When I was in sixth grade, one of the crazes in that myopic little world was for everyone in the class to have a small stuffed Garfield doll. Guys had them, girls had them, everybody had them. We didn’t play with them, per se, the thing was just to have one in your desk. Incidentally, my mom told me a few months ago that with the release of the new Garfield movie, the little stuffed dolls were becoming a craze with kids again, thirty years later. I never saw THAT one coming.
A more universal craze of the time was the Rubik’s Cube, a maddening brain teaser of a toy that took the country, and indeed the world, by storm when it was released in 1980. You know, one of these:
I was hooked on it too, and even bought a book on how to solve it. You start by solving one side, then another, and it all sort of comes into place that way. The book was full of these arcane strings of formulas with acronyms like, “F L U2 R2”, which stand for Front, Left, Upper 2, Right 2, etc. Some people just gave in and pulled their cubes apart in order to ‘solve’ them, and some people pulled the stickers off and moved them into place, which I think would be a prohibitive amount of work, and it would make the stickers look crappy once they were back on. But I digress.
I learned to solve the Cube in record speed. When they would have national competitions on TV, like this one, from the show That’s Incredible. . .
. . .I would always beat them ‘by a large margin’, as my brother used to say. I wondered how they got to be on TV and everything, when it took them an eternity—like forty-five seconds!—to solve it. My hat’s off to you if you sat through that entire piece of crap video, by the way. The episode of the show is staggeringly boring, and the video ends before we even get to find out who wins the contest. What a letdown!
The world record for solving the Cube was seven seconds, and I could only whittle my time down to around eight. When I was in New Hampshire visiting my grandparents, one of their neighbors, upon meeting the eleven-year-old me, handed over his scrambled Rubik’s Cube and said, “If you can solve this, you’re a better man than I am.” Little did he know what he was in for. I whipped it around and handed it back to him a few seconds later, completely solved. He gave me a stunned look, and was actually a bit angry and petulant about the whole thing—although he tried to hide it—which I found hilarious. I got the feeling he didn’t particularly care for kids, and he wanted to give me something to keep me occupied and out of the way of the adults. I had my secret skill, however, which foiled his little plan.
In the interest of full disclosure, I was telling a friend about this story on the phone today and afterwards said, “This is probably a blog story.”
“It’s totally a blog story,” he replied. “You should call it ‘Eight Seconds.’ You can start it like this.” He lowered his voice in imitation of a melodramatic TV announcer. “Eight seconds. That’s not the length of time I can stay on a bull, or the amount of time before I have an orgasm, that’s how long it took me to solve the Rubik’s Cube.”
We both laughed, and then he had to get off the phone and return to work, as did I. I liked his suggestion for the name, but I obviously took some liberty with (i.e., completely disregarded) his other suggestions.
In the interest of even more disclosure (is that possible, after proclaiming the last disclosure ‘full’?), unlike my skill at playing Ms. Pac-Man, which hasn’t ever really dwindled over the intervening decades, my ability to solve the Cube has completely evaporated. Sad, I know, but it’s the kind of skill you have to use, or else you lose. I might still have my old Cube in a box somewhere at one of my parents’ houses. Amazing how little of that childhood stuff actually survived, and also amazing are the things we adults WISH had survived. My brother and I do still have a bunch of our original Star Wars action figures, and my little Yoda one is the mascot for my recording projects, to remind me and the people working with me, “Do, or do not; there is no ‘try.’ ” More than anything, I wish I had my collection of toy cars. I have a couple of them, but most of them got given away, or lost, or given to Goodwill, or just. . .vanished. I also wish I had my collection of cassettes from childhood through high school. My brother and I made tons of cassettes in which we acted out skits, or made up songs, or just recorded ourselves talking and playing with our friends, being our dorky selves. Those are my favorites. I still have a couple of them, but we made tons, and they don’t seem to have survived. The ones that have survived are worthy of their own separate blog entries.
By way of the television industry calls a ‘teaser,’ I’ll tell you that my favorite of the tapes, which has been safely stored away from almost thirty years until I recently copied it onto my computer and digitized the audio, is entitled, “One in a Million,” and it’s quite possibly the best thing ever. If my brother will agree to it, I’ll write the story out and post the audio on here. If he doesn’t, then I’ll have to just tell the story minus the audio, which will still be entertaining.
There is more to come.