Friday, December 12, 2008

Top 10 Presents

Tis the season, blah blah blah blah blah. Yes, it's time once again that we pay some small amount of lip-service to the son of God and then go and buy more than we should. Christmas is to financial responsibility what the midnight dessert buffet on a cruise ship is to Weight Watchers. We've learned from the time we are young that we are celebrating the Birth of Christ and that we give presents to signify the present that he gave us in the sacrifice of his life. In fact there are numerous poems and pithy little anecdotes describing how our traditions of Christmas came about. Yes, I know, we actually co-opted it from the Pagans, but it's ours now and we probably aren't giving it back. We try very hard to subjugate the material aspect of Christmas to the spiritual, but to no avail. What is the season all about? Just ask any 6 year old. They never lie. It's about presents. Specifically from Santa. Santa plain rocks, he knows what you want before you do and he will give you more than you thought you wanted. Mom and Dad give you socks and shirts, Santa gives you BB Guns. Unfortunately, once you get the hang of this concept, it's gone. Santa's power fades in the face of brats with high expectations. What you are left with is some kind of SUPER allowance that does not come as a gift but rather an obligation. *sigh* How I long for the days when I was young and so excited about the potential of presents that I couldn't sleep. It was MAGIC.

While this blog is about my thoughts on seemingly random subjects, it tends to not be much about me. This is because I lead a fairly boring life. I don't mind it at all, but it is what it is. This episode I will lend a little more insight into me as I will be listing the top 10 Presents I got. Not just from Christmas, but from anything. Some of you got the same things, while most of you got the same feeling. And they weren't necessarily the best presents I got, but rather the most memorable presents I got. I dedicate this list to the memory of my Dad. A guy that LOVED to be Santa.

10. Rooster Watch - Back in the day. It was a BIG deal when you got your first timepiece. So big in fact that it kind of marked the first time your parents took you seriously or thought you capable of doing enough with your life that you would need to be ON TIME for something...anything. I got a rooster watch. It's head would bob up and down to the seconds and other than that it was a regular watch that you wound up and had to tell time with the hands (a very important skill to this day). I couldn't stop watching it. I would tell people what time it was to the second. It was amazing. all you had to do was wind it. Keep it wound up and you would be a paragon of responsibility, a beacon of trust. I'm not entirely certain what happend to that watch, but I think it ended up succumbing to the slings and arrows of careless youth. I do remember walking around one day hiding my wrist from view because I had lost it. A sad day indeed.

9. Magic Shot shooting gallery - This was actually not my present, it was my brothers. The Christmas we got that we also got several other things that made it one of the most special holidays I could ever remember. First, my Dad was home for the whole winter break so that was cool. Second, I think he had just gotten some kind of bonus or something at work because it just seemed like we got a LOT of stuff. Not that it's important, but it IS memorable. Anyhow, I remember seeing this toy on TV and really wanting it badly. It was a self contained shooting gallery that had 24 steel balls that were held in a box behind a thick plastic cover. You pushed the magnetic gun against the cover to pick up a ball and the pulled the trigger to thump the ball into flight against the target on the other side of the box. You couldn't lose the bullets, the targets remained out of harms way yet you still got to feel like you were shooting stuff. This present made me the 2nd most jealous of my young greedy life. Fortunately, my brother was a good sport and let me play with it. But we both knew it was his.

8. Shogun Warrior - This was a large action figure that was a big companion figure to go along with Godzilla. I never had Godzilla, never wanted him. I wanted a Shogun warrior. That Christmas ended up being a particularly lean one for my family as I recall. I remember getting a lot of clothes. The dead give-away of a 'hard candy Christmas'. But my dad actually got me this cool toy. it fired bird shaped rockets out of it's chest and had a fist that launched in case you needed to punch Godzilla back into the Triassic period. I was 13 years old at the time and deemed a bit old for this kind of toy, but I wanted it anyway. Truth is, I still love toys, I don't even care about big toys either. If I had a little less self control, I would probably have several thousand dollars worth of goofy toys. As it is I have way too many.

7. The Kaypro 286i - This was an incredible present that would likely launch my career in the IT field. This baby had some software and some big floppy drives as well as a color monitor (CGA graphics baby. it was SWEET!). The keyboard was heavy and sturdy. I had that keyboard for many years after I had left the box for better models. I played immersive games like fun house and zork as well as rogue and hack. I still play hack. It's one of the funnest games you can play on a computer. Once you get past the learning curve, you have a hard time letting go of the game. This computer would follow me to college and just a little beyond. It was that model of computer that allowed me to hack into a particular colleges mainframe. Of course I wouldn't change my grades...I probalby should have. Would you like to play a game?

6. My Dirt Bike - I've had several bikes in my life, but I got a dirt bike for Christmas once, this was at the same time that builders were making houses down by the school. Those dirt mounds stayed there for all the winter and a good part of the spring. I would ride my dirt bike in the dirt on those mounds like I was Evil Kinevil. Of course I didn't really jump much, but I loved going up and down those mounds. I loved it so much that I broke the fork on my best bike leaving me bikeless. After that I got a much less memorable regular 10-speed bike with the ram's horn handlebars. You couldn't really go over dirt mounds in that. I figured that out.

5. The Atari 2600 - This was the first video game to really break out. The year was 1977. I had seen the Atari 2600 game system at Sears. You could play it in the store. It was simply amazing. Game cartridges were all you needed. There were all kinds of games for it and each one came in color! It had a joystick with one big red button and also some paddle controllers if you got the breakout or pong game. That was easily the most used present I had ever gotten. We wore several of those controllers to the point that we were taking them apart in order to frankenstein a working controller out of spare parts. The most memorable part of this present was the fact that I was certain that my parents weren't getting it for me. Absolutely sure. I was hinting in as subtile a fashion as any 12 year old could. When the actual Holiday had arrived, I knew that I was not going to get it. It was too late. Mom and Dad didn't get it. I had searched out their hiding places and they had nothing there of consequence. In years past when my dad was unable to find what we wanted on Christmas eve (his favorite day for shopping for Christmas) he would write a letter to us from Santa and about how some lazy elves couldn't get this last present out the door etc. I was expecting that and was shocked that my parents had in fact outwitted me. How could they have purchased and hidden it in a place I couldn't find?! It was a Christmas Miracle.

4. My Sterio Boom Box - This gift wasn't nearly as memorable as it was absolutely useful. For Graduation I got a JVC portable sterio system with detachable speakers a 5 band equalizer, a tape deck and am/fm/ShortWave. I still have that box and use it today for my computer speakers. It is amazing. I've lost the tape deck and I doubt it will ever be truely protable again, unless that portability takes it to the dump. But that probably won't be for another 10 years. Congratulations JVC on making a product so sturdy that I was probably kept from putting money into the sterio component industry for at least 40 years of my life. The year after I got it, my dad accidentally stepped on it and broke one of the casette buttons rendering it unable to dub. He claimed it was my fault for leaving it on the floor, where it had been for nearly a year. I'm sure it was.

3. My Car Mat - Ok this present wasn't actually mine either, it was for both me and my brother, but as I recall, it was given to my brother to share with me on his birthday. I could be wrong about that memory. It could have been just for him, but I liked it so much that I played with it all the time. I just know that when we got it it was so absolutely cool that I can still remember the elements. This was well before they had cool play mats that they sold you for 30 bucks. This was one that was painstakingly made by my mom and included places of interest in our lives. She had cut and sewn the mat itself, which easily filled a small room, and hand drawn all of the roads and landmarks. It was a masterpiece. There was our elementary school, many roads and parking spaces, and the airport. We took our dad to the airport often because his work would take him all over the country. the other was home and several points of interest along the way. We would drive our hot wheels and fisher price cars all over this mat. You could use the mat for all kinds of things other than it's intended purpose too. You could roll yourself or your little brother up in it.

2. Digital Watch - Ok, I have already mentioned a watch before, but this one was special. it was DIGITAL. That's right no more divining the earths relative position to the sun for me, I had a device that would tell me right off. It was gold with a dark red face. You pushed a button and the numbers showed you what time it was in bright red. I remember wearing that watch to bed and turning it on to see the glow under the covers. If you hit the button again, you could see the seconds. THE SECONDS!!! This stunning marvel was the accessory that made the man. I knew that females from any kind of distance would close in on me just to get a look at the red glowing glory that was wrapped around my wrist. I had hoped that perhaps a secret combination of buttons would allow this timepiece to emmit a sudden powerful laser beam James Bond Style. I couldn't derive the combiniation, but no matter. It was the apex of technology and style. This present was the first experience I had with the ever moving target of technology. A scant 6 months later my best friend would get a digital watch that not only had the seconds, but also had the date. This of course put my watch to shame. This I'm quite embarrased to say was the MOST jealous I had been of any present others had gotten. Not because he got a better watch than I did, but because now what I had wasn't a big deal at all. Yes, very embarrased indeed.

1. Magnavox Oddessy - This was the first video game I had ever seen. We were at the Zenith store and i saw it on a demo tv. Back then TV's had glass tubes and usually were housed in consoles with fine wood cabinets. I used to love to look at the tube testing machine that was at the drug store and wondered what you did with it. My dad was fairly handy, but he didn't dare touch the tv. We had a repair man come over for that. So anyway, up till this point, there was no point to a TV other than watching a black and white indian head (native American) grace the screen or to watch football and gunsmoke. There was no other point to this box. Enter the Magnavox Oddessy. This was the FIRST video game system ever and every game looked like PONG. This game system didn't have graphics per se, but rather it had overlays that clung to the screen with static electricity. I could write a top 10 list just on the games for that system. It was amazing. We played it as a family for so long that I missed the David Copperfield magic special that I was very looking forward to seeing. Apparently he made something disappear.

Happy Holidays everyone! No matter what you celebrate. Thanks so much for reading and your comments.


Larisa said...

This blog was so much fun to read! It made me think of some of my favorite things and the wonderful memories attached to them. Your parents sounded like special people. Thank you for sharing!

DIO said...

Mark, this has to be one of your best ever. Sentimental of sorts. I grew up in the late 40's and 50's and this blog really brought back the memories....not only of presents, but of the good times and hard times my folks went through to see that I had a good Christmas. Keep it up. You continue to amaze me.

Cami Rochelle said...

Atari...mmm great memories! I think the game battleship was one of my favs. :) Merry Christmas Mark!

Rick said...

Ok, #7 -- I'm still laughing.

"I got an "A" in that class," she said coyly. But we all knew better!

You'll have to thank your mom for me.