Sesame Street Little People

Sesame Street was a HUGE part of my childhood -- records, storybooks, stuffed animals, bedsheets. But best of all -- the Little People playset. In the 1976 snapshot below, looking beyond my brother modeling a Sesame Street pillow case around his waist, the playset can be seen on the floor just to his left.

Produced by Fisher-Price in the mid-1970's, the Play Family Sesame Street playset was one of the coolest toys I remember from my childhood.

 
Images courtesy of ThisOldToy.com
Until recently, I had always assumed that the playset had come with all of the Sesame Street Little People we had as kids; however, as I scoured the internet for images and information about this set, I found that seven of the characters were purchased separately in the set seen above on the right. The JcPenney catalog page below shows that this set originally sold for fifteen bucks. Today, a complete set often sells on eBay for upwards of $100.

Lucky for me, our set has remained intact. From the trash truck to Ernie and Bert's beds, every last piece is still around -- granted it's showing signs of being 35 years old. After years of wear and tear from my brother and I, my nephew took his turn a few years back and now the play set is part of my daughter's Little People army. Curiously enough, she doesn't like to mix these pieces with her other Little People. When it's time to play, she is very clear to distinguish between Sesame Street Little People and "regular" Little People.

The images below are of our actual Sesame Street playset taken last fall. Not seen in these pictures are the white ladder and kitchen table/chairs which also came with this set. These pieces are still around but were mistakenly placed with another Little People set at the time of these pictures. Click the images for larger views...

 
  
 
 
In recent years, two very different areas of interest in my life collided in the form of a popular YouTube video. The creator, using many Fisher-Price Little People (but mainly the Sesame Street set), has recreated the Spike Lee movie Do the Right Thing. If you're familiar with the movie, you'll love this. If not, you'll likely be offended.

Baked plastic amusement.

Christmas of 1984 brings to mind a ridiculous amount of memories. There was the electronics set my brother got (which I happened to buy for myself at the flea market this morning for $3). There was the audio cassette tape that recorded about an hour of the Christmas morning festivities in our house (which, of course, is still around). There was the other cassette tape filled with songs my brother had gotten from our cousins -- the Footloose soundtrack, The Cars. But these are topics for another day. Looking back at pictures of Christmas from that year, I noticed a small detail I had missed up until now.

At my grandparents' house for Christmas, the picture to the left shows me opening a package of markers -- a gift I probably liked considering how much time my brother and I spent drawing masterpieces such as the General Lee jumping over a canyon. But what is that on the couch next to me? Looking past my cool track suit and Star Wars watch, there's no question that that's a brand new set of Garfield Shrinky Dinks!

 
While the original box is long gone, two of the Shrinky Dinks still remain...complete with their plastic stands.
While many people throw away the things of their youth as they grow older, I am proud that these two pieces of baked plastic colored with pencils are still around after almost thirty years!

Unplayable movies and other treasures.

You never know what treasures await around the corner. This is the idea that I take into the flea market that is held on a montly basis here in my area. I've been hitting this flea market each month for about a year now and I've only left empty handed on one occasion. Last month turned up a handful of late 70's Fisher Price Little People cars and accessories to add to my daughter's arsenal. But for daddy, there was this dandy...

 
I don't own a video disc player and I don't plan on buying one; but when I happen across a box of 20+ video discs on sale for 15 bucks and the one on top is the greatest movie of all time, it's time to make a deal. If I have no use for one of the discs, I definitely don't have any use for all of them...so after a bit of bargaining and deciding to push the Teen Wolf disc to the side, I walked away with The Karate Kid on video disc format for a very minimal price.

My wife wonders why I bought it considering it'll never get played (not to mention the fact that I have two different copies of the same movie on DVD already)...but some of you reading will understand. It's a matter of history. A matter of nostalgia and collecting.

A copy of my favorite movie on a format I'll never use for less than I would pay for a fast food burger? I'll take it.

Tomorrow is this month's flea market and I'll be taking my 2-year-old daughter along for the fun. She's as excited as daddy at the thought of the treasures we'll find.

Country b-boys.

I grew up in a small town -- not much different from the one you might imagine John Mellencamp grew up in. Largely industrial and agricultural, my town lacked any culture other than its own and had about as much diversity as a loaf of Wonder bread. Although there was absolutely no urban element to my small town, kids there in the 1980s, just like young people all across the country, were fascinated with a new phenomenon called breakdancing.

Living on the outskirts of town, my neighborhood consisted of ten houses in a row with a two-lane highway in front and a corn field speckled with oil wells to the back. While kids on our street spent a lot of time playing backyard baseball and riding bikes, breakdancing found its way to even our humble neighborhood.

On a June night, I believe in 1983, my brother's friend next door had a birthday party -- he was ten. Upon arrival, kids were met with a blaring boom box and a large sheet of linoleum laid out on the carport floor. This was like no party our neighborhood had seen -- this was a breakdance party! For one night, the kids I'd played catch and traded baseball cards with were transformed into nothing short of the world's youngest (and only?) country b-boys. While some kids tried some more difficult moves, others (including myself) played it safe. With a bandana tied around my seven-year-old leg, I stuck with the basic knee spin. Quite honestly, this scene would have made an excellent episode of the Wonder Years.

From there, my own personal obsession with hip-hop and breakdance continued to grow. On Halloween, when other kids dressed as monsters and vampires, I dressed as a breakdancer. While other kids were listening to glam-rock hair bands, I was listening to early rap music. Most people who popped in the Miami Vice soundtrack rocked out to Glenn Frey's You Belong to the City. My favorite track was Melle Mel's Vice.

Even a few years after my neighbor's party, I was still interested in breakdancing at a time when my school held its annual book sale for students. We were given a day to browse the selections before having the opportunity to purchase books if we wanted. As my classmates and I checked out the offerings, we quickly noticed an instructional book on breakdancing -- but there were only two copies! Although the challenge went unspoken, we all knew that securing one of those books would be difficult.

Sale day arrived and our class was dismissed to make our purchases. Leaving the classroom that day was much like the running of the bulls as a small group of fifth graders walked as quickly as possible towards the sale -- there was no running in the hallways. The first copy of the book was snatched up by a classmate but my hands latched on to the second. It was the key to becoming an awesome breakdancer and it was mine.

As you might expect, however, I never became much of a breakdancer. That's not to say I haven't had my moments -- in particular, one night in college when a friend and I pulled back the carpet in my dorm room, applied a coat of furniture polish to the tile, and spent a few hours bustin' out the best moves two white boys and a few bottles of Night Train could come up with.

Breakdancer or not, I still love it. I love the music, the moves, the art, the culture. With a subculture such as this, if you will, comes some amazing talent. At the same time, however, there also comes some very mediocre performers. Take a look below at a few examples of the good, the bad, and the...um...interesting.

Let's get right to it with some of the trend setters...

From the late 90's, Jason Nevins' video is packed with sweet moves...

Even Mister Rogers got in some action...

Finally, no matter how hard we might try, who can forget this mess...

Ricky and Alfonso stole my knee spin.

An expensive month.

Straying away from the typical theme of this blog thus far, I have to take a minute to hit on some things current. It seems as though when it rains, it pours. And when it comes to new releases from some of my favorite musicians, the same holds true.

In addition to two DVD releases that will find places on my shelf, over the next month three of my favorite musicians, all from completely different genres of music, will be putting out brand new material. I have to put in a good word for each...

Justin Townes Earle releases his third full-lengh album, Harlem River Blues, on September 14th.

The son of legend Steve Earle, Justin takes his own style in a direction completely different from that of his father. Over the past few years, I've not been able to get enough of Justin through his first two albums, his EP, and his live performances. The anticipation building in my mind for Harlem River Blues is something serious.

Pre-order Harlem River Blues [CD | Vinyl]

On the same day, The Black Angels also release their third offering to the music world, Phosphene Dream.

Having seen the Black Angles perform at a very small venue a few years back, I can honestly say that they put on one of the most fascinating live shows I've ever seen. Not fascinating in the sense of an active and flashy stage performance, but rather in the sense of absolutely absorbing the audience into the music. While often compared to a modern-day version of The Doors, the best description I've ever heard of the Black Angels is that they play "great music to have sex to at a funeral."

Pre-order Phosphene Dream [CD | Vinyl]

Last but not least is one of the few artists who I feel still records true hip-hop music. On October 12th comes Dragon Slayer from Pigeon John.

As a part of L.A. Symphony and the more recent Rootbeer, Pigeon John has also flown under the hip-hop radar with a handful of solo efforts. Pushing guns, bitches, and bling to the side, Pigeon John stays true to the fun storytelling of hip-hop's earliest days.

Pre-order for Dragon Slayer not yet available

Broken Faucets

This is how my mind works.

For the past few days, the kitchen faucet has been making an unusual sound. Tonight I finally found a few minutes to take it apart and investigate. In the fifteen minutes that it took me to fix the faucet, without any effort at all, four different images kept popping into my head.

First was Cliff Huxtable. Anyone who has watched the Cosby Show knows that Cliff thought he was quite the family handyman -- although the final results of his work often showed otherwise. I couldn't help but recall the Season 7 episode, Theo and the Kids, Part 1, where Cliff attempts to fix the kitchen sink with the help of Olivia. Showing the age of this show, this scene includes Olivia delivering the line "You've got the right one, baby" to a huge roar of laughter and applause from the studio audience.

Of course, Mouth came to mind as well. In the opening scene of The Goonies, his car chase watching is interrupted when he is sprayed in the face as his father fixes their kitchen sink. These few seconds of this classic movie have always brought two questions to my mind. #1 -- Where is the water coming from? It appears to be shooting from the drain and not from any typical water source. And #2 -- As Mouth is being sprayed in the face, why doesn't he move out of the way? Instead, he keeps his face in the direct line of fire until he father is able to contain the spray.
And how could I not think of God's gift to movies, otherwise known as the Karate Kid? With faucet fixing at hand, I could hear Mr. Miyagi plain as day as he enters the LaRusso's apartment: "Fix faucet?"

But what really kept running through my head more than anything was the short cartoon from the original Electric Company. The cartoon features a plumber who becomes angry because the "person" inside the house will not open the door. What he doesn't realize is that, to the amusement of PBS-watching children, he is talking to a parrot. Do you ever get a line from a song or movie stuck in your head. I did for at least fifteen minutes tonight:

"It's the plumber. I've come to fix the sink."

This is how my mind works. Sad. I know.

Images from the Green Planet

After a handful of recent posts about E.T. memories from my childhood, Shawn from Branded in the 80's continued with the topic by talking about a few memories of his own. One of his posts was about the sequel book to the E.T. story we're all familiar with.

The Book of the Green Planet follows E.T. as he leaves Earth and returns to his home planet. Intrigued by Sean's post, I was happy to find that my local library had a copy of this book and, during what little spare time I've had over the past week, I've been reading about life on the Green Planet. E.T.'s peers include a variety of creatures such as Jumpums, the Flopglopple, and Micro Techs. As with any book, the reader is left to create an image in his own mind of what these characters look like. But this weekend, in a completely random and coincidental stroke of luck, I came across a magazine that gave me a much more detailed perspective of these Green Planet inhabitants.

For 50 cents at a local flea market, I came home with a (beat up) copy of the July 1985 issue of The Electric Company Magazine. When I bought it, the magazine was wrapped and sealed in plastic so I picked it up based on the cover alone. For 50 cents, I figured it was worth a gamble. Getting it home, I was pleasantly surprised by the contents as this issue was published at almost the exact same time as The Book of the Green Planet.

The first feature in this issue is titled "Welcome to E.T.'s Green Planet" and introduces readers to the other creatures that live on E.T.'s home planet -- the same creatures I had been reading about off and on for the past week. It shows E.T.'s gourd-like home as well as the Jumpums, fluteroots, timpanums, and trompayds.

The next page goes on to describe E.T's mentor Botanicus, his Parent, the Flopglopple, and a Micro Tech. For the record, the Flopglopple looks a little bit like what I had imagined but it's safe to say I was way off with the Mirco Tech.

A large majority of this magazine is dedicated to E.T. as can be seen from the table of contents page below to the right. Even the inside cover jumps right in with a word activity called "E.T.'s Closet."

Readers were offered the opportunity to enter a contest to have a star named after them but I was more interested in the one-page Spiderplant comic. Spiderplant is the "hero that grows on you" and is based on the following premise: "We know that the plants on your window sill don't really jump around and talk like the plants on E.T.'s home planet, but what if they did? Then you might see Spiderplant!" This comic is done very much tongue-in-cheek and is a great addition to the theme of this issue.

A three-page spread called "If You Were an Alien in Someone's House" gives readers the chance to guess what everyday household items are being described as though they are foreign objects to someone new to Earth.

The centerfold (for lack of a better term), is a picture of E.T. with his varous powers and assets labeled -- everything from his glowing finger to his pot belly.

Aside from all of the cool pictures in this issue, one page really stuck out to me. The left side of this page mentions to readers that they can learn what happened to E.T. after he left Earth in the "new book E.T. The Book of the Green Planet." Although noteable, it was acutally the other half of this page that caught my eye even more.

With a shot of the Space Shuttle Challenger, the text describes how the Challenger will be spending seven days in space "early this month." The mission being referenced actually began on July 29, 1985 and was followed by another mission the following October. Sadly, as anyone old enough remember certainly does, these were the final successful missions for the Challenger.

Quite honestly, this issue of Electric Company Magazine is lucky to still be around. With a torn cover, my mom would have tossed this one in the trash upon sight. But I'm thankful for whatever reason this magazine has survived the test of time as I can now finish The Book of the Green Planet with a clearer picture of the characters involved.

VCRs cost how much?!?

Apparently I'm not the only one in my family who's a pack-rat as I've recently realized that this is an inherited trait. On a recent trip back home, my dad and I pulled out a few boxes from the attic over the garage -- each box labeled with a specific year and full of receipts and paperwork from that particular year.

One of my favorite pieces of paper we came across was from the 1984 box -- a receipt for the first VCR my family owned.

Dated December 11, 1984, this VCR was purchased at a time when families were starting to cave into the technological pressure of owning such a machine. These days, I think it's next to impossible to buy a single VCR unit (one without a DVD player) but in recent years, I recall seeing them for sale for as little as $20-30. But as VCRs were first finding their ways into people's homes, take a look at what my parents paid...

Not only was I astonished that this VCR cost over $500, I was equally amazed that my money-conscious parents dropped that kind of money for a video recorder! On top of that, don't miss the original price which is crossed out near the top -- this thing was originally on the shelf for $900!

Just a year later, in the 1985 Sears Wishbook, the price of similar VCRs had dropped by a few hundred dollars at least.

 
December of 1984 would put me in third grade at the time. I still remember my dad picking me up from school that day in his red truck with the VCR was in the back. It may sound ridiculous, but there are sounds that VCR made that I can still hear today. To turn it on, you had to press "Power" as well as a "TV/VCR" button. When the power button was pressed, the VCR made a sound that I will never forget but is difficult to describe -- something like a combination between a very distant motor revving and a quiet zipper.

I've had a hard time finding a good picture of the actual VCR we had in our home. The best I've been able to come up with so far is the image below -- the corner of a larger picture with the VCR seen in the background sitting on top of the television.

I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised by the price of my family's first VCR. Look at what people shelled out for DVD players about ten years ago and flat screens and blu-ray players in more recent years. I can't begin to imagine what we'll all waste our money on next...

Back to School

New posts may be a little sparse for a few weeks as summer comes to a close and my tenth year working in public education gets underway.

Oh....back to school....back to school...

Little People: Then & Now

My daughter loves Fisher Price Little People which is cool because these were some of my favorite toys as a kid. And when I say she loves them, I'm not talking about the new Little People with all the fancy detail. I'm talking about the original no-arms/no-legs Little People.

When she was old enough to play with them without trying to eat them, I got out my old Little People from thel late 70's and these quickly became some of her favorite toys. Recently, as she and I were playing Little People on the floor, I started to compare the originals to the handful of new figures she has. As you can see, the basics are still much the same but time has certainly changed Fisher Price Little People...for the worse, if you ask me. There is something to be said for simplicity.

 
Yes, I realize that the older ones are now considered choking hazards. But some things are sacred.