When I think about my place in the world during the early ‘90s — let’s say from the 5th through the 9th grade — I’m revolted but appreciative.
Revolted, because those were tough, lonely years, when I was as goofy and awkward as I’ll hopefully ever be. Too alien to mesh with the world, but too dumb to make poetry out of that predicament.
Appreciative, because only when we’re absent certain societal constructs can we figure out what we really are. (If you say you don’t spend one moment mixing the real you with some partially fabricated uber version better suited to collect benefits, kudos, but you’re probably lying. I’m only all me when I’m asleep.)
These years were terrible on the surface, but strangely beautiful underneath it. I was 5000 mental miles from where I wanted and needed to be, but I was home.
…and the proof is right there, on that tape. Titled MY OLD ROOM, it’s literally that — my bedroom — from August of 1992. This would’ve been during my summer vacation between the 7th and 8th grades.
I was 13 going on 5.
I recorded these movies using my parents’ big old Panasonic video camera, which even by the early ‘90s was all but forgotten by them. For all intents, that was my camera.
There are two movies on the tape. The second is a comprehensive tour of my bedroom, while the first is a more sincere attempt at, erm, creative filmmaking.
Yes, Figure Wars.
This was the latest in a string of videos where I tried to make art with old Star Wars figures.
The toys seen here aren’t from my pre-’90s childhood. Even by junior high, I was already a “collector,” frequently buying vintage Star Wars figures from dealers who advertised in the back pages of Starlog. This was my secret passion, and I moved mountains to shield it from anyone outside of the family.
At the time, the two videos I watched most were Wayne’s World and an old Making of Star Wars special. Wayne and Garth made me obsessed with public access television stardom, while the other video piqued my interest in special effects and space operas. The result was this HORRIBLE and AMAZING feature, which for whatever reason failed to make me famous.
If you can’t watch the video — or if you understandably bowed out before its conclusion — here’s the plot of Figure Wars:
Luke Skywalker and Han Solo have collected a rare gem that seems to weigh at least 5000 pounds. Luke rides off (to find prospective buyers, I’m guessing) while Han stays behind to protect their treasure.
Sadly for them — but especially sad for Han — IG-88 and a Tusken Raider have evil intentions. After a battle that makes Braveheart look like Love Actually, Han is killed by a…
…yes, that would be a paperclip.
In the shocking finale, IG-88 and the Tusken Raider get to heroically pose with the blue gem, while the Star Wars theme positions them as the good guys.
It’s so bad, but it’s sooo good.
(The score was created with the Star Wars soundtrack, which naturally was the first CD I ever purchased.)
This was my life back then. Few friends, no internet, and a summer’s worth of free time. As stupid as Figure Wars is, I have little doubt that I spent a full day on it.
That’s the biggest difference between then and now. These days, I find it incredibly easy to kill days. I feel like I have to remain perpetually conscious of that fact, lest I go ahead and kill days when I don’t actually mean to.
But back then? Jeeeez. I remember doing that “I’m writhing in fake agony to protest boredom” thing sooo many times. You really had to go the extra mile for salvation, even if the destination was just a four minute movie starring four inch action figures.
If Figure Wars was a window, this next video is an open door.
Clean bedrooms were an exceedingly rare thing for me, which must’ve been my inspiration for shooting this tour. (Unfortunately, the bulk of my action figures and geek junk were in unseen bins, so the nostalgia is gonna be a little less spoon-fed.)
Beyond the gaming systems and decorative quartzes and wrestling posters, I get such a clear sense of what those days were like. Depending on the lens, they were either perfectly full or excruciatingly empty.
My bedroom was my prison cell, but I made the most of it. I even had a tiny refrigerator in there. Sitcom characters were my cellmates; collections of every sort were my soaps to whittle. I could leave whenever I wanted to, except that I totally couldn’t.
I could tell you stories about every single object in that video, no matter how seemingly inconsequential. This was my bedroom at peak clean, after all, so anything left out in open had special meaning. Below are several examples…
On top of my television were some ceramic Red Rose Tea animals, which came free inside of the larger tea boxes.
God knows how Red Rose Tea ended up in the animal statuette business, but those things felt like the fanciest cereal prizes ever. I couldn’t get enough of them.
In junior high, even dopey boys like me knew that the cool kids were wearing deodorant and cologne, but it’s not like we had any idea about which brands were preferred.
Traditionally, we’d end up with English Leather or Old Spice gift sets. Then it was practically a rite of passage to use the included aftershave as a cologne, and way too much of it to boot.
I spent most of 1992 reeking like mothball soup. Course, all I really cared about was arranging the hip bottles on top of my dresser.
Wayne’s World ruled my world at the time, and I was first in line when it hit videocassette. For a while, I watched it practically every day, and often several times a day.
Ah, my treasured videocassette drawers, mostly full of things that I’d recorded off of TV.
Look close and you’ll see one marked “UFO Show” — that could’ve only meant Sightings, which debuted earlier that year.
Blink and you’ll miss a quick shot of my Nintendo Entertainment System, joined by a tub of Nintendo cartridges (including both of the gold-cased Zelda games) and a Sega Master System.
The Super Nintendo was out by then, but I didn’t get one until later that year. (From — of all places — a casino arcade in New Jersey. Yes, my parents scored enough points for a goddamned Super Nintendo. They loved their slots!)
As mentioned, even at this young age, I was already a toy collector. I guess I kept my lovelies tucked away in drawers, since the only real evidence of them was this fast shot of a Star Wars Dagobah playset, hiding in my closet.
I still remember buying it. It was forty dollars, which was beyond extravagant in 1992. Giving Dagobah the closet treatment was my silent admission that I’d overspent.
Oh God, it’s THEM.
On a recent Purple Stuff episode, I told you about my obsession with Itchy, a low-level villain from the Dick Tracy movie. Specifically, I wanted to look and dress exactly like Itchy.
Itchy wore glasses, so I wanted them too. I’ve never needed glasses, but in 1992, I wasn’t about to let that minor hurdle stop me. I went so far as to intentionally flunk an eye exam. Sadly, I blew my cover by pretending that I couldn’t see the big giant “E.”
Eventually, I found a pair of faux glasses from a souvenir shop on the Wildwood boardwalk. That’s them. Quality-wise, they were no better than any pair of $3 boardwalk sunglasses, but the important thing was that they had no tint.
So there you go. I actively wore phony glasses so I could look a little more like Itchy from Dick Tracy. This happened.
At some point in the video, my nephew wandered into frame. (My parents were on babysitting duty, I suppose.) I cut that portion out to protect the innocent, but it blows my mind to realize that this little baby is now a grown, married man.
But the real reason I’m including this shot is so that you can see my mini-fridge. I loved that thing. (As I recall, it was my brother’s old dorm fridge.)
I used to ride my bike to the store almost every afternoon, just so I could keep it freshly stocked with Boku. I know this not just from memory, but because I have about ten days’ worth of diary entries all about my 1992 Boku runs.
Love this shot of Full House playing on my old television, complete with utterly horrible reception. It perfectly encapsulates the “happy hopelessness” of that era.
…and speaking of happy hopelessness, one of my old journals covers the summer of ‘92. I fluctuate between frustration and serenity virtually by the page, easily distracted, but with so much I needed distracting from.
I’m nowhere near the same person in 2016, and yet I still run for the exact same security blankets. I dunno, maybe we’re all still 13 when we’re stripped to our cores. With rose-tinted glasses and after one bad bill, what was once barren seems so idyllic.
Let’s go play Nintendo and light smoke bombs.