Have you ever had someone in your life that helped shape who you are? I’m talking about having a positive influence on your life. We all have been shaped by the negative things in our pasts. But people that shaped what music you listen too, or movies you like. even clothes you wear. These people that came into your life over one summer or a family member that has been a constant influence. They are people that you remember like ghosts. Apparitions that only consist of features and are left to haunt a specific location or background in your mind.
I ask because I had one of those memory jolts over the weekend. Those thoughts that you only remember if something directly effects you or that come out of nowhere after years of dormancy. I wish I could say where it came from, but I can’t. Just one of those things I guess. I won’t use the people’s names because honestly I have no idea what type of people they became and I have no right to use their names since I don’t know them anymore.
When I was in elementary school I joined the cub scouts. I began as a Tiger Cub in First grade (I followed it all the way through to Boy Scouts). My Mom became the Den Mother to a group of other boys in my grade. When you’re six it’s easy to know everyone in your class and no matter what, everyone seemed on an even playing field. We were six and it was 1982, the world was much simpler. As I said my Mom was the Den Mother, and there was a Den Mother above her in the Cub Scouts Hierarchy. My Mom became fast friends with this Lady and soon my family was spending time with her family. She had two sons that were both older than me. The oldest was 4 years and the younger was 2 years older than me. She had a husband that was a scout leader for the oldest sons troop and him and my Dad seemed to get along really good. Both worked long hours, so either Father, theirs or mine, seems to have a place in my fading memory. But I remember things from the background, material things, things that shouldn’t cause an emotional pang in me. Things that grip my dork heart in a tight, nostalgia gloved fist. But somewhere in my psyche these things help made me who I am today.
When I first came to this family’s home, I was blown away by how big it was, and believe me it wasn’t really that big by today’s standards but I grew up in like a 5 room house (and that includes the bathroom). It was decked out in the finest of 70’s construction and décor. It was a split foyer with white pillars in the front , big brick fire place in the living room, big rooms, and an awesome basement.
The finer details are a blur about the den you walked into when you went down to the basement, but the things I do remember are great. The first thing I remember seeing when the youngest son took me downstairs were two red felt paintings of a naked white chick and a naked African American woman flanking either side of another brick fire place. I don’t remember much about the pictures but how well endowed the women were and how big the fro was on the one lady. I remember feeling like it was something wrong and taboo. This type of out in the open nudity was something that would never have entered my world, until this day. Also like I said 70’s décor and this dudes parents looked and acted like they were still in the 60’s and 70’s and very free. But I also remember not feeling wrong enough to tell my Mom until months later and after many visits.
The next thing I remember, and is also one of the blocks in my foundation, is the families Atari 2600. The Dad, and both Sons were straight up video game junkies. They had what seemed like a hundred cartages and it was every old, everything new, and everything in between. This was my first exposer to video games in any way shape and form. I remember playing Journey: Escape, ET, and every other crappy game of the Atari Era. I remember they were so good at all of them and they keep a note book near by with their high scores listed so they could try and best one another. .
Also located in the basement was the Boy’s playroom. At their ages they would never, ever dare say the word playroom. They were older and very metal, dudes like that didn’t play with anything, that was for babies like me. What this room was what I would call a shrine today. A shrine to every toy ever made up to that moment, in the world of Sci-Fi and Fantasy. They had shelves on 3 outta 4 walls and those shelves seemed to reach the ceiling. On these shelves were the Sci-Fi and Fantasy toys, but they were depicting scenes from the movies they hailed from. There were scenes from ‘Battlestar Galactca’, ‘Buck Rogers’, ‘The Black Hole’, and the big daddy…’Star Wars’. They had doubles of most so they could act out many, many scenes. Obi Wan and Luke in the sand speeder waving off a small group of Stormtroopers. Sand People attacking Luke, and Vader with a platoon of Troops. They used wooden blocks and pieces from other toys to make furniture and scene décor. I can not truly remember this room in all of it’s glory, but it still haunts me on how F’n rad that was.
As the 8-bit era of games came, we moved from the basement to the youngest brothers room. The older brother by this time was way too cool to hang with us. One thing I remember about him was a Judas Priest mirror he had hanging next to his bedroom door in the main hallway of the house. It was one of those small square mirrors you would either buy or win at the carnival. At my age, that mirror and his metal band patch covered denim jacket cemented him as the coolest guy in the world. But that coolness faded a tad when he got his long hair permed to look like some dude he idolized in a band. Even as a little kid, I knew that was pretty lame. Anyway, still a good person, from what I remember.
I remember when I saw ‘Super Mario Bros.’ for the first time, It bended my mind. Not only was I use to playing Atari and Colecovision but I was also use to playing games that were just glorified puzzles. This seemed (at the time) like an open world where you could go down pipes, climb into the sky, and take short cuts. I was looking into the future, and the future smiled back at me. I was hooked, more than I ever was before, on video games. The couple of times that I would sleep over at their house, we would be up late playing through games. The one night I remember the most was when we stayed up until 4 in the morning playing ‘Kid Icarus’. Now that is one game that still has a place in my heart after all these years. Another time I remember (somewhat fondly) was when I accompanied the younger son and his mother on a day long road trip in 1987. The whole point of the trip was to track down a new game called ‘Metal Gear’. The day was spent listening to a new tape in the car. On a loop we listened to ‘Whitesnake’, over and over again. The album was burned into my brain after so many hours of listening to it, and I still went out and bought my own copy the next weekend. It’s a classic 80’s album, and at the time I felt special for owning it because it was new and It was before they hit it big on MTV with their classic videos starring Tawny Kitaen. And somehow I felt like I was hearing it for the first time from the source of coolness.
Another thing I have to give credit to this family for was my love of metal music. A course at that time metal was a far different beast than it is today. This whole family had their fingers on the pulse of the metal scene and most of my metal schooling at the time came from seeing tapes laying around their house and from posters and pictures hanging in both of the son’s rooms. One poster above all else really grabbed me and has never let go. The poster was of Eddie (mascot for Iron Maiden) as the iconic fighter pilot for the song/single ‘Aces High’. I’ve seen Eddie before on other posters on the walls but for some reason this one really gave me the metal bug. I think it’s a combination of his sneer, the bullet holes, and just the realness of WWII. Before this I saw him on posters as an axe wielding maniac on the ‘Killers’ album cover, a ghoul in a straight jacket on the ‘Piece of Mind’ cover, and the most iconic as the devils puppet master on the cover of ‘The Number of the Beast’. But with the release of ‘Powerslave’, it felt like the band took a new turn with their art because that album cover is by far my favorite. The poster un-nerved me at first, and I think that’s why I gravitated towards it. Shortly after I begged my parents for the ‘Live After Death’ at Kmart, which is one of the best of albums for Iron Maiden EVER. From there I got into Slayer, Anthrax, Megadeth, and Metallica and the rest is history.
My mother remained friends with the other mother for years, but after a while me and the younger son drifted apart. I can’t remember if there was a defining cause or just that’s what happens to kids. We were never super duper friends, but I did count him as a friend back then. I know the family had a bad run that ended in divorce, maybe that was the beginning of the rift that appeared. It became something where we would pass each other in the halls in High School and not even say “Hi”. By the time I went to senior prom, he was out of High School for a couple years, but I ran into him there. He was dating a girl in my class. We exchanged greetings and a “how ya been”, but that was it. That was the last time I saw him or even heard of him. It doesn’t bother me, I remember it didn’t bother me even when I was a kid that we went our separate ways. But I do have to credit the whole family with opening my eyes to video games and metal music, two things that I’m still in too.
I do regret one thing though. And I’m sure I sound like a horrible person, but it’s not loosing a friendship. It’s missing out on a toy.At some time while our families were still close, my mom’s friend and her family were having a yard sale. I can’t remember anything from it, other than one thing. There were two items that weren’t selling and were offered to me for free. At the time I had no idea what they were, but I said “No thanks”. They were two Kenner 18″ Aliens figures from the 1979 movie. I can still see their skull faces and kick myself in the ass for saying “No”. It had to be sometime before 1986 because after ‘Aliens’ came out, I was all about the Xenomophs and their universe. If only I could go back in time…