Pop-culture losses we most regret
Welcome back to AVQ&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences, and to ponder how our diverse lives all led us to convene here together. Got a question you’d like us and the readers to answer? E-mail us at email@example.com.
Contributor Steve Heisler asks: Whether it was taken from you, left behind, or disintegrated before your eyes, what pieces of pop culture do you particularly regret losing over the years?
In my piece about revisiting Magic: The Gathering, I recounted a story that is as painfully true as it is painful to think about to this day: My Magic deck was stolen from me one day in high school by a kid I didn’t particularly like, then played against me a few weeks later. I don’t think the perpetrator was trying to torment me or anything—I actually think he was dense enough to forget exactly where he got the cards, and lazy enough not to shuffle them into different decks. But regardless, I noticed right away, and threatened to tell the dean, to which he replied that he was simply going to deny the whole thing, so I might as well not even try. The worst part was that I took his advice. And because I’m the kind of person who uses pop culture as a window into the world (as I’m sure some of you are, too), losing those cards makes me sad on a deeply personal level. At the time, they were a part of my identity and the byproduct of the many hours I spent poring over perfecting my collection. It actually wasn’t the first time I lost something so important: When I was a little kid, I had a stuffed Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles doll, and my younger brother had one, too—mine was Leonardo and his was Raphael. Because he was probably only 4 at the time, he accidentally ripped off the belt of his stuffed animal, and immediately became upset that I still had a more-pristine, belt-full copy. So he tore mine off, too, ripping the entire thing apart in the process. I do not begrudge him that today—we were just little kids—but again, my fondness for the Ninja Turtles went away that day.
Not all stories of this type are as painful, though. Before he passed away, my great uncle (great both in title and awesomeness) told us all the story of how when he was a kid, his mom punished him for something-or-other by making him flush his baseball cards down the toilet, one by one. He watched as his Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams rookie cards went goodbye forever, and the story never made him do anything but laugh. One at a time? How delightfully ridiculous. And his ability to instinctually sense humor and irony stuck with him throughout his life.
I’m not a particularly hardcore videogamer, but once in a long while I get really, seriously addicted to a game and don’t want to put it down. And those games stick with me over the years, in a way that gaming consoles and platforms and operating systems don’t. Which is why I really miss Dungeon Keeper and Dungeon Keeper 2, the old-ass PC games where players took on the role of a semi-omnipotent unseen controller in a dungeon, building rooms and traps and employing monsters to take out invading heroes. There have been similar sim games since—Evil Genius wasn’t bad—but Bullfrog’s Dungeon Keeper games hit a particular sweet spot of humor and morbid grimness. And you could bitch-slap any creature in your dungeon from on high, or drop them in a casino and watch them disco-dance with joy when they won a jackpot. Or you could capture paladins and other such goody-goody player-character types and torture them until they broke and joined your side. Or you could take on the first-person POV of any critter in your dungeon. Eventually, our copy of DK2 stopped working on my boyfriend’s increasingly updated gaming computer, and just booting it up would crash the system. There’s probably an emulator out there, or we could build a ’90s-era machine just to play it, but that’s a lot of work to get back to something that time-wastey. Still, I don’t begrudge the hours I spent training vampires and running around in salamander mode, breathing fire on hapless adventurers, and I often really miss that game as I’m playing something that runs along similar lines, but in a less immersive, funny, elaborately designed way.
I started collecting comics, in earnest, when I was about 14. That was when I switched from simply buying a random issue here or there and began concentrating on keeping up with new issues—and completing runs of back issues. When I was 16, I started working at the massive comic-book retailer Mile High Comics as a lowly warehouse grunt; by the time I was 20, I was managing one of the company’s Denver-area stores. As my taste in comics grew, so did my collection; by the time I was 21, I had a hefty collection of around 4,000 comics, including tons of graphic novels and trade paperbacks. And then I stopped working at the comic shop, started working at a record store, joined a band, and wound up shifting all my focus over to music. Collecting vinyl became my obsession, and being a minimum-wage worker, I only had the funds to pursue one expensive fetish. Sick of moving a huge comics collection and a huge LP collection around from apartment to apartment, I eventually left all my boxes of comics with an old roommate, with the understanding that I’d come back and grab them someday when I had space to store them. My mistake. Not long after, my old place flooded, and my ex-roommate wasn’t able to salvage my comics. Almost the entire collection was wiped out, reduced to a wrinkled, moldy mass of pulp, a casualty of my pathological cycle of obsession and neglect. Maybe a couple hundred comics were salvageable, but my heart was broken. Damn. I had some good shit, too. Sometimes my fingers and eyeballs still itch for my complete run of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World series.
To most longtime music fans/collectors, 300 CDs may not seem like that many, but at age 18, it was my entire collection, and represented several years of paychecks from after-school jobs and birthday money. I probably should have been more careful with it, but like I said, I was 18, and from a super-safe, super-sheltered suburb, so it didn’t really occur to me that it might be a bad idea to leave the whole damn collection in the back of my car for a couple of days while I was in the process of packing and moving back to school. You can guess what happened next. Thankfully, I guess, the loss of my entire physical music library happened just as the whole digital-music thing was really picking up steam, and thanks to my dorm’s high-speed Internet and some friends with CD burners, I was able to recoup most of my losses. (I’ll demur on the exact methods used and legality thereof, but regardless, I felt justified in my actions.) Since then, I’ve moved on, like most people, to growing and curating a digital-music library, with little mourning for those two giant CaseLogic binders—though a few years ago, I found in my mom’s basement a box of empty jewel cases that used to house my lost CDs, and I’ll admit I felt a little twinge. Then I shrugged it off and threw those fuckers away, because who needs jewel cases anymore?
A few years back, I did a reading and signing for my memoir with Chuck Klosterman and Greg Kot, who both had music-themed books out with my publisher Scribner that afforded me the privilege of watching 95 percent of the crowd blithely skip past me in their hunger to secure Klosterman’s autograph and a few moments with the man. It was a real ego check, but when I mentioned to Klosterman that a woman I had been wooing long-distance was a huge fan of his and had grown up reading his work, and since the book he was promoting, Eating The Dinosaur, hadn’t come out yet, he was kind enough to give me the copy of Eating The Dinosaur he’d been reading from on his book tour. When I gave it to the woman who is now my wife, she was suitably impressed, but she still lost his copy two or three days later. She’s subsequently finished the book, but something about losing that particular copy really stung, both because I got it from Klosterman himself, and because it played a role in our early courtship. Oh well. Things get lost and fall apart, but memories remain.
Back when you could find me skulking around with a Ministry shirt on my chest and Nitzer Ebb on my headphones, I saw Skinny Puppy on the Last Rights tour. At the very end of the show, drummer cEvin Key threw his extra drumsticks into the crowd, one of which hit me square in the face. I was elated. (Considering the crowd at that show, I was relieved that only an errant drumstick hit me.) I immediately hung it in a place of honor over the subway-sized Skinny Puppy poster in my room. A couple of years later, I saw Nine Inch Nails on the Downward Spiral tour. As frontman Trent Reznor is wont to do, he destroyed a keyboard toward the end of the show, sending a cascade of plastic piano keys over the stage. I snagged one of those too. That was just a few months before I left for college, and I’m not really sure what happened to the key or the drumstick. I cooled on both of those bands as I got a little older, so I may have trashed them, or my mom may have when my parents moved. I hope a garbageman with black fingernail polish snagged them before they were incinerated.
My pop-culture loss was buried so deep in my subconscious that I actually forgot it happened until this AVQ&A. So thanks, Steve, for resurrecting my pain. Videogames were just about the only thing my permissive hippie parents didn’t allow when I was growing up, so obviously I fixated on having them. I would binge hard when I was at my cousin’s house and end up dreaming in Frogger for weeks, kind of making the case against them for my parents. Regardless, when I turned 10 or 11, my grandma gave me roughly $25 for my birthday, enough at the time to buy a used Sega Genesis. My parents’ couldn’t prohibit me from buying videogames with my own money, and for years, I relished in thrilling adventures like this Ren And Stimpy game, which was the first videogame I beat (by jumping on snot bubbles, if I recall correctly). Then I forgot about it for a few months, during which our basement flooded. When I returned to play Road Rash and Tom & Jerry Frantic Antics!, everything was ruined. It was the first pop-culture thing I bought entirely on my own, and the closest to rebellious I had ever been. Losing my system and all of those games stung badly. And while the rational part of me knows I’m just looking for a scapegoat, a few missing cartridges and the suspicious placement of the console have always made me suspect that my mom purposefully drowned my games to keep me from playing them. Sorry mom, but I’m never really going to forgive you for this thing you probably didn’t do.
I’ve made my affection for Mystery Science Theater 3000 quite apparent on this site (and in this feature), and the volume of words I’ve now written about the show nearly outweigh the levels of anger and despair I felt when I accidentally taped over a SyFy “Chain Reaction” marathon of the series. It wasn’t just that I wiped out one of the few bones the network threw to MSTies after it canceled the series—a brief, Christmas-time marathon that contained several episodes whose films’ expiring broadcast rights soon precluded them from airing in reruns. No, the impact of this loss was compounded by the fact that what was once a VHS of my favorite TV show now contained an embarrassing playoff loss by the Detroit Red Wings, the only thing I cared about more than MST3K at that point in my life. (It didn’t help matters that the loss came at the hands of the hated Colorado Avalanche.) DVD releases and YouTube have since made every episode on that tape readily available, but I like to think every piece I write about the show fills a tiny hole in the heart of an upset 15-year-old—all while avenging the Wings’ woefully abbreviated run at the 2000 Stanley Cup Championship.
When I bought my first CD player in the midst of my increasing obsession with discovering new music, I convinced myself that I didn’t have the budget to have two major vices, which led me to sell my entire comic-book collection. In fairness, it wasn’t really all that impressive a collection—I’m pretty sure the most valuable thing I owned was the first issue of the first Punisher miniseries, which was only a few years old at the time—but it wasn’t until several months after the fact that I realized I’d accidentally parted with an issue that was, at least from a personal standpoint, priceless: my copy of Star Trek #1 signed by James Doohan at my very first science-fiction convention. So if you ever happen to find that issue and it’s signed “To Will,” now you know the backstory. Also, in 1993, when New Order released Republic, I interviewed Gillian Gilbert and Stephen Morris. I saw the band’s show at Merriweather Post Pavilion, but the publicity firm handling the band at the time was so awesome that they also told me that if I sent one of my most prized possessions, a promo poster for New Order’s Low-Life, to their offices, they’d have all four band members sign it when they came through town on the tour. Giddy with anticipation, I packaged up the poster, sent it to the firm’s office, and waited… and waited, and waited. Yeah, I never got my poster back. Not only were tensions running high when the band made it into town (within a few weeks, they began what would be a half-decade hiatus), but the publicity firm went under. In my mind’s eye, I can’t help but picture an office devoid of everything except my poster. It still makes me sad.
I wish I still had my original Atari 2600 (or Atari VCS as it was called back then). Yes, I know there are all sorts of Atari emulators out there that will allow me to play my favorite games from my childhood, and I can play Atari games everywhere from my computer to my phone to that mythical tablet I keep saying I’m going to get, but never can justify spending the money for. But I’d rather have the physical console—the second edition, with the two switches on each side of the cartridge slot instead of the original three—because the joysticks were just the right kind of stiff, the cartridges were built like tanks, and the processor was slow enough to gave the games just the right amount of unresponsiveness to piss me off. Sure, I could just buy one off some website now, but I would have rather been able to hook up my 30-year-old-plus VCS to my brand new LED TV and revel in the fact that the old girl has been with me for so long and still works.