Has there been something eating you up on the inside? This thing you’re always on the cusp of realizing? Maybe it entered your mind for a fleeting moment, and then disappeared into the ether.
You might think to yourself, “Later; maybe when I’m on vacation in Maui,” or “I really ought to take a week off and just be lazy and catch up with those,” or “Maybe one episode a day till I’m done.”
Yet, it never happens.
The first step in finding a solution is admitting there’s a problem, and the problem is that I (and possibly you) never quite got to finish the ’90s.
I only made it about 33% through the ’90s. I can thank my parents work schedule, church – especially Wednesday and Sunday night service1 – , Cub Scouts, and sports for part of that.
And then the ’90s were just over
The moment you’re taught about war, and especially the Holocaust, in any honest detail, your childhood is over, no matter who you are. It probably went something like this:
Child: So you’re saying that for thousands of years governments just killed kids? But we’re just kids. I thought the government was supposed to be good.
Adult: Our government is good, we don’t kill kids.
Child: But you just told me we dropped two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There were thousands of kids in those cities!
Adult: Ya, but those were bad kids. Not good, American, Christian kids, like you.
Child: I’m not an American…
Fortunately for me, that segment of “social studies” class didn’t happen until after I’d discovered the opposite sex. The person who really ended the ’90s for me was Bill Clinton. The same guy who gave me my Presidential Physical Fitness award in 5th grade, launched a cruise missile right at the ’90s. Right in its face.
Yep, you can thank Bill Clinton… and girls.
Ok, maybe just girls.
If you learn about the horrors of war after puberty, it’s goes more like this:
Child: Did governments kill all those kids to impress girls?
Adult: [Thinks about it for a while] Yes.
Child: Hmmm, makes sense.
Bill Clinton was my scapegoat. I stopped caring about all those cool ’90s activities like going to the Discovery Zone, or playing Area 51 at Peter Piper Pizza, or trying to buy stink bombs from the Ice Cream truck, or slangin’ that rock at recess. By “slangin'” I mean moving product on the Elementary School Barter System, also known as the ESBS, and by “rock” I mean Lucas, the Mexican powdered candy.2
The ESBS was tough exchange to trade on. One slip up and you could go bankrupt on some bad baseball cards, or an easily broken laser pointer. There was no AppleCare or warranties back in those days. We made it work though, and Lucas greased everybody’s palms just right.3 If there was a recession, you could just throw some Lucas in there and jumpstart the economy right back up. All of a sudden everybody wants to trade again!
In the early days of the ESBS, quite a few fortunes were made in the Pogs and slammers market, from kids that started from the bottom. Then the Pogs bubble burst. Those were dark times, when you could see the former Pogs millionaires begging for scraps. Those were the days you’d just throw them a snickers bar out of pity.
There was also the Elementary School Black Market or ESBM run by the 5th and 6th graders, where you could get more adult products, like lighters, fireworks, makeshift explosives4, and bootlegged software, like Quake or Doom.
Don’t ever confuse the ESBS with the ESBM.
The ’90s stopped when I stopped doing things for fun, or for “child reasons.” I started doing things to impress girls.
Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. Genesis 3:7
I wanted to go to the pool, and show off my six-pack, and play in the water with the ladies. I’ve had a six-pack since the age of six 5, and I’d always played in the pool with girls. So it wasn’t like any of this was new, or even a rare occurrence, especially in the Arizona heat.
But all of a sudden you’re growing a mustache, and loosing brain cells, so it all feels new.
The “before” times
I was born in 1986, and turned 13 just before the year 2000. My childhood was lived through the most golden age of American history, back when shows like The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and movies like 3 Ninjas convinced 7-year-old-me that I could beat up a 200 lb adult male, if my parents would only let me take karate.
“Why won’t they let me take karate?!”
Reminds me of the time I was home alone and I heard a strange noise. Thinking someone was breaking into the house, but also not completely sure, I grabbed 3 knives and hid in the bathroom. One knife in each hand, and a spare held between my teeth. The noise was just my dad coming home from work. He found me in the bathroom ready to fight, and in typical Nigerian fashion muttered something like, “What is all this?”
“Oh, that’s why they won’t let me take karate.”
But let’s unpack things a little bit, to back before the opposite sex gave me brain damage.
The Outdoor Activities
Do you remember that birthday party you were at, where you and the other kids were playing the most epic game of tag, but you had to leave early because your mom had to get to work? Ok, so not the rich kids, but the rest of us.
Well, at least we got to finish “Diver waters!” every day during summer break. You know who you are.
The Kids Shows
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Rescue Rangers, Ducktales, Talespin, Inspector Gadget, Darkwing Duck, Arthur, Ghostwriter6, Wishbone, Batman: The Animated Series, X-men, Captain Planet; didn’t finish any of those.
The only kids show that I can say I’ve actually finished, which means I’ve seen 99.9% of the episodes and seen the ending, is Dragon Ball Z.
I didn’t get to see the Power Rangers movie, where they apparently got to be Ninja Rangers for a little bit, and get Ninjazords.
That’s a missed opportunity!
How did the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers become Power Rangers Zeo? How did Goof Troop end? I have no clue, and it bothers me.
When you’re older, you look at all that and realize that some dude somewhere made a billion dollars off of all of us. His same was Haim Saban.
Speaking of billions of dollars, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention The Simpsons, and I’m not quite sure it qualifies as a kid’s show, but it was the first show that made me laugh so hard I couldn’t breathe.
“We will always love Kamp Krusty…
A registered trademark of the Krusty Korporation. All rights reserved.” The Simpsons
The Educational Shows
Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? I still don’t know.
I do know that if the multiverse is real, that somewhere, a 10 year old version of me made it onto that show and won.
Beakman’s World? That show taught me science and gave me nightmares. Who the heck dresses as a giant homeless rat on a kid’s show? Somewhere in my parents house is a VHS recording of that show, made by me, and properly labeled by me, “David’s TV Shows.”
Kratts’ Creatures? As far as I’m concerned, the Kratt brothers are still somewhere in Australia learning air kicks from kangaroos.
The Magic School Bus? I actually learned a lot from that show. Still didn’t finish it though.
Bill Nye the Science Guy? Yes, just…yes. Bill taught me just how far away the planets are from each other, if you scale them down to the size of basketballs. Mind. Blown. The show had a hilarious narrator, by the way.
I’ve never actually seen the entire film The Little Mermaid. I watched bits and pieces here and there. A little bit in kindergarten, before being placed in timeout in the storage room7, a little bit in 3rd grade, when you get to have “movie time” in class as a reward, or part of a holiday celebration.
The movies I never finished 8:
- The Secret of Nimh
- FernGully: The Last Rainforest
- The Little Mermaid
- Robin Hood
- Lady and the Tramp
- All Dogs Go to Heaven (the little I did watch gave me nightmares)
- The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Movies I’ve never even watched:
- Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
Ok, so looking back at this list, I guess I should be a little bit proud that I didn’t finish some these movies (for manly reasons), but there’s still that feeling of “What if?”
Sitcoms and Sci-Fi
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Family Matters, Step by Step…
“Step by step, day by da- ‘daay byy daaaaaaaay!'”
Sorry…uh, Full House, Boy Meets World. I never finished any of those sitcoms. Boy Meets World probably came the closest, thanks to reruns. This was a pre-Netflix world. If you were out and about, you rarely watched these sitcoms in order. If you missed a week, you could count on summer re-runs.
“Binge watching” an entire season of your favorite show over a weekend wasn’t even a thing back then, and if it were possible to do such a thing, you’d probably get arrested for it.
Though I never crossed the finish line, I guess I took part in the most important episodes, like the episode of Fresh Prince that made everyone cry. Ya, you remember the one, “How come he don’t want me, man?”
I’m tearing up just thinking about that. Here, you can too:
The only sitcom I probably watched every episode of was Wishbone, and that wasn’t even a sitcom. Then there was also Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, and Xena: Warrior Princess.
Where were you when Princess Diana died?
I was watching the season finale of Hercules on Fox 10, around 8 or 9pm on a Saturday night, when they cut the programming to go to breaking news in England. My mother was sewing, and she started crying when she heard.
As an 11 year old, this tragic news was actually my introduction to Princess Diana of Wales. I had no idea who she was before then, nor that she was so important that my own mother would cry over her.
It was also around this time that I got introduced to the pilot episode of Stargate SG-1, by accident. Best. Accident. Ever.9
“This was before all that emo-hipster new millennium jazz. Back before TV shows were all about baby mamas and sex tapes.”
Speaking of accidents, there really were shows I watched only by accident, like if I was at a friends house with her two older sisters, they’d watch Friends. If my mom was in control of the TV, I’d find myself watching ER.
Forget that Dawson’s Creek, Everwood, Roswell, Smallville nonsense on The WB (now known as The CW). This was before all that emo-hipster new millennium jazz. Back before TV shows were all about baby mamas and sex tapes. I’d already crossed the Rubicon 10 by the time those shows became popular.
I did watch those shows from time to time, in order to figure out how better to impress girls, in-between the time I had allotted to actually impress girls.
Let me give you a history lesson. Before Smallville, there was Lois and Clark. Sheeeew! Sunday evening church really busted my chops when it came to that show. Then there was that episode of American Gladiator where Superman (Dean Cain) went on there and owned everybody. I still respect that dude because of that!
Is a story better left unfinished?
So by now, you’re probably feeling pretty nostalgic. Those aren’t just TV shows and cartoons. Those are stories.
They were ideas written in the imaginations of men and women we’ll never meet, no different than the invention of the telephone, or the Atomic Bomb. Everything starts out as an idea.
Those stories all lead towards a climax and resolution. And most of those stories were left unfinished and unresolved in my mind, but they never went anywhere. They’re still waiting for all of us in a type of ’90s purgatory, on a Netflix server somewhere.
Do I finish them and gain closure, or do I let them live forever?
Two songs I love, 11 are loved by me, not just because they’re beautiful, but because they don’t actually end. They just fade while the choir is still going as strong as ever.
So in your mind, in some parallel universe, somewhere, they’re still singing it.
I have a confession to make
I have never beaten Super Mario Bros, you know, the one for the original NES. I know where most of the extra life mushrooms are. I know all the secret entrances to the portals in the underground levels. I just can’t seem to make it past those last few blasted dungeons and their perfectly timed fire carousels.
You know what I did finish?
The mile run, basketball practice, baseball practice, my vegetables12, swim class, The Lion King, Beethoven’s 6th symphony, Doom, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2, and sometimes even my homework.
I do have a solution
If you just can’t find the time to squeeze it in, I have just what you’ve been looking for. Next time you’ve got a long flight somewhere, just load up your smartphone or tablet with an entire season of an old ’90s TV shows and watch it on the airplane. Nobody’s going to judge you. You might even make a friend.
“It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…. And one fine morning —”13 we will finally watch the series finale of Ducktales.
* * *
* Some images were modified for the sake of commentary
Yes, church was a 3 times a week affair for us for a good portion of my life. Oh, I almost forgot the Friday night prayer meetings, and random bible studies, and preaching engagements, and being the video and sound guy for your dad’s Cable Access show when you’re only 9 years old. You get dragged to all of those functions when you’re a pastor’s kid.↩
It was the most scarce good in the market. No one knew where it came from, and nobody cared. So long as you had it, you could trade anyone for anything. It would just show up and float around school for a few days, and then disappear. Lucas taught us kids about supply and demand, years before we ever took an economics course.↩
Apparently Lucas is supposed to be used as a type of seasoning on fruit and other foods. This is news to me! At my school, we took it straight.↩
We used to get black powder from Estes model rocket engines ↩
Consequence of being a skinny kid, and playing sports your whole life↩
This wasn’t a show I was particularly interested in finishing. It’s just one of those things you’d accidentally turn to on a Saturday afternoon after all the cartoons were done, and you’d stick through the whole episode for no reason in particular. Very vaguely interesting.↩
Back when teachers were allowed to put you in timeout in the storage room. You know, the good ‘ole days.↩
Either because I watched pieces here and there, or I watched most of it and missed the ending↩
I will often re-read an article I write several times and I just caught a minor slip up. In hindsight, this sounds a little like a pun on the death of Princess Diana. It’s not. Please don’t take it that way. ↩
The Puberty Rubicon↩
You are the Living Word by Fred Hammond (Hooked on the Hits), and He Loved Me to the End by Jenny Powell (Constant)↩
My Nigerian vegetables.↩
The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald↩