New York, H. Holt and Company.
New York, H. Holt and Company.
I mentioned last week when I wrote about “Mazes and Monsters” (1982) that the pre-Internet age still had its share of urban legends. They were definitely a part of 1980’s kid culture in my little stretch of New York suburbia. (Would they be suburban legends, then? Borderline-rural legends?) They were bandied about most often during the summertime — maybe because there were long, idle days when grade-school boys had little to do beyond swap the scary stories they’d heard.
A lot of it was predictable horror-movie fare — we’d all compared tales about prowlers who killed babysitters, or babysitters who killed their charges, or about a friend’s cousin’s neighbor’s classmate who’d discovered a razor blade in the their Halloween candy.
Some of the legends stemmed from our geographic area. There were the giant turtles, for example, that emerged from the Long Island’s waterways to stalk our neighborhoods — that one I actually believed (and still do). A fellow Cub Scout and his Scoutmaster father had both seen one, and if there’s one person you trust when you’re a Cub Scout, it’s another Scout and his Scoutmaster dad who backs up his story. And every kid had heard about the Amityville Horror house.
Another local myth was the “gangs” who tore through our imaginations as nefariously as we thought they tore through the region’s woods and marshes. (In addition to farmlands, Long Island has plenty of protected woodlands and wetlands.) There were definitely adults who went into the woods to break the law — I think it was primarily drug users and underage drinkers, and people who dumped cars illegally and then stripped them for parts. There were a few deep-woods graveyards, for example, of rusting white Volkswagen “Bugs.”
But in our fecund imaginations, the petty criminals who’d left them there were gangs of bikers and hippies and devil-worshippers and ruthless car thieves, who just might kill a few young kids if they found them playing army or going on a hike. (All of us occasionally ventured miles into the woods for such avocations, while we told our mothers that we were only going to the next block. If you were a boy in my neighborhood who didn’t lie to his mother to leave the area, you were considered a wimp.)
When you’re in the second or third grade, bikers and hippies and devil worshipers and car thieves all blended together in your mind into one single nebulous group. (As an adult today, if I ever met someone who was a biker, a hippy, a devil worshipper, and a car thief, I would be thrilled to interview them for this blog.) We’d found evidence. There were frequently peace signs spray-painted on or around the junked cars we liked to play on; it was just a motif of the prior decade that was still a popular graffito. One of our number gravely explained to the rest of us that it was actually a coded symbol for Satan — if you turned it upside down, the lines in the circle represented the head of a goat.
Rest easy, Charles Bassett Anderson. Even nearly three decades later, his students in New York remember him fondly and are saddened by his loss.
Mr. Anderson passed away on January 16. You can find his obituary at The Long Island Advance, where he was a contributor. (He retired from Longwood High School in 1991, according to the Advance, just a year after I and my friends were fortunate to have him as a teacher. He then became a professor, first at Suffolk Community College and later at Hofstra University).
Mr. Anderson was a superlative educator, and was responsible for some of my best memories of high school. He was a good, kind, temperate man who was easy to interact with, despite teaching a demanding course of study. (His 1989-90 Advanced Placement English class was rigorous, and was designed to fully prepare public high school students for the far greater demands of college.) Mr. Anderson taught me, among other things, that academia could be both challenging and (sometimes bizarrely) fun — and that we could demand a lot from ourselves and enjoy ourselves at the same time.
Here’s another very obscure Throwback Thursday post about broadcast television in the New York metropolitan area — this was the intro the ABC 4:30 movie. People commenting here at its Youtube entry remember it from the 1970’s … I thought I remembered it from the very early 1980’s as well. But I could be mistaken.
One commenter said that, as a young child, he thought that the image of the spinning camera-man looked like “a mechanical frog monster.” I thought that as a kid too!
I found these videos on Youtube. They were taken between 1965 and 1967 in the neighborhood of Woodhaven in Queens, NY — where my family lived when I was a baby. I wasn’t around in the 1960’s, but this is how the community looked around the time my siblings were born.
As I explained last year, monster movies were simply a part of Thanksgiving if you lived in the Tri-State region around New York City between 1976 and 1985. This was due to WOR-9’s “Holiday Film Festival” broadcast, which actually also extended to the day following the holiday after the lineup’s first year. (People just called it the “Monster Movie Marathon.”)
As a kid, I was a hell of a lot more thrilled with the monster movies than anything being served for dinner. (Remember, video stores only began arriving the early 1980’s. Before that, you usually had to catch a movie on television if you wanted to see it at all. It’s why every house had a “TV Guide.”)
“King Kong vs. Godzilla” (1962) was one gem in the marathon. (Or, at least, it seemed like an amazing film to a gradeschool boy.) I was raised with the enduring myth that this Japanese film had two endings — an American version where King Kong prevailed, and a Japanese version where its native Godzilla was the victor.) My Dad told me that, and I remember being fascinated that a movie could have two different endings. I actually only learned just now, writing this blog entry, that it was a particularly widespread urban legend — stemming from an erroneous report in “Spacemen” magazine. The American version of the film had tons of alterations, but the outcome was essentially the same — King Kong won.
There were always a few more Godzilla movies on the day after Thanksgiving, too. “Son of Godzilla” (1967) was one of them; that was always hit with the kids. (I could swear at some point there was a cartoon adaptation in the early 80’s.) It was weird how 80’s kids apparently loved that ostensibly “cute” character; the adult in me today swears that “Son of Godzilla” looks like an upright, reptile-shaped poop. (Seriously, check out the second clip below.)
“Godzilla vs. Megalon” (1973) was another one I seem to remember being pretty thrilled with. I was even occasionally scared of the giant monsters in flicks like these. (Hey, I was a little kid.) Even as a first- or second-grader, though, I was smart enough to question why these movies were weirdly inconsistent. (Why was Godzilla a bad guy who destroyed Tokyo in one movie, but the “good monster” that the Japanese rooted for in another?)
I’m learning now that “Godzilla vs. Megalon” was the target of a Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode. I’m going to have to hunt that one down.
Here’s a vivid summer memory — and it comes to me courtesy of my dear old friend Sarah in New York, who posted this picture on Facebook not too long ago. Below is the very beach on Long Island where my older brother and I would park in the early 1980’s when we were supposed to be at church on Sunday morning.
We would eat Entenmann’s donuts and we would listen to WBLI on the radio. (If you are from Suffolk County, you can’t not hear the chipper WBLI jingle every time you read those four letters.) If memory serves, the station played Casey Kasem’s countdown on Sunday mornings.
I was pretty young, and I was awed that my brother deemed me cool enough and trustworthy enough to conspire with him in playing hooky from the service. I was fully complicit, too. It was my job to run in and out of the church quickly before the service started, in order to grab the Sunday bulletin, with which my mother had instructed us to return every week.
The first time I colluded with my brother this way, I overdid it a little. Upon our return and gave my mom a lot of unrequested detail about the priest’s sermon, and what it had meant to be. My brother later pulled me aside in the room we shared, and gave me some sage coaching: “You don’t need to make up a whole big story.” That was the first time in my life that I learned not to over-embellish a lie.
You see that? You can learn a lot from a religious upbringing.