The Younger Games

My cyber friend Vanessa (One Thousand Single Days) posted a blog entry the other day entitled “Sometimes I Play This Game”.  Here is an excerpt:

Sometimes I play a game.
In the game you guess the lives of the strangers around you. For example, the man using the pay phone with the glasses on the end of his nose is a security guard who stands in front of his full length mirror at night quick drawing his walkie talkie and quoting from “Lethal Weapon“.

 Everyone has a secret life, things they do when no one is looking. In this game you guess it. You make it up…

Here is my comment to Vanessa:

I played this game a lot as a kid. For example, I’d be in Kmart with my mom, and I’d pick someone to feel sorry for. Like, in line, I’d focus on an older lady and think–I bet she has no one at home…I hope her kids visit her…I hope she has enough food to eat…Does she have a cat? She needs a cat to warm her lap…I was such a maudlin child. I love that your characters have a wider-albeit bizarre-range. I think I’ll play your version this week:)

Her post reminded me of all of the games I would play as a kid, from the typical to the downright weird.

hide_and_seekI loved all the variations of tag/hide-and-seek that we played. At school, we played Ring Out on the black top during recess. One person would have to tag everyone and bring them to base. However, if you were not caught, you could set everyone free by tagging the base and shouting, “RING OUT!” At home, we played a hide-and -seek version of this called “Freedom All”. Everyone would hide, and when identified (“I see Timmy underneath Mr. Mason’s truck.”) would walk to base, which was a speed limit sign near the curb. Anyone not caught could touch the base before being tagged and yell “Freedom All!” Whoever charged the base usually gave it a good whack. Then, everyone would scatter to the reverberating sound of wongwongwongwong echoing in the street. It was always a highlight to be the one to save the day and free everyone. There were many other variations of such games: “Kick the Can“, “Ghost in the Graveyard“…

These were typical games that would help us wile away the hours spent outside. However, there were other, more obscure games. When I was in first grade, I was obsessed with The Six-Million Dollar Man. I was in awe of his bionic powers and would act out scenes from his adventures for hours–including his spacecraft’s horrendous plummet to the earth . One day, a girl down the street asked if she could play with me. When I told her I was Steve Austin, she insisted on being Jamie Sommers (The Bionic Woman). I made her audition by pretending to pop a tennis ball in her hand, then we made up some cheesy song about how much Jamie and Steve loved each other–I still remember the lyrics (Jamie and Steve are walking together, Jamie and Steve are singing this song–repeat 7,000 times). But the bionic version I loved to play involved my younger brother and sister. We called it Cung-ung-ung-ung, so named because of the sound effect of Steve using his bionic arm. We LOVED Cung-ung-ung-ung. In hindsight, it probably looked like we were gyrating all over the yard, acting out our bionic battles in slow motion. We also had special sound effects for Jamie and Steve jumping over the fence (Whooooooop) then landing on the other side (Whooooooop) and for Steve seeing amazing distances out of his eye (Bwooop/ Bwooop/ Bwooop). I think our game, and both of the shows, jumped the shark when the Fembots came on the scene–we could never find so many villains to play with us.

Another weird game involved making leaf houses. Someone’s mom was clearly a genius because she suggested we rake the leaves into piles and “make a game out of it”. Challenge accepted. Five of us raked the leaves into lines and then we created a leaf house. This was awesome because our leaf houses were always huge. My favorite part was that I was always had my own room–no sharing it with four brothers. I loved my room–even if my furniture blew away each day.

There was also a lot of role playing when we were young. We did the usual cowboys and indians, and cops and robbers, but having thestarsky and tv overactive imagination that I did, I would also play such roles by myself. I had a paper route when I was ten. I delivered the paper in the afternoon on my bike, but every other week, I would have to collect money from the customers door-to-door. I dreaded collecting, and often I had to do it in the dark. To pass the time, I would pretend I was a private detective on a case. This would have been around the time of Starsky and Hutch. I would speak into the collar of my jacket, as if I was communicating with headquarters: “Suspect was last spotted in this vicinity. I’m approaching the house now. If I’m not out in five minutes, send in back up.”

Recently, my sister reminded me of another game we used to play that made me laugh and cringe. Whenever we went to our grandparents’ houses we could drink soda. Grandmom always had Coke and Nana always had Pepsi. My Nana also had lots of snacks for us, too: pound cake, Pringles, pretzel sticks. Kristen and I used to pretend we were “smoking alcoholics”–taking drags off of our pretzel rods and shaking our glasses of ice, begging for one more drink. Full disclosure: this was when Dallas was all the rage, and Sue Ellen‘s drinking problem was seriously out of control. We didn’t plan on playing this game, but whenever we were at Nana’s and our soda glasses were empty, our inner-Sue Ellens would just appear.

This past week, I read a blurb in the paper that Lee Majors (Steve Austin) was guest starring on the new Dallas as Sue Ellen’s love interest. Talk about a time warp. Say it ain’t so, Steve. Say it ain’t so.

The Sounds of the ’70s

My car became a time machine last week. On Wednesday, when I was driving to work, I heard a news clip on NPR about the death of singer Patti Page. I was not familiar with this artist, who, apparently, is the top-selling female singer in history according to the news. But I did grow up with one of her songs: How Much Is That Doggie in the Window? When a snippet of that song was played on the news report, I was immediately transported back in time to our purple station wagon. Or maybe it was the Gran Torino with the panel sides. Whichever car it was, those lyrics echoed throughout its vinyl seat interior. My sister loved that song, and would often sing it around the house, while playing outside, and, of course, in the car. Truthfully, I thought it was pretty annoying as a six-year-old, but I would tolerate it because she always let me do the dog bark: “Arf, Arf!”

Hearing these lyrics over thirty years later, I got to thinking about the songs that made up the bizarre soundtrack of my youth. The songs I recall are as farout, groovy, and downright trippy as the seventies themselves. Here are my top ten:

10. One Tin Soldier, by: Coven

I loved how this song took me back in time to a place of kings and knights. I always imagined that I was that one tin soldier who rides away–off to do more battle. In researching the song for this post, I realize why we went around singing it back then. It was a cartoon that was aired during Saturday programming. As I watched the YouTube video, I was certain that I viewed this cartoon in our Rec Room (which I always thought was spelled WReck Room because we always made a mess out of it). The cartoon is a mashup of Schoolhouse Rock and George Orwell’s 1984. This was the first war song I remember from my youth.

9. Lovin’ You, by: Minnie Riperton

This song was weird to kids, but we always had fun lip syncing the falsetto.

8. Dick and Jane (Look Dick Look), by: Bobby Vinton

My grandmother was a big fan of the Polish Prince, Bobby Vinton. I remember going around singing some gibberish for one of his songs with Polish lyrics: Yola shogga masha colta–these were the words I sang. But the real favorite was this one about two young people and love–ripped straight from the pages of our elementary school readers, Fun with Dick and Jane. This song made me ponder the meaning of the word “vain” every time I heard it (Then one day, he kissed her, but it was all in vain…) Poor Dick! Poor Jane!

7. Delta Dawn, by: Helen Reddy

Helen Reddy could rock this song–even though in this video she looks like she’s performing it at her 7th grade talent show. Everyone knew the lyrics to Delta Dawn. And I felt so sorry for her. Forty-one and not married. In my head, I would think “I’d marry you if I was older.” After all, in her younger days she was the prettiest thing you ever saw. Then there’s that faded rose–I could just picture Dawn and Barry Manilow’s Lola the showgirl commiserating with their faded rose and feathers over lost love at some singles’ bar in that mansion in the sky.

6. Muskrat Love, by: The Captain and Tennille

For anyone who did not live in the ’70s, please watch this video. It was a time so weird, so freakishly fun and uncomfortable at the same time. The video is classic kitsch from this wacky era. How could The Captain and Tennille make so many people care about rodent love? How could The Captain score a babe like Tennille? These are questions that still haunt me today.

5. Please Come to Boston, by: Dave Loggins

This song is in my top 10 because my brother and I would sing it all the time walking to and from football practice in grade school. But since we didn’t know the real lyrics, we made up our own: “Please come to Boston/ with me and Steve Austin (The 6 million dollar man)/ and we’ll have a party/ something something fart something.”

4. Dust in the Wind, by: Kansas

Even a straight-laced fifth grader wearing a tie to Catholic school everyday knew this song was about drugs. The lyrics were haunting and heavenly at the same time. I put it in my list because I remember driving home from a Saturday football game with my older brother’s friends and the mom who drove us sang this song like it was her job. Mrs. “H” was a large woman, and she could be rough and intimidating. She wore t-shirts that had cute animals on them that said things like: “I’m so happy I could shit!” Yet, when she sang Dust in the Wind she was as light as a feather, as gentle as a songbird…To this day, whenever I hear it, I think of Mrs. H.

3. Undercover Angel, by: Alan O’Day

I remember hearing this song while piled in the way back of our station wagon on the way to a pool party. There were 4 of us crammed in the back, and one guy started doing some inappropriate gestures in time with the lyrics–pretending his swim towel was a cover and motioning the angel to get underneath it. I had a confused look on my nine-year-old face. “The guy wants to have sex with this lady in the song,” he explained to me. I was shocked. What kind of angel was she? We’re all going to Hell, I thought. But it made me pay more attention to lyrics from then on.

2. Playground In My Mind, by: Clint Holmes

This song holds a special place for me because the beginning talks about a kid named Michael and a girl named Cindy who grow up and get married. It felt cool having my name in a song–a song that made it to number 2 on the Billboard Charts, believe it or not. And, the girl next door was named Cindy and we would go around singing the words and joke about getting married.

1. Seasons in the Sun, by: Terry Jacks

What a maudlin song. It captivated our minds in the ’70s as we went around on our roller skates and Schwinn bikes singing about death. I loved how this guy got to say “Goodbye” to people before he died (That’s my mother’s influence on me). I remember listening to this in a neighbor’s basement, and we all just started bawling. Such melodrama, but remember this was pre-cable TV, so we had to get our kicks wherever we could find them. Quick note–I hate the last line of this song–it’s silly: But the stars that we reached, were just starfish on the beach. Bad imagery. But not as bad as Jacks’ perm.

Honorable Mention:

Three Jolly Fishermen

This classic Boy Scout song is not one that I heard on the radio, but my family used to sing it on the ten minute drive to my grandmother’s house. What I loved about this song was we all got to curse. The last line talks about the three fishermen going down the AmsterDAM: AMster, Amster, dam, dam ,dam. Oh, how we screamed that part:)