Today is my birthday. I’m super old. 900, basically. But it wasn’t always this way.
On February 6th, 1987, I had a birthday party. A bunch of boys from my second grade class came over to do what boys do. One of them gave me Optimus Prime socks.
That’s me, at the party.
Back then, kiddy birthday parties were usually small productions, amounting to little more than “visits with cake.”
(That’s my way to skirt guilt over having apparently spent the bulk of the party holed up in my bedroom, playing Spy Hunter on the Atari 2600. What a host I was!)
The party didn’t have any central theme. We had Transformers plates, G.I. Joe party favors, and a Carvel cake that looked like it’d been remembered literally 20 minutes before everyone got there.
Seeing that candy spread really takes me back, though I guess it shouldn’t, since my mother still trots that same Lazy Susan out whenever it’s time to celebrate.
Oh, and the potato chips? Those had to be Wise Cottage Fries. If you’ve never eaten them, sorry, you missed out on the best chips ever. So big and sturdy and salty! (And also the best chips for imitating the scene where Leia feeds Wicket.)
In this shot, two of my friends futz around with the Atari, while two other friends “give ‘em the horns.”
I’d forgotten just how big of a thing the horns were. Not a day went by that you didn’t give and/or receive the horns several times. We never knew the genesis of the tradition, but to us, giving someone the horns meant that for however long he remained with the horns, he was a stupid idiot.
(The horns turn up all over the tape.)
The party was mostly just us hanging out and doing what we normally did, but my mother did try to incorporate a few games. First was a clowny spin on Pin the Tail on the Donkey, which quickly devolved into “break balloons over the head of whichever kid is blindfolded.”
There was also bingo. The three least-aggressive kids played that, no doubt to avoid getting tangled up in what was fast becoming a house-wide wrestling match.
There’s a lot to unpack, here.
First, a shoutout to my family’s long-gone living room, with shelves built by my late father. He crammed about a billion lacquered shelves into that space, and I spent so much of my childhood staring at the expensive electronics and forbidden liquor bottles.
Next is the television, which replaced our previous set after I stuck a giant refrigerator magnet on it. In my defense, nobody warned me.
Kids took breathers at this “theater” throughout the party, with shows like Challenge of the Gobots airing in their normal weekday slots. (The party was held on Friday afternoon, right after school.)
Then there are the toys! That Inhumanoids Tendril figure from the second image replaced the one that’d been broken the previous Christmas Eve. If you’ve never understood the appeal of Inhumanoids, just check out how BIG that figure was in the hands of a second grader.
The first photo shows my #1 birthday score: The Transformers Trypticon figure, which was a giant robot dinosaur that transformed into a clunky city. (You can even see its shredded box in the background, which foretold an expeditious loss of Trypticon’s many small parts.)
Here we have one of my friends messing with a novelty slot machine and an Evil-Lyn figure. I don’t see the connection, but I’m not sure I want to, either.
More important is the glimpse of my second grade bedroom, which proves that I’ve never lied about how much I was into ALF. Between the poster on the wall and the doll by my pillow, ALF was my funny Jesus.
PS: If you’re my age or older, take note of that blanket. I bet you had one of ‘em, too. Those double-sided animal blankets were everywhere. (This one has an eagle, but I remember us owning another with a tiger theme.) They were as heavy as rugs, and great for Saturday morning mummifications.
It seems like I hadn’t yet succumbed to shyness by the second grade, but another of my longtime quirks was already on display: A complete inability to handle the birthday song. I can’t sing it, and having it sung to me feels like the doctors-in-Hell scene from Jacob’s Ladder.
I no-sold the entire song while refusing to make eye contact with anyone, and then cut it short by using a G.I. Joe party horn to kill the candles. Naturally, someone had been giving me the horns the whole time.
Thirty years later, and a lot has changed. Pepsi bottles now have different labels, and Wise Cottage Fries are things of the past.
At the same time, I’m shocked by how much has stayed the same. I still hate the birthday song, and I still more or less have the same haircut.
Still talk to ALF when shit hits the fan, too.
Happy birthday, Second Grade Matt. Enjoy Macho & Liz while you can.