Archive for the ‘Nostalgia’ Category


My wife and I are currently doing some proactive work to prepare our house for sale. We are hoping that we can have it sold, and have a new house bought in B.C. before the year is out. We’ve talked about moving to various locales around Canadia for a few years, but this time we’ve actually got some momentum and serious plans.

Today we each spent most of the day in a room, she in the master bedroom, and I in my ‘nerd den’, organizing, packing things we won’t use in the near future, and throwing out whatever we don’t want to haul with us for the move.

I get oddly sentimental over inanimate objects that don’t seem worthy of such regard. Some of you who’ve read me for ages might remember a shitty bamboo shelf that barely remained upright under its own weight, that took me years to finally disassemble. Not throw away, mind you,  just disassemble (I might make something out of the pieces one day!)(no I won’t) and put it in the basement to gather dust until now, when it has finally earned a trip to the great beyond.

I still have a bunch of VHS tapes. I have a small TV with a VHS player built in, and I never play any tapes in it, but I still hold onto those tapes, and today, I knew I would have to finally chuck a large portion, if not all of them. For the most part, I’m okay with this. I’m keeping a few of my favourites, because I’m thinking of making shadowbox type art pieces out of them, but many are getting the dumpster trip, like the horrible 90’s porn I have on a few tapes.

The VHS tapes that I am having a seriously hard time throwing away, however, aren’t movies I bought, or are rare, or home movies, or even the awful pornography. They are 28 tapes, each with 2-3 episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 recorded on them.

Most of you know that I am pretty fanatical about MST3K. I own a replica Crow T Robot, shown above. When I first discovered bittorrent, I spent months downloading digital versions of every episode that was available (198, if I remember correctly) I have since purchased every episode on DVD as it’s become available, so I now have the best quality versions of most of the episodes, so there isn’t anything on those 28 tapes that I don’t have in a better digital form that I can watch anytime.

So why is it so hard to throw them away?

When I was in grade 4, my parents bought some property in what was essentially the woods, about 25 kilometers outside the small town in which I grew up. I went from having a 5 minute walk to school, to an hour and a half bus ride each way. Hanging out with friends after school, and any other extra curricular socializing was made infinitely more difficult to achieve, as some kind of ride would have to be procured, and if there wasn’t one, I stayed at home. Eventually I found that it was easier if I just stayed at home most of the time. I learned to embrace, and even enjoy my isolation, and I spent those pubescent years with a lot of time being thoughtful and creative, and defining my personality in somewhat a vacuum.

Then my parents got the satellite dish.

It was one of those giant, motorized, old-school dishes that we had to sweep the snow off of in the winter, and, like many people with dishes in those days, they pirated all of the illegal American satellite television. I remember being amazed when we got the pay-per-view channels for free (!) and I spent a week watching the Mathew Broderick monkey movie Project X over and over again. I was one of the few kids who actually got MTV! My buddy Lance and I watched the video for Smells Like Teen Spirit when it was less than a week old (“they’re okay, but I don’t think they’ll go anywhere,” we astutely remarked)

Nothing could have prepared me for 2 channels that were just emerging. They were sort of competitors in the cable comedy channel world at the time. One, called HAH!, mainly showed reruns of sitcoms, while The Comedy Channel, had a bunch of standup comedy clip shows, some original comedy shows (Into The Night With Allen Havey, The Higgens Boys and Gruber, etc) that went a little over my young head, but that I watched religiously anyhow. The comedy nerd in me was starting to take shape.

One weekend morning, while my parents were having coffee in the other room with some friends, I turned on The Comedy Channel, and there was some black-and-white movie playing. “Boring,” thought I, but before I could reach for the remote control, I heard someone other than the characters in the movie speaking. At first I thought I was watching an episode of a short-lived show of that era called Mad Movies, where comedians would strip out the soundtrack to old movies and replace the dialogue with their own, but then I saw the silhouettes of the guys making the jokes.

By the time they got to the skit about SPACOM, I knew I was watching something that had never quite been done before, and would likely never be done again.

My mind, my sense of humour, the way I looked at movies, at media, at life in general, changed because of MST3K. I watched it every  chance I could, and since it was a big time filler for the fledgling cable network, I had plently of chances. My mom would hear me giggling from the other room, and when she came in to see what was so funny, she would say, “You’re watching this stupid shit again. It’s not even funny. It’s just stupid.” and then, if she stood there long enough, a joke would come along that would make her laugh too, and then she would leave the room, shaking the funny from her head, reconfirming to herself, “So stupid.”

In November of ’91, The now merged channels of HAH and the Comedy Channel, renamed Comedy Central, hosted it’s first annual “Turkey Day” 30 hour marathon of MST3K episodes. Of course, there was no way my parents would be cool with me staying up for 30 hours, especially if it meant sitting in front of the TV for all that time, so I watched as much as I could from the moment I got up that morning. When I realized I would have to forfeit the TV at some point, I decided I would record the last 6 episodes on my grandparents’ VCR. They lived with us, had their own satellite dish, and were out of town. Godzilla Vs The Sea Monster was the first episode of the 6 I put on tape that day, and from then until I moved out of the house in ’95, I recorded every episode I could, putting the titles on the spines in my terrible handwriting.

While it was always very special to me, the show wasn’t just something I kept to myself. The end credits of each episode featured the phrase, “Keep Circulating The Tapes”, so circulate I did. My brother, 8 years older, and all of his crazy head-banger friends got hooked as I’d bring them new tapes to watch. I shoved it down the throats of my friends and acquaintances until they ‘got it’. It got into our heads so deeply that, by our obnoxious teen years, my friends and I couldn’t go to the local theater without inadvertently annoying  the shit out of fellow movie goers with our amateurish MST-ing of the movie.

“I can’t believe we just MST’d Schindler’s List,” I remember saying as we left the theater one night, and then laughing about some riff my buddy Travis made during one of the most poignant scenes of the film. Travis also had a satellite dish, and he and I often traded copies of episodes to fill out each others’ collections. We riffed our classes, people on the street, the music we listened to. Seriously, you would’ve wanted to hit us.

One guy almost did end up fighting me because of my smart-ass urge to riff of everything. I had a t-shirt that read “Beware of God” that I wore to school quite often, until my Mom told me that Dad told her he thought it was inappropriate. One day, I was heading to my art class, and some douche in the middle of his group of  friends saw my shirt, “Beware of God?” he read it like most idiots read aloud in English class, so before he had a chance to make a stupid comment about it, I congratulated him on being hooked on phonics. This caused his friends to laugh at him, which caused him to turn red and yell, “Fuck you, you fat piece of shit!” which caused me to spend an hour in the art room shitting my pants in anticipation of physical violence that ultimately never came.

I probably had close to 40 tapes full of MST3K episodes when I left for University in the big city. New episodes were still airing, Mike Nelson had recently replaced Joel, (which caused a lot of internet drama, but I was just happy to know it had not be cancelled)  but I no longer had access to the illegal satellite dish, so those old tapes were my only source of this TV show that meant so unbelievably -some might rightly say unnaturally- much to me.

I continued introducing people to it. I don’t believe it ever aired legally in Canada, very few people I ran into had heard of it, so I was like an exclusive dealer of this exotic comedy drug, that made instant addicts out of nearly everyone who experienced it. I had seen most of the episodes a dozen times easily, knew many of them beat for beat. I would watch the tapes at night, and the familiar voices and dialogue would help me fall asleep almost instantly.

Over the years I’d loan tapes to people and never get them back, or they would wear out and become unwatchable, until now I’m left with these 28 tapes. Tapes filled with childhood memories of a TV family of midwestern guys in jumpsuits, mad scientists, and robot puppets that I have truly felt a part of for 20 years, not to mention the memories I had of sharing the show with others, and of being this bringer of funny to everyone I met.

So yeah, I’ve now got all the episodes in some kind of digital form, and the tapes are really nothing  but poor quality redundancies that have no reason to take up space in a box for our move west, but tossing them out is not going to be easy.

I did take this picture, however. For posterity. Because the most important thing I get out of the tapes now is the sentimental feeling while looking at those poorly scrawled titles. You can click to embiggen and see the terrible writing.

I know it was a long read, so thanks for sticking with it. And, if anyone involved in Mystery Science Theater 3000 ever happens to read this, thank you too. For everything.

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