own math and/or science teacher. It was that big a deal. A small handful of users were able to fairly and legitimately solve the entire thing on their own–these whiz kids grew up to invent the Internet.

Some hardcore “speedcubers” would inject it with Vaseline, salad oil or even expensive imported civet urine in an effort to make it go faster. Others stuck it into a drawer or a shoebox where it probably sits to this day. Neither side was right or wrong. Again, it’s all about what’s good for you.

I personally only managed to get one side matched up a few times, but I can remember the, er, “feel” of it in my hands and believe that at the very least it made a decent alternative to worry beads or a stress squeeze toy.

It still sells steadily, even today (not quite Johnny Manziel football jersey steady, but definitely Picasso “Don Quixote” poster print steady) And why not? It’s a puzzle and human beings love trying to solve puzzles. Where the heck do you think religion comes from?

Donald Trump

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Donald Trump in the 80s was quite a different kettle of rotted fish from the TV personality we (cough) “love” now. First off, he was relatively new and hadn’t yet been given enough time to do much damage. Even then, though, there was already something cartoonish about the fellow. Start with the name, which sounded every bit as manufactured as Stuart Goddard telling some coked-up MTV VJ his name was “Adam Ant.” Ridiculous. Except the Trump name was real–Donald was the baby prince of an already established scuzzball empire built by his father. The surname is an anglicized version of the Low German word “Drumpf.” And yes, just as you might have guessed, that translates to “toadstool” in English.

His two great accomplishments this decade were the construction of Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue and the 1989 release of the board game Trump: The Game.  The Trump Tower is everything you’d expect from something that was unveiled in the go-go 80s–tons of the “world’s finest marble” and heaps of the “planet’s rarest brass” all slapped together in the public areas to no memorable effect, but the black monolithic exterior does have a dozen or so live trees growing out of it, so you can give Trump credit for being a brave pioneer of sustainability if you want to. As for Trump: The Game, not enough people ever played it for history to record whether or not it was any fun, but I can say that as far as its name goes, it doesn’t hold a candle to the one released last year by a certain LA rapper called The Game: The Game.

His woman of choice for this decade was Ivana and she was very blond and very tall and liked to tell little fibs about being on the 1972 Czechoslovakian Olympic ski team. I don’t think she ever accomplished anything other than bringing three more Trumps into the world (readers can decide for themselves whether that is an actual accomplishment or something more akin to a criminal act) but her first name does comprise exactly one-half of my all-time favorite drag queen stage name: Ivana Koch.

Since this blog only covers a brief ten year period I am unable to discuss all the mischief he’s caused in the past 30 years or so, like trying to pave over half the Scottish Highlands or threatening to bum rush the White House every four years. He’s a hard man to look at, and recent rumors about him being the object of a new float in the 2014 Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade are worrisome. It probably won’t come off– The Donald would never cede control of his image to a bunch of mere designers and float makers, but if he does insist on “playing himself” this coming November, organizers will hardly need to pump in any helium in order to send his bloated corporeality skyward.

Chewing Tobacco

CD Skoal

Yea, verily, back in the 80s the middle section of our country was truly the land of luscious whole milk, glistening natural honey, and shredded tobacco leaves neatly packaged in cardboard hockey pucks with shiny silver lids.

The first time I “dipped,” I fearlessly and foolishly tucked a garden snail-sized pinch of Copenhagen into my bottom lip and congratulated myself on how cool I was. Within two minutes, my entire 13 year-old world started to spin and it wasn’t a “good” kind of spin like if me and the actress Jena Malone were together on some merry-go-round on a deserted playground lazily pushing ourselves around with our feet while I tell her that her new faux-indie rock band The Shoe is the musical equivalent of Soap&Skin and The Knife and Stereolab and Young Marble Giants all rolled into one and she tells me that the website When Skippy Loved Mallory has been her browser’s home page since January 13, 2014, the very day the first post went up, and then she tilts that sexy little chin of hers at me and we kiss–no, this was a “bad” kind of spin, more like some minor demon had picked up my bed with me in it after a night of throwing down Powers on the rocks chased by some pints of IPA capped off with a Tanqueray and tonic at last call to cleanse the palate, and started spinning it around on his gigantic finger like the Spalding Gail Goodrich model basketball I once owned. So yes, I ended up supine on the grass next to some community baseball field where fortunately an actual baseball game wasn’t being played. I felt better after about ten minutes (after ripping the damnable stuff out of my mouth), but it wasn’t a good time. At least I didn’t vomit.

Still, even to this day, there are regions right here in the USA where the use of chewing tobacco is not only smiled upon but actually encouraged at some schools, both in and out of the classroom. There is even a fascinating hierarchy involved based not on which brand one prefers, but rather the type of spit cup that is employed–the destitute kids using paper cups from Hardee’s and Taco Bell, over and over until the bottoms rot out, the middle class kids favoring those hard plastic cups that are sometimes given out as souvenirs at sporting events, while the rich kids use big metal cups of the type milkshakes are made in–the really elite of this lot toting around sterling silver renditions with their initials engraved on the side.

It’s a crazy world we live in!

Teddy Ruxpin

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There was a brief time when the toy company Worlds of Wonder seemed like a truly magical place, a Willie Wonka-inspired (just check out those initials) toy factory that produced state of the art playthings that looked for all the world like minor miracles. Teddy Ruxpin “changed everything,” as they say. Finally, children could have a teddy bear that talked to them instead of just laying around in a heap most of the time. You could easily imagine Worlds of Wonder producing new and better toys year after year until by 2000 every child with the means would have their very own life-sized C3PO to boss around. It kind of didn’t work out that way (the company folded in 1990) but at least we had Teddy!

Or did we? In the light of day, Teddy was a boon companion, a joy to play with, a best friend. But there was a side to this bear that wasn’t so pleasant–when the batteries got low the toy exhibited a tendency to turn itself on at any time and emit terrible noises the Worlds of Wonder engineers had fashioned by recording the death throes of poisoned crows. The children, an entire generation of sweet innocents, didn’t know that the toy’s designers had meant it to be a “fun” way of telling them it was time to replace the batteries. All they knew was that they would wake up in the middle of the dark night to see their beloved Teddy’s eyes furiously snapping open and shut like castanets while his mouth emitted cacophonous shrieks. They would scream, wet the bed, faint and basically be scarred for life.

A supposedly new and improved version called Furby was released about ten years later, but anyone who has ever heard even one syllable of the Furbish tongue knows that these hairy plastic vermin were no “improvement,” but an even more insidious agent of devilment targeting our little ones.

It is no wonder the Millennials are are every bit as maladjusted as Generation X.

Earrings on Guys

bono earring final

This fad swept through the high school halls and shopping malls of the 80s like a bad virus. It was an epidemic that left school administrators scrambling to re-write dress codes and parents wringing their hands in outright consternation at just “what” their little Johnny had become.

Now, in those days you couldn’t just saunter up to your local Piercing Pagoda with a coupla cans of Milwaukee’s Best in ya for courage and say “Pierce my ear, por favor.” You had to pick the right ear to get pierced and the right ear in the 80s was the left ear. That meant you were straight. If you got your other ear pierced there was going to be trouble at school before the first bell even rang, regardless if you liked guys or not. Actually, in most places it really didn’t matter which ear you had pierced—the sight of a traditionally female piece of jewelry pinned into the flesh of a male classmate was bound to enrage some poor lunkhead, or group of lunkheads, and a few names were going to get called at the very least, most of them beginning with the letters “F” or “Q.” If you had really bad luck, you’d get your nice Captain Morgan-inspired gold hoop ripped right out. Such was the tenor of the times.

Things simmered down pretty quickly, however, as more and more guys started sporting them and MTV certainly helped mainstream the look with its endless imagery of pop stars of every musical genre and sexual persuasion jumping around in music videos with all sorts of things dangling from all sorts of places. Nowadays, the crazy kids somehow contrive to insert plastic or wooden discs the diameter of 90s sensation POGS into their lobes, so a little quarter-carat cubic zirconia in the left ear of the 1984 Prom King doesn’t seem so quite so outrageous, does it?

Wacky Wall Walkers

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Colored in shades that made them the perfect physical embodiment of Wyler’s fruit drink flavors, Wacky Wall Walkers stuck around about as long as a pitcher of ice cold Wyler’s on a hot summer day, but you have to admit that they were quite the concept. Kids love to throw things–whether it be snowballs at cars, eggs at houses (Justin Bieber keeps this tradition alive to this day) or an unwanted baby brother or sister out the window. Wacky Wall Walkers were kind of a benign form of therapy that allowed children the world over to get this potentially dangerous urge out of their system without harming any property or lives.

And really, who hasn’t dreamed of owning their very own miniature octopus? You didn’t even need a tank of water for it! Of course they only actually stuck to the wall about one-third of the time, although the success rate was higher if you flung it against a mirror, so if your parents were one of those “swinger” types with a bedroom tricked out in mirrors all over the walls and ceiling you could maybe get your money’s worth out of these. Because the sad fact was, when you finally did get it to stick to something the odds of it actually “walking” its way down, instead of cowering in a lump for three seconds and dropping straight to the carpet, were pretty low, too. Speaking of carpeting, I seem to remember these becoming covered in nasty, adhesively-debilitating fuzz almost the instant they were pulled out of their packaging.

So basically Wacky Wall Walkers were completely useless. Still, they were deemed cool enough to have their very own Christmas Special and you can’t say that about most toys!