I can’t recall how most of my obsessions started. “They just did,” I guess. I’d slowly latch onto things, and by the time passing interests became fixations, the beginnings were already foggy.
For a few of my obsessions, though, I remember the exact moments of birth. (“Conception” might be a better word, actually.) It’s usually when an obsession started off with some unlikely action — a “wrong turn” that ended up being oh so right.
Think about a movie that you’re completely gaga over, and now imagine that you only saw it because the theater was sold out of tickets for whatever you really wanted to see that day. That sort of thing.
I love it when that happens. It adds a sort of poetic air to my passions, even if they’re for dumb things like Krang or Pikachu. Below are stories about how two of my obsessions began.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles:
I got into the Ninja Turtles early enough, but I was far from the first kid in school to sing their praises. In fact, but for a slight twist of fate, I might’ve never hopped on the bandwagon at all.
At some point in the fourth grade — this would’ve been in ‘89, I think — I tagged along to the supermarket with my best friend, his older brother and their mother. Back then, the world really was boring enough for grocery stores to seem exciting. Besides, us kids were total addicts for a game we called “store tag.” It was like regular tag, but… you know… in a store.
After we finished chasing each other, I counted the loose change from my pocket. It was time to BUY SOMETHING. With limited funds, my options included a bag of chips, a couple of candy bars, Super Elastic Bubble Plastic, or a shiny new notebook.
I chose the notebook. I was always buying new notebooks, but they were rarely meant for school. Sometimes I used them as diaries. Occasionally I’d write line-by-line lists of whatever I was collecting. Then there was that one time I tried to turn a notebook into a flipbook starring a robot who definitely wasn’t C-3PO despite looking exactly like him.
The notebook I picked was very similar to the one above, though mine had a blue cover and showed all four Turtles. At that point, I’d never seen the cartoon and owned zero Ninja Turtle toys. I knew nothing about them beyond what their name implied. I only picked that particular notebook because it was cheap and it was blue.
After we finished at the supermarket and went back to my friend’s house, what was that on his tiny little bedroom TV? You guessed it, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. A one-hour block, on WPIX.
My friend and his brother were already big fans, and they became immediately entranced. Their reaction seemed close to Pavlovian. I hung back for several minutes, actively resisting the television. I already had my big obsessions, and I needed to be dragged kicking and screaming into anything new.
But since I had that notebook, I eventually decided to give it a shot. I didn’t want this to turn into another situation like with the baseball cards, where I collected them like crazy yet couldn’t name three players from my home team after being put on the spot by suspicious classmates.
My friend and his bro cracked up over everything Mikey said, but it wasn’t until Shredder and Krang showed up that I — for lack of a better term — got it.
I was instantly enamored with those two. I asked my friend which was the leader, but neither he nor his brother had a straight answer. They mumbled something to the effect of them both being the leader, which just fascinated the shit out of me. This human dressed like razors, and this pink brain in a punk rock robot body… equals?! And they operated out of the Negaduck version of the Epcot ball?! Oh what the fuck!
By the time those two episodes were over, I was more into the Ninja Turtles than they were.
Later that day, I went home with a new notebook and a new obsession. Before long, it seemed like my entire life was about the Ninja Turtles. I watched their cartoons and movies, I collected their toys and trinkets, and I treated every slice of pizza like the sacrament.
This went on for years, and it’s amazing to think that it only started because I had just enough quarters for a spiral notebook.
Pokémon, to which I will only add the accent that one time:
For the first year or two, I only knew that Pokemon was something my young nieces and nephews were into. They carried around the dolls and the cards, and it was all very cute, but I can’t say that I had any inclination to sample it myself. Each of my five Yoda action figures said that I was too old to begin the training, and none of them noted the irony.
Even as Pokemon’s stock kept rising, I knew zilch about it. That all changed in early 2000, and almost completely by accident.
I’d just purchased a new computer, which had a DVD drive. I didn’t own a DVD player at that point, so the new computer doubled as my first one of those, too. Armed with NEWISH TECHNOLOGY, I naturally couldn’t wait to test it out.
I headed over to Circuit City to buy my first-ever DVD. Their selection sucked. This wasn’t like Best Buy’s DVD heyday, where you could literally get lost in the movie section. Circuit City only a few small displays, stuffed with titles that were either riotously expensive or utterly not-me.
But I could play DVDs now, dammit, and there was no way I was going home without one. Poring over the shelves, I felt like Ralphie struggling to give Santa his wish-list. (Did I mention that I didn’t drive at this point, and still lived at home? My mother was out in the car, surely growing mad with impatience. We were both too old for this.)
I ended up buying Pokemon: The First Movie. This despite having never seen the cartoon, let alone played the games. Thinking about my nieces and nephews, I guess I just wanted to see what all of the fuss was about. (Full disclosure: I also bought Run Lola Run, though that didn’t turn into any sort of obsession.)
The moment I got home, I slid the disc into my shiny new computer. The actual movie — the one with Mewtwo talking to himself for an hour — was preceded by an adorable short called Pikachu’s Vacation. I’m sure some of you remember it. Picture that being someone’s first real exposure to Pokemon.
I’ll try to summarize the plot. Pikachu and friends go to what’s essentially a four-star nature reserve for vacationing Pokemon. There are no humans, so the dialogue is literally just Pokemon saying/screaming/singing their names at each other. At odd intervals throughout the short, we cut to weird psychedelic screens where individual Pokemon pop up to introduce themselves. It’s totally bonkers and utterly joyous, and still one of my favorite Pokemon “things” ever.
Some of you know that Bulbasaur is my favorite Pokemon. He was from the very start, and Pikachu’s Vacation is the reason why. At one point, he gets Togepi (the “baby” Pokemon) to calm down by rocking him with prehensile vines while singing a lullaby. (“Bulbaby,” in this case.)
Before long, I had a Bulbasaur tattoo on my left leg. It has the wrong shade of green and Bulbasaur’s eyes look like slices of pizza, but whatever, it’s on my leg. Nobody will ever see it.
For the next year or two, I gobbled up everything Pokemon — the toons, the games, the bright blue Pop-Tarts… everything. Hell, those who’ve been reading me from the start may remember how I used to travel to amusement parks specifically to fish Pokemon dolls out of crane machines. None of that would’ve happened had I not been stuck in a dank Circuit City with a half-assed DVD selection.
Anyway, those are my stories. I got into Ninja Turtles by way of a spiral notebook, and I fell in love with Pokemon because the good DVDs were too much money.
Surely you have (or have had) your own obsessions. Can you remember exactly how they started? Share some memories, in the comments.