Recently, I was approached by a friendly representative from Man Crates, a company that prides itself on compiling big wooden crates stuffed to the brim with good gift ideas that can only be opened using a crowbar. Apparently, they have this shiny new box called an ‘Old School Crate’ which doesn’t contain bacon or pipe-carving kits (like some of their others), but rather nostalgia! Or nostalgic items, anyway. They had seen my post ‘Cartoon Memories’ about growing up with Cartoon Network and decided that I was well-qualified to speak on this topic.
Well, if time is money, then nostalgia is the currency of our time, so here’s my list of a few of the things that stir up dusty memories from my childhood. Note that I’ve thrown in a couple that have maybe less-than-positive associations in my mind, because as far as I can tell nostalgia is nostalgia and there’s nothing which ain’t cured by its sepia haze.
Prima’s Official Strategy Guides
What other way to start this off than a book? When I was a kid in the (maybe-not-so) farflung 90’s, the internet was in its infancy. Even if you were able to procure detailed walkthroughs and the like online — which you can nowadays, within seeming minutes of a game’s release — I wouldn’t have been able to, because I didn’t have steady access to a computer until the year 2000 had passed and I was twelve. As such, when Pokémon Blue came out in 1996 and I wanted to know how on earth I was supposed to make it through Rock Tunnel without going insane from fighting Zubats, I turned to my local Borders bookstore for help. And lo and behold, I found just the thing: the Pokémon Blue Prima’s Official Strategy Guide, complete with maps, tips, tricks, stats, and, best of all, colorful illustrations on every page. I was in heaven. The design of these books was so good that I continued to purchase them even after I could get all of the same information for free online purely because I loved leafing through them, savoring the shading on Magikarp’s fins and learning startling facts about Gym Leader Brock’s rocky love life. I still have a whole stack of these in a box somewhere in storage, and I read that first one so much it literally fell apart at the binding!
This is one of the more disappointing nostalgic items. For those of you who don’t know, Sea Monkeys are not, in fact, monkeys. They are instead a species of brine shrimp. Being crustaceans, they do not really look a lot like the bright and smiling anthropomorphic creatures featured on the little aquariums sold in toy stores, which themselves do not look very much like monkeys, leaving you to scratch your head at the naming process of this product. I mean, just look at them! Here’s a close-up brine shrimp next to a Sea Monkey aquarium.
Do you see the resemblance? No? Well, neither do I! Nonetheless, these were sold for a period throughout the 90’s with anecdotal success, because I had one. See, the theory went that Sea Monkeys were easy, no-fuss pets that would entertain your kid for long periods of time at the cost of just a few bucks, and so parents presumably purchased them at the comic-book ad-fueled requests of their offspring. These kids would, like me, inevitably be disappointed when the product failed to live up to the hype. Sea Monkeys were born from a simple, three-packet process: first you would take your tiny aquarium and add the Water Purifier. One day later (watch that clock, kids!), you would add the Instant Life Eggs, and your Sea Monkeys would appear as if by magic from the water. Then, it was a matter of keeping your fascinating new pets alive with the occasional dose of Growth Food, and voila! Unfortunately, the cheap plastic tank couldn’t be opened, couldn’t be cleaned, and your Sea Monkeys would die without fail a little less than a week and a half later. A memorable rip-off for the annals of history!
Fuzzy velvet coloring posters
These things were weird, but wonderful. The posters that I would purchase came in these long, black tubes with end-caps that would make intensely satisfying popping noises when you pried them off. Inside the tube was the poster itself, consisting of a layer of fuzzy velvet that created an image in the negative white space (usually of an animal like a unicorn, cat, or dolphin), and a handful of terrible-quality coloring-in markers that ran out of ink in about ten seconds. For whatever reason, I adored these posters even though I detested coloring-in generally, considering it to be a thinly-veiled method of forcing me to develop my (naturally impeccable) hand-eye coordination. I think the really satisfying aspect of these was the way in which the thick velvet borders would prevent you from ever coloring outside the lines, so you could just scribble away without worrying too much about what you were doing. I swear I must have worked through at least forty of these things in my childhood, giving you some idea of how addictive they were! Plus, rubbing your hand back and forth along that wonderful fuzz was very therapeutic.
My Neighbour Totoro on VHS cassette
Rather than rant and rave about how wonderful VHS cassette tapes were and how they should never have been phased out in favor of CDs, DVDs and digital media, I am going to talk about one particular cassette tape that holds a special place in my heart. This is, of course, the beautiful, whimsical, all-round-good-feelical Studio Ghibli masterpiece My Neighbor Totoro, or Tonari no Totoro as it is known in Japanese. It is a heart-warming story about a family — a dad and his two daughters — who move to a new home to be closer to the mother, who is trapped in hospital dying mysteriously from incurable plot-dropsy. While exploring the new house and the surrounding woods, the two children accidentally stumble upon Totoro, the huge, friendly cat-like spirit of the forest. Throughout the rest of the film, they go on all sorts of adventures with Totoro and he helps the family through the emotional trials of school, single parenting and their ailing mother. It’s really a beautiful film — it instilled in me a love of Studio Ghibli and animation that has stuck with me to this day — and I loved that tape to death. I’m not being figurative: I watched and rewound the tape so many times it snapped!
(Definitely don’t take this bit of nostalgia as an endorsement of VHS cassettes in general, because quite frankly I am very happy to see them go the way of the floppy disk and the cathode-ray television screen. They are important milestones on the road of technology, but we have better things now, and that’s okay. Don’t let your nostalgia blind you!)
Candy corn, Lunchables and Tootsie rolls
To finish off my list of nostalgic items, I’m going to throw down a few food items that I still recall with fondness. These were staples of my childhood! Each of them had highly questionable nutritional content, but the tastes still linger on.