Category Archives: Personal

Weird Collectables, or the Most Awesome Swatch of Wallpaper Ever…

Considering the rant-ish piece I wrote last week about the exclusivity of the upcoming Mondo Monster Squad “Rock Until You Drop” vinyl singles, I thought it would behoove me to switch gears from focusing on that sort of manufactured collectible to a much more organic and meaningful piece that I was privileged to put in my personal collection recently.

A couple of months ago I was surprised with one of the weirdest yet coolest gifts that I’ve ever received, and it touched me so deeply that I actually shed a few tears when I realized what I was holding in my hand.  I had been contacted by a really kind former crew member (Jim Clarke) who had worked on one of my favorite childhood television shows, You Can’t Do That on Television.  Apparently he’d read and dug a couple of the pieces I’d written that surrounded the show here at Branded (a review of the You Can’t Do That On Film documentary and the Slimed book), and had mentioned that he wanted to send me a piece of ephemera for my collection.  A couple of weeks went by and with a ton of crazy things going on behind the scenes of Branded I let this exchange slip from my mind a bit until I received a small envelope in the mail with a Canadian postal return address.

As I carefully opened the package I was trying to guess at what the contents might be.  Mr. Clarke was purposely vague as to what he was sending, and I’m glad he was.  The packaged contained a folded letter on official CTV letterhead and a swatch of blue and green flowered wallpaper.  For a second I was confused, and then it dawned on me that I was holding a very small and very awesome piece of the You Can’t Do That On Television filming set!  This was a piece of wallpaper that adorned the walls of the main family living room set where Les Lye’s Lance Prevert and Abby Hagyard’s Mom character cracked wise with dozens of kid actors during the 80s and early 90s.  I mean, holy crap, if this piece of wallpaper could talk.

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You Can’t Do That On Television was such a huge show for me.  Not only was it the cornerstone show of a network that I watched all the time as a kid and teen, but it was my first real introduction to sketch comedy.  YCDTOTV was my gateway to shows like Monty Python, SCTV, Kids in the Hall and the Upright Citizens Brigade.  That style of comedy is what kept me sane as an overweight, geeky teenager, and I can’t even count how often my mind would drift back to the dozen characters Les Lye played when I was struggling to fit in at school and with friends.  Those characters were the backbone of my inner monologue comedy, and they shaped me as a person to an extent.  So to have a piece, even something as small and insignificant as a piece of wallpaper from that show is almost like having a magic talisman.

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Never in a million years did I ever think I’d own and cherish a small patch of wallpaper, a piece of wallpaper that I’m totally going to frame and hang proudly in Branded HQ.  This just reinforces the idea that maybe, instead of dropping a ton of cash on eBay for nostalgic toys or cool new manufactured collectibles, maybe it’s better to put out as much positive energy out into the void as possible and then let the universe return the favor.  I’m not a super spiritual individual, but I do know that the things that I cherish the most, collection-wise, is stuff that has come my way through connections I’ve made because of writing and podcasting here at Branded in the 80s.  I’ve had the honor to meet (online and in person) some amazingly friendly and talented people that I never would have met had I not started this project, and the gifts, trades and purchases are the things that truly make my heart swell.

I can’t thank Jim Clarke enough for reaching out like he did and helping to keep the flame of You Can’t Do That On Television alive.  Clarke is one of the few people who was forward thinking enough to save some of the sets and props from the show.  In addition to saving some of the wallpaper from the living room set, Clarke also owns the wooden post from the firing squad set, the microphone Les Lye’s announcer character used, and the freaking lockers from the mid-show joke segments!  How cool is that?  You can check out an interview with him here.

What’s the weirdest/coolest piece in your nostalgia collection?

Exclusivity Vs. Fandom, or Why it Sucks to be a Collector These Days

I’ve mentioned this in the past, but it bears repeating, I don’t like being negative here at Branded in the 80s.  First and foremost this site is about celebrating the nostalgia of the 80s and all of the cool stuff that goes along with loving that decade.  But I’m human and just like everyone else there is some stuff that just really grinds my gears.  Typically when there’s something that really gets on my nerves I’ll force my better half to listen to me gripe about it for a few days, then I’ll focus on something positive and just get over it.  But every once in awhile I just want to get all my thoughts out on paper (so to speak) and process the negativity in a slightly more productive manner.  Can I get a decent article or editorial out of it?  Well, let’s see.

This past week one of my favorite movies of all time, the Monster Squad, was suddenly trending in the news due to the announcement that Mondo would be releasing the film’s soundtrack on vinyl this October.  To get people excited for that release the company decided to also release a vinyl single this May featuring the two pop songs from the film, Michael Sembello’s “Rock Until You Drop” and the end credits “Monster Squad Rap”.  Frankly, this is outstanding news as I’ve been dying for the soundtrack and score on vinyl for years.  La-La Land Records had just recently released the Bruce Broughton score on CD (and it sounds amazing), but I was really hoping for a nice piece of artistic vinyl, something that I could put out and display.

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So, considering this awesome news, why am I so bummed?  Well, the Mondo single release is going to be made available in four variant editions, each featuring beautiful sleeve artwork by some really swell artists and different colored vinyl pressings.  The releases include artwork by Gary Pullin, Randy Ortiz, Jason Edmiston, and the folks at Phantom City Creative (the latter two I featured during my Month of the Monster Squad a couple years ago.)  Here’s a look at the four release variants…

Dracula cover with art by Phantom City Creative

Dracula cover with art by Phantom City Creative

Wolfman cover with art by Gary Pullin

Wolfman cover with art by Gary Pullin

Frankenstein cover with art by Jason Edmiston

Frankenstein cover with art by Jason Edmiston

Gillman cover with art by Randy Ortiz

Gillman cover with art by Randy Ortiz

Alright, amazing cover at and super cool colored vinyl, so far so good.  While I’m not crazy about variants and the thought of paying for the same two songs four times, that’s totally something I’m willing to do as a huge fan of the Monster Squad.  So what’s my problem?  Well, two of these variants are going to be exclusives.  Actually technically three of these are exclusives, I just happen to live in an area where one of them will be readily available.  The Gary Pullin Wolfman variant will be exclusively available at Texas Frightmare starting this weekend and the Ortiz Gillman edition will only be available in record stores in the UK in May.  The Edmiston Frankenstein edition is going to be exclusively sold in record stores in the US in May, and the PCC Dracula version will be sold online at the Mondo site also starting in May.  So, for Monster Squad fans like me living outside of Texas in the US the Wolfman and Gillman editions are going to be a bit tricky to get our hands on.

Though record stores in the UK will be offering copies of the Gillman pressing for sale online (for instance Transmission Records and Norman Records), I’ve been hearing that they will be refusing or refunding orders coming in from the US to keep the European exclusivity intact.  This is frankly (excuse my french), frustrating as shit.  On the one hand I applaud the convictions of these record store owners for sticking to their guns, but on the other I just want to give them my money in return for a product they are selling that I really want to buy.  Similarly, with the Pullin variant, from what I understand you have to attend Texas Frightmare in order to get a copy.  So, I live roughly 1,400 miles from Dallas, TX and had pretty much zero chance of making it out to the show this weekend.  If I want to snag a copy of that disc I have to crowd-source my shopping list and hope that I’ve made a contact on one of the social media channels I frequent who might be going to the show.  I also have to hope that they don’t mind standing in line for me, hauling the record around all day, and then taking the time to ship it to me after the show.  I’ve met a bunch of super gracious folks who have done similar “muleing” for me in the past, but I hate asking this of people every time there’s some exclusive I want at a show I just can’t get to.

Exclusivity.  I’ll be honest, the whole concept just baffles and enrages me.  It’s not that I feel a sense of entitlement or that I should be able to get everything that I want.  Trust me, I learned at a very early age that not only do we not typically get what we want, but that it’s probably better for our moral character that we don’t.  If these records were simply limited editions (which they are, on top of being regionally exclusive), and they all sold out in a matter of minutes I could deal with that.  But being denied even the chance at getting them based purely on my geographic location is like kicking a wolfman in the nards when he’s down.

Hell, I’ve even been on the lucky end of this stick int he past having easy access to exclusives (like the Halloween Hot Wheels Ghostbusters Ecto-1 variants at my at-the-time local Kroger grocery stores) and I’ll be honest, it didn’t feel that great.  Being a collector I was acutely aware that there were a ton of people in other states that wanted those exclusives that didn’t have access to them.  I had to make the tough choice one year of either leaving these Hot Wheel toys on the store shelves, or buying them all up and sending them out to friends in other states for cost.  Sure, I got to feel good about making sure collectors that wanted the cars got them at an affordable price, but I also was put in the position of a scalper, keeping other local folks from being able to buy them. It just felt crummy all around.

Bottom line.  I’m a super fan of a cult film who already feels a little marginalized because there isn’t a whole of collectible merchandise available for said film.  I’m already scouring the internet for rare items to celebrate my love for the Monster Squad (from Japanese movie pamphlets to rare publicity photos from the film’s premier.)  So now, on top of that I have to basically be denied access to cool new collectibles, or choose to pay ridiculously inflated prices on eBay for those collectibles from the scalpers that will inevitably flood the market days after the release.  That is the environment that exclusivity breeds.  These records that sell for £12 at the UK shops will be bought up by bottom feeding scalpers that will turn around and sell them for upwards of £40 to £50 on eBay or the Amazon Marketplace.  The sad fact is that this is a trend that I do not see ending anytime soon.  The companies that release these exclusives are getting exactly what they want (which is selling through all of their product in a short window of time), so why would they change to a more fan-friendly model?

What about you, where do you stand on exclusivity?  Is there something awesome about this marketing concept that I’m missing?

35 Years later this Big Wheel is still tearing up the streets…

It’s kind of weird when you think about the difference in experiences between “normal” folks and nostalgia addicts when we stumble upon something that makes us flash back on our youth.  I think there’s a yin and yang to how we perceive nostalgia situations reflect each other like a mirrored image.  For instance, when I find myself out searching through antique stores or flea markets with friends who don’t live with and embrace nostalgia on a daily basis we tend to have completely different reactions when we stumble across items.  Say we happen upon a booth with a bunch of old NES consoles and games.  For me, this is a pretty common thing to see out in the wild and it’s not something that stops me in my tracks or really grabs me when I see it.  I’ve had friends that happen upon a dealer like this and their mind is blown as they’re rocketed back to the fifth grade and memories of all their favorite games start rushing back.  It’s not to say that I have no nostalgia for Nintendo games, just that I live with it enough that it’s not something that wows me.  For me, to really be wowed anymore I usually have to stumble upon something that simply should not exist 30 years after it was released.  So when I find stuff like old cereal boxes, figural shampoo bottles, or toys that weren’t designed to be stored or “collected” (like the infamous MOTU Battle Cat Hopper kid’s riding toy.)

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What’s weird is that I’ve been with friends who look at this stuff and think I’m a little crazy for getting excited about what they basically view as trash.  I mean who saved or wants to buy an old shampoo bottle, even if it looks like Bazooka from G.I. Joe (I slowly raise my hand.)  Who would drop $600 on a broken kid’s hopper toy even if it is a blow mold shaped like Battle Cat (I start to raise my hand, then agree that $600 is way too much – if it were $200 though…)  I guess it’s all in the experience of collecting and how that changes the way someone views thinks as treasure or junk.  As collectors and folks who live and breath nostalgia it’s easy to become desensitized to the wonder that common antiques can have on those who aren’t mired in collecting.

The reason that I’ve been thinking about this is that I had a weird experience while out on my daily run this morning.  As I made my way around the neighborhood I came to a point with a lengthy straightaway where you can see down the street for three or four blocks.  As I got closer to a cross street where I usually hang a right I saw a couple of kid’s big wheels out on a lawn and it occurred to me that, that is something you don’t see very often these days.  There were a number of years from the mid-90s to the just recently when there weren’t any companies producing them anymore in favor of stuff like razor scooters or mini dirt bikes.  I had heard that they were making a comeback though, and figured that they were finally starting to get out there again.  I kind of silently half joked that it would be amazing if one of them was an old school Dukes of Hazzard model since at a distance it looked black and orange much like the one I had when I was a kid…

125189906_0ee1fbc27dWhen I actually made my way up to the toy I ended up gasping and stopping dead in my tracks.  I’m sure I looked like a maniac to anyone who might have been watching, but I cupped my hand to my mouth and just stared at the big wheel for a minute not believing what I was seeing.  Out on the corner of someone’s lawn in the middle of suburbia in 2015 was a 1980 Empire Toys CHiPs big wheel (with awesome bonus Topps Empire Strikes Back stickers on the seat…)

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If I had to guess I’d say that 97% of the population that might be jogging past this big wheel wouldn’t have given it a second glance or even realized that it was a 35 year-old antique that was miraculously still in use.  Maybe another 2% would recognize the CHiPs branding and would probably wonder if it was set out for the trash.  Then there are folks like me who are literally shocked and amazed into stopping dead in their tracks and then are seen awkwardly fumbling for their iPhone so they can snap some pictures of a relic that is literally out in the wild when it clearly should not exist.  I mean think about it.  Most parents don’t have the presence of mind to hang onto old action figures, dolls, or books let alone a toddler’s toy that was most likely heavily used and abused.  To store that away for 30-odd years in the hops that their child would someday have children of their own who could play with it?  I mean c’mon, that just doesn’t happen.  People buy new toys like this, they don’t save them.  And it’s not like the kid at the time had the presence of mind to save a CHiPs big wheel right?  “Hey mom, I hope some day that I also have a kid who loves Erik Estrada as much as I do, so I think we should put this awesome big wheel up in the attic…”

The thing is though, that, that is exactly what happened, or at least one of those scenarios.  After snapping some pictures and posting them on Instagram I went back to my run and tried to image who this person was.  When I made my way back around for the second lap I saw that the CHiPs big wheel was now in use by kid who was out shredding up the pavement, doing doughnuts around his dad who was out walking the dog.  The guy looked like he was about my age and I really wanted to stop and ask him about the history of the toy and how he manged to hang on to it for all these years.  But the more I thought about doing that the more insane it the proposed conversation started to sound in my head.  How would you react to some stranger jogging by excitedly asking about your son’s toys.  Yeah, pretty weird.

Well, I may not have had the opportunity to hear the story behind this CHiPs big wheel, but I’m glad that I stumbled across it this morning and that it got me thinking about how sometimes it can be really weird to be a nostalgia addict…

Transformers & G.I. Joe, finally the shared universe I always dreamed of…

As an 80s nostalgia nerd it’s kind of hard to pick a favorite brand or property from my childhood. There are just way too many fond memories and of the thousands of things that I love from that decade each and every one of them has the power to take me back and give me the warm fuzzies. However, looking back and remembering how I felt at the time, if I had to nail down the stuff that I considered my favorites it would unquestionably be G.I. Joe and the Transformers. Not only was I completely smitten by both toy lines, I was also heavily invested in both cartoon series. Between the ages of 7 to 13 almost every afternoon you could find me in front of the TV after school emersed in the worlds that the Sunbow animation staff created, or in our dining room setting up epic battles with my collection of Hasbro toys.

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Those two universes were practically sacred to me and they felt very interconnected. As I grew older and started digging into the background of the properties it downed on me that there were a lot of reasons for this. I mean the toys were all developed or marketed by Hasbro, the cartoons were both handled by Sunbow/Marvel Animation utilizing the same pool of voice talent, show runners and writers, and much of the periphery merchandise was also handled by the same companies (both comic book series were Marvel for example.) At the time I didn’t realize this and as I sat in rapt attention during the cartoon or when coming up with stories to play out with my toys I always chose to entertwine the universes. The idea of Cobra Commander and his legion of terrorists and Megatron and his armada of Decepticons teaming up to face off against the Optimus Prime and the Autobots and the entire roster of G.I. Joe was always a go-to story for me. Even though I planned out a ton of epic battles in my head there was always a part of me that was bummed out because this crossover universe wasn’t official. It never stopped my from day dreaming about it, but I always felt a tinge of sadness because what I really wanted was to see some actual “official” crossovers and for the most part it never really officially existed until now. There were a handful of teases, specifically in the Sunbow cartoons that stoked the flames of my crossover desires like the time that a character who was for all intents and purposes Cobra Commander popped up in a season three episode of Transformers titled Only Human

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This character was named Old Snake in the episode and is almostly undeniably Cobra Commander as he was voiced by Chris Latta (who provided the voices of Cobra Commander and Starscream on the Sunbow cartoons), was the defunt leader of a one great terrorist orginization and even has the iconic mirrored face plate. But as they never referred to him specifically as Cobra Commander, nor did they evoke Cobra or even feature a Cobra logo insignia, it leaves it up to question enough that it feels way more like an homage to me than an actual crossover. There’s also an episode featuring an older version of the Joe team character Flint (whose real name is Dashiell Faireborn) in that thrid season of Transformers. But again, the connection isn’t explicit. He’s not refferred to as “Flint” and there are no G.I. Joe connections beyond inferring the identity of that character through context clues based on his appearance and the fact that, that character’s daughter’s name is Marissa Faireborn. The closest connection between the universes in the cartoon series is the appearance of a newscaster named Hector Ramirez that pops up in most of the Sunbow series set in modern times (G.I. Joe, Transformers, Jem, and the Inhumanoids.) But as solid a connection as this is, it doesn’t have the panache of seeing Autobots pop up in an episode of G.I. Joe.

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Now, there is a very popular and very explicit connection between the two universes that I’m sure readers are screaming about right now, and that’s the Marvel comics crossover G.I. Joe and the Transformers that was published back in 1987. You know, this is about as clear cut as you can get in terms of universes crossing over, and I’ll agree that it’s cool and groundbreaking, but there are a couple of reasons that I kind of dismiss these comics. For one, I never stumbled upon those comics until well into my adulthood, and two, the comics always seemed like they were outside of the official continuity to me. Much in the same way that it’s arguable whether the Star Wars novelizations are cannon, or if it’s just a product to enrich the brand which is the officially released movies. For me, when it comes to G.I. Joe and Transformers the official continuity begins and ends with the cartoon series, animated films, and the toy lines. Again, I’ll be the first to admit that this is more or less just my weird way of perceiving the universes, but it just feels right to me. So I’ve been waiting for over 20 years to see something released in one of these two realms that unites the properties.

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So when I learned that Hasbro was releasing an official crossover toy in the new Transformer Combiner Wars line I was absolutely floored. The toy, a hybrid Decepticon/Cobra jet named Viper that was modeled after a variation of the Cobra Rattler and it’s main pilot Wild Weasel, is one of the first pieces of widely released Hasbro merchandise that finally officially merges the universes of G.I. Joe and the Transformers. As soon as I laid eyes on grainy pictures online I knew I had to get my hands on one asap, and I want to give a huge thank you and shout out to my buddy HooveR for hooking me up with the toy of my dreams.

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Now, as far as I’m concerned Viper is (for me) one of the most important pieces in the modern Hasbro offerings because it acts as a link that has the potential to spark an entire line of toys that I feel are in a way tailor-made to fill a void in my nostalgic past. Now, I know that there are still folks out there that are going to want to point to earlier examples of the G.I. Joe and Transformers universe’s crossing over in toy form. I mean there are a couple of specific examples that spring to mind, namely the 2004 Transformers Energon figure Snow Cat which is an homage to the G.I. Joe vehicle of the same name and general design. But again, as cool as an homage as this is, it’s not explicitly a crossover. There’s no G.I. Joe logo and storyline attached.

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A more apt example would be the SDCC exclusive release of the Starscream decoed Sky Striker set that was released back in 2011. The set came with a Cobra Commander pilot figure armed with an appropriately-sized Megatron laser pistol. Again, this is a super cool set that I really wanted to get my hands on, but there were some aspects to the release that again make me feel like it’s outside of an official crossover. First, the set was a limited edition only sold at the SDCC which means that most folks couldn’t get their hands on it, and second, even though the repainted Sky Striker looks really awesome as “Starscream”, it was just a repainted Joe toy. They didn’t re-tool it so that it could transform or anything. So as cool as it is, it doesn’t feel official to me.

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Viper on the other hand is about as official as you can get, widely released, branded with both G.I. Joe and Transformers insignia logos, and functions as both an action figure, vehicle (with the ability to transform.)  It may be a narrow view for some, but for me, this is the toy I’ve been waiting for for over 20 years!  Here’s some more views of Viper….

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I love the way they made Viper an homage to Wild Weasel too, a really nice touch…

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I have no idea whether Hasbro is testing the waters with a figure like Viper, but I hope they are.  I’d love to see a whole line of hybrid releases like this.  I can totally imagine transformer Hiss Tanks, Vamp jeeps, or Tomahawk helicopters.  I can even see a combiner made out of the various Dreadnok vehicles.  The possibilities are limitless!

 

Help Kickstart Buy the Rights!

A few months ago a good buddy shared his idea for a new project he was working on, a project that I immediately knew was going to be awesome.  Fast forward to today and that project is on the brink of becoming a reality and I couldn’t be happier.  What am I talking about?  My friend and fellow nostalgia buff, Tommy Day from Top Hat Sasquatch has developed a wicked awesome card game called Buy the Rights.  In a nutshell, it’s a cinema-themed party game where the players develop movie pitches based on a mix of Plot, Genre, Hero, & Hero Descriptor cards they draw.  Each turn players pitch their movie to a producer who has a set budget to spend any way they see fit.  Then the role of producer passes on to the next character, everyone else draws new cards and makes pitches, and so on.  At the end of the game the player with the most money wins.

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Being a huge movie buff (I do co-host a podcast about Cult Films) and an avid game player I was immediately sold on the concept.  And now Tommy has taken the game to Kickstarter to raise the funds to get the game properly manufactured and into the hands of gaming enthusiasts everywhere.  Before he launched the campaign Tommy had a batch of prototypes printed up and my girlfriend Jaime and I were lucky enough to receive a copy to play-test.  Recently we had a bunch of friends over for a cookout and figured it was the perfect opportunity to pull out the game ad kick the tires a bit…

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As I mentioned, the game is comprised of four decks of cards, Plot, Genre, Hero, & Hero Descriptor.  Each deck has 100 different cards, so there are almost limitless combinations that can be formed when devising movie pitches.  Half of the fun of the game is trying to put together a halfway coherent idea with the randomly drawn cards, and the other half of the fun is “selling” the pitch to the producer.  So when the best movie idea in your hand is Horror Film (Genre) about a Dyslexic Plumber (Descriptor & Hero cards), who has to play a championship basketball game against aliens (plot), you really have to pull out the charisma to get the producer on your side.  In all seriousness, the game is a lot of fun and while we were playing we were constantly laughing at the pitches…

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Buy the Rights follows in the tradition of games like Cards Against Humanity and Apples to Apples, and is perfect for both audiences (it can be played perfectly clean, or depending on the players and ages can get pretty hilariously “adult”.)

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I was also super stoked to have Tommy commission me to draw a piece of Buy the Rights art for the Kickstarter campaign.  Right now if you pledge at certain levels you can get a nifty vinyl sticker of this piece I illustrated…

Buy the Rights VHS Illustration

There’s a lot of fun rewards too, aside from the game itself which is the real gem, there’s also a really swell print that was illustrated by Cole Roberts, as well as a cool T-Shirt.

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So if this seems like something you’d be interested in, please take a few minutes to check out the campaign, watch the video, and help Tommy make Buy the Rights a reality. This one fully gets the Branded in the 80s stamp of approval!

Transformers through the eyes of a 10 year-old…

If there’s one thing that I try very hard to do with this site it’s to attempt to transport my perspective into the mind of my 10 year-old self so that I can try and see things (like all the old cartoons, toys, and ephemera) as I did almost 30 years ago.  This is way easier said than done as it’s next to impossible to let go of a lifetime’s worth of baggage and my pesky adult perspective that I need to have in place for most of the time.  It’s at those times when it’s proving a real struggle to get back into that childlike mindset when I wonder what it would be like to have a child of my own who I could share all of the stuff that I grew up with and watch their reaction firsthand.  Having children just hasn’t been something that was in the cards for me up to this point, and most of my friends who have had children did so later in life and so most of them are still too young to share this kind of stuff with.

Well this past week I had the opportunity to babysit a friend’s 10 year-old son Alex for a few afternoons, and after spending the last decade literally reclaiming my childhood in the form of comics, toys, and a mountain of cartoons on DVD I figured I’d be in the perfect person to watch and entertain the kid for a few afternoons.  Well, even though I feel like I had a pretty good shot at relating to him and the stuff he’s into, I do remember what it was like being a kid and being babysat by someone who was trying their damnedest but failing to relate to me.  That was probably my biggest concern going in, that I’d attempt to be hip by knowing about stuff like current cartoons or cool for having a huge collection of toys, yet still failing to make a connection. I mean, I have a wall full of Masters of the Universe and G.I. Joe toys still mint on card.  Would Alex think I was crazy for not opening them?  Basically all I knew for certain was that he was a huge Transformers fan who thinks that the Decepticons are jerks and that his favorite characters are all of the Autobots.  All of them.

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I knew I’d be watching him for three days and on the first it was pretty much just as awkward as I’d expected.  Being really into Transformers Alex brought his copy of the War for Cybertron XBox game so that we could play it.  Well, if I haven’t already mentioned it on the site before, when it comes to modern video games I suck.  I’ll be honest, I very happily peaced out after the Nintendo 64/Playstaion era of gaming and never really had any interest in picking it back up.  I’d much rather play Galaga than Skyrim, and I’m totally fine with that.  I’m just not a gamer and if you hand me a controller that has more than 4 buttons and a D-pad I’m totally lost.

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So when Alex busted out his copy of War for Cybertron I was actually nervous about having to try and play co-op with him.  Luckily he didn’t understand what the co-op option meant, so I just played dumb when there was no option for the second player to join after he launched the single-player campaign.  At that point I was fine just watching him blast a bunch of Transformers to rubble.  Actually, watching him play the game was kind of hilariously interesting because regardless of the fact that I mentioned to him that I was well versed in the lore of the Transformers he took it upon himself to tell me all about the characters and the world.  I decided to just play dumb and learn from the master.  “Whoa, that guy is named Jetfire?  What does he transform into?  A jet?  Whoa!”  Mind you, I wasn’t being sarcastic or patronizing, just trying to let him take the reigns of the discussion.  He played the game non-stop for 5 hours straight while I watched and asked about all the characters and locations.

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Actually, this was kind interesting for me on another level since I’d never played the game before and have very distinct tastes when it comes to the Transformers.  The game is an amalgamation of visual design and continuity from all iterations of the mythology and universes.  So you have dialogue directly lifted from the 1986 Transformers movie mixed with references to the Bayformer movies, and character designs that are somewhere in between those live action films and the Classics toy versions of the characters that were released about a decade ago.  Mix that with dialogue from Frank Welker and Peter Cullen and it makes for a very trippy experience.  There are even nods to the original Marvel comics, specifically the smelting pits.

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This also underlined something for me that I was well aware of, but never really out much thought into which is that a brand like the Transformers has a longevity that is kind of amazing.  I mean, I feel kind of old thinking about it, but having been around before they were originally designed and released, enough time has passed that there are almost three generations worth of folks who can lay claim to a variation of the characters.  In another decade we’ll being seeing families where the grandparents were into the original G1 versions of the characters, parents who grew up on the later 90s, early 2000s cartoons and the Bayformers, and there will be a new generation of kids whose reference point for the characters will be the new video games and the latest trilogy of Bayformer movies that are on deck to be released over the next few years.  We’re already seeing that with brands like G.I. Joe, but I find it fascinating that something that was developed and launched when I was a kid will have that sort of generational longevity soon.

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Well, on the second day I was only watching Alex for a couple of hours and honestly I still had a headache from the constant barrage of crap blowing up in ultra HD in that game the day before, so I decided instead of firing the XBox back up, instead we’d watch a movie.  Knowing he loved the Transformers and since I’ve never been able to share some of my childhood favorite flicks with a kid of my own I decided that I’d take a chance and screen the 1986 Transformers movie for him.  I knew he’d never seen it and honestly I was dying to know if the flick still held up for today’s kids who have their own, way more kinetic versions of the characters than the ones I grew up loving.  I always felt the movie was ahead of its time in terms of the violence, the sort of crazy level of action and a plot that basically moves at the speed of light.  So what would a modern 10 year-old make of this film I love so dearly?

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Well, I’m pleased to say that it held up pretty damn good, though there are some scenes where it was painfully obvious that Alex was getting bored.  All of the jokes seemed to hit him in just the right place (we both turned to each other and laughed during the scene where Grimlock is begging Kup to tell his war stories), and for the most part the fast-moving plot seemed to keep his attention.  The opening scene with the Lithonian’s planet getting eaten by Unicron seemed to bore him, and any scene that was devoted to back and forth bickering between Unicron and Galvatron also made him snooze.  But throughout the rest of the film there was definitely a mix of him literally being on the edge of his seat and standing up cheering.  It was really interesting seeing him react to the vehicle character of Daniel, one that most fans who grew up with the film tend to deride and mock, but Alex was all in.  Whenever Daniel was in peril I’d hear audible gasps from Alex, even in early scenes where he busts his hoover-board.

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Probably the most gratifying experience was watching Alex react to a couple of key scenes in the movie, namely the death of Optimus Prime and the psuedo-death of Ultra Magnus before the final siege on Unicron.  There were no tears during Prime’s death, but this was probably the moment when Alex became fully invested in the story (at least judging from his body language.)  You could tell he was heavily focused on the characters and really wanted the Autobots to survive and to defeat the Decepticons.

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He also really seemed to get behind the idea of the Matrix of Leadership because when it came around to the scene where Galvatron has Ultra Magnus ripped apart to get at it, Alex was really bummed out.  He actually screamed out “No!” when Magnus fell.  So even though at the outset he had that sort of disinterest because the movie seemed so old, three quarters of the way in he was hooked.  I attempted to ask him some questions afterwards, but being a sort of shy 10 year-old who never really spent all that much time around me, he was pretty tight lipped.  I was really curious if he noticed that some of the lines in this movie were also in the game he loved (“One shall stand, one shall fall”, “Bah Weep Grah Na Weep Ninibon”, “First we crack the shell, then we crack the nuts inside…”, etc.), but he didn’t seem to notice.  Granted, I’ve seen that ’86 movie over two hundred times, so the dialogue is permanently etched into my brain.

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I was also curious about the infamous scene where Spike utters the word “Shit” when they try and blow up Unicron with Moon Base Two.  Again, he didn’t seem to notice during the actual film, and I wasn’t going to ask him a point question about curse words afterwards.  The final little bit of a litmus test to gauge his enjoyment with the older G1 versions of the characters, my girlfriend and I picked up a six-inch vinyl Optimus Prime figure (that is strikingly accurate in terms of the depiction from the original cartoon) as a gift for Alex.  I gave it to him right before we watched the movie and all throughout he was clutching it and posing it towards the screen. On the third day when he came back, he still had the toy with him, so I’m taking that as a sign that he enjoyed that 1986 film.

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All in all, it was really fascinating to get a glimpse into what it would be like to share my nostalgia with a kid, and it gives me hope that if I do decide that the time is right to have a child of my own soon, that I’ll be able to pass down a love for some of my favorite 80s era stuff.  That actually gives me a lot of hope for the future and it reminds me that I might get a lot of use out of the overflowing shelves of cartoons I own on DVD some day.

For me the 80s didn’t end with a whimper or a bang, but with a fake puking noise…

5741481453_25e5050515_oI spend a lot of time writing and creating stuff for Branded to celebrate all the things that I loved about growing up in the eighties.  Part of why I do this is to share my collection of junk that I’ve amassed over the years, and part of it is trying to capture and share that intense feeling of “holy crap, I had that” that one feels when they encounter something that had been completely forgotten up until that point.  That rush of memory and familiarity is like a drug to me, and it’s as rare as it is fleeting.  It’s basically chasing the dragon of nostalgia.  I can only hope that there are folks who visit this site and are reminded of something lost from their childhoods.  Something small and relatively inconsequential that they’ve completely forgotten about and that by stumbling across a post or picture they stop whatever they’re doing and get that wave of sweet nostalgia that starts in the pit of your stomach and quickly spreads like adrenaline through the rest of your body.

This past week I had one of those magical moments where I was just scrolling through facebook and then all of the sudden I felt like a Mack truck slammed into me as my eyes landed on something that I hadn’t seen or thought about since 1989…

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Facebook friend and all around awesome vintage candy collector R. Vandiver shared the above Topps sales sheet to the Novelty Candy Marketplace FB group and I just froze for a few minutes in disbelief.  I couldn’t believe that I had forgotten about these Barfo Family Candy containers!

Barfo Candy Box 1Not only had I forgotten about these, but on a personal level, this amazingly gross novelty candy is one of the last official pop culture experiences I had during that golden decade as a kid.  I spend the entirety of the 80s living in central Florida (in the both the Tampa and Orlando areas) and it was on the last day of December of 1989 when my family packed up, picked up stakes, and moved north to the Massachusetts/New  Hampshire area.  My father had recently been transferred to a new office and he’d already taken a trip up by himself to drive one of our two cars up to the small apartment we were going to stay in for a couple of months while our new house was being built.  I distinctly remember we kicked off a two-day road trip on New Years eve as there was a live band playing Auld Lang Syne in the motel restaurant/bar we stayed at that night in Virginia.

That morning, after we’d been on the road for a couple hours, my dad stopped at a Stuckey’s somewhere in north FL to fuel up.  I think I’d begged for some money so that I could go inside and load up on Yes & No Invisible Ink Question & Answer books, Slim Jims and candy for the trip.  The particular Stuckey’s we stopped at was a weird combination of gas station and diner, with two separate buildings.  I poked my head in the diner area first where there was an area towards the back that a had a spinner rack full of comics and the Yes & No books as well as coolers full of soda and a rack full of beef jerky.  I couldn’t find any Slim Jims, so I settled on a small bag of jerky, a glass bottle of blue Fanta, and a Battleship heavy edition of the Yes & No books.  Strangely, there was no candy in this section, so after I paid for my junk I headed over to the gas station building next door to see if there was any in there.  I’d already spent the majority of the money my dad gave me (beef jerky is always so damn expensive) and I think I had about a dollar and a half left when I stumbled unto candy nirvana.  I definitely considered myself a sort of candy connoisseur at this point in my life having spent endless hours in our local 7-Elevens and Walgreens trying every possible thing that I could get a sugar high off of, but this Stuckey’s had some stuff that I’d never even dreamed existed.  I was hoping I’d find some of those little cartons full of orange and fruit punch-flavored bubble gum, or maybe a Mr. Bones Coffin full of the chalky Sweettarts-like candy, but there was a whole shelf full of novelty plastic heads full of candy as well as a full box of Barfo Family candy that just about made my head explode.

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I was still a huge fan of Garbage Pail Kids at the time and was all into the super gross art in MAD and Cracked magazines, so when I saw the Barfo candy I was in love.  Sitting right next to these were a box full of plastic Batman heads full of candy, and I was also a super fan of that film, so I was torn trying to decide how to spend the rest of my loot.  In the end I had just enough for one Batman head and one Barfo head, but I vowed that I’d find a place to pick up the rest of the Barfo heads as soon as I had more money…

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The Barfo head that I chose was Ralph, the kid, and if I’m recalling correctly it was filled with a grape flavored goo that came oozing out of his mouth when you pushed down on the accordion plunger.  This terrified and sickened my parents, but I loved it.  It didn’t even bother me that I was basically making out with a tiny candy dispenser.  I spent the next hour in the backseat making fake puking noises in between squirting the liquid candy into my mouth.  I’m sure my parents thought long and hard about leaving me on the side of the road all throughout that trip…

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In doing some research it turns out there were four members in the Barfo family, the kid, Ralph as I mentioned above, his two parents What’s Up Chuck and Oozie Suzie, and the family dog Arf-Barf.  The concept of these little disgusting novelties was the brainchild of Abe Morgenstern who, according to Topps alum Drew Friedman, came into the office with a turkey baster one day after Thanksgiving and demanded to know how they could turn the baster into a candy dispenser.  From there it was passed on to a few folks at Topps including Art Speigelman & Mark Newgarden who came up with the idea to model the dispensers after a 50′s era nuclear family, and eventually Drew Friedman and Patrick Pigott who designed and illustrated the box art.  Stan Hart, a MAD magazine writer, coined the Barfo name.

Barfo Candy Family

Whats Up Chuck                   Oozie Suize                   Arf-Barf

After we got up to New England I recall searching for stores that had the Barfo candy on sale, but sadly I never found any.  Not only were these amazing designs in terms of gross-out candy dispensers, but as far as I can remember these were also years ahead of of the whole liquid lollipop phenomenon of the mid 90s.

Man, I can’t thank R. Vandiver enough for reminding me about these, and Drew Friedman for detailing the history of the development of the product over on his blog.  He even posted pictures of the super rare prototype dispenser that is perhaps even more nightmare inducing than the final candy heads!  All in all, as far as the 80s go, literally, one of the last pop culture memories I have before ringing in 1990 with the house band at some less than memorable motel bar is of making my own personal Sofie’s choice as to which member of the Barfo family I took home with me on the morning of December 31st 1989.  That and all the fake puking sounds I made in the car while eating the candy…

 

Interview in Non-Sport Magazine

So, speaking of all these throwback digital trading cards I’ve been working on, I totally forgot that I was interviewed last October by Ryan Cracknell of Non-Sport Update Magazine (and his site Trader Cracks)!  Just got my hands on a copy of the issue, the Feb-Mar 2015 edition, Volume 26, Number 1.

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The interview mainly deals with the set of The Monster Squad cards I made last Halloween, but it also touches on my non-sport card collecting during the 80s as well.  Here’s a picture of the article if anyone’s interested in reading it…

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Peel Here #117: Nostalgia from two angles!

Getting old is weird.  As if succumbing to the crippling pull of childhood nostalgia in my mid-twenties wasn’t weird enough, lately I’ve been feeling a similar wave of emotion towards the content that I presented at the outset of this very website.  Back in 2006 when I started Branded I wasn’t sure exactly what form the site was going to take.  I know that I wanted to discuss a bunch of 80s era childhood memories, but I wasn’t concrete about how I was going to pursue that discussion.  It wasn’t until later in the year, after the podcasting bug had worn off a bit and I started switching my focus to writing that I hit upon something that really got me excited which was procuring a bunch of 80s era ephemera and scanning it to share and to be the spark of something to reflect on.  That’s when I decided to get my hands on as many examples of stickers from the decade that I could find, and in that search I reconnected with a piece of my childhood that (at the time) seemed that no one save one random eBay seller remembered, the 7-11 Slurpee lenticular rock coins from 1984-85.

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I was so happy to have found a set of these and even happier when I realized that these were actually stickers and not just collector coins.  I wrote about them back in November 2006 and after scanning them in and sharing them felt pretty confident that I had these little bits of lenticular nostalgia nailed down and “out of my system”.  A few months later in an attempt to recoup the costs of sourcing so many stickers for the site I decided to liquidate my rather larger collection of stickers in order to use the dough to buy even more.  This created a couple of issues though.  For one, at the time vintage stickers were pretty damn cheap on eBay as it seemed like no one was actively buying them.  My hope was that buy selling all the stickers in one large lot I would have a better chance at making back at least what I put into acquiring them as it was an instant collection (featuring pretty much everything I covered on Peel Here for the first 60-70 columns).  Unfortunately I ended up taking a bath on the auction barely making back a fourth of what I originally spent on the stickers.  To add insult to injury, over the next few months I started to notice that the prices of 80s stickers on eBay started to exponentially increase.  All of a sudden people were in the market, so the meager funds I was about to recoup didn’t stretch all that far.

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Well, at least I still had all of the scans I made right?  I figured that if nothing else I had all the imagery of the stickers and felt certain at the time that when ever I felt the nostalgic wave of sticker love wash over me I could just flip though the image archives I have on the site and saved to my hard drives.  I didn’t think about it much for the next few years, but eventually, around 2010 I started wishing I hadn’t sold so much of my collection.  There were a couple of examples in particular that just didn’t translate into the scans as well as I’d hoped, specifically all of the Lazer Blazers holographic stickers and the various lenticular stickers.  It was next to impossible to get scans of both images featured on the stickers (as evidenced above.)  Thanks to friends of the site and some decent eBay auctions over the past 9 years I’ve been able to reacquire a bunch of the lenticular stickers (like the Transformers and Go Bots puffy stickers), but the price of Lazer Blazers and the 7-Eleven Slurpee Rock Coins have been way too high to justify.

Well, after years of waiting and watching eBay like a hawk I finally managed to reclaim a set of the 7-Eleven Rock Coins for a very reasonable price and was super thrilled when they came in the mail this past week.

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It’s so weird, but I feel like I’ve reconnected with an important part of what made Branded in the 80s work for me.  Back during the early days of the site I heavily used these in the site design.  Everywhere on the site that had bulleted lists (like the list of other sites I dig) I used a tiny sprite of the Dio rock coin.  It was too small for anyone to really notice, but I was happy knowing that they were plastered all over the site.

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Looking back at the fact that I’ve almost been running this site for a decade has made me realize just how important it’s been in changing who I am, providing me with a ton of new connections to friends and was the portal to experiences that never would have happened otherwise.  These little lenticular stickers are a very specific symbol of that for me…

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I’m glad I finally got my hands on these again, and having a second shot I’m gonna use this opportunity to showcase them a bit better by literally sharing them from different angles so hopefully folks can get a better view of them.  As an aside, I still find the collection of bands here really strangely eclectic (Rush, Loverboy, .38 Special, Go West, Ratt, Dio, Tears for Fears, Ozzy Osbourne, Huey Lewis and the News, The Police, Night Ranger, Billy Squier, Journey, Bryan and Adams, I guess it’s like MTV threw up all over these…)

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Not only has almost entire decade past since I first shared these, but so many other things on the internet have changed that there are way more resources available to gleam a bit more of what the experience was like collecting these back int he day.  Back in ’06 there were a handful of vintage commercials available on youtube, but not quite to the extent that there are today where there seems to be a dedicated fanbase of people constantly ripping video from old VHS tapes.  So imagine my excitement when I stumbled upon this Slurpee commercial advertising these rock coins!

I’ve also since learned that this 1985 set is the second series.  There was another smaller series done in 1984 that had many of these same bands (and specific sticker coins), but there were a few differences including R.E.M., Krokus, the Tubes, and Big Country.  Also the Ozzy sticker was black instead of red.  I have yet to find a set of these 1984 stickers that aren’t astronomically priced, but there was one extremely blurry picture on eBay, so I figured I’d include it as proof that they exist.

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It’s weird to realize that nostalgia is a motile phenomenon, that it grows with us as we age and isn’t just about the rose-colored view of our childhoods.  It’s also a very personal and selective thing that effects everyone differently.  Whereas I find myself getting nostalgic for the mid 2000′s and the start of Branded, I’ve yet to feel any real pull towards the my time as a teen in the 90s (which some exceptions for friends long gone).  Maybe it points to the fact that the 90s pop culture just didn’t grab me in the same way that the 80s have, and so that 80s nostalgia can jump to even my discussions about it.

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Either way, I finally feel a little bit more at ease knowing that I’ve reconnected with these small bits of my past yet again, and hopefully this time I’ll have the foresight to hold on to them.  Even the Billy Squier sticker coin, which was the first one that I pulled from the bottom of a Slurpee cup in the summer of 1985….

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Chef Boyardee Mini Ravioli is in my DNA…

5741481453_25e5050515_oChef Boyardee is what being six years-old tastes like. Of all my senses the sheer power of the one-two punch of taste and smell as a means of time travel is unrivaled. Sure, the immediacy of sight, seeing imagery of our favorite toys, clothes, TV shows and movies is transportive, and audio, hearing favorite songs, dialogue from movies, or something as incidental as the specific ring my childhood telephone made is enveloping. As far as touch is concerned, for me this is the sense that is overshadowed the most by the others as it’s the one that is next to impossible to turn off and thus it just becomes a part of being. I’m hardly totally discounting it, I mean I have very distinct memories of what it felt like to play with Lego for instance, the sharp edges, the pain under my fingernails from hours of trying to pry apart two flat 1×2 pieces, or the way it felt to chew on one of the bulbous rubber Space set tires. But of all my senses the almost inseparable combination of taste and smell has the unique ability to overwhelm me, almost drowning me in a flood of memory, almost literally enabling me to travel back in time when I reconnect with certain stalwart flavors.

admin-ajax.phpeThis past December I decided to relocate, packing up all my collectible junk and moving from Atlanta to Baltimore. Though I’d hardly say that I’ve been homesick these past three months (I had no problem trading in the Falcons for the Ravens, peaches for crabs, or the really shitty traffic on I-85 for the really shitty traffic on I-95), I have been feeling the pull for homey comfort food. I’m sure part of this is dealing with my first real snowy winter in the last 25 years, as well as wanting to lean on some small part of my past, something that feels like it’s a part of my down to the level of my DNA. While doing some grocery shopping and browsing the aisles of my new local supermarkets I was on the hunt for something that would make me feel like a kid again, something easy, cheap, and undeniable; something that hasn’t changed over the last three decades. For me this pretty much meant picking up a can of Chef Boyardee Mini Ravioli.

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Of all the branded food products I grew up with none had quite the impact on my life as Chef Boyardee, positive and negative. I’ll be the first person to admit that it’s not good food. Hell, even as a kid I know that, and now that I’m a “responsible” adult doing my best to watch what I cram in my body, these heavily processed cans of pasta are probably right under the 1lb block of Velvetta on the list of things that humans should never consume. Even though I know for a fact that my consumption of way too much Chef Boyardee as a kid let to my issues with weight as a kid, the nutritional value isn’t really what I’m getting at. Without these cans of faux Italian goodness I sometimes wonder if I’d be as comfortable in the kitchen as I am today.

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In the eighties I had two distinctly different experiences with Chef Boyardee Mini Ravioli that changed my life for decades. I was six at the time of my first life changing event. My family lived in a quaint slice of suburbia in Tampa, Florida and my best friend was a kid from down the street named Anthony. I remember that his parents were a little on the eccentric side, in fact my dad always used to joke about the fact that Anthony’s father caught and caged a peacock he found on the golf course that butted up to the back of his property. They kept the bird in their garage and always had the door rolled up so they could display it to the neighborhood as a sort of status symbol. I actually thought it was pretty cool and totally identified with how his dad must have felt when he caught it. I myself spent an inordinate amount of time as a kid searching that golf course for wildlife and was always coming home with a mini travel cooler filled with creek shrimp, crawfish, turtles and frogs. At some point during that summer of ’83, Anthony, his little sister and I ventured out onto the green that was beside his house. There was a short bridge that connected a path leading around the green over a small creek that ran alongside it, and underneath where the earth had eroded away there was a decent amount of natural red clay soil exposed. We dug up a couple buckets full of clay with the idea of making some small pottery that we could sell to the neighborhood. We spent the afternoon shaping crude clay ashtrays and a couple sad little clay ducks before leaving them in his driveway to bake under the scorching Florida sun.

Anthony’s mom came out and saw us completely filthy; arms and clothes caked in orange clay mud, and immediately pulled us into the house to get washed up. I remember being very concerned about leaving my handiwork outside and unsupervised where anyone could swipe it and told her as much. Though I don’t remember her exact reaction, I’m pretty sure she had a laugh at that and she ended up buying my duck and ashtray for $15 to put my mind at ease. By the time we were mostly free of mud, and she’d sent the two kids to their rooms to change into fresh clothes it was starting to get dark out. I remember feeling a little strange in their house because I hadn’t really spent much time inside it before and it smelled completely different than my own home. Anthony’s parents didn’t smoke like mine did, and there was a very flowery scent that wafted up from the carpet from the powdered deodorizer I saw his mom using while I waited for Anthony to get done changing.

The family invited me to stay for dinner, so I called home and asked if I could stay out past the time when the street lights came on (the international sign for when to call it quits) to have dinner with Anthony’s family. I must have gotten the okay because the next thing I recall is sitting up on a stool at their kitchen counter with a view of Anthony’s mom breaking out a few cans of Chef Boyardee. I can still see the yellow cans when I close my eyes and remember being excited. Well, that was until I saw his mom bring out a frying pan and crack a couple of eggs into it. My mom was never one to cook breakfast for dinner, so I had no idea why she was frying up eggs when there was also some ravioli simmering on the stove next to it. What happened next changed the way I would view food for the next 30 years. Anthony’s mom dished out two bowls of ravioli for us and topped each one with a sunny side up fried egg. I can’t quite explain why, but the sight of Anthony breaking into the super runny yolk and mixing it with a heaping spoonful of Chef Boyardee made me so disgusted that I freaked out a little. It’s not that I had an issue with either the pasta or runny eggs, I loved both, but the combination of the two had me so nauseous that I had to abruptly excuse myself and I ended up running home, crying and feeling really weird and embarrassed.

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I’m not sure exactly what it was about that mix of food, carpet cleaner, and the strange (to me) odors in the house, but from that day forward it because nearly impossible for me to eat food prepared by anyone besides my parents or stuff I’d get out at fast food or restaurants. Whenever I attempted to eat outside my comfort zone I would have a physical reaction to the food, usually gaging or dry heaving. School lunches, eating at friend’s houses, visiting family, pot lucks at work, or dinner with the in-laws became my own private hell over the next three decades. I spent the first two years of middle school only eating Hostess Dunkin’ Sticks out of the vending machine instead of ever attempting getting a real plate of food. I’ve made so many excuses for why I wasn’t hungry or didn’t feel well as an excuse not to eat that people started to think I had serious health issues.

Over the past few years I’ve loosened up quite a bit, and I think I’ve finally managed to shake my food phobias. Though I’ve always been able to eat stuff that I’ve prepared myself (even weird stuff), the idea of mixing eggs and canned pasta has sort of haunted me. The other morning I was making breakfast for my girlfriend and she requested fried eggs sunny side up so she could dip some toast in them. I’d actually gotten up a bit earlier than her and wanting something comforting I already had a bowl of mini ravioli prepared for myself. While frying my girlfriend’s eggs I screwed up and broke the yolk on one, so I set it aside and made another. Not wanting to waste any food I unconsciously plopped the egg on top of my bowl of ravioli and proceeded to eat. It wasn’t until I was finished that I realized what I had done and the memories of that night in Anthony’s house came flooding back. Sometimes it’s strange the way we change as we age. I’m not sure what triggered inside that let the phobia subside, but I’m glad that I’m more or less free of the fear of eating.

admin-ajax.phpGetting back to the positive way the Chef has changed my life, I’d have to go back to sometime during the fall of 1985. I had just turned eight and was just starting the third grade. That was an interesting time for me because we’d just moved from Tampa to Orlando into another super quaint suburb of Florida and all of a sudden the scope of my world had grown exponentially. For the first time I was allowed to leave the neighborhood so that I could ride my bike the mile and change to my elementary school. I started earning an allowance and found myself “flush” with five bucks a week at a time when most of the stuff I wanted cost between $0.25 and $1.99. And it was around this time that my parents decided to trust me to use the stove top burners to “cook” my own lunches when I got home from school and on the weekends. Now I use the term cook lightly here because all I was really doing was heating up junk that I dumped out of a can into a saucepot (almost exclusively Chef Boyardee Mini Ravioli), but this was an important step for me at an age when I was being seduced by the siren call of fast food. Granted, I was still eating a form of fast food, but it was a form that I had to “cook”. It took a modicum of effort and got me comfortable with using a stove and making stuff for myself.

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This is most likely what urged my mother to buy me a copy of the Betty Crocker Cookbook for Boys and Girls that same year, which seriously upped my game in the kitchen (well, if making hot dog pizza and eggs baked in bologna cups game changers.) By the time I was in my late teens I was regularly cooking for myself at a time when none of my friends were willing to do much more than nuking their lukewarm chicken McNuggets in the microwave. It seems like such a trivial thing, but when I think back on it, having the freedom to cook my own mini raviolis was the catalyst that has led me to being as competent as I am in the kitchen today.

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In a lot of ways, for good or for ill, Chef Boyardee really is part of my DNA. When I’m in the mood for comfort, when I seriously want to time travel back to the eighties, all I have to do is crack open a can, heat it up and with the first spoonful I’m instantly 30 years younger in a way that watching cartoons, reading old kid’s books, or playing around with my vintage toys can never unlock.