Family Vacations: Too Many Brunstings in a K-Car

Blossom Hat. Rock Paintings.

Blossom Hat. Rock Paintings.

Tomorrow the entire Brunsting family, spouses in tow, will embark on our first family vacation to Florida since I was in grade six. In the words of Farmer Ted from Sixteen Candles, THIS is gonna be good. Thinking about stepping on that plane is already bringing back memories of vacations past and I thought to myself: SELF, it’s high time for a blog!

I don’t think my family has ever flown anywhere together. Our vacations generally involved days of K-car madness; the five of us squashed into this little blue Reliant, little Terri sandwiched between her twin brothers. When I think of these vacations, what I remember most is the mass amount of Babysitter’s Club reading I managed to accomplish on those long rides, my brothers arms punching each other over my sullen blonde head. Our Lake Superior “circle tour” mainly stands out to me as the time when Stacey left the Babysitter’s Club to hang out with the Cool Girls at Pizza Express, sometime after breaking up with her snooty best friend Laine. It was a stressful few weeks for all of us.

At least I can claim that I was reading Anne of Green Gables on our PEI vacation, which leant some continuity to the fictional ‘MAGINATION LAND in my brain. I also knew that the Anne of Green Gables house was in fact the home of Lucy Maud Montgomery, NOT Anne Shirley. You’d be surprised how many fully grown adults show up wanting to visit “Anne’s grave.” Um do you mean Megan Follows? She’s still alive.

The only memory of Lake Superior whose vividness trumps whatever I was reading is what I now think of as “The Gordon Lightfoot Incident.” It wasn’t until grade six that we got to experience the entirely kid-centric Disneyworld; up until then it was obscure Canadian tourist-attractions for us. You know what I’m talking about: The Big Nickel, Magnetic Hill, the Big Goose… lotta “big” things. The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald Museum was NOT so big. I believe it was limited to one room; however, you’d think they at least would have the resources to play more than one song as their visitors scoped out the old timey scuba suits and read a few plaques. Nope. Apparently the Gordon Lightfoot hit “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” set the mood so perfectly and literally that they chose to play it on loop until one can only assume their employees went on a murderous rampage. Now my family is not content to just glance around briefly and say, “Yup. Ship mysteriously sank many years ago. Very sad. Fascinating story.” I believe we heard that song about twenty times in a row, which was seventeen too many. I still can’t hear that guy’s voice without shuddering. And SCENE.

Now that I think about it, there was a bit more to these family times than just reading stacks of Babysitter’s Club. There was also Sandy Brunsting’s signature GHOST STORIES. I was the kind of kid who liked to be scared. My favorite show was Unsolved Mysteries, but only the episodes involving bad dramatizations of ghost stories. There was this one where this white ghost lady had a BLACK NO-FACE FOR A FACE and I didn’t sleep all night. And I LIKED it. My mom gave in to this in a big way. We were staying in this campsite somewhere on the East Coast, and behind our tent there was a small path leading down to a swampland. Her story involved a swamp monster visiting a teenage couple and terrorizing them. At some point the swamp monster tears off the boyfriend’s head, and leaves said head in a pile of purple goo. Allegedly all this happened RIGHT IN OUR VERY CAMPSITE. She was surprised when we wouldn’t leave the tent to pee at night. Best. Mom. Ever.

All in all, jokes aside, I’d say we were pretty lucky to have these quirky Canadian vacations. I’ve been to every province in my lifetime AND I’ve had my picture taken with the Big Goose in Wawa on at least four separate occasions. How many people have THAT claim to fame? That being said, grade six in Florida was by far the best. My history-loving family actually gave into the faux history Disney offers: the ghost story behind Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, the microcosm of other cultures in Epcot, meeting important figures like Jafar and Peter Pan! I got my picture taken with the REAL Pocahontas! It was so great. Everything there is so completely detailed into convincing you that you ARE truly in a Magic Kingdom. Then there was the week on Clearwater Beach to recover from our Disney days by playing mass amounts of Rummy Kub and “Janitor” with my grandparents. We ate breakfast at the Waffle House every single morning and I had whipped cream on my hot chocolate. I fully intend to eat at Waffle House at least once next week, even though I’m certain it will in NO WAY live up to my expectations. I’m going to read about four books, play endless games of Settlers of Catan, and spend hours in the pool, although I hope I don’t re-live one particular memory. On our previous heavenly trip, I was so blissed out in our hotel’s heated pool that I swam into the side of it with my eyes closed and my MOUTH OPEN, thus chipping both my front teeth. It didn’t hurt, but it did look ridiculous.

That being said, I’m still really looking forward to that pool.


New Years Expectations

The number one complaint I always hear about New Years Eve is that it’s overrated. People have these outrageous expectations fueled by TV broadcasts of Times Square and posters on bar bathroom doors for overpriced parties, not to mention that amazing episode of the OC where Ryan and Marissa kiss at midnight! At this point we know it’s overrated, and yet that creeping expectation still seeps in that at midnight there will somehow be fireworks, confetti cannons and champagne blasting out of Super Soakers! (That’s not a bad idea; I’ll log that away for next year.)
For me, the nostalgia queen, this expectation dates back to when I was seven or so, and realized that people stayed up until midnight because midnight was the exact moment that the year switched over. It just seemed so epic, the countdown, the hugging, the fact that a mysterious yet momentous change had just occurred. I don’t remember when I first got to stay up until midnight but I’m fairly sure it was at some church party where all the adults watched the ball drop and the kids played floor hockey and watched Adventures in Odyssey. All my friends fell asleep in their clothes before the big moment. At least I got to have copious amounts of my mom’s “Glow in the Dark Punch” and the ever-popular pickle and salami rolls, still a hit at Christmas and New Years today!
When I was a teenager, my expectations-reality scale hit its peak. First of all, in grade nine it was the big millennium dealie and Y2K scare. My expectations involved sneaked booze (not from me, I had no idea how to get contraband like that), some vague idea of romance (even though I knew every guy going and there was no chance whatsoever), incredible music and then possibly the apocalypse! The reality featured about twenty students lingering around a concrete-floor basement with a solitary bowl o’ chips on a ping pong table. Now that I think about it, I believe a couple was making out timidly on some exercise equipment. We didn’t have a TV down there for the count-down so we listened to the end of the last thousand years on Mix 97. No hype, no kissing, no blackout. The first moment of 2000 was exactly as unremarkable as the last one of 1999. I was entirely nonplussed.
Despite this bland affair, every year I got stoked up again for New Year’s glory. The problem in later high school was that most people in my small Christian high school wanted to watch hockey or play euchre. One year I managed to drink two coolers. That was pretty insane I guess. Also, we started all sleeping over at my friend Trish’s house and certain shenanigans always ensued. If you were dating someone. Which I wasn’t.
All of this brings to mind the bad habit I had back then of always assuming that the time coming up was going to be the absolute best time of my life. It was way, way more fun to get ready for a party than to actually be there. In retrospect, the highlight was spending my Quinte Mall gift cards at West 49 the day before and getting my only pair of truly cool clothes to wear for the party.
I’ve became way more of an introvert in my old age. Now my idea of a good time is about four other people, tonnes of wine and loads of food. Even this year though, I found my expectations exceeding reality. We had a great time but we were just so dang tired. I made the mistake of buying champagne and then forgetting it until 1:30. “Guys, we gotta drink this!”
“That’s a terrible idea!”
I poured it anyways and most of it ended up down the drain as we snoozed on the carpet, surrounded by baguette crumbs, trying to stay up until at least two. All in all though, it definitely beat the great 1999 bore.
I think the lesson here is to be okay with an okay time. Board games? Check. Your best friends, even though it’s not all of the friends? Check. No hockey on the TV? Perfect. 2014 will be a perfectly adequate year and I’m okay with that. Now for an unrealistic New Year’s treat, one of the best moments of television ever:

A Childhood Spent Camping

Dutch Canadian people like to camp. I think it has something to do with not wanting to pay for Disneyworld. Anyways, my dear friend Meg and I often talk like we have shared childhood memories even though we met on our first day of university, and our mutual nostalgia about spending weeks of our childhood summers at provincial parks is no exception. Remember the way the tent canvas smelled? Slightly sour, a bit like mothballs? Remember how everything became a clothesline? And my favorite: The memory of going around in your bathing suit all day, regardless of how cold and damp you were and how indescribably good it felt at the end of the day to put on dry jeans, clean socks and your mom’s Northern Reflections sweatshirt. Nothing I have experienced in my adult life could match up to how cozy that feeling was.
To this day I can’t quite justify WHY camping is so great. On an intellectual level, I understand wilderness camping, with canoes and portages and wooden box toilets, where instant oatmeal is the height of luxury. I understand the need to test one self and truly get away from civilization, Chris McCandless-style. What is harder for me to justify is spending tonnes of money on equipment to sit in a man-made spot where you still hear lots of other humans because there’s a thin growth of sumacs between you. It’s not exactly getting away when everything you need to survive is just a five-minute walk away at the camp-store, and yet, I love it!
Let’s start with Port Burwell. Every year from when I was two to thirteen, we’d go with a large group of church families up to Port Burwell to sleep in tents together. There was an enormous beach, there were huge waves, there was my mom yelling at us about undertows AND there were movies in the park on Saturday night. By movies I mean old Chip and Dale cartoons, which were okay, followed by a collection of the most obscure film-strips known to man. There was one very sad story about a fisherman lost at sea, there was a terrifying safety video about those lousy undertows (I can still see those red arrows circling under the water) and there was a French thing about a guy with an extra head on top of his real head. The extra head got cut off by a guillotine. Fin.
The creepiness of these alleged movies didn’t rub the shine off of camping for me and it continued into my strange adolescence when we’d do the same churchy pilgrimage up to Kilbear Park (the greatest Provincial Park ever!) Part of the magic was that we went with huge groups of families with other kids. Something happens while camping together that makes even the most disparate kids become friends. Mostly it’s the fact that you are avoiding adults together; playing endless games of Asshole, building your own fire, sneaking Mike’s Hard Lemonade and going to the beach in the dark when you should be in your tent. Jaimi and I would ride our bikes for half an hour each way to the strange tourist stop outside the park just so we could buy candy and Seventeen magazine. There were people I camped with that I saw later, at church or at the mall or something, and suddenly we had nothing to talk about. Remember the time we saw that shooting star at midnight? Remember how terrified you were of bears on the beach? Remember when we slept all night in the truck just because we could? Conversation dwindles and you go on your way, but come next year you’ll be pushing each other to jump off suicide rock. I’m getting so nostalgic here I could barf!
It’s not the same as an adult, it turns out. You have to find a way to do dishes, which takes an hour longer than it would at home. You have to worry about buying propane and whether you have enough ice in your cooler. You have to worry about parking permits and leaks in the tent. It’s all a lot more work and a lot more money, but I couldn’t stop if I wanted to. I think it has something to do with water. Summer for me has to involve swimming in the Great Lakes. When it comes to nostalgia, I’m very aware that you can’t go home again, except when it comes to that water. Even now that Seventeen is ages behind me, I get into those waves for long enough and I’m five again. Everything disappears for an hour or two and I don’t want to get out, not to eat or drink or be warm. Nostalgia actually becomes itself, what I was chasing all along. So when that first hit of campfire smoke hits me in the spring, I start planning, because I’m going to be doing this for my whole life.

Summer Survival as a 90`s Child

I’ve been quite the slacker with this blog. I have a good excuse. My apartment is simply too hot to do anything but lie in our one air-conditioned room, drink slushie cocktails and watch Chopped. However, all this heat does tend to make one nostalgic for summers past. There may not be a more nostalgic season, probably because, as a child, you are left up to your own devices to find a good time.
My nostalgia got a good boost today when hordes of children swarmed into the bakery I work at, proclaiming the last day of school (and the need for cookie samples.) How impossibly great was that feeling, the knowledge that tomorrow you could lay on the lawn and read Babysitter’s Club/Goosebumps/Archie/Bop Magazine to your heart’s content? How awesome was it to head to your friends for a sleepover and know that the sleepover could last two months ? The first two days were a total thrill-ride of hedonism. However, boredom was quick to set in. You surely didn’t want to go back to… that place… but you definitely needed some survival tools to make the most of your summer.

1) Friends with Stuff- Don’t be so high and mighty; we’ve all done it. We’ve all swam in the pool of someone we’re not quite friends with. It was just so flipping HOT! We looked forward to summer all winter long, but then it all flooded back. The sweat mixed with sunscreen, the dusty feet, the popsicle-stickiness all over. You felt like you’d sell your last blue freezie for one beautiful cannonball into a perfect 82 degree inground. Or above-ground. We weren’t picky. There came that moment when someone remembered that their cousin’s girlfriend’s neighbour had a pool and that poor sap had to put up with fifteen soaking wet teenagers dripping all over their linoleum. Don’t buy a pool. You’ll never know who your true friends are.
2) Stash of movies- It astounds me how much kids don’t care what they watch. Or how many times they watch it. My best friend Jaimi’s little siblings watched The Land Before Time IX about fourteen times in one weekend, which is how I still remember the brilliant musical number “Big, Big, Big, Big Water.” They can’t be blamed though. It’s just part of summer. We didn’t have real movies, just movies we taped off TV, which were Independence Day, A Christmas Story, Jurassic Park and Homeward Bound. I particularly remember one summer when we first moved to Plainfield and my parents paid us to dig rocks out of the yard. Imagine the relief to escape to the cool basement and put on one of these cinematic treasures. I learned that you couldn’t have a good summer blockbuster without Jeff Goldblum (still true), that animals can hear each other even when their mouths don’t move and that Christmas movies are great year round. I still want to know how Shadow got out of that ginormous hole, though. If I got bored of this rotation, I always had my six hour VHS of Home Improvement, with the commercials cleverly cut out. I just don’t want to imagine a world where summer doesn’t include a giant creepy Santa and Jonathan Taylor Thomas.
3) Camping- I love tents. I love the hard ground, I love peeing in the forest three yards away from your slumber chamber, and I even kind of love the dense humidity that you wake up to. Well not that last part. Even better than camping with your parents was setting up a tent in the backyard with your best friend and her older sisters. If you want key information about the birds and the bees, the tent is the place to go. For example: “How long does the penis have to stay inside the vagina?” “I don’t know. Seven seconds?” That’s solid facts right there! I can still remember the course fabric of the sleeping bag, the sense of forbidden knowledge at listening to the older girl’s conversations, and the fear as someone brings up the idea of kidnappers, bears or even rabid raccoons! It’s not true independence, but it felt like it. Crickets are the most soothing sound.
4) A Portable Boom Box- Has the term Ghetto Blaster gone out of usage yet? Before we had ipods, even before Discmans, we had massive portable stereos that were perfect for blaring a)Spice Girls, b)Our Lady Peace or c)Space Jam Soundtrack while you jump on your loose acquaintance’s trampoline and drink Fruitopia.
I had this ancient little tape player which was perfect for crafting my taped-off-the-radio mix tapes. (Tape Tape Tape.) We could hook it up to outside power on the deck. I have this crystal clear memory of dancing to All Saints in the middle of the night on the lawn with Jaimi, after our grade eight grad. It was so humid and the firebugs were out in the swamp. There was something about summer nights like that, that gave me a palpable sense that childhood was going to be over soon, and that someday I’d want to have that feeling again. Is your childhood actually over the second you’re aware of it, that second that you realize that summer wasn’t always going to be about reading comics and watching reruns? Or is it over when you take half an hour to shave your legs for the beach for the first time? Or is it when you overhear too much information in the dark of a canvas tent? The tangible feeling of childhood returns at its strongest when that first heat wave hits. Time for freezies.

What the Internet Took From Us (Repost)

I had a lot of mix tapes in my youth. There was a lot of Jewel, Sarah McLachlan, Goo Goo Dolls, Natalie Umbruglia, and unfortunately Celine Dion (who I’m not looking up on Grooveshark RIGHT NOW). When I hear certain songs on the radio now, I expect them to be cut off early by the jarring voice of Joey Martin, former host of the top six at six on MIX97, because of how many times I listened to them on my ‘taped off the radio’ mixes. They would get so decrepit because I wouldn’t have the allowance to go get new tapes and I’d start taping over songs I was sick of, but of course the timing wouldn’t line up and eventually they’d be this patchwork of half-songs intercut by, like, some interview with the owner of Leons I’d accidentally recorded while I went to the bathroom or something.

You really had to WORK for your music back then! I would have a cassette at the ready in my tiny boom box at all times, and it was CONSTANT VIGILANCE, me bolting across the house at the opening notes of Foolish Games. What was foolish was not staying within a three-foot radius of the radio! Those scratchy, patchy tapes got me through many a three-hour lawn-mowing session, in my ancient walkman held together by an elastic band; my headphones wedged underneath these massive plastic protective earmuffs. I looked super cool as I belted Collective Soul or Eve 6 or My Heart Will Go…never mind. Sure I‘d buy the occasional actual CD, but when you were stuck with paying fifteen bucks for two songs you actually wanted and twelve pieces of audio-sludge, it didn’t always seem worth it. Not when there were Tommy Girl shirts and Wet ‘n’Wild makeup to be had! Do you know how much Wet ‘n’ Wild lipstick you could get for fifteen bucks? Like…. about fifteen lipsticks!

You had to work a lot harder for your music back then. Remember when you first heard of Napster? Any song you’d ever heard of instantly listenable! And by instantly I mean in 45 minutes because that’s how long it took to download one song on our dial-up internet out in Stirling… no one could make phone calls in that time either… actually it wasn’t much of a step up from those tapes, but it sure felt like it.

Things sure got easier exponentially. I don’t think I’ve bought a CD in over a year. I like the idea of it, struggling over the plastic wrapping for a good fifteen minutes, listening to an album all the way through, but I have this nifty device called an iPhone now and it can pull music right out of the SKY at a moment’s notice. Here’s the thing though. I don’t have those songs woven into me the way I used to. When I heard Sigur Ros for the first time, I spent thirty dollars on Agaetis Byrjun at Sam the Record Man (they were considered a rarity, an import back then) and listened to it every night for six months until ( ) came out and then that was on repeat for a YEAR. Now I will love a song and have it on repeat for a couple days, weeks tops, if it’s at the calibre of “Samson” by Regina Spektor or maybe as catchy as “Electric Feel.” I don’t work for them, I get them on grooveshark or maybe pay a legitimate 99 cents for them on iTunes if they’re at the level of “Punching in a Dream” by the Naked and Famous. They’d better be good if I’m going to pay 99 cents! I marked about six identical MacBeth essays for that 99 cents!

Would I rather be paying two hours worth of hectic play rehearsal to listen to two sweet singles, a secret track that tugs at the heartstrings and ten duds? I don’t know, probably not. But I wish I hadn’t seen fit to trash my old mix tapes when Napster controversially showed its little digital face. I want to hear Smashmouth intercut with Matt Good’s Apparitions peppered with some Lilith Fair. I think I might ask my students tomorrow if they’ve ever listened to an album for a solid year. I kinda doubt it.

90`s Sports Movies and Why Sandlot Rules Them All

I can't take it anymore!

I can’t take it anymore!

I just have to say that I hated sports as a small child. Mom and Dad signed me up for gymnastics; I counted down the time until I could leave and go watch cartoons. They signed me up for soccer; I thought of it as “Advanced Dandelion Picking.” And let’s not forget the great Synchronized Swimming Debacle of ’93. I literally sank. It wasn’t until they invested in some community theatre for me that I realized my true calling. This probably explains why, though I hated actually playing sports, I absolutely loved sports movies. The 90’s was RIPE with them: Mighty Ducks, D2, The Little Giants, Rookie of the Year, Angels in the Outfield, The Big Green, and of course, The Sandlot. I would argue that The Sandlot is the best of the bunch, but before I get to that, I’d like to point out some common tropes among the 90’s kid’s sports flick; the tried, tested and true method of getting kids to the theatre.

1) The Underdog- Obviously. I can still remember watching The Mighty Ducks in kindergarten and actually feeling a sense of suspense about whether or not little rinky dinky District 5 would win against the cocky rival team. (What were they called? The Sharks? Googled it. The Hawks. Another bird. Duh.) I remember feeling genuinely moved that the filmmakers decided to have the underdog team win. Of course the exact same thing happened in D2 against the Iceland team, following the exact same formula: first they suck, everyone gets discouraged, then they learn to put a little hard work and team effort in, then against all odds, a winning goal in overtime takes it all! The winning move involved a super underdoggy player of course; you had Charlie the winsome child of a single mother, and then Julie the strong, silent girl goal-tender, overlooked because of her sex. The Little Giants followed suit with their band of football misfits led by an overlooked girl football player. Angels in the Outfield was led by two charming orphans. The Big Green starred small-town underachievers and there’s a goat involved. Nothing says underdog like a goat mascot! In any case, you never went into a 90’s sports movie expecting to root for a bunch of richie rich jock-faces. In the case of The Little Giants, I can remember being old enough to question their final victory. I mean, the Cowboys were still super good and the Giants, though hard-working and spirited, were still pretty puny. But it had Devon Sawa in it, so I really didn’t care.

Exhibit A- I cried: “You lost it for yourself.”

2) The Stock Characters- The Mighty Ducks had Goldberg, the ostensibly Jewish goalie, who was a little pudgy and whose primary characteristic was that he farted a lot. There was also Fulton, the metal-loving goon who was known for pulverizing everything around him, notably the rival team. The Big Green and The Sandlot shared their token loud-mouth “fat kid;” remember that odd-looking ginger? You really need a fat kid for any sports movie to work. The Little Giants’ fat kid, like Goldberg, was also known for his flatulence. There was usually a sassy girl player: Becky the Icebox from Little Giants, the forgettable chick character from Mighty Ducks, the other forgettable chick character from The Big Green. The Sandlot did not have a girl; they stuck to their guns that you can’t “play baseball like a girl!” Instead the buxom Wendy Peffercorn was their source of estrogen. Other stock characters included The Wimpy Kid, like Snot Bubble Jake from Little Giants, or poor Smalls, or the kid who played Alfalfa in The Big Green. And let’s not forget The Ringer: Junior Floyd from Little Giants, Adam from The Hawks in Mighty Ducks, Juan in The Big Green. No sports movie is complete without the crappy team importing some talent, then the talent is jeopardized somehow (broken wrist, romantic crush, deportation), but then comes through in the end!

Exhibit B-The Ringer and the Sassy Girl: `What a hunk.`

3) The Coach with a Past- Remember the train-wreck that was the movie Hard Ball? This was past the 90’s sports movie hey-day and into the early 2000’s obsession with super bombastic rap. (Also golden retrievers had taken over the sports movie genre.) Keanu Reeves gets the SHIT beat out of him by a bookie at the beginning, blah blah, somehow he ends up coaching a baseball team of lovable inner city kids. For some reason I saw this in the theatre. ANYWAYS, this draws from a long tradition of “Coaches with a Past.” The Mighty Ducks probably laid this on the thickest, with Gordon Emilio Bombay Estevez getting arrested for drunk driving and then throughout a series of black and white flashbacks, we learn that he used to play for the Hawks himself and failed miserably at a Championship game, and that the coach turned him off of the game forever! Poor Emilio Bombay Estevez Sheen. Then of course there’s Rick Moranis growing up in his brother, the guy from Married With Children’s, shadow. I’m pretty sure Danny Glover had some sort of past in Angels in the Outfield that made him so curmudgeonly. Didn’t he say his dad wasn’t around much either? The point is, without a scarred past, you just don’t get good coaching!

Exhibit C- My favorite scarred coach sticks it to his old boss: `Gordon, stop quacking.`

4) Lame Technique Comparisons- “Hey Smalls, have you ever thrown a newspaper? Well throwing a baseball is just like that!” says Bennie in Sandlot. Is it really? I don’t pretend to know much about the sport, but it seems that throwing a baseball is just like…throwing a baseball. Sports movies are littered with weird comparisons that supposedly yield great results. I think it all started with wax-on, wax-off and led to the Ducks using eggs instead of pucks and utilizing “The Flying V” for some reason. Gimmicks!

Exhibit D-`What`s a knuckle puck anyways?

All that being said, some movies veer off of this general formula and this worked out the best in the case of The Sandlot. The Sandlot’s enduring legacy in our collective consciousness is due to the fact that it’s much more about being kids than it is about sports. Sure there’s a rival team, careening in on bikes, starting an epic insult scene, (“You play baseball like a girl!”) but they only play them the one time and then celebrate victory by vomiting up chewing tobacco at the local carnival. Then they went back to playing on their own sandlot and focussing on their fear of The Beast. The ending triumph comes from realizing that The Beast is just a nice dog who saved them baseballs and the mean old man next door is exactly a kindly James Earl Jones with a stash of baseball stories and souvenirs that blew their minds. It’s a coming of age story in the disguise of a sports movie. We have a bit of the Underdog thing going on with Smalls sucking at baseball and wearing a dumb hat, but even his victory isn’t really about talent, it’s about solving the problem of having no friends and dealing with his crusty step-dad. It’s a very episodic movie and every episode is worth watching: pool hotties and Squint’s first kiss (“He kissed her long and good”) the campout with Smores (how can I have some if I haven’t had any yet?), the repeated one-liners and the myriad of contraptions built to try and save the Babe Ruth ball. (Some lady, some lady named Baby Ruth.) The best part is that all the adults play a tertiary role to the mini-drama going on at the sandlot. As a kid, I was bored by how much time was spent on coaches in those movies. I wanted to see what was happening with the ones my own age. And when you’re a kid, seeing the same other kids, summer day after summer day, it does start to feel like your own little microcosm. The Sandlot captured this perfectly, especially in how the legend of The Beast goes completely unchecked and uncorrected until they find out the truth for themselves. (FOR-EV-ER!)
All in all, bad formulas or not, I loved all these movies. I watched them on Friday night and again on Saturday morning while eating leftover potato chips for breakfast. I thought I would love sports more if they followed the order they were supposed to in my mind. I might have been better at soccer if someone had kicked around a globe in front of me first or maybe I would have joined a soccer team if Bennie had been my coach. Regardless, I grew up to be much more nostalgic about sports movies than about playing any sport, and I’m okay with that. In any case, I’d get a gold medal in quoting.

Shut up, Aberman!

Shut up, Aberman!

From Mice Girls Shirts to Being a Limp Bizkit Chick- Nostalgic About Clothes

Our relationship with clothing is weird. I’ve been thinking about it a little more lately since the tragic Bangladesh factory collapse and all the repercussions for North American companies. Let’s face it, we all know that if we shop at most chains or outlets, we might be contributing to global injustice, yet we’re so removed from it that it’s easy to get just one more T-shirt. I can remember the first time I heard about sweatshops. It was Nike and it was all over the news and I was in grade five. Nike was the apex of cool. That swoosh was magic, but we nailed it to the wall for a short time and hoped everything was solved. It wasn’t, obviously and sadly, for most of us, we got lost in a sea of little info and confusion about the ethics of overseas labour. The truth was, it was easy not to care because we just want clothes SO badly.

So why do we do it? If I’m in Superstore, I almost feel like a zombie wandering towards the Joe Fresh section. I know in my brain that another flimsy tank top that’ll stretch within a month isn’t going to change my life, but there’s something deeper there saying YOU NEED IT! You need it to look like a polished, accomplished, hip and most of all, acceptable human being. This is a feeling that started, need I say it, in childhood.


Can you remember the first time you had a sense that your clothes didn’t cut it? How old were you? I hope that like me, you had a blissful eight years or so of wearing whatever you wanted and thinking it was awesome. I can clearly recall being at camp and wearing a pink shirt and “skort” set with McDonalds characters on it and thinking it was the coolest thing in the world. I wore it all five days of camping. I didn’t look at what anyone else was wearing for a little under a decade. Sometimes my mom would pick my clothes and sometimes I would take a Mickey Mouse pajama shirt and tuck it into high-waisted cut-off jean shorts and think I was baller.

Suitable garb for meeting a celebrity. PS. Really wish I still had that maroon mini backpack.

Suitable garb for meeting a celebrity. PS. Really wish I still had that maroon mini backpack.

Then there was that long phase where Northern Getaway was an acceptable level of fashion know-how. In grade 6 Christian school, we all looked ridiculous in our horse sweaters or our pun-infested fake band T-shirts (you know, Cat Street Boys and Mice Girls?), but we all looked ridiculous together! I suspect the Christian school parents had a meeting and said that no children’s store shall be frequented except Northern Getaway. Maybe the pastor was involved. Thou shalt wear garments with every species of Canadian beetle emblazoned on it. What? The point is, the culture of cool hadn’t gotten us yet, at least not when it came to our clothing.

Then the Umbro Shorts craze came upon us all. We had a teeny tiny girl’s soccer team, in which everyone had to play because each class had like three girls in it. To be properly outfitted you needed a pair of sporting shorts, as I think they’re called. I don’t know who decided that Umbro was the acceptable brand, but without Umbro you were a second class citizen of the field. They were the Lulu Lemon pants of mid 90’s rural private school. I got a sweet navy blue pair and felt like a perfect square peg in a square hole. Jaimi, my BFF, got forest green ones. Vanessa, the only other girl in the class got burgundy and we decided that those were “our” colours. We all got matching nail polishes in the designated shades. So that’s a weird phenomenon unto itself- the designation of certain fashion traits to girls in a group, like that part in Mean Girls where Regina George decides that hoop earrings are “her thing.” (although I like to think we were more egalitarian about our colour picks than Regina’s regime would have been.) We were so quick to assign identity to clothing. Then swiftly the glow of my new shorts wore off, as I started wishing I could wear forest green shorts instead. Jaimi, I’ve never told you this, but I wanted those SHORTS. This is my first strong memory of clothing envy, and of the feeling that I needed a certain item to fit in. I was convinced that everything belonging to someone ELSE was better. Sometimes Jaimi and I would swap clothing, and I traded a brand new zip-up hoodie for an old black tank top, because it was HER black tank top. I was not a very savvy trader.

Obviously, as we all know from our own experiences, clothes grow ever more important in high school. I can remember the first time I saw a shirt with an Asian symbol on it. Remember random Asian characters on everything for awhile? I had no shame, no irony about the fact that I had no idea what the characters meant, I just knew I felt like I was on the Matrix when I wore them, and I saved allowance for two weeks to get a blue, midriff-baring baseball shirt with anything from “Serenity” to “Dog Turd” imprinted on it in what may have been Chinese, but I’m really not sure. Then I wore it every other day, one social step above every day, because it was either that or my old Northern Getaway sweatshirt. Then on the first day of grade nine, everyone was wearing yellow and orange modrobes and had their hair in two mini-buns. I realized my shirt wouldn’t go far enough, but even in grade nine, I didn’t want to spend money on glorified pajama pants made of terry cloth. Instead I got the baggiest pair of painter jeans available. They were HUGE. I wanted to look like the girls in Limp Bizkit music videos, but looking at pictures now, I fear that I looked instead like… a painter.

I wanted to look like these classy dames specifically.

I wanted to look like these classy dames specifically.

That was another thing, allowance. My parents gave me an incredibly generous allowance of twenty bucks a week for anything I might need, like deodorant or lunch or clothes. To this day, I don’t understand how I felt like I never had anything to wear, but it could have been that THE clothes, the ones you really wanted, whether it was Tommy Hilfiger or Roxy, cost about a month’s worth of raking leaves. Remember West 49 and Boathouse? They’re both still around I guess. Are they still cool? I should have asked my high school students while I had the chance. I have distinct memories of going in and agonizing over whether I should spend forty bucks on a plain grey shirt that had the single word “Etnies” on it. Then there was the middle ground of the affordable West Beach brand, but then there was the stigma of buying the low grade store brand instead of DC, Zumiez, Billabong. It was the equivalent of buying “Nevada” brand from Zellers, or of wearing Fubu instead of Phat Farm. There was always a knockoff available, but everyone knew it. When I got my first pay-cheque from McDonalds, I spent it all on hundred-dollar pink and white Roxy skate shoes of maximum puffiness. I wore them to bed that night like a little kid. I wore them for a year, until they actually smelled so bad that any cool factor was totally reversed.

Why did we care? Why do we still care? The question has been answered already: advertising, the need for people to have a hierarchy, the need to fit in, to create social structures, but I still don’t get why that meant that in grade eight my favorite shirt was a plain blue “Tommy Girl” tee. It was boxy and unflattering and boring. But the day I came to school in it I got ten compliments. The truth is I didn’t even like it, but I thought I should.

One of my favorite clothing memories is of my thrift store nurse dress, when I started listening to more emo and realized that the Salvation Army fifty meters from our high school was a gold mine. I sewed Ninja Turtle patches on it. Guess what, I looked like an effing bag lady. I looked batshit insane, but at least I had the courage to step out a little bit from the Silver Jeans and American Eagle sheer tee’s, from the Adidas and the tight camo capris and Burton. The truth is if I could go back to high school, I’d find two pairs of well-fitting jeans, simple tanks, flattering plain T’s and one good hoodie. I would just want to look normal and a little pretty and sink into the background.

Ever since the day I put on those Umbro shorts, I have had the sense of not quite catching up. I can see through it now, most of the time, but when I walked into the new Target, I had that sense of blind panic again. That sense of, sweat-shops be damned; I NEED it. I need it to be a person, to hide behind in a bar or in a crowd or even with my best friends. To feel brand new for one day in grade eight.