Sunday, August 15, 2010

How I spent my (1984) summer vacation

I turned 9 years old in June 1984. I'm sure my parents gave me Cowboys clothes and Lakers gear, probably a baseball glove, a basketball, and I think that might have been the year I got an aluminum bat with red lettering on it that might still take up space in a closet. That summer I spent dozens of hours shooting at the too-high hoop in the city park and played countless hours of pickup football and baseball at that same park. I spent the last two months of the summer mourning the Lakers' seven-game loss to the Celtics, devastated in that way only a 9-year-old could be. In other words, I was convinced that loss was the worst thing that had ever happened to me in my life and would be the worst thing to ever happen to me. Obviously that was a misguided reaction, a complete and irrational overreaction. I never would have felt that way if I'd known Ralph Sampson's shot was only two years away.

I didn't spend much time indoors, even though that was the momentous year when cable arrived in Janesville. I spent most of my time with my neighbor and best boyhood friend Brandon.

When we did stay indoors, we spent most of our time poring over that year's Topps baseball cards. We bought a new pack nearly every day at Wiste's grocery store. Now is probably the time apologize to the dent that put in my parents' coin jar those three months.

My folks worked during the day and my sister and her friends seemed to have little interest in hanging out with boys six years their junior, so we had the run of the house. But even with the introduction of cable - Australian Rules Football!, Midnight Madness on HBO! - a pair of records provided the majority of our in-house entertainment. Records. Round things. Used with a player and a needle. You've read obituaries on them. They looked like this.

Our family's record player still sat in the living room that year, already all-but-irrelevant, though not yet officially retired. The collection included the standard classics: Beatles, Neil Diamond, Fat Elvis. But that summer we listened to Cheech & Chong's "Sister Mary Elephant" and "Mr. Jaws" by Dickie Goodman about 275 times. Each. To us, those two records represented the peak of comedic genius. Nothing topped them. And nothing every would. At that supposedly innocent age, we didn't get what Cheech & Chong were really about. I can only imagine how much we'd enjoy listening to the record today if we happened to be using their favorite product.

Wikipedia's synopsis of "Sister Mary Elephant" is 406 words long. That's about how many words make up the entire skit. This proves a couple of things: that Wikipedia entry needs a new editor, and it's impossible to describe the skit in a humorous way. So I won't try. Here's the skit (try to ignore the strange Japanese animation that accompanies the YouTube video. Try, but fail.)

I know. Seems like being high is a requirement for actually laughing at it. I did still smile and chuckle when listening to it for the first time in probably 20 years. I still love the voices and the "I gotta go to the can, man" line and "Young man, give me that knife...Thank you," and everything else. But this is not a record I'd now listen to 15 times a day. I'm not rolling around on the floor, demanding that Brandon replay it. But in 1984, to a 9-year-old and 10-year-old in little Janesville, Minnesota, who spent their time biking around town and playing about four different sports a day, only to retire to the Fury family living room to trade a Don Mattingly card for a Cal Ripken, this record provided the soundtrack to our glorious summer.

That same year we discovered "Mr. Jaws."

To me, this one aged better, even if the songs used in the parody haven't. This still cracks me up, especially "Big boys don't cry, big boys don't cry." To us, picking between "Sister Mary Elephant" and "Mr. Jaws" was like choosing between Lennon and McCartney. Some days we thought "Mr. Jaws" the superior record. Other times it was "Sister Mary Elephant" - "Did you hear that guy ask to go to the can?!!" We always played the records back-to-back-to-back-to-back, until we'd walk back outside to the mean streets of Janesville.

I'm sure at some point during the summer of 1984 I uttered the words "I'm bored." But I'm also certain that state never lasted long. Not when we had "Sister Mary Elephant" and "Jaws" at our disposal.

But one question still remains, 26 years later: what in the hell were my parents doing with a Cheech & Chong record?

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