Monday, December 21, 2009
As I reflect upon the Christmases of my childhood, I remember with fondness the presents I received under our family's Christmas tree. While our holiday was always filled with gifts and stockings full of candy (as well as socks, walnuts, and oranges, yes Mom, I remember) there are a few presents that stand out in my mind.
A couple years later, I got my first full set of Hot Wheels cars and tracks. Now this is something that got a lot of use around my house. I'd set up a series of loops, curves, and hills, and send my Hot Wheels cars zooming around the track for hours on end. One of the sets had a station where you could press a button to propel your car every lap around the track. We'd have tournaments, stunt shows, we'd even race for imaginary "pink slips" where the winner would keep the loser's car. Oh, the merriment!
But there was a dark side to our Hot Wheels sets. It didn't take long for my mom to discover that an orange Hot Wheels track makes a damn fine weapon for beating a kid's bottom. One night, my brother Eric and I were in our room racing for "pinks", and he'd just won the rights to my candy apple red 1967 Ford Mustang. I wasn't happy about it, so I grabbed the car back from him. He pitched a fit, hollering something about "winning it fair and square", and Mom came upstairs to see what the problem was. By the time she got there, Eric and I were throwing cars at each other and wrestling around on the floor..
Without a word, Mom disassembled the front straightaway and whipped me across my pajama-clad butt with it. A new day had dawned in punishment-land.
Every Christmas, we'd get new "add-ons" for our Hot Wheels collection. While we loved the cars and tracks, there were always mixed emotions when we unwrapped them. Sort of a "wow, that's gonna be fun . . . but the banked corner is gonna HURT!"
I liked the present anyway.
I wore the complete outfit all day on Christmas, including the helmet. It wasn't easy to eat dinner that evening, but I managed to get the fork between the bars of the facemask without making too much of a mess.
Incidentally, this is the very same "not a protective helmet" that rose to fame the following spring when my friend Mike the Whip wore it while doing his best Evel Knievel imitation.
I outgrew the Jets uniform rather quickly, so a couple years later my Dad bought Eric and me brand new football gear. I got a Redskins helmet and jersey, and Eric got the Steelers. While I liked the colors, I never was a 'Skins fan, so I peeled the logo off the helmet after a week or so and had my dad paint the number 23 on it instead (matching the number on the jersey). It ended up looking like the Alabama Crimson Tide uniform. My brother Eric, on the other hand, instantly became a Pittsburgh Steelers fan and remains one to this very day.
Also, you couldn't really control the direction that your players ran. More often than not, my running back would head straight for the sideline and bump against the metal frame. Or just spin around in circles. Or fall over.
Still, it was a lot of fun, and that game stuck around for years.
Which brings us to my family's very first video game.
Sounds amazing, right?
Uh, not so much.
You see, every Odyssey game had the same basic "look" to it -- a white square moving around or a white paddle hitting some sort of blip. To play the different games, you had to tape a cellophane sheet over your TV screen. There was a haunted house sheet, a football field sheet, a hockey rink sheet, etc. They were pretty lame, so my brothers and I simply played Pong all the time.
And to think, nowadays kids complain if the Playstation image of Peyton Manning has a bigger nose than the actual Peyton Manning. In my day, Peyton Manning would've been a white square. Which, come to think of it, he kinda is.
There are a few other toys I need to give a nod to here, kind of like a list of "honorable mentions". In no specific order, these would be Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots, Simon, Slinky, Lite Brite, and Trouble. Remember those?
I can't help but look at the gifts I've gotten for my kids and wonder, will they look back at their Nintendo Wii the same way I remember our Odyssey? Will their Madden Football games seem as cheesy as Electric Football? Of course, even forty years later, there's one present that has remained constant.
The Hot Wheels sets.
Because you can't spank a kid with a Playstation.