Sunday, January 22, 2012

Resurrecting The Past: January 21, 1983 (Part 1: The Past)

JANUARY 21, 2012

This might seem like a daunting task. In the past we've seen little bits of the past resurrected--like a drive-in speaker, an old rotary telephone and a ColecoVision video game console. But to try to resurrect or recreate an entire day? Well, it's actually only a small part of that day that I'm interested in bringing back. And to make matters a bit easier, I've already done much of the research necessary to accomplish this. Due to the amount of information I need to cover with the topic this will have to be a two-part entry. Part one will explain the significance of the seemingly random date of January 21, 1983 and my reasons for wanting to resurrect it. Part two will cover the actual resurrection process itself.

On the date of January 21, 1983 something occurred that I had never told anyone about for nearly thirty years. For all that time it had been an experience that only I knew about. It might have stayed that way and the memory might have died with me, but last year I decided to share the story with my parents. The funny thing about it was that, for all those years the story sat in my memory, the people I would have least wanted to know about it were my parents. Last year my father was in the final stages of his battle with cancer. I was trying to spend as much quality time with him and my mother as possible before it was too late. I suddenly realized that my "secret" memory which had seemed like something that should remain a secret was actually pretty silly--and in fact even pretty funny.

Growing up I was (obviously) very interested in watching old horror and science fiction movies on TV. But another type of movie I was interested in was war movies--or more specifically, movies about World War II. The 1960s were a time of many, many movies about WWII. Roughly twenty years had passed since the war ended. It must have been that just the right amount of time had passed that there was a lot of interest in films about the war. I suppose that people who were around during WWII (either in the service or on the home front) were interested in the subject, and younger people wanted to learn more about something they were too young to really remember or comprehend. Whatever the reason there were indeed a lot of great (or at least entertaining and watchable) World War II movies that came out during the decade. I grew up in the late 1970s and early 1980s. While the 1980s (and the ensuing decades for that matter) were a time when very few war movies were produced (at least in comparison with the 1960s), it was also a time when a LOT of those great older movies were being aired on local TV. The independent Boston-area stations that I watched (WXNE Channel 25, WSBK TV Channel 38 and WLVI Channel 56) frequently featured war films as their 8:00 movies. I saw many of them during this time.

Back to the topic at hand. The memory that this whole topic is about centers around one of these movies--and the identity of that movie was key in figuring out the date in question (January 21, 1983). It was around this time that I remember first being old enough that my parents felt comfortable with going out and leaving me alone at home. The memory that is at the heart of this blog was from one of the first times they did this.

I remember being excited to know that my parents would be leaving me alone for a few hours on a Friday night. I wasn't excited because I'd be throwing a wild teenage party or doing anything illicit. No, I was psyched because I knew that the movie "Hell is for Heroes" (1962) was going to be on WLVI 56 that night. Yes, my parents were going to leave me alone at home on a Friday night and I was going to...sit around and watch a movie on TV. Wild times! Well, "Hell os for Heroes" was not only a World War II movie, it also just happened to star one of my favorite actors, Steve McQueen. McQueen was one of the stars of my (still) all-time favorite war movie, "The Great Escape" (1963).

Not only was I going to have the house to myself to watch a Steve McQueen war movie, I was also going to make myself some microwave popcorn. While that admittedly sounds pretty mundane, it was rather exciting to me. Up until a short time before this, if we had popcorn in my house it was popped by my father on our stove in one of these old-school popcorn poppers:

But at this time we had just recently gotten our very first microwave oven. That allowed us to experience the uber-moden wonder that was Microwave Popcorn! Here is that very same microwave as it appears now, nearly thirty years later:

Of course a microwave is a pretty standard and unexciting thing to own nowadays, but in the early 1980s they were still a somewhat new and interesting technology. I remember being a little intimidated by our new unit as I slowly learned how to use it and to deal with its strange habit of not heating something evenly all the way through. Well, on this particular night I was going to do something very new and exciting; I was going to make my very first bag of microwave popcorn all by myself!

Put all of these factors together (a Friday night, being left home alone for one of the first times, making my own popcorn in the microwave for the very first time ever and a Steve McQueen movie on TV) and you can start to see why this night was pretty special for me (as lame as it might sound today). Remember, this was a couple years before we got our first VCR. That means it was during that ancient era when you actually had to be around and sitting in front of the TV when something you were interested in seeing was on. You couldn't videotape, TiVo or DVR it. You couldn't pop a tape or DVD of the show or movie in to watch at your leisure. You couldn't go online to watch it. If it was scheduled to be on at a certain time, that was when you were going to have to see it--or risk having to wait a long time until it was broadcast again by one of the handful of VHF and UHF stations that you could pick up with your antenna.

All these little factors were enough to make for a memorable night for me. But one unexpected thing happened (the thing which I kept secret for decades afterward) that made the night truly unforgettable. Like I said, I had never made microwave popcorn before. In fact, we had only had our microwave for a short time, so I hadn't made (or even simply reheated) very much in it at all. It was pretty neat to be able to take a flat paper bag, throw it in the micro for a few minutes and have a generous helping of hot popcorn already seasoned with a butter-like substance and ready to eat.

I read the directions, set the microwave for five minutes at full power and returned to the living room to watch a few more minutes of my movie while the micro-magic happened. Not having ever made microwave popcorn before I didn't realize that five minutes was the maximum time and that it might actually take much less time. At this point my wonderful night took a strange turn. Before the microwave finished its cooking cycle I started to notice a burning odor that didn't smell like popcorn. I went out to the kitchen and saw smoke coming out of the oven. Opening the door I was shocked to see the paper bag that contained the popcorn singed and smoking. Not only had the popcorn burned, but the bag itself was burning! Knowing that my parents were going to be home at any time I started to panic. How could I conceal this mini-disaster? I quickly but gingerly grabbed the scorched bag and ran down the back stairs and outside the house. I threw it under our back porch in the snow. then I raced back upstairs to try to deal with the smell of burnt popcorn. Opening windows (and letting cold New England winter air into the house) I tried to coax the smell outside. Naturally I saw my parents' car drive up the street and park in front of the house at that moment. With not much hope of avoiding getting in big trouble I proceeded to attempt to act normal while trying desperately to think of some explanation for my irresponsible actions. Mom and Dad came in the house. I did my best to act like nothing was going on (and feeling like I was failing miserably in my effort), and...they didn't seem to notice anything was amiss! That was pretty much the end of the affair. My fun solo night was tainted, but I got away with my accidental destruction of a bag of popcorn.

It's funny how we can sometimes think something is much worse than it is. I could have simply said something like "Hi Mom and Dad. Guess what, I tried making some microwave popcorn tonight and left it in too long and burned it--and the bag it was in too". It most likely wouldn't have been a big deal, but instead it became one of my deepest and darkest secrets. It kind of festered in my mind and took on a life of its own. It wasn't until last year while sharing memories with my parents that I realized how truly minor of a thing it really was. When I told them the story it ceased to be a dark secret and simply became a funny story about a youthful mistake blown way out of proportion by that youth's over thinking mind.

While I always remembered the details of that fateful night (suppose you could say the memory was seared into my brain), I didn't know until just recently exactly when it happened. I knew it was a Friday and that Channel 56 had "Hell is for Heroes" on that night. I also knew that our microwave was pretty new. That's not really a lot of information to go on.

I had a tape recorder at the time that I used a lot to tape all kinds of stuff from TV and radio. Like I said, this was before we had our first VCR, so this was the best method for me to preserve stuff on TV that I wanted to hear (if not see) again later. Many of those cassette tapes from the time managed to survive the ensuing decades and I was able to recover most of them from my parents' house in the last couple of years. One of these tapes had a lot of interesting things on it (interesting to me at least). In addition to some early 80s pop music there was also the theme from "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century", bits and pieces of an episode of "CHiPs", a TV broadcast of "Young Frankenstein" (1974), Parts of the movie "Westworld" (1973), audio from "Force Five"--one of my favorite after-school cartoon shows, and many other things. One of those things was a bunch of battle sounds from an old World War II movie. After listening to it a couple times I was pretty sure the movie was "Hell is for Heroes". Unfortunately I had never written any dates or anything else on the tape, so I had no idea when it was from. It was time for some detective work.

The 1983 cassette tape in question
Three of the songs I had taped were from Casey Kasem's "American Top 40" radio countdown show. I knew that these songs were number 4, 3 and 1 that week. Looking up "American Top 40" lists for the early 80s online I was able to determine that there was only one week that those three songs were in that exact order on the countdown. It was the middle of January of 1983. Taking that bit of information I was able to use my TV Guides from that time to figure out the dates and times of nearly everything on the 90-minute tape. This included the fact that the airing of "Hell is for Heroes" that I taped audio from was on Channel 56 on Friday, January 21, 1983. I knew that I had seen the movie at least two or three times as a kid, so that date didn't really mean a whole lot to me until I realized a few other things.

  • First, at the beginning of the tape I had recorded the theme to "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century". I must have been very annoyed at the time because the recording was interrupted by a couple of things: our kitchen phone ringing at the end of the theme, and a high-pitched beeping noise that I didn't recognize at first. Then I realized it was our microwave oven finishing a cooking cycle out in the kitchen. I was pretty sure that we had gotten our microwave at the very end of 1982 or the very beginning of 1983. This would mean it was still very new at the time of this recording in January of 1983.
  • Second, I remembered that when I went outside to throw the scorched bag of popcorn under the back porch there was snow on the ground.
  • Third, it would make sense that early 1983 would have been around the time my parents would have felt I was old enough to leave home alone (a trust I felt I would have forever broken if they ever found out about the popcorn incident).
  • Fourth, I remembered that "Hell is for Heroes" was on Channel 56. I believe that it was on Channel 56 every time I saw it on TV.
If "Hell is for Heroes" was on Channel 56 on January 21, 1983 (which TV Guide attests to), how many other times would it have been on around the time that our microwave was new? It's not like WLVI 56 put it on once a month. It also had to be around the time when I was just old enough to be left home alone and it had to be at a time when there'd be snow on the ground. The cassette tape also had audio from a network's Sunday Night Movie presentation of "Young Frankenstein" the previous Sunday (January 16). I had already thought that this airing of "Young Frankenstein" was from a night before school was cancelled because of snow. Sure enough, right after taping bits from the movie I also taped part of the no-school announcements on the 11:00 news on WCVB Channel 5 in Boston. There was enough snow on the ground to cancel school on Monday, January 17, so it's a safe bet that there was still snow on the ground that Friday (when "Hell is for Heroes" was on).

All of this information and evidence led me to be nearly positive that the night of the scorched and smoking popcorn incident had to have taken place on Friday, January 21, 1983. There was overwhelming evidence indicating this fact. Armed with this new knowledge I knew that I had a mission that I just had to accept. That mission was to resurrect the night of January 21, 1983. Stay tuned for part two to see whether that mission was accomplished, and how I went about trying to make it all happen...


Part Two is now up.  Find out whether the experiment succeeded or not!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Separated at Birth 2: Tim Tebow and Bigfoot

Well, after stretching believability a bit recently by suggesting that Kiefer Sutherland and Julia Stiles were separated at birth (see above and refer to Separated at Birth? for more on that audacious claim), I was surprised to randomly find an even more oddball example of this phenomenon. I wasn't looking for another one, but it just unexpectedly presented itself to me. Let me explain...

The Little Monster has pleasantly surprised me lately by showing a keen interest in the subject Bigfoot and Yeti. As a kid I was always fascinated by all the great mysteries that would be covered by the 1970s show "In Search of...". UFOs, ghosts, the Loch Ness Monster, spontaneous human combustion and countless other unsolved mysteries would all draw me in. But the greatest one of all for me was Bigfoot and The Abominable Snowman.

I introduced the idea of these Big Hairy Monsters (BHMs) to The Little Monster a while back, but tried to spoon feed her information about them so as not to freak her out and give her too many nightmares. I think an occasional nightmare is a good thing for a kid to have, but I certainly didn't want to purposely terrorize my poor daughter. She is still a bit younger than I was when I first discovered the Bigfoot phenomenon and became both fascinated and frightened by it.

For the past couple of days The Little Monster has come home from school begging to see yeti stuff and learn more about these creatures. I wanted to show her an old "In Search of..." episode on Bigfoot, but wasn't exactly sure where I put my DVDs of the show. Instead I went to my Netflix instant streaming queue and picked one of the more recent Bigfoot/yeti programs I had put in it a while back. The Bigfoot episode of the show "Best Evidence" (Season 1: Episode 2) seemed like a good thing to check out together. I had never seen it myself so it was something we could both experience for the first time.

What does all this have to do with the topic of "Separated at Birth"? Well, early on in the "Best Evidence" episode an eyewitness account was covered.

This man's recollection of his encounter with a strange hairy creature was accompanied by some sketches of the creature he claimed to have seen.

Something about that second drawing seemed uncomfortably familiar to me. Suddenly, two recent events (The Little Monster's growing interest in Bigfoot and the New England Patriots' 45-10 demolition of the Denver Broncos in the AFC Divisional playoff game) collided in a totally unexpected manner.

The combination of those two seemingly-unrelated events was enough to make me suspect that Bigfoot was separated at birth from none other than...the quarterback of the Broncos, Tim Tebow! While the legendary Tebow might not seem to have much in common with the legendary Bigfoot (other than both having "Legendary" status), he has created quite a sensation with both his playing and his habit of going down on one knee to thank the Lord whenever he is blessed with a victory or a touchdown. This signature move has become known as "Tebowing" and is now rivaling "Planking" as the latest useless activity for people who have YouTube, Facebook and Twitter accounts, cell phone cameras and nothing better to do. Strangely enough, it appears that even the Bigfoot creature itself takes part in the act of Tebowing. Check out a closer look at the sketch above compared with Tim Tebow (and keep in mind that the Bigfoot episode first aired in February of 2007--meaning that it is very unlikely that the sketch artist was subconsciously influenced by images of Tebow doing his thing):

And, maybe it's just me, but I do think that I can see just a hint of similarity between Tim Tebow and Bigfoot. The Wife only saw Tebow for the first time just before the Patriots/Broncos game during the pre-game show. She wanted to confirm the fact that Tebow was worthy of being the latest NFL heartthrob. Once she spotted him she declared him to be "cuter than Tom Brady". Regardless of his hunkiness, the simple fact that Tim Tebow doesn't seem to be able, or willing, to give himself a clean shave has also exposed another disturbing similarity to the legendary Bigfoot:

For more evidence, check out the similarity between another sketch featured in the "Best Evidence" Bigfoot episode and another photo of Tebow:

And now for the final (and most compelling) bit of proof. Below is a frame from Roger Patterson's famous 1967 film footage of Bigfoot taken at Bluff Creek, California. This frame is probably the best known image ever of the creature. I was able to find no less than 11 examples of Tim Tebow aping (no pun intended) Bigfoot's gait in both his college and NFL careers. About the only thing missing is a football in Bigfoot's left hand.

Coincidence? Perhaps. But I feel that all this evidence put together makes for a strong case that Tim Tebow is somehow related to Bigfoot in some way. They may not have been separated at birth--since the Patterson film was taken in 1967 and Tebow wasn't even born until twenty years later in 1987--yet I just can't help but think that there is something strange going on here...

JOHN 3:16

Friday, January 13, 2012

Friday the 13th Part 2

No, this isn't a review of the movie "Friday the 13th Part 2" (and I'm sorry if you ended up here expecting to find one). Today is once again Friday the 13th and I figured it was a good time to relate a couple more of my own "Favorite" superstitions that I left out of the previous entry on the topic, My Own Personal Superstitions. While that blog gave plenty of examples there were a couple things I should have mentioned but didn't. And here they are...

Knock On Wood

This might not qualify as a true "superstition", but I always try to find a bit of wood to rap on with my knuckles a couple times whenever someone says something that I believe will lead to something bad. I went into detail in the other superstition blog about how I was afraid of jinxes, and knocking on wood has always been my preferred way of trying to avoid a jinx situation. Whenever I'm watching or listening to a football, baseball or basketball game I always cringe when the commentators mention a stat at just the wrong moment. For instance, they might point out that the pitcher who is currently pitching to a batter hasn't given up a home run in 34 innings. More likely than not--if that pitcher is playing for "my" team at least--that batter will crush the next pitch for a home run. I know this sounds crazy, but it boggles my mind how many times I've seen/heard it happen. My only defense in such instances is to knock on a piece of wood. If I'm sitting down in a chair with wooden arm rests then it's pretty easy. Sometimes I have to walk over to a wooden doorway or something like that. I've been meaning to find a wooden nickel that I can carry in my pocket everywhere I go so I can have something to knock on when no wood is easily available in my current surroundings. Of course wooden nickels are also supposed to be tokens of good luck. While that's not the main reason I'd be carrying it I'll certainly take any additional good luck that I can get along with that which comes from heads-up pennies that I find lying on the ground!

The Wife has given me plenty of opportunities to knock on wood too. She's more of a glass-is-half-full person and I'm more of a glass-is-half-empty type. Because of this I tend to try not to jinx something that could still go wrong by commenting on it too soon. The Wife on the other hand is more than happy to throw caution to the wind (without even realizing it of course) by saying something that could come back to haunt her (or more specifically, ME). If we're on a long drive and the weather is of the rainy variety she'll say "Well at least the rain has stopped" as soon as there is a break in the precipitation. I always cringe at something like that because it seems that Mother Nature also hears it and starts the rain back up in short order. I also never want to admit that an activity we are taking part in is successful or going well until it's safe to do so (like when it's over). I always feel that saying "this hike is going great" is a sure way to invite a sprained ankle or a sudden cloudburst. I don't see anything wrong with just enjoying an activity and then talking about it later rather than take a chance on messing it up by saying how wonderfully it is going. What can I say?

666 - The Number of the Beast

The number 666 is frequently associated with satanism, black magic and that sort of thing. I don't know if it's generally thought of in terms of superstitions, but in my case it is. And it's appearance is only an issue for me in one specific instance--when I'm driving. I don't have any problem hearing the number uttered in a movie or on the radio. It's okay for me to look down at the page number of a book I'm reading and to discover that I'm on page 666 (if I'm ever reading a book with that many pages). The problem arises when I'm driving and just happen to look down at the odometer or trip odometer in my car and see that the last three digits of the current mileage reading are 666. And it's amazing how often this happens. Of course it can only happen once every thousand miles (or twice if we're counting the trip odometer), but it always seems to be there whenever my eyes wander down. And it's not like I check the odometer on a regular basis either. It's something that I'll just sneak a little peek at when things are pretty quiet and there's nothing much else to look at (besides the road of course).

The funny thing about the number 666 is that it generally tends to bother me more than the number 13. Other than Friday the 13th I'm not really all that concerned with the number 13. It can give me pause from time to time, but in general is a pretty innocuous number--even when I see it on my odometer.

The Number 143

It may seem that everything I believe in terms of superstitions is negative, but there's at least one thing that I consider to be good rather than bad luck. The number 143 has been a favorite of mine since high school. There's a long and possibly uninteresting story behind this which I won't go into detail about here. Suffice to say that whenever the number 143 randomly appears in my everyday life I've decided to consider it a sign or omen of good luck. While driving I'm always pleased to see the digits 143 in a license plate of a car in front of me. Along the lines of the number 666 above, I also enjoy (instead of dread) seeing that the last three digits of the odometer reading are 1-4-3. It's also nice to see things priced $1.43 in a store.

I suppose a lot of the reason that the numbers 143 and 666 seem to come up so often in my daily life is simply because I look for them (even if subconsciously sometimes). It would probably be the same case with any random number that I decided to fixate upon. Either way, it always seems strange how such a seemingly random number as 143 should show up in bunches in many different places at certain times.

That's about it for this installment of my own personal superstitions. Please have a safe and luck-filled Friday the 13th!