Expanding Young Minds

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My grandmother, to occupy me on those times I slept over, would always pull out a tool box…and she had a wonderful assortment of things that I could take apart. Electronic things like telephones, TVs and stereos, all kinds of weird mechanical stuff with little motors and tons of removable parts. And I would spend hours deconstructing them and trying to put them back together.

Thus began a lifetime of thinking, if something stopped working, I could take it apart and fix it on my own. I never felt like sealed items were somehow off limits to my prying, and at some point in my teenage years, that extended to my car. I became fascinated with how all the little wires in there hooked up, and what went where and how to add things to that mix. Which probably would have meant a kick ass audio system if I had been a boy, but instead meant (obnoxiously) adding pretty purple lights to everything on my dashboard.

In any case, the moral of this story is: You can open and expand the mind of a child if you provide them with the right tools.

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Music Ramble

Back in the 70s, Vin Scelsa was a budding Manhattan DJ who ruled the night airwaves at a public radio station called WBAI, and I was a really little kid who suffered from insomnia. While I had a TV, it generally went off the air around midnight, so my go-to relief on those long sleepless nights was the radio. Since reception wasn’t exactly stellar, being so far from the city, I played with the dial a lot, and somehow, one night, I happened on Vin…or rather I happened on a station playing ‘Psycho Killer’ by a band called the ‘Talking Heads.’

The late 70s was not where New Wave music was really born. And while there were some innovative bands alive at the time, I could count them on one hand. The 70s was geared towards the pop single and it was disco that was ruling the roost. So alien was the sound coming from my radio, I was instantly in love with it. Unable to locate a pencil, I actually scratched the numbers 99.5 into the side of my old wooden dresser next to fading flower power stickers.

One of my prized possessions back then was a Radio Shack tape recorder, which I had saved up $12 to buy. Armed with this tape recorder, I stayed up until 4am the next night waiting for Vin Scelsa to play this song again, but instead, I ended up taping about twenty other songs I’d never heard of, and it would be another week before I added ‘Psycho Killer’ to the mix. Listening to that tape now, it astounds me just how prolific Scelsa was. It’s a who’s who of bands that wouldn’t become household names for another ten years. Devo, The Police and Blondie, Elvis Costello, The Sex Pistols and Johnny Cougar (Mellencamp.) There’s Planet Claire from the B52s and Lene Lovich’s Lucky Number. Songs that were the crest of a tsunami still several years from hitting shore.

Vin Scelsa was the kind of guy who talked to his audience like he was talking to his pals in his basement. He fast became my friend, his voice…a welcome beacon of companionship throughout the long dark night. I followed Vin from station to station as he grew from a college station DJ to one of Manhattan’s most prominent on-air personalities, and there is where Vin’s musical tastes began to enter the mainstream, introducing a whole new generation to music he’d been playing for me a decade. Doing the hipster thing, while that was going on, I started to seek out newer music, honing in on a whole new sect of college DJs who were playing unsigned bands. It had become my passion.

Musical taste is developed by experience. Mine was molded by Vin Scelsa and others like him who seeded my brain with the desire to hear the new, the innovative, the different, a desire that continues to this day. I’ll load anything onto my MP3 player and let it sit in rotation a week. By that point I’m usually like, “Wow, who is this?” or “Oh God, not this horrible song again.” Back when Napster was still a free download site and ‘pirating’ wasn’t an issue, I went through thousands of songs this way. Now I have to hunt for (decent, well produced, free…) new music, which is a shame. :/

Welcome to suggestions if you know any good sites for free, new music downloads.

Aw Bruce, what did you do?

(Warning, contains really, really foul language. If you don’t like foul language, don’t read this!)

When my son was little, he was a quiet, introspective kid who spent a lot of time watching the same handful of videos over and over again in his room. (I think it was like Ninja Turtles, Rambo and Diehard.) Because he wasn’t in any way prone to doing anything wrong, I was shocked one day when his nursery school teacher calls me, upset and concerned, that my four-year old has been cursing up a storm on the playground.

“It’s impossible,” I insist. “No one in this house curses. There’s no way.”

“I’m sorry,” the woman tell me, “but he is. He’s been saying the MF word.”

I gasp in complete dismay. “Where would he even hear that from? It must be one of the other children on the playground teaching him bad words!”

“No,” the woman say sternly. “It’s only your son. He’s keeps yelling the same thing every day. “Yippie Ki-Ya, Motherfucker.”

At this point, I doubled over with laughter, suddenly understanding how and why my son was saying those words. It was Bruce Willis’ line from ‘Diehard,’ one of the movies my son knew by heart.

Problem solved with the ‘there are words you shouldn’t repeat in public’ speech, but it’s my absolute favorite story from his childhood. I still think it’s adorable. 🙂

Phantom of the Sysopera

My first computer was an ultra-modern, super fast 486 made by a friend of a friend. As a writer and editor; word processing, printing, copying and faxing were a godsend to me, and Paint was a neat side treat. The internet didn’t exist yet, at least not in its current incantation, but there was a growing web of Bulletin Board Systems where one could participate on forums, post pictures and play games. A co-worker came to my home one day and instructed me on the modem and how to use BBS’s…and I quickly because one of the world’s first internet addicts. (and probably one of the first online gaming addicts, since my world completely revolved around VGA Planets for a year.)

At that point, I was a very young woman in an alien world, bravely exploring the landscape and learning its tricks and boundaries, alternately fascinated and frustrated by a ‘not so friendly’ dos environment and a host of game and picture files that were more than happy to give you a virus if you downloaded them. Within the span of a month it became clear to me that I needed computer nerd friends who could fix the multiple disasters that beset my computer via my hands. Fortunately, in a universe dominated almost exclusively by men, they weren’t hard to find.

One of those men was a mysterious entity named “The Phantom,” who started typing on my screen while I was on a bulletin board system, back when I had no clue what BBSs actually were. To the best of my understanding, Sysops were shadowy people in dark rooms who wielded god like powers, so when this person started instructing me on the further usages of software and dos, it was very much like being spoken to by a burning bush. I became pseudo obsessed with this person. Hell, I was enamored by him. Who was he? Where was he? What did he look like? Why was he talking to ME?

In school girl fashion, I decided he must be a tall, dark handsome stranger, and my mind took it from there. I started crushing on this guy big time. Not surprisingly, he both noticed and nurtured my attraction, seeking me out the second I would log on, chatting with me for hours on end well into the night, teaching me wonderfully devious things like how to program and hack. I was in love. I was sure of it. Then he mentioned he was playing guitar at some club and I secretly went there to see him.

And this is where my first lesson in internet came in.

I was horrified to discover my tall, dark handsome stranger was a pasty, skinny nerdy guy with a pimpled face, bad teeth, big glasses and greasy hair. Now I’m not one to judge people on looks, but let’s just say when you’re expecting James Bond, Mclovin is a bit of a shock. That whole stereotypical image of early computer nerds actually came from this guy. I slunk back out the door and drove home, feeling highly confused. Why had I built this whole romantic image of this person and put them on such a high pedestal? I was embarrassed as hell to say the least.

So, from the poor Phantom’s point of view, I disappeared from the computer completely. And from that point on, every unknown person I came in contact with over the net had his face attached to their avatars, and I spent a lot of time relating this warning to other female users I saw becoming attached to strangers. As the internet evolved, so did its users, branching out from guy in the basement to average everyday folk, and eventually I let go of my Phantom visions and stopped assuming the worst. But look at today’s internet and its big full color pictures of our smiling faces and appreciate how far we’ve come. :p

Did you ever attach an image to a mysterious person and then discover you were way off course?