You Can’t Dress Me Up

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If you study your home movies closely enough, you may begin to see the origin of certain character traits or peculiarities you may have. It just happened to me. I had an epiphany. You see, for as long as I can remember, I have always hated costume parties. Just getting an invitation to one would make me cringe.

Halloween, for all its candy, is absolutely my least favorite holiday. Why? It’s the dressing up part… which is a bit odd for someone who spent a large part of his life on stage in costumes playing different characters. That didn’t seem to bother me. But I have almost always had an aversion to costume parties and Halloween celebrations where dressing in costume was a prerequisite.

I think I’ve discovered the reason why I have such a negative bias of a practice that so many others enjoy.  I came across this rare footage of me as a child in the midst of what must be a Halloween parade.

 

First off, let me say the sight of so many white sheeted costumes with pointy hats is a bit off-putting. I’m pretty sure they were supposed to be ghosts (Casper was popular back then) but when viewing the past through the lens of today’s social filters things can tend to take on unintentional meanings.

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So, here are my sisters.  Angelic looking aren’t they? No, I’m not the creepy kid behind them looking like a zombiefied caped crusader.  I wish I was. It would have been much cooler. Here I am in my costume:

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Seriously? Of all the costumes in the world to choose from, I got to dress up as a fashion challenged Mickey Mouse in a Pepto Bismol colored fat suit with pom poms? Granted this picture doesn’t do it justice but in all honesty, I’m not even sure that’s a genuine Mickey Mouse mask. Looks a little deformed.  But get this:

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Again, hard to see but this is a different year. The pink outfit is gone but the same mask is being used? I must have complained about the oversized clown suit so this was the solution? Dress the boy all in black and send him out into the night? I’m amazed I got to live through puberty.

With this as my entry into a world of costumes, it is no wonder I shy away from them. Since I still get the inevitable invites, I have, though pure necessity, devised the only getup I’ll wear.  I’ve got jeans, boots, and a plaid shirt. If your party ever needs a cowboy, I’m your guy. Hat is optional.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of films, videotapes, audio cassettes, photos and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

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What I Learned in School… From A Substitute Teacher

 

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Substitute teachers have to have one of the hardest jobs I can think of. I only ever had one that I liked and learned from – although the lesson was not part of the regular curriculum. This young teacher, perhaps trying to relate to us kids, decided one day to teach us how to pass time in class while looking like we were working on something.

He had us write down on a piece of paper the letters of the alphabet in one column:

Then he had us choose a section from whatever book we had handy and write a random sentence down a second column.

The instruction then was to see how many famous names you could match to the pair of initials on your page. From a teacher’s perspective, it looked like we were studiously working on a difficult assignment.

I can’t begin to tell you how many times I played this little memory game in class when I was bored which was, as I recall, often. I don’t know what happened to that substitute or what career he finally settled upon but I owe him a major debt of gratitude. His little trick got me through calculus.

Here’s an example.  See how many celebrities you can plug in to the following list of initials:

AN – Anthony Newley

BO – Bobby Orr

CW – Carl Withers

DI – Daniel Inouye

ES – Edward Snowden

FT – Forrest Tucker

GH – George Hamilton

HE – Hector Elizando

IW – Irving Wallace

JI – Jeremy Irons

KN – Kevin Nealon

LT – Lawrence Taylor

ME – Mamie Eisenhower

NR – Nancy Reagan

OO – Ozzy Osbourne

PF – Peter Frampton

QO – ????????

RU – ?????????

SR – Sally Ride

TD – Tommy Dorsey

UI – ????????????

VS – Vin Scully

WC – Walter Cronkite

XO –     ??????????

YN – ??????????

ZT – Zachary Taylor

I came up with 20 out of 26. Not a bad score. You can see my answers by dragging your cursor over the space next to the initials. How many could you think of?

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of films, videotapes, audio cassettes, photos and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Cool Kid’s Room

I stumbled across this article which showcased an art exhibit where the artist Refik Anadol graphically illustrated the functions or patterns of the mind as it recalls memories. He calls the exhibit Melting Memories. Fascinating. Here’s a video that shows some visual examples:

Watching that video reminded me of a fad that kicked off back in the late 60s and early 70s. Almost everyone I knew had one of these somewhere in their house including us:

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The lava lamp – it was easy to operate, did one thing and was mesmerizing to watch… for a while. Life when I was growing up was filled with such fads as marketers looked for that one thing that would capture the country’s attention and make them a gazillion dollars.  Like these:

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Pet Rock – stupidest gift idea ever. I think I received three the year they came out. Had to keep them separated as I didn’t want them to have pebbles.

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Chia Pet. I think the lamb was the most popular. They all looked rather stupid. I was recently reminded that I gifted each of my family members with one of these one Christmas.  It must have been the year I worked in a nursery. That’s a memory for another post.

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Troll Dolls. These creepy things were everywhere. I never did understand why but you would see them hanging from rear view mirrors in cars, peeking out of shirt pockets, attached to purses, sitting atop of pencils. For a while, it seemed as though they would overrun the world.

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Soap-on-a-Rope. This became something of a family joke. One year one of us got this for Christmas. Just as pictured it was a soap shaped like a microphone attached to a rope that could be hung over the showerhead. We all made fun of the gift because… well, it was stupid. The next year, the person who received the gift had re-wrapped it and re-gifted it to another person. It became a thing. I think it was re-gifted year after year for a decade. I can’t remember who ended up with it finally. I don’t think it was ever actually used for its designed purpose.

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The Super Ball. OK, so this one was actually cool. The thing was alien-like, behaving like no other ball ever did. I wish I still had one.

There’s no rhyme or reason to what will captivate a culture. When one fad dies off, there will always be another one to take its place. Fidget spinners, anyone?

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of films, videotapes, audio cassettes, photos and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

 

 

My, How You’ve Changed

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There have been evolutionary developments in many different products over my lifetime but I think what feels to me to have grown the most and quickest is the telephone.

I still remember party lines (that’s when you would pick up the phone and hear someone else’s conversation taking place because they were on the line first. Listening in was discouraged but I’m pretty sure we all did it.)

I remember calling the operator to have her place the phone call. She would stay on to make sure you were connected.

I remember being excited when our parents got an extra long cord on the kitchen phone so we teens could have “privacy” during our calls. We would dial our number, walk with the receiver in our hand out of the kitchen, down the stairs into the basement, stretching that cord to its maximum length and have our conversation there.

I remember when “hanging up the phone” meant that you literally had to hang up the phone’s receiver on a hook which disconnected the call.

I remember having to wait to use the phone because my older sister was always using it first. I knew because the kitchen phone was “off the hook” and the cord taut around the corner of the wall where it disappeared behind a closed door that led downstairs.

I remember the rotary dial and how I hated to call numbers that had an 8, 9, or 0 in them because it took longer for the dial to rotate back to its starting position before you could dial the next number.

I remember when phone numbers were assigned exchange codes by using letters for the first two digits (like the old Glenn Miller song, PEnnsylvania 6-5000; the PE standing in for the digits associated with that number – 73).

Surprisingly, I can still remember the number of our family phone where I grew up. WHitehall 2-5349. Please don’t call it. It is rather funny to think some stranger is now probably using a number that has burned itself into my memories.

I remember that when you moved, you had to change phone numbers. You could not take them with you. You just had to pray that your new one would be easy to remember. It almost never was.

As telephones continued to evolve over time, so did mankind. It’s just that the phones evolved into being more efficient devices of higher quality, capability and versatility. I’m not always sure we can say the same about us.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio of Mount Dora specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of films, videotapes, audio cassettes, photos and slides. For more information, call (on your choice of phone) 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Book ‘Em, Danno

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I was always a fast reader. I don’t know how and when I developed the technique, but I somehow discovered the ability to quickly skim a page of text and retain the gist of what was there. Teachers often thought that I was pretending to read because I finished before anyone else. They would try to expose my duplicity by asking questions about what I had so quickly skimmed through. I always stumped them by answering their questions correctly and in surprising depth.

In those days, I was hardly ever without a book nearby. The Hardy Boys Mysteries were my favorite. Joe and Frank Hardy were the brothers I never had who always found themselves in the middle of intrigue, danger, and adventure. I lost myself in their stories and read as many of them as I could get.

Other authors I enjoyed in my youth were Robert A. Heinlein who wrote some great science fiction. And I remember liking another Hardy Boyish series called Tom Corbett: Space Cadet. As far as I know only eight books were written of his space-faring exploits and I read and re-read every one.

I had at one time thought that the practice of reading for entertainment had died off. Today’s youth seemed to prefer sitting in front of a screen, be it television, computer, or arcade game rather than turning the pages of a book. But then, along came Harry Potter and, almost overnight, kids began reading again. Perhaps they never stopped.

Here’s hoping that the practice of reading for pleasure never dies off… replaced by technological distractions. There’s something about sitting down with a good book that can transport you, in your imagination, to other worlds or times that is simply magical.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio cassettes, photos and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Dodge This!

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It is rather sad when one peaks in the 5th grade. I mean, so much of life still lies ahead but the glory days remain back in grade school. You see, I was a bit of a prodigy in elementary school. I have already recounted my feats of speed in an earlier blog but apparently I was quite the agile little dickens as well. I was unbeatable in a sport I’m told is rarely played in schools these days. Of course, I’m talking about dodgeball.

Because I grew up in the 60s, we’re not talking about the sanctioned sport of Dodgeball with complex rules and uniformed teams as showcased in the Vince Vaughn movie. The way we played it on the blacktop, one kid stood in the center of a circle around which the entire class was standing. And the sole object was to throw a red rubber kickball, a little larger than a basketball, at that kid until he was hit. Who ever threw the ball that hit the kid became the next one to stand in the middle as the target.

Once I made the center, it was game over. I was like ridiculously hard to hit. I may have lost the limberness I once had but back in the day I was a cross between a circus contortionist and Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four (he was the one who could stretch himself like rubber.) On more than one occasion, the recess monitor had to come to break up our game because it was time to resume class. With me in the center, the game would never end.

My superior skill at dodging a ball soon became the stuff of classroom legend. My peers, who once were my friends, became determined to bring me down. They started sneaking extra balls to the lineup thinking I could be blindsided.  They changed the rules by eliminating the circle and just lining me up against the brick wall of the school building. It was like facing a firing squad of rubber balls.

I graduated from elementary school undefeated in dodgeball. I was certain my future was bright. But my career came to a sudden and unexpected end. No one ever told me they didn’t play dodgeball in junior high.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of films, videotapes, audio cassettes, photos and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

That’s A Long Way Down

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More swimming videos today so… another swim instructor memory. I remember that one of the treats I often dangled in front of my beginner class students if they met the goals we set at the beginning of the class, and ONLY IF THEY WANTED TO, is that I would take them onto the high dive and let them jump off it.

The high dive to a five year old might as well have been Mount Everest. It was at once intimidating and enticing. It was a great reward to offer as I knew that all of the kids wanted to do it and few if any would have the courage to take me up on it.

But there’s always the exception. There was this one kid I had and all he talked about for two weeks was jumping off the high dive. I knew I was going to have to honor my promise.

So on the last day of the class after congratulating all the students for how well they did, I asked, “Who wants to jump off the high dive?” No one raised their hand… except that one kid.

I tried to talk him out of it.  No dice. So, I led him to the diving board. Had him start the long climb up to the diving platform, being sure I was right behind him on the ladder. We reached the board and hand in hand began to inch our way to the end. I looked at him. He seemed eager. So I said, “Here we go… I’ll count to three and then we’ll jump. One… Two… Three…

What follows is best imagined in slow motion.  I jumped. He didn’t. Sensing something amiss, I twisted my body to face the board even as gravity began to pull at me. I saw his terrified face. Suddenly, he lunged off the board, wrapping his arms and legs around my head and neck as we plummeted toward the water.

Remember the scene in Die Hard when Alan Rickman fell off the tower at the end? I imagine that’s how I looked. I hit the water square on my back, the kid safely nestled on my chest.

As I made my way with my excited student in tow to the edge of the pool I’m pretty sure I heard a fair amount of snickering coming from the parents in attendance. And more than one guffaw.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotape, audio cassettes, photos and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Fit For A King

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So I’ve mentioned before that I’m a pretty good cook. But I certainly didn’t start out that way. Quite frankly, it would be kind of hard to make that claim since I’m on record somewhere as saying Spaghetti-Os is my favorite Italian dish.

However, as a young boy, I did have a go-to lunch selection that, in my mind, was perfection. In fact, the combination of ingredients needed to be so precise I was the only one who could make it correctly. And I would love to share this secret recipe with you at this time:

You’ll need bread. White of course; Wonder is preferable.

Pickles. Dill, whole, kosher.

Mayonnaise. Kraft. Is there any other kind?

Braunschweiger (aka Liverwurst): comes in a yellow wrapper.

Make sure all your ingredients are on the counter. For a proper sandwich, assembly must be done quickly. This is key.

Step one: Place bread slices in toaster.

Step two: While bread toasts, thinly slice the Braunschweiger and slice one pickle lengthwise.

Step three: Open the jar of mayonnaise then hover over the toaster.

This is the important part. Next steps should come in this order and in quick succession.

As soon as the bread pops us (bread should be warm but not fully toasted), slather one slice of bread with the mayonnaise, put down a layer of the Braunschweiger slices followed by a layer of pickle slices. Braunschweiger may slightly overlap the sides of bread but not excessively. Pickles should be oriented so they lie vertically (their ends should be at the top and bottom of the bread slices.) Cut the sandwich in half widthwise. Never diagonally.

Eat immediately while bread is still warm. There’s a small window of opportunity. Be advised that eating a cold Braunschweiger sandwich is a different culinary experience. Chase with a glass of cold white milk.

It takes practice to get everything exactly right. But I promise you, if done correctly, it will be 60s kitchen counter dining at its finest. If memory serves.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of films, videotapes, audio cassettes, photos and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Sink or Swim?

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I am currently transferring a large number of a family’s videotapes that span a decade or two. Today I went through a series of tapes where the parents lovingly worked with their children in the pool, teaching them to swim. That sparked a memory within me.

I believe I mentioned earlier that I used to be a lifeguard. I was also a swimming instructor. I typically taught beginner classes because, as I said in an earlier blog, I do enjoy working with children.

One day, I was in the lifeguard tower when I heard a high-pitched, terrified scream. I focused in on the sound and saw a young boy struggling to reach the side of the pool. He made it and a male adult, who I assumed was his father, pulled him out of the pool and threw him back into the water. The crowd was watching. I jumped down from my station and began walking toward him.

Not a good scene. Here I am, a 17 year old kid in a speedo with a whistle around my neck, approaching a grown-ass man who, in my view, was abusing his child. This could get ugly.

The child, once again, managed to get to the edge of the pool and before the adult could throw him back in, I spoke softly: “I can help you.” He looked at me. “If you want to teach your son to swim, there are better ways. I have a class starting next week. I can leave a spot open for him. No charge.”

I thought the father was going to create a scene but he backed down, perhaps sensing the crowd was not on his side. The mother, after he left, came up and thanked me and offered to pay me for the lessons. I declined.

I have never taught anyone as fearful of the water as that child was. It took the better part of a week to get him to let go of my arm when we were in the water together. Another half week to get him to trust me enough to lie still with my hand beneath his head as his body floated on the surface. On the last day of class, I removed my hand and he floated on the water all by himself.

The entire poolside of parents stood and cheered. I high-fived the young boy and then looked over to his mother and her expression of pure joy and gratitude will always stay with me. A few weeks later, I saw the boy, happy and playing in the water with other children his age. I never saw his father again. And I had no problem with that.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of films, videotapes, audio cassettes, photos, slides, and more. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Trivial Pursuits

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Flipping around the channels last night, we settled on Genius Junior. Have you seen this show? Kids, twelve and under, face off against each other to solve memory challenges. On the surface, they demonstrate some pretty amazing feats of brain power for any age.

I always considered myself to have been a bright kid but there was nothing like Genius Junior when I was growing up so I couldn’t test myself on national tv. Instead, we had the board game Go To The Head of The Class. And I’ll have you know I crushed anyone who dared challenge me at that game… which is why other kids stopped playing it with me. I must have been an obnoxious winner.

I’ve always enjoyed trivia. It is strange, because I was never a great history student while growing up. But give me a piece of useless information and that weird factoid I would store away for the opportunity to use it at a future date. Usually that opportunity never presented itself. That is… until the home computer came along.

I remember back before the Internet was the Internet, electronic bulletin boards were the growing rage. I would sit in front of my Commodore 64 computer and use my dial up modem to access a board that ran real time trivia games. The “host” would post a question and all participants who were on the board that night would have to type the correct response before the “host” called time. Modem speeds being what they were back then, players could have anywhere from 5 to 15 seconds to form their answer, depending on what kind of equipment the host was working with.

I wasted many a night in front of that Commodore – just me and my computer where the only sound that I heard all night long was this:

 

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio cassettes, photos and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.