Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Resurrecting the Past: The General Electric Model 3-5091A Cassette Recorder


Two years ago in Important Dates in History: March 17, 1981 I wrote about the day that I got my first cassette recorder. It might not have been an actual "important date in history", but it was indeed a very important day for me. I had wanted a tape recorder for some time. It might seem like a strange thing to want in the current age of smart phones, the Internet and instant streaming of anything you could ever want to see or hear. But in 1981 there were no smart phones. The Internet would have seemed more like a fantasy of science fiction than reality. And the closest thing there was to streaming was the VCR (video cassette recorder). I would have loved to have had one of those, but at the time they were still pretty new...and very expensive. The humble cassette recorder was a convenient way to capture audio and play it back whenever you wanted. Does that sound terribly exciting? Probably not. But it was something that I really wanted to do. I wanted to make my own "radio shows". I wanted to record my favorite songs off the radio (meaning putting the tape recorder microphone up to the speaker of the radio--not directly recording from the radio). I wanted to record parts of movies, shows and even commercials off the TV (using the same method as recording from the radio).

After my parents took me to a store to buy my tape recorder on that St. Patrick's Day of 1981 I became somewhat obsessed and started recording my little heart out. It was used so much that after a few years it started to show some serious signs of wear and tear. I replaced it with a cheap model that worked so poorly that the first one was pressed back into emergency service. By 1985 it was finally retired for good when we got our first VCR (which allowed me to actually record the sound AND video of everything on TV) and I had gotten a double-cassette recorder/bookshelf radio (which allowed me to record songs directly from the radio).

Around 25 years later I recovered hundreds of old tapes from my parents' house along with the original General Electric tape recorder. I had thoughts of listening to all those old tapes on the actual unit that they were recorded on all those year ago. Unfortunately it was in surprisingly horrible shape by then. I remember retiring it when the play button didn't want to lock in place, but it still did work (more or less). But now it was covered in dust, the battery compartment cover was missing, the tape compartment door was broken off and apparently the drive belt must have corroded to the point that it no longer functioned at all. I started listening to the tapes on the more modern stereo we had at the time (which at that point was also somewhat outdated--seeing as how it still featured the capability of playing and recording on cassette tapes at a time when even CDs were becoming an endangered species).

But I kept finding myself thinking about my first tape recorder and how important it was to me. Since I still had the somewhat decomposed body of that first unit I was able to search for other examples of it on eBay. It seems like you can find pretty much ANYTHING on eBay if you look long and hard enough. There were certainly plenty of old tape recorders for sale, but if I didn't know that mine was a Model 3-5091A I would have been wading through hundreds (thousands?) of auctions for random tape recorders. Having the model number narrowed the search down greatly. It ended up being somewhat hard to find listings for the one I was looking for, but every once in a while one would show up. The condition of the ones I found would vary, and the prices also varied greatly. But I eventually was able to find one in great condition, one which even included the original box! Best of all, it was actually affordable. Heck, it cost even LESS than the one I bought in 1981! In 2012 (a little over 30 years after the original cassette recorder purchase) I went ahead and bought that recorder and suddenly owned a "brand new" version of that old friend from my youth.

It was very exciting to put some batteries into the unit, snap in the very first tape I ever recorded back in March of 1981. I had a lot of fun listening to those old tapes once again. Over the years since retrieving them from my parents' house I had listened to many of them, but actually hearing the sound coming out of the speaker of the same model of recorder that had recorded them in the first place made the experience all that much better and more satisfying for some reason. To this day I still like throwing an old tape into that recorder and listening to it to take a little audio trip back in time. It really has been a way to resurrect a small piece of the past for me.

Even after buying that "replacement" cassette recorder in 2012 I continued to occasionally search for General Electric Model 3-5091A units on eBay. And they do still show up. Even though I can't really claim to have a particular "need" to have another one, it's still kind of fun to go through the search process. A while back I saw one listed that seemed to be in pretty good shape and even still had the sticker over the top of the speaker that the one I bought in 2012 had. I put it in my watch list and saw the auction end and get relisted over and over. About a week ago I finally decided to pull the trigger and put a bid on it. The starting bid was only $7.80 (with a reasonable $9.55 shipping charge). I figured what the heck? Do I NEED another one? No. But then again maybe I might need to have some replacement parts if the 2012 one starts to have issues. It really can't hurt to have another one around I suppose. I won the auction a few days ago on March 13 and am now waiting for the third version of my GE Model 3-5091A to arrive. It just occurred to me a couple days ago that today, March 17, 2021 is actually the 40th anniversary of the day I got my first tape recorder (the day that was commemorated two years ago in the "Important Dates in History" post mentioned above. The latest purchase is expected to be delivered between tomorrow, March 18 and March 20. It wasn't done intentionally, but that's just a day or two or three after the 40th anniversary of the original's purchase! If only that auction had ended a day to two earlier I could have received it ON the actual anniversary today! Oh well, I'm still looking forward to seeing yet another brethren of my first-ever cassette recorder whenever it does show up...



Wednesday, December 25, 2019

The Brady Bunch Christmas Ornament

The Little Monsters are pretty big fans of "The Brady Bunch", and that fact makes me very happy. I loved the show when I was a kid, and realized later on that I never really outgrew it or stopped loving it. I was born in 1969, the same year that "The Brady Bunch" premiered. In fact I was actually born six days before the first episode aired! Needless to say, while I was physically present during the initial run of the show from 1969 to 1974, I don't have any actual memories from that time. I've heard that my family would gather around the TV to watch it, but I was simply too young to recall that experience (and was probably asleep in my crib by the time it came on).

But "The Brady Bunch" was one of those shows (like "Star Trek", "Gilligan's Island" and many more) that seemed to be in constant rotation via syndication throughout my childhood. I got to know the family very well by watching the old episodes on the Boston-area independent UHF channels (I certainly recall it being on WLVI Channel 56).

By the time I graduated from high school and entered the Army I had pretty much outgrown "The Brady Bunch"--or so I thought anyway. When I got out of the Army a couple years later I found myself watching quite a bit of TV. And around the same time "The Brady Bunch" ended up having quite a revival in popularity. You could still find it in syndication, but around 1989 or so (which makes sense because it was the 20th anniversary of the show) interest in "The Brady Bunch" spiked. It was not only on some of the small local channels trying to fill time slots with old sitcoms, but Nickelodeon and other cable channels started running it as well. A new generation of kids was introduced to the show and folks who grew up with it in the 1970s and 80s (like me) were re-introduced to it. It was also around this time that Barry Williams (Greg Brady) wrote the behind-the-scenes book "Growing up Brady: I Was a Teenage Greg", one of the first of several Brady-themed books that capitalized on the renewed interest in the show.

After the big Brady revival the show once again receded in my life. I never stopped loving it, but didn't really have much of an opportunity to see it for several years. When The Little Monster was born in 2005 I found myself thinking about the show once again. The Wife and I had gone to the Grand Canyon as part of our honeymoon, and naturally I thought about the Brady's trip to the Grand Canyon (and their adventure at the ghost town along the way). A few days after we came home from the hospital with The Little Monster we found ourselves pretty much homebound. We were rookie parents getting used to the idea that we had this helpless tiny human that depended on us for her very survival. I needed to go out to Target to get some supplies (it was probably the very first of several diaper runs over the next couple years). I also kind of needed to just get out of the house for a bit of a break. In the time between the end of the 90s Brady Bunch revival and my trip to Target DVDs had changed the world of home video. It was now possible (and affordable) to acquire seasons or complete series of your favorite TV shows. It WAS possible to do this earlier, but putting together an entire series on VHS tapes cost a lot of money and took up a LOT of room. My own collection of DVDs was pretty modest at this point, but while on my little shopping trip I knew that I just HAD to pick up the third season of "The Brady Bunch" (the season that started with the three-episode adventure to the Grand Canyon!).

Within a couple years I had acquired the first four seasons on DVD. I'm not exactly sure why, but to this day I have STILL not picked up season five. But it's currently available for streaming on HULU, so there doesn't seem to be any urgency to do so. In an interesting bit of coincidence that had never occurred to me until just now while writing this post I realized that "The Brady Bunch" premiered within a week of the day I was born, and then I bought the Season Three DVD set of the show within a week of The Little Monster being born. Perhaps she was destined to become a fan of the show. More likely she was destined to be influenced by me and my nostalgia to become a  fan of the show.

Either way, a few years later I was introducing The Little Monster (and later her sister, The Tiny Creature) to "The Brady Bunch". We had a great time watching the trips to the Grand Canyon and Hawaii--and many other Brady classic episodes--together. It was fun for me to see her discovering the show through her eyes. It's many years later, but The Little Monsters still enjoy watching the show. They've even introduced it to some of their friends, who might not have ever been exposed to the "The Brady Bunch" otherwise.

So, what exactly does all of the have to do with "The Brady Bunch Christmas Ornament"? Well, nothing I suppose. It was basically just a long-winded introduction to let the reader know that "The Brady Bunch" has been a relatively important thing in my life--and throughout my life. Another important thing in my life has been the Christmas season. Last year the two collided in a small, but unexpected way that seemed worth reporting here.

While doing a little research for this post I discovered that there have been at least a couple official Brady Bunch ornaments produced over the years. The first one is a Hallmark collectible ornament that was apparently produced in 2014. It is now out-of-production and seems to be kind of hard to find--and expensive to purchase when you can find one. Some can be found on eBay for prices currently ranging between $50.00 and $80.00. Crazy. The ornament is an old-fashioned television set with a picture from the Brady Bunch show opening featuring the family and the show logo on the screen.

The other apparently officially licensed ornament comes from Carlton Cards and features a Brady Bunch lunchbox that opens like a real lunchbox and includes a thermos, a sandwich and an apple! It's actually four ornaments in one! I'm not sure about the rarity of this one, but it also seems pretty hard to find and rather expensive on eBay.

They're both pretty cool ornaments. The Tiny Creature loves tiny things and would love to have these to hang on the tree. Unfortunately they're just too expensive to seriously consider at this point. There are also a few unofficial ornaments made by enterprising people and sold on sites like eBay. One that I saw last year is a 1971 Plymouth Satellite station wagon (like the Bradys owned) that appears to be a Hot Wheels toy which has been modified by including a small loop on the roof and a hook to hang it from a tree.

I meant to write this post last year but wasn't able to get around to it before Christmas, so it got put off until this year. While doing a little additional research recently, I found another unofficial Brady Bunch ornament that looks kind of neat. It's a replica of the infamous tiki idol statue from the fourth season Hawaii episodes. Apparently this ornament can be seen on the HGTV special "A Very Brady Renovation: Holiday Edition". In the past year the original Brady Bunch house (which was only used for the exterior shots on the show) was bought by HGTV and renovated to look like the interior sets from the show. The renovation actually featured all of the Brady kids and was a great way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the show. Unfortunately I still haven't gotten around to seeing any of the renovation (we don't have cable), but am hoping to check it out at some point.

So, there are indeed a number of "Brady Bunch Ornaments" out there, but believe it or not this post isn't about ANY of them. It IS about an ornament, but it's actually a generic ornament that wasn't designed or meant to have anything to do with "The Brady Bunch". Here it is.

So what exactly does this ornament have to do with "The Brady Bunch"? If it weren't for me noticing something kind of funny last holiday season it would have nothing at all to do with the show. But, like The Elf Pants ornament (which I've written about in The Elf Pants: A New Holiday Tradition! and The Return of the Elf Pants!) it has become a kind-of special ornament in our family (for all the typical Monster Dad reasons).

"The Brady Bunch" was on TV for five seasons (not including the animated Brady Kids show, the very strange "Brady Bunch Variety Hour" or any of the reunion specials, movies ("A Very Brady Christmas") and series produced over the years. The original series had only one true Christmas episode, and it was during the first season. The episode is called "The Voice of Christmas" and concerns the Brady Bunch preparing to celebrate their first Christmas together as a family (Mike and Carol were both widowed parents of three children each). Mrs. Brady is supposed to sing at church on Christmas morning but ends up with laryngitis. Cindy asks Santa to give her her voice back for Christmas. Whether it was the department store Santa, a true Christmas miracle or simply a coincidence, Carol wakes up on Christmas morning with her voice back and ready to sing at church. Here are some scenes from the episode (sorry for the low quality--they are photos taken of our TV screen). Note all the great 1960s-70s holiday decorations!

When we watched the episode last year I noticed something that made me think of the ornament above. After the boys bring home the Brady's tree and set it up they begin the process of decorating it. Alice and the girls come down the stairs with boxes of ornaments and tinsel. Alice tells the girls to be careful because the ornaments are fragile. When Cindy asks what fragile means Alice (with perfect timing) trips a little bit and drops a box of ornaments on the floor. One of them breaks. She lifts the damaged ornament up to show Cindy and tell her that is what fragile means.

It was that moment that something clicked in my brain. The smashed green ornament looked very familiar. I looked at our tree and saw what appeared to be a broken green Christmas ornament that had some bells, a little ribbon and some Christmas greenery on display inside the open cavity. The opening had a rippled edge that looked astonishingly (imo) like the ornament that Alice had just broken.

Of course our "Brady Bunch ornament" was never meant to be related to the show. But in some way it almost seems even more "official" than the officially licensed ornaments from Hallmark and Carlton Cards. After all it's an actual ornament from the 1960s or 70s that was probably produced around the time the show was on the air, and would have looked perfectly at home on the Brady's tree.

I'm not exactly sure where our "Brady Bunch ornament" came from, but it most likely came from a yard sale that The Wife and I visited during out first few years together. We have a number of ornaments from her childhood, but unfortunately none from mine. Over our first few years together we purchased quite a few vintage ornaments for our Christmas trees. The box of four plastic "Brady Bunch ornaments" most likely came to us during this time. Little did we (especially The Wife) know that one of these random, kind of cheesy-looking vintage ornaments would eventually come to be known as "The Brady Bunch ornament". At least in our household anyway! It's hard to imagine that anyone else who ever bought a set of these ornaments ever had the thought: "Hey, these things look a lot like that ornament that Alice broke in the Christmas episode of 'The Brady Bunch'!"


Tuesday, December 17, 2019

The Return of the Elf Pants!

Last year I wrote (in The Elf Pants: A New Holiday Tradition) about something that I hoped would become a new holiday tradition in our household. Perhaps tradition is a bit strong of a word for it though. What I was actually writing about was a new "ornament" for our Christmas tree that I hoped would become a regular part of our holiday season as we decorate the tree each year. And the reason I used quotes around the word ornament just now is because this so-called ornament was never intended to be an ornament. In fact, it was never intended to be anything at all. If it weren't for a small but hilarious misunderstanding, that "ornament" could very easily have become a bit of refuse, thrown into the trash and forgotten about.

The whole story can be found in that post from last year. But to recap, in August of 2018 we were spending some time at the In-Laws' house. The Tiny Creature enjoys crafting and also loves all things tiny. She found a tiny wicker basket that was being used as part of a centerpiece on the dining room table. She decided it needed to be filled and went to work crafting some "food" out of duct tape. She put a piece of green tape onto a piece of red tape and cut out a triangular shape to make a slice of watermelon. It was a smart bit of crafty thinking and a cute little piece of fruit for the basket. I knew that she was working on some project, but didn't really know the details. When I went over to see what she was making I saw not the watermelon slice, but the about-to-be-discarded remnants of the tape she cut the watermelon out of. My reaction was to say that she did a good job with the red "elf pants" (with green shoes) and to wonder why she didn't finish making the rest of the elf.

Once I realized my mistake I instantly found it to be about the funniest thing in the world and couldn't stop laughing--which pretty much made everyone think that I had gone crazy. It was a bit tough to explain just why I was laughing so hard and why I found it to be so funny. But once I calmed down I knew that there was no way I was going to let that little scrap of tape be thrown away. I hid it in my stuff and brought it home in secret. It was not seen again until a couple weeks before Christmas when we had our tree set up and were ready to decorate it. After seemingly finishing up the trimming of the tree I announced that there was a special, brand-new ornament that we were going to start using that year. Naturally nobody remembered the "elf pants incident" from four months earlier when I brought it out, so I had to remind them. We had a good laugh (I think The Little Monsters laughed harder than The Wife) and the Elf Pants ceremoniously became the final ornament to be put on the tree.

It's hard to believe that a whole year has passed, but we now have another Christmas tree set up in our living room. When last year's tree came down in January I packed all the lights and ornaments away until December. Well, I packed everything up except for the Elf Pants ornament, which I put aside to ensure that it wouldn't be forgotten about or lost among all the other Christmas stuff. Instead I put it in a box of stuff that I keep handy, and hoped I wouldn't manage to lose or forget about it over the course of the ensuing spring, summer and fall seasons. I will admit to semi-forgetting about it over the following months, but when it came time to look for it, there it was--just waiting to be put up on the tree again!

They're Back!!!
The 2019 Christmas tree arrives

The lights go on first

And the first ornament is added!

The finished product. Can you spot the Elf Pants?

We have a pretty large number of "special" ornaments that have meaning to us for various reasons. There are a few ornaments from The Wife's childhood. The Wife and I have some "First Christmas Together", "First Christmas in Our New House" and "First Christmas as Husband and Wife"-type ornaments. There are ornaments from each of our Disney cruises and visits to Disney World over the years. We also have MANY "Baby's First Christmas" ornaments from when The Little Monster was born. And then there are a few less "Baby's First Christmas" ornaments from The Tiny Creature's first year (much to her chagrin). Throw in some ornaments that The Monsters have made over the years and a few other special ones, both old and new, and it makes for a pretty full and special Christmas tree. But now the Elf Pants have made their second appearance on the tree. I think that means they have indeed become a true family tradition of sorts! It's still a pretty young tradition I suppose, but a tradition nonetheless!