Thursday, September 30, 2010

Lemon twist

I don't even remember if we knew that Lemon Twist was the official name of the thing (scroll down in this link for more). It was uber-simple--a yellow plastic lemon on a cord that ended in a loop you could wear around your foot.

You stepped into the loop and swung the lemon around and under your foot, hopping like a maniac to jump over the lemon and avoid having it slam into your ankle. That was...pretty much it. I'm not even sure why it was a lemon. Why not a lime, or an apple, or a rock? Why a fruit at all? But for a short time in the 1970s, Lemon Twist was the hot playground accessory.

I never heard of this competing version, Skip It, but its main selling point seems to be the counter that tells you how many times you've swooped it. Not sure why this would be of interest. And a 1960s version, the Jingle Jump, apparently inspired its own record.
Did you have a Lemon Twist, or a competitor? (Was it a girls-only thing? It was at my school.) Do you remember it fondly?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


I cannot hear Carly Simon's "Anticipation" without thinking of slowly pouring ketchup. But you know, when I watch this ad, the ketchup is actually zipping along at a pretty good pace. Our at-home ketchup was never this fast.

Then in later years we learned you were supposed to be able to tap the bottle right on the 57 and have it come out. But we usually just got impatient and stuck a knife in it anyway.

One of the guys who left comments on this YouTube ad says he's the redheaded kid in the commercial, and I have no reason to doubt him. Why would you lie about that?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Weebles are egg-shaped again! Sure, they're bigger and less swallowable than the li'l wobbly dudes we played with as kids, but they're pretty darn close to the vintage version.

Those roly-poly guys took anything a kid could dish out and kept popping back up for more, like a punching bag with a weighted butt.

The best news: the recent creepy versions with fully formed upper bodies -- including arms -- got a one-way ticket to the big toy box in the sky.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Classic Clip Monday: Woodsy Owl

When we were kids, people would actually toss bags of fast-food trash right out their car windows. Recycling was unheard of, and only the real carob-eating hippie freaks knew what compost was.

Things started small, but suddenly the streamroller of "Keep America Beautiful" was chugging through the land. We were taught not to be a litterbug (don't make that Indian cry!) and not to pollute.

The US Forest Service developed a mascot, Woodsy Owl, and his rhyming message was "Give a hoot--don't pollute!" (Woodsy's creator died just last December.)

His snappy slogan since been replaced with another weirdly rhyming slogan "Lend a hand--care for the land!"

Yeah. I like ours better. But the giant yellow outlines around Woodsy's eyes kinda freak me out.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Funky Food Friday: Tab cola

Tab, Tab cola, what a beautiful drink! Tab, Tab cola for BEAU-tiful people, Tab! You're beautiful to me...twelve ounces and JUST one calorie, Tab!

Man, Tab was a revelation back in the day. According to Wikipedia, it actually came out in 1963, which shocked me -- I thought for sure it was an early 1970s drink. For a while, everyone's mom bought it. We girls loved the pink can and the peppy commercials, and even before we knew what dieting was we knew it was some kind of great gift, what with the "JUST one calorie thing."

Some fun facts from Wikipedia: There were lemon-lime and orange Tabs for a while. There was even Tab Clear.

Diet Coke all but buried it, but it still stubbornly hangs on to its fans, and I always see it clutching a very small part of the pop shelf at my local grocery store. It's a total conversation piece if you buy it--the label and can looks just like it always has, and your retro-minded friends won't be able to stop talking about if if you have it at a party, even if they won't drink more than a sip. Because true facts here folks, Tab has a funky-weird taste. Not bad, but Diet Coke seems to have gone through a smoothing process that Tab just plain lacks. "(Tab) tastes like metal," says this one fan in a New Yorker article, and I would agree.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Letterman's Top 10 List

Hard to believe, but David Letterman did his first "Top 10" list 25 years ago this week. I didn't know this, but it all started as a goof on a top-10 list that Good Housekeeping magazine ran, and turned into one of the most enduring late-night bits.

So, in celebration of a quarter century of the zany countdown -- and Paul Shaffer's always memorable reactions -- we present to you the first-ever "Top 10" list, the top 10 words that almost rhyme with "peas."

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

'Dark Shadows' board game

I loved "Dark Shadows: when I was a kid. It was a soap opera, but instead of all that boring kissing, there were vampires! Witches! Warlocks! Creepy crypts and crashing waves! Grave-robbing! And, of course, Jonathan Frid as Barnabas Collins.

There were actually two "Dark Shadows" board games. The one in the commercial below is probably the most valuable--the "Barnabas Collins" game. It came with a coffin, bones to build a skeleton, a stake, and fangs you could wear. I imagine there aren't too many of those games left intact--too many pieces for little knuckleheads like us to lose.

I had the other one, called simply "Dark Shadows," and pictured and described so well here. You collected creepy-motif cards, depicting goblets, spiders, knives and bats. You have to have the right card to move ahead, or something. But man, around 1975 I knew every rule of this game backwards and forwards. My best friend, Brenda, and I played it all the time. And then we moved, and for some reason, I thought it would be this great generous gesture to GIVE Brenda the "Dark Shadows" game. I did, but man, I regret that magnaminity still. It was a great, great game.

What's your favorite long-lost board game? Or do you want to talk "Dark Shadows"?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Dead stores

Zayre's. LaBelle's. Frank's Nursery and Crafts. You can fill in the blanks with more names of dead chain stores--stores that once were a major part of your shopping life, especially in those lost days when Mom decided where and when the family shopped. It's funny to think of how many once-giant, imposing stores have slipped out of our lives, sometimes without us even noticing. I know when I drive past certain buildings, or empty lots, I can't help but remember the stores that used to be there. It's like seeing ghosts.

For me, there's a store in Roseville, Minn. that used to be a LaBelle's (discount retailer and jewelry store...I THINK?) and then became a Frank's Nursery and Crafts. Both had super-memorable theme songs. LaBelle's went "the best things happen at LaBelle's!" And all I can remember from Frank's song is them singing the entire name of the store, "Frrrrrank's Nur-ser-y and Crrrrrafts!" (Note: The commercial I found, embedded below, reminds me that the jingle also went "Beautiful things, begin at Frank's!")

According to Wikipedia, Frank's went bankrupt in 2004. I also found a blog entry about them (most of its photos seem to have expired --sorry) written by a Minnesotan who notes that it wasn't a Minnesota-only store, but had locations in 14 states. (Off-topic, but how much do I love a blog that discusses dumpy and dead stores in Minnesota? A whole lot much, that's how much. Unfortunately the blog seems to have been abandoned.) Anyway, Frank's was the craft and garden store that I knew before I'd ever heard of Michael's or JoAnn's or any of the others. I didn't really do a lot of crafts, but it's quite possible we got the yarn for my eighth-grade crocheting class there.

LaBelle's I think was located in the Roseville Frank's before Frank's. I remember it selling things kind of like a Penney's, only maybe with fewer clothes. It seems to me the jewelry counter was a big deal but I may be confusing my memories. I have even fuzzier memories of Zayres, which apparently became TJ Maxx. The most interesting thing about them was they bought a chain called Shopper's City, which becam Zayre's Shoppers City, and the most interesting thing about Shopper's City was that kids in Minnesota grade schools would challenge each other to say the store's name super fast over and over again...Shopper's City Shopper's City Shopper's Shi-- whoops!

Wickes Furniture is also apparently gone as of 2008 -- remember them? Later when I learned what wicker furniture was I always made the assumption that Wickes only carried wicker, which was not true. (Wickes commercial here.)

Musicland? ("We bring life!") Not any more you don't. And the sun has set on Suncoast Pictures.

Mervyn's, or Mervyn's of California as they were dorkily known for a while? Gone too.

Remember the jeans store County Seat? ("Redirect your feet into the County Seat!") I can't find full verification but they look gone as well.

What chains do you remember that are long gone, whether regional or national? (There's a giant list here if you want to see which childhood memories are gone, baby, gone. Man, I really miss St. Paul Book and Stationery...)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Classic Clip Monday: 99 Luftballoons

Worry, worry, super flurry
Call the troops out in a hurry...

"99 Luftballoons" is one of those memorable quirky 1980s hits that everyone seems to remember fondly. The German version hit #2 in the U.S. -- astonishing, since we're not big on non-English anything. The English version, "99 Red Balloons," never impressed me as much as the original.

The Wikipedia entry on the song notes that many DJs in the U.S. thought "Luftballoons" translated to "Red Balloons" because of the English song, but really it's just "balloons" or "air balloons." As in the Luftwaffe, or as Homer Simpson called them, "the Washington Generals of the History Channel."
Nena's Wikipedia page has some interesting facts about her life, and some sad ones, too. It claimed her first son was born disabled due to medical mistakes that almost killed her during the birth, and that the child died before he was a year old. She had four other children, including 20-year-old twins who now both have children of their own. (The twins had their kids two days apart, when they were 19. That's young to be parents, and young for Nena to be a grandma, but what a cool grandma to have.)

Oh, and fun fact: "VH1 Classic ran a charity event for Hurricane Katrina relief in 2006. Viewers who made donations were allowed to choose which music videos the station would play. One viewer donated $35,000 for the right to program an entire hour and requested continuous play of Nena's "99 Luftballons" and "99 Red Balloons" videos. The station broadcast the videos as requested from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m. EST on 26 March 2006." Wow. That's like...99 Luftballons on the wall, 99 Luftballoons...

Friday, September 17, 2010

Funky Food Friday: Where's the Beef?

Who woulda thunk that an 83-year-old lady could have such a major impact on America’s fast-food wars? That’s what happened in 1984 when four-foot-11 Clara Peller opened her mouth and uttered those beyond-iconic words, “Where’s the beef?” in the instant-classic Wendy’s ad. Wendy’s credited the campaign for boosting their annual revenues a whopping 31 percent.

The catchphrase quickly burst beyond the small screen, showing up on T-shirts, bumper stickers and school playgrounds across the country. Even presidential candidate Walter Mondale famously used the phrase to skewer his Democratic-primary challenger Gary Hart in a debate.

The Wendy’s campaign came to a screeching halt the next year, after Peller did a commercial for Prego pasta sauce, implying that she finally found the beef.

Peller died in 1987, but the pop-culture significance of the commercials and the catchphrase – deliciously – keeps a-going.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

"On Golden Pond"

This news story about one of the wood-hull boats used in the 1982 classic “On Golden Pond” got me thinking about the movie, and just how nearly perfect it was. The performances by Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn were as good as it gets (both were rewarded with best-actor Oscars), and the story, filmmaking and music (by Dave Grusin) were tremendous.

Why, it even made a pretty major impact on this 14-year-old boy, more used to shoot-'em-up movies about star wars and supermen than talky flicks about relationships.

And, oh, the cinematography: According to Wikipedia, leftover footage of Fonda and Hepburn driving through the New Hampshire countryside was later used for the opening of “Newhart.”

Plus, it introduced those two iconic actors to a new generation of fans. I got a TON of mileage out of my ham-handed Katharine Hepburn impression (“Norman, you old poop!”), starting in grade school and lasting well into the ‘90s, after Martin Short did his own awesome impression on SCTV and SNL.

Is this on your top-movies list?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

"True Prep": The Original Preppy Handbook Sequel

Thirty years after “The Official Preppy Handbook” grabbed us by our flipped-up collars, author Lisa Birnbach -- with designer Chip Kidd -- is back with a sequel, “True Prep: It's a Whole New Old World.”

Back in ’81, the original hit me – and millions of others – hard: I remember I had to had to had to have an authentic Izod polo. The excuse was I needed it for an eighth-grade talent-show skit where I played “Chip,” but I wanted to wear the pricey shirt in real life, too. And I did – a little piece of prep in central Minnesota.

I haven’t read the new book yet, but I’m intrigued by this excerpt in the August issue of Vanity Fair, which lists a bunch of fashion rules outlining the new principles of preppy style, including:

- We wear sportswear. This makes it easier to go from sporting events to social events (not that there is much difference) without changing.

- Your underwear must not show. Wear a nude-colored strapless bra. Pull up your pants. Wear a belt. Do something. Use a tie!

- We do not display our wit through T-shirt slogans.

- Every single one of us — no matter the age or gender or sexual preference — owns a blue blazer.

- High-heel rule: You must be able to run in them—on cobblestones, on a dock, in case of a spontaneous foot race.

- We do not wear our cell phones or BlackBerrys suspended from our belts. (That includes you, President Obama.)

- No man bags.

- Preppies don't perm their hair.

- Preppy men do not believe that comb-overs disguise anything.

- And finally: The best fashion statement is no fashion statement.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Miss Othmar

Wah wah wah WAH wah.

You know the sound. It's the sound we make when we're indicating that we're hearing words, or at least sounds, but we're not comprehending a damn thing. It's the sound made by all the "Peanuts" comic strip adults, but most famously by Linus's beloved teacher, Miss Othmar.

Remember Miss Othmar? She later married and became Mrs. Hagemeyer, but Linus and pretty much every other "Peanuts" denizen called her Miss Othmar still. (I have no idea why Wikipedia names "Mr. Hagemeyer" as her EX-husband, as she never got divorced in the strip. Probably just some Wikipedian having fun, or being confused about the name thing.)

I forgot totally about this, but apparently Miss Othmar was fired in a 1969 strip after a teachers' strike. Pretty bold move for Charles Schulz.

The Peanuts Wiki has a little more info. I forgot that Linus gave her eggshells for a wedding gift.

That Wiki also notes: "Miss Othmar was voiced by a trombone, as were most of the adults." Heh.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Classic Clip Monday: Incredible Hulk

Forget the movies, for me, "The Incredible Hulk" will always be Lou Ferrigno, with Bill Bixby as his alter ego, Dr. David Banner. The Wikipedia entry on the show has some fascinating factoids, including why Banner's name was changed to David from Robert/Bruce, and how the writer of the TV show really wanted the Hulk to be red, not green, but Stan Lee won out. And supposedly Ah-nuld Schwarzenegger auditioned to be the Hulk, but he was considered too short. (The Ferrigno entry says this isn't true, but Richard "Jaws in James Bond" Kiel did play the Hulk in the pilot.)

Seriously, how great was this opening sequence?

Someone on You Tube uploaded a bunch of clips where David Banner hulks out for really lame reasons. They're hilarious.

In this one, he hates traffic, just like the rest of us. In this one, a blonde girl decks him.

In this one, he's pissed off at a pay phone. I DON'T HAVE TWENTY-FIVE CENTS!!! HULK SMAAAASH!

Oh, and in this one, he fights a bear, and the green paint on Lou Ferrigno comes off on the bear's fur!

Now this next clip isn't from the TV series, but I had to share it, because holy cats, can there be a worse cartoon theme song than this one? If David Banner saw this, he would totally transform out of sheer embarrassment.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Funky Food Friday: Razzles

Razzles! First it's candy, then it's gum! (Is anyone else singing the Hostess jingle..."it's a caaaake, it's a candy, it's two taste treats in one"?)

Remember Razzles? You buy the pouch, and it's filled with little dusty colorful tablets that kind of look like giant aspirin. You start chewing them, and they're chalky little candies that really aren't worth your while. But then as you chew, like a magical Willy Wonka product that suddenly tastes like a whole meal, they change ... into gum!

I gotta face facts here. Razzles are ... not the best candy I've ever consumed. Or the best gum. If they only did one or the other, you would never, ever buy them.

But I saw a pack in Walgreen's the other day and almost purchased them. Sure, it was nostalgia, but also there's something about the transformation that sucks me in. I am also drawn to Blow Pops, which also contain a gum center that must be determinedly worked towards. The Razzles marketers were smart people, is what I'm sayin'.

Razzles feel like a Gen X candy to me -- they came out in 1966, the year before I was born. According to Wikipedia, the original flavor was raspberry, and they were actually named after a fictional flavor, Razzleberry, which was never actually made. There's a thought for ya, Razzles. Pick up that old flavor idea and run with it! We want Razzleberry Razzles!

Wait, they have FLAVORS?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

"Back to School"

For some, back-to-school means backpacks, gluesticks and number-two pencils. For others, it's parties with Oingo Boingo, Triple Lindies and William Zabka, King of the Jerks.

At least that's the way school is portrayed in "Back to School," the 1986 flick starring Rodney Dangerfield at his bug-eyed best. And who wouldn't want to enroll in a institution of higher learning like that? Maybe it was because I was headed to college myself the year I first saw this flick, but I'm going on record saying "Back to School" deserves a much better grade than the paltry 2.5 stars TiVo gives it.

Prof. Sam Kinison screaming "Aaaaaaah! Aaaaaaaaaaah!" at a terrifed student accounts for a half-star by itself. So does Dangerfield's millionaire Thornton Melon hiring Kurt Vonnegut to help him with a paper on Kurt Vonnegut. Add to that layup jokes like the head of the college being named Dean Martin, Zabka playing one of his prototypical fluffy-haired jocks (who literally dresses like a caveman), a throaty Sally Kellerman -- post-MASH, but pre-Hidden Valley Ranch voiceover -- and uber-Rodney lines like "I'd like to tame YOUR shrew," and you've got yourself a more-than-minor '80s classic.

What's your favorite "Back to School" moment?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Lite Brite

Lite Brite, makin' things with liiiiiight! What a sight, makin' things with Lite Brite?

Who didn't love Lite Brite? But looking back, other than the fun, there are things we remember. Stepping on the pegs in the shag carpet in your bare feet -- OUCH! The weird pictures in the commercial -- a rooster? Bozo the clown? It's like the people designing the patterns had never left 1944 -- what do kids love? Roosters, right Bill? And clowns!

The Wikipedia entry on Lite Brite is pretty brief, but it notes that the contraption came out in 1967 -- hey! Same year as me! It also notes that the (scary) clown and something called the Wizard of Light (a wizard with the Lite Brite name above him) are among the classic pictures.

I did love this toy, and can't wait till Kelly is old enough that the pegs are no longer a choking hazard and we can buy one. And we have wood floors, so while the pegs will still pose a bare foot issue, at least they won't lie lurking in the depths of the shag carpet as they always did in my house.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Irish Spring

I adored these Irish Spring commercials. Was I the only one?

The soap looked so cool, with the green marbling throughout. The Irish stereotypes were as rich as a shamrock shake, from the thick purring brogues to the Irish wool sweaters. And best of all, they for some reason took KNIVES and cut slices off the soap! Who didn't want to take a sharp knife into the tub after they saw one of those ads and just shave and whittle their own soap?

I haven't really missed bar soap since it made its inevitable slow passage towards the exit, since body wash is so much nicer, but if I did have to suddenly start using it tomorrow, this is the soap I would want. And if you think it was kind of a marker of our generation, you are right. It came out in 1972.

Another interesting tidbit from the Wikipedia entry: The original Irish Spring scent, the one I am pretty sure you are remembering right now, was called "Ulster Fragrance" internally at Colgate-Palmolive. But now they have a ton of other scents with names like "Moisture Blast" and "Micro Clean."

Monday, September 6, 2010

Classic Clip Monday: Fonzie jumps the shark

So the writer of the infamous Fonzie jumps the shark episode of "Happy Days," the one that gave the name to the Jump the Shark Web site and concept, is now speaking out in the L.A. Times.

And...he doesn't really get it. He seems kind of mortified that his episode was the one chosen, and even though he says that people are thrilled when they find out he wrote it, he still seems so ashamed. Yes, it was a ludicrous concept, but we embraced its craziness and think of it fondly.

The Jump the Shark concept is a little confusing anyway. The writer seems to think it means the show's low point, but really it means the point at which the show could go no higher, at which it was all downhill from there.

I loved the idea of Jump the Shark when it came out a long time ago. It really summarized and pulled together a lot of the reasons why shows started to lose it, the most famous being adding a kid (Cousin Oliver, Olivia on "The Cosby Show"). But the creators sold the Web site to TV Guide in 2006 (I hope they made millions) and it's just not nearly the same now.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Funky Food Friday: State Fair Fare

Smell those deep-fried cheese curds? It's State Fair time around the country, and that means food, food and more food. Eating your way through the fair is a time-honored tradition, and it's getting more and more deliciously elaborate every year.

When we were kids, it was a big deal to head to the Minnesota State Fair, where nearly everything came jammed onto a stick. (At home, the only foods you could find with handy tongue-depresser or sharpened-dowel handles were popsicles, fudgesicles, caramel apples, suckers, pudding pops or corn dogs, every one of them a rare treat. The fair, on the other -- often sticky -- hand, was overflowing with 'em.) The weird, wacky eats-on-a-stick at the fair were always more fun than fulfilling. Bragging rights were the tastiest morsel: "I ate alligator on a stick!"

At today's MN State Fair, there are more options than ever -- all of them skewered -- from risotto balls to hot dish to mac-and-cheese to camel (!). But to me, there's nothing like the original fair food on a stick that got me hooked on pork, oil and batter all those years ago: the corn dog. (Here in Minnesota, there's a perennial battle between the traditional corn dog and the Pronto Pup. I like 'em both.) A squirt of ketchup up one side, mustard up the other, and hotter-than-lava oil dripping down the perfectly fried hotdog-embedded dough? Mmmm -- is it time for next year's fair yet?

Got a favorite fair-food memory from when you were a kid?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Time to go MAD

Who didn't love MAD Magazine? We adored the fold-ins on the back cover, the little drawings in the margins (why was there always a fish skeleton in the pools of barf?) the advertising jabs (kids learned about ulcers, and Madison Avenue, and three-martini lunches) and most of all, the TV and movie parodies. Did they really dub "Facts of Life" the "Fats of Life," or was that Joan Rivers? (According to this list, they didn't -- they called it "The Yaks of Life," and "Dallas" was "Dullus," and "Happy Days" was "Crappy Days," and well, you get the picture.

I personally never liked "Spy vs. Spy." It made me impatient. I was bothered by the lack of dialogue and even though I read somewhere that kids always picked one spy and always rooted for him or her, I never did. They were the same to me.

But I loved MAD, even though I think I owned more of those paperback book collections than I did actual magazine issues. It always felt so adult and racy and I think I was afraid to buy or ask for the magazine itself.

Starting Sept. 6, MAD has its own show on Cartoon Network. This isn't the first time the show has been on the air, though. Here's part one of a MAD TV special that aired in 1974.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Smash-Up Derby is fun

Seriously one of the most memorable commercials (and toys!) of our childhood. Crash, bang, smash 'em up! Smash Up Derby is FUN!

Check out the slightly hillbillyish voice on the announcer, plus, if ever a FONT could look hillbilly-like, the one they use in this ad is.
Man, they just don't give kids toys and tell them to smash them up these days, and we are a sadder, poorer nation for it.
This page has some great art and really fond memories of the Smash-Up Derby.