There was nothing quite like fruit-scented marker sniffing to get the creative coloring time juices flowing. Sure, many of us ended up with an array of multicolored dots on the underside of our noses, but it was a minor price to pay for the sweet, sweet smell of cherries, lemons, and grapes. Our once neutral-smelling drawings were impressively transformed by Mr. Sketch, allowing us to create great aromatic works of art that bore olfactory resemblance to our supermarket produce sections. If you wanted to outline something in black, though, you had to be prepared to sniff at your own risk. Black licorice. Yech.
For a generation facing increasing concerns of huffing and household chemical abuse, it seems strange in retrospect that our parents and teachers once actively encouraged good old fashioned marker sniffing. Rubber cement and Sharpies were still no-nos, yet somehow these odoriferous drawing implements managed to fly quietly under the anxious anti-drug authority radar. Perhaps their non-toxicity played a role in their ubiquitous position on the parent-approved school supply list, but their addictive nature certainly likened them to the verboten.
There remains something sweetly (yes, sweetly--also pungently) naughty about inhaling these fruity marker smells. The markers held major kid appeal of color vibrancy alone, so the addition of a novel sensory stimulus was almost too much to handle. Imagine, you could now draw a lemon that smelled like a lemon. Was there no end to these incredible and undoubtedly necessary technological advances in school supplies? Forget pertinent socially conscious research on health and diseases--one sniff of these markers and I vowed to become a marker lab scientist.
The process of smellifying these markers remains a mystery to many of us former (excuse me, recovering) Mr. Sketch users. How exactly did this innovative marker producer squeeze that tantalizing aroma into this convenient tubular marker form? Is there some sort of fruit condensing machine? A scent extractor? While I still like to imagine a whimsical marker factory a la Dr. Seuss where colorfully-dressed workers load grapes and mangoes into shiny chrome machinery, from whose other end pops out perfectly apportioned scented markers.
In reality, the scentsational (scentsational! I'm on a roll!) smells of Mr. Sketch markers were purely chemical in nature. The giveaway? These art supplies smelled more strongly of fruit than actual fruit itself. It may not seem possible to get a more watermelony smell than that emanating from the fruit in the flesh (Flesh! Fruit! Puns!) but Mr. Sketch achieved the olfactorily impossible. Kudos, Mr. Sketch. You've out-fruited fruit.
Though not directly related to the quality of the fruity scents or ink quality, the name "Mr. Sketch" seems worth flagging as mildly suspicious. While it's clear the "Sketch" in "Mr. Sketch" refers to the art of drawing, the addition of the formal "Mr." title adds dubious implications about Mr. Sketch's credentials for spending long stretches of time with unsupervised children. Perhaps I'm just a cynic, but the name brings to mind images of disheveled trench-coat wearing men in windowless vans luring children from their playground activities with lollipops and Three Musketeers. While the unsavory (unsavory! These scent puns are out of control!) connotation is obviously not the intention of the Sanford company, it remains a bit troubling nonetheless. I don't have any children so perhaps I am not a reliable judge of caretaker quality, but I doubt I would let someone named "Mr. Sketch" interact with my children in their spare time. Just saying.
Fun-poking at the undeniably sketchy name aside, Mr. Sketch markers deserve recognition as a legitimate childhood phenomenon. These sets' ubiquitous presence in cubbies, art classrooms, backpacks, and playrooms made them a staple for the coloring-minded 90s child. Our parents and teachers knew these markers as veritable weapons in the war on our wavering attention spans; Mr. Sketch's deliciously fruity aroma could always occupy an otherwise cranky child in a pinch. Watermelon, lemon, cherries, and yes, even the ominously scented black licorice markers sufficiently won our limited juvenile focus.
Mr. Sketch allowed us to fixate on an unusual multitude of sensory stimuli: Sight, touch, smell, and for the not conventionally bright among us, taste. Thank goodness for non-toxicity. If our teachers, parents, and babysitters each had a nickel for every child who attempted to taste the fruity flavors of the rainbow by imprinting their tongues with the multi-hued slant tips of these markers, they would all be exceptionally rich individuals in their middle age. Instead, they will have to settle for the comforting knowledge that we at least did not poison ourselves with our curiosity. Not nickel per taste comforting, but it will have to do.
Monday, June 14, 2010
Thursday, April 22, 2010
What kind of a child wouldn't adore playing with stacks of bottle caps, delighting in making little wavering leaning towers of Pogsa and later bashing them with a heftier, weightier cap? It's such an attractive option, I can't imagine how it took us 60-odd years since the games conception to discover its true awesomeness. It may have had something to do with printing technology; Pogs featuring psychedelically colorful eight balls and yin yangs are far more attractive to children than plain old guava juice bottle lids. Still, though, we're just hurling a slightly bigger disc at a pile of smaller discs, so something tells me we as 90s children possessed the inherent trait of being incredibly easily amused. You just couldn't sell that to today's kid. They'd be bored out of their minds before you even got to the word "slammer."aa
Pogs quickly achieved cultural phenomenon status, hurdling onto the toy scene in the early 90s. Pog legend (and possibly some factual information I didn't have the initiative to confirm) has it that the game originated in the 1920s/30s era in Hawaii, using milk caps. Decades later, a teacher introduced the game to her students using lids from POG juice: Passion Fruit, Orange, Guava. Get it? Pog? I think you get it, I just wanted to double check.
Pog play is incredibly, almost deceptively simple. In retrospect it almost seems as if a part of the original instructions have been lost somewhere along the way; it's hard to believe this basic game not only held our rapt attention but also lay claim to great chunks of our allowance money and precious limited recess time. The players would build a stack of caps at least four high with all pogs facing down. There are variations, of course; in some games each player built their own stack, but generally it required some buy-in of one's own valued pogs into the high-stakes mix of potential pog loss to superior slammer wielder. Each player takes a turn hurdling the slammer at the stack, claiming the pogs that land upturned and returning the downturned pogs to the original stack.
In some cases, we would play simply for fun, allowing each player to reclaim his or her beloved pogs at the end of the game. In others, though, we were out for keeps. We had to be careful which of our most beloved pog designs we decided to throw into the mix; in many cases, other players would leave the game with their pockets or patented pog stack cases lined with our once-treasured designs. It was sort of gambling 101 for children, and most of us were about three slammer throws away from needing a 12-step program. Each throw felt like this would be our chance to claim our neighbor's rarest and most valuable pog holding, but in most cases the house won and we were SOL. It's hard to look cool when all that remains in your pog case are the reject kitten and education-themed designs. Who's going to want to slam that?
If your memory fails to summon the high-stakes intensity of the game, just watch the following commercial. It will tell you all you need to know about just how hardcore 90s kids were about their pog play. Filled with semi-subliminal messages like "Wanna Play Gotta Play Above All," it's a frightening insight into the level of serious we invested in our pog collecting and gaming.
Pogs and their heavier, more potentially injury-inflicting counterparts Slammers established a ubiquitous presence on playgrounds and in classrooms everywhere. Schools called foul on the game, declaring it a soft form of gambling. Many school districts issued bans on the seemingly innocuous toys, declaring their "playing for keeps" nature to promote unhealthy and immoral gambling habits. Pogs soon went the way of the slap bracelet, reduced to underground, rule-defying secret game play.
The majority of parents pooh-poohed the schools' claims; the pogs weren't inherently dangerous and to many it seemed a reasonable alternative to TV and video games. Kids, after all, do have some inherent right to be kids, no matter how firmly schools push to eliminate it. In the schools' defense, though, they did have some grounds for banning on the same level of the later Tamagotchi craze: these things were distracting. It was tough to convince our teachers the slamming of a large disc into a pile of smaller discs was educational in its own right. Displacement? Physics? I'm still working on a viable explanation. I'm still meaning to get back to my second grade teacher on that one.
The game became so popular that manufacturers were scrambling to get their images plastered onto cardboard discs, releasing a horde of licensed designs and highly coveted collectible pogs onto the skyrocketing game scene. Soon fast food joints were offering pogs alongside children's meals, sports teams issued baseball card-esque designs, and even religious organizations sought to promote their moral messages on these ever more visible youth-accessible miniature billboard space. All types of licensed images found their way onto the fronts of pogs, giving a wide variety of kid-friendly enterprises an entirely new vehicle through which to promote their franchises.
Granted, some of the cross-promotional morally conscious pog marketing got a bit out of hand. While it might be cool to have a pog or two with some deeper meaning, many of the pog producing organizations sought to use the fad as a platform for their mission statement. Groups like anti-drug education program DARE and the US Environmental Protection Agency were soon printing pogs by the stackful, their well-meaning capitalization on a trend sucking a reasonable amount of the fun out of the game.
Like any good childhood fad, as soon as adults get too involved in utilizing the phenomenon to their benefit, it sends a message to kids that its trendiness is on the way out. Once adults have embraced a trend with the "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" attitude, kids' internal coolness radar alerts them it's probably time to find a new favorite pastime. Beanie Babies, anyone?
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
The 90s were a good time to be a bad dancer. The dance music industry seemed aware of the plight of the uncoordinated and responded aptly with some incredibly detailed instructional dance songs. All you needed was a basic command of the English language and the ability to distinguish Right from Left and you were golden. It was just that easy.
From country line dancing to hip hop moves, the 90s offered us a wide range of group dancing options. Whatever your fancy, it was pretty likely you'd be hearing it at every wedding you attended in the span of the decade. There was no better surefire way to get all the wallflowers out on the dance floor than to bust out a dance they'd learned in gym class. It had a certain way of easing the tension. For the most part they just involved a step forward, back, or to the side, a turn or two, some directional changing, and voila! You were dancing.
For the most part, you couldn't pinpoint exactly where or when you learned the routine, but when the song came on your body instinctively fell into step. It's like some sort of reflex. To this day, whenever I hear the opening bars of Cotton Eye Joe, I immediately break into a complicated series of hops and turns. While this list is by no means comprehensive, here are a smattering of dance crazes that took the world by storm circa 1990-2000:
Cha Cha Slide
I heard a rumor (via infamous gossip maven and disseminator of potentially misguided information Wikipedia) that the Cha Cha Slide was actually developed for a Bally's fitness class. Since I don't have the drive or energy to verify or refute this claim, we're just going to go with that. So, it started with a fitness class. What do you know.
This one requires a bit more on the coordination side, particularly during the "Cha Cha real smooth now" interlude. We're supposed to interject our own saucy salsa moves there, but that's asking a bit much from your average line dancer. Not to mention the "Reverse! Reverse!" part. The franticness of it all is enough to send you into stress-induced palpitations.
Cotton Eye Joe
You've got to wonder what exactly was the tipping point that drove someone to consider recording this traditional Southern folk song as a knee-slappin', toe-tappin' techno single. Because when I think Southern country music, my mind immediately makes the leap to Swedish Eurodance. To be fair, the Swedish Eurodancers in question did brand themselves as Rednex, but it just doesn't add up. Luckily they provide us with enough synthesized harmonica and banjo riffs to distract us from the discrepancy.
This one's been around a bit longer, but it enjoyed a fair amount of popularity in the late 80s and 90s. It's a pretty straightforward procedure, really. You do a couple of grapevines, throw in a little toe brandishing, and top it all off with some good old fashioned boogie woogie woogieing. Repeat.
If I can be totally honest with you, I learned how to vogue from Stephanie Tanner of Full House. That girl had some moves. Madonna's 1990 song "Vogue" helped popularize the growing dance movement, leaving club-goers everywhere to awkwardly strike pose after pose in well-timed succession. The trick was in keeping a straight, underfed model-esque face throughout the whole thing.
Achy Breaky Heart
Remember, if you will, a time before Billy Ray Cyrus was just Miley Cyrus's dad. Back in the early 90s, he was a mullet-headed one-hit wonder of a country music star. With his pop crossover success, he had even the Yankee-est among us queuing up for country line-dancing.
If you ever have a chance to check out the lyrics, you'll be treated to a comprehensive list of people Billy Ray suggests you consult regarding his achy breaky situation before alerting his heart of its impending breakage. My personal favorite is Aunt Louise. I always secretly thought she'd have been sympathetic to the dire state of his romantic life.
The only problem with this one was figuring out what to do during the verses. The chorus was relatively instructive, but everything in between was pretty up in the air. The 69 Boyz also seem especially intent on reminding us that the dance is not the butterfly but indeed the Tootsee Roll. Thank goodness they keep bringing it up. Between mentions I start slipping into thinking it might be the butterfly I'm doing, but they set me straight in the next verse. Close one, though.
Apache (Jump On It)
I'll admit this one isn't quite as widespread as the others, but after seeing that Fresh Prince episode I was completely hooked. Carlton and Will enter an 80s dance competition to salvage their busted Vegas trip, and the results are hilarious. Really, anything that includes Carlton dancing is okay by me.
What list of dance crazes would be complete without mention of the infamous Macarena? For no apparent reason, this catchy tune spiraled into one of the biggest dance hits of the later part of the 20th century. If you don't speak Spanish, I don't recommend the English translation of the original. It probably makes more sense in Spanish, assuming you speak no Spanish. The song has some choice moments, but I think my favorite are when Macarena gets together with her boyfriend's pals in the midst of his military swearing-in ceremony. Yes, it really is that specific. Thankfully they came up with looser translation for the English version.
The dance itself is pretty simple, which is probably why it caught on in such a big way. It doesn't matter how terrible a dancer you are, everybody can put out one hand and then the other. The butt shaking part might give you some trouble, but at that point you're just seconds away from a jump turn that'll leave you home free.
No matter how self-conscious and awkwardly adolescent you were, you could usually fake it on the dance floor thanks to these handily prechoreographed songs. When one of these came on at the school dance, it didn't matter that you couldn't do the worm or that your Running Man was decidedly subpar. You just needed to step into the well-organized lines, listen to the lyrics, and churn out a few basic steps. You may not have been able to cha cha real smooth during the free dance breaks, but you could grapevine and Charlie Brown with the best of 'em.