Ryan has a class in the town where I spent my elementary school years, and when Anne and I took him out there about two weeks ago, it sparked a flood of surprisingly lucid memory flashes. I was surprised to realize that in nearly all of my childhood memories, it's hot, it's summer, and it's smoggy:
Racing down the sidewalk, laying down headfirst on my skateboard. Yes I cracked my chin, and yes I have the scar.
Getting a drink from the hose. Why does that chemical, vinyl, rubbery water taste so good? And is it really that cold? To this day, I love a drink from the hose when I'm working in the yard, even though it's just as easy to walk into the kitchen and fill up a cup.
The barefoot dash across the parking lot, stopping at least once on the white painted lines, before making it into the cool Thrifty drug store, where ten cent scoops of double chocolate malted crunch awaited. The cool linoleum and slightly dry-but-cool air conditioned air inside is as much a part of summer as swimming and staying up late on weeknights.
Stargate, Mr. Do!, Super Pac-Man, and Gyruss at Sunland Discount Variety and Hober's Pharmacy (they've blurred together in my memory), grabbing sips of a Slush Puppy between levels. I can still see the Slush Puppy cup sweating on the machine next to my hand while I played.
"Wanna go ride bikes? I have cards to put in the spokes!"
"Cool! We'll race up to the whoop-de-dos by the wash!"
There was an older couple down the street from me. They had a pomegranate tree in their front yard, and if you asked them nicely you could pick one and take it home with you, where you'd smash it open on the curb and spit the seeds into the street (or at each other.) One summer, they ended up with a few hundred boxes of mint chocolate chip ice cream sandwiches, and they gave thirty or so boxes to my parents, who had one of those giant freezers in the garage that opened on the top. That was the same summer that we got Atari 800, and I got completely hooked on Star Raiders.
I grew up in a tract home in the Northeastern San Fernando Valley. All the homes around us were some variation of stucco with asphalt shingle roofs and dark wooden shutters stuck onto the sides of the street-facing windows. If you've seen E.T., you've seen houses just like the ones I grew up in. Another 1980s film that features a house just like mine is Poltergeist. This is the only movie that still scares the everlivingjesusfuck out of me, and every time I hear Kaja Goo Goo's Too Shy, it reminds me of the afternoon I watched it with my older cousins, stretched out on the floor of our den after swimming in our pool all morning in the middle of summer.
The idea was to watch the very scary movie in the light of day, so that by the time night rolled around, any residual terror would have been washed away by whatever casserole we had for dinner . . . but it didn't quite work out that way. Now, you damn kids today, who grew up with the MTV and the VH-1 and the MTV2 and your baggy pants and your coffee can exhaust pipes don't remember this, but back in the early 80s, there was this thing called ON TV. It was one of the first cable movie channels (SelecTV and Z Channel are the other two I remember) and pre-dates HBO. Sometimes, between movies, they'd run something called ON Video Jukebox where they'd play these things that were like concert films, but often featured little stories and cool grass valley switcher video effects.
To ensure that the top-loading, portable (read: less than 50 pounds and measuring close to 18 inches square and five inches deep) VCR's timer function captured the entire program, my dad would set it to start recording five minutes before the show was set to start, and end five minutes after. This resulted in catching ON Video Jukebox pretty regularly, and before Poltergeist started, there was this band singing about being shy. I can still hear my dad, as he stands in the doorway from the den to the pool, silhouetted by the glare of the mid-day sun (thankfully - my dad insisted on wearing a bikini Speedo throughout my entire childhood, regardless of how many of my friends were over to swim) as he says, "They call them 'Kaja Goo Goo because they sound like they're singing baby talk," before cracking up at his joke and disappearing into the glare seconds before we heard him splash into the pool.
Poltergeist started up, and I instantly noticed how much the house and neighborhood in the film looked like mine. As the movie went on, I noticed other things that were just like my life: a little sister with a terrifying clown toy, a tree just outside my bedroom window, a swimming pool under construction a few houses over, quasi-hippie parents, and Zelda Rubenstein standing in the middle of my living room hollering about going into the light.
Well, most of that, anyway.
The movie terrified me so much, because it all seemed so plausible and looked so much like my neighborhood, I put Amy's clown toy into the garage (on top of the freezer with its bounty of ice cream sandwiches) before I went to bed, and slept with the light on in my bedroom. For several nights.
Those memories, and a hundred others, flooded over me like a burst dam in the fifteen minutes it took to drive from the freeway to Ryan's class, and I have a hundred more to recall and write about.
I mean, I haven't even written about getting Star Wars figures and cap guns at KMart, or my Star Trek: The Motion Picture Happy Meal with the Mr. Spock iron-on patch.
. . . and there's the time when I was eight and I didn't have the courage to tell Kelly S. that it wasn't right to shoot a dove on a telephone wire with his BB gun, and watched in horror as he fired, and a little poof of feathers burst out of its side before it flew away. That haunts me to this day.