Tag Archives: memories

A Trip Down Memory Lane (Cause Pandemics Don’t Let Me Do Nothin’ Else, Man)

I didn’t intend on taking nearly two months off here. Y’see, my Wi-Fi, which had been spotty at best anyway, went, as you would say, totally kerblooey. This of course inhibited new updates on my silly little blog.

That wasn’t the only reason, however. There’s also this coronavirus pandemic going on. (Maybe you’ve heard of it?)

No, I didn’t catch the thing. Still, given the stay-at-home order that has been in effect here since March, and thus the fact that I can’t really go anywhere, you’d think I’d have more than enough time sit around and write stupid dumb blog updates. I mean, my internet wasn’t bad the whole time…

(Of course, I’d much rather stay at home than risk catching the virus – and more importantly, spreading it to someone else. Still, the reopening of retail stores on the 12th will be welcome, even if it does mean I’ll probably have to wear a stupid mask while out in public. Although, it’ll be nice to have a reason to be antisocial for once.)

Despite frequent walks around the neighborhood, I’ve stayed pretty much in my abode. And yet, I’ve remained busy enough. Not wanting to sit around and do nothing all day, I instead took this opportunity to dig through many, many boxes, bags and bins of old childhood crap junk memories. Ostensibly it was in an effort to organize, but really, I just wanted to unearth “neat old stuff.” You know, things that should be properly preserved, or at least as properly as I can, uh, preserve them.

This was no small feat, and the amount of dusty, dirty, back-breakin’ diggin’ an’ liftin’ I had to do wasn’t exactly my idea of good time party fun. It was pretty time consuming too, as you may well imagine. And yet, I enjoyed the process! The constant discovery of new old things wound up being pretty addicting! I’ve gone through the vast majority of it all now, and honestly, I’m a little disappointed there’s not more to explore!

Toys, games, magazines, books, knickknacks, papers, even clothes, I dug through plenty of it all. Often, while uncovering some item, the memories came flooding back. Other times, it was like I was looking at a foreign object. Hey, my memory is good, but it’s not photographic.

So, now that I’m back in action, what say you join me on a little journey down memory lane? I’m not naive; much of this will be important to only me, but since I bank on my viewership being mostly comprised of people with nothing better to do (raging pandemic or not), hey, at least it’ll be a time killer.

Oh, and this is by no means the totality of what I uncovered. Not by a long shot. Furthermore, this stuff ain’t in strict chronological order, though certain entries will follow naturally from others whenever I decide to hamfistedly attempt a narrative.

Prepare now to take a trip into the psyche of your Northeast Ohio Video Hunter. What makes him tick? What makes him him? Partial, potentially unsatisfying (not to mention long winded) answers are forthcoming!


Found just two days ago, the Blockbuster Entertainment Guide to Movies and Videos 1998 was the very first movie guide book I could call my own.

In the summer of 1997, I had discovered at my local library the then-latest Leonard Maltin movie guide on their shelves. Being a reference book, I was unable to check it out, and as such I wound up greatly anticipating subsequent trips to the ‘bary to further peruse the book. As a young movie buff, it was a wondrous tome; what did he like? What did he not? What could I discover? What did he score my favorite flick(s)? The internet and endless movie reviews – amateur or otherwise – in the following years kinda took away the usefulness of such books, but at the time Maltin’s guides were indispensable, and I still carry a hefty heap of nostalgia for them.

So why wasn’t a copy of Maltin the first personal guide to become mine? Well, as I recall it, mom promised me a copy for good grades or something (hey, I was in 5th grade!), and on the fateful day when it came time to make good on the promise, I was presented with the choice of not only Maltin’s document, but Blockbuster’s as well (along with a few other choices, which were and are still good, but not conducive to this particular recollection otherwise). Such was the power in the Blockbuster name brand at the time that I was torn; Maltin was already my trusted source, but surely the top purveyors of video entertainment would be an authority of such matters too! You can see what my ultimate decision was.

Did I choose wisely? Well, uh, not really. I have no idea if such things were present before or after, but this 1998 edition was riddled with errors that were obvious to even my young eyes. My favorite example: Godzilla vs. Mothra being listed as a 1964 *French* film. While the idea of ‘Zilla and Mothra sluggin’ it out with the Eiffel Tower as backdrop is undoubtedly delightful, it just wasn’t correct.

I rectified my mistake when the next annual movie guide editions came out, but I can’t help feeling some fondness for my Blockbuster book nevertheless. It may have been spotty fact-wise, but like I said, the chain was an absolute force at the time.

Next we have The Harlem Globetrotters: World Tour for the Game Boy Advance, still minty sealed fresh and with Big Deals stickers plastered on it. Evidently Deals couldn’t give it away at the bargain price of $5, so it was marked down even further to a mere $3. I honestly have zero recollection of ever getting this game, and it may actually belong to my brother, in which case, hey Luke, come an’ get it!

Obviously this isn’t a terribly old acquisition, but had you asked me beforehand if this resided somewhere in residence, I’d have scoffed and then given you a curt “NAY.”

Since it has never been opened, it has, needless to say, also never been played. I almost certainly never played it elsewhere, either. Apparently it was/is considered quite terrible, and as such, that sticker proclaiming it plays on the DS and DSLite handhelds reads more like a threat than anything. I take joy in imagining that Deals couldn’t even collect less than an Abraham Lincoln on these and just started throwing them in the bags with the other respective purchases customers were making, preferably on the sly. That’s honestly more believable when it comes to guessing how it actually came into my possession, anyway. That’d be a pretty funny customer complaint: “I didn’t want this dumb game! No, I *don’t* care if it was free!”

Probably hailing from about 1990, these knock-off Batman knickknacks are a sure sign of not only what an absolute phenomenon the 1989 movie was, but what a bonafide Batmaniac I was. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Ghostbusters and Batman, those were the big three for adolescent me.

While obviously capitalizing on the Bat-hype rampant at the time, you’ll notice that the logo is (I presume) just different enough to (hopefully?) avoid any legal entanglements. It’s not the Bat signal, it’s just a, uh, bat.

I have no idea where exactly these came from, but they’re obviously of the dime store variety. Still, they were Batman-related, and as such, something I needed in my simple little life.

Our line-up: a yellow ninja star-esque throwin’ object adorned with suction cups, a tiny, green, probably unusable even back then yo-yo, a red badge (the tiny lip on the back looks like it’d hang off a kid’s shirt pocket, at least until a mild breeze came by and knocked it off), a pink I-don’t-know-what (something on the back has long since broken off; I assume it was a clip, thus making this a cheap pin, but I guess it could’ve been a handle, making it a shield accessory for legit Batman toys – a scenario that is pretty baller when I think about it), and an orange get-the-ball-in-the-slot game watch, with bands so brittle that, as you can see, one has been lost to time.

The watch I actually uncovered over a year ago, but the others were all finds from my recent digs. What’s funny is I remembered the logo on these, but couldn’t have told you what actual items it could be found on until I, erm, found them. I’m pretty nuts about these though, and each new discovery was a moment of exhilaration for yours truly. Such a cool example of little me and my obsession with Batperson. They now all reside in a little wooden keepsake box appropriately deemed the “Bat Box” by no one but me.

I don’t know if these five items comprise a complete collection of all that I had, it’s reasonable to assume one or more similar Batfakes meeting their demise over the years, but they’re all I’ve found and I know not where else I can look. Heck, I don’t even know what to call the “line,” or how to search for it. At any rate, I love what I’ve got here; as weird as it may sound, these alone made all my searching worthwhile.

Old, unopened, sugar free pistachio-flavored Jell-O pudding. Yes, really. No, it hasn’t been sitting around since my formative years. Rather, this is something I found back in probably 2007, maybe give or take a year either way.

Where’d it come from? From the food shelves of a “salvage” store. The other ostensible edibles there were quite possibly of questionable age anyway, but this, nestled amongst other varieties of Jell-O, it was immediately evident that this box was of a graphic style no longer in production. The font just looked old, perhaps even 1980s old. Irrationally tickled that such a thing could survive to the then-present day, and out for actual sale at that, I plunked down however much the asking price was and happily trotted home with my expired puddin’ dessert, never actually intending to eat it.

(Wait, does Jell-O ever even go bad?)

I rediscovered this box months and months ago, pre-coronavirus and during a different excavation search, and even if it wasn’t expired back when I first got it, it undoubtedly is now. I still have no idea how old it actually is though; the lack of a web address anywhere on the packaging is a pretty good indicator that it’s of somewhat impressive age. It appears that “30 JAN90D6” is stamped on one side of the box – can I assume that means January 30, 1990? And if so, would that be the expiration date? How long is Jell-O pudding supposed to last in general? Maybe this really is from the 1980s?

In the same foodstuff vein, I now present to you my ancient bottle of Heinz Worcestershire Sauce. Unlike the Jell-O you just delightfully read about, this bottle has been around since my formative years. Indeed, it was never even actually lost, and as such may not technically fit in with the overall theme of this post. But if not now, when? Don’t get me wrong, if I got bored enough I could get an entire update out of this alone, but meh, lets just check this one off now. Besides, the longer this post is, the more impressed you’ll be with my literary skillz. Right?

Here’s the story: this bottle of Worcestershire (I’ve never been so grateful to have the ability to copy-and-paste as I am right now with that word) Sauce is nearly as old as I am, which is now over the 30 year mark. Is it as old as me? I don’t think so, but it could be. It’s definitely in the same vicinity.

Why does it still exist? Way back in the day, it floated (figuratively not literally HAW HAW HAW) around my parent’s pantry for years; seriously, it eventually became basically a part of the scenery, more of a decoration than something anyone would actually use to cook with. Years went by, and I grew older – as did the Worcestershire Sauce. As I recall it, it was eventually slotted for trashin’ when a long overdue pantry clean was ordered, but I rescued it from such an ignominious demise and have kept it happy and safe ever since.

I know how that preceding paragraph makes me sound, but I promise you, I’m not a hoarder. I’m a collector, and a sentimentalist, but trust me, I’m not in the habit of keeping expired food around. And yet, I just couldn’t let the Worcestershire be junked so many years ago. I think this was due to a few factors. Mainly, because it had been around for as long as I could remember, but also, that label. I mean, just look at the massive steak on that thing! I can probably attribute my lifelong love of steak (and mushrooms, and potatoes) to that graphic alone, and to this day that’s my ideal image of a steak dinner. And indeed, nowadays I love Worcestershire Sauce in general; if it can be added to a recipe, I’m there at the forefront championing its addition. Add it during the preparation of your hamburgers and just tell me it doesn’t enhance the flavor!

The bottle isn’t full, though there is still some liquid in it. The coagulation around the cap tells me it has probably turned into something fairly poisonous, but you know what? I’m still going to liken it to a vintage bottle of wine, something to be treasured, if not actually consumed. (You could point out the fact that vintage wine could still be consumed if one so desired, but I request that you don’t.)

You know, I now realize that in pursuit of honesty, this entire section of the article makes me sound like a crazy person. Maybe I should have stuck rigidly to the theme and omitted it? Oh well, the Worcestershire Sauce is in the bottle and the cat is out of the bag now.

Back to the non-edibles. As I mentioned earlier, There was Batman and Ghostbusters, and then there was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It’s tough, but those heroes in a half shell may very well have been the definitive pop culture obsessions of my childhood. Toys, video games, books, clothes, never mind the cartoon, those pizza lovin’ dudes were a near constant of formative years. They were, as hip kids say, radical and totally righteous.

So when the first big screen movie came out in 1990, it stands to reason that I considered it something of a cultural event. A watershed touchstone? Sure, why not. What you’re seeing here are two of the promotional items foisted upon the children of America during the insane hype that was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie. On the upper left: a pin, with a shot taken from the campfire scene. That’s Mikey and Don, lookin’ all nonchalant despite the amounts of pain they were capable of doling out. On the lower right: Raph and Leo share a brotherly moment in a shot that I think comes from after Raph had been revived following a severe beat down.

Both items are still technically usable, the pin more so than the keychain, which has cracked and was dutifully covered in tape by yours truly somewhere down the line. Nevertheless, both are absolute powerhouses of nostalgia for me (especially the keychain, because it features Raphael, who we all know was the superior turtle).

I remember, back in the early-90s, an entire wall in Sears (or maybe it was JC Penney?) being dedicated to smaller TMNT items such as these. As I recall it, it was located in the vicinity of the shoes, and if the turtles’ faces could be plastered on it, it was there. We’re talking shoelaces and the like, in addition to the stuff like what you’re seeing above.

While certainly emblematic of the TMNT movie fervor I had at the time, these were far from the only items I had spotlighting that 1990 debut movie; somewhere I have a giant cardboard standup of all four turtles. It has not as yet been recovered, and I sure hope it hasn’t disintegrated into a mildewed pile of sadness. That would be decidedly not righteous.

(My dad took me to see the movie in the theater. I vaguely recall arriving a little late and later spilling some of the green TMNT-esque drink. Loved the movie though, and you know, I think it holds up better today than it has any right to – though in the interest of full disclosure, I’m looooong overdue for a rewatch. It’s been years!)

The Ninja Turtles weren’t my only cinematic obsession of 1990, however. TMNT found a natural place in my heart due to already being a fan of the franchise. My other movie hero of 1990 was, on the surface, a bit more inexplicable though, and his name was Dick Tracy.

Played by Milton Armitage Warren Beatty, 1990’s Dick Tracy was aggressively marketed to kids, and in my case, it worked. Big time. For a period there, I was all about that copper and his sunshiny bright yella coat. Dutifully, we all went to see it at the drive-in; I recall falling asleep at some point later in the flick, but that wasn’t a commentary on the quality of the film (I was too young to judge, and truth be told, I haven’t seen the movie since then – but I want to, because it absolutely looks like something I’d love nowadays).

Beyond the movie itself was a promotional blitz that, in retrospect, seems sorta unlikely for a comic strip character that was hardly a beacon of “hip” to kids my age beforehand. I’ve read that it was intended to mimic the Batman ballyhoo of the summer prior, and even if it wasn’t ultimately as successful, it certainly seemed comparable in terms of all-encompassing hype. Like I said, it worked big time in my case.

The two pins you’re seeing above are just two small parts of that blitz. The button in the lower right, it’s just the expected Dick Tracy logo that was plastered on pretty much everything at the time. (Even today, TMNT notwithstanding, that logo screams “1990”  to me in a way that few other things can.) The pin in the upper left, well, it’s missing the actual pin part on the back, but it’s shaped like a badge, and declaring the wearer to be a “Junior Detective.” I’d seriously consider keeping that one in my wallet if I didn’t think I’d get busted for impersonating a cop and providing the world’s most embarrassing rap sheet. Dick Tracy wouldn’t approve of that.

I fear it’s long, long gone by now, but I’d sure LOVE to find one of the cards from McDonald’s Dick Tracy Crime Stoppers game. I had one, but I haven’t seen it in decades. That, to me, would be more emblematic than anything of the Dick Tracy mania that swept 1990.

The promotional blitz didn’t end there, though…

No, this isn’t an official Dick Tracy item, but in my world, it’s related, and it’s something I was quite happy to rediscover recently. Lemme explain…

In conjunction with the movie came the expected line of toys. Such things were beyond commonplace by 1990; it would have been weirder if they hadn’t released a corresponding toy line! Put out by Playmates, the same folks behind the fantastic line of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures, Dick Tracy and his fellow cast of characters were immortalized in plastic.

Like TMNT, the line was brilliantly detailed, with some of the villains being pretty accurate toy recreations of their disgusting big screen counterparts. Indeed, from looks to scale, these figures would have fit right in the Ninja Turtle world, and while I personally don’t recall doing so, it’s easy to imagine other kids taking advantage of that. The line certainly never achieved the same long running success as the Turtles did, but it was pretty decent for what it was…

…Except for one aspect that burnt me up then, and still puzzles me now: THE DICK TRACY FIGURE DIDN’T HAVE A YELLOW RAINCOAT! How on earth do you make a Dick Tracy action figure and then omit his most recognizable aspect?! It boggles mah mind! Oh, he had the hat alright, but the sensible suit that made up the figure’s attire otherwise just didn’t cut it, man. Not then, and not now. And what makes things even more inexplicable is that Playmates released a Donatello action figure with a raincoat  – that very same year!

Anyway, thanks to what I assume was incessant badgering on my part, mom took pity on me and actually sewed a proper yellow coat out of felt for my Dick Tracy action figure! Thanks, ma! Naturally, that’s what you’re looking at above. Actually, for reasons now forgotten, she sewed me two of ’em; I came across the other during my recent digs, but stupidly didn’t put it aside like I did this second one. I don’t have the stamina go digging again just for that, so this coat above will have to represent all on its own. (They were both pretty much the same, and nobody but me cares about any of this anyway.)

Such things were (are) typical of mom, even with something that in the grand scheme of things is of zero importance. But really, even she must’ve realized you just don’t make a Dick Tracy action figure without the yellow raincoat. You. Just. Don’t. Do. It.

Oh was I happy to find this one; I had been on the hunt for it for well over a year, but I never expected to find it buried among old high school junk. It wasn’t the only surprising find in that batch either; there were some TV Guides that, like this book, I thought were in one specific place but actually, erm, weren’t.

The Kid’s Guide to Home Computers hails from 1983, but that’s not when I got it – I wasn’t born yet! And no, it didn’t come from a thrift store, garage sale or what have you, either.

Nope, I actually got this ‘new’, albeit well, well after it was even remotely current. It was at some store inside of Chapel Hill Mall, I recall it as a Big Lots-styled, closeout type place, but I could be wrong on that. Actually, I could be wrong on it being at Chapel Hill, too; that particular part of my memory has faded. BUT, I do absolutely recall seeing it on a rack along with others books/magazines, and this wasn’t an oldies rack. I mean, if this was a closeout store, maybe they were, but even so, The Kid’s Guide… stood out to me. How it got to where it was and lasted there as long as it did, I do not know. But I’m sure glad it waited around for me!

By then, I was certainly already familiar with the Atari 2600 console, and I believe I was familiar with both the Intellivision and Odyssey 2 too (albeit only via old print advertisements at that point). So, I’ll say I picked this book up around 1995 or 1996. Maybe even ’97, but that seems a little too late. We’ll stick with mid-90s and leave it at that.

I was already a sucker for retro gaming then, though I’m not sure most of it was old enough to be considered “retro” just yet. In those pre-internet-as-we-now-know-it years, this book was an absolute revelation. If the pages within weren’t my first actual introductions to the ColecoVision, Atari 5200, and Atari 8-bit computer line, then they were certainly my first real introductions. As you may surmise from the title of the book, the proceedings lean heavily on the “home computer” side of the equation, as opposed to the “home video game console.” Of course, since nearly all of the home video game consoles at the time were trying to be home computers in some form, there was quite a bit of overlap, and it was fantastic to read all about it.

The book is an absolute time capsule, with chapters on choosing a PC, the various hardware and software out there, even upcoming titles. Most of the major players in the industry are represented, and even a few that, at least now, may not be considered major.

I absolutely poured over all this back in the day, and despite clearly being aimed at kids (as you, uh, gleamed from the title) in writing style and length, it covers a lot of bases. A sign of the times: the Atari 5200 controller was considered an improvement over the 2600 joystick. (And at least on paper, that was true!) Also, this was where I first learned that M*A*S*H had been turned into an Atari 2600 game! Neato!

Okay, sure, technically there’s nothing in this book that can’t be learned online nowadays, but as a snapshot of gaming/home computing in the early-80s, I consider it indispensable. And I’m never letting it get lost again.

Undoubtedly you’re asking yourself right this moment “say, what’s with that swell gem-shaped rock y’all got there, North Video Guy?” And to that I reply “pump the brakes Ace, I’ll explain.” (Seriously, haven’t you been paying attention? I always explain!)

This wasn’t a store-bought acquisition. At one point during my earliest of years, I wanted a “gem.” Why or what kind of gem, I don’t know, and I’m not sure I could have given you a decent explanation even back then, either.

So anyway, my dad took a rock, and polished into the smooth, gem-like shape you’re seeing now. Thanks, pa!

Like so many of the smaller pieces in my childhood ‘stuff’, the gem/rock/thing floated around (figuratively not literally HAW HAW HAW) the house for years, at one point being colored red with crayon (except for some edge chips that you can just barely see in this pic, this was eventually cleaned off), and ultimately being boxed/bagged/whatevered up until I uncovered it during my archaeological dig some weeks ago. It was immediately set aside, because you know, I still really like the gem rock (I’ve decided that’s its official name, “gem rock”). As a childhood trinket, its nostalgia is powerful.

(Of course, I doubt anyone else anywhere would care all that much about it, and truthfully I don’t have a ton more to say about it here; I mean, what do you want? It’s a rock polished into the shape of a generic gem! I gave you its history, so what more can I say? Nothing’s ever enough for you, is it?)

I think you’d have to be of a certain age to really appreciate the ubiquitous LCD handheld video games Tiger Electronics released in the 1980s and 1990s. These things were everywhere; a seemingly countless number arcade or console games, movies, cartoons and sports received dedicated Tiger handheld adaptations. I mean, MC Hammer and Full House even had handhelds! (As a TGIF kid, there’s a good chance you’ll hear me flipping out from wherever you happen to be should I find that Full House somewhere. And minus the whole TGIF aspect, the same goes for MC Hammer too, come to think of it. Also, now’s as good a time as any to mention that it saddens me that Urkel and/or Family Matters never received a Tiger LCD game adaptation.)

Of course, even those that grew up with them tend to admit that they really weren’t very good. Even compared to other single game handhelds like those by Nintendo (Game & Watch!) or Konami (or at least their TMNT games were pretty decent), the Tigers could come up a little short in the gameplay department – even with the diminished expectations that inherently come with a single game LCD.

So why was I so happy to see that they’re being revived? Nostalgia, I suppose. I loved these things back then – even after I had a Game Boy. Cheap and cheesy as they might have been, there was something oddly special about them at the time – and that something may or may not translate to modern times, even for those that grew up with them originally. I don’t know, maybe I innately sensed that the single game set-up and dedicated marquee-like graphics recalled the coin-ops that were still so prevalent at the time? (Actually, I started that thought fully intending to be a smarty pants, except I then remembered that Tiger ran commercials in the late-80s specifically touting the arcade-in-yo’-pocket aspect of these things. In other words, initial smarty pants reaction or not, subconsciously I guess I wasn’t too far off!)

Indeed, when I learned of the revival, I looked around for one that was worthy of specifically reviewing. I obviously never made the plunge, though Street Fighter II was a serious candidate for about 12 seconds (until I played it and couldn’t decide if some of the controls were broken or if that’s just how it was supposed to play.)

SO ANYWAY, that all played into my being pleased when these two childhood examples were rediscovered during my ‘ronavirus-sourced searchin’. Ninja Gaiden II and Sonic the Hedgehog 2, as you can see. Look close and you’ll notice that the screen in Ninja Gaiden II has been smashed beyond repair (?), which is just a real shame. Sonic 2 still plays fine though.

Indeed, my want and anticipation of Sonic 2 was unbelievable at the time. I wouldn’t own a Sega Genesis for a year or two more when I first got it, but I had already become a Sonic fan nevertheless, via the not one but two cartoon series centered around him. For a period, I was all Sonic all the time, despite natively being a Nintendo kid and not owning any actual Sonic games yet. While ultimately a prime example of Tiger translations of ‘real’ video games not exactly living up to the originals, my yearning for this Sonic 2 back then was unprecedented, and comparable to my wanting of whatever Game Boy title was currently on my radar. I played the heck out of it too – it held the Sonic fort until I got the real Sonic 2 some time later.

Oh, and during my searching, I also found Tiger handheld renditions of Batman Returns and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Dimension X Assault (which seemed like somewhat of a novelty to me back then, not only because it talked but also because Konami released the previous TMNT LCDs). I knew automatically that these actually belonged to my brother, and when I sent him a text asking if I could have them or if he actually wanted them back, he replied in the affirmative regarding the latter. I was somewhat disappointed in this response, and that leads me to this interlude.

Here, flanked by those two Tiger handhelds that have been begrudged me, as well as a Pocket Rocker, is Imperial’s King Kong figure. The sad (for me) fact of the matter was that as I dug through all this childhood stuff, I wasn’t finding only my crap, but stuff belonging to my brother as well. He didn’t want all of it back, but the stuff in this picture, he did. The two handhelds, I understand it, those were staples of his childhood, I get it. And the Pocket Rocker was gifted to him by some relative one long ago Christmas, so I get that, too. (What I don’t get is why he got the cool Pocket Rocker, since I was the one who remembered the commercials; IT AIN’T FAIR. I mean, *I* want an almost immediately worthless music playin’ device, too!)

I was really hoping I could finagle that King Kong out of him though. He didn’t go for it, and that hurts me deep. And after I went through the trouble of locating his stupid stuffed Wiley Ewok thing, too! Thas gradditood fo’ ya!

(Of course I kid. Or do I? You decide!)

I thought for sure I had written about these old Big Chuck & Lil’ John stickers before; maybe I had and the post is just no longer up. I do that sometimes. Either way, during my digs I came across a stray example, and despite already having a number of them ‘in their place’, I was pretty derned happy to rescue yet another, because believe it or not, they’re actually some of my favorite pieces of BC&LJ memorabilia.

(I actually came across precious little material regarding Northeast Ohio’s horror hosts during my searches, which is both good cause that means I’ve already got most of it preserved and bad because I, erm, want more. Oh, I found a few bits besides this sticker here, but more is always better.)

These stickers hail from around 2000/2001. They were freebies at the Fox 8 store in Summit Mall. (Yes, a local channel had their own store in a mall; it was honestly pretty cool, and I wish I’d taken even more advantage of it than I did.) I can’t remember if it was beforehand or if it was when I met Big Chuck & Lil’ John for the very first time in person in the summer of 2001 (just before I entered high school), but there were a whole bunch of these stickers (in a basket on the checkout counter, if I recall correctly), and they let us take a handful.

Hailing from where and when it does, this is just such a terrific example of Northeast Ohio broadcasting at the time. I mean, You’ve got Big Chuck & Lil’ John, who are indisputably local legends, and you’ve got the mention of them following another local institution, The Drew Carey Show. Although it wasn’t (normally) filmed there, Drew himself is a Cleveland icon, and the sitcom was set there, so naturally The Drew Carey Show was a fairly big deal around these parts.

It’s hard to explain what a piece of the cultural landscape Drew’s show was in the late-90s and early-00s, or at least that’s how it seemed to me. Everything stopped for the new episodes on ABC on Wednesday nights, and then Drew’s Whose Line is it Anyway?, and of course the syndicated episodes that were airing multiple times a day on channel 8.

The very fact that a Big Chuck & Lil’ John sticker plays into all of that makes it an indispensable part of my collection, no matter how many times over.

You may notice that this particular copy of the sticker is in a protective card case. No, I didn’t find it that way; rather, whilst digging, I also came across two of the only remaining Pokemon cards I own, both contained back-to-back in said protective case. Since Chuck & John trump Charizard any day, out went the cards and in went the sticker – though truth be told, I made the switch mainly just because it amused me.

I’m seriously considering having both Chuck and John sign the back of the sticker if I bother to go to the next Ghoulardifest, and if I could get Drew to sign it too at some point, well, that’d be pretty amazing.

Speaking of autographs, here’s something I found that I had no recollection of ever having, though I do remember the meeting itself.

You’re looking at the autograph of one Don “Action” Jackson, who until recently was one of *the* DJs at WMJI 105.7 FM. He was recently laid off during that iHeart Radio restructuring or whatever it was, and that’s a genuine shame. Not only was Action Jackson ever present during the years in which I was forming my musical tastes (thanks largely due to his station), but he was just a terrific DJ in general – energetic, entertaining, and in no way deserving of such an unceremonious exit.

Anyway, I met him in 2002, at the opening of some store somewhere. (A Giant Eagle, I think? Or maybe a Sam’s Club? I ain’t recall.) That’s obviously where this autograph came from, signed on the back of a “United We Stand” bumper sticker (it was the months following 9/11, after all).

And as luck would have it, he was also giving out Moondog concert tickets as prizes, should you be able to answer four of the performers appearing at the show that year. The guy next to me blanked, but I nailed three of them before blanking on the fourth. I did recall the opening, warm-up act though, so I took a chance, and that was enough to net me two free tickets to the Magic Moondog Coronation Ball 2002. Which leads me to this…

I already kinda knew where this Moondog ’02 program was, it wasn’t really a rediscovery here, but it still needed liberated, so here we are. This program was, of course, the result of my ticket win. My brother and I both went, and I’m not sure about him, but I do believe this was the first real concert I ever attended. Unless you count the KISS tribute band in the parking lot of High Point Furniture, which I don’t.

(What, I treat you to a free, memory-makin’ Moondog concert and you can’t toss that King Kong figure my way, bro? UNBELIEVABLE.)

The Moondog, held annually for years starting in 1992, commemorated Alan Freed’s original Moondog show of 1952, generally considered the first legitimate Rock & Roll concert. 2002 happened to be the 50th anniversary of all that.

The guest line-up on the first page of the program gives you a good idea of what the Moondog consisted of for a number of years. Namely,1950s and 1960s acts, and man, 2002 didn’t disappoint. (Partners in Rhyme, an a cappella group, was the opening act that inadvertently won me the tickets; thanks guys!) Not a dud in the bunch, and one of them (Lesley Gore) is no longer with us. As a first concert experience and a lover of 50s and 60s pop/rock (then and now), it was tough to beat! I specifically remember Gary Puckett’s vocals absolutely shaking the arena.

(And yet, the best Moondog I ever saw was in 2011: The Grass Roots, a few months before Rob Grill died, Eric Burdon of The Animals, whose voice was still unbelievable, The Spinners, who put on a fantastic grand finale-type performance in the middle of the concert, Felix Cavaliere & The Rascals, and headliners America. I mean, I love all of those acts, and aside from the fact it was tough for anyone to follow The Spinners’ showstopper, it’s one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen by someone not named Bruce Springsteen. 2012 was good too but just couldn’t compare, and I haven’t made it to a Moondog since. Actually, I don’t think they’ve even had them for the last few years, which is pretty sad.)

Time for some more Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles memorabilia. This one, I had already found an empty tube some time beforehand, and then I found another during the recent searching. Which one is this? Does it even really matter? Stop being so needlessly arbitrary, you! They’re both the same!

(Yeah, like I have any room to be criticizing anybody for being arbitrary!)

Put out in conjunction with 1991’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, this was a tube of “Squeeze & Lick Lollipop,” as per the now-empty tube you’re seeing to your right. It was really just a fruit-flavored gel, though I recall it being tasty enough. I question the look of anger on Raph’s face as he samples it though; what, if it ain’t pizza it ain’t good?

It’s tough to say when TMNT mania among kids reached its peak. I’d cautiously posit 1990/1991, though. You had the cartoon with three years under its belt, an endless amount of merchandise (toy, game, clothing, food, you name it), and now two live-action movies. Oh, and a live concert tour that featured a promotional appearance on Oprah. That happened too. The early years of the 90s really did belong to the Turtles, at least where kids were concerned. This empty tube does a decent enough job of representing that era all on its own, if you ask me.

I didn’t, and don’t, think the sequel quite topped the first movie in terms of quality, though I will say the second flick did achieve something approaching a microcosm of early-90s kids’ pop culture. Or something like that. Vanilla Ice performing “Ninja Rap” just may be the definitive summation of 1991 when it comes to the world of children at the time. Of course, I’m biased; I was there for it as it happened. My perception may very well (and almost certainly is) skewed.

This follows, cause Ninja Turtles, pizza, ya dig?

Found in a bag of random papers and whatnot, this is an original flyer for Pizza Pan, a local chain that was, as you can see, “home of the free pizza.” I can’t believe this survived to the present day, and even crumpled and a little torn (I’m trying to flatten it out as best I can right now), it’s a find I’m pretty happy to have had.

Here’s how it worked: have a pizza delivered, and you got one free. Pick it up yourself, and you got two free. As seen here, the same deal applied to their ribs. With an offer like that, there’s naturally going to be some buzz, and for awhile there in the early/mid-00s, Pizza Pan was aggressively pushed locally. Big Chuck & Lil’ John themselves even pitched them in commercials, and even their show proper. (Hey, here’s proof!) The push worked, because we certainly sampled their wares more than once.

And then they just seemed to sort of go away. I vaguely recall the free pizza deal being done away with, which, if my memory is correct, is going to hurt business considering that’s what the business was built on. Maybe I’m recalling wrong, though. At any rate, the location nearest us closed, and we never had them again. There’s still a website, though it doesn’t seem to have been updated since 2015, and nearly all of the tabs just lead back to the store locations page – and I’m not sure how many of those are even still open today.

Still, like Mikey and Regency Windows ads (“I’m gonna save you a lotttttta money!”), the promotions for this place were ever present at the time, and for me, an indispensable reminder of that era in Northeast Ohio.

My recent digs weren’t relegated to only bags, boxes and bins of childhood crap, however. I’ve also used this unexpected down time to take the opportunity to sift through my vast, VAST video collection, simply to recover long missing tapes that have been on my mental want list for too long.

The tape, from 2005, that you’re seeing here wasn’t the biggest rediscovery, but it’s certainly one that I’d been searching for for quite awhile, and as such pretty representative of the whole project. When I finally unearthed it, the contents weren’t even marked (something that, I’m sad to say, became quite common for me as the 00s dawned).

While an episode of That 70s Show and part of The Simple Life (The Simple Life, boy, I had forgotten all about that garbage) were captured afterwards, the main purpose of this tape was to grab three episodes of Seinfeld that I found particularly brilliant. This was of course before the DVD releases, when the only way to consistently re-watch these was to tape them via syndication. At the time I was a huge Seinfeld fan, and while the truth is the show hasn’t worn all that well for me now, I do indeed still consider these three episodes to be among my favorites:

“The Bizarro Jerry” (season 8, episode 3), in which Elaine falls in with a group of friends who are the polar opposites of Jerry, George, Kramer and Newman, behavior-wise. I’ll never forget just how clever I found the concept the first time I saw the episode. Oh, and “man hands” stems from this ep, too.

“The Merv Griffin Show” (season 9, episode 6), in which Kramer finds the discarded set from the aforementioned show in a dumpster and recreates the program in his apartment. It’s a little surreal, and while the occasional surrealism of the later seasons of Seinfeld have been criticized (even by myself at one point), it’s an aspect that, ironically, holds up better for me now.

“The Frogger” (season 9, episode 18), in which George buys and attempts to keep his high score preserved on an old Frogger coin-op. This one, besides having the usage of a vintage arcade machine as a natural source of interest for yours truly, was one of the first (and only) episodes I saw first run. In the hype surrounding the series finale, I briefly started watching new episodes on NBC, though I didn’t stick with it. Despite the heartbreaking image of a Frogger machine smashed to bits at the episode’s conclusion, there’s still some real nostalgia at play here.

Obviously the tape is pretty worthless now that the uncut, squeaky clean DVDs are readily available, but at the time, this was as good as I could have hoped for. And dig this, there’s a Pizza Pan commercial during “The Frogger” episode, too! Look, it’s all comin’ together, just like an episode of Seinfeld!

(I’ve managed to relocate nearly all of the tapes I’d been searching for, albeit at the expense of a beater VCR that actually held up for far longer than it should have considering what I put it through. The last hold out? Years ago, I had five tapes loaded with Nick Arcade episodes. I have #1, #3, #4 and #5, but as of this writing, #2 is still MIA. I would have marked that one, so where could it be? It’s drivin’ me ‘nanners, man!)

Hey, did y’all know I was an artist? NO?! Well, that’s understandable, since I’m really not. Not professionally, I mean. I’d like to think that the image to your left here was my only real flirtation with surrealism or existentialism or some artsy fartsy term like that, though.

Here’s the story: during my senior year of high school, my art class was split in two groups. There was photography, and then there was whatever I was in (I honestly don’t remember). The photography part took up most of the teacher’s focus, so me and the two or three others in our group were largely left to our own devices. Oh, the teacher would give us assignments and we’d do them, but since her attention was focused on photography, we got to screw around way more than we would have otherwise. No joke, I once made a makeshift TMNT action figure in a kiln, because some things stay with you for life.

Anyway, one time, I can’t remember if there was a bowl of pretzels set out for us or if someone just brought pretzels as a snack, but I got the idea to dip one in epoxy or something and wing it at a piece of my art paper. The result survives to this day and is what you’re seeing now. I call it “Discarded Pretzel,” and it represents isolation or something. It looks like it’s been spit out, okay? I can’t decide if the pretzel itself is more or less toxic than the Worcestershire Sauce I wrote about several months ago in this article.

We’re nearing the end of our journey here, which is good, because my enthusiasm is fading fast. Still, I find this artifact pretty funny. I don’t know when it’s from, but it’s the result of my brother and I being needlessly destructive.

You know those dollar store G.I. Joe knock-off figures that have been produced forever, right to this very day? Well, at one point my brother and I decided it’d be a good idea to melt a toy roulette wheel into the torso of one. You can ask me why, but I have no good excuses.

Honestly, it’s something so pointless and stupid, I can’t help but love it. I kinda regret ‘modifying’ the wheel (which I think hails from the same general era as those fake Batman things waaaay up above), but considering our clumsy melting skills, it’s amazing that the wheel is not only still functional, but so are the hapless soldier’s appendages. Even his head still turns!

Remember those little I.D. cards on the back of G.I. Joe packages, detailing the attributes of whatever specific figure you bought? I can’t help but wonder how this guy’s would read (even though he’s not a G.I. Joe). I mean, could his specialized skill be any more useless? The dumb wheel doesn’t even work right unless he’s laying down! (We call that gravity, gang.) What, is he hoping to tap into the compulsive gambling habits of Cobra?

The questions are endless; this dude’s a total enigma. I deem him “Wheelhouse,” because that sounds like a G.I. Joe-ish moniker. Oh, and he has to originally hail from either Vegas or Atlantic City, I haven’t decided which yet.

During my digging, I turned up not one, not two, but three old Mystery Science Theater 3000 merchandise order forms! Cool winnins!

I had written the show and sent in some of my artwork back in, probably, late 1997, and that was enough for them to add me to the “Info Club.” Thanks, MST3K! Man, I loved getting these things in the mail; new MST3K merch to buy – too cool! Well, having even less money then than I do now (which is really saying something), most of it was just for me to gawk at, though I did order tapes fairly frequently from them. This is also where my “Bot Building Booklet” and some kind of MST3K-emblazoned folder loaded with stuff came from, but usually, it was all about the VHS.

Do I wish I had taken even more advantage of the wares they offered? Well, of course. Still, I can’t complain about what I did get, and I’m certainly glad to have a decent number of these old order forms survive in my collection. As far as I know, the Info Club is no more, but at least we MSTies have artifacts such as these to remind us. (As well as the on-screen graphic that remains in old episodes.)

And last but certainly not least, we have this dandy little item. Dig this: it’s a State Road Shopping Center coupon booklet, from 2006! Mega cool winnins!

One of the most popular articles on this blog is this oldie, in which I detailed, in photographic form, some of the establishments that had once made up the shopping center. It’s kind of a wash, since it’s an earlier effort and I don’t think it’s particularly well-written, but meh, it is what it is.

Anyway, this booklet was good throughout May 2006 (14 years ago as of this writing!), and I imagine it was a last ditch effort to improve business and stave off the eventual demolishing that ultimately took away the old center and made way for the one that stands today. Or maybe they just though it’d be a nice gesture, I dunno. But look, it was free!

I myself didn’t actually find this; rather, mom came across not one but two of them during her own personal cleaning project. (See, it’s not just me; there hasn’t been much anyone can do around here lately!) She actually asked me if I wanted them! Uh, yeah ma, I do! Mom knows what kind of stuff I collect, so I appreciate her saving these for me. Thanks again, ma!

Not every place in the strip was represented in the booklet, and that unfortunately means no special deals for North Gate Lanes (though I can’t remember for sure now; they may have been gone by ’06). Still, the coupons for Arby’s (still there), Pro-Tec Electronics (relocated), Goodwill (relocated), Fishland Pets (gone, I think?) and Longhitano’s Restaurant (still around in Kent), among a few others, make this an essential piece of local (and I do mean really local) memorabilia for yours truly!


And with that, our little trip down (my) memory lane comes to a close. This was a fun article to write, mostly because it was mainly for me. As I said over 8000 (yes, really!) words ago, much of this is probably only important to me. But like I also said way back at the beginning, hey, it’s a bit of a peak into what makes me, me. Not a big one, but one nevertheless.

If nothing else, hopefully it gave you something to do, provided you’re under the same stay-at-home orders as I currently am. I want everyone to be safe and healthy and to do their part to keep others safe and healthy, but man, I’m ready for this to be over. I never expected to live through something like this pandemic, and I sure hope I never have to live through something like it again.

Stay safe, everybody!

Oh, but before I go…

There, that’s better! Seriously, Dick Tracy without the yellow raincoat, man, it just ain’t right!

A Brief Look at Christmas 1997

I’m working on a big huge end-of-year post, so this won’t be a long one. Even though it’s now the day after Christmas (Boxing Day for some of yous), two events occurred recently that made me think “hey, I can get a post out of this!” 1) I was digging through old family photos, admittedly with the purpose of an update in mind, and of which I had several prospects up for consideration. Of course I didn’t find the pic I had set out for, but this one here actually works better. 2) My brother went and picked himself up a brand new Nintendo Switch earlier today, and as he hooked it up for the first time, I was reminded of the same sort of feelings from Christmas 20 years ago. I had waffled back and forth on doing this post beforehand, and had finally decided to can it, but that event earlier today changed my mind.

And so here we are, with an absolute blast from my childhood’s past. Behold!

First off, that’s not quite everything received that day. The stuff to the left, with the exception of the TV, was mine. Everything to the right, which in actuality was in the middle of the floor, was “share.” (The TV was share as well.) I cropped out everything beyond, because those were my brother’s gifts and consequently I had little to say about them. He got a bunch of Beast Wars stuff, okay?

Why even bother with this post? Well, it felt a little strange not getting a ‘proper’ Christmas article up this year, but more importantly, I’m forever nostalgic and Christmas 1997 was one of the biggies for me personally. When I found this old photograph the other night, well, it fired the memory machine up – the very purpose of old photographs, I suppose.

While digging, I also found some pictures from Christmas 1998 and beyond, and there were some other good memories attached, to the point that I set a bunch aside and thought about giving each one a spotlight, but meh, I’ll just stick with this.

Here’s “my stuff.” Yes, I know it’s a little blurry; look, digital cameras wouldn’t be on our radar yet for a few more years. Plus, I obviously did some cropping.

So what are you seeing here? Starting from bottom-left, you’ll note that I too fell victim to the Giga Pet/Tamagotchi craze of the late-1990s. Yes, I got my very own Giga Pet! For those “not in the know” (do people still use that phrase?), these were little devices with an LCD screen that presented an animal of some sort. You were charged with taking care of said animal, with feedings and walks and so on and so forth. If you didn’t properly maintain your pet, it would up and die on you. No kidding, these things might seem pretty quaint today, but they were a big fad at the time. I don’t think I ever used mine much, and as such, my Giga Pet was probably constantly dead.

I’ve got no idea what the thing behind the Giga Pet is. I *think* it might have been a Tamagotchi carrying case of some sort. Don’t quote me on that, though.

Ah, but behind that are three VHS tapes that I still own to this day. From front-to-back, I received Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster, Godzilla vs. Megalon, and Creature From the Black Lagoon. As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I was very much into old horror and sci-fi films at the time (still am, too), and while it’s hard to fathom today, there was a time when a lot of these eventual-standards were still new and unknown to me, as these three movies were. I was (am) a big, big Godzilla fan, devouring any new old entry I could, so Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster and Godzilla vs. Megalon, I just loved it. And Creature From the Black Lagoon? You just can’t fault that flick! Like Godzilla, it was so great seeing new old Universal monster movies; I couldn’t get enough of ’em! (I know you can’t see Creature‘s cover, but trust me, that’s what it is.)

Next, I’m not sure what exactly the big Star Wars thing is, but look closely at what’s sitting in front of it: The Special Edition trilogy VHS boxset! Okay, even back then I wasn’t big on George Lucas tampering with the original films, but that did get them back in theaters, allowing me to see A New Hope on the big screen. So altered or not, that was cool. And besides, while in retrospect the Special Editions were the first indication that the Star Wars series could do wrong, the massive hype surrounding them in those pre-prequel days was certainly a lot of fun to live through. An extreme late-1990s throwback? Sure, but nostalgia can go a long way towards overlooking whatever problems a property may have had, and that’s the mindset I’m going with there.

Beside the Star Wars stuff: A pewter Superman statue, honoring the cover of the first issue of Superman proper. Next to that, a big two-in-one book, featuring the complete Frankenstein and Dracula novels back-to-back. I was (and am) an avid reader, and I did indeed read the Frankenstein portion, though I  never did much with ol’ Drac.

Finally, on the floor: I’ve loved praying mantis’ for years, so there’s some kind of wooden mantis kit there. Also, an Archie book of some sort. More importantly though, and I know you can barely see it, is what’s beneath both of those things: It’s the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Amazing Colossal Episode Guide! I was a massive MSTie even then, but having discovered the show on the Sci-Fi Channel, the Comedy Central years were almost entirely a blank slate to me, save for the few VHS releases out there. The episode guide did much to fill me in. Not only was in ridiculously informative, but it was also (of course) very, very funny. I loved learning about the different MST’d movies featured on the show over the years, some of which I had seen unMST’d and some of which I would specifically check out later. It’s wild to realize that at that time there were only a few episodes released officially on VHS, and now we’ve gotten very nearly the entire series!

So, that was “my stuff,” which means we’ve come to the “share pile…”

Look, I’ve got severe memories tied to all of this, but man, this is where the nostalgia goes into hyper drive.

In the very back was one of those tabletop pinball machines, this one for Donkey Kong Country. Neat, but impossible to not be overshadowed by what’s right in front of it: A brand new Nintendo 64 console! I don’t even remember asking for a ‘next gen’ system, but man, N64 was just such a leap forward compared to the 16-bit era I had been stuck in. In fact, in the very front of this pile is a brand new Super Nintendo power supply (the old one had bit the dust) and Super Star Wars, which, 1997 or not, was and is timeless. But really, it was all about the N64 here.

Obviously a spare controller is present, and behind Super Star Wars is Super Mario 64 – I may not be able to find the words to properly describe Super Mario 64. The game was just so unbelievably great! The hours my brother and I spent on that during Christmas break and beyond, I’m not sure I want to know. There was so much to see and do in the game, and aside from a sometimes-wonky camera (hey, this was basically uncharted territory), it played fantastic. Heck, I think it still plays fantastic! Indeed, Super Mario 64 would absolutely find its way into my top ten favorite games list, should I ever be required to make one.

Even though the N64 would lose that respective console war, and there are any number of complaints gamers can (and will) lobby against it, you won’t find me among their ranks. Simply put, very rarely have I been blown away by gaming the way I was that Christmas 20 years ago, taking that first true plunge into the 32/64-bit era. The original PlayStation may have been better, but for as much as I love it, I could never love it more than the Nintendo 64.

(Oh, that Daewoo TV seen to the far left in the first picture up above? That was for the N64, so we could have our own TV to play it on without tying up the main one in the living room.)

So anyway, as my brother hooked up the Nintendo Switch earlier today and we played Super Mario Odyssey, to me the whole event recalled our first experience with Super Mario 64 (the similar controls didn’t hurt, either). As I said, that was the final thing that spurred me into writing this post. I wasn’t trying to break any new ground here, just trying to share some personal memories of one of my favorite Christmases. And 1997 was absolutely near the top for yours truly.

I hope everyone had a great Christmas yesterday. I’ll see you again before the year is out!

R.I.P. Johnny Winter (1944-2014)

Well, this just sucks. Yesterday, blues-rock legend Johnny Winter passed away. I simply couldn’t believe the news when I hopped onto Facebook today, but sadly, it’s true. The news hit me with a total thud, and needless to say, I’m bummed.

I had the great fortune to meet Johnny this past November at Time Traveler Records in Cuyahoga Falls, and he couldn’t have been a nicer guy. Completely personable and giving of his time. Believe it or not, he had a concert to perform after the appearance, but even with that deadline, he took pictures with everyone that wanted one, and signed whatever people had. Such a cool guy. Even though it was months ago, it seems like I was just talking to him. Obviously I didn’t know him personally, I still feel a real sense of loss, as I’m sure so many other music lovers do as well right now.

R.I.P. Johnny, and thanks for all the great music.

Christmas & New Year’s with The Ghoul, Son of Ghoul and Big Chuck & Lil’ John (1998/1999)

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There it is. Not the most-heralded of my many late-90’s/early-2000’s tapes, but certainly one of the more-heralded ones. Please ignore my sloppy, 12-year old handwriting (I’ve kinda sorta improved in that area), and while we’re at it, please ignore The Avenger (a 1961 Steve Reeves film) and the vague “TV Land Programs” descriptive line; those recordings are not conducive to our ultimate goal today (indeed, the TV Land stuff was recorded later, in the summer of ’99). Nope, we’re focusing on the ‘big three’ of Northeast Ohio horror hosts today, all on one powerhouse of a tape, all recorded during or around the holiday season of 1998/99, and all part of some serious nostalgia for me.

1997-1999 was probably the time period most responsible for making me, well, me. Not completely, of course; I continued to refine my goofy self (whatever that means) in the years following, but there’s little doubt that some of the things I’m a still a huge, huge fan of first took hold of me in the era this tape hails from. I had discovered Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Son Of Ghoul in ’97, The Ghoul came back to Cleveland TV in ’98, and despite first watching them in ’96, I really started to appreciate Big Chuck & Lil’ John around ’99. Except for the absence of MST3K and the now-head scratching inclusion of The Avenger, the tape seen above is really a pretty great description of your Northeast Ohio Video Hunter’s interests in the late-90’s. Even the old TV Land programming is a sight-for-sore-eyes.

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The lead-off recording was The Ghoul’s first Christmas special of his WBNX TV-55 run. It’s also one of the earliest episodes I have from those WBNX years. I recorded the first couple episodes (which I still have), and a few select later ones (which I don’t), but as it stands, this is one of the earliest to survive. In lieu of any other opening credits or theme music, the specialized “Ghoul’s Christmas Special” title makes it clear that this is a ‘big deal’ in the Ghoul Power world. Also a big deal: according to a quick internet calendar search, this aired on Christmas ’98, a Friday, which was obviously December 25th (at the very tail-end of the day, 11:30 PM, but hey, it counts).

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The Ghoul loved the Christmas season and would go all out to celebrate it, including the special Christmas-themed border and groups of kids in attendance, as seen above. It’s clear he loved the holiday season, and the next year, he would even have, roughly, a month-long celebration, running the 1935 Scrooge as well as Santa Claus In Mother Goose Land (which was actually The Magic Land Of Mother Goose and was, if I recall correctly, only vaguely Christmassy) in addition to the film that was also shown that first year…

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It’s the 1959 Mexican film Santa Claus. A the time, I was only familiar with this movie via what was printed in the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Amazing Colossal Episode Guide, and since it wasn’t listed in Leonard Maltin’s guide nor had I discovered IMDb yet, I had no idea what year it was even released in, which is why, if you scroll back up, you’ll see I have only “Mexican” listed in brackets next to the title on the tape sleeve. I wouldn’t have known even that if the opening credits didn’t mention Mexico.

The Ghoul loved running this movie during Christmastime, and I have four separate Christmas airings of it: this first one from 1998, plus 1999, 2000 and 2001. And for all I know, he ran it again and again during the rest of his WBNX run.

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Truth be told though, I’ve never much cared for the movie. If it weren’t for the fact that it was then a (to me) obscure foreign film, and one that had been MST’d at that, I’m not sure it would have survived all these years, let alone the three other airings I have. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I have all of them, the more Ghoul the better, but I’m not as enamored of this flick as others are. In fact, for a movie that’s gained a pretty impressive cult following, I really can’t stand it at all. Oh, I should love it for the incredible weirdness it presents (Santa battling the forces of evil, wind-up mechanical reindeer, Merlin, and a bizarre pair of moving red lips that are the very definition of “terrifying”), but I don’t know, it’s a movie that has always left me cold.

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Not so with the second recording on the tape, which would have aired on Saturday, December 26th. It’s Son of Ghoul’s Christmas special! At the time, SOG was on both Friday and Saturdays, 8-10 PM, so an identical episode would have been aired the day before on Christmas Day as well. It’s interesting that both The Ghoul’s and Son of Ghoul’s shows were/are so different, yet they both really went the extra mile for Christmas.

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Oooh, I’m diggin’ that swanky green border! Unlike usual episodes, SOG read the mail on the main dungeon set, as seen in that left screencap. On the right, the screencap comes from the very close of the show. As you can see, they even had a guy in a reindeer costume, and fake reindeer poop on the floor to go with him/it! Tis the season?

SOG’s annual Christmas show has become one of my favorite ‘extra’ parts of the season. Nowadays he’s only on Saturdays, and every weekend before Christmas, there’s a yearly show dedicated to the holiday. More than once (twice, to be exact, including this year), stuff I’ve sent in has been presented on the Christmas show, and it’s always a nice addition to my holiday season. I was regularly writing SOG by 1998, but nothing of mine was presented during his ’98 special. Considering I never really had anything particularly interesting and/or important to say back then, that was probably for the best.

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It hasn’t been shown for a few years, but Santa Claus Conquers The Martians (see, I told you my UAV tape wasn’t the last you’d see of it this holiday season!) was once a yearly tradition, not unlike SOG’s running of Night Of The Living Dead every Halloween. I like this movie waaaay more than Santa Claus. It’s weird, it’s goofy, it’s idiotic, but all in a good way. Some may argue that the other movie was all of that and more, but the fact remains that Santa Claus Conquers The Martians is my preferred bad movie for the Christmas season. Even the MST3K version was, in my opinion, superior to their take on Santa Claus.

Speaking of the MST3K version, when they riffed the film, their print didn’t include the title card as seen above. Apparently, because of that, many people were unaware that the film circulated/circulates with a title card. which was odd to me, because by the time I saw the MST3K episode, every print of Santa Claus Conquers The Martians I had seen up to that point had a title as you’d expect.

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I first saw this movie when SOG ran it during the Christmas season of 1997, and then right after, I got my copy of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Amazing Colossal Episode Guide for Christmas 1997, and learned they did the film, too. It’s a pretty weird movie, clearly aimed at the lil’ baby childrens, in which martians kidnap Santa in order liven the martian children up. It includes Pia Zadora (who, contrary to my UAV tape’s description, is not especially precocious – yes, I’m still irritated by that line), and a guy that looks a lot like Jamie Farr but isn’t Jamie Farr (much to my chagrin).

That left screencap above is either the embodiment of the Christmas season, or a truly nightmarish visage, I can’t decide. Maybe it’s both.

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At one point, SOG superimposed himself into the movie, and tried to light Santa’s pipe. I thought that was pretty funny.

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The last (applicable) recording on the tape is the New Years portion referred to in the title. It didn’t air on New Year’s Eve or Day, nearest I can figure is it was broadcast in the first half of January, but nevertheless, this episode of Big Chuck & Lil’ John’s Couch Potato Theater has some pretty strong memories attached to it (not the least of which is the image above, well familiar to me from so many Saturday afternoons).

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Ah, Big Chuck & Lil’ John on their old King Kong set. It was the same set as their usual Friday night Big Chuck & Lil’ John Show, except Couch Potato Theater was always broadcast Saturday afternoon and was called, you know, Couch Potato Theater. Couch Potato Theater was a bit of a wild-card: sometimes a full-length movie would be shown, other times old Three Stooges shorts or episodes of The Abbott And Costello Show, even skits-only if time was an issue (similar to what the revived Big Chuck & Lil’ John Show is now). In this case, though, old silent short comedies were the day’s subject.

My recording of this almost didn’t happen. At the time, I was a big, big fan of silent comedy films (still am, actually, though not quite as fervent), and trying to catch and tape some of them when they were run as unscheduled-between-programming-filler on WAOH/WAX was a common thing with me. Somehow, though, I missed the TV Guide listing for this episode of Couch Potato Theater, in which several old silent comedies were run over the course of the afternoon. To make matters worse, we had to leave soon because my brother had a basketball game. So, I grabbed the only available tape, cued it up after The Avenger, and hit record. Better than nothing, right?

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I began taping in the middle of some Keystone film, the title of which I no longer remember, but was able to capture the entire last subject of the day: Charlie Chaplin’s The Champion, a 1915 Essanay film, which was from the period when Chaplin’s movies started to get really good. From how I understand it, this particular short has been the subject of much editing and whatnot over the years, but the version Big Chuck & LIl’ John ran was the Blackhawk Films print, apparently one of the better ones. Certainly lengthier, if nothing else.

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The Champion, as the name and screenshots kinda sorta show, detail Chaplin’s Little Tramp character becoming a boxer. The subject of boxing is one I’ve always liked (having grown up on the Rocky movies), and the addition of an English Bulldog is always a plus, so yeah, I like this short. I’m sure I have many of them on cheap, public domain DVDs, but I’m not as familiar with Chaplin’s Essanay films as I am with his Mutual work, which I consider my favorite of his.

At the time, I was just then starting to appreciate Big Chuck & Lil’ John, something that would be more fully-realized when I began watching The Abbott And Costello Show on their Saturday afternoon program. Still, I recall having made a habit of at least checking the listing for their Friday night show, so I’m not sure how I missed the listing for these old silents. I can’t remember if I discovered the broadcast while flipping channels or if I came across it that day in TV Guide, but either way, I came in when most of it was over. It was one of those feelings, unfortunately well-familiar to me as a heavy-taper by then, of “Oh man, I’m missing this!” Of course, the follow-up “Well, at least I got some of it” took a bit of the sting away.

(If you go way back to the top and look at the tape’s label, you’ll see that the listing for this is off to the side and not where it should be, right after The Avenger. That’s because, for years, this broadcast was unlisted on the tape. I don’t know if it was due to the haphazard nature of the recording or what, but for whatever reason, I never labeled it properly. Oh sure, I took the time to label “TV Land Programs” later that summer, but Chuck & John got shorted on that front. It wasn’t until 2011 when I was making a concerted effort to label a lot of my tapes that had suffered in obscurity for years that this was duly notarized. It took a bit of searching, I could only remember it was on a tape with a purple Sony tape, but finally I found it, labeled it, and it is now given the proper respect it so deserves.)

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There’s just under an hour of Chuck & John action on the tape, but even so, several skits were captured. My favorite of them (tied with “The Lil’ Flash,” at least) was Cuyahoga Jones, their Indiana Jones parody. This was the first time I had ever seen one of these skits, which were part of a continuing storyline in which Cuyahoga tries to steal the “Kapusta Diamond.” Big Chuck played Cuyahoga, and Lil’ John played Shortstuff. In this one, they tried to earn $20 in order to buy supplies to help them carry the safe containing the diamond out of the castle. Pretty funny stuff!

Believe it or not, there’s a lot of memories tied into this tape, more than I could ever hope to accurately describe in print. The video itself, yeah, I fondly recall all of this stuff from that winter season, but it also brings to mind that general period in my life. All of the things/shows/etc. I was and am into, sure, but also other memories, like going to the mall with my Mom for Christmas shopping, come to mind when thinking of the era this tape comes from. As much as I love the actual recordings, I think those memories are even more important to me. Maybe I’m doing a sloppy job of getting across what I’m trying to say, but hopefully you know what I’m getting at. I’m sure you can all relate in one way or another.

And so, with that, this Christmas post nears an end. I sincerely hope all of you have a fantastic Christmas and New Years. Thank you to all that have taken the time to read this blog, and in some cases, even pass the link around. Have a wonderful holiday season and be safe in the new year.

Stay tuned, more goofy stuff to come!

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State Road Shopping Center Memories

The shopping center on State Road in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.

The (former) shopping center on State Road in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.

Alright, I’m going to diverge a bit from the sort of things I usually cover. As many of you know by now, I take a big interest in broadcasting from anywhere in the U.S., but at the heart of this blog is an appreciation for Northeast Ohio. For obvious reasons, this usually takes the form anything related to NE Ohio television. As you might guess, that’s the area I have the most fondness for, the M.O. of my whole hobby, you could say. However, that doesn’t mean I automatically dismiss anything that wasn’t shown on TV. Of course not. Like most people, I have nostalgic memories of my hometown, of places that are no longer there or no longer the same as they once were.

That almost-long-winded intro is my way of saying that lately I’ve been nostalgic for the now-demolished shopping center on State Road in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. It’s only been gone a few years, but it feels like much longer. Probably because for the longest time, “hitting up the strip,” as I and probably I alone called it, was a weekly (and sometimes more) occurrence. It actually went beyond just the shopping center, as there were plenty of other places on State Road itself I liked to check out regularly. Most of those places are still standing, but the shopping center as seen in this post is looong gone.

A view from the car: a closer look at the deserted shopping center.

A closer look at the deserted shopping center. Also, notice the image in the rear-view mirror. I’m such a pro!

All of the pictures in this post were taken by me on March 24, 2009. In the grand scheme of things, the entire center would be demolished relatively soon after, but technically, everything was still standing until, I believe, August. You’ll notice a bluish tint to all of these shots; like a dope, I didn’t roll down the car window to take the pics. There are two possible explanations for this: 1) it was fairly cold that day, or 2) my brother and I were in his Firebird, an exceptionally cool car, except the passenger-side window liked to go down but not up. In retrospect, I probably could have put up with the cold, but spending half a day trying to get the window to roll up? “Nah brah!”

The first few former shops on the strip. Notice my highly skilled use of alliteration just now!

The first few former shops on the strip. Notice my highly skilled use of alliteration just now!

I don’t remember the exact order of every shop in the center, but I do know that these three were the first ones on the strip, provided you were going right-to-left, which I almost always did. The store on the furthest right was a restaurant I never went in, and the one next to it was a discount book shop I also never went in, though I now wish I would have visited both at some point. However, I did go into the VCR & TV Repair shop once. Not only did they do repairs, but they also had old electronics for sale. This was waaay before I had established this whole “buying old used blank videotapes” hobby, but even then, I wanted one of the Betamax recorders that was for sale there. Of course, this was long before I had any kind of regular income, so whatever amount of money I had, it probably wouldn’t have been enough for anything. I do know ths repair shop relocated, and since I now have two fairly-nice-but-not-currently-working Betamax VCRs, maybe it’s time to give them a call.

These last remnants of Goodwill stayed up until the very end.

These last remnants of Goodwill stayed up until the very end.

You wouldn’t know it from the picture, but this is Goodwill. Those Halloween pictures went up the last season they were there, and stayed up until the end. Or, at least they were up every time I went by. Of all the places in the shopping center, I probably wound up checking out Goodwill most. 30 cent vinyl records, $1.00 videotapes, and ancient clothes no one would be caught dead wearing? Now you’re speaking my language! Actually, while this Goodwill had a good selection, since they’ve relocated this store elsewhere on State Road, I’ve had even better finds.

Notice the forlorn trashcan, alone and abandoned. Never again will it happily collect trash or be the surrogate fire hydrant of passing dogs.

Poor forlorn trashcan, alone and abandoned. Never again will it collect trash. Never again will it play surrogate fire hydrant to passing dogs. Perhaps there’s a metaphor somewhere in this scene. Or maybe I’m just filling space.

I never went into Accent Ability. Aside from the declaration of furniture on the window, I have no idea what they sold. Google says antiques, and Google has rarely, if ever, lied to me. I’m sure it was a fine store. If they relocated, I’m sure that’s a fine store, too. it’s just that, frankly, there’s not much I can really say about Accent Ability. If they’ve relocated, please patronize them.

Best Cuts was/is kind of like Great Clips, in that both specialize in cutting you hair. However, there's a notable difference in the names of both places.

Best Cuts is not the same as Great Clips. I’m not sure why I have this self-imposed rule to have a caption for every picture, because I clearly don’t always have anything important to say.

Well now! I certainly do remember visiting this Best Cuts more than once! In my younger days, Mom would take my brother and I there for our regular haircuts! A lady that cut our hair in a way acceptable to Mom’s high hair standards worked there. Eventually she left to work at some other “hair place.” While I’m sure we continued to go to this location for a while afterwards, I seem to recall our visits to this particular Best Cuts dropped off substantially following her departure. Mom always took our hair seriously, which was why in grade school, while all the other boys had shaved heads, my hair looked positively Sam Malone-ish. In retrospect, I’m actually pretty grateful for that.

Watch out for pedestrians!

Watch out for pedestrians!

I’m not sure what this is a shot of. I think it’s the start of Save-A-Lot. There’s not much I can say about it, except it looks exceptionally desolate. But, since the whole place is gone now, I might as well use every pic I can. Actually, I kinda like this shot. Very evocative of…something. Maybe?

I take solace in the fact that it's highly doubtful anyone's reading these captions anymore.

I take solace in the fact that it’s highly doubtful anyone’s reading these captions anymore.

This I know was the former location of Save-A-Lot, however. As far as our area goes, I think this was one of their earlier locations. While this store obviously closed, the other two listed on that sign seen in the pic are still around. I was never much of a grocery shopper, but believe it or not, I did go in there from time to time. Y’see, back then, they sold $1 VHS tapes, and while there was a lot of crap that no one in their right mind would buy, they also seemed to get, I don’t know, close-out lots, I guess? What I’m trying to say is that there were occasionally some really good tapes, sealed and new, for the low, low price of a buck! Several episodes of Magnum, P.I. were once released as standalone VHS tapes, and a couple found there way to this Save-A-Lot. You can bet I snapped those up right quick. Other neat finds included an episode of the Back To The Future cartoon series, an episode of Kid ‘N Play’s cartoon, and even some ancient PC games that probably wouldn’t run on any reasonably current computer then and would actually be laughed at by our super-smart PCs now. In other words, really old games (naturally, I bought one).

Is it just me or is the window seen on the far-left pretty trippy lookin'?

Is it just me or is the window seen on the far-left pretty trippy lookin’?

Falls Bootlegger was on “the strip” for years, but they’ve since moved practically around the corner and down the street from the former shopping center.

I don’t have a picture of the former-location, but Fishland Pets was also a regular stop for me. I loved the place; very reasonable prices and a really great selection of animals. A big, huge, long-lived cane toad (appropriately named “Beef”) came from there, as did a did a little bullfrog and a firebelly toad. The shop also had a big pool right up front under the window where a turtle named “Big Mama” lived, and once in awhile there would be kittens for sale (practically free, actually: you could get a kitten of your choice with the purchase of any cat-specific item).

America's driving to Firestone, just not this one anymore.

America’s driving to Firestone, just not this one anymore.

This now-former Firestone store closed out the first-half of the shopping center. If you think I had little to say about Accent Ability, I have even less to say about Firestone. I mean, it’s Firestone, there are a bunch of them. Really, without any other experience with the place, what can I say? I like cars, but I’m not exactly a “car guy.” However, I’m glad I grabbed this pic, because it makes a nice seque into the 2nd half of the center, where some of my fondest memories lie.

Can't go this way uh-uh no way!

Can’t go this way uh-uh no way!

Unfortunately, the 2nd half was roped off, barring me from any kind of halfway decent picture, unless we wanted to run through the barricade (hint: we didn’t). We’ll have to make do with pics I took from the road…

Does this shot remind anyone else of the intro to Hill Streets Blues? No? I'm the only one? Okay.

Does this shot remind anyone else of the intro to Hill Street Blues? No? I’m the only one? Okay.

As this was taken from the road, I’m reasonably sure this shot is from the roped-off half of the center. Why take it from the road otherwise? If it’s not, pretend it is, okay? Either way, it was in the second half that the old North Gate Bowling Lanes was located. I remember long ago, when I was only a few years old, my Dad taking me there. You had to walk down a flight or two of steps to get to the actual alley, and I recall that at the time there were pink elephants painted on the walls, which I, as a young fella, loved.

Many years later (it had to have been about 2005), my brother and I did our usual run of the center, and decided to check out North Gate. The elephants were gone, but the alley was still there. We didn’t bowl, but we did ask about prices, stopped and played a quick game of Ms. Pac-Man (NEO Video Hunter hot tip: Ms. Pac-Man is always best in bowling alleys. Trust me), and decided to come back when we had more money and time. Well, a little while later, we did just that, except North Gate wasn’t open. There was a paper schedule taped to the door, listing new times that weren’t all that accessible to us. The next time we went by, the place was closed entirely. Of all the places in the shopping center, North Gate is the one I wish I would have spent more time at. I love bowling (even if in reality I’m pretty awful at it) and North Gate seemed like exactly the kind of non-showy hometown place I would have wanted to hang out at. I’ll always regret not being able to bowl at least one game there or taking some pictures of the place before it closed. At least we stopped in there that one time for one last look, even if we didn’t realize it was a last look.

Also, I wonder what happened to that Ms. Pac-Man machine?

This is the end, my State Road friend...

Despite the assurances of the sign, I highly doubt the key stand was, at that moment, “open.”

We’re just about done with our run-through of the State Road shopping center. Even more memories of the final few stores. Near the end of the strip, there was a D&K discount store. My Mom used to take my brother and I there, and I remember in the summer of either 1997 or 1998 (maybe even both) us going in there. D&K had a bunch of closeout items at bargain basement prices. Lots of cheaply made toys and VHS tapes of public domain cartoons that were manufactured in who-knows-where were the things that interested me most then. I remember getting little pocket books of classic novels, very abridged (well, I guess, actually rewritten) and with lots of pictures. I’m not exactly sure why I wanted these books, but I believe I had War Of The Worlds and Moby Dick. I have no idea if they still reside somewhere in my basement or were long ago thrown out.

Also in that second half of the shopping center were two of the longest-lasted stores in the entire place: KB Toys and Dollar General. We’d stop into Dollar General every once in awhile (they have since relocated further down on State Road), but KB Toys was where we spent more time. In the late-90’s, my brother was a Pokemon addict, and that’s where they held these Pokemon “Clubs,” which was basically where people could trade cards, play each other, and if I recall correctly, some official ‘trainer’ would give out badges and whatnot for some achievement of dubious importance. I never really go into all that, at least not for an extended amount of time, but I did like going with my brother to these meetings, since I could play the latest video games that were on display. This was where I was introduced to Sega Dreamcast, and at the time, Crazy Taxi was just about the funnest thing ever. Later, I wound up buying lots of PS1 games there (though by that point they were becoming increasingly downsized), and when I finally got a PS2, I remember this location was where I got Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, on sale, no less.

Also, lots of neat ‘bargain’ toys would sit in bins outside of the store, and some of them were of relatively impressive vintage (think early-90’s figures and whatnot). I never made much use of this bargain bin, though now I wish I would have bought a toy or two out of it.

Not the greatest pic ever taken, but it's the thought that counts, right?

Not the greatest pic ever taken, but it’s the thought that counts, right?

That pretty much ends our look at the now-gone State Road shopping center, but it doesn’t feel right concluding without a shot or two of Montgomery Ward. This place was closed for years, long before the shopping center was torn down. I do remember Mom taking me into it when I was really little. I seem to recall some downstairs lounge that didn’t really have anything for me to eat, but my memory’s hazy on that.

Monty Wards, off in the distance, looming over all...

Monty Wards, off in the distance, looming over all…

There’s Montgomery Ward, in a shot clearly taken from waaay off in the non-roped part of the shopping center. For those wondering, the cars parked in the bacground are for a bank that’s still there today. There are a few places, such as that bank, Burger King and Arby’s, that are up front towards the street and thus were spared the demolition of the rest of the shopping center.

Before ending this post, I have to mention two places that were looong gone before (probably) any thought of tearing the center down ever arose:

First off, Funsville USA, the arcade that was located in the shopping center. it ended up closing in the early-1990’s, but my Dad took me there a few times. Despite only being 5 or 6 years old, I loved the place. I still distinctly recall playing the arcade version of Super Mario Bros. there. Here’s the thing with Funsville: I can’t remember exactly where it was in the shopping center. I have two ideas: one is the bank I was just talking about. I seem to remember “Funsville USA” being written on the building. But, I also remember a Donkey Kong Jr. ad/marquee/whatever in the window of one of the shops in the actual strip. I’m thinking Funsville was where the bank now is, but I could very well be wrong. If I’m not, then what shop had that DK Jr. ad in the window?

Second, The Galleria. I think that was the name of the place, at least. Also, I’m not positive it was in the shopping center, I could be confusing it with a location in the plaza at Chapel Hill. Either way, it was a big antique/second hand shop, and while I only visited a couple of times, I found some really cool things, including an old print ad for The Marx Bros.’ film The Cocoanuts and a vintage 1950’s TV Guide, both of which I still have.

So, that about wraps this whole thing up. Even though a new shopping center of some sort is scheduled to be built where the old one was, as of right now, it’s just a big empty space. Whether the new place inspires the same kind of fond memories I have of the old one remains to be seen. I’m sure it’ll be fine, but somehow I doubt I’ll ever be as nostalgic for it as I am of the dearly-departed shopping center I just spent 400 paragraphs talking about.

One long last look.

One long last look.

Farewell, State Road shopping center. You are missed.