Dec 04


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Tropical Punch

Today I’d like to share with a recipe that’s been a feature of Daddino family Christmases for decades:


1 lage watermelon
1 46-ounce can (about 6 cups) red Hawaiian fruit punch
1 6-ounce can frozen pink lemonade concentrate
1 6-ounce can frozen orange juice concentrate
1 6-ounce can frozen pineapple juice concentrate
6 cups cold water
1 1-pint 12-ounce bottle (3 1/2 cups) ginger ale, chilled

Stand watermelon on end; cut thin slice off bottom to make it level. Cut top third off melon. Using cup as guide, trace scallops around top outside edge of melon. Carve scalloped edge, following pattern. Scoop out fruit, serve later. Chill melon shell.

Combine Hawaiian fruit punch, fruit juice concentrates, and water. Pour ice in melon bowl. Resting bottle in rim of melon, carefully pour ginger ale down side; mix with up-and-down motion. Float orange and lime slices. Twine melon with ivy leaves, holding with toothpicks. Makes 30 to 35 servings.

In mid-sixties cookbook it comes from (it shall remain nameless because it’s by an enormous copyright-hungry American recipe cartel), it’s one of two recipes that have been flagged as being really good…the other being Lemon Mayonnaise. Which sounds ick. And even though I have fond recollections of it, the punch is probably ick, too, as it mixes juice, juice simulacra and soda in a carnaval of high-fructose corn syrupy goodness. But who are we, oh dezinens of 2004, to judge, seeing as people drink Snapple Juice Drinks willingly? And that there are recipes for similar punches all over the net using raspberry sherbert, and I hate sherbert. Further, equally upsetting revelation: on a trip to the e-fecking-normous chain supermarket yesterday, I noticed Minute Maid no longer comes in 6-oz. of juice concentrate, only 12-oz. cans (which is fine as the family’s doubling the recipe this year) and 1-pint 12-oz bottles of ginger ale have also gone the way of all flesh, replaced by larger (and smaller) sizes. The moral: Americans are PIGGIER than EVER.

Incidentally, we never made this punch with the melon (or the ivy). Melons really aren’t in season this time of year, and besides, hollowing one out for punch is a really thankless task, isn’t it?


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Christmas 1979

I’m wearing one ugly fucking t-shirt: batik (again), blue, a non-licensed Snoopy carrying balloons, extra-clingy to show off my complete lack of physique. Plus I have to wear glasses now. It all started the day my grandparents come to school and notice I can’t read things printed on the blackboard without getting up from my chair and squinting. (Was my teacher completely oblivious to this? My parents?) It’s funny, I don’t really remember having sight problems at a young age. I don’t remember the world as blurry. In fact, I can remember being able to read storefronts and road signs glasses-free I probably wouldn’t be able to read now. So I’m assuming my vision must’ve taken a massive nose-dive from the mid to late seventies, then kept getting steadily worse to the point where, by the late eighties, other glasses wearers would look through my own pair and say to me “LIKE OHMYGOD YOU’RE SO BLIND!” (On the other hand, if I had crappy vision even as a young child, my glasslessness would serve a very convenient scapegoat on which to blame my initial and subsequent ineptitude at sports.)

Those blue flares were the family’s earliest tree ornaments, appearing in the photos documenting the first Christmas my parents spent together as a married couple. They were glass bulbs, some shaped like a fat teardrop, the others (perhaps purchased later) bulging in the middle and tapered at the ends. Alone on a tree save for garlands of silver tinsel, they made for an elegantally minimalist tree for an elegantly minimalist apartment, as compared to the embroidered patchwork craziness that comes from putting several decades’ worth of Xmas purchases on the unruly branches of a real pine. In January 1973 they’re put in the attic (as close to Gothic as you can get in my house, only accessible via small holes in my brothers’ closet’s ceilings and opened not much more than twice a year) and don’t come down again until 1979, by which time these thin glass things have had a good thirteen years of minute expansion and contraction with the extremes of Long Island summers and winters, evidenced by the slight crackle patterns in their blue paint. So almost from the minute we put them on the tree, they shattered POP! POP! POP!, one every hour or so, leaving a mess of blue and silver shards on the tree, on the presents, on the carpet for my mom to clean up, again and again and again. Thinking it was the Christmas lights doing them in, we tried re-positioning them on the tree but it didn’t make one damned bit of difference. In a final fit of masochism, we placed the remaining few on next year’s tree.

Dec 04


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Christmas 1978

It never occurred to me that Lobster & Shrimp Fra Diovolo might not constitute a “real” Christmas dinner. It also never occurred to me that it was an especially Italian-American thing, either — if anything, it seemed appropriately “fancy.” But I never really paid much attention to Christmas dinner anyway, it being an unwanted interruption of my toy ecstasy when I just as easily have taken a plate upstairs to my room. I bet I liked it, though (the shrimp, anyway): along with predilections towards thick-framed glasses and melodic yawning, I inherited from my dad an appetite for really spicy foods, something I know I got from consciously imitating him. Of course, I could never keep up. At five or so, I tried one of his breakfast grapefruits, finding it a completely impenetrable eating experience now matter how much liquid sugar I put on the damned thing. Much later, on a mid-eighties trip to Washington D.C., he and his future wife took me to my first Indian restaurant; for me, it was an obstacle course of taste-bud death-by-misadventure and rivers of mucous — him, no problem. Getting back to Christmas, there were a couple times when I stayed with the adults long during the dessert trying to finish an espresso, just like the adults at the table were having. Yeah, I would finish it, but taste-wise, I couldn’t see the point of it. Much too bitter. There was a grand upshot, though. A little later (but still a kid), emboldened by the times I had espresso, I would take every opportunity during my day camp’s “Parents’ Day” to ostentatiously take some free coffee at the industrial urns placed at strategic locations throughout the grounds, thereby freaking out both parents and counselors. That was fun, a little. Probably nobody would blink now if they saw such a thing.

Judging from yesterday’s picture, this year’s Christmas table seated at least thirteen, and some subsequent Christmases probably had even more when even more folks from my mom’s side of the family joined in. Yet to my parents’ (and grandparents’) credit, we never had a separate “children’s table” at special occasions, at least as far as I can remember.


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Christmas 1978

L-R: Grandpa, Aunt Pat, Tommy, Mom, Aunt Millie, Nanny, Me, Grandma, Holly, Bobby, Uncle John.

There’s me in mid-bodytwist, dodging Holly and Tommy, wearing a clingy lavender-colored batik unicorn shirt. (Not only wore it, but loved, bragged about it.) A really busy photo, made more busy than usual by the presence of relatives on my father’s side of the family: Aunt Pat, Uncle Mike (not shown), their son Chris (also not shown) and Grandma. They start coming to our Christmases for the next couple years, after having their own little celebrations at their own house, maybe a ten-minute drive from our own. I really hope they weren’t bored senseless by all this — how exciting could it be to watch other people unwrap presents? (Well, maybe there was some for them, too, I dunno, can’t remember.)

Probably taking after my parents’ lead, I called my maternal grandmother “Nanny” and my paternal grandmother “Grandma,” and while I loved them both, Grandma definitely had the edge for a long time. Initially, though, while she would do neat things like let me and my brothers play with watercolors in her Brooklyn apartment, I remember also being a little intimidated by this scolding edge she had, telling me in no uncertain terms there were parts of her apartment I couldn’t go into. One time when I was very young, she came over, probably spending some time over at our family’s house, and (I suppose undbidden) went through my closet and throwing out a lot of minute things that, because they were mine, I had an attachment to, and that made me unhappy. Dad told me that when he was a kid, she used to throw out his toys — baseball cards, comics, things like that — without the least warning. Mom told me similar stories about her mother, and I think this might supply a facile reason…no, probably a pretty straight-forward and conscious reason for both my parents’ un-ending Christmas generosity and my Dad’s adult love of trains. (I probably should’ve mentioned this earlier, but seriously, I don’t think that’s crossed my mind in maybe twenty years.) I also remember her getting angry at me for not eating a sandwich in the kind of argument that mom and dad would never get into with me, them being largely laissez-faire about my eating habits. And then, after her apartment was broken into, she moved to North Bellmore, a mere fifteen second walk away from my maternal grandparents. And then she seemed very different to me, very generous, very uncomplaining, very up-up-up, and so I gravitated towards her. I started spending a whole lot of nights over with her for a couple of years, and we would amuse ourselves, watching TV on Friday (the first night might’ve been the same night as the premiere of Diff’rent Strokes, November 3, 1978), then going somewhere, maybe to a card store or maybe to the mall, then come back, and then I’d get picked up to go home. At a moment when family tensions were beginning to come to a head, she was somebody who could give me a willing ear and — I’m absolutely not proud of this — deep pockets for whatever random shit that caught my eye. (I’m almost positive that she got reimbursed from my parents.)

And then I stopped. I tried again, for old time’s sake, in 1984. It says something about my obsessions of the time that I fix this moment with musical reference points: I fall asleep on her couch watching Friday Night Videos, and when we go to Sunrise Mall, we get Phillip Norman’s Shout! and the Jacksons’ “State of Shock.”‘And in the record store there was this one moment when, looking up from the stacks, I saw her bopping her head — only briefly — along to the piped-in music in a way that scared me: I was losing her. I avoided her a little after that, only seeing her on family occasions, my dad’s wedding and Christmases, and she was still very much my ally but with little eccentricities creeping around the edge of her behavior. Mom, Bobby and I went to see her much later, maybe when I came home from college my freshman year, I’m not sure. Still chipper, and dishearteningly gaunt-eyed, we made small talk I couldn’t wait to end. Then she died. The first family member I knew to pass away. I was in school, in Santa Fe, and it was just…I couldn’t do it.

Dec 04


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Christmas 1977

L-R: me, mom, Holly

This is me giving my mom “my” present of florally-scented bath cubes. As a six-year-old I’m not someone with pocket change for fancy gurl toiletries but my dad comes to me with a wrapped box and says something to me, something like, “here, Michael, give your mother your present.” Since I didn’t actually give her anything, and at age six, not capable of reading between the lines, I say as much; my dad insists again, then I insist again in confused exchange until finally my mother plays along. I end up being more fascinated by them than she is — they were my gift to me. To mom, bath cubes are in a well-established category of desperation-gift (I know because in later years I give my mom scented toiletries when I couldn’t think of anything else to give her), to me they’re more pretty datum to be collected and savored: What do violets smell like? What do lily-of-the-valleys smell like? What do…? Pretty! My mom and stepdad still give each other presents under their pets’ names. I still don’t really understand that cute misdirection, or what kind of pleasure they get from indulging in such a thin family in-joke.

We’re the Daddino family and we’re into CB! You can sorta make it out right there, in a box, to the right. Later that night Bobby uses it to talk to another kid who got a CB radio for Christmas, how romantic. In retrospect, we were maybe slightly ahead of the CB-craze curve for Long Island, given my mom’s long-term fascination with country & western. I even remember Red Sovine’s “Teddy Bear” (and various spin-off records) being played a lot on the radio the year before; then, earlier that year, we all see Smoky and the Bandit (which comes as something of a shock, as this is the first time I hear someone outside the family curse — I just sorta assumed my brothers had invented “fuck” and “shit”) (also, this movie is a benchmark for memory-fade, as after we leave the theater, I remark to my mom that this is the first movie [in a theater] I’ve ever seen, and she’s surprised that I have no recollection of films I saw just a few years before).

Dec 04


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Christmas 1977

L-R: me, Holly, mom, Tommy

I think I asked my mom to make the horsie kiss the dog. I love the look on my mother’s face, it’s so maudlin.

The dog was Holly, by the way. She may have been born on or near Christmas day, hence the name. Or she may have been named for the holly bushes that used to be grown on our property before the house was built, which was around late 1966. Somewhat embarrassingly for all involved, her name was the first word I ever spoke, not “mama” or “dada.” I was very attached to her; we all were. She was, as my mom puts it, “a lady.” She had an instinctual sense of manners, displaying an unholy patience when putting up with all the nonsense young kids do. Like when I tried riding her like a horse. (She would just slowly walk away from under me.) Or when I used to eat from her bowl. (This when I was really young — before I had any idea what such a thing was, my parents cheerily announced a “HAPPY BIRTHDAY” to me; uninterested, I turned around and went back to the Gaines Burgers.) More benignly, sometimes when she was laying on the floor, I would rest my head on her tummy and doze off — amazingly, she wouldn’t get up.

She was already a little slow from age when I knew her, and about eight years old of the time of this photo. Soon after, the vet discovered she was now blind in one eye; and soon after that, she developed a large cancerous tumor in her mouth. I always thought it looked like a piece of pink wadded gum. She was put to sleep not long after.

In the lower left-hand corner, there’s a box for a Biotron Micronaut, evidence of a mad passion for Micronauts I developed a few months prior. Very uncharacteristic of me to take any liking (or admit to liking) to toys of force and power, on the other hand, it seems very much like me to prefer them to what eventually became the canonical toygeek collector-scum object of lust. (It wasn’t even a contest. As I never tire of telling people, around this time passed up several chances to see the 1st/4th movie in theater because I thought it would be too scary, and this to day still haven’t seen a single SW movie in its entirety.) The burning hot core of the toy’s fascination was the its interchangeability across sets, or, as this site says: “One of things for which Micronauts are best remembered is their 5mm peg hole system. Nearly every Micronaut toy could be disassembled and joined with other Micronauts for completely new creations.” I don’t think I did anything with them, no play-acting or mini-wars, none of that, just building and rebuilding the sets and exchanging pieces between sets to fabulate less recognizable and perverse quasi-organic machines. I amass quite a large collection that fills a milk crate that a few years later I dump wholesale “for charity.” I even receive the Rocket Tubes set, probably next year, though there are conflicting release dates on the web. It’s easily the most expensive toy I’ve ever received by that time, wearing a $99 price tag from Playworld (a toy store chain so utterly gone almost no reference to them exists on the web), an imaginable sum to me, and that impresses me almost more than the toy itself. The toy is very very cool, but before Christmas, it seemed so unlikely I’d ever get it that it never occurred to me to want it. Furthermore, I don’t know how to operate it, and neither does my dad. The day after Christmas dad sets it up on the floor of the den and tries to get it to work, but there’s some vague unspecified thing wrong with it, and back to Playworld it goes, to be replaced by…nothing, I think. I can’t say I remember feeling cheated.

Dec 04


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Christmas 1977

L-R: Tommy, Me

North Bellmore is less than thirty miles away, but I go into Manhattan exactly twice in the 1970’s: one in a class trip to the United Nations in 1979 and other is for THE. BEST. CHRISTMAS EVE. EVER. Mom, my brothers and I take a train into New York City to see my dad in his natural habitat. (Mom wears open-toed heels that I accidentally step on a lot during the train-ride.) Before this, what did I think dad did all day? Answer unclear, try again later. When he was home he’d often work on these inscrutable feats of number-crunching with a HUGE ten-digit Texas Instruments calculator (mine now) and paper spreadsheets with grids in green and white; if I gave any thought to it, I probably assumed he did much the same at work, only wearing a suit. The visit to his offices didn’t clarify much, though it did reveal to me that he worked with computers, too, as one of his co-workers took us aside to show some print-outs of ASCII art. Looking out of someone’s private office (or maybe it was a computer room, if they were putting such things in windowed building perimeter rooms back then), I could see another tall building, part of a cavern of buildings causing darkness on a sunny afternoon.

Then we all went to the World Trade Center. Up to this day, the tallest building I’ve been in couldn’t have been more than a few stories — the tallest building in Nassau County (both in 1977 and 2004) is the Nassau University Medical Center, a mere 19 and I don’t think ever been in that monster. Going up in the elevators is an alarming experience, as I have to pop my ears much as I did on the airplane ride to Florida earlier this year (in the picture above I’m wearing Disneyworld PJs my parents bought there). When we’re up there I was told I just wasn’t going to fall out of the window, and encouraged to get nearer, but the windows extended from the floor to the ceiling and when I was too close it looked too much like my feet was right at the edge of a mile-high drop. A month or two before 9/11, my boss took the marketing department to an informal breakfast at Windows on the World, and when we left, we all passed by a foot-to-ceiling window to get a better view of Manhattan looking uptown, and when I got too close, when I could see the buildings directly under us, there was that same terrified feeling in the knees again and I just had to get away. In 1977, down where the World Financial Center will be, I can see landfill but assume it’s a beach; some time later, misunderstanding a comment by my one of my grandparents, I assume that this landfill is also the site of one my very earliest memories, me and my brothers on a beach, climbing a wooden structure.

Speaking of falling into voids, this photo is amazing because save for a floating piece of wire, it looks as if reality trails off into nothingness right behind. It’s also slightly blurry, indicating that my mom took this. She’s a long-time sufferer of arthritis — probably had it when she was a kid, even — but it’s after the age of thirty that it starts getting really acute, and in light of this, I’m rather amazed she soldiered on as she did, taking really hammy photos of Christmas photos of us even though her hands would seize up in pain.

I’m six-and-a-half in this photo. When Tommy was six-and-change in 1972, he got way much more crap for his stocking-stuffer thing AND a sleeping bag, too. But I get Kermit and Grover, a gift-pack of Life Savers I eat in one sitting, crayons for the third year in a row, and two Richard Scarry books, one of which features cut-and-paste Christmas ornaments you’ll see later. I think that one was Richard Scarry’s Best Make-It Book Ever, and the other one was Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever…and suddenly I get some insight where a certain music anthology series might’ve gotten its name.

Dec 04


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Christmas 1976

Now before Xmas ’76, I’ve only had five Christmases, out of which I can probably remember only two. (Or maybe three, only I don’t remember remembering Christmas ’73 back in ’76.) And yet when my mom told me we were going to have Christmas in the new den rather than the living room, I thought it was an intriguing twist on ancient family tradition. But, you know, we had a new den and by gum, my parents were gonna try real hard — too real hard — to show it off to friends and neighbors and relatives.

First off, we get a real tree, probably our first. The family used a fake tree every year, since the days when the family still lived in an apartment in Brooklyn, and on through the years until…well, I remember my dad agonizing over the color coding that determined a branch’s placement on the main tree stem, so that’s probably 1975, and if not that, 1974. (It’s hard to tell from the photos.) But this tree is all too real. Earlier Christmases have trees with tinsel garlands in elegant interlocking grids; this one has unruly branches jutting out in all directions, too impolite to hold the red and white and clear plastic chains in any regular manner. In fact, you’ll notice one of the red chains is sagging half-way off the tree. The chains are brand- new, part of an extensive ornament-buying-programme my parents enact for the occasion. I take part, going with my parents to the nurseries of Long Island, one time asking them to buy a Flintstones ornament that mysteriously disappears from my person (and my memory) before Christmas. One of them was the occasion for one of my most mysterious and random childhood memories: a woman with a bag full of purchases has her scarf fall to the ground as she leaves a nursery (probably Martin Viette’s – God, I am so glad they still exist), and the Santa on the premises notices and interrupts his conversation with some adults to get her attention…and I don’t think I ever found out what finally happened. I felt sorry for the homeless scarf. Anyway, I don’t remember doing this at all, but from the photo it’s pretty clear I also accompanied my parents with the trimming of the tree — the majority of them are placed around my height!

The other way my parents are overdoing it: just look at all the fucking presents. Holy shit, they extend across the entire width of the room, which might be…what? Ten to fifteen feet? I don’t know. It was such a long time ago and I’m a terrible judge of length. But compared to all the other Xmas photos we have, this is easily the most bountiful season we ever have. And off-hand I only remember the cheap stuff: the Richard Scarry books, Stadium Checkers, a carnival playset, a hunk of plastic with a spiral pyramid that round metal balls rolled around before getting lost on the floor.

The couple of months surrounding this Christmas I remember with a warm fuzzy glow. Kindergarten was held for only half a day, and for the first half of the year I’d come home during lunch-time, put a Swanson’s TV Dinner in the oven all by my lonesome, then eat and do stuff in front of the TV set in the den. The family went to Florida for my first vacation a few months later. Good times.

Dec 04


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Christmas Eve 1976

L-R: Santa Claus, me, Tommy, Bobby

The Young Kurt Cobain Chronicles, Part 27:’wherein our rock-star-to-be thanks Santa for bringing the Beatles into his miserable little life.

Actually, am I shaking Santa’s hand or is he pulling me towards him? Probably the latter, as Santa still has presents in his hands and I don’t, thereby giving me no reason to shake his hand.’Either way, I don’t look especially happy and I certainly wasn’t — the moment he came in through the front door I tried as hard as I could to make myself as invisible as possible, even going so far as to hide behind people, hoping he wouldn’t see me. At least I’m not crying this time.’I didn’t know it then, but the Santa here was in fact the son-in-law of a babysitter, Mrs. Marciano, that I regularly visited that year.’I was pretty confused by his visit, sicne he came in with a couple of non-elf adults I had never seen before, and then left with them in a car.

Do I even believe in Santa Claus at all at this point? I think I was both believing and not-believing, and unable to sense any contradiction in this stance. I was’still suspicious that Santa was a story adults told did to keep children dumb, since they always talked about Santa in the same dumb, condescending voice they used to tell kids other dumb, condescending stories. (Around this time, when a friend of my mom’s tells me about a conversation he had with her horse, I get angry and say “but horses…can’t talk…human-talk.”). Anyway, there’s always plenty of empirical evidence available to a kid to NOT believe. Wrapped gifts appeared under the tree before Christmas as long as I can remember. (I have a very early memory, from maybe three or four, of Bobby showing my that our parents’ bedroom closet was filled with toys stacked in neat towers, unwrapped.) My mom says that she explained the seeming discrepancy of Christmas gifts appearing before Santa’s visit by telling me that “there are presents we give you and there’s the presents that Santa give you when he visits our house,” reinforcing this line by placing new gifts under the night before Christmas when we’re all asleep. But then there’s the reality of Santa clones everywhere and Christmas specials where Santa (as opposed to someone just dressing like him) doesn’t figure at all, and crimony, how does Christ figure into any of this? (You never see them together in the same place…WHICH COULD ONLY MEAN!!!)

On the other hand, when it came to getting lots and lots of presents, one didn’t take chances with disbelief. Plus I was still pretty incredulous about a lot of things — this month my mom tells me that the night before, when she was shopping for Christmas presents, she saw Jack Frost! Just for a wee fleeting moment, but yes, him! Not only do I believe her I think this visitation is a sign that she’s downright blessed or something. A photo from Christmas ’77 show milk and cookies by the fireplace; I bet I placed them but I think (I think) this might’ve been done out of a sense of tradition and when I saw the food gone the next day, I assumed my Dad ate it. (He was kinda overweight at the time and I wasn’t above being malicious at his expense.) Some time later I lamely deduce that since Christmas is about Christ’s birth, Santa Claus doesn’t exist. The 1979 book Encyclopedia Brown’s Record Book of Weird and Wonderful Facts has a factoid proving by science the physical impossibility of Santa Claus, and reading that pretty much settles the matter in my mind; my mom lets out a disappointed groan when I tell her. That Christmas Eve, Bobby and I stay up late enough to surreptitiously (since I’m a kid, this means “not surreptitiously at all”) watch Tommy and my mother wrap more presents. The year after that, my mom gives up and takes me to a Toys ‘R’ Us to help her buy presents for everybody.’

By the way, this is our den, mere weeks after a major remodeling job. The sliding glass doors (which I bet were deemed too burglar-friendly for comfort) were removed in favor of a real brick fireplace to complement our fake fireplace upstairs, and the fake wood paneling from earlier shots was replaced with real wood paneling. Plus some lovely parquetry flooring and “greenhouse” windows that jutted out and leaked warm air like crazy. And we got a television in the wall, just like rich people do! Earlier that day, with the light of a brilliantly sunny winter day streaming through those windows, I watched A Night at the Opera on the incredibly new Superstation and it’s the most powerful and sustained set of laughs I’ve had in all my five-and-a-half years of life.

Dec 04


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Christmas 1975

L-R: Tommy, Dad, Bobby, Me (just barely visible to the right)

The loud, fussy stripes of post-QEFTSG pr’t-‘-porter men’s fashion didn’t come out of a vacuum, you know.

In spite of Lucas Samaras, I fucking hate instant cameras. Every ’70’s image our family took with them looks dismal, especially compared to the still-vibrant shots taken by less faddish cameras. Thanks to those big honking flashes the subjects are overlit and everything else is dark and shadowy, so everyone ends up looking like astronauts floating in an infinite void of black space. And the colors are almost universally pallid (doesn’t matter whether that’s from age or the shittiness of the original film, it’s still reason to hate) so once again I had to fiddle with the colors of the original to show that we opening presents in the afternoon of an overcast day rather than the middle of the night. The end-result is probably now a little over-saturated when it comes to the reds and you all sorts of scratches and damage to the photo, plus, I admit, the futz on a dirty scanner glass. The big empty space on the corner is courtesy of a very hungry family parrot, Pablo.

Speaking of cameras, that’s what Tommy has in his hand as he gurns in mock-aggression for my mom. (He always looks natural and unflustered in ’70’s photos, whereas I tend to cower in front of cameras as I think they make me unrecognizably unMichael-like.) A Ready Ranger Tele-photo Camera Gun it was called, and since he’s aiming straight for my mom, you can’t tell from the photo that it was rather long and looked something like a bazooka. This info comes from eBay ’cause I don’t actually remember it. What I do remember is Bobby’s gift, the box for which you can just barely see between him and my Dad — something called Electric Skittle Bingo. I was confused by what you were supposed to do with it then, and remain confused by it now, but as with Tommy’s gift I was mightily impressed by it the hugeness of the thing (plus Maxwell Smart was on the box) and yet another, even bigger Bobby gift that came in a box seemingly as big as me without any color photography on it. It’s hazy to me just what it was, other than it was sports-related and “not the right one” and thus destined to returned to the store. I almost never did that as a kid. If a gift was wrong I felt obliged to keep so as not to hurt the toy’s feelings. There was one Christmas toy, maybe a Micronauts thing, that once I unwrapped it I started bawling uncontrollably because it was so utterly wrong for me, something too weird or boyish or violent, can’t remember. To my surprise I end up loving it the hell out of it. The one time I insisted on getting a gift returned was when I got a plastic typewriter for Christmas. I don’t know what the nature of my rejection was (maybe it wasn’t frivolous enough) but soon after I felt such HORRIBLE CRUSHING guilt over rejecting the poor defenseless gift that six months later I insisted on getting same thing again, maybe for my birthday. I never used the damned thing anyway as I end up preferring my mom’s bigger (and beautiful) manual typewriter.

I like my toys (particularly the Playskool Village) but as Tommy and Bobby are getting the big gifts I am acutely feeling my smallness this day. It’s like when Tommy and Bobby have their birthdays back in October, and since I’m four-and-a-half I can’t go on any of the cool rides at Adventureland plus I sense I’m being something of a drag, somebody you monitor and humor rather than engage. On the other hand, there is the bizarre moment that day in the den, where in reaction to a gift, I affect adulthood by saying something in a funny-gruff way — in imitation of those commercials where for comic effect kids lip-synch to deep, obviously adult voices — and feel really weird and shameful afterwards.

A moment of remembrance for our den. Until I got my own color TV as a present for my sixth grade graduation, the den was where the action was. If you could call it that. I spent much of my childhood in the den, with the TV on, not actually watching it so much as doing things in front of it and soaking whatever was on with varying degrees of attentiveness. My grandmother disturbing dust motes in the midday light as The Lucy Show played; crayons, blocks, Lego, construction paper and the late afternoon cartoon shift; drinking a whole six-pack of 7-UPs with Space Giants on WTCG; a passerby kissing David Bowie in “DJ”; Foul Play and then Animal House in a male-bonding moment with my oldest brother and his friends; Canadian shows about the metric system and modern media while being sick for weeks on end; playing the Atari a couple years after its peak; MTV and bad movies, alone, deep into many Friday nights. OK, yes, I was watching the TV a lot.