I want to thank my wonderful wife for giving me what may be… No! Strike that, what was the best and most thoughtful birthday gift I have ever received. Thank you honey, you have no idea how much it meant to me. You are the best!
Last Monday (the 10th of October 2011 for those catching up) I, Harry Brawls, turned 40. Normally I don’t care too much about getting older or, more specifically, I don’t care about the number of candles on my cake, but something about turning 40 really got under my skin. How the hell am I old enough to have a 16 year old daughter who is learning to drive? When did I get to be old enough to have a fourteen year old son who is looking for, and at, girls? Just yesterday I was that weirdly dressed kid in high school who hadn’t made any real life choices yet. My whole life was stretched out before me, waiting for me to experience it…and now…
And spare me the life begins at 40 crap. Here I am, halfway to the grave (statistically), unemployed, back in school, and still unsure about what to do with my life.
This was where my head was…I was not doing too well.
Seoul must have known that it was bothering me. Maybe it was all my recent bitching about wasting my life, or the not wanting to get out of bed for fear of breaking a hip. I don’t know, but something tipped her off.
She very easily could have gone the traditional 40th birthday route…a package of adult diapers, a cane with a rearview mirror, and a subscription to “Arthritis Today” magazine…but she didn’t. Instead, my lovely wife came up with the coolest and most thoughtful idea for a gift ever.
She worked with my mom to come up with an assortment of 40 things—everything from food to toys (in fact almost entirely food and toys…that says something I think…)—each one having had a part in forming me as I stand here today (well, sit, because I am 40 after all…). Most of the gifts would be completely lost on anyone else, but each one was special and meant a lot to me.
What did she and my mom gather? Well…
Comfort Foods (Seoul foods, hehe). These are some of the foods that I have always turned to in times of stress, or weakness, or when I am bored. Some have a bit of a story, others…well they are just damn good.
1. Snax! (more precisely, the ingredients to make them) Commonly known as Chex Mix. And I’m not talking about the crap you can buy in a bag at the store nowadays. I’m talking about soaking the cereal mix (with pretzels and peanuts) with a butter and Worcestershire sauce and various salts and baking it in the oven for hours stirring every 20 minutes or so. Snax! Made the way my grandmother used to make it. (Don’t go by the recipe on the box either. They WAY underestimate the amount of the butter mixture needed.) I used to grab bowls of them off the table and hide under the table eating them until I am sick. Sure am glad I outgrew this…
2. A big ass box of Cheese-Its! These you spread out on a small pan and throw in the toaster oven for a bit to make them darker. This way you don’t have to search through the box for the burnt ones, they are all burnt.
3. Rice cakes. Okay, these are not a favorite, but they have a bit of a story. My mother can be a bit of a health nut (she is a doctor), but she will get on these health kicks, and when she does, we all suffer. Back in the very early eighties, my brother had possible food allergies and, because of these alleged allergies, my school lunches took a sudden and dramatic turn for the worse. For over a month I opened my lunch bag to these small, round, bricks of Styrofoam. True they had a thin smear of peanut butter on them, but even this was not enough to make these pressed pucks of insulation palatable. Let me tell you, it is impossible to trade one of these non-food items for something edible. They did make decent projectiles though.
…I won’t even go into the year of the carob Easter bunnies…
4. Cracker Jacks! I used to LOVE Cracker Jacks, but only for one reason, the toy! You used to get real toys, like the metal (probably lead) compass that pointed due West-ish, The Ant-Incinerator (plastic magnifying glass), and the dreaded lick-on tattoos. You had to hide these from Mom because they were supposedly made with LSD, or poisonous, or something.
5. Circus Peanuts! A delightful mixture of plastic and sugar! I love these things!
6. Vienna Sausages! You know the ones in the little can. These were a staple food for us circa 1978.
7. EZ Cheese! Pressurized semi-solid gold! More staple foodstuffs from my youth. Great for road-trips too!
8. Little Debbie Peanut-Butter Crunch Bars! In the early-to-mid 80’s we lived down the street from a Little Debbie distributer. This man would pass out these Little Debbie Peanut Butter Crunch Bars every Halloween. I quickly became addicted.
9. Goldfish crackers! Not just for cranky babies. I would eat these by the truckload, if they sold them by the truckload.
10. Little box of Cheese-Its! These are for pouring Frank’s Red-hot Sauce on. Almost as good as burning them!
11. Andy Capps Hot Fries! “Potato” sticks dipped in spices. This was a college (the first time through) staple. I lived on these, cigarettes, and Diet Coke for over a year.
12. Speaking of Diet Coke…Diet Coke! It tastes horrible, but is for some reason highly addictive. I think they put crack in it.
13. Speaking of Cigarettes, Altoids! I quit smoking on Feburary 29th 2008. These have replaced them. Much less annoying as far as habits go. I had to point out to Katie recently that she can no longer eat them. They contain gelatin…not vegetarian friendly.
14. Wasabi Peas! Best snack food ever. (“Wassssssaaaaaabii?” If you remember this commercial then you are as old and lame as me.)
That’s about it for the stuff that helped shape me physically (mostly round at this point).
Now for those things that helped shape (or possibly mis-shaped) my personality.
15. Clown Outfit (red nose, oversized tie, goofy glasses)! Yes, I actually went to clown school. I was about 7 at the time. My Grandmother signed me and my brother up to the Rikes Department Store Clown School, and I graduated with honors. I have the diploma to prove it! (My clown name was Lucky)
16. G.I. Joe! The big one, almost like the ones from my childhood, but no “realistic” hair or “kung-fu” grip. These were action figures, not dolls dammit!
17. A block of wood and some wheels! This was my version of a Pinewood Derby car in Boy Scouts. Everyone else brought in these sleek hand carved supercars, with racing stripes and flame paint jobs. I nailed 4 wheels to the block of wood. I think I had to use a magic marker to write a number on it the day of the race, but that was the extent of my effort. I came in second. Not lazy. Practical.
18. Soccer ball toy with butterflies attached! I don’t have fond memories of team sports as a child. All of the competitiveness, the rage filled screaming, the explosive temper tantrums when they didn’t get their way…and these were the parents watching the games. It was much more fun to chase butterflies, and kick dandelions on the field.
19. Hot Wheels Car! The only proper way to play with these is to run the track out to the concrete floor of the garage and take turns trying to smash them with a hammer as they zip by. I don’t understand why my mom stopped buying us cars.
20. Lego Game, Ramses Pyramid! Legos were always cool. My brother would spend hours meticulously building extremely detailed castles or towers. I would spend 30 seconds smashing them, Godzilla style, when he left the room. Now they make Lego games! These are just awesome. I have one where the goal is to shave sheep. SHAVE SHEEP!
21. Hex Bug Robotic Insect- “Spider”! I have always had a fascination with remote control toys. I also love robots, and I am fascinated with insects. Now I have a remote control, robotic insect. Life couldn’t be better.
22. Polyhedral dice! “I attack the darkness!” This is another little obsession that has returned from my early teen years. I love games, but there is a special place in my heart for role playing games, especially D&D (But not 4.0…if I wanted to play a MMORPG I would play one online, not simulate one on paper). I am Nerd! Hear Me Roar!
23. Comic books! I was not an obsessive collector, but I had a descent box full of carefully preserved comics under my bed (next to my “other” magazine collection)…that is until my mom decided to sell them all in a garage sale for 25 cents apiece.
24. Annie on DVD! Ugg! Okay, here is the story behind this one. We decided to go to the movies as a family one evening when I was about 12. Me, my Dad, and my brother all wanted to go see Blade Runner. My sister and my Mom wanted to go see Annie. At the last moment my Mom realized that Blade Runner was rated R, and decided I was too young to see it. I had to sit through Annie with them. No amount of begging or whining could change her mind. To this day, if I hear “Hard Knock Life”, I feel like strangling someone.
25. Raiders of the Lost Arc DVD! Best movie of all time. My dad bought this movie on video disc (the old analog one with the massive discs in these large plastic sleeves. Remember those?), and I watched it almost every day for an entire summer.
26. Green Plastic Army Men! I think everyone had these, but I had a special way to play with them. You set them up in the yard in nice marching columns. Then go grab the lawn mower and run them down! Green plastic limbs and torsos would fly everywhere. Assessing the carnage afterward was the best part. These could also be lit on fire (napalm attack), or blown sky high with fire crackers. My mom stopped buying me these as well…Hmm…
27. A Trumpet Ornament! Way back in grade school I played the trumpet in the band. Okay, I played with the trumpet. I quickly found out that I did not have any talent with this instrument (plus, the sound it made hurt my ears), but I didn’t want to tell my parents. I slogged through a whole year of band, learning the proper fingering, but never learning to play. During our performances I would puff out my cheek and press the correct valves, but I never once played a single note publicly.
28. Whoopee Cushion! Who doesn’t laugh like a madman when someone accidentally sits on this little rubber bladder? I don’t think I ever actually got someone to sit on one successfully (has anyone?), but it was just as much fun to fill it up and repeatedly make the noise on your own.
29. Yo-Yo! For a brief period I wanted to be a professional Yo-Yo performer. I would practice for hours with my Duncan Butterfly, but I could never get the damn thing to sleep! After about a year I finally gave up this dream and started practicing my magic. There was a career I could count on!
30. Magic Playing Cards! Did you know that you actually have to practice magic tricks? I assumed the cards would do them on their own. I never go very good at magic tricks, but give me a deck of cards and I will always attempt one (Pick a card! No not that one, pick the other card!)
31. Superman 1-4 DVD Collection! For me there is only one Superman. Christopher Reeve. Dean Cain and the new pretty-boy whose name I don’t care to know can suck it. Oh and Superman 3 with Richard Pryor? Comic Gold!
32. Better Off Dead DVD! Another classic movie. This one went a long way in molding my sense of humor. Also the French exchange student in the movie helped convince me that a year abroad would be a good idea (I just assumed all exchange students would look like that). For those that don’t know, I spent my senior year in Finland as a foreign exchange student. It was exactly like the movie.
33. Cut neck T-shirt! I used to hate, HATE things around my neck. I would take every t-shirt I owned and cut a 2 inch slit down the front, through the collar. This one was done for me.
34. Styrofoam Airplane! During my first attempt at Wright State (in the 90’s) I tried to get my pilot’s license. I got all the way through my solo cross-country flight, and ran out of money (you have to pay to rent the planes…plus fuel). Side note: I just found out that this class is still on my school record as incomplete, and I will have to complete or drop it to graduate.
35. Magic The Gathering Archenemy Deck! A relatively new addition to my gaming addiction. Magic the Gathering. Most of my friends have played this game at one time or another, but it was mostly in the early 90’s. I waited until I had kids to let my full nerd flag fly. Also I have a bit of my own OCD regarding collectibles. Once I start collecting something I want everything they make. This was the last Archenemy deck I needed to have the complete set.
36. Magic The Gathering Booster pack! More cards to feed my addiction!
37. Gogo’s! Another relatively new addition. In doing some service learning for a class a few quarters ago. I was at this Spanish speaking after-school tutoring program helping1st generation Spanish American grade school kids with their English. They introduced me to a ridiculous game involving these little plastic figures that you throw around and there is some sort of scoring system I never really understood. But it triggered my complete-ist OCD. I now own about 100 of these little things.
38. Fire Crackers! Funny story... I’m about 15, my parents are out of town, and I am alone in the house. I decide to invite some friends over (you know who you are). Well one thing lead to another (there may or may not have been alcohol involved) and the next thing I know we are on the back porch shooting bottle rockets and roman candles into the air and at each other. Good times. About 20 minutes pass and I hear a knock at the front door. Someone runs by me into the basement yelling “Dude, It’s the cops!” I’m like, “whatever,” as I stumble toward the front door and pull it open to find myself face to face with a badge. The cop asks to meet me in the back yard. I stumble down to the back porch where I find myself standing in an ankle-deep pile of firework leavings (bottle rocket sticks, blown apart fire cracker paper, empty roman candle tubes and the like). “Son,” the cop says in his best cop voice, and with a straight face. “Have you been lighting off fireworks?” I look at the pile at my feet and then back up at the cop. “Um…Yes?”
“You do know that it is 1:30 am, and a Monday right?”
Okay, here is the part that I get the most shit for from those that were present for the event but hiding, and I assume crying, in the basement. But remember I was not really in my “right mind” at the moment. And this was a cop…
“Son, was this all of your fireworks?”
“Go get the rest of them, and give them to me, now.”
So, I did…about half a grocery bag full. I gave them to the cop and he took the bag and left. It was only later that I realized that I had to go upstairs, into my closet and under a pile of dirty laundry to get them. I’m sure this cop’s next family get together had a full firework display.
39. Hmm…I seem to be missing a couple of things. I guess that is what comes from getting old. I either misplaced or forgot the other two items…I know there was 40 things the other night…where are my glasses?