I wonder if Fred Savage ever conquered Bad Dudes?!

4461391534_02cce86892_oA little over a month ago I was farting around on Archive.org when I stumbled upon something magical.  In the magazine rack section some amazing soul had uploaded over 100 issues of the now defunct Nintendo Power magazine.  I was so excited about this I started sharing the link to the collection on twitter and facebook, and then next thing I knew everyone and their brother was also sharing the link.  Sadly it looks like all this attention potentially drew the ire of Nintendo, and all of the issues seem to have been removed from the site which is a real bummer.  Luckily I managed to snag a bunch of these and I’ve been able to dive back into the pages of one of my all time favorite magazines.  As a quick aside, even though it shouldn’t, it endlessly amazes me how news is reported inaccurately online.  Two days after I shared the link to the Nintendo Power archive and I started seeing sites report on it, about 75% of them assumed that either a) Nintendo uploaded them, or b) that the “internet archive” uploaded them.  First of all, do people not know how the Internet Archive works?  Second, hell no, Nintendo did not upload them, and three seconds of fact checking at the destination link would have shown them that.  I think a bunch of these articles were just “me too” pieces that basically plagiarized whatever larger/loud source got it wrong first and no one bothers to fact check or do any research.  I often wonder when something like this hits, do people even care about the actual news, or are they just interested in sharing it for likes, follows and clicks?  Sigh.

Back to the magazine, I’m not sure where I stumbled on the first issue as a kid, but I vividly remember starting my collection with that very distinctive issue with the rad claymation cover back in 1988…

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Like most kids my age I was addicted to the Nintendo Entertainment System and spent endless and afternoons and weekends perfecting my skills in games like the Super Mario Bros. trilogy, Bad Dudes, Section Z, Excite Bike and Final Fantasy.  I used to pour over the pages of this magazine looking for tips, tricks and codes that would help me find my way to the negative world or get a hundred lives in Super Mario Bros., how to perfect the Konami Code, or how to navigate the murky world of Final Fantasy (via the amazing Strategy Guide in issue 17.)  At some point I lost my sizeable collection of the magazine (I’d bet that my parents chucked them in one of our moves), and I haven’t dug into an issue since at least 1994.  Flipping through these digital issues has been a blast and I absolutely love how “of the time” the graphic design is in all the ads and articles.  I mean just take a gander at these two amazing slices of late 80s fun…

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I kind of want to live in that surfing advertisement.  Then there’s this third ad that details all of the Nintendo branded food products that were available back in the late 80s.  I totally ate my weight in the official Nintendo cereal from Ralston, well, at leas the Zelda side of the box.  I wasn’t much of a fan of the Mario Bros. cereal…

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I totally do not remember the Nintendo juice boxes at all, but I vaguely remember some ice-cream novelties and those candy bars seem very familiar.

Scanning back through these I was a little surprised how formulaic the first 40 or so issues were.  Each one featured a bunch of the same regular columns in the same layout from issue to issue.  That’s not really a complaint mind you, just an observation, something I noticed when I realized that almost all of the first 42 issues featured a celebrity profile of an NES addicted superstar.  All sorts of folks were featured in the pages of Nintendo Power, from actors and comedians like Fred Savage and Jay Leno, to sports stars and commercial icons like Ken Griffey Jr. and Joe Isuzu (of all people.)  I thought it’d be fun to share a bunch of my favorite celebrity profiles from the first few years of the magazine.  Though a bunch of these are from the ’88 & ’89 issues, there are also a handful from the ’90 to ’92 issues as well.  I typically don’t dip much into the 90s here at Branded, but I thought for the sake of completeness that it would be worth it to make an exception this one time.  So here are 20 of my favorite profiles…

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I might as well start with the first issue from August of 1988 which featured a joint profile of those crazy Cameron kids, Kirk and Candace (from Growing Pains and Full House respectively.)  Since I’m starting with Growing Pains I figured I might as well as throw in the Jeremy Miller profile from issue 23, April of 1991.  While Candace had mastered Super Mario Bros. and was (at the time) totally stuck in the middle of the Legend of Zelda, Kirk was more of a Gradius man who was having such a hard time with the Amoeboids he was seriously considering placing a call to the legendary game counselors.  Jeremy on the other hand was a huge fan of Star Tropics and Tetris and was really proud of hitting 289,000 in the infamous block clearing game.

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The idea that Jay Leno was not only playing the Legend of Zelda, but that he was invested in it enough to call the Nintendo counselors asking for help on level 7 just makes me feel all kinds of warm and fuzzy.  I know that celebrities are people too and the NES was huge when it hit, but I still can’t help but break out with a smile when I think of adult celebs getting video game thumb on the same games that I was playing as a kid.  Also, I wonder how Leno liked Ikari Warriors?  ‘Cause I loved it…

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Speaking of adult celebs playing and loving the NES, this one from issue 10, Jan/Feb 1990 with Stephen Furst is probably my favorite profile of a “grown-up” by far.  I love that he went so far as to submit a review of Double Dragon II (he loves that cyclone spin kick!)  I also find it fascinating that Nintendo reached out to an actor like Furst.  I mean, though some 80s kids were probably hip to Animal House, how many of them were watching St. Elsewhere?!

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So, the above two profiles make way more sense to me in terms of the actors they were targeting.  Fred Savage and David Faustino were the perfect age at the time for Nintendo’s main target audience, not to mention that Savage was in The Wizard.  The Fred Savage profile is from issue 9, November/December 1989, while the Faustino profile appeared in issue 37 from 1992.

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These celebrity profiles weren’t just for actual actors or sports heroes, it was also for characters too.  Take these two that feature Bart Simpson and Freddy Kruger (well, Robert Englund, though from reading it, it’s clear he did the piece as Freddy) from issues 28 and 30 respectively. Though neither really talks about Nintendo per-se, I love the Power Glove jokes Englund delivers.  Also, years before there was ever a Freddy Vs. Jason movie, Englund talks about the concept in his profile…

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I could go on and on about these profiles, but I think I should just let them speak for themselves…

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The All New Branded in the 80s podcast, Episode 7!

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On this episode of the All New Branded in the 80s podcast I spend some time talking about what it’s like to be a nostalgia addicted guy in the world of pop culture collecting.  Though I adore most all 80s nostalgic kid’s stuff, these days it takes more than a tub full of Masters of the Universe figures or a wall of Nintendo NES cartridges to get me excited about collecting.  No, to really make my head spin the stuff that I love to find has to be the kind of things that simply just should exist anymore.  So join me as I talk about a few items I’ve stumbled upon in the wild that really made my eyes bug and gave me that metaphorical punch of nostalgia to the gut.

Here are some pictures of the stuff I talk about in this episode…

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You can find the episode on iTunes, Stitcher, the Branded Facebook page, or you can also stream it directly from the handy player below, or download it directly by right-clicking and saving here.

You can subscribe to the podcast here!

If you want to chat about the show or other fun 80s junk, you can send me an e-mail to smurfwreck@gmail.com

The All New Branded in the 80s podcast, Episode 6 – The Marty McFly Theorem

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Welcome back to episode 6 of the new Branded in the 80s podcast.  In this episode I dive into one of my favorite movies, Back to the Future, to discuss an aspect of the story that most folks don’t talk about, the other Marty McFly.  You know, the one that is at the end of the flick repeating the events of the opening, but this Marty is different.  He grew up with successful parents and siblings and he even owns that sweet black 4×4 truck.  I discuss the differences between Marty Alpha…

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…and the lesser discussed Marty Beta.

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You can find the episode on iTunes, Stitcher, the Branded Facebook page, or you can also stream it directly from the handy player below, or download it directly by right-clicking and saving here.

You can subscribe to the podcast here!

Peel Here 122: Filling in the gap of the Shirt Tales

4560287382_404990f06c_oIt’s kind of crazy, over the last 10 years I’ve collected, traded and sold so many 80s stickers that I often forget what I’ve already acquired or written about here at Branded.  Part of this is because so many of my stickers are sitting in stacks packed away in boxes (and have been for years) because I haven’t found a great way to store or display them.  Over the past few months I’ve been amassing a small collection of Hallmark Shirt Tales sticker sheets thinking that, that was a brand I had yet to write about.  When I sat down to put this Peel Here column together I surprised myself when I realized that I had already written about some Shirt Tales stickers almost 9 years ago.  Well, luckily, the sticker sheets I’ve been collecting did not overlap with what I’d written about before, so now I can fill in the gaps with some more vintage Shirt Tales stickers…

The Shirt Tales made their Hallmark debut back in 1980 as a series of greeting cards, stationary and stickers.  The characters were created by Janet Elizabeth Manco and featured a series of happy, rotund and super furry animals wearing multicolored t-shirts.  These shirts usually featured some sort of salutation or emotion, especially at the outset of the brand.  There were a bunch of different animal characters, none of which were named until later on when the cards became super popular and the company was grooming the brand for additional merchandising.  Of the original animals featured, only one, Rick Racoon, would be a stand out that would make it past the greeting cards and stickers on to the cartoon.  Here’s an example of one of the earliest sheets released in 1980…

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This one has a fun collection of animals including a walrus, koala, pig, rabbit, beaver, cat, monkey, and Rick the Raccoon up on the top right.  In this second sheet, you can see a progression of the art style on these critters from rotund/cutesy to slightly more realistic.  There’s also some new animals including a penguin, skunk, bear, and what I believe is a tiger at the bottom center, though I do not think this is considered Tyg.

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A context clue for these characters is the copyright date underneath them.  These first three sheets were all released in 1980, and all of these characters were created that year.  Later on, when we get into the characters that male it onto the cartoon, you’ll notice that they retain their copyright date on the sticker sheets (so you’ll see a 1980 next to Rick for instance.)

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This fourth sheet has a continuation of the art style evolution as the characters are becoming more and more aligned with how they’d look in the eventual cartoon.  This sheet is also fun because the stickers were flocked and you could feel the fur on them.  This was released in 1981, and on it you’ll notice the introduction of three more of the permanent characters, Pammy (the panda), Bogey (the orangutan), and Tyg (the tiger.)

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This next sheet finally transitions into the more or less final look for the Shirt Tales, as well as featuring the full main and final cast of characters that would see the brand make the jump from stationary to animation (with the inclusion of Digger the mole.)  This sheet was released in 1982…

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Also, I love the way they worked the rainbows into that one above. Especially Rick’s badass rainbow wing hat.  So this next one is a sheet of banana-scented Shirt Tales stickers from 1982.  Not sure how many other scents there were in this series…

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And the last new sheet I have is this next one which goes full on into the cartoon look and feel of the Shirt Tales up to and including their awesome car and treehouse!  Note that each of the characters have different copyright dates…

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Since I’m posting all these new sticker sheets I figured I might as well also include the two sheets I shared way back in 2007…

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Last, but not least, this Halloween stick-r-treat sticker from sometime in 1982-83…

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There are probably like 6,000 other Shirt Tales sticker sheets that were released between 1980 and 1987 when the brand was active, but these are the nine I’ve been able to source.  I wonder if Hallmark has ever considered bringing this brand back?  Seems long overdue, and a quick search of the Hallmark site says, yes, yes it has started to make a comeback!

The Explorers, Expanded…

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In the pantheon of of 80s era kid adventure films, there are a few that really struggle to keep up with some of the most popular flicks.  Whereas the Goonies, E.T., Gremlins and Stand By Me are considered the gold standard of the genre, I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the flicks that just don’t have the same huge fan-bases.  Movies like the Manhattan Project, the Monster Squad SpaceCamp and Cloak and Dagger are prime examples; they certainly have their fans, some more rabid than others, but they tend to get overlooked and I’ve always felt like they deserved more respect.  Another film that would fall into this category but is a very difficult film to defend is The Explorers.  Directed by Joe Dante and released in 1985 this sci-fi kids adventure flick is kind of a brilliant disaster.  There are a lot of great ideas, some great young actors, and some really fun special effects, but none of that can really save from the flick from an awkward second half, a rushed production and a script that was probably a couple drafts away from being a much more solid story.

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The Explorers is one of those movies that I managed to completely miss out on during my younger years in the 80s, but I eventually connected with in in the late 90s on a fox affiliate Saturday afternoon TV screening.  At the time it felt like a missing puzzle piece to my childhood, another sci-fi component that complimented both E.T. and the other kid adventure flicks I loved as a kid (Monster Squad and the Gate for horror, Goonies and Stand By Me for grand adventure, Cloak and Dagger and the Manhattan Project for spy thrillers.)  But it always felt off, even from the first viewing.  There was something about the super-cartoon-y aliens at the end of the flick that just really ruin the movie for me.  I know that Joe Dante is a huge fan of Chuck Jones and the Looney Tunes in general, but he does a much better job of working that style of wacky cartoon influence into his other films (Gremlins and his segment of Twilight Zone: The Movie.)

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So when I started collecting 80s era movie novelizations, one of the books that was at the top of my list to find was the adaptation of The Explorers

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My good friend and Cult Film Club co-host Paxton Holley recently guested on the Atomic Geeks podcast where he re-envisioned the Thunder Road spaceship from the Explorers into an evil,Christine-like possessed vehicle, and the ensuing conversation really got me into the mood to revisit the film and finally dig into the novelization.  It’s been over a decade since I watched the film all the way through (though I did skip through it recently in order to break down Ben’s room for my Awesome 80s Bedrooms series.)  So I did my best to go into the story with fresh eyes this time.  I decided to read the book first and then compare and contrast with the film.  I was pretty surprised by what I found.  The novel was written by George Gipe, sort of a notorious figure in the movie novelization circle for his weird take on the first Back to the Future and Gremlins adaptations.  So I was hoping for some batshit crazy additions to the story.  What I ended up finding is that Gipe’s take on the story is probably the best interpretation of The Explorers.

First and foremost, I think most fans of the movie would probably agree that the best part of the film (and story in general) is the opening 50 minutes that deals with the three main heroes Ben, Wolfgang, and Darren discovering, building, and testing their force field technology.  Though it has its head in the clouds, this part of the story is firmly grounded for the most part and has a lot of fun interactions between the characters and alludes to deeper aspects of the childhood experience.  It’s no Stand By Me, but there are some great bits that could stand toe to toe with any of the other, higher profile kid’s flicks of the time.  Well, the book takes this to heart and then some.  In fact, this portion of the story is the main focus of the book taking up easily the first 4/5ths of the page count.  Every scene from the movie is present, though highly expanded upon.  The story starts with Ben (Ethan Hawke in the movie) having a very vivid dream about an out of body experience flying over a landscape that looks like a circuit board.  This is the discovery that leads to him and Wolfgang (River Phoenix) designing an attachment to a computer terminal that creates a programmable force field bubble.  In the book, this segment of the story is fleshed out much more and we really get into the head of Wolfgang and Ben during this process.  We also get a lot more backstory on the dynamics between the kids, not only between Ben, Wolfgang, and Darren, but also between Ben and Lori (his school crush) and all three and the dreaded Steve Jackson, the school bully.

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While reading these first two hundred or so pages of the book I actually felt that it was keeping pace with the movie pretty well as I remembered it.  But when I popped in the movie in after finishing the book I was astounded at how fast the movie moved, glossing over so much of the story.  There are so many sequences that are covered in multiple pages in the book that fly by with a single line of dialogue or even just a look from one of the actors.  For instance, there’s a sequence in the story where Ben follows Darren home after Darren saves him from getting a serious beat down from the bully Steve.  When the two approach Darren’s house he explains to Ben about his home situation, how his father has been out of work for awhile, how his dad’s girlfriend is living with them and mostly alright but that his dad and her can really get into some crazy fights.  In the actual film though, this is truncated to practically nothing, all nuance stripped, and all that’s left is a couple leading lines of dialogue that suggest what’s actually in the book.  Similarly, there’s a whole bit where Darren is running away from Jackson and his cronies where you learn that his father taught him how to handle himself in a fight, and to know when it’s time to run.  All of that is pretty much missing from the film, though I know from reading interviews with Dante that the footage was shot, it’s just that it had to be cut to make the film ‘work’.

What’s weird, is that I could have sworn it was all in there when I watched this as a teen.  Again, I have memories of watching Explorers in the 90s and feeling that the first half was pretty darn close to the vibe of Stand By Me, but now that I’m revisiting it, it’s really pretty hollow.  Only after reading the book have I gotten the feeling that the story was elevated up a bit, fleshed out more to how I remembered it.  Another place where the two really differ is in the relationships between the three kids.  In the book, even though Ben and Wolfgang are best friends, they really don’t get along all that well.  Ben constantly has his head in the clouds either thinking about finding a way to escape the planet and go into deep space or trying to figure out a way that he can peep into Lori’s room so that he can get a better idea of what she’s like.  Because of this they really end up butting heads during the development of the force field bubble.  Whereas Wolfgang wants to spend years testing it appropriately, Ben keeps rushing it, and puts them in awkward spots where they could be killed.  In the book Gipe makes pains to underline just how dangerous the force field can be, whether it’s how easily it can shoot through solid concrete with ease or that there is only a finite amount of air trapped inside and anything living will suffocate if they don’t have a steady supply of oxygen.  I know this all makes it into the film in one way or another, but it’s much clearer in the book.  There’s a segment in the adaptation where the boys are taking the craft up into the atmosphere on their first test run and they end up running out of oxygen.  Again, this is also in the film, but in the book this sequence plays out like a scene from Apollo 18.  The boys are practically on the brink of suffocation before they figure out how to fix the problem whereas in the film it’s pretty much glossed over.  This part was really integral in the book too because it really sets the boys at odds in how to proceed, but in the movie it’s just treated as a hiccup that is not a very big deal.

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Then there’s Darren, who really wants nothing to do with either Ben or Wolfgang in the book.  Though he does get pulled back into the fold as the story goes on, there are multiple places in the story where he basically tells the guys to take a hike.  It’s not until he’s pulled into a group dream halfway through the story where he really comes back into the group as he can’t deny the extra terrestrial events.  In fact a lot of the characters are shortchanged in the movie including Charlie Drake. a police helicopter pilot who ends up chasing down the boys in a few sequences.  In the movie his character is given a bit of screen time, every second of which is lovingly portrayed by Dante mainstay Dick Miller.  What we get on screen is great, but there is a lot more to the character that we get in the book.

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Though there aren’t a lot of ‘deleted scenes’ in the book, there are a couple.  The main one centers on a birthday party that Lori invites Ben and the other to.  The sequence is kind of weird as it mainly deals with how Wolfgang considers himself asexual and thus he spends time screwing with both Darren and Ben as they try and pursue the girls at the party.  Like a lot of 80s era novelizations there’s a weird addition of some pretty adult themes in the book.  With Ben, Wolfgang tricks him into thinking that Lori likes Steve, which forces Ben to go and profess his love to Lori.  This ends in a segment where Ben gives Lori a ring made with a fake Mars rock and a super awkward kiss.  Then there’s Darren, who Wolfgang convinces that the reason he’s constantly striking out with girls is because he only approaches the virgins and that in order to land a date he needs to find a girl who has gone all the way.  There’s also a scene after Ben and the kids leave for their final trip when Ben’s mom finds a Playboy hidden in the papers on his desk.  It’s innocent enough on the face of it, but still a little jarring in the book.

All of this expanded material is interesting stuff from a character aspect, and it’s sort of frustrating knowing what is coming at the end of the book.  And I think this more or less sums up how George Gipe felt about the story in the writing process.  After reading the book and really enjoying the first chunk of the story before the kids really go deep into space, I get a feeling that Gipe didn’t want to write about any actual contact with aliens.  As I was reading through the book I was dreading that segment, knowing that it was going to be horribly cartoon-y and not in step with the rest of the story, and for a brief moment I thought Gipe might have had the balls to take it out completely.  In the movie the kids make contact about halfway in, sometime around the 55 minute mark.  In the book, it’s not until almost 210 pages into the 250 page book.  And when they do finally make contact, it goes by pretty quick after only 15 pages.  I honestly think Gipe knew that the better material was all of the stuff leading up to the aliens and it feels like he was doing his best to flesh out all of those scenes.  He seems to gloss over most of the actual alien stuff in the book, giving only vague descriptions of the beings and scuttling the kids away from them as soon as we learn that the aliens are actually kids.

In fact, the coda at the end of the book is longer than the time the kids spent on the alien craft, and looking back, I think it would be really easy to excise all of that from the story completely which would make the whole thing much more poignant.  I mean at the end of the day the story is really about the yearn to discover and the idea of going exploring, it’s not about getting to that destination.  Looking back, I have to wonder if the original drafts or pitches for the story didn’t involve aliens at all, but in the wake of E.T. the studio wanted to try and piggyback on that film’s success.  Speaking of the coda, man is it a huge downer.  Not only are our intrepid explorers really let down by the weird TV-quoting toddler aliens, but when they get back to Earth everything seems to fall apart.  The Thunder Road is destroyed in the landing, most of their keepsakes from the trip are also destroyed, and they all come to the realization that there is no one they can share these experiences with.  A very weird and down ending, but after the run-in with the goofy aliens, it’s oddly welcome.

Joe Dante is on record as being pretty disappointed with the film, both in the final cut and the film-making process which was majorly truncated and rife with problems.  He apparently filmed many of the scenes that are in the book, but had to cut them to make the story work when his release schedule was pushed up halfway through filming.  Because of his hasty editing, there are some things that were left in the film that actually have richer backstories.  In the sequence at the drive in, there is a teenage couple watching the film that are commenting on how fake it looks.  That boy is actually Ben’s older brother who is sort of a pain in Ben’s side in the book because he’s Mr. Perfect with great grades and college prospects.  There are also a number of references to Space Camp in the film with flyers and stickers on Ben’s desk, as well as the big NASA sticker on the inside of the Thunder Road.  These are all part of a sequence in the book where Ben begs his parents to be able to go, but it ended up on the cutting room floor when it came to the film.

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The last big difference I want to point to between the movie and the book is that there is the naming of the space vessel, the Thunder Road.  In both the book and the movie Darren comes up with the name, and in both he mentions that it’s from a Bruce Springsteen song.  But in the book there is a much more important reason it’s called the Thunder Road.  When the boys find the old, discarded tilt-a-whirl ride car, they have a hell of a time getting it out of the junkyard and to the creek bed where they work on it.  There’s a whole chapter where the boys are slowly rolling it through their neighborhood in the dead of night and it’s making a ton of noise as it rolls over the pavement.  This leads to a bit where they lose control of it and it rolls freely down a hill making a thundering racket and waking up all their neighbors.  Thus, Thunder Road.

All in all, I’m glad I finally dug into this book as it’s given me a much better appreciation for the film and story of the Explorers.  Normally I tend to focus on the differences between a book and movie when I read novelizations, but in this case, it was all about helping a struggling movie and story find the footing that it deserved.  If you’re a fan of the film I highly suggest picking up the book as it will only expand on your appreciation for this much maligned 80s flick…

The All New Branded in the 80s Podcast: Episode 5!

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So for those of you who are into hearing me talk instead of reading Branded pieces, the latest episode of the Branded in the 80s podcast is an audiobook rendition of the latest article I wrote, Thrashin’ and Trashin’ all about my years as an 80s skateboarding poser.  There’s a few extras thrown in for good measure as well as a shout out and a call back to last episode from the seriously awesome Michael of RetroMASH.com!

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You can find the episode on iTunes, Stitcher, the Branded Facebook page, or you can also stream it directly from the handy player below, or download it directly by right-clicking and saving here.

You can subscribe to the podcast here!

Thrashin’ and Trashin’

In 1988 I was a number of things, a comic book fan, a budding artist, a metalhead (more specifically a Metalikat), a lover of cartoons, a Garbage Pail Kid collector, but more importantly, I was a skateboarding poser. As much as I loved the culture, brands, imagery and artistry of skateboarding, I was super timid and afraid of getting hurt, and thus I spent a couple of years steeped in the sport, standing on a board very comfortably on the sidelines.  I bought issues of Thrasher magazine, I adored movies like Gleaming the Cube and Thrashin’, and I had more fingerboard key chains than fingers. That was one of the first times in my life when I desperately wanted to be a part of a clique that I absolutely knew I’d never be accepted into.  I’m not throwing blame on anyone but myself here, but being a heavy kid who was awkward at best and downright terrifyingly clumsy at worst, it felt impossible to break into the culture.  That didn’t stop me from wearing the clothes, obsessing over the movies and begging my mom for a skateboard in the months leading up to Christmas 1987.

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Sadly, not my original board, but this is quickly becoming my next collecting holy grail…

I actually lucked into my first hand-me-down skateboard sometime in early 1987.  It was an Action Sports Kamikaze, a white board with a knock-off red, Hosoi rising sun graphic on the deck, red wheels, and black rails, tail and nose guards.  I have no idea how I ended up with it, whether I traded with someone to get it or if I found it in a yard sale, but I know it wasn’t purchased new by my parents.  It was beat up with gouges scraped into the art, which I artfully covered with some extra Garbage Pail Kids stickers from my collection, in particular a Greaser Greg which I thought added a nice level of badass to the deck.  I happily rode that board up and down my street doing the only “trick” I knew how to do, kickturns, which is about as basic as you can get.

Where I grew up in Florida in the mid to late 80s, the BMX, surf and skate culture was pretty hardcore.  I’m sure it was noting in comparison to southern California, but you couldn’t throw a rock in my neighborhood without hitting a homemade launch ramp in the street or a gang of kids out “shredding” the pavement.  Hell, every 7-Eleven in my area (just north of Orlando) sold bars of Sex Wax (for waxing down your surfboard) next to the candy! Everyone was decked out in Powel/Peralta, Sims, T&C, or Santa Cruz t-shits, wore Vans, Dynos, Chuck Taylors, or Airwalks (before they were co-opted by Payless Shoes of all places), and had the hairdos to go along with it ( either the ‘Tony Hawk’, semi-shaved on one side and along the back, with long bangs flipped to the other side, or the ‘Brian Kelly’, short-ish and gelled to either wave to one side or be semi spiked.)

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I had a weird mix of the Brian Kelly and the Tony Hawk cut, lived in T&C shirts and surf shorts and wore a lot of Dynos and dual color Chuck Taylors.  I used to sport a Tracker Trucks painter’s cap with the bill flipped up and the word ‘Rad’ written in sharpie across the bottom.  In the winter I wore a grey and aqua green Billabong corduroy denim jacket.  Actually, I pretty much lived in that jacket from the winter of 1987 until my sophomore year in high school, during the fall of 1992.  The only reason I finally took it off was because my friends were so sick of seeing me in it that they chided me until I go so pissed off that I literally took a pair of scissors to it during home room and cut it into small pieces so I could throw it at them like confetti in the hallway at the end of fifth period.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Mine was like this, one with aqua green sleeves and a grey torso...

Mine was like this, one with aqua green sleeves and a grey torso…

I was an all out poser.  Though I did have a love for the culture surrounding skating, I hardly participated.  I just rode my board up and down the street, and would sit on it by the curb when friends and neighborhood kids would take turns flying off the homemade plywood launch-ramps they’d build on the weekends.  What solidified it for me, in my mind, was when I started obsessing over the idea of getting a brand new deck.  The year before I got a really awesome BMX bike, a baby blue GT Performer with white grips, mags and wheels.  I loved that bike so damn much and would ride it at top speed everywhere.  When I was on that bike I felt invincible, like Bill Denbrough on Silver (his 28-inch Schwinn) in Stephen King’s IT, I could do anything on it from jumping curbs to speeding down the steepest hills at full tilt.  So in my 10 year-old brain I thought this would translate to getting a new flashy skateboard that I dreamed of having built custom from a local skate and surf shop.  Makes sense right?

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Well, somehow or another I convinced my mom to drop $150 on a brand new board for me in Christmas of 1987.  By this point my parents had tired of surprising me and they usually either took me out to the store to pick out a few gifts, or like in this fateful year we made the trek out to a surf and skate shop down in Orlando.  Now, I knew about a lot of the pro skaters by this point from endlessly scanning the pages of Thrasher magazine, and when I walked into that shop I knew exactly what I wanted, a Mike McGill Powell/Peralta deck.  I mean, everyone knew that the Bones Brigade was the shit, and of all the pages I tore out of my skate magazines, the McGill handplant pictures were my favorites and the ones that ended up tacked to my bedroom walls.  So I had the opportunity to pick out all the components for my new board and I was very stoked.  The board itself was silver with the classic skull and snake design, but with a subtle purple coiled snakeskin pattern in the background…

Not my actual board, but this is exactly what it looked like…

The first thing I picked out was the grip-tape for the top of the deck.  I wanted mine to stand out, so I decided to go with a clear version.  I also got a couple of intact sheets so that I could cut it up into a sort of rough camouflage pattern, little silver-dollar-sized pieces in weird shapes that I applied myself later.  Since there was purple on the board, I decided to get a set of matching purple Tracker Trucks with a set of black risers.  I picked out a couple of black rail guards and a black tail guard to match the risers.  Then the coup de grace, a set of 4 lime green Santa Cruz Slimeball wheels…

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So, I loved this deck.  Like love, loved it.  Took it everywhere with me.  I practiced handplants on the edge of my bed with it, sat on it in the living room while watching cartoons, and rode it all around three neighborhoods (the one in Florida where I grew up, then in New Hampshire for the 9 months we were there and then for a couple years in Georgia.)  I just wanted to be clear that I loved that board to death, and I was in good company too.  I mean, Axel Rose was also a fan so…

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But at the end of the day I always felt like a phony.  Unlike the GT Performer, this McGill deck did nothing to bolster my skateboarding prowess.  It didn’t help my with my anxiety of breaking every part of my body on a launch ramp, help improve my balance, or assist in the weight loss I so desperately needed at the time to help with my self image issues.  This is all plainly obvious of course, and I knew it at the time in my heart, but damn if I didn’t hope that a cool pro deck would make me, well, cool.

The cherry on the top of this crap sundae is that even though I felt like such a poser on the inside I did love that board.  So, a few years later when I was living in Georgia and it was stolen out of our garage by some local doucebag, that really hurt.  Kind of like how you never mess with a man’s car (ala Pulp Fiction), you do not steal a kid’s skateboard.  I eventually manged to find out through the very active neighborhood kid grapevine that it was taken by a fifth grader who thought I looked like a jerk.  He didn’t even keep the skateboard, he instead threw it down a sewer one neighborhood over.  It was one of those kinds that didn’t have a handy manhole cover either, because I was all set to go spelunking to get that skateboard back.  It was gone, lost to the underground, and with it pretty much my entire identity of that surf/skate/BMX culture that I had wrapped myself in.  By this point my parents had given away my GT Explorer without asking me, stores had pretty much stopped carrying T&C clothing, and all I really had left (now living in Georgia, light years away from the beachy atmosphere of Florida) was that old and by this point ragged Billabong jacket.

So when my friends started giving me crap for wearing it everyday, even in the sweltering Georgia summer heat, I had had enough.  That was the day I literally cut the poser off of myself, into pieces, and threw it away.

So you wanna be a Ghostbuster huh?

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Okay, so this is sort of a bit of content recycling of stuff I’ve shared almost a decade ago here at Branded, but in the spirit (pun fully intended) of the new Ghostbusters flick debuting today I thought it would be fun to share my collection of Ghostbusters stickers again.  Besides, it gives me an excuse to dig out all of these from my archives and stare at them again for a bit…

First up, I want to go way back to the first Peel Here column at Branded and take a look at one of my favorite kinds of sticker merchandising from the 80s, the Antioch sticker storybooks!  These slim small books were released in the mid to late 80s and had a mix of heavily picture-driven adaptations of movies and TV shows.  Each book also featured a sheet of 12 stickers at the back of the book that were meant to be applied to each page as a sort of accomplishment for reading through the book. My all time favorite Antioch book is the adaptation of the first Ghostbusters flick…

imageMan, I love the cover design of these books so much, in particular that “12 Stickers” rainbow badge.  That always got me jazzed.  Here’s a look at the copyright page that has one of my all time favorite pieces of Ghostbusters artwork…

imageHow badass is that illustration?!  Here are the stickers that accompanied this book…

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Now these were covered in the first Peel Here column. When I tracked down the book to share here at the site, I was a little curious about the stickers that were included, as I seemed to remember ones that weren’t on the sheet that featured speech bubbles with Ghostbusters quotes and taglines.  It wasn’t until a year or so later when I found a picture online of the sticker sheet that I was thinking of. Since there isn’t really a resource on 23 year-old sticker storybooks, I sort of made an educated guess, figuring that there were probably variants of the books, one with more traditional stickers of the actors, and one with the GB quote stickers.

Well, it turns out that I was wrong, and I was actually combining memories of two separate Ghostbusters books, both printed by Antioch in 1984. I believe I had both, but for some reason I seem to remember the book portion of one more and the stickers of the other. Memory is such a weird thing, and it makes me wonder how many of mine are muddled like this; my brain picking and choosing the best moments to combines into a pleasant recollection of the past. It’s funny; I think this same phenomenon has also led a lot of people to remember things that didn’t exist at all, one of the best examples of which is a finally plot-resolving episode of the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon. The people who believe it exists, fervently believe that it exists, as they have specific memories of events in the episode, in particular a plot point in which one of the main characters was reunited with someone they came across in the realm. I’ve seen every episode of the cartoon, and there is no final episode (well at least not one that was filmed), and honestly the best explanation I can think of is that they are remembering various parts of separate episodes, combining them in their memory into an amalgamated final episode. Like I said, memory is a really weird thing.

Anyway, I eventually managed to track down a copy of the second Ghostbusters Antioch sticker/storybook from 1984, the Official Ghostbusters Training Manual: A Guide to Catching Ghosts…

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Here is a scan the stickers that were included with that book…

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What’s fun about tracking down older books like this, especially ones that came with disposable components like stickers, is that sometimes you can get a feel for how the owners felt about it. Typically, if you found this book in a used bookstore or on eBay the sticker sheet would be lost or used up with absolutely no evidence as to where they ended up. In the case of Antioch, a lot of their books were designed with a page at the back that the owner was supposed to stick the stickers on, and in this particular book’s case, the stickers were designed to be applied on every other page. Luckily there was only one sticker missing from the sheet, and it ended up in the book, so technically it’s still sort of entirely intact.

Unlike the other GB book, which was a straightforward concentrated version of the movie story, this book is actually something new, a training guide to becoming a Ghostbuster. According to this manual, after only ten short lessons (well 9 lessons and a graduation day celebration) anyone who is looking for a change in their life can become a ghost hunting fool. There is of course the matter of making sure you apply the correct sticker to the correct lesson page, but thankfully there are silhouetted hints to help with this.

For sake of ease I’ll paraphrase for those of you clicksters in the go that can’t be slowed down with reading an eleven-page book…

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Lesson 1: Buy a cheap run-down, possibly condemned building for a headquarters…

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Lesson 2: Acquire some large, eye-catching, yet amazingly cheap form of transportation…

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Lesson 3: Build your own proton pack if you don’t have access to a nuclear accelerator (it’s easy)…

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Lesson 4: Acquire or build a foot pedal operated ghost trap (handy schematic provided for construction purposes)…

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Lesson 5: Procure an Ecto-Containment Unit, probably the most daunting task as we’ve learned from the film that the EPA really hates unauthorized machinery located in rickety buildings, operated by people who build things like proton packs and ghost traps…

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Lesson 6: Grow a set of solid brass balls…

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Lesson 7: Know a slimer when you see one (as well as being prepared with old cold anchovy covered slices of pizza for bait)…

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Lesson 8: Learn to be weary of all statuary…

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Lesson 9: Final exam (i.e., pissing off a demigod while waiting for them to summon a giant piece of American iconography to test your mettle)…

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Lesson 10: Sign the certificate and start booking birthday parties because you’re on your way!

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Since I believe anyone who has made it through my cliff’s notes is just as capable of handling nuclear equipment as anyone who read the book, I’m also providing a cleaned up version of the certificate so that you too can bust some ghosts…

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There was also a book that adapted the second film…

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Here are the 12 stickers that came with this one…

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As much as I love these Antioch sticker books from the 80s, one of my recent passions has been collecting a bunch of bootleg stickers from popular movies and TV shows.  There’s just something amazingly fun about how bad these knock-offs can be.  Case in point these Ghostbusters puffy stickers.  You’ll know why I love these so much by the time you look at the last sticker on the sheet…

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That’s right, stare into the face of the ultimate doom that is…a panda?!  Much scarier than a terror dog right?

Last up for today I have my collection of some way more official puffy stickers from the Real Ghostbusters cartoon.  There were 4 of these sets made, but to date I’ve only managed to track down three of them…

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Last, but certainly not least today are my collection of the sticker cards from the subset of the 1989 Topps Ghostbusters II card set.  There is some really great pre-production art on these…

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And of course, here’s a look at the puzzle poster from the back of the cards…

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So, anyone have any other favorite Ghostbusters stickers from the 80s in your collections?  Share pics or links in the comments section, I’d love to see them…

The All New Branded in the 80s Podcast, Episode 4!

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In the fourth episode of the Branded in the 80s podcast I decide to dive into a topic I don’t cover very often at the site, music.  In particular I take a closer look at one of my favorite 80s era anthems, John Farnham’s Thunder in Your Heart.  I talk about the song, the soundtrack that it appears on (the 1986 film Rad), and the shock I had when I found out that not just one but two of my other favorite anthem artists have also covered the song, Joe Esposito (of the You’re the Best Karate Kid fame) and Stan Bush (of the 1986 Transformers The Touch fame,)  Join me as I break down the song, compare and contrast the different versions and play a brand new remix that combines all three versions into one crazy bit of audio cacophony.

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You can find the episode on iTunes, Stitcher, the Branded Facebook page, or you can also stream it directly from the handy player below, or download it directly by right-clicking and saving here.

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You can subscribe to the podcast here!

Of new homes and AT-STs…

The more time I spend gliding through this wondrous existence I can’t help but keep coming back to this underlying thread of kismet that has ruled my pop culture collecting.  Not trying to toot my own horn here, but I try my very hardest to put out as many good vibes as I can into the collecting and nostalgia community as I can afford.  I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t get satisfaction from sharing my collection, through this site and often just sending out pieces to those that I find are looking.  The point is, that I enjoy sharing the love so to speak, and every so often, that love comes back my way and for that I am grateful.

A few year ago I wrote a little bit about my childhood experience with a very particular Star Wars toy, the AT-ST Scout Walker released by Kenner back in 1983.  As I mentioned in that piece my family was uprooting itself from Tampa, Florida and the 1st home that I spent any substantial time in.  My father had landed a new job a couple of hours east in Orlando, and we were in the midst of packing everything up.  I was preparing to leave behind everything that I knew, five years worth of friends, secret short-cuts throughout the neighborhood, and the only house I could remember.  It felt like a pretty big deal at the time, I’d just turned six and hadn’t realized that moving was something that people did.

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Before we completely pulled up stakes and left Tampa for good, we took a couple of exploratory trips to the suburbs of Orlando looking for a new house.  Again, this idea was pretty alien to me, and we ended up going to a series of house showings that had a very weird effect on me, in particular I was introduced the concept of coveting other people’s junk.  There were a couple of experiences I had during these trips that had a pretty big impact on me as a kid.  Growing up in the small neighborhood in Tampa we our family lived often times felt very communal.  For instance, there was an old couple at the far end of our oval-shaped development that had a pool that was open to all the neighborhood kids.  All you had to do was knock on their door and ask and you could swim to your heart’s content.  It also seemed like all of the friends I had at the time were really good about sharing our toys.  We were always borrowing each other’s Star Wars or Masters of the Universe figures with little to no squabbling (like in the picture below where I can be seen holding a friend’s Millennium Falcon with joy.)

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But the first time we scheduled a house showing at a home that was still occupied by the family trying to sell it, well, that’s when I first started to covet.  What was the object of my affection?  A lone Star Wars AT-ST Scout Walker toy that was perched up on a chest of drawers in the kid’s room in the house we were walking through.  Being six, the thought hadn’t occurred to me that the stuff in the house wasn’t part of the bargain.  In fact, I spent the next three hours trying to convince my parents that out of all the houses we’d looked through to that point, this last one was obviously the one we should go with.  I mean it was two stories, had hardwoo…screw it, it was because there was an AT-ST in one of the rooms that I really freaking wanted.  After it was explained to me that buying a house didn’t quite work the way I’d hoped (and boy was I a tad relieved when they pointed out that if it had I’d be losing all MY STUFF to some other kid), I was a little crushed.  Getting to have Hungry Howie’s Pizza later that night really didn’t make it better.  Getting to listen to my Michael Jackson Thriller tape on infinite repeat during the two hour trip back to Tampa only helped a little.

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That one encounter in some strange kid’s room was the only time I ever saw an AT-ST toy in real life.  None of my friends had one, and none of the friends I’d eventually make in Orlando did either.  As much as I wanted one, it was six months until Christmas, and in kid time comprehension that was like years.  So I’m pretty sure that I let it slip from my mind, and by the time Christmas of 1983 rolled around I was probably begging for some other toy that had caught my eye.  If I have to be honest I’ve always sort of had an AT-ST-shaped hole in my heart over the years though.  I never sought it out, mainly because by the time that I was starting to have nostalgic pangs for old Star Wars toys they were already becoming collector’s items and were way outside of my budget.  But also, as I’ve mentioned in the past, there’s this idea I subscribe to, that the hunt is more than half of the thrill of collecting.  Somewhere in the back of my mind I think I knew that I should just hold off.

Then, in an amazing turn of kismet, everything changed recently.  First off, over the past year I’ve been working incredibly hard with my fiancee to save up a nest egg that we could use to buy a house.  It’s my first time as a home buyer (and not just a goofy little kid tagging along with his family looking for one), and this would be the first honest to goodness house that I’d be living in since the early 90s, back when I was in high school and my family lost ours when we had to downgrade after a rough patch.  The idea of finally biting the bullet and buying a house terrified me as I’d become more than accustomed to living in apartments, but the time was finally right and all of the pieces were starting to fall into place.  It was an amazingly hard process where we pretty much had to deal with every possible thing that could go wrong (buyers on my fiancee’s town-home pulling out at a week before closing, contracts on houses that had Tom Hanks The Money Pit level hidden problems, and shyster real estate agents that were stealing thousands of dollars from us.)  But at the end of the day we finally found the home of our dreams and for the first time in 23 years I was living in a house again…

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It’s a little rough around the edges and needs some TLC, but we love it.  At the same time that we were hip deep in this process and not sure whether or not we’d even end up in a house, I received a very kind e-mail from a reader in the UK named Andrew who had stumbled upon the original piece I’d written about my childhood lust for the Star Wars AT-ST Scout Walker toy.  It just so happened that he was looking to part with his childhood AT-ST and we made arrangements to give it a new home here in the States.  Something about the timing of this filled me with a metric ton of hope while facing off against all the house buying pitfalls we were experiencing.  I just knew that this was all meant to be, again, that the pieces were all falling in place, and that for the second time in my life, while house-hunting I was encountering this specific Star Wars toy!

Long story short, just after moving into our new house, Andrew’s gift arrived safe and sound at its new home (my office) where it will be loved and displayed proudly at Branded in the 80s HQ…

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Don’t think I can thank Andrew enough for this gift and for convincing me that the best practice is to keep putting out as much positive energy and actions out into the world.  Some day, if I’m patient and lucky, lady kismet will make sure that all my pop culture desires are met, and then some!