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Hoju's 7th Birthday Party: 1989
By: Hoju Koolander
I recently moved and in the process of unpacking boxes came across a VHS tape from 1989 containing only 15 minutes of footage. So what had my Dad chosen to focus the family camcorder on during these brief moments of filming? If you guessed my 7th birthday party, you would be right (or you just read the title of the article). Don't worry if you never got an invitation, there's still time to RSVP and join the fun.
Now you may be asking why I am not posting actual video footage from the tape. The truth is that some of the best retro imagery passes by so fast, it's hard to identify in real time. So I thought it would be easier to present the excitement in a photo format. (Ding-Dong) There's the doorbell, all the guests are here!
There's nothing harder to control than a group of nine, rowdy 7 year olds, so my Mom wisely herded me and my buddies into the backyard to wear us out before the festivities began. Yes, that's me waving at the camera in the Toronto Blue Jays jersey (click here to read about my embarrassing t-ball career) and the rest of the gang is making good use of my swing set. The crew was a mix of friends from school, church and even my pre-school in-home daycare days. Once we got tired of entertaining ourselves, my Mom assembled us all for a game.
Water Balloons were definitely the way to get the attention of first grade boys and we quickly huddled around to grab our liquid ammo. I can't speak for the rest of my friends, but I definitely imagined that I was throwing a grenade as I wound up to hit the target. So who was the imagined enemy we were planning to saturate? No, not The Shredder (though TMNT will come into play later) and not The Joker either, since my birthday is in May and the Tim Burton Batman film was still 1 month away. So who was getting soaked?
Hey, it's a Dinosaur! Let's face it, there's no creature more worthy of a young man's attention than a terrible Thunder-Lizard, even in a pre-Jurassic Park world. While Denver, The Last Dinosaur or Ghengis Rex from Dinosaucers would have been more flashy, this, uh, Platypus-a-saurus (anybody know the real name of this duck-billed T-Rex cousin?) got the job done. We sent our best Nolan Ryan style water balloon pitches hurling at his pre-historic punum, but soon were ready to take the action inside.
Physical activity outdoors was all well and good, but there was no denying the draw of the Nintendo Entertainment System. The little gray video game system was at it's zenith in 1989 with The Wizard in movie theaters to debut Super Mario Bros 3, Captain N The Game Master on Saturday Mornings and The Super Mario Bros Super Show on weekday afternoons. This scene of kids huddled around the TV watching the NES action occurred during every party I attended during this era.
So what were we playing? One of my all time favorites, T and C Surf Wood and Water Rage, a surfing and skateboarding game inspired by a line of beach clothing we all wore back in the day. In a funny coincidence, Keith, the kid with the controller was actually wearing a T and C brand t-shirt. You can just make out the Yin and Yang symbol on his shirt sleeve, but it's much more clear later at the dinner table where we all gathered for the main event. Speaking of which, let's get to the sweet stuff!
Gathered around the kitchen table under the brightly colored birthday banner, my friends and I had no time for boring old sheet cake. Instead we enjoyed a unique frozen treat that was my personal favorite, Mr. San Francisco! For those of you who never had a chance to eat at Swensen's, it was a West Coast ice cream parlor in the vein of Friendly's or Farrell's back east. A Mr. San Francisco was always my go-to when my family visited Swensen's for special occasions and this year my Mom decided to bring the magic home.
As you can see in this closer view, Mr. San Francisco is a clown made from a scoop of ice cream on a plate, with an upside down waffle cone for a hat, various candies making up the facial features and whipped cream for the frilly lace. In this case we also added licorice rope to the mix and I must admit the result is kind of horrific, seeming to have come from the twisted mind of H.R. Geiger or David Cronenberg.
My Mom captured all the fun on one of those old school slim cameras. I love the fact that my Dad decided to focus on her in the act of taking a photograph, rather than the sugary fun at the table. Is it just me, or does Mom look like Cyclops from the X-Men, getting ready to blast us all with a force beam? You can get a better view of the camera in the second shot where my buddy, Parker disappointingly stares at a party snack that I think is a Sugar Date. If you've ever tried to eat a Date you probably made the same face. Alright, so on to the presents.
Unfortunately my Dad decided to skip over the part where I opened all the gifts from my friends, but luckily there was an after party that night with just my family where a few more presents were to be had. First up was a basic Lego set from my older brother. It wasn't anything to get excited about and I had to be coached into saying, "Thank You" by my Mom. I had already inherited several boxes of standard Legos at this point, so why did I need more of the same? Yeah, I was (and still am) kind of hard to get gifts for.
Luckily the next Lego product was much cooler. If you don't remember the Technic series, it was a more advanced building concept that focused on creating frames of vehicles as opposed to solid shapes. The fact that the pieces were bright yellow made it look much more industrial construction based, which was a major plus. I don't know that I ever built anything more complicated than long crane arms, but I still felt way cooler playing with Technic than little colored bricks. So what was the final gift of the evening?
Yep, it's the ultimate 80's fashion statement, an acid washed jean jacket. The look on my face says it all, doesn't it? "CLOTHES?" No matter how trendy, no kid wanted clothes over plastic toys or video games. Of course my Mom made me try it on, all the while saying, "Isn't that cool?" My brother tried to sweeten the moment and tie it in to the previous gifts by saying, "Isn't that the same jacket Zak from those Lego commercials wears? He's a Lego maniac." But I wasn't buying it. An apathetic thumbs up was all I could muster.
The truth is that I had already gotten what I really wanted during the "Friend Party" and the evidence of that awesomeness was all over the table in front of me. You see there, lined up against that plate of cupcakes? All 4 of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toys.
All throughout the end of the video, there were 4 radical mutants hiding behind pints of ice cream, water glasses and even mocking me in front of the box that was about to elicit the ultimate face of disgust. In 1989 it was impossible to beat Leo, Raph, Don or Mikey and I'm glad they were there to add an extra bit of cowabunga to my birthday celebration.
So there you have it, a look back at what birthday parties were like in the late 80's. I'm curious to hear if any of you had similar experiences of birthday fun or disappointment. It's all part of being a kid after all.
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