In the last part I talked a bit about how I came to a point where I started trying to pick up some 30-40 year old food packaging, and shared a scan of a box of DC Super Heroes cookies I acquired recently. In this piece I want to share a few more pieces in my collection, but ones that are a little closer to my heart. By no means will I ever say that I had a bad childhood. In fact, it was pretty amazing. I’ll always be grateful to kismet or circumstance that let me come of age during the 80s as it was an insane time to be alive, especially as a kid. That said, like a lot of folks have experienced, there were some extremely rough patches during my childhood.
There were definitely some hurdles I had to jump over (or evade until later in life) that made like difficult. Not only was I a very awkward child, but I was also a “fat kid” who inherited a fairly serious case of psoriasis from my father. A lot of this manifested in the later half of the decade, so by 1989 I was a ripe subject for bulling, and bullied I was. Most of the crap that I endured was during early middle school, and there was a very specific incident that made my life a living hell for well over a year during the sixth and seventh grades. There was one unfortunate day in the sixth grade, in the spring of 1988, when I was at my locker between classes and the urge to take a dump hit me like a freight train. I have no memory of what I ate the night before or earlier that morning, only that whatever it was wanted out of my body immediately. The school I attended in the sixth grade, South Seminole in Castleberry Florida, was a bit on the old side with all of the classrooms accessible from open air hallways that were covered but outdoors. The lockers were all bunched together towards the front of the school, right past the office and administration area. There were in five or six neat little rows that were about chest height, so you could easily see over all of them to the classrooms and hallways beyond. My locker was in the last row before the classrooms began, and right towards the end of the row.
When the urge to take a crap took hold I froze, clenched, and opened a folder staring intently at it like I was trying to solve some murder mystery. I didn’t know what else to do. But there was one thing for certain, I couldn’t move or walk, as the first step would open a floodgate that would ruin me. I just kept staring at that folder, hot and cold sweat starting to bead on my forehead from both the sweltering Florida heat and the total fear I was experiencing. I waited for the bell to ring forcing everyone to bolt to their rooms. I remember thinking that if I could just out last that rush, then maybe I could inch my way to the bathroom and end this nightmare. After two and a half minutes of fear and pain, the bell rang and everyone scattered. I was finally alone in the locker area with a bathroom about fifty feet away. My plan was working, and I was inching along at a pretty decent pace when the urge started to subside. Thinking I was in the clear I broke into a jog to the bathroom. But fate was not on my side that day and right as I crossed the threshold of the tile floor leading to the stalls, another wave hit and my body decided it was time for everything to vacate my body.
I shit my pants not three feet from the bathroom stall. I made it into the stall, but there was a little trail of evidence leading to the stall I was in. I was dying inside. Shaking involuntarily, in a cold sweat, stomach churning, and freaking out silently. How could this day possibly get worse? Well, it could and did. My middle school had a special class of hooligans that were on in-school suspension. The class was full of kids who were the worst of the worst, and they’re schedule was off a bit from the rest of the classes. They were walked out as a unit to have bathroom breaks while all the other classes were in session so that they wouldn’t mix with the other kids. My body picked one of these break sessions as the time to destroy me. I heard four boys raucously storming the bathroom, laughing and slapping their books down on the counter by the sinks. I pulled my feet as close to me as possible, rolling up into a ball on top of the toilet when I heard one of them scream to the others that it stank like death in here. Then another exclaimed that there was shit on the floor, and they all really started laughing. I’m fairly certain I whimpered loudly at that point, because within a nanosecond they were shaking the stall door, throwing crumpled up paper under the stall and yelling at me. One of them stood on the toilet in the stall next to mine and peeked his head over the top and he spit on me. I made the mistake of looking up at him. Our eyes locked and he owned me at that second. His face, with was immediately burnt into my brain. Crooked bottom teeth, a filthy blonde peach-fuzz mustache desperately trying to sprout on his sneering upper lip, deep blue eyes and a blonde hair, cut short, but with a rat-tail in the back curling over his shoulder.
I never learned his name, but over the next year he took every opportunity to make me feel like shit. His particular form of bullying was very hands off, but persistent. As soon as he got out of in-school, he made it a point to always find me between classes or in the gym class that we shared. He’s just stare at me, knowingly, smiling. Every single day. Four to five times a day. I was a meek kid for the most part and I never fought back. I just learned to stare at my crappy off brand white high tops and I developed a weird habit of chewing on my t-shirt collars as an infantile way of finding comfort. When it got to rough for me to handle, usually about mid-day, right after the lunch break, I’d see that asshole leering at me in the hall an I’d make a beeline for the nurse’s office. I had the act down to a science. I’d complain about stomach cramps and dizziness and beg the nurse to call my mother to come and pick me up because I was too sick to finish the day. I did this at least twice a week for the last four months that we lived in Florida, throughout the fall and into December of 1989. My dad was being transferred to New Hampshire in January and as soon as I had two full states between me and that school I started a mental healing process that took another few years to really kick in.
I’m sharing all of this stuff because it illustrates who I was at the time, and one of my easiest and most pleasurable escapes was junk food. You can clearly see from the photos above that I was turning into a little human blimp. I told an abbreviated version of this story on twitter recently, but on the weekends, when I had two whole days away from the hell that was my middle school, I self medicated in the only ways I knew how to. One was burying my nose in the longest books I could find. I read through 14 Stephen King novels between the summer of 1988 and the winter of 1989, everything the man had published to that point with a handful of exceptions. I had run out of available (to me) King books, so I have the utterly vivid memory of grabbing my copy of A.C. Crispen’s V novelization (because it was super thick, and I hadn’t seen the mini series in years) to read. I was determined to burn through the 402 page monster over the weekend.
To accomplish this, I created a safe haven, a blanket for in my bedroom, in the back corner of the room in an area beside my bed that was maybe 2 and a half feet wide by six feet long. I tacked some old navy blue bed sheets up to the wall, and tucked the sides underneath my bed mattress, making sure to leave enough limp at the opening end to drape down like the front of a tent. I then swiped my parents camping cooler from the garage and filled it with ziploc bags full of ice, and dumped a box and a half of orange Capri-Suns inside (my absolute favorite flavor in those days.) I also snagged a pound of sliced hard salami from the fridge, a fresh box of Cap’n Crunch with Crunchberries, and two full boxes of my favorite fruit snacks, Thunder Jets by Betty Crocker/Fruit Corners. This was my second coping mechanism, stuffing my face with junk food. I set up the cooler at the front of my little for to act as a blockade, and I was ready for a weekend of bliss. I was basically going off grid and leaving the real world for two days of snacks, aliens, and napping.
I’ve been thinking about this time in my life a lot lately after I was gobsmacked to find a box of Thunder Jets Fruit Snacks pop up on eBay a few weeks ago. It’s not that I obsessively look for them on auction sites every day, but I’ve never seen one pop up before in the 15 years that I’ve been casually searching. I know they’re out there, as my bud Jason Liebig has 3 or 4 of them in his vintage food packaging collection (and he’s been very gracious to let me use the scans in the past.) I freaked out a little bit when I saw the auction. It wasn’t a buy-it-now, so I had to play the game in hopes that it wasn’t sniped out from under me at the last second. I don’t have a lot of luck with winning auctions lately. But after the five days were up, I was the winner, and after 31 years I was finally able to hold a box of Thunder Jets in my hands again and it was very visceral. I was sitting there, looking at this box and reminding myself that there is something weirdly beautiful in stupid trash like this. 1989 was a hard year, but there were also happy memories and this box represents a feeling of safety and home that is immediate and strong.
Though this isn’t a box I consumed back in the day, it’s a representation of a part of my life that I cherish, no matter how hard it was at the time. I do still have that original copy of the V novelization though…
How many bed-sheet forts did you folks build?