elementary school

Pop Culture Affidavit Episode 74: Well Everyone Else is Doin’ It …

Episode 74 Website CoverThey were cool, they were hip, they were the “in” thing, and they lasted all of three months.  They were fads.

Slap on a bracelet, flip a water bottle, hug your Beanie Babies tight and join me as I take a look at seven huge youth-driven fads (with some old people getting into it) from the mid-1980s until today.  I examine the background behind each, some of its effects, why they were often banned from schools, and how they died out.

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And just for fun, here are the seven fads featured with some footage (where possible)

Bottle Flipping

Silly Bandz

Silly Bands

Snopes article about “Sex Bracelets”


Beanie Babies


Slap Bracelets

slap bracelets

A couple of articles on slap bracelets from The New York Times 

“Turning Profits Hand Over Wrist” (10/27/90)

“U.S. Consumer Panel Warns of Injury from Slap Bracelets” (10/30/90)

“Principal Puts a Halt to Slap Bracelet Fad” (10/11/90)

Garbage Pail Kids





[A quick note:  I originally published this on my old website, Inane Crap, five years ago.  Since I have been writing about the 1986 Mets, I thought it would be appropriate to repost.  There will be another post tomorrow.]

I think that one of the biggest problems you face when you grow up normal is that you grow up being a good kid. Technically there is nothing wrong with parents instilling their children with a sense of morality, a work ethic, and awareness of the world around them. The problem is that normal kids do not make good criminals.

I mean, I am a terrible liar. I can embellish and exaggerate, but when it comes to fabrication, I flat-out suck. Luckily, I discovered this in the fourth grade when I tried to con my way out of getting in trouble for not doing my homework.

When I was nine years old, I began the fourth grade at Lincoln Avenue Elementary School in the fall of 1986. My teacher was a very nice woman named Mrs. Balcewicz, whom everyone called “Mrs. B.” Fourth grade was a huge year from anyone at Lincoln because it meant that you moved into the “big kid” hallway and got actual grades on your report cards instead of weird letters like “S,” “N,” and “U.” And not only was being in the 4-5-6 hallway exciting, I was poised to do very well because my third grade year had been stellar.

Unfortunately, this year of school was where I began my very slow descent into the social awkwardness that defined my adolescence. Like other years, I spent most of my days playing G.I. Joe and Top Gun and beating up on girls (not in the “future domestic violence case” way, though; more like in the “pulling pigtails” way). But most importantly, my brain was trying to tell me that it was time to start maturing, and that was by getting in trouble.

For the most part, this was not through any violent behavior, because I was a good kid. Nor was it through refusing to be clean, because I’d had a messy desk since I was in the first grade. The way I rebelled when I was nine years old was by not doing my homework. Mrs. B didn’t assign a lot of homework, but during one week in October 1986, thought a little homework was too much and refused to do it. What’s worse is that when she came to collect my homework and I didn’t have it, I used the excuse of going to see my ailing grandfather in the hospital. It was underhanded and mean, and my come-uppance was quick because on the Friday of that week, she handed out progress reports that had to be signed by our parents. Mine said that I was missing a couple of assignments, and had this comment: “Tommy has been telling me about going to see his grandfather in the hospital.”

Now when you’re in the fourth grade and you have never really done anything wrong in your life, you don’t’ have the smarts to know that the jig is up and you should come clean to your teacher about not doing your homework. I was a likable student, who would eventually be named “Teacher’s Pet” in my high school yearbook, so I probably would have gotten off with a warning. Instead, I hastily signed my mom’s name on the progress report and hid it in my desk at school until the day she collected it. Mrs. B was not stupid, and a few days later on October 28, 1986, she called my parents. (more…)

Put on your Mystery Sneaker and Give Me a Clue Because it’s Time to Ride the Sunrise

Mystery Sneaker, which was the "Holy Grail" of vocabulary development in Mrs. Hickman's first grade class.

She was telling us the class rules, and every single one of us was at attention.  After all, she had attention as being the “strict” teacher and her tall stature, tightly wound red hair, and impeccable wardrobe reinforced that.  Every once in a while, though, I’d sneak a glance at the back of the room at the giant target, which took up the entire bulletin board with its eight multi-colored rings and brown bull’s-eye that read “Mystery Sneaker.”  I had no idea what “Mystery Sneaker” meant, but I knew that it was probably important to Mrs. Hickman, who was still talking but now looking straight at me.  I sat up, looked right at her and allowed her to continue.

It was my first day of first grade and I was scared out of my mind.

Now, when I was five years old, I really didn’t know what “strict” meant, let alone that a “strict” teacher could be a good teacher.  I just knew that “strict” equaled “mean” and that meant bad.  Such information concerning Mrs. Hickman was gleaned from conversations with older kids who had been through first grade at Lincoln Avenue Elementary and spoke from experience—but also spoke knowing that we had no b.s. filter and it was fun to scare younger kids, even though some of the stories were true.  We found out right away that if your desk was too messy, for instance, she would put a sign that said “Lincoln Avenue Garbage Dump” above it.  And on the bulletin board behind her desk was the paddle.

Brown and stamped with “RAH,” the paddle looked like something she had gotten from a sorority and was single-handedly the source of every rumor about Mrs. Hickman.  Students who never had her and never would know about the paddle and the more you heard about it, the worse it became.  It didn’t merely hang on the wall.  Oh no.  The word on the Lincoln Avenue playground and the homes of Sayville elementary school students was that if you got out of line in any way, you got hit.

Now, I know there are people who did receive beatings at the hands of teachers, administrators, or nuns at some time or another. But by the time I got to school in 1983, I am sure that if Mrs. Hickman had hauled off and beaten the crap out of me because I didn’t clean my desk, tenure or no tenure, she would have gotten into serious trouble.  In fact, there was one time you did get a paddling and that was on your birthday, and even then it was a light tap or two (though I’m sure that you couldn’t get away with that today).  But when you sat in the classroom and looked at her desk, there it was, hanging, taunting you, telling you that she meant business.
And she did, although she didn’t need a paddle on the wall to show us.  She marked up our work with a red pen and expected nothing less than what she knew were our best efforts.  I remember one night sitting at the top of the stairs crying because I had colored in the exercise in my phonics book using a green Whitman crayon and had colored it so thickly that it prompted her to write, “Messy!  You can do better!”  Maybe I was being hard on myself or had a need for approval from authority figures, but this feeling that I had let her down was a sign that she was effective.

But as we discovered, she was effective because despite the pressure of high expectations and perceived fear of the paddle, she wanted us to love being in her class.  I’m sure that’s why she turned learning to read into a game.  Because when you’re six you may have a natural curiosity but you don’t have the natural love of learning that makes you purposely want to delve into existential philosophy or debate the merits of socialism in regards to public policy.  No, you are still getting the shakes from naptime withdrawal and you’re still struggling with making a lowercase n not look like a lowercase h.  So, with our education at such a base level, she knew that she not only had the challenge of teaching us how to read but the opportunity to make us want to read and love words and love reading and that is why the very first thing you noticed when you walked into the classroom wasn’t her paddle, but the giant target. (more…)

It’s Always About a Girl, Isn’t It?

I think there is a point in everyone’s life where rock music intersects with girls.  Every one I know, including me, has a CD or concert stub that can be explained using the phrase “Well, there was this girl …”  Usually said intersection occurs during adolescence.  Mine happened at the age of seven.

Now, I’m not one of those people who has had important popular music included in every last moment of his life.  I don’t have early childhood memories of my mother playing Led Zeppelin and there’s no story about me listening to John Lennon when I was a zygote.  In fact, my nursery school playlists were more likely to includesongs like “Who Are the People in Your Neighborhood?” and “C is for Cookie,” and my very first exposure to popular music was through Alvin and the Chipmunks.

Released in 1982, Chipmunk Rock is a collection of late 1970s and early 1980s hits as well as a few classics, such as “Leader of the Pack,” with a cover featuring Alvin taking his place among the presidents of Mount Rushmore (a nod to Deep Purple’s In Rock album) and the jacket opened up to show the group in situations that reflected the song titles.  My personal favorite of all of the tracks on the LP was the Pat Benatar hit “Heartbreaker.”  There’s something about a chipmunk shredding a guitar solo that pumps the adrenaline of a second grader.  Combine that with Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl” and Kim Carnes’ “Bette Davis Eyes” and I, as well as any kid my age back then, was ready to strap on a guitar, throw on a headband, and freaking wail.