You and I are either exactly the same, completely different, or somewhere in between. I say that because I grew up watching a shat ton of TV, and because I had kids before I even became an adult, they grew up watching it, and I simply continued my own gluttony. From 1981 until present day, let's say I'm fairly legit when it comes to overall knowledge, and that's being modest. So you're either exactly like me, completely different, or somewhere in between. That means two out of three of you can feel free to enjoy this next rant, and for those who can't relate at all, don't bother. You ain't never gone catch up.
I've also always been a dreamer. Literally. If I sleep for seven hours, I dream the equivalent of two lifetimes. In the first life, I usually trip and fall to my death into the Grand Canyon or something, and then I'm instantly reborn into my next life, where I live for 65 years as something like Ralph Macchio the trapeze artist turned revolutionary soldier in post-apocalyptic Brazil. That happens not only every night, but also in intermittent nap sessions. 45 minute power snooze?-for me that's Neo and the Chocolate Factory, complete with CGI Kung Fu Oompa Loompa fights. Who knew sleep could be this exhausting?
As I age, however, I find myself perplexed with the continual process of storing these memories. I have my real memories, mixed in with an average of 1.5 lifetimes dreamed over 365 nights per year for, let's say 30 years. No need for math, that's a lot of trips to the Chocolate Factory. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying I'm old. I know that for sure. That I am aging, I'm wise enough to admit. I see aging as an advantage in every way possible, but with each day, each night, and each dream, the mass of memories, media and movies is becoming very difficult to maintain in military fashion. So lately I've been looking back wondering if I just dreamt half of this shit. You feel me?
Some of my earliest memories watching TV were of The Price Is Right, Alice, Hee Haw and Diff'rent Strokes. Pure, innocent Americana, in a half hour time slot. Nothing edgy, no frills, no extremes, just family entertainment. But now I find myself remembering odd details and plot lines that seem so weird, I can only deduce that I either hallucinated them , had an overactive imagination, or just plain made it all up. I know Bob Barker had brown hair in the 80's, but he never had a P. Diddy wad of cash in his pocket, did he? Did he used to pull it out and peel off a crisp Hundo for that rare Contestant's Row bidder that guessed the exact price of the merchandise? I think he did, but I can't prove it because I've never seen Drew Carey do it. Hee Haw celebrated Southern country comedy every night, but they never "square-danced" around vague incest references just to cut them short with a Dixie banjo riff. Surely not. That's just perverse. As far as Alice goes, I know Mel's diner was a bit harsher than the competition with its sexism, stereotypes and pure whiteness, but I still haven't gotten over that traumatic episode where Vera swallowed a bottle of sleeping pills in a botched suicide attempt (at work, mind you), and Alice and Flo had to walk her around the restaurant to try and keep her awake until the ambulance got there. Was that real? I think it was. Then there was the Drummond household with its racial undertones, constantly implying that it takes a Park Avenue millionaire to raise two black kids from Harlem, but whatchoo talkin 'bout Willis? Me and Dudley didn't get molested after school by the guy who played the Maytag repairman, you trippin. This is what I grapple with.
Magnum P.I. was the poster boy for cool and in control, so why did I dream there was a season where he had amnesia and turned into some bearded, alcoholic Bizarro Superman version of himself? And speaking of beards, surely Fonzie never grew a beard and taught shop class at Joanie and Chachi's high school. That's insanity. We all grew up adhering to the Just Say No to Drugs campaign, but I think I remember Pee Wee Herman being a paid spokesperson for that. That doesn't even make sense. It wasn't until recently that I came to the self realization that Manhattan's petty criminals were probably never arraigned in a Night Court by a wise cracking judge in a Fedora. Is it possible Family Ties were ever strained by Alex P. Keaton battling an addiction to caffeine pills that helped him study all night? Did poor Carol Seaver really lose her boyfriend to a drunk driving accident? Now those are some serious Growing Pains. This is just getting too weird. At least we got it better in the 90's, right? Remember the wholesome nostalgia of The Wonder Years? Go back and watch the pilot episode, because I'm positive it revolves around Winnie Cooper's 19 year old brother being killed in Vietnam, and his ghost paying Kevin Arnold a visit at the wake to encourage him to "give his sister some time before he tries jumping her". Ew.
There were consumer products in the 80's I'm not sure existed either. Or else I can't imagine they ever did. Was peanut butter and grape jelly really packaged in the same jar? How did that even work? As well as McDonald's selling a burger that promised the cold side was kept cold while the hot side stayed hot because of a two pocket Styrofoam box, probably. I'm guessing I drank a diabetic share of Coca Cola from the can back then, but did anyone ever actually crack one open to the surprise of a rolled up Hundred dollar bill? I saw it on TV, and I'm almost positive the New Kids on the Block were involved. Pantyhose were unanimously used by women in the 80's, though it seems the bottom fell out of that market, but was it necessary to package them in a giant plastic Easter egg in order to have a great pair of L'eggs? I can't muster the Sheer Energy to get my head around that one. And I know we weren't supposed to squeeze the Charmin, but obviously that didn't include stuffing a toddler's jeans with it to soften the impact of falling on the playground. That's what toilet paper was meant to be.
Of course the expanse of YouTube, Google and the Retro movement now offers most of the answers I seek to what is real and what I dreamed, but I've found that the more I search for proof of my suspicions and find it, the further I drift from any closure. Seeing video evidence of my childhood memories 20 years later not only taints the magic of their possibilities, but sickens my stomach at the sight of it. The truth hurts. I didn't dream any of it, so I've stopped wondering if I'm getting old or crazy. Instead, I've bade farewell to The Care Bears' Cousins, Crystal Light, those totally boneable Doublemint twins, Bonkers, Bolo ties, clear Pepsi, feelin like chicken tonight, cheese glorious cheese, and Louie Anderson shaped Spaghettio's. I've left Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels in the Hanna Barbera vault with Mr. T Cereal where they belong. You see, all those twisted media driven incarnations of absurdity seem better served as fleeting moments of clarity than lingering flashes of shame, and now hold a special place in my heart, rather than an unknown region of my brain. I fear not, knowing full well that it in 20 years I'll enjoy the same retrospective shock about the current craziness of consumer marketing. I think it takes time for the psychoses to be diagnosed. For now, I can only continue to watch and enjoy the spectacle, waiting for the next Shake Weight to be unveiled, and offer this small apology on behalf of those responsible- let's not be too quick to judge the wacky content that makes its way to our TV's, I'm sure the creators meant well, and I bet it really ain't easy bein cheesy.