I can still remember when people used to smoke cigarettes as they walked around the mall. Orange Julius placed little square ash trays made of bendable tin on all the tables. I’d slink from Caldor to T.S.S. and beg to just make one quick stop at Child’s World, where they had the best action figures.
They had them all. From Dukes of Hazard guys to He-Man and his fellow Masters of the Universe to the monstrous wall full of WWF wrestling Figures that always had way too many Hulk Hogans, this children’s paradise felt like the physical embodiment of joy. All the Hungry Hungry Hippos, Atari 2600s, and Nintendo Powerpads joined together to make a perfect storm of childhood.
If you were really lucky, the mall visits included trips to the movies, which featured everything except for red M&Ms. Whether it was the incredibly suggestive Back to the Future or Gremlins with it’s terrifying revelation about Santa Claus, the filmography of my youth was shocking at times, enjoyable at others, and thoroughly unforgettable throughout. Even now, I can picture Tom Hanks wishing to be “Big”…and then telling that woman that he gets “to be on top”. So yeah. We grew up pretty quick back then, even without the Internet.
Of course, adults didn’t get it. They didn’t understand the He-Men and the Hulkamania. They talked about Howdy Doody, Beaver Cleaver, and Bazooka Joe. Their faded memories were on Nick at Night in black and white. It might as well have been a thousand years ago. In my young mind, these ancient pieces of history all meshed together. The Beatles, Charlie Chaplin, and Abraham Lincoln all hung out together on Ed Sullivan. Elvis and Moses parted seas and swiveled hips to the same audience. Those were all the olden days.
I can still remember excitedly telling my grandmother that I was about to put on The Cosby Show. As one of the most popular programs of the 1980s, I couldn’t fathom anyone not knowing about it.
Grandma. Let’s watch Bill Cosby.
Her response left me dumbfounded.
I thought she was kidding. My grandma passed away a few years later, but I had the chance to share the Cosbys with her before she did. Explaining Bill Cosby to her today would be a whole different conversation. Times have certainly changed.
Grown ups only had limited pieces of nostalgia when I was young. They were treated to The Wonder Years and That 70s Show, but nothing as robust as we have today. Back in the ’80s, adults had to just be adults. There were no Funko Pops from their glory days of television. No. The adults back in our day had income taxes, newspapers, and cocaine. It was a different time.
Being a grown up today is fantastic. My youth is celebrated in so many ways. No one ever lets us forget it. It’s featured so much that you’d think it happened yesterday. It feels like it did. Then you see a picture of a Backstreet Boy or a kid from Gimme a Break and you cry a little inside. Things like that can make me feel old. In fact, a lot of those things make me feel old.
He-Man figures go for hundreds of dollars on eBay. Many wrestlers I grew up watching have long since died. The days of smoking in the mall, downing an Orange Julius, and watching Dr. Huxtable examine women in his basement have all come to an end. To my own kids, it might as well have been a thousand years ago. I’m sure my daughter imagines George Washington appearing on Double Dare. It’s all one history.
For Halloween this year, Olivia dressed as Eleven from Stranger Things. She wore an outfit similar to Millie Bobby Brown in season three of the series. It was a loud mish-mash of patterns and colors that screamed retro. She looked funny and, because of it, I could spot her from a block away amidst a sea of her fellow trick or treaters. The costume was a hilarious reminder of how people dressed back then.
The sad thing? I wore an almost identical outfit on trip to Washington DC when I was her age. I wasn’t trick or treating either. I was just a kid dressed like graffiti. Don’t have a cow, man.
I tell myself that I miss those days, but I’m not sure if that’s true. I got a glimpse back in time last year during a family vacation. We had no Internet in our room and were forced to watch old school television in the old school way. The first time Olivia had to run to the bathroom and asked me to “pause it”, she realized that we weren’t in the 21st Century anymore. I had to explain that there was no pause and that we were limited to that was on TV when it was on TV. I found myself channel flipping for the first time in over a decade.
It allowed me to spin tales of cable boxes on long wires and how pressing two buttons at once would lead to mystery channels that you deciphered through static. I then had to explain what static was. She listened as if I was telling her folk stories from my Amish upbringing. It was Little House on the Prairie type of stuff….which is another reference she wouldn’t get if I made it.
So, here I am. An ’80s and ’90s kid in a 2019 world. I have memories of things that happened forever ago as if they happened yesterday. Friends who look completely different on Facebook than they do in my memories and stories of a world that no longer exists. Just like my grandma thought that Bing Crosby was the guy selling Jell-O Pudding pops, I ask my daughter if she listens to “Billy Eyelash” on TikTok. It’s the circle of life, Simba. I’m old.
I’m good with that, though. One day, she’ll be old and everything she does today will be presented in retro-form. There will be mini iPad-throwbacks and “Where Are They Now” documentaries about Instagram Influencers. She’ll have her own pictures standing in front of the White House in embarrassing clothes.
And it’ll be her turn to write one of these. It won’t be a thousand years from now, but it’ll feel that way to her kids. She’ll see. Hopefully, I will too.