Category Archives: Personal

Being Re-Gifted My childhood, Part 1

I’ll be honest, for a guy who runs a site dedicated to his love of the 80s even I will admit that it’s weird how much of a void there is of personal vintage junk in my collection.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve acquired a bunch of stuff over the years that I cherish, but when I look over everything that I have, very little of it is stuff that survived with me through the decades.  Whether it was from my own collection purging, trading, damage, or stuff “lost” in moves (my parent’s favorite excuse for chucking my toys over the years), I only have a handful of things that have been with me forever.  There are a few kid’s paperbacks (Samantha Slade: Monster Sitter, the Lost boys novelization, and a copy of Which Way Batman), some of my sisters records, my Wicket plush, and this 5″ by 5″ square of what’s left of my original woobie…

I have a lot more of my stuff from my high school years, but I do regret not keeping a tighter grip on the stuff I had when I was a little kid.  Well, this past week I was given a couple of rare gifts by a friend (we’ll call him D) who I’ve known since I we were in the 8th grade together.  Over the years we’ve seen less and less of each other even though we only live about 15 miles apart.  You know, life gets in the way and junk.  D is about to have his second child, little D numero 2, and if I had to guess he is looking to clear out as much space as he can find to make room for the new arrival.  Well, he sent me a facebook message asking me if I wanted to take something off his hands.  That something just happened to be an Atari 2600 video game console and a bucket full of games and peripherals that have been gathering dust in his garage.  The thing is, and he knew this obviously, this particular Atari system (and 8 of those games) used to be mine before I gave them to him back in middle school.

I was never an avid gamer by any stretch of the imagination, but there were two game systems that I played a whole hell of a lot, the NES for the most part, but I, like so many other folks growing up in the 70s and 80s, was weaned on the Atari 2600.  I first bought the exact system, controller and the 8 games you see pictured with it below at a garage sale when I was six.  It was 1983, and we’d just moved to Orlando from Tampa.  I didn’t really have any friends yet, and it was kind of boring and lonely in the new house.  Heck, our cat Smokey who had just made the trip with us immediately ran away, so I was sort of in a funk.  One Saturday I ventured out into the neighborhood though, and there was a guy down the street trying to sell the last bits of stuff at a garage sale.  There was a table with the Atari inside a faux-wood paneled Game Center box.  I’d had plenty of experience with the system playing one that was hooked up to a TV in the rec room of a public pool back in Tampa, and for some reason I never imagined having my own at home.  I asked the guy how much it was and he thoughtfully scratched his chin and squinted at me (at least that’s how I “remember” his expression in my mind) before saying “Ten Bucks Kid.”  I asked him to hold it and I sprinted back home to beg for the money from my dad, who quickly relented.  I ran back, slapped the ten buck on the table (again, probably artistic license with my foggy memory) and stole home with the system held high above my head.

As I mentioned, the console had eight games included, Combat, Surround, Berserk, Space Invaders, Asteroids, Chopper Command, and the much maligned E.T. and Atari port of Pac-Man.  For some reason I never acquired any more games, and I was pretty content with these for the next three years until I scored my first Nintendo system.  Back in 1990-91 when I gave the Atari to D, I didn’t think much of it.  Heck, at that point I said had a fair number of my original childhood toys and never thought I’d miss the clunky wood-paneled beauty.  Fast forward 23 years and I can certainly attest to missing the ever-living hell out of it.  I mean, it’s not like I was lying awake at night wondering where it was, but from time to time when I’d see people blog or podcast about their vintage systems I would feel a little pain in my heart.  So when D asked if I wanted the system back after all these years I was pretty damn floored.  When I drove over to pick it up I did everything in my power not to point at it and say something stupid like, “There, there it is, that thing, those beautiful things that I used to have in my house back in Florida, look at it, it’s right there, that thing that I had when I was six!”  Those where statements that I made in the car on the way home though, just saying.

As soon as I got home, I immediately cleaned off a table, took out the system and very gingerly cleaned her up.  There was a massive amount of dirt and grime on it, but with a little warm water and a crap ton of paper towels I was able to get it looking almost like new.  To be honest, I have no idea if the system will even run anymore, and even if it will, if I’ll be able to hook it up to my TV (the vintage R/F switch is looking pretty rough.)  But really, this system isn’t so much about playing it as it is about just having it again, a little reminder of what it was like to be six with my very own copy of Pac-Man, even if it was a super shitty version of the game.  I remember playing Chopper Command, and having to flip a switch on the back of the actual console to change the rate at which my helicopter fired (short bursts or those long laser blasts.)  There was so much joyous frustration trying not to touch the walls in Berserk.  And to this day I still have no idea how the hell you get all the pieces to make the damn phone rig in E.T.

If I ever do get it running there was an included extra surprise of about 50 extra games that D had amassed over the years.  Here’s a few snapshots of what I would call the cream of the crop…

  

 

I can’t thank D enough, and to my amazement, there was another amazing piece of my childhood that came along with the Atari that I’ll be writing about in part two of this article later this week, or next.  Stay tuned.  And now if you’ll excuse me, I have to find a place of honor for the Atari in Branded HQ…

Feeling a little guilty that I’m not a Mom from the 80s…

This week’s topic from the League is all about opening up about our guilty pleasures.  This topic is insanely hard for me to tackle because I’m pretty open about all of the stupid or weird stuff I’m into, and I don’t feel particularly guilty about any of it.  After doing some soul searching I guess the thing that most qualifies as a guilty pleasure for me would be the enormous thrill I get when buying and cracking the cover on a vintage Mom magazine.  You know the ones, McCall’s, Woman’s Day, Working Woman, Woman’s Week, any of the tabloid supermarket checkout magazines aimed at the modern woman in the 80s.

Over the last 4 years I’ve culled a decent amount of content for this site from my rather large “archive” of these magazines.  Return of the Jedi jungle Gym ads?  Check.  Pudding Pop ads?  Check.  Sizzlean and Frank ‘n Stuffs ads?  Check, Check.  I’m not apologetic about this collection in the least, but even I have to admit that I get a little too excited when I scope an eBay listing for a large lot of these cheap.  There isn’t uncontrolled squealing mind you, but there is usually a contented sigh when the auction ends at a reasonable price.  Also, though the intent is to pick these up for use with Branded, I will admit that I scrapbook a ton of stuff from these magazines that’ll never make it to the site because I am well aware of the limits of what is considered interesting.  No one wants to see me write two thousand words about my nostalgia for the Fresh’n Up fragrance towers or how awesome the airbrushed artwork is on the Hanes Comfort Slacks advertisements.  No one.  Also, on a similar note, probably the thing I enjoy the most about going out of town on vacation is visiting the local grocery and super stores hunting from products that I don’t have in my neck of the woods.  There are probably thousands of picture files on my computer of cans of soda, store brand boxes of cereal, snack products, and candy.  I’m pretty sure I’m the antithesis of the “life of the party”…

Wanna know some other hidden secrets of teh League?  Head on over to these sites and read their diaries…

Goodwill Geek, Goodwill Hunting 4 Geeks, shares some dirty movie secrets

Tim, Flashlights are Something to Eat, shares some dirty Vanilla Ice secrets

Jaime, Shezcrafti, shares some dirty Ace of Base secrets

Brian, Cool & Collected, shares some dirty Survivor secrets

Dex, AEIOU and Sometimes Why, shares some dirty secrets about Britney Spears

Cody, Crooked Ninja Turtle Gang, shares some dirty typography secrets

Oh, there was going to be blood…

*Update* Oh man, I’m such a dumbass, I didn’t process the phrase “Photo Assignment” on this week’s League challenge.  Sigh.  What a dink I am…

This week’s topic from the league is pretty broad, just the word Red, which usually makes from some interesting interpretations.  Can’t wait to see what others have written about frankly.  For me, after writing about my sister recently and having to really dig through some of my childhood experiences, there was only one thing that immediately sprang to mind, blood and the only time I was ever in a “fight”.  I was a pretty harmless kid.  A little butterball obsessed with G.I. Joe, action films, and comic books, but if you knew me you knew the likelihood of any actual fisticuffs was beyond silly.  I just really didn’t have it in me.  Still don’t.  There was one time though, one instance where I was pushed a little too far.  I wish I had a Ralphie (from A Christmas Story) experience with a bully that just pushed too far and I beat the tar out of him while letting loose a string of obscenities that were still hanging over Central Florida as I type this, but alas it wasn’t anywhere near that cinematic or therapeutic.  I’ll set the scene.  I was 11 years old.  It was 1987, and I was in the middle of my G.I. Joe phase (i.e. typically wearing a cammo T-shirt and olive drab shorts, and very often wore what I thought was a badass “green beret” beret – see below.)

I’d just begun the sixth grade, which meant riding the big yellow Twinkie to and from school.  I’d also  just recently watched the film La Bamba, and was telling a friend about it on the bus.  For some messed up reason we thought the scene where Ritchie Valens’ mother found out about his passing was funny (I was eleven, cut me some slack), and we kept reenacting the scene, throwing up imaginary laundry in the air and calling each other’s names (instead of “Ritchie!”)  Real quick, looking back, I was being a little callus douche, and if I could reach back through time and hit myself upside the head I totally would.  Anyway, I wasn’t the only Shawn on the bus that day.  There was a kid who lived a couple streets down from me that I was sort of friends with (you know, enough to go over to his house but not sleep over) who shared my name (and spelling.)  I’d had a beef with him earlier that month in a dispute over trading some baseball cards.  He wanted my Bo Jackson rookie card and I didn’t want to trade it.  He kept badgering me relentlessly, so one day I took the card out of my binder, showed it to him and tore it in half.  I thought I was ending an argument, but I guess he took it really personally.  Long story short, while goofily reenacting the scene from La Bamba, he assumed I was making fun of him and when we got off the bus, well, IT WAS ON.

He hung back for a bit, but when I was in my yard heading towards our front door he came running at me full steam, screaming, with his right arm out to the side in preparation to clothesline me.  I turned around and honestly didn’t know what to think.  It was kind of in slow motion, enough so that I thought to myself, “Wow, Shawn’s going to clothesline me, and isn’t it weird that Ritchie Valens’ mom was hanging laundry on a clothesline…?”  While processing the coincidence, he totally clotheslined me, right in the face, hitting me hard enough to give me a couple black eyes but luckily he didn’t break my nose.  Here’s where the story got downright pathetic.  As I confessed, I was quite the pudgy kid, and a little tall for my age group.  The other Shawn?  I swear he weighed 50lbs soaking wet, and for real, his gums would start bleeding if you looked at him askance.  Though he tried his best to waylay me, he just hit my face and them tumbled over me.  A little stunned, and honestly still thinking about clotheslines, it took me a second to really get mad.  But when it hit, I was pissed.  Seriously, like, pissed right the fuck off.  Part of it was the group of other kids that had gathered around and were chiding me, urging me on to fight, and part of it was some twisted pent up rage that I’d apparently been harboring and didn’t realize.  All of a sudden I wanted blood.  Like seriously, I wanted to see Shawn bleed.  So I bent down, grabbed him by the shirt, and hauled back and, um, well, slapped him across the face.  I so wish I had punched him, but like I said, I just didn’t have it in me.  But boy did I give him a slap he’d never forget.  More importantly, the blood started flowing.  From his nose, his gums, it was like I’d turned on a faucet.  Honestly, he was like a little scrawny Andrew WK…

For me, this was mission accomplished.  I proceeded to then resort to the only other thing a butterball like me could do, I sat on him until he calmed the fuck down.  About ten minutes later most of the other kids had dispersed, and Shawn had started clotting.  I got up, he sulked away and I felt like a million freaking dollars.  I was so stupidly proud of what I had done.  And you know what was the real cherry on top of this stupid childhood sundae for me right then?  I had Shawn’s blood all over my shirt.  I couldn’t wait to show my parents and sister.  “Look guys, I was in a fight, and I won!  See, this is his BLOOD!”  Let’s just say my parents didn’t see it quite in that light.  But my sister did.  And at the time, that’s all that mattered.

You can see the residual of what was left of my two black eyes in the picture above, just a little red around the sockets…

If you enjoyed my response to this week’s League assignment, why not check out some of these other member’s posts…

Tim, Flashlights Are Something to Eat, adds a “D” like a Fox!

Jaime, Shezcrafti, shares some random red radness!

IoK, That Figures, shares some of his red action figures!

Eric, Toyriffic, gets intergalactic-catty with Dex-Starr!

Todd, Neato Coolville, has collectables in his blood!

Where the Sidewalk Ends…

I usually try and keep the personal behind the scenes stuff off of Branded, but I’ve been meaning to write about something for awhile and this just seemed like the day to do it.  Next Monday would have been my big sister’s 44th birthday, but it isn’t because on November 27th, 2010 she took her own life on a dreary Sunday morning.  Every single day that’s passed since I received the panicked phone call informing me she had hung herself has been a bit of a struggle.

There’s no doubt in my mind that I spent the first 32 and a half years of my life following in the footsteps of my big sister Beth.  She was, hands down the coolest, nicest, and smartest person I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing, and whether she knew it or not I spent the majority of my childhood hanging on every word she spoke.  I can trace back so many of the things that I feel define me directly to her, whether it’s my ability to draw, my design aesthetic, my taste in movies and music, my choice in cars, or the overall outlook I have on how to lead my life.  She metaphorically laid down the sidewalk that I’ve been following my entire life.

I remember the day when I was four years old and she gave me her old pair of roller skates, these huge blue monsters that were way too big for my feet.  They had sweet white stripes on the sides and red wheels, and she taught me how to tip my toes down to use the “break” peg to slow myself enough so I wouldn’t come crashing into the front door of the house whenever I wanted to stop.  When I wore those skates I felt like I could fly, like I was Superman, and she was the one who taught me how to do that.

Up until I was 8 or 9 Beth also used to let me “camp out” in her room.  She’d get a bunch of sheets that she would tack up to the wall on one end, and tuck underneath the mattress of her bed on the other, and she’d let me hang out all weekend in her room.  It was the only time I was “allowed” in there, and it was usually when she was doing a bunch of stuff for cheerleading or with friends.  This might sound weird since she wasn’t there, but half of the excitement for me was that she gave me full reign over her books, turntable, and record collection (but I wasn’t to touch her dresser or closet!)  I spent so many weekends flipping through her collection of LP’s introducing myself to Cheap Trick, Rick Springfield, Prince, Cyndi Lauper, and the B-52s.  Over the years I borrowed and eventually took ownership of her collection of Judy Blume books as well.

When I was 12 years old, Beth brought home a copy of Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste from the video store, and she let me watch it even though it was one of the horror films my parents had actually forbade me to see.  That same year she drove me out to a second-hand bookstore and encouraged me to pick up my first two “adult” novels Stephen King’s The Shining and Christine.  Beth also gave me my first Weird Al cassette, and didn’t seem to care when I immediately usurped her tape player so that I could listen to those songs every night before I went to sleep.

When I was getting to that awkward age of ten, when she was eighteen and it wasn’t cool to hang out with your little brother, she still let me tag along with her.  There was this one time when she let me pile into a car with three of her girl friends and we all went over to jump on Beth’s boyfriend’s trampoline.  Someone got the bright idea to cover the thing with detergent and to hose it down to make it an extremely fun and stupidly dangerous adventure.  Thank goodness we all had bathing suits on.  I remember we took turns in pairs getting into the shower (in our swimsuits mind you) to get the soap off, and I was paired with one of Beth’s more attractive girl friends that I had a crush on.  All I’ll say is that my sister gave me a knowing wink afterwards.

When we ended up moving to New Hampshire from Florida at the end of 1989, Beth stayed.  She’d already moved out into an apartment earlier that year when she was still 19, and that always stuck with me.  The first thing I did when I turned 19 was move out, not because I felt like I needed to (in fact my parents would have been overjoyed had I stayed), but because Beth did and it just felt right. There are countless other things my sister introduced me to or encouraged me to do, and it kills me when I think that I never got a chance to really repay the favor.  Over the years I tried my best to introduce her to stuff that I loved as birthday and Christmas gifts, but I’m not sure if she realized what I was trying to do for her, repaying what she had done for me.

The last time I saw my sister was in July of 2010.  We’d been meaning to get together and go on a vacation in Savannah ever since I became an adult, but it just never materialized.  That year though we finally did it.  It wasn’t really a vacation as it was only a whirlwind 18 hours total, but I booked a two bedroom bed and breakfast that overlooked the river, and we met up on a Saturday afternoon.  I had been really excited to see her because she had recently asked me to draw a logo and mascot for a new business she was looking to start up.  She’d never asked for anything like that from me before and I was so happy to finally do something creative for her.  We spent the afternoon talking about the drawing I’d done and what her plans were for the company she was going to call Goblin Technologies.

We spent that evening going up and down the river-walk, browsing in all the shops and more or less catching up.  My favorite picture of us together is from that day (the one below), where we were caught making the stupidest faces ever together.  It’s unflattering as all hell, but it’s also hilarious and I love it.

She had scheduled a ghost tour for my birthday, and that night around 10:00pm we met up with our group in one of the town squares and had probably the worst evening ever.  Between the rain, the unseasonable cold weather, and a very boring and pretty lame tour guide, we were all drenched and pissed off.  Though I still enjoyed the experience of walking the streets of Savannah in the dark, it was a rough night.  That next morning Beth had to jet back down to Florida, so we said our goodbyes, and while she was walking away to her car I snapped the below photograph.  After I took the picture, I didn’t look back at her, I was busy fiddling with the camera to make sure the photo looked alright and then was on my way to finish off my mini Savannah vacation.

I didn’t know it at the time, but that photo is literally the last time I saw my sister.

I’m no expert on grief or dealing with death, but I think I can kind of authoritatively say that dealing with the loss of a loved one is compounded tenfold when suicide enters the picture.  There’s a level of disbelief and immense feelings of rejection that are almost impossible to shake, even years later.  At the end of the day, all I do know for certain is that if you have someone in your life that means half as much to you as my sister meant to me, tell them.  Right now.  Write them a letter, send them an e-mail, text them, call them, go over and hug them.

As a positive post script to this, I took all my anger and grief and put it to use since my sister passed.  Though she didn’t leave a traditional note (most don’t I’ve been told), I was able to piece together the last couple months of her life (she kept a lot of journals) and have a pretty good understanding of how she came to the place where she made her ultimate decision.  Part of the digging reveled what I personally feel is her “note”, a lone jump drive that was in her purse that had 12 songs on it.  Each song seems to address someone or something that haunted her at the end of her life.  No one knows where the drive came from, and those songs were not from albums found anywhere else in her music collection.  When I listen to those songs I feel like I can hear what was in her head at the end and it’s been what I’ve needed to drive me to do things that I’ve been meaning to do for years.  In particular, those twelve songs have been my weight loss soundtrack for the last year and a half.  I was always overweight (you can certainly see that in the photo above), but after Beth I knew I had to ditch that extra girth.  The last thing my sister helped me do was to get to a healthy weight, dropping from a high of 400lbs to my lowest since the 9th grade of 252lbs.  So there is that.

I reached the point in my journey where the sidewalk my sister created, ends.  I’ve had to learn over the past 2 and a half years that it’s my job now to keep building it, even if I can’t see where it’s leading.

I’m a member in good standing in some pretty prestigious clubs…

I thought I wasn’t going to find time to post this week, but I didn’t want to sit on the following cool stuff for another month (considering I’m going into Halloween lockdown mode soon.)  I recently had a few extra bucks lying around (rare these days) and felt like it was a great opportunity to pick up some really cool stuff from a couple of really swell sites.

Up first is the mega-awesome 8-Bit Zombie Kid’s Club Pack!

I’ve been drooling over the neat clothes at 8-Bit Zombie for awhile, but I always tend to miss out on the shirts that I really want considering they’re released in pretty low print runs and tend to be gobbled up ultra fast.  So when I saw the tweet go out announcing the release of their new Kid’s Club pack I didn’t hesitate and ended up grabbing one post haste.  Let me tell you, I think I would have plunked down the price of admission for their retro custom lunch box alone.  Included in the pack are the super cool lunch box with artwork by Matthew Skiff (featuring such pop culture, cartoon and video game luminaries as Slimer, King Hippo, Cobra Commander, Mr. T, My Pet Monster, Skullface, and Castle Greyskull, as well as 8-Bit’s own Thrashor zombie skater), a club patch, a swell “Nickelodeon Slime” green club t-shirt, and a handful of stickers and buttons.  8BZ was also kind enough to include a vintage pack of Topps TMNT trading cards and a neat M.U.S.C.L.E. figure (#146, Playerman, the living record player!)

One of the aspects that I really dig about 8-Bit Zombie is their keen sense of design and ostentatious use of branding, which always gets me excited.  Heck, even the box they sent the club pack in was covered with awesome branded rubber stamps featuring some of their past t-shirt designs as well as their various 80s-inspired logos.  Sadly, the Kid’s Club Pack is currently sold out, but I’ve heard rumblings of future offerings in the works, so keep your eyes peeled and maybe you can also become a member in good standing…

The second awesome pack I picked up came from the multi-talented Tommy Day over at Top Hat Sasquatch

Tommy recently had a limited run of rad THS t-shirts screen-printed, and he’s currently offering them over at the site (though I’m not sure how many he has left, so if you want one you better head on over and put in an order!)  I was so excited to open the delivery, not only because the t-shirt is swell, but because he also packed a vintage TMNT goody bag to go along with the purchase.  It goes without saying that I love getting stickers, but the buttons and cool trading cards were a great bonus.  Believe it or not, that pack of ALF cards contained a card I desperately needed to complete my set!

Help the 3rd issue of the Strange Kids Comix get the kickstart in the pants it needs!

Rondal Scott, the very cool and super nice dude who runs the Strange Kids Club, has recently put together the 3rd issue of his Strange Kids Comix anthology.  This time out, instead of a traditional pre-order, he’s taken the release of the magazine over to Kickstarter so that he can help fund not only the magazine, but some awesome goodies to go along with the issue.  This 3rd installment of SKC is themed with all sorts of 80s and 90s era television fun and includes a breathtaking cover by Jason Edmiston!

skc

Not only will there be a ton of great comics in this new issue, but Rondal also decided to pack the issue with articles written by a bunch of swell folks including Paxton Holley (Cavalcade of Awesome and the Nerd Lunch Podcast), Brian Adams (Cool & Collected and head honcho over at the League), and, well, me!  I’m really proud to have been able to contribute an article to the magazine as I enjoyed the ever-living heck out of the first two issues.  If you’re curious about my take on some R-rated flicks from the 80s that were oddly turned into Saturday morning cartoons, you should probably head on over to the Strange Kids Comix Kickstarter page and snag yourself one of the limited number of discounted early-bird copies before they’re sold out!

I know I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy of this new issue.  Reading the first two nearly melted my mind!

Introducing Pop Culture Confessions…

So, I’ve been thinking that it’s high time that I set the record straight and unburden my soul a bit here at Branded by talking about some of the 80s era pop culture that’s either eluded, intimidated, or out and out confounded me.  This is sort of a Pop Culture Confessional, a place where I can take a look at stuff that I feel like I should be familiar with, but am not, for whatever reason.  I think running a site like this can sometimes give off the wrong impression, that I know more than I do, whatever.  So with that in mind, I couldn’t think of a better topic to break in this new column than one of the most recognizable heavy metal bands of the last quarter century, Iron Maiden.

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Though I’m not 100% oblivious to this operatic British metal band, I have never sat down and listened to any of their albums.  Like most kids growing up in the 70s and 80s I had a fascination with their twisted ghoul of a mascot, the glowing-eyed zombie Eddie, but beyond this and their seat belt commercial from the 90s, this is pretty much where my exposure ends.  What’s strange to me is that there is absolutely no reason why I should have gotten into the music when I was 9 or 10.  It was around that time that I met and befriended a kid in the fifth grade who schooled me in heavy metal, though he was pretty heavy-handed with his infectious love of Metallica.  So while I was becoming a tried and true Metalli-Cat, banging my head along with Kill ‘Em All, Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets, it would take another couple years to open my eyes to other bands.  With Peanut (my friend’s nickname), it was pretty much Metallica or nothing.  There was one opportunity to listen to some Maiden back in 1988 though.  Another older kid down the street from me had seen me proudly wearing my only Metallica shirt (the “Metal Up Your Ass” shirt featuring a knife-wielding hand coming up out of a toilet bowl), and he asked me if I was into Maiden.  I didn’t want to seem uncool, so I said yeah, but only some of their early stuff (what a dork I was.)  So he ran home and quickly came back with the Somewhere in Time album and he told me I needed to hear this.  I eagerly took the album from him and then ran back into my house excited and depressed at the same time.  See, he lent me the album on CD, and at the time our family didn’t own a player.  Heck, they were still like $300, and there was absolutely no way I was going to convince my parents that we needed one just so that I could finally hear what all the fuss was about with this mysterious band.

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Time passed and I eventually opened up musically, but for the most part my interest in metal kind of waned.  I was getting into some weirder stuff like Faith No More, Devo, and eventually Ween.  As intriguing as the visage of Eddie was, getting into Iron Maiden was put on the back burner.  The next thing I know I’m 35 and now I’m almost a little ashamed that it’s taken me over 20 years to catch back up with the band.  There have been signs recently, little things here and there that have been peaking my interest and nudging me back towards the band.  Whether it was scoping out some of the awesome NECA Eddie toys that were on the pegs right next to the Robocop figures I was buying, friends posting facebook updates about attending Maiden concerts (consequently Mark also co-hosts the awesome Requiem Metal Podcast), or even when I started getting into an author’s work recently and while checking out her youtube page I found the most adorable karaoke video of her performing the intro to Number of the Beast with backup by her cats.  Iron Maiden just seems to continue to jump out at me.  Well, last night, after holding a regular movie night with my friend we started talking music, and I couldn’t help but lead the conversation over to my eagerness to finally dive into Maiden.  Lucky for me he had a handful of albums that I swiped off his shelf and am preparing myself to gorge on over the next week.  For the record I have copies of The Number of the Best (1982), Piece of Mind (1983), and Somewhere in Time (1986).

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Anyone have any suggestions as far as the order I should listen to these?  Over the years I’ve realized that there tend to be key albums by bands that can really do wonders for unlocking their catalog.  Chocolate and Cheese for Ween, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots for the Flaming Lips, or how Stephen Malkmus’ first solo album opened me up to the entire Pavement catalog.  So any suggestions for listening to Iron Maiden?  Am I missing a key album?

Branded in the 80s Headquarters, or creating the clubhouse I never had as a kid

I was prompted by Andrew Jones to document my recent room renervations in a conversation on twitter.  If you have a second, check out his site as he has a bunch of cool stuff up there…

A few weeks ago I’d wanted to go through my set of Topps Goonies trading cards (I’d wanted to take a closer look at the card with Sloth having his prosthetics applied for some reason), and had a hell of a time finding them.  Though I’d managed over the years to put my vast collection of sticker cards in binder pages, I had a ton of card sets that were literally laying all over in our second bedroom/office.  After an annoying search I finally found them, and then promptly went out and secured enough trading card pages to put everything I had in binders.  This was the first sign that I’ve been denying my problem with ephemera organizing, and that I needed to do something about it before the wife decided to call TLC and report me to Hoarders.

The second sign was when a friend mentioned that they wanted to see the Branded archive and to get a feel for the real location where this site is more or less broadcast out of.  Though we have a bunch of friends and family that come over to our place, none of them are all that interested in my nostalgic hobbies, so our second room has always been cluttered and a general mess.  The idea that I had some sort of archive for my collection was a little hilarious, at least an organized one.  Though I got a chuckle out of it, pretty soon I had to backtrack and ask myself why I wasn’t more on top of things with the various stuff I’ve been collecting and writing about all these years.  That weekend the wife and I took on the monumental task of sifting through every single piece of paper and plastic in that room (along with the “collection annex stashes” that littered the rest of our place) so that we could get this stuff properly organized.  The first step was tackling the dreaded closet.  That thing was packed floor to ceiling with 10 years worth of stuff, not all of it wanted or needed, and it took the better part of two days to get it all sorted, cleaned, and put into keep, toss and donate piles.  Along the way we found some things that we had completely forgotten we owned like a veritable arsenal of ninja-esque weaponry…

I mean, everyone has a set of batarangs, shuriken, nunchucks, and a couple samurai swords in their closet, right?  Hell, we were a bo-staff and a pair of sai away from outfitting the Ninja Turtles.  Anyway, though it seemed like it took forever, we finally managed to get it all done, and had two carloads of stuff to take over to the Goodwill.

If you’re wondering, yes we kept the weapons.  For one, I’m not sure if you can actually donate them to the Goodwill, and for another, well, you never know when Shredder and the Foot Clan is going to break into your home looking for the secret of the ooze or something.  When all was said and done we’d given away over hundred books, 30lbs of clothes, and a bunch of those white elephant-y gifts that you get from relatives, except they were serious when they handed them to us.  Though we appreciated the thought, we weren’t sure we were ever going to really find a use for the dragon in a glass ball with the strobe light attachment.  Trust me, it sounds way cooler than it actually was.

All of this work left us with a second bedroom that was feeling rather sparse now.  It used to do double duty housing half our library of books as well as our computer and my cartoon collection, but now most of the books were in the other room.  It was neat but sort of sad now…

Pretty much the only stuff on the walls were a couple of framed animation cels and my collection of 25th anniversary G.I. Joe figures.  The wife never uses the computer, so she basically turned the room over to me to do with as I pleased.  Immediately I began scheming, trying to figure out how I could convert the room into the cockpit of an AT-ST from Star Wars so that I could finally live out my dream of the perfect clubhouse I never had as a kid.  By the by, would you call the area in the AT-ST “head” a cockpit?  Anyway, since that was a dream that would never materialize (I don’t have access to the room from above anyway), I decided to instead stick with the idea of a clubhouse and proceeded to figure out a way that I could make this room feel like the 8 year-old me had decorated it.  The first thing I needed was to find the proper wall art!

  

It was hard narrowing it down as far as movie posters went, but I ended up picking a bunch of flicks that meant a lot to me growing up.  Some of these are replicas of posters that adorned my walls as a kid (Tales From the Darkside was one I loved), and others are for flicks that I’ve watched so many times I’ve just about memorized the scripts (UHF and Rad.)  These were all sized to 11×17 so that I could maximize the space by the way.  Not pictured are mini posters for The Lost Boys, The Monster Squad, and the Star Wars trilogy.  I didn’t just want to stick to movie posters though, and I was wracking my brain trying to figure out a way to represent some of these cherished movies from youth.  Then, last week, TL from Flashlights are Something to Eat pointed to a badass miniposter/prop from The Karate Kid featuring the tournament announcement as seen in the Cobra Kai dojo.  A geeky designer had recreated the poster pretty darn well and is offering the digital image of the poster for free on his site.  A quick trip to Kinkos, two bucks and a little white lie about this being a real tournament announcement later and I had my own copy for the Branded HQ wall!

  

I also really wanted to represent the Goonies, but again, not particularly with another poster.  I liked the idea of procuring some replica props from the film when I came across this awesome map on eBay!  Not only does it look great (aside from the Photoshop-y burnt edges), but it was only $10 and I am certainly on a budget with this clubhouse remodel.  Today I even managed to find some pretty authentic looking replicas of the map doubloon and the copper bones key as well.  I’m crossing my fingers that they’ll fit inside the frame I bought for the map…

When attempting to narrow down the number of posters I wanted to hang, there were a lot of runners up that I still really wanted to hang, but just didn’t have the room.  On a recent trip to Target though, I found a solution to this problem in super cheap decent looking 4×6 inch frames.  So another trip to Kinkos, and 4 bucks (plus $6 more for the frames) later I have a bunch of these to put up as well (I posed them with Brad Turner from M.A.S.K. for scale)…

I also framed a few more animation cels, some other original art and a couple prints.  I think I’ve done a pretty good job of capturing most of the nostalgic highlights, from toys and cartoons, to TV, Flims, and even stuff like the Garbage Pail Kids…

  

I even managed to pull in all of my favorite horror and nostalgia DVDs, as well as keeping a small bookcase just for my ridiculous Choose Your Own Adventure-style and novelization paperback collection.  Though I still have a few more odds and ends to frame and hang, I’ve more or less created an official Branded HQ/Clubhouse.  The last thing the room needed, in a “really tying it together” sort of way, was a lamp.  Wouldn’t you know it, Target had this brand new beauty on the shelf this week…

Now I can sit back and write in an environment exclusively designed to keep me Branded in the 80s.  Here’s to hoping I don’t spent all that time with a glazed look on my face just starring at the walls though…

Top ten childhood crushes (Yup, I like-liked them…)

I’ve been feeling a little under the weather this week, not to mention in a very silly mood (did you read the last article?), so I’ve decided to finish off the week a bit weirder than usual here at Branded by posting another top-ten list, something I’m not prone to doing, but I’m going to let you into my head a bit.  When I was a kid I started having crushes around age 3 or so.  Not sure if this is early for a boy, but I do know that I had a “girlfriend” by age 4 (Robin – she dumped me by the by), and was madly in love at 5 with a girl, Heather, down the street when we lived in Tampa.

(That’s me in yellow & green on the far right, and Heather is the blonde next to me.  Oh and that was my birthday at Showbiz and I was peeved at my Dad for sticking me in the back, no one puts Shawn in the corner!)

Anyway, I’ve been threatening (myself) that I’d eventually do a top ten list of my childhood crushes, so here it is.  You’ll notice the absence of Punky Brewster, Drew Barrymore, and Vicki the Small Wonder robot because even as a boy I was into older women (TMI, I know.)  First off, a couple of honorable mentions…

Honorable Mention 1: E.G. Daily (Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, Better Off Dead, and the Rugrats)

How can you not be in love with Dotti from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure?  Not only was she the cool bike store chick, but she was also playing herself as a rock star in Better Off Dead (pick up some of her albums by the way, they’re great!)

Honorable Mention 2: The Guys – John Cusack (the holy trinity of Lloyd Dobler, Lane Meyer, and Hoops McCann), Matt Adler (Teen Wolf, White Water Summer, and North Shore), and Clayton Rohner (as Rick Morehouse in Just One of the Guys)…

I’m pretty comfortable with my sexuality, enough so to admit that I had crushes on all three of the above mentioned gentlemen, Matt Adler in particular.

Okay, now on to the main list.  These were kind of tough to put in an order, but after a lot of deliberation this is how it plays out…

10). Erin Grey (Buck Rogers & Silver Spoons)

Mrs. Grey is probably one of my first big crushes.  While Star Wars introduced me to Carrie Fisher, I spent the better part of my youth watching Buck Rogers and Silver Spoons week in and week out so it was hard to ignore Mrs. Grey charms.  I’m also not sure how much this crush was that I wanted her as my alternate mom…

9). Mitzi the Mouse from the Rock-Afire-Explosion Showbiz Pizza Band

As much as I’m willing to admit that I had a crush on a bunch of guys, I can also admit that I had a crush on an audio-animatronic mouse.  Was it the cheerleader outfit?  Shalisa James’ singing?  I’ll never know, but I do know that I looked forward to seeing her every time a birthday came around in the early 80s.

8). Lea Thompson (Howard the Duck, Back to the Future, Red Dawn, & SpaceCamp)

Lea Thompson didn’t jump out at me at first, but as I was looking through my DVDs to compile this list I couldn’t help but notice that she starred in a number of my favorite films.  The more I thought about it the more I realized that I had most certainly had a crush on her growing up.  She was my favorite junior-naut in SpaceCamp, was one of the only ones to make it out of Red Dawn alive, and was quite the flirtatious bad-girl in Back to the Future.  Did I mention she was the awesome lead of the Cherry Bombs in Howard the Duck?  If I can love a mouse and she can love a duck, well, there has to be something there…

7). Diane “Monique” Franklin (Better Off Dead)

Cute as a button and a tomboy to boot.  She can throw a lemon like no other, and you have to give her props for lasting as long as she did under the same roof as Rickey…

6). Joyce “Terry Griffith” Hyser (Just One of the Guys)

I’m not sure this was intentional on the part of the filmmakers or not, but I found Joyce Hyser way more attractive as Terrance then Terry.  I guess I dug the short hair and bravado, but she was my deamgirl for a couple years in middle school.  The final confrontation scene in the flick didn’t hurt either…

5). Tie between Jane “Diana” Balder & Faye “Julie Parrish” Grant (V)

Jane Balder’s Diana ate a guinea pig in V.  I still had a crush on her.  Julie Parrish was also a big crush of mine, I’ll admit for her weirdly sexy white get-up in the torture scenes.  If I ever speak to a therapist, I’m positive that scene will come into the conversation.  I’m also noticing a trend of girls with guns here.  Hmmm….

4). Christine “Moose” McGlade (You Can’t Do That on Television)

YCDTOTV was my first real experience with sketch comedy, and by far my favorite actor on the show was Moose.  Well, I guess I probably had a crush on Alister too, but Moose was where it was at.

3). Susan “Boof” Ursitti (Teen Wolf)

Teen Wolf is a film that I love, but is rife with huge problems, not the least of which is the insanity that Scott would rebuff Boof.  Seriously.  Oh, as TL, of Flashlights are Something to Eat, brought up on instagram today, where did she get a name like Boof?

2). Evil Lyn, specifically Linda Gary’s voice-acting and the Mattel action figure (He-Man and the Masters of the Universe)

Yup, I’ll admit it.  I scraped off the paint on my Evil Lyn breast plate because I wanted to see what was underneath.  I was six.  Little did I know that I’d just have to wait a couple years to watch Just One of the Guys to find out what was really under there.  By the way, after that my mom never bought me any of the female action figures in any line of toys, so I never had a Scarlett, Lady Jaye or Baroness.  I had to buy Jinx with my allowance.

1). Michelle “Jordan” Meyrink (Real Genius)

Hands down, Michelle Meyrink is the ultimate 80s nerd girl (starring in Real Genius and Revenge of the Nerds.)  Jordan is someone who would drive me insane, what with the non-sleep and six million projects all running at once, but still, she was awesome in my book.  She’s also one of those actresses that I thought should have been in more flick.  Thanks to Jamie over at Shezcrafti for reminding me of the flick Nice Girls Don’t Explode for a starring turn by Meyrink.

Well, that’s the list, what about you guys and gals, any crushes you’re afraid to admit to from back in the day?

Hi, my name is Shawn and I’m a mechanical pencil nerd…

A couple weeks ago I shared my love for the vintage Mead Trapper Keeper folder system.  Well, writing that post reminded me that I also wanted to expose my slightly geekier side by talking a little bit about my nerdy mechanical pencil memories.  Though I’d hesitate to say that I enjoyed my time in elementary, middle and high school, I can say without a doubt that I loved “gearing up” for the new school year with all new supplies.  Of all this stuff, folders, figural erasers, writing instruments, and lunch boxes, my all time favorite school supply had to be mechanical pencils.

I was given my first “mechanical” pencil (using air quotes because these barely qualify) by my sister as a hand-me-down.  It was a strawberry-scented push pencil (I wrote about these a few years ago) that no longer had a berry scent and was missing some of the pencil tip nibs, so I had to stuff little wads of paper inside the barrel to get the pencil to work.  A little later on I remember getting my hands on a new one, Transformers branded that was light purple and covered in little Megatrons and Decepticon logos.  I was constantly losing the nibs though (they made great darts for my rubber-band slingshot), and had to make the leap to something a little more utilitarian for actual writing.  My mom bought me a package of Papermate Sharpwriters, those ugly yellow pencils where you’d twist the point to advance the lead inside…

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Though the bland “useful” design kept me from wanting to tear it apart and play with it, I never really liked these Sharpwriters because the tips aren’t tight (by design) and therefore they’re a little awkward to write with.  Well, even though I didn’t want to play with it, as you can see in the picture above, I do have a predilection for taking these kinds of things apart, though as a kid it was so that I could try and figure out a way to make it feel a little more solid.  I remember that I was supremely frustrated when I discovered that once you remove the tip, the pencil is basically dead.  These are ultimately the most disposable mechanical pencils anyway, but after breaking it trying to fix it I knew I was going to begging my mom for something better and studier.  So sometime during the 2nd grade I got my hands on my first Pentel Sharplet-2…

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This is truly where my mechanical pencil fetish began.  How can I adequately explain this discovery?  I think what really got me hooked on these Pentel pencils was the bright colors and the fact that they were built to be somewhat dismantled.  You could unscrew the tip to get to the lead-advancing mechanism inside, as well as remove the eraser cover to get at or replace both the erasers and lead.  It didn’t take me very long to find a couple colors I really liked that I could swap out the tips and eraser caps to make my own designer pencil creations.  In fact I seem to remember a bunch of kids in my class doing this and personalizing their pencils…

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These Sharplet-2′s were a revelation and a lot of fun, but as far as I know they were only available with two lead sizes, 0.5 and 0.7.  During elementary school 0.5 was what I loved because the lead was thin enough to always feel sharp and ready.  But by the time I got to middle and high school, I was yearning for something a little more versatile.  For one, the erasers were so thin that they’d wear out really quick and before I knew it all I had was the little aluminum eraser holder on the end.  Again, I’d have to wad up a piece of paper to keep the extra lead from falling out when the cap was off.  So by the time I entered the 5th grade I was upgrading yet again, this time to my favorite mechanical pencil, the Quicker Clicker!

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Though I’m certain there are “better” pencils on the market, once I received my first few quicker clickers I was done searching.  Design, color, customizability, multiple lead sizes, these suckers had it all.  Not only that, but for the first time I had access to pencils that had super cool translucent plastic barrels, and much wider, more useful erasers.  The overall design of the quicker clicker, with its lead advancing button right at your finger tip, better erasers, and availability in a 0.9 lead thickness made then super useful for drawing (which I had taken up around that time.)  Also, I always thought the eraser cap looked a whole heck of a lot like Megatron’s head, which reminded me of my old push-pencil, so these sort of felt like a good replacement.

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The 0.9 lead was a bit softer and would dull like a regular wooden pencil tip which made it really versatile for sketching and being able to vary the line width and contrast of the pencil work.  From 1987 until today, the Quicker Clickers have been my pencil of choice, with only a few road bumps along the way…

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I’m not sure when they changed, but sometime after the year 2000, Pentel decided to alter the design of the Quicker Clickers to add a rubberized grip around the front of the barrel (around the lead advance button), as well as changing out the tip a bit.  It’s not a huge deal, but part of me had become so accustomed to the feel of the non-rubberized grip that this addition actually affected my drawing for awhile.  Though I’m a pencil nerd, and this change did bug me, I tend to obsess a little over using the same pencil. I guess it’s sort of like ballplayers wearing the same jockstrap during a good season (or career if you’re Cal Ripken, Jr.), so when Pentel switched to the new design I never thought to stock up on some back-up pencils in the older style.  Well, in the ensuing years the value of vintage Quicker Clickers (without the rubber grip) has skyrocketed.  A 0.9 lead QC in the original solid red or brown can cost as much as $50 on eBay!  As for the more standard translucent 0.5 lead versions in blue and smoke are almost non-existent on the secondary market.  Apparently though, recently a few boxes of old overstock 0.5 translucent smoke pencils have made their way onto eBay and you can get a package for around $10 to $15.  It’s still much higher than a mechanical pencil should cost, but it’s a lot better than what the standard vintage pencil scalpers are asking.

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I couldn’t write about my favorite pencils without bringing up their constant companions, the Pentel Clic Erasers…

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As most pencil nerds will attest, the idea of using the included eraser on the pencils is sort of frowned upon.  The eraser is more of a last ditch, backup incase your eraser of choice is misplaced or used up.  Besides, though you could adjust the eraser on the Quicker Clickers as it wore down (by pulling out the eraser and the little metal clasp that surrounds it and then pulling it up and snapping it back in), it made the eraser unstable and a little fugly.  For me, the eraser of choice has always been the Pentel Clic because it was long and for all intents and purposes it’s the mechanical pencil of erasers.  The material of the eraser is great for drawing too, soft enough to not tear up the paper, yet sturdy enough to erase most pencil lines (unless you’re a heavy-handed penciler.)

So that’s my nerdly little secret obsession, 30 year old mechanical pencils.  Anyone out there also a closet pencil nerd?  If so, what’s your favorite brand, color or lead thickness?  Anyone ever drop some serious money to re-buy a pencil from your youth, or is that just me…?

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