Sunday, April 22, 2012

Quench yourself, fool.

In the late 1980's I started something of a personal tradition ... the carrying of an Aladdin insulated mug with sweet tea in it.  The first mug was purchased at a local Junior Food Mart convenience store and I believe that it was the 32 ounce model ... white or bone white/gray with a red top and red "Jr. Food Mart Mega Mug" logo on the side along with the displacement call out ... something to brag about like the "5.0" or the "SS" or the "Tuned Port Injection" logo on your muscle car.  You purchased the mug and the cost included the initial filling of the mug with one of the many flavors from the self-serve soda fountain (I had to settle for Coke and Coke products (yech) since JFM didn't carry Pepsi but one store in particular carried Coke that was more syrup than soda and it was actually pretty good since it didn't have that annoying Coke "bite" to it when you drank it).  Refills cost considerably less than the initial purchase price of the mug and over the long run you could amortize the cost of the mug into basically nothing.

See ... I graduated college with a degree in business administration so I'm always looking at not only the bottom line but ways to maximize profit, especially if it's my own personal profit.

Later, in 1990 to 1991, when I worked for Puckett Labs as a medical courier, I upgraded the 32 ounce model to the new and improved 44 ounce model ... woo-hoo!  It was almost fifty percent more beverage!  I found that I could go to the Sonic drive-in on 4th Street and get a Route 44 sweet tea, dump it all into the 44 ounce Mega Mug and be set for about half of my trip.  There was a Sonic on the other end of my route which I would grab lunch at and refill my Mega Mug with sweet tea for the return trip.

And then came the big one ... the 52 ounce Mega Mug. 

So big that if you spilled it inside your car chances were that you would drown before you could ever get out of your seat belt and open out of the door ... rescue and EMT personnel would just find your lifeless body floating in a car filled to the roof with Coke or Coke product and they'd probably have to get the Straws of Life out to open up your vehicle.  That 52 ounce Mega Mug was just truly ridiculous in its volumetric capacity but its ability to carry a favorite beverage flavor and keep it cool for most of the day was legendary. Over the course of the 1990's, I kept one mug faithfully, so much that people came to associate me with the mug and if they ever saw the mug sitting around somewhere they knew I wasn't far away.  If I went to hang out with my friends, when they answered the door I was always standing there to greet them with my 52 ounce Mega Mug in hand.

- The Gang in Bay St. Louis - circa Fall 1993 -
At a friend's beach house with Eric, Cindy, Mel,
Bill and me with my trusty JFM Mega Mug
My Mega Mug and I were inseparable and we remained that way until the mid to late '90's.  It became something of a running joke that I wasn't ready to go until I had my Mega Mug in hand and it was full.  At 52 ounces of capacity, people also joked that not only did the Mega Mug have its own tidal forces acting upon it but that it took almost as long to fill it up at a convenience store fountain as it did to fill up gas in the car we were in. 

During the late '90's I began to purchase a large stock of these mugs and store them away in case ... I don't know ... Just in case.  I think that by the time the year 2000 rolled around I was still using my original 52 ounce mug (the lesser mugs had gone ... somewhere ... and been forgotten) but I had four more, unopened, still in their shrink wrap, held in reserve.  

And then something happened ... my original mug vanished.

It was like losing a cherished pet or a breaking up with your girlfriend. 

To his day I still do not know the fate of my beloved 52 ounce Junior Food Mart Mega Mug only that it was gone and it was sorely missed.  I went to my reserve stock and tore another 52 ounce Mega Mug out of its shrink wrap.  Months later, that mug vanished as well, fate unknown.  This happened over the course of two years, the early 2000's, and every Mega Mug that I had disappeared.  I went to the Junior Food Mart where I had originally purchased the Mega Mugs ... and they had none!

I couldn't find a Mega Mug anywhere!

Sadness set in for the long haul as I began to search for a replacement.  Bubba Keg?  Nope, it just wasn't the same.  Other insulated mugs from various companies ... not the same.  Finally, a few years ago, my wife got me a Tervis Tumbler for my birthday, a practical birthday present, and while it served me faithfully and admirably it still wasn't an Aladdin Mega Mug and so I made do with what I had for a few years more.

One day, bored, I got on Ebay and looked for a "Junior Food Mart Mega Mug" with no results found.  I saved the search and then made a new search called "Aladdin mug" and saved that as well.  A few weeks later, my search notified me of several Aladdin mug offerings and what did I find?  

Mega Mugs!

Well, not Mega Mugs since I guess that is a trademark name of JFM not used by Aladdin on their products but it was the same tankard devoid of commercial logos.  I did a search on Aladdin and discovered that the company had been bought out by another company and that Aladdin had closed its Tennessee based manufacturing location ... thus no more Mega Mugs.  A seller on Ebay had gone to the closeout of the TN manufacturing location and had purchased a large quantity of these high capacity insulated mugs for sale at a later date and over about two months I purchased five from him, four white with blue lids and no logos and one white with a blue lid and a Chevron "Cold Front" logo.

Ahhh!  Sated bliss!  More fluid storage capacity than a double humped camel!  This is the Quench-Essential Thirst Prevention Tool and next to the Moon Landing it may be the greatest technological achievement known to Man.
There was great cause for celebration!  My best container friend was back and I had spares!  


Happy happy joy joy!

Holding this mug in my hand now is like seeing an old friend that you lost track of and even though it isn't technically a "Mega Mug" that is what it will always be to me.  If you're looking for one of the best insulated beverage cups on the planet, get on Ebay and buy yourself an old Aladdin insulated mug in the 32, 44 or if you've got the balls (and the bladder capacity), the almighty 52 ounce size and quench yourself, fool.


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Ideal “JAWS” Game and Kenner’s ALIEN figure

As a lifelong fan of toys (at 43 years of age I still walk through the toy departments of stores) I often get time to sit back and reminisce on toys from my youth both those that I had and those that I did not.  Two toys that I did not have were the “JAWS” game by Ideal and the ALIEN figure by Kenner though I remember seeing both for sale in the stores at the time that they were available for purchase and I think that I played the Jaws game a time or two at some point in my youth.

Toys taken from movies that no kid was ever supposed to go see.

You have to wonder about the mindset of toy marketing execs … here you have two toys designed from the core creatures of (at the time) rated R splatterfests that were terrorizing adults in theaters.  Think about it, toys for children taken from the core creatures featured in movies that children aren’t allowed to see … that’s a leap of faith there, folks.  I can imagine a parent giving a child one of these toys and when the child looks up with questioning eyes the parent merely says 

“Here’s a toy representing an unstoppable biological death machine that tears people limb from limb while repainting the entire area with the blood of its victims and decorating said space with the entrails from the dead bodies.  Have fun, kiddo!”

In the mid 1970’s, the movie “JAWS” was responsible for putting a real fear of open water and the beach in a lot of people.  ALIEN couldn’t really do that, since it took place in space and, despite what we’d been told as kids since the 1950’s, even by 1979 families just weren’t taking their vacations in space.  The beach, however, was a different matter.  I’d question the values of any parent that took a child to see either “JAWS” or “ALIEN” but I can’t since while I didn’t see “JAWS”, my father did take me to see “ALIEN” in 1979 and, suffice to say, it scared the weasel piss out of me (I was 9 at the time).  Today, ALIEN and ALIENS are two of my favorite movies but back then, to a kid who was all into Star Wars and for who aliens were cute or cuddly things, seeing ALIEN was a real mind-fuck.

As such, who were the marketing executives who looked at “JAWS” and “ALIEN” and said “You know, I bet we can make some toys for kids from those movies!”  I don’t know who those people were, but the toys were actually made and marketed with mixed results.

The “JAWS” game was sold by IDEAL (previously known for their Evel Knieval series of toys) and kids had to wonder about the background to this game.  It was pretty simple, along the lines of “the straw that broke the camel’s back” game theory, in that there was this big plastic shark that you loaded his hinged jaw with items (including a human skull and a femur bone) and you used a hook on a pole to “fish” the items out, one at a time.  I’m assuming that the items all weighed different amounts and that certain combinations would lead to shorter or longer games but that’s something for Rainman to figure out (“Definitely the skull.  The skull.  Definitely the skull.”).   

The short of it is that the “game” was over when someone removed an item that took enough weight off the rest of the items to cause the jaw of the shark to either slowly close on the fishing hook or to rapidly shut on the hook (scattering the other parts of the game and probably making a few lesser skilled children wet themselves).  Even though the game was harmless, for the most part (I’ve never met anyone who had to have therapy for playing it in their youth) the decision to market a toy based on an R-rated horror movie proved that the dollar will always win over common sense.

Fast forward a few years to the edge of the Star Wars marketing supernova, a retail marketing chain reaction set off by the blockbuster movie and George Lucas’ foresight to retain marketing rights for merchandise from the movie itself.  Kenner rode a treasure train to unheard of profit in the late 1970’s with their line of toys from the Star Wars movie.  In fact, Star Wars and Kenner’s success was such that a string of copy-cat movies and toys soon appeared.  If it dealt with space, aliens, spaceships and laser guns chances were better than good that someone in Hollywood was going to throw some money your way and that a toy company was going to want to do some toy based off of your movie.

And so it was with Ridley Scott’s blockbuster sci-fi horror masterpiece, “ALIEN” which came onto the scene a full two years after Lucas’ “Star Wars.”  Where Star Wars was a fairytale of good triumphing over evil, ALIEN was a much narrower and smaller story.  Star Wars was grandiose space opera at its finest, the best of the old Buster Crabbe / Flash Gordon / Erol Flynn movies in vibrant eye melting color and accompanied by a soundtrack the likes of which could be compared to the all time great composers.  ALIEN, on the other hand, was biological, xenomorphic death in dark tunnels, dimly lit rooms and a splatterfest in space.  It was a meat grinder in close quarters, a crew of a commercial ship (no military training, equipment or weapons) is forced by a company protocol to answer a mysterious distress signal and they inadvertently discover an alien life form, an incredibly strong, hostile and violent life form, bring it back onboard their ship and then proceed to die one by one in the most horrible fashion imaginable.

The cantina scene in Star Wars, ALIEN ain’t.

So, Kenner, in their infinite wisdom and riding high on the pride of their super well selling Star Wars toy line, looks at Ridley Scott’s new movie and thinks “I bet we can market a toy based on that new ALIEN movie and sell it to kids … why, let’s market the ALIEN creature itself!”  And do you know what?  They did!  In 1979, Kenner introduced “THE ALIEN” and because it was a rush to market, it was a somewhat poorly made toy that not only came apart under the duress of hard play but also didn’t hold up in storage over the many years that followed.  Expensive, quirky, ill-made and with a sales flow matching that of a constipated snail, the Kenner ALIEN figure was not only a surprise bitch slap in the face to toy maker giant Kenner, it was a good swift kick in their now oversized and proudly displayed dangling tenders as well.


Here is a link to the 1979 Kenner “ALIEN” toy commercial.  When it comes to being scared, I don’t think those kids were acting.  In fact, they were probably rushed from the commercial set and put straight into therapy where they spent the formative years of their teenage lives.

Another problem with the ALIEN figure / toy itself was its large size … think about it.  This toy was huge and at a foot and a half of evil, dark colored plastic ugliness you couldn’t use it with your three and three quarter inch Star Wars action figures because they would look like Fay Wray to King Kong.  Since Kenner didn’t market any of the rest of the crew of the ill-fated commercial towing vessel “Nostromo” in scale to accompany the ALIEN creature, about the only thing this toy was good for was bridging the imagination gap over to the then aging 12” line of Hasbro’s Adventure Team and scaring the ever living crap out of your full size G.I. Joe with Kung-Fu Grip™, especially since there was still a pretty good size difference in the ALIEN figure’s favor.  No wonder Eagle Eyed Joe was constantly looking left and right … you’d be eye sliding like crazy as well if you knew that the Kenner ALIEN figure was in the same room as you, especially with that glow in the dark brain under that clear chitin upper carapace and that inner set of jaws which slid in and out faster than a discount whore’s set of dentures.

Today, both the IDEAL “JAWS” game and the Kenner ALIEN toy figure are high priced relics of bad toy maker decision processes, mistakes in hindsight that didn’t seem like mistakes at the time and which have now found their rightful home in the possession of collectors and toy aficionados.  If you’re looking for one of these items, Ebay is probably your best bet but be prepared to pay through the nose for either of these long out of production toys, especially the Kenner ALIEN figure (when you can find it all in one piece or in pristine condition).

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

If anesthesia is its own religion then suffering must be its pilgrimage. 

My first root canal ... at 42 years old I consider it something of a rite of passage ... like my first gray hair several years ago.

Seven days of agony, held at arm's reach by a steady diet of pain killers and abject stoicism.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said it best ... "All undeserved suffering is redemptive."

I am a pious astronaut cast adrift.
Amid the eerie ambient sounds of the Stars of the Lid "Dust Breeding (1.316)+ playing on my Ipod I find myself marooned in a comfortable nebula, illuminated by a warm, far distant supernova so bright that even my closed eyelids can't dampen its searing brilliance.  My internal gyro is useless as I slowly spin on my central axis and do slow backwards flips in the dental chair.  I am suspended upon a mixture of gas and chemicals which deaden all pain and expand my consciousness, putting me straight into a mindset to fully understand the lyrics to Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb."  

Just a little pin prick and there'll be no more "Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgggghh."
Zero signal.


I am lost.