THIRTY DAYS, THIRTY YEARS, THIRTY BORING STORIES...
My Fourteenth Year (13 years old)
October 2nd, 1987, to October 1st, 1988
(Yes, I am backdating these things, to keep up with my system. Sue me.)
Hooray! This is a very special year to talk about for an anime fan like me, in retrospect at least, because this was the year covered in the animated version of Kimagure Orange Road, based on the 1984 manga of the same title by Izumi Matsumoto, one of the all-time greatest anime shows, at least for my tastes. (Though it started 6 months prior to October, but, still, around 50% of our years overlapped.) Not that I would be able to watch the show for another seven years, when I joined the anime club.
My first year of adolescence was, technically, my first year in high school, Quebec not having a junior high school system like the one they have in Ontario (as many of you would know from watching Degrassi Junior High). Unfortunately, at the time, Macdonald High School, the closest high school to me in the Lakeshore School Board, the Protestant school board in the West Island area back when schools were organized in terms of religion rather than language, didn't have enough room for a grave seven, so I spent my first year of high school still at Edgewater Elementary school. (Macdonald added grade seven in the 1991-92 academic year, and Edgewater and Macdonald now belong to the English-language Lester B. Pearson school board.)
That year, I had a class split between two teachers, Mr. Giroux, for courses taught in French, and Ms. Proulx, for courses taught in English, and, for the first time, we had a proper computer course taught my Mr. Berg. In Mr. Berg's class, we used Apple IIe computers, which I think were essentially the same as regular Apple IIs, but cosmetically designed to look more like IBM PCs. (Yes, Apple Macintosh computers had already been on the market for about four years by this point in time, but they were a little too high-end for an elementary school computer class.) We played educational computer games at least 80% of the time, including Jenny's Journeys, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?, and, possibly the most beloved educational game of all to people my age, Oregon Trail, a game that's classic because it let you shoot bears, deer, rabbits, and squirrels in class, because members of your party could die from old-fashioned sounding diseases like dysentery and cholera, and, most importantly, because you could write your own epitaph if you lost, and, 13 year old boys being what they are (still somewhat immature), the funniest thing in the world is to just write a bunch of swears on your Oregon Trail gravestone (simulation), an offense for which I don't ever recall Mr. Berg punishing anybody.
Mr. Giroux covered French, some physical sciences, possibly minor geography, and a little art, which I don't think the school had too much of a budget to let him teach even though it was his speciality, as you will see in an upcoming paragraph. He actually gave me some useful drawing tips, which I am still very much grateful for. I remember doing several vaguely interesting (probably not to you) class presentations, one on the climate of Italy, where I "talked" to several characters I drew on the board, including the Pope. Another one I did about John Logie Baird, the inventor of the mechanical television1, where I sang several songs about various stages in Baird's life... I think I had small chunks of the songs worked out and made up the rest as I went along. The other one I did on foxes, and I made a television theatre out of a box, and then I drew cardboard cutout puppets, coloured in with Prismacolor pencil crayons, of several celebrities in fox form, including Sylvester Stallone as Rambo and Dr. Ruth Westheimer. (By the way, since Mr. Giroux will surely see this sooner or later and since I doubt I can still face academic penalties some 16 years later for something I did in grade school, yes, Mr. Giroux, I confess, I did indeed plagiarize large sections of the text portion of the fox project I did for you from a book I borrowed from Beaconsfield library, and then I looked up all the difficult words like "glapissements" in the Larousse French-English dictionary and I memorized them, and I changed the title of the book, the author, and the publisher, in the blbliography, something I've done several times in the years since grade seven, though usually less to cover-up outright plagiarism and more to cover the fact that I got the information from a general encyclopedia which is usually not a permissible source of information, especially at the post-secondary level.)
Mr. Giroux was the first teacher to really clue-in on the fact that there was something awry going on with me psychologically. He didn't like how I would avoid eye contact when speaking to him. I know now that that is a possible sign of Asperger's Syndrome, about which I am currently on a waiting list at a CLSC clinic to see a psychiatrist to get an offical diagnosis and see whether or not that indeed is what I've had all along. (Or maybe I just avoid eye contact because I don't want most people to hypnotize me.) Two other things that stick out in my mind as examples as to how extremely social phobic I was, and still am to some degree, are about how I didn't want to go on the winter camp over at Les Forestiers over in the western fringes of Vaudreuil for a couple of days (I helped out with a grade two class instead) and how once, near the end of the term, I went with the class to the Pincourt pool but didn't want to go in2 or do anything with anyone and I was even crying about it for reasons that evade me now.
Henry Giroux is another one of my former Edgewater teachers where I can link you to things written about him, but, this time, for much happier reasons than the stuff I linked to about David Wadsworth. I think Mr. Giroux was somewhat burned out as a high school teacher and, a couple of years after I had him, he went on permanent sabbatical and decided to devote himself full-time to painting landscapes and village scenes, a field in which he has actually found great success and some degree of fame. Here's the Crescent Hill Gallery's official site for Henry Giroux's paintings, and another page, and another, a site where you can order prints of some of his work, and he has his own gallery in Saint Sauver des Monts. Henry Giroux is another living painter of some renown to have had some impact on my life, just like the British painter, Eric Rimmington, who happens to be my great-uncle, as I mentioned before. (By the way, just so there's no confusion for people coming here from Google, Henry Giroux the artist and former Montreal high school teacher is not the same person as Henry A. Giroux, a noted and published Penn State university professsor who seems to specialize in pop culture theory and education-related issues.)
Ms. Proulx was a kindly woman who was probably in her late middle age years who taught English and Moral and Relgious Education and, I think, history. I'm pretty sure the year we had her was the first of several English classes in which we read Daniel Keyes' sci-fi tale Flowers for Algernon, about a slow-witted man named Charly, played in the movie version, Charly, by Cliff Robertson, who briefly becomes a genius due to a mysterious television-like device whose effects are only temporary, after which the subject goes back to being a dimwit and then dies (possibly because of overexertion of mental energy). Also, we read James Vance Marshall's Walkabout and we even watched Nicholas Roeg's 1971 film version, but it must have been an edited-for-TV version since I don't remember seeing remotely as much adolescent nudity as I saw when I rented an unedited version of the film a couple of years back, and horny teenage boys take careful note of any and all nudity they see in movies, especially ones they show in class, believe you me. (I mean, were talking about a group of students who still laughed out loud at simple outline drawings of male and female genitalia when we had sexual education with the school nurse a year or two prior, and this was the era when a sex ed video of a guy putting a condom on a banana was controversial, so I'm pretty sure that we'd remember seeing a live-action film with a teenage girl naked.) Another thing we did, rather incongruous with the previous example, was to write an assignment about the Bible. Somehow, I got the idea that she wanted a summary of the whole Bible, Old and New Testament alike, so I spent a whole weekend writing about 50 pages of looseleaf or so, but only got around halfway through Exodus. I don't remember much else about her other than that she had a tiny part of her cornea peeling inside her eye.
One guest we had at Edgewater that year was a musician who, and I'm about 75% sure was David Foster himself, played a song about the upcoming 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, since the Olympic torch relay was passing through Pincourt (must have been a very, very long relay that year, unless part of it was in the air), but it wasn't the main Calgary Olympic theme, "Can You Feel It?" (a tune which they ripped off, almost note for note, for the Japanese Sailor Moon "In the name of the moon, I will punish you" ("Tsuki ni kawatte, oshiokiyo!") background music in the first season), it was a song that went, in part, and this is only the part of the chorus I remember, "Transcending feuds and entities, to make the world unite as one, let us carry you Olympic torch, the race has just begun!" I never heard that song again, for some reason.
That's about it for my academic career at Edgewater. Sorry for the lack of detail.
In November 1987, we had the second death in the family in the same yearl my aunt Celia died from, I think, leukemia, and, suddenly, just my mother and her brother Pete were the only two members of her immediate family growing up left on Earth. She couldn't go to Celia's funeral, and didn't even get to visit the site where her ashes are interred for about another decade.
Continuing my puppy story from the previous installment, the puppies' eyes opened, and, by a week or two after my 13th birthday, they were wandering around the kitchen and peeing and pooping all over the place. I was lazy and was letting my parents clean up, but, by this point in time, my mother was working at an old people's home, so eventually I had to give in and do my fair share of depooping. Somehow, this one time, several of the puppies got on the decrepit back deck behind our kitchen and fell through the big hole in the middle, and, the next day, we couldn't find them and panicked a little, but, surprisingly, they were unscathed below the deck. By November, we had to put an ad in The Gazette (or it might have been the West Island Chronicle), offering to give the puppies away to anyone who wanted them, since we had eleven dogs to feed including Penny and Lucky, and, one by one, they left our lives, and we were down to two puppies, and my mother thought we could keep one, and my sister preferred a brown one who might have been called "Whiskey", but I liked my white puppy with the cute eyes who I called "Sledgehammer", either after the Peter Gabriel song or the show starring David Rasche I discussed briefly yesterday, and we had someone come over to pick a dog and I was very manipulative in trying to get her to pick the brown one and she did. I was elated. Pretty soon after, we had Penny spayed (and Sledge neutered). Lucky had always been sterile.
For a little while, we were a three dog family, even if Pincourt town ordanances prohibited having more than two, but God had other plans. During the spring of 1988, Lucky gradually began losing her appetite, to the extent that my mother pretty much had to spoonfeed her, and she grew very week, and, one day in July 1988, it looked like she pooped out one of her organs or something, and, by the end of the next morning, she was dead, so we buried her in the former vegetable patch in the backyard.
In November 1987, my parents were contestants on a game show filmed in Montreal called The New Chain Reaction, a show where the goal was to find words that linked two unrelated words, like, for example,
And you'd give your partner or opponent a letter over or under another word and continue until the word is complete or you could guess it. In my example, the missing word is obviously "Moon", as in "Sailor Moon" and "moonshine" (bootlegged alcohol).
Anyway, for about the first 2/3rds of the episode, my parents, "Anthea and Mark", were going all domineering "Ken Jennings" on the other contestants' asses, until, I think, the third round, where my father let my mother have control of the board and one of the links was this, with two letters already given:
This was really my mother's Waterloo. Her guess? "Cake", because she was thinking of "Johnny Cake", as in the pancake-style cake made from cornmeal. The proper answer? Obviousy, "Cash", to make "Johnny Cash", the "Ring of Fire" country singer who died last year, and "cash flow", as in the financial term for money coming in and going out of a business. What is "cake flow"? I can actually find a couple of uses of the term used on filtration and separation technology web sites. But that's probably not the answer they were looking for... but it is a valid answer. Maybe I can make a case that they should be return contestants. They could, but they'd have to go back in time over thirteen years to be on the show before it got cancelled!
They flamed out in a big way, but they still got $400 for their trouble, and host Geoff Edwards mentioned them a couple of times after that, while their spectacular failure was still fresh in his mind.
For Christmas in 1987, my brother, Nick, and I finally joined the "modern" video-gaming era and received a Sega Master System... I'm trying to remember the one variable that made us ask for a Sega instead of a Nintendo Entertainment System but I'm coming up short. It must have been the TV ads with the Sega Fairy. I remember a few days before Christmas hearing odd noises coming from my parent's bedroom and hearing my father say "I got the fucking aardvark!" as he played Safari Hunt, one of the two pack-in games (along with Hang On). I received the motorcross game, Enduro Racer, a great motorcross game with a somewhat pretentious ending, while my brother received the videogame adaptation of Ghostbusters, which, I might add, looked far superior to the NES version. A couple of months later, my father got himself Alex Kidd in Miracle World, which he got obsessed with finishing for weeks. Other cool Sega Master System games I liked that year were After Burner, Wonder Boy, and probably my favourite game the first year I had the system was Zillion (another page), a game based on an anime (another page), which itself was a tie-in cartoon for a Lazer Tag-type game. It was a game that was essentially a rip-off of the British game Impossible: Mission where you controlled three characters, J.J., Champ, and Apple, around a labrythine underground base belonging to the Norsa Empire ("Noza" in the anime), shooting robots and cannisters to get items, computer cards, and codes for the computer to open doors. You could also use codes into the computer to perform other actions, like four zeros to commit suicide, which seemed rather pointless, since you could just hit the reset button on the Sega Master System unit with your toe. After you start the self-destruction sequence at the main computer, you fight this large and well-animated, by Master System standards, "boss" that was supposedly some sort of dragon but which actually looked more like a skinned chicken and you have to shoot it in the mouth twenty times, and then escape from the base as quickly as possible. (I think you had five minutes total to escape, but fighting the dragonchicken thingie usually ate up at least two minutes.) One of the coolest things about Sega extensive ties to the Zillion franchise was that the Zillion gun was the gun on which the Master System's "Light Phaser" gun was modelled, so the gun in the anime, which I've only seen screencaps of, looks exactly like the gun we shoot at the television (cathode ray tube televisions only)... hmm, I should cosplay as J.J. from Zillion since I've had his gun all along. Though J.J. would be older and have gained a few pounds. :P
One problem with the Master System compared to the Nintendo Entertainment System, especially bad the first year I had it, was the lack of licensed games based on television shows and movies (except for games based on Ghostbusters and movies with Sylvester Stallone in them; the Master System had two Rambo games and one Rocky game early in its life). I didn't realize at the time that most games based on licensed properties sucked total ass. I was pissed when the Nintendo Entertainment System got Double Dragon, but we got our own Double Dragon just a couple of months later. Of course, another reason why some of the popular titles didn't make it to the Master System was because of Nintendo's notorious intimidation tactics, which kept most third-party licensors from licensing to the technically superior, by 8-bit standards, Sega Master System. Eventually, State Attourneys and the first popular next generation 16-bit system, the Sega Genesis, put a stop to Nintendo's strongarmed tactics. The best Sega games were yet to come.
In 1987, Children's Television Workshop, now Sesame Workshop, brought us one of the greatest educational shows of all time, Square One Television, dealing with math, about the least television-friendly primary school subject, by ingeniously working mathematical concepts into television parodies, cartoons, and music videos, including a handful of original songs from famous acts like the Fat Boys, the Jets, Kid n' Play, and even "Weird Al" Yankovic. And every episode ended with an authourized Dragnet spoof called Mathnet, which was shot on film and not videotape, often using exterior locations, so it looked like a normal television cop show (albeit with most of the violence and all of the murder removed). There were other attempts prior to Square One TV to teach math in an interesting manner, most notably TV Ontario's Math Patrol, but Square One TV was aimed at an audience a couple of grades higher, so they introduced more advanced mathematical concepts in an enjoyable manner. My favourite Square One TV videos are "Mathematics of Love" (which used to be available online but the site's vanished), "Eight Percent of my Love" (available on this page), and, the ultimate "New Wave" song, "Angle Dance" (available on this page; I'm not going to be a jerk and direct link to the file so you can right click and download it, but if you investigate "view source", you should be able to figure out the exact location of the file).
September 1st, 1988, was a very important day in my life. Why? It's the day that YTV went on the air in Canada, the first successful attempt at a national children's channel! Not that there was all that much worth watching for a teenage guy back then: I liked YTV Hits, hosted by Ron Oliver, who was also a director and producer on many Canadian-produced TV shows and movies like Prom Night III: The Last Kiss, Are You Afraid of the Dark, the "American" version of Queer as Folk, and Romeo! (which my brother, John, is going to attend the wrap party of later this fall since he works at the film processing place), and I think he was also the voice of Snit during the years when Phil Guerrero (P.J. Fresh Phil) was the host of the Zone. Ron would throw to videos, do interviews (once he asked the girl from Technotronic if she ever ate human flesh), have low-budget fun on the streets of Toronto and in the studio like bursting grapes in the microwave, and chat with Ralph the Happy Contest Goose, a cheap Gantz puppet. At the beginning, since they didn't have too much programming available, YTV aired You Can't Do that on Television several times a day, and they were known, for a while, as the Bonanza channel, since Bonanza was the extent of their late-night programming. And they had a few British sitcoms on the air, most notably the first two or three seasons of Red Dwarf. (By the way, just to dispel the anime fan urban legend, YTV, Youth Television, was founded by a Canadian organization with the initials REO, I forget exactly what they stand for, and has absolutely nothing to do with the Japanese YTV, Yomiuri Television, which is the "YTV" you see in the copyright lines for some Japanese anime shows, like Magic Knight Rayearth, which never aired on the Canadian channel with the same initials.)
I can't think of a lot else "new" that particular season I liked on television: I really liked Full House as a young teenager, hated it as an older teenager, but now I recognize that that show had a heart and sincerity lacking on most family sitcoms. I also liked the Canadian show My Secret Identity, even if they somehow couldn't find a decent Canadian actor to play Andrew Clements/"Ultra Man"3 and had to ship in the American Jerry O'Connell, the fat kid from Stand By Me who had lost a considerable amount of weight in one year. Another show I enjoyed, even if I missed a lot of the British political references, was the satirical puppet show Spitting Image, about which there are remarkably few fansites (maybe the BBC is a little strongarmed about these sorts of things), though I did find this one page which has an mp3 of the song "I've Never Met a Nice South African". (No, no, Arxane, it's a song about apartheid-era South Africa, I wouldn't take it seriously.) Oh, yes, I enjoyed Star Trek: The Next Generation, though the first season was rather weak compared to later seasons.
Next year should be a little shorter.
My favourite movie released between October 2nd, 1987, and October 1st, 1988?
Another year of my life where I'll have to split it between a John Hughes movie and an anime.
My Neighbor Totoro is the Hayao Miyazaki film that is everything positive about Spirited Away without the goddamn pretentiousness and muddled messages and overall grotesqueness. It has a vague environmental subtext in presenting the world of Tokyo's outlying suburbs back in the 1950s as being an ideal place for children to grow up, before the encroaching development swallowed up the entire Kanto plain, but it's nothing deeper than that. It certainly doesn't beat you over the head with environmentalism. And the film isn't really trying to "say" anything else, it's just a film about an older preteen girl, Satsuki, who is beginning to grow up but who is still well-rooted in the world of childhood imagination thanks to her being forced to take care of her younger sister, Mei, when their mother becomes ill, and their father, who isn't rushing Satsuki to grow up prematurely even with Satuski's added responsibilities, seems delighted that Satsuki is still willing to talk about fantasy creatures as though they are real. That's about it. Just like Kiki's Delivery Service (hint hint), I like Hayao Miyazaki films best when they're simple, because being deeper or more complicated does not necessarily make a film better than something more straightforward. And, like I said sometime recently, I like that the film leaves it ambiguous as to whether the Totoros actually exist, or whether it's all in Mei and Satsuki's imaginations.
I like Steve Martin as a wacky comedian, and one negative point about John Hughes' Planes, Trains, and Automobiles is that this film was the real turning point in his career when he began playing the "straight man" too much, being a foil for the comedy to bounce off of, and, after this, he was in too many "safe" comedies like Father of the Bride, but the chemistry between him and John Candy in this film is remarkable, and Martin is still wacky in a way as an overly manic businessman simply trying to get himself home for Thanksgiving against all the circumstances he finds himself facing, and the late John Candy was never better than as the travelling salesman with no real family to go home to.
Both My Neighbor Totoro and Planes, Trains, and Automobiles are on Roger Ebert's "Great Movies" list, so I'm not completely against liking critically-acclaimed films, just a lot of what gets critical acclaim rubs me the wrong way or just bores me.
1988 was another landmark year for anime feature films: Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira is a great film for four fifths of its length, up to the point where Kaneda reaches the unfinshed Olympic stadium (in Neo-Tokyo, not Montreal; Montreal's Olympic stadium was finished only 11 years after the Olympics were over... except for the roof, which is permanently under construction), and Tetsuo starts growing, at which point the film becomes a weird mess. But the detail and hand-drawn fluidity in the era just prior to the point where animators had the option of taking CG shortcuts has never quite been matched. Char's Counterattack is widely considered to be one of the best single installments of the Mobile Suit Gundam saga (but I somehow have never quite gotten around to seeing it). And I'm not terribly fond of Grave of the Fireflies myself, but, obviously, because of its general critical stature, I can't not mention it in a brief retrospective of "important" anime films from 1988.
Among American movies, Die Hard is the Die Hard of Die Hard-type movies (you know, movies with one guy in something big and/or fast rigged to explode, usually talking to the badguy via walkie talkie or cell phone), and Who Framed Roger Rabbit (sans question mark) has always been one of those innovative animated films, just like The Nightmare Before Christmas, where I admire the artistry of the endeavor but, while I enjoyed it, I don't get nearly as hyped about it as some animation enthusiasts do.
1 The British John Logie Baird, the American Philo T. Farnsworth, and Vladmir Zworykin, a Russian emigré who had escaped the Revolution and bounced around Europe before moving to the United States to work for Westinghouse and then RCA, were all working on various television systems fairly independently of one another virtually simultaneously during the twenties. I don't think there's anything too astonishing about this coincidence; television was the next logical step after radio technology first became commercially available, and, if none of those three inventors had been born, someone else would have invented it, probably sooner rather than later.
2 Though I also had a somewhat semi-valid reason why I didn't want to go into the Pincourt pool itself... I had seen little kids pee in it on a couple of separate occasions when I had gone there with my mother.
3 No, not the Japanese superhero, Ultraman.