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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

How Did I Get Here? PART TWO: HBO, ATARI, TRS-80, COMMIES, and V

Go Back One

Back to the Beginning

Oh, I can still remember
When I was just a kid
When friends were friends forever
And what you said is what you did
Well it was me and Danny and Bobby
We cut each others' hands
And held tight to a promise
Only brothers understand

We were so young
One for all and all for one
Just to know that the river's gotta run

-"Blood on Blood," Bon Jovi

For me, when I was a kid, it wasn't Danny and Bobby.  It was Mike and Adam.  I won't say we were like the Three Musketeers, because Mike and Adam weren't as close with each other as I was with each of them.  But to me, each of those guys were like brothers.

I was not a popular kid in elementary school, and even into high school.  In elementary school I was the smallest kid in my class, which led to lots of bullying.  And incidentally, I got through it and grew up to be normal and well adjusted, and wasn't damaged for life.  My school also didn't have "anti-bullying programs" that amounted to tattling to an adult.  Of course, kids also didn't get charged with assault for a playground brawl with fisticuffs--that was chalked up to boys being boys, and people moved on.

I'll never forget the first time I got beat up. It must've been in first or second grade. I came home from school, scuffed up and crying, and told Mom what happened.  She was sympathetic, as Moms are, but also sternly told me that I should've beat the other kid up instead, that size didn't matter, that I just needed to snap out and it was okay to cry, because the harder you cry, the harder you hit.  I sulked in my room till Dad came home.  Mom and he talked, and he came into my room.

"I heard you had a problem at school today," he said.

"Yup," I said.

"Come with me.  I want to show you something."

He led me into the garage, explaining as we went that he, too, had been the smallest kid in his class, and he wanted to show me a secret about that.  We got into the garage and he handed me a 2x4.

"What is that?" he asked.

"Um...a board?" I guessed.

"No, Son.  That's called an 'equalizer.'  Allow me to see, when you hit a kid with that, he's not bigger than you...."

That lesson, and the lesson my mom gave me about snapping out and seeing red, are two I never forgot.  Nor did I forget the talk that followed, when dad sat me down.  He told me that just because I knew I could pick up a board and beat a kid with it never meant that I should. He told me that it takes a Hell of a lot more guts to walk away from a fight than to start one, and that I should never, ever throw the first punch, nor attempt to goad someone into throwing the first punch (because that amounted to the same thing).  However, he told me that once a punch was thrown, only one person should walk away.

I live by those words.  I'm not a violent person, but I have violence in me.  I'll go to great distances to avoid fighting, and have even willingly taken mild beatings quite simply I was afraid of what might happen if I lose my temper.  But if someone pushes me to the limit, and it breaks, I see red.  Thank God I haven't actually snapped on someone since Junior High (and unfortunately, it turned out that kid was a psychopath and I suffered one of the worst beatings of my life).

One of my favorite songs is by Kenny Rogers.  It's called "Coward of the County."  The song is about a guy named Tommy whose father dies in prison, and before he dies, gives Tommy advice to always turn the other cheek, and to remember that you don't have to be a fighter to be a man.  Well, Tommy's refusal to ever fight earns him the mantle of "Coward of the County."  This goes on until three town bullies, The Gatlin Boys, show up one night while Tommy is at work, and gang-rape Tommy's wife, Becky.  Tommy proceeds to go to the bar where the Gatlin Boys hang out and beat all three of them to a pulp, then apologizes to the specter of his father, explaining that sometimes you have to fight.

The chorus goes as follows:
Promise me, son, not to do the things I've done.
Walk away from trouble when you can
It won't mean you're weak if you turn the other cheek
I hope you're old enough to understand
Son, you don't have to fight to be a man.

The last chorus, from Tommy, says:
I promised you, Dad, not to do the things you'd done
I walk away from trouble when I can
Now please don't think I'm weak, I didn't turn the other cheek
But Papa, I should hope you understand
Sometimes you have to fight when you're a man.

I think of my dad every time I hear that song.  My dad is not a criminal, nor did he die in prison (he's still alive and well, thank God), but the song resonates with me because of the lessons he taught me, and it always reminds me of him.

Speaking of Dad, he's worked hard his whole life to make sure Mom, Sara and I always had the best.  I only found out a few years ago that in the early 80's he was out of work, laid off for several years, and he was painting houses and doing odd jobs just to make ends meet so that we all had a good life.  Dad has never given up and he works hard.  We weren't rich, but we sure as Hell weren't poor.  We lived in the Middle Class section of a wealthy neighborhood, and as such were often considered the "poor" kids, but we had a very good life and I can't think of a time when we wanted for anything. I was blessed that way, and I understand that very well.

Because of Dad's efforts, we always had the newest stuff when I was growing up--though my parents went to lengths to make sure we appreciated what we had and did not get spoiled because of it. Many times there were things we wanted that we didn't get, just because Mom and Dad wanted us to learn you can't always have everything you want, and that's the way it is.  More than once I'd ask for something, and Mom would say "no."  When I asked why, she'd say, "Because you asked for it, that's why."  As a kid, I didn't get what that meant (and even at one point thought you should never ask for anything).  Now I get what Mom was doing, and it was an important lesson to learn.

In any case, in keeping with the newest and best idea, my family were early adopters of cable TV.  Unless I'm mistaken, we had it back in 79 or 80.  I remember how exciting HBO was when it first came on the air--to actually see uncut movies, just like in the theater!  Of course, at the time I wasn't nearly old enough to watch most of the movies that aired on the channel, but even still, the idea was pretty nifty, right up there with VCRs.

My grandpap Vey worked at Sears all his life.  Back then, Sears was a pretty nifty department store, and Grandpap got serious discounts.  That meant that he had a videodisc player (not laser disc, mind you, videodisc.  They came before laser discs), a small library of video discs for it, and an Atari 2600--or rather, the Sears clone of the Atari.  He had every game as soon as it came out.  And before that, he had Pong.

I loved Pong.

Anyway, from there I guess my family inherited our enjoyment of gadgets and tech.

How, you're wondering, does this tie into Adam and Mike?  Well, it ties directly into Adam.

See, Adam had a Tandy Color Computer Model 3.  He's the one who got me into computers and technology big time.  When I told my folks about it, that christmas we got a TRS-80 Color Computer Model 3.  That was a clone of the Tandy (or vice-versa; I can't remember which cloned which).  My the age of nine or ten, Adam and I were writing simple programs in BASIC.  We had this series of books, called something like Micro-Squad Adventures, or something like that.  They were sort of like Choose Your Own Adventure books, except instead of making choices, you had to write computer programs in BASIC to solve puzzles in the books.  Very cool stuff.  We had 5 1/4" floppy drives, and cassette tape drives for them.  We didn't have Windows, yet; we didn't even have DOS.  BASIC was actually the OS.  We ran programs with commands like "LOAD" and "LOADM".  We played games like Hunt the Wumpus.  We dreamed of being big-time computer hackers one day.  It was largely because of my friendship with Adam that I came to love computers.

Adam and I played soccer together, too.  His dad was one of the coaches on my elementary school team the year we went to the state championships in Slippery Rock.  I suffered a groin injury due to a dirty play (the kid was red carded for it--as was Adam's dad, for losing his mind on the ref for calling a dirty game in general) in the last playoff game before we went to the finals, so I didn't get to play, but I was there with my team.  At the time I was playing halfback (I believe), but over the few years I played I did every position except goalie.  I loved soccer.  I still kinda miss playing it, but these days my body is too beat up and I'm way too out of shape.

Mike, on the other hand, well, he and I were more of the "get outside and play army" variety, though we called it, "playin' guns."

I grew up around real guns and in a family of generation after generation of hunters, and it's because of that, I am firmly convinced, that I have never had an accident with one or seriously considered pointing one at another human being.  My father taught me respect for the weapon from a very early age.  He beat into my skull (figuratively) that you should never, ever point a gun at anything you do not intend to destroy.  And he explained in clear, concise terms that a child could understand exactly what happens to people who kill other people.

But boys will be boys, and I am convinced that playing with toy guns does not make a child violent, so long as he has good parents who are capable of explaining to him the difference between fantasy and reality. Now, that being said, my respect for guns was so great that at the time, we rarely played war with one team on one side and one team on the other.  Our enemies were almost always imaginary, so even the toy guns were not being pointed at real people.

This being the early 1980's, our favorite enemies were of two varieties: Russian, and Reptilian.

Russians are self-explanatory.  For any kid in the U.S. in the 1980's, the Russians were the great and terrible villains of the world. They were out to subvert, conquer, and destroy everything we held dear.  Life under Russian rule would've been a nightmare.  They didn't love their children the way American mommies and daddies did. They were, we were told, an Empire of Evil.

As the decade went on, of course, fences were torn down and bridges built, and we found out that except for a few core political ideologies, Russians were just like us...and by the end of the decade, even those political ideologies had lessened greatly.

But at the time, we had movies like Red Dawn to mimic, and we liked to pretend-shoot commies when they invaded our beloved homeland.

But even more than Russians, we loved to shoot reptilian invaders from Sirius.  You see, in 1983 there was a miniseries that aired on TV called V.  Some of you have seen it. Others have seen the recent (and recently canceled, damn ABC) remake of it.  The remake, while fun, just doesn't have the impact of the original, because the subtext isn't as profound, and is a bit more along the "blunt object" variety.

But the original was quite simply an allegory for Nazi-controlled Europe in World War II, with the United States (and Los Angeles, specifically) standing in for Occupied France. It was profound, and for its time, it was impressive on every level from set design to acting to special and makeup effects. It spawned a second miniseries (V: The Final Battle), and a regular series that lasted one season (largely because it lost the message and turned into Dallas in space).

But as kids who were sci-fi fans that grew up on Star Wars (and by that time I had discovered through my Aunt Darla, God rest her, Star Trek), we ate it up. Most of the allegory was lost on us until years later, but the idea of heroic resistance fighters standing up against the alien invaders who had conquered our society through charisma and masks as much as power and technology, was just great fodder for fantasy.   Most of us had dismissed Battlestar Galactica as the transparent Star Wars ripoff it was (though I did really love Buck Rogers--sue me).  V, on the other hand was something entirely new and different to us.  We used to argue over who played Mike Donovan, who played Ham Tyler, and who got stuck playing Kyle Bates. We made V laser guns out of cardboard tubes or (in my case) had Dad cut them out of wood with a band saw.

To this day, incidentally, I am on a quest to obtain either a Robotech Laser Blaster Target set or a Bravestarr Tex-Hex Sound Pistol n Holster, both of which are actually molds of the V laser guns.  I completed my Star Wars quest a few years ago--I now own four--count 'em four Han Solo Blasters in different variations (and not the crappy toys, either; screen-accurate versions), and four lightsabers--a Force FX Luke and a Force FX Vader, and the two customs I mentioned in an earlier section.  But I've never achieved my quest for a V laser with moving parts.

For reference:  The Tex-Hex Pistol is on the left
Robotech blaster kit (the Holy Grail)...just not a $200 Holy Grail.

Anyway, that was our passage of time as kids.  Mike had this amazing yard, that was surrounded by groves of trees with alcove-like clearings which made perfect natural "forts" and "bases," and we had this sort-of landfill at the bottom of my street which was at the entrance to a massive woods that we knew like the backs of our hands.  See, back then, the woods were not a dangerous place for kids to go play.  Well, they were, but not in a "your kid will vanish and never be seen again" kind of way.  We played guns in Mike's yard, and all around the Dirt Pile (as we called the landfill) and the woods.  We'd go out after school and not come in until my dad whistled for us (and his whistling could be heard a mile away--I kid you not) or until it started to get dark.

We had this "Tarzan Swing" in the woods, which was essentially a big, thick vine that hung down from a tree and dangled over a 7 foot drop.  We had a blast on that thing.  One day, I fell off, and everyone was shocked that I didn't get hurt on landing.  That led to a whole new game: Jump off the Tarzan Swing.  We had a blast on that thing for a long time, until someone (we never found out who) tattled to their folks and we returned one day to find it had been cut down.

There was a creek that ran from the storm drains below the Dirt Pile and ran all through the woods.  We had a ton of fun in and around that thing.  Years later we'd make movies down there.  I'll get to that eventually, as well.

I guess I had a pretty good childhood.

Eventually, as friends do when you're a kid, Adam moved to West Virginia, and Mike Moved to the suburbs of Chicago.  I lost contact with both.  Years later I heard rumors, that Mike had become some kind of gangsta rapper wannabe, and Adam had been arrested for computer crimes...but those were rumors, and I've no clue whatsoever how accurate they are.

I still miss Adam and Mike.  I've tried a few times to track them down over the years, to no avail.  Frankly I'm surprised Adam isn't on facebook, unless either what I heard is true, or he simply stopped being interested in computers somewhere along the line.

Go to next section.

1 comment:

  1. I had a TRS-80 Color Computer 2 as my first computer. In college I "upgraded" to a CoCo 3 with 128k of RAM, I was hard core cool.

    I should send you a copy of the D&D game my
    DM and I wrote in CoCo Extended Basic. It was AWESOME.

    I bet a lot of school gamers have similar stories with old school computers.


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