I have always been that Weirdo Kid. You know him. There’s one in your kid’s class right now–or maybe it is your kid. I was always the kid who liked to be creative, who made up his own games and made shit up all the time. That kid who makes up complicated games and gets all the other kids in the neighborhood to play them, that kid who can be left alone in a room with a piece of string and remain calm and thoroughly entertained for hours. That kid that most parents assume is some sort of psychopath, and hurriedly tug their own children away from. That was me. (And yet, I was adorable, see photo).
In the pre-digital world of the 1970s and 1980s that I grew up in (I didn’t have a personal computer until I was 12 years old) that sort of creativity took some pretty strange forms. Whereas today I would likely have spent my teenage years making Youtube Videos, Vines, and self-publishing novels, back in 1970s/1980s Jersey City I had none of these things, so my brother and I got, er, creative. Unlike that vocabulary choice. Sometimes our creative outlets were a tad on the strange side.
Since I have no dignity to speak of, why not discuss these strange creative endeavors? WHY NOT.
The Star Wars Photos
My brother and I were late to the Star Wars game; I think the first movie had been out for about a year before we saw it. But once we saw it, we fell hard. We bought tons of the figures and other toys, and like a lot of kids we played with those action figures and made up our own stories. Unlike most other kids, we also created several complicated stories using our mother’s camera: We would set up dioramas using the action figures (say, Stormtroopers surrounding Luke and Han with the Millennium Falcon in the background out in our backyard, standing in for a strange forest planet where the dead leaves were man-sized), take a photo, and then assemble our photos on pieces of paper with captions explaining the stories. We’d draw lasers and other special effects directly on the photos with markers. The one weak link? Sometimes Mom would take weeks to get the film developed–because back in those days it was either Polaroids, or developed film.
These stories got to be pretty complex and involved, actually, and often involved dozens of photos, each one meticulously staged and photographed. The only people who ever saw them, of course, were our parents, who could not have been less interested.
The Paper Plate Theater
This one’s weird; I can’t even reliably tell you where we got the idea, though a school project is a very good possibility. The way it works was: You take a standard paper plate and you cut a square in it towards the edge (but leaving the edge intact. Then you put plate #1 on top of plate #2 and trace the square onto the blank plate. Repeat all around, so you have like a dozen or more small boxes on plate #2.
Now, go in and draw a story in the boxes, starting at the top and going around clockwise. Draw your characters and everything else, maybe some quick dialogue. When you’re done, you put plate #1 on top again so you can only see one box at a time, and use it sort of like a viewfinder, moving from box to box to see the story told in frames.
We made a lot of these for a while. Like, a lot. I recall our mother buying whole packs of paper plates just to feed the monumental production of these stories. Yeah, I know it’s weird. Shut up.
The Chipmunk Tapes
Perhaps the strangest project though was my brother and I making Chipmunk Tapes.
You know the Chipmunks: Alvin and Theodore and the other one, and Dave. When we were kids we loved The Chipmunk Song every Christmas, and one year our uncle gave us a reel-to-reel tape recorder and we discovered that you could speed up or slow down playback manually. So my brother and I started making up little skits and recording ourselves, and then we’d play back the tapes super fast to create the chipmunk effect and record that onto a cassette.
Yes: Holy shit, it was kind of batshit.
Still, we were little kids and we had a blast writing scripts and making jokes that were only funny because they wound up sounding like a bunch of prepubescent squirrels were delivering them. Or at least we thought they were funny.
These days all I do is write stories and record music no one wants to hear, which now seems kind of lame and boring, don’t you think? I doubt there are many of these examples left in the old Somers Manse, but someday I might look for them, and if they turn up I’ll post some samples, because my humiliation is not complete.