#898 Getting really into old-school video games

If channel 3 doesn't work, try channel 4

If you’ve ever enjoyed some lazy afternoons just sitting on the rug, passing greasy controllers around, and occasionally blowing into the business end of a Nintendo cartridge, then you know what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about the best old-school video games of all time. Here goes nothing:

13. Super Mario Bros 2. There are two kinds of people in this world: those who loved Mario 2 and those who hated it. If you hated it, you just couldn’t get past all the turnip-digging and carrot-tossing. If you loved it, you picked Princess, flew through all the levels, defeated all the egg-spitting ostrich bosses, dusted your palms together, and you called it a day. Of course, there was always that massive sense of disappointment when the end credits revealed that the entire game was just a dream Mario had one night. What a bummer.

12. Wolfenstein 3D. Wolfenstein really blew open the whole world of first-person shooters back in 1992. It was just you, a bunch of Nazis, and a maze of neverending hallways. Sounds scary, but you’d be fine as long as you ate enough turkey drumsticks before battling Robot Hitler. Mein leben!

11. Street Fighter 2. This game really evened the odds between the older brother, with the thick glasses and the calloused thumbs, and the kid sister, with the overalls and toothy aw-shucks grin. Because that kid sister, that Nintendo novice, that rookie who never played video games, well she could just go on a hot streak of straightup neverending E. Honda hundred-hand-slaps and there really wasn’t anything the older brother could do about it. Except possibly pull her hair until she started crying. Sorry, Nina.

10. Duck hunt. The great-great-grandfather of the Nintendo Wii would have to be Duck Hunt, where you used the plastic plugged-in gun to learn how to hunt. Now, who else walked right up the TV in frustration and killed every duck from two inches away? You practically had to when that invincible dog started laughing at you. There was no choice. Plus, how else could you train for clay shooting?

9. Bubble Bobble. An afternoon falling through the Bubble Bobble levels was like acid tripping for a six-year old. The music got wilder and wilder as you and a pal continuously slaughtered robots by suffocating them in your dangerous dinosaur-spewed bubbles and then eating their dead corpses which, after you popped them, magically turned into shiny pieces of fruit. Somehow this all made sense, too. We must’ve been high on Pixy Stix.

8. Pong. Distributed exclusively by Sears for $100 a pop during the 1975 Christmas season, Pong eventually burned its way into hearts and television screens across the world.

7. Mike Tyson’s Punch Out. Before rape, prison, and facial tattoos, Mike Tyson starred in an animated game for children. You played as Little Mac and worked your way up the circuit by pummeling boxers like Glass Joe, Bald Bull, Mr. Sandman, and eventually Mike Tyson himself. The characters were great and Mario even moonlighted as the referee here, once again showing his tremendous versatility and athleticism.

6. Sonic The Hedgehog. Sonic was a great game to play when you went over to your friend’s house and they had Sega instead of Nintendo. Why did they have Sega instead of Nintendo? Well, it was either for the sports games or the blood in Mortal Kombat, one of the two.

5. Tetris. If you were lucky, you could get away with telling your parents that Tetris was educational. It certainly looked like it was too, with all that falling geometry and the Kremlin backdrops. Though no one could really prove it, there sure was something suspiciously mathy about it. Of course, the greatest thing about Tetris was that you could just blame the game when you died. Those random shapes turned us all into hollow-eyed fatalists, left staring blankly into the television, shaking our heads and saying “I was just waiting for a line” over and over again.

4. Solitaire in Windows 3.0. Solitaire was that classic boring card game that you played by yourself when the boss wasn’t looking. It’s funny because almost everyone who finds it strangely addictive admits that it is in fact a completely terrible game. But it sure was a good way to teach your grandpa how to use a mouse.

3. Contra. Everyone talks about the famous Contra code that you entered during the startup screen to begin with 30 men but few people talk about how impossible this game was without the code. You had people shooting at you from all directions, you died after one bullet, and you started the game with only three lives. Even with the spray gun you probably only ran for about twenty seconds before getting shot and calling it quits. So basically, Contra taught us that bullets are really dangerous and that’s why cheating is important.

2. Super Mario Bros. There are so many memories from this instant classic, like the creepy music in World 1-2, the warp zone, the hammer brothers, the flying fish, and the first time you ever heard the phrase: “Thank you Mario! But our princess is in another castle!”

1. Super Mario Bros 3. Fred Savage helped Mario 3 launch to fame with the ninety-minute commercial known as The Wizard. Remember his catatonic little bro who just said ‘Cali-forn-yah’ the whole movie but eventually showed the world how to find the whistle? Yes, Mario 3 completely blew everything else away by introducing us to flying raccoons, angry suns, Tanooki and Frog suits, and that impossible Tube World. It was a larger than life video game that provided years of fun at birthday parties and sleepovers everywhere. For this last game, how about the original commercial instead of a clip? I believe it accurately captures how the world felt about this game.

Yes, playing old school video games was always a sure way to get sore thumbs, strained eyes, and a dry mouth. But would you trade anything for all those hours in front of the TV set exploring strange and exotic worlds with your friends? Yes, the sun would dip down, the lights would go off upstairs, the bowls of Doritos and cans of Pepsi would empty, but that bright, flickering light from the TV didn’t stop casting kaleidoscope shadows on the wide-eyed faces sitting three feet in front of them well into the night.

And those were some seriously good times, my friend.

Some seriously good times.


Ah, memories

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#899 The smell of onions on the stove

Get past the tears and sniff it in

According to our egghead pals over at Wikipedia, the onion has a long and glorious past. For instance, get this:

•Ancient Egyptians used to worship onions. That’s right — they believed their spherical shape and concentric rings symbolized eternal life. They also used to bury their dead with onions, figuring that the strong smell would eventually bring them back to life.

• In Ancient Greece, the athletes used to munch on onions because they thought it would lighten the weight of their blood. Remember: this was before Atkins.

Roman gladiators were rubbed down with onions to firm up their muscles. Probably also helped them slip out of tough bear hugs and sleeper-holds, too.

• Okay, last one: in the Middle Ages, onions were more valuable than a new jousting sword or a decent moat subcontractor. People paid rent with them and gave them as presents. Doctors even prescribed them to move bowels, stifle coughs, lift erections, and kill headaches. Seriously, imagine a big bag of onions wedged between the eye drops and skin cream at the drug store. That’s what it was like back then.

Anyway, given that illustrious past of the almighty onion, I sort of feel like they don’t get enough credit these days. We don’t worship them like we used to, but maybe we should. After all, they’re still cheap, healthy, and easy to store. And they really do have a lot of healthy properties. Plus, and here’s the best part, they smell delicious when they’re frying in a sizzling glob of butter.

Yes, when you walk into a house and smell those onions frying, it’s a beautiful moment. Partly because they smell delicious, partly because it means someone’s cooking dinner, and partly because now you have to solve the mystery of what’s cooking. It could be anything, really: perogies, sausages, curry, maybe a stir fry? The point is that the house smells great and you can’t help but start salivating.

So next time you’re frying up a pan full of onions and sniffing up that delicious aroma, just remember to stop for a second and think about its proud and noble heritage. Because they’ve come a long way to be part of your dinner tonight. And they’re happy to be here.


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#900 Doing tiny chores while brushing your teeth

When you gotta go, grab a toothbrush and maximize your time

Hey, there’s a lot to get done around here.

Oh what, you thought those magazines on top of the toilet were just going to organize themselves? Yeah, right. And I suppose the shower curtain would magically get pulled out and straightened by the same invisible bathroom butler too, right?

No, but seriously though: isn’t it all about maximizing time while you’re scraping away at your pearly yellows? I mean, you get the basic motions down after the first few hundred practices, and then it’s like hey, hey, couple minutes of free time every night during the big brush. If this sounds at all like you, then congratulations: You may be a Toothpaste Stroller.

Toothpaste Strollers don’t worry because they know their molars aren’t going anywhere, so they check email, set the alarm clock, or put on pajama bottoms while brushing away. I mean, just look at that picture of a baby brushing her teeth while getting toilet trained at the same time. Folks, it’s like I always say: We can learn much from the baby.

Now, if you’re like me, then whatever you do while brushing your teeth ends up taking much longer than normal and is incredibly awkward. But that’s part of the fun. I mean, say you’re taking off your socks with one hand while brushing with the other — well, that’s like two minutes of awkward hopping and peeling while your actual brushing loses focus and maybe even slips out of your mouth a few times. You end up grabbing the counter before you slip, a half-peeled sock on your foot, a few foamy streaks across your lips, and you just have to laugh.

Because you’ll get it eventually.

And when you do you’ll become an official member of the Toothpaste Stroller Club. Fellow members, you know what I’m talking about. You know that multitasking while brushing your teeth scratches a small Type A part of your brain just the right way. Yes, because instead of examining your zits or flaring your nostrils in the mirror, you can feel satisfied that as you spit that puddle of foamy Colgate into the sink, that dog-eared pile of Time magazines on top of the toilet is just as organized and ready for bed as you are.


These feet were made for walking.

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#901 Flipping through the entire bank of posters in the record store when you need to kill time at the mall

Have you ever needed to just kill some time at the mall?

Say your girlfriend’s doing rounds at La Senza, your parent’s called and said they’d be late picking you up, or the friend you’re waiting for is mopping floors at the food court to finish up their shift.

Well, that’s when flipping through the entire bank of posters at the back of the music store comes in handy.

Because seriously, there’s about fifty posters there, too. If you take your time and do it right, you can eat up ten or fifteen minutes reading the entire Periodic Table of Mixed Drinks or the 13 Different Types of Bowel Movements.


Stare intensely into Mel's eyes

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#903 Picking at scabs

It's so bad it's good

There’s just something so tempting about picking your scabs.

Maybe it’s because they sort of brown, harden, and crisp up, and end up looking like small, bumpy countries on the side of a topographical map. You just can’t help but play God, cracking up the coastline, slowly twisting the island around, or just ripping the whole thing off in one painful shot.

I mean sure, it might sting a bit. But check out that brand new skin underneath. All flaky and pink, ready and waiting for whatever this great big world has to offer. Even if it offers another round of rollerskating without kneepads on a gravel driveway.

Yes, picking scabs is a sweet guilty release — like twisting your tongue into your loose baby teeth, popping big zits in the center of your cheeks, or dropping hot farts underneath the sheets.



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#904 When you just barely manage to squeeze out enough toothpaste for one last brush

Say you wake up Monday morning and realize you forgot to set your alarm clock. Now not only did you miss out on some quality snoozetime, but you’re late for work to boot. You jump out of bed, jump on the toilet, jump in the shower, jump into some clothes, and run to the bathroom to brush your teeth before running out the door.

But then you see it.

That thin, rolled-up toothpaste tube laying completely empty on your counter, the life completely squeezed out of it over the past few weeks. Your jaw drops and your memory flies back…

… you vividly recall making the first soft dent in the tube’s cylindrical purity, back when the paste was flowing like water, just waiting to come out. It seemed like it would never end. Over the next few weeks, there were some great moments, like:

  • The time you forgot to put the lid on and had to squeeze real hard through a tiny pinprick hole in the center of the congealed toothpaste wall the next day.
  • The first time you had to roll it up, coiling the thick, once-mighty toothpaste anaconda into a tightly wound fraction of itself. This was foreshadowing, but still — the paste kept flowing and you thought nothing of it.
  • The time you thought you actually were out of toothpaste, but you managed to unroll it and slide it real hard across the edge of your bathroom counter, completely coaxing all the minty green molecules up to the front door.

Oh, those heady days

You smile slightly at the foggy memories of those better days, before your brain quickly jerks you forward to the present.

Which is right now. When you’re late for work.

You stare into your empty tube of toothpaste, you glance quickly at your watch, and you decide to just go for it, one last time.

You grab your brush, grit your teeth, and squeeze your thumb and forefinger together as hard as you can, right on the head of the toothpaste tube. You squeeze and squeeze and squeeze and squeeze, your thumb pounding, your brow pulsing, your brush pleading…

… until it finally comes: that very last, very weak, very small little dot of toothpaste, just peeking its head out the front door of the tube, just in time for you to swipe at it with your toothbrush, swab it around your mouth, and spit it out.



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#905 Using all the different soaps and shampoos in your friend’s shower

Shampoo doesn’t travel well.

First of all, you can barely get it on the plane. Nope, no liquids in your carry-on, so unless you’ve got a little travel bottle or you’re checking in a big suitcase, you can’t really take it. And even if you do check it in, you’ve got the packing problem. I know my terrible method of putting a big bottle of shampoo in a couple plastic bags isn’t the answer. But what is? Travel bottles are more trouble than they’re worth — you have to play sloppy scientist to refill them and they’re small and easy to forget everywhere.

No, shampoo just doesn’t travel well. Like fireworks, katana blades, or colicky babies, it just wasn’t meant to fly. So if you’re like me, you just don’t pack it. You swallow hard, zip that suitcase, and trust that your hair will make it home.

When you hit the road without shampoo a few things could happen:

  1. You might have to slum it, oily style. Just work that comb and pray for no dandruff.
  2. You might have to use one of the little hotel bottles of shampoo or tear into one of their tiny little shampoo samples with your teeth in the shower. If you’re like me, you’ll probably use the lotion in your hair too, thinking it’s conditioner.
  3. Best case scenario: you’re crashing with friends and you get to take a shower in their shower and go wild using all the different shampoos and soaps they’ve got in there.

Now, we all know the last option is clearly the best. However, it only works if you actually are staying with friends and if you shower in their real shower — not their guest shower, not their basement shower, but their actual shower, the one they use every day. That’s where you peel back their crinkly, mildewed curtain and open up a fantasy world full of half-used bizarro-products filling all the corners of the bathtub, piled high in bright pinks and neon greens, just like a candy store.

So go ahead: lock that door, strip right down, and get right in there. Just make sure you follow the unspoken showering in other people’s shower rules:

  1. Bar Ban. The bar of soap is completely off limits, no questions asked. You don’t know where it’s been, they don’t know where you’re putting it, so you just have to stay away. The last thing they want for a thank you gift is nest of your coarse n’ curlies stuck to the Ivory bar.
  2. Watch the clock. Definitely enjoy the moment, but don’t take too long. You don’t know their hot water situation or if they need the bathroom, so get out before you get the place too steamy. And leave the fan on.
  3. Sampling is encouraged. If you’re staying with a couple, chances are good they’ve got a his and hers sections. Try both! What’s this? New scent of AXE body-wash? Squirt! Weird kiwi-grapefruit face wash? Squirt! Forty-dollar a bottle salon conditioner that looks like it came from a science lab? Squirt squirt squirt!
  4. Don’t finish anything. Squirt away, yeah. Just don’t drain the last of anything. You never know. They might have been counting on just one more use of their favorite conditioner, and you don’t want to rob them of that.

So that’s it. That’s the perfect traveling shampoo situation and there’s the rules for living by it.

Now, is it just me, or does using all the different shampoos and soaps in someone else’s shower make you feel like you’re in some kind of focus group? You can just see the end of it, too: a few folks in white smocks hold clipboards waiting for you outside the bathroom door. It flies open and steam shoots out in all directions. You emerge in a towel, your skin still damp, your feet still wet. And quickly, there are questions: “What did you think of the blue bottle? Did it give you the lather you were looking for? What about the scent?” They keep going, too, writing furiously as you spit out your first impressions. Then they ask the big one: “What was the shower experience like overall?” They wait expectantly, heads bowed, pencils hovering just above the sheet, eyes peering up at you over their glasses.

And you smile and you nod and you know what to tell them.


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#906 Drinking a glass of freezing cold water right after eating ice cream

Get the tap running

So when you chug down that cold glass of water, it’s like an Arctic dam spilling into a sugary mineshaft. That water just feels so refreshing — like jumping into a bathtub of ice cubes, injecting Gatorade into your heart, or showering after a really, really long time.

And is it just me, or does the water seem to take away a bit of the guilt, too? Like you’re somehow balancing out the cold, fat lump of Cherry Garcia in the pit of your stomach with something healthy and calling it even.

Hey, works for me.


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#907 When your local sports team is on national TV

Maybe you’re the San Diego Chargers fan who watches every game wearing a football helmet and a big foam thumb on your couch. Maybe you’re a diehard freak for the Boston Red Sox, Montreal Canadiens, or Manchester United. Or maybe you can’t stop watching Chinese Taipei’s majestic Cinderella climb into the Little League World Series.

Whatever your bag, one thing’s for sure: there’s nothing finer than watching your favorite team on national television. For so many reasons:

  • Pressure. The audience for your team shoots up exponentially and your favorite players are broadcast into strange living rooms around the world. This is the big moment where everybody will judge you, so you better be ready to perform. Don’t let it get to your head.
  • Better announcers. Okay, you may lose some of the local favorites who cheer for your club all the time. But you gain the veterans who’ve been broadcasting for years. I mean, how sweet is it when Orel Hershiser chimes in with a stat on Sunday Night Baseball?
  • Feel like you’re home. Hey, if you don’t live in your home town anymore the big show might be the only chance you get to see your team play. How great is it to watch The World Cup in big city bars around the world? That’s what I’m talking about.
  • It means you’re at least somewhat decent. Because they probably wouldn’t broadcast you nationally if your team was the Baltimore Orioles or something.

When your local club makes the Monday game, the World Cup, or the Final Four, there’s just something special about sitting down at home and watching them compete on that big stage. So take the phone off the hook, make some popcorn, and settle in for a great night with a million friends.


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