Back in the day, when someone said they had a portable video game, this is the kind of thing they were referring to:
I can recall my friends and I wasting hours frantically thumbing the buttons of this Electronic Quarterback, squinting to watch red LED lights move across a miniscule screen in an extremely rough facsimile of Football. It was simple, but still entertaining enough for our boyish imaginations.
Sure, all your newfangled X-boxes and iphone apps may be exponentially more powerful, complex, better looking, and more interesting, but are they really any more fun to play??
(In a word – yes.)
Poor Domer. All he ever wanted to be in life was a mascot. For a talking turtle who walks on his hind legs and plays baseball, there aren’t a lot of other career choices. But as luck would have it, Domer got his chance in 1989, with the opening of Toronto’s SkyDome stadium.
When I first met Domer I was in rehearsals to be part of the Dome’s opening ceremonies. The show was ridiculously corny and badly choreographed, but I was still excited to be part of the action and get a chance to be on the field in front of a crowd of 50,000. I was part of the “We are Toronto” segment, representing the Ukrainian community, along with 67 other nations.
But alas, Domer’s career would be short-lived. The opening ceremonies ended up a complete fiasco, with the organizers insisting on opening the roof despite torrential rains which flooded the entire field with several inches of water (it was a domed stadium, so why would they need a drainage system?) Expensive ethnic costumes and equipment were ruined, leading to a class-action lawsuit by some of the performers. And within a decade, the SkyDome itself would be bankrupt and known as the “mistake by the lake,” with the already severely over-budget stadium sold off to the private sector for a fraction of its original price.
Domer never stood a chance. Finding himself unemployed and relegated to the dustbin of mascot history, he promptly hid himself in the back of a closet in my parent’s house, where he’s been ever since. But I managed to coax him out long enough to snap this one rare photograph.
Item #10: Grateful Dead tie-dye t-shirt
Acquired: early 1990’s
I first started discovering the music of the band Grateful Dead in the early 1990’s, just a few years prior to lead singer/guitarist Jerry Garcia’s untimely death. At the time, the band’s legendary live shows were at an all-time high in popularity, and the band was one of the highest grossing live acts in the US, if not the world. Unfortunately I never got around to seeing them live, at least not until many years later when the remaining band members toured under a different name.
I bought this t-shirt on a whim from one of my favourite Toronto record stores that was owned by a guy who actually used to work for the band as a gardener in the famous Haight-Ashbury hippie district of San Francisco (Hmm..I wonder what kind of plants he used to “garden”??) I think I wore it in public only a couple of times. I liked the idea of feeling part of the “Deadhead” tribe, and craved that sense of community that the band’s ardent followers had developed. But I soon found out, it takes a lot more than one t-shirt to become a Deadhead, and I was just too busy in school to commit to the lifestyle.
I’ve been a fan of concerts ever since the mid 80’s when I first started going to them. One of my very first was to see New Wave keyboard guru Howard Jones at the Kingswood Music Theatre (part of the Canada’s Wonderland theme park) in June 1985. I would have been just 13 at the time. I saw him again at least 5 or 6 more times over the next 3 decades, including a really cool acoustic show at a small downtown club where I got to meet him. He was also a large part of the reason I decided to take up playing keyboards, something I still do semi-professionally to this day.
I’ve heard a theory that whatever music we listen to until around age 25 will be the music we keep coming back to for the rest of our lives, because it’s the most imprinted with meaning and memories. As we get older, we’re generally less interested in discovering new music and new artists, which is why “classic” radio formats do so well. As much as I wish that weren’t true, I think there’s a lot of truth to that. I wonder how much of the music we consider ‘classic’ has little to do with the quality of the actual music, but is simply a product of where we were and who we were with when we first heard it?
And I wonder how I would have turned out if my first concert had been something like Ozzy Osbourne??
ITEM #8: Collection of Vintage Toronto Transit (TTC) tickets
Acquired: early to mid 1980’s
I know I’m dating myself, but I can remember when it used to cost only 10 cents to ride the TTC (for kids, anyway.) According to this “fascinating” report on the history of transit fares, (and I mean “fascinating” in the most dripping-with-sarcasm way possible…) a child’s fare was 10 cents from 1973-1981, at which point it was doubled to a whopping 20 cents. I still have memories of my grandmother handing me a shiny dime to put in the collection box on our way to go shopping at Bloor West Village, where all the other Ukrainians went (and still go.)
Later on, I used to take the bus everyday to & from high school – hence my collection of unused tickets from various eras. But actually, I’m struggling to find much else to say about them. I think I really just kept them because they kept changing the colours every so often, and I knew I might never see the old ones again once they were discontinued. I think it’s an example of what the Significant Objects Project would categorize as a “Fossil” – an object bearing witness to a vanished way of life, or a childhood. They don’t mean that much to me really, but looking at them does take me back. So I suppose I’ll hang on to them for now. They do, after all, say “valid until further notice” – and nobody has ever notified me yet.
ITEM #7: Kaleidoscope
This next unassuming object is a kaleidoscope. But this one’s nothing like the gaudy rainbow-coloured cardboard contraptions you last drooled over as a five-year old. This is a kaleidoscope for the serious, discerning adult. It’s a kaleidoscope with confidence – one that doesn’t need to constantly draw attention to itself or scream out “look at me” like some sideshow circus clown. This kaleidoscope is classy, and even a touch subdued, with its minimalist single-leaf design and oh-so-sophisticated brass viewfinder.
That is, until you look into it, and the deception is revealed. No matter how it tries to disguise itself, it’s still just a toy at heart. It has no other practical purpose than to add a little bit of fun to your day and help you see the world a little bit differently. Although these days I barely pick it up more than a few times a year, I’m still glad I own something with such a singular, lighthearted purpose. And it looks good on a coffee table too.
Item #6″: “Spin Art” painting from Ben & Jerry’s “One World One Heart” festival
Acquired: Jun 24, 1995
Back in the summer of ’95 I was approached by some fellow grad students at Queen’s University about taking a road trip to Vermont for a festival of live music, camping, and all the free ice cream you could eat. Although it seemed too good an offer to be true, I couldn’t resist going along to see if there was any truth to the crazy rumours. As it turned out we were going to the 4th annual Ben & Jerry’s “One World One Heart” festival, which was essentially a shareholder’s meeting for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, but open to the general public. And, yes, admission was entirely free, and so was the ice cream, music, and a host of other fun diversions. One of those was the “spin art” maker, a spinning platter onto which you poured drops of paint to form masterpieces like the one shown above.
Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, the founders of Ben & Jerry’s, were the quintessential ex-hippies who had started out in the late 1970’s selling ice cream from their VW minivan, growing it into a nationwide success story in a little over a decade. This festival was their way of thanking not only their shareholders, but anyone who cared enough about the brand to hear about the festival (which was mostly through word of mouth in those pre-social media days). And although in the back of our minds we knew the whole purpose of the festival was to build-up brand loyalty and ultimately sell more ice-cream (which I can personally attest that it did!), the event still managed to seem completely authentic and uncontrived, closer to a real family picnic than a corporate marketing event.
But perhaps we were all fooled. Just a few years later, in 2000, Ben & Jerry sold out to Unilever for a cool $326 million, the festival was cancelled, and the brand was never the same again. (You can read more about it here.) But I still have fond memories of those simpler times, and this piece of spin art.