1990 – Video Games and Return to Norway
We found ourselves in a brand-new decade – the 1990s. Wow! This is exciting! It took a while to get used to writing “1990” as the date on schoolwork. I had just recently turned 9 years old and was returning to school after winter break. I was in 4th grade in St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic School. My teacher was Ms. Vining, and she was a bit strict which made going to school less fun than the previous year of 3rd grade with Mrs. McMaster. However, I was basically convinced that school was a necessary, if not tedious, part of life and resigned myself to continuing along in the least objectionable way possible.
In February my brother turned 5. Both of us were still young and while we generally got along, we also fought quite a bit as brothers (especially young brothers) are apt to do. A big point of contention was the right to the most tasty and preferable cereal options. I will confess that I was stronghanded in my sense of entitlement to the cereals that I specifically requested. My line of thinking was, I don’t eat the cereal HE asks Mommy to buy, so why can he eat the cereal I ask Mommy to buy?! That’s where I was at regarding my relationship to possessiveness.
February 12th was a monumental day in brightening the lives of children throughout North America. The anticipation and eventual arrival of Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros. 3 was a beautiful thing in the life of a 9-year-old avid player such as I. We had glimpses of it on TV commercials and in Nintendo Power magazine. The game was also featured in the big-screen film The Wiz starring Fred Savage. But nothing could quite prepare us for the joy of putting the cartridge into the NES for the first time. The graphics were upgraded and the prospect of flying as Mario was enthralling especially once you learned how to do it. The music was great, you could play a 1 or 2 player game, unlike Super Mario Bros. 2, and there was a map screen for each world which allowed for some personal preference as to how you wanted to sequence the boards as you played. There were also cool bonus stages. Learning the various ins and outs of this exciting new game kept myself and friends occupied for the better part of a year or more.
When the much-anticipated movie Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles came out on March 30th, it was a spectacle to behold and surely a dream come true for so many fans of the TMNT cartoon and characters. I can’t imagine any kids could have been disappointed by the movie. It’s as if we felt that our favorite fun-loving, pizza-eating, green ninjas were real! We could imagine meeting them on the streets of Manhattan on their way to visit their friend, the yellow-clad reporter April O’Neil.
In mid-April the sketch comedy show In Living Color premiered and quickly became an awesome and anticipated way to end a school night. For the next few years, it was common to see kids imitating one of the comedic sketches that had recently appeared on the show. I found myself really enjoying the skits which featured over-the-top cast member Jim Carrey.
Baseball practices for the St. Columba travelling team were underway. I was once again a member of this team. I was among the medium to smaller-sized kids on the team, but I did have enough size and weight to be pushed around less easily than some of the smaller guys. Our team’s head coach Mr. Tom was likeable enough. Despite my hearing mixed opinions of him over time, mostly to do with favoritism, I felt he was a good coach.
On the block by this time, we were fairly graduated from playing baseball in the narrow and short alley between my mother’s and our neighbor’s house. We began playing in the Lanzas’ driveway right across the street from my house. The game became more large-scale and exciting, but now we had to factor in complexities such as cars coming down the street. And fly balls could easily hit people’s houses or cars which the neighbors did not necessarily appreciate.
Occasionally, we would play stoop ball against the Lanzas’ long staircase which led to their front porch. This game was kind of like baseball but rather than hitting the ball with a bat, you would throw a bouncy ball against the staircase hard and the way it bounced out toward the street was effectively the “hit”. The “batter/thrower” then ran some bases: to a parked car and then back to the stoop in a straight line, more like cricket I suppose. This game never really caught on much but was a fun diversion from other warm weather activities.
Another big movie came out at the time about a yellow-garbed daring detective of cartoon fame. Theatrically released on June 15th, Dick Tracy was a blast to watch for kids at the time. The larger-than-life bad guys such as Influence and “Lips” Manlis were like cartoon characters come to life. This film was a mega-production with many notable people involved. Even Madonna was a character in the movie.
Visiting a local video rental store was a regular activity especially in the summertime when us kids had a whole lot of time on our hands and were looking for things to do. One of us would ask (or beg) our parents for some money to rent something. In those days rentals might cost $1.00 or $1.25 to rent and return the next day from a small local rental place. That summer two new baseball video games were hot. Bases Loaded II: Second Season was cool and realistic looking. Another, Baseball Simulator 1.000 came to be one of my favorite sports games of all. You could play with normal teams or ultra-teams. The ultra-teams were so fun because the batters and the pitchers had special powers that made the game more fantastical and exciting. I first played both of those games and several others by renting them at World of Video located on nearby Avenue S. While at Ave. S, it might also be a good time to pick up a pack of baseball cards and some candy or perhaps an Italian ice. Or any of those items could wait for the next trip to Ave. S as they were so frequent. Some hot baseball rookie cards in 1990 were Frank Thomas, Dave Justice, and Todd Zeile. There were also several seasoned players whose cards were exciting to get such as: Barry Bonds, Kirby Puckett, Mark McGwire, Bobby Bonilla, Jose Canseco, Don Mattingly, Nolan Ryan, Greg Jeffries, Bo Jackson, Mike Schmidt, Cal Ripken Jr., amongst many others.
In late June I completed 4th grade and Billy graduated from kindergarten. Soon after we were on an airplane for a three-week trip to our ancestral homeland, Norway. This was Billy’s first trip there and my second. I hadn’t been there since 1983 when I was only 2 ½ years old. Now seven years later it was almost like I was going there for the first time. Yet once there, so many familiar sensations greeted me such as the stone staircase up to a wooded trail which led from Onkle Edvard’s to Tante Gerd’s house. Even the tree roots which crisscrossed the path seemed primordially known to me.
The weather was damper and colder than we were accustomed to during Brooklyn summers. There was no need for air conditioning there but there was a need for long pants and light jackets and even rubber galoshes. Despite some reservedness, it was great to meet so many cousins and family members again and several for the first time. I learned that Norwegians’ life was quite family oriented. While friends of course played a part in the lives of the children, I did not witness anything comparable to the kids-in-the-neighborhood vibe that we were accustomed to in Brooklyn. A pleasant surprise was that the kids I met were all generally good-natured and I sensed no noticeable fear of bullies or mean-spirited people.
Norway life showed me, more vividly than at home, the importance of being connected to nature and to the land. Besides some hiking trips, we had the memorable life experiences of picking berries as well as harvesting potatoes and carrots from the earth. Within me was activated a deep awareness of the importance of connecting with Mother Earth as well as fellow human beings even if there was a language barrier.
Upon initial arrival it had taken a few days for my brother and I to settle into life in Norway working through jetlag and homesickness, yet when it was time to return home we did so tearfully not wanting to part with our newly discovered loved ones and our home away from home. Arriving back on East 35th Street in Marine Park however was exciting. I couldn’t wait to resume summer-time activities with friends on the block. In August my Uncle Timmy and Aunt Gerri were married. This was a big deal and a happy occasion. It was the first wedding that I was aware of in my life up until that point. My mother went to the wedding party with a date that evening, fellow widower Konrad.
Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby” came out at the end of the summer. It was a bit controversial at the time to see a “white rapper”. At the time it was super cool. These were the days of cassette tape singles which might have the same song on both sides or the featured single on side A, plus a B-side bonus track. My friends and I would play the song over and over singing, rapping, and dancing along until the words became deeply engraved in our memories.
I began 5th grade at St. Thomas Aquinas and now had Mrs. Tierney for my teacher. The beginning of the school year seemed quite heavy and oppressive as the reality of summer vacation’s end sunk in and we could only lament at how many long and laborious months it would be before June would come again. On September 24th, the American heavy metal band Megadeth’s thrash metal masterpiece Rust in Peace was unleashed onto an unsuspecting world. Classics on this album include “Hangar 18” and “Holy Wars… The Punishment Due”. I would joyfully discover this album and band in a few short years.
Mom and Konrad began to date each other and occasionally he and his two children were spending some nights by us. Before we knew it, they were moving in. While this was a bit surprising, my brother and I did not mind at the time as it was fun having company and we basically got along with all of them. I became the elder “sibling” in the household. Roughly, Konrad Jr. was 3 years, my brother 4 years, and Kayla 6 years younger than me. Big Konrad as my brother and I referred to the father in the trio was likeable enough and happened to win our young and materialistic childlike hearts over by purchasing much-desired gifts for us in those early stages.
Thanks to Big Konrad’s desire to win me over, that autumn I became the proud owner of the new, exciting video game console – TurboGrafx-16! The pack-in game Keith Courage in Alpha Zones was good to pass the time for a bit but didn’t really hold a candle to the level of enjoyability that came with the pack-in games for the Nintendo (Super Mario Bros.) or Sega Genesis (Sonic the Hedgehog). While I enjoyed the TurboGrafx-16 system for sure, it was a little lonely. I think maybe only one other friend, Mike Florino, also had it. TurboGrafx-16 only had one controller so I couldn’t effectively invite my friends to come in and play it with me, though I’m sure I tried. I played Bloody Wolf and Vigilante in my bedroom by myself with the smell of polyurethane wafting in from the hall where the floors and stairs of the house were being refinished thanks to the presence of Big Konrad. For better or worse I was aware of changing family dynamics as our new housemates moved in.
Halloween at that time was quite mischievous. It was standard for older kids and teenagers to be out and about causing trouble by throwing eggs and spraying shaving cream everywhere. We had even heard the urban tale of kids putting a hole in eggs and filling them with Nair, hair removal cream. Anyone who got hit by these drive-by egg throwers might lose a chunk of their hair as a result – quite nasty.
The blockbuster hit Home Alone came out in mid-November. It ran in theaters through the holiday season. Kids would imitate Macauley Culkin’s scene as Kevin putting aftershave lotion on his face for the first time and screaming presumedly from the burn of the alcohol. I also thought it was cool for a young blonde kid who looked about my age to be the star of this fun and goofy movie.
By mid-1990 the heavy metal spirit on the block had begun to fade and what was coming in was dance music, rap and hip hop mainly via MTV and pop culture. One iconic song from this new era was C+C Music Factory’s “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)” which hit the airwaves in mid-November and began a huge sensation. My legs were moving and grooving to that tune in a funky fresh 1990 way! My legs were going from left to right at a frenzied pace. I would dance out to this hit at home as the song blared out of the little tinny speaker of my small Casio cassette tape deck. Along with other funky fresh hits of the day, I recorded my own copy of the song off the radio onto a blank cassette tape. One evening there was a social dance at St. Columba’s gymnasium. The following day Joe Lanza said to me “One minute I saw you here and the next minute I saw you over there all the way across the dance floor!” I guess my flying feet couldn’t stop carrying me away with the exciting music.
 If you were able to venture a little further (and had an account there) then Blockbuster Video, Royal Video, or Captain Video had more options and allowed a 2-day or longer rental, but the cost was about twice as much. At the time, owning one’s own movies with box art and all was quite rare and cost prohibitive, so the video rental model worked. These bigger chain video rental stores became more accessible when we got a few years older.
 I put “white rapper” in quotes as I choose to no longer subscribe to the concept of race that I grew up with. In the words of Ralph Smart (Infinite Waters on YouTube) “I’ve never seen a black person in my life. I’ve never seen a white person in my life.” We humans are all various shades and colors, some lighter or darker than others. There is only one race and that’s the human race.