The best thing happened yesterday morning. I opened up my Facebook feed to find my friend Emily had randomly posted this old Sesame Street video of how crayons are made. If you grew up in the 1970’s and 1980’s, you know EXACTLY which video I’m talking about. It was amazing to lay eyes on it again after all these years. And of course, it took me down a rabbit hole of watching other old Sesame Street videos that, despite being dormant for decades, were able to come to the forefront of my memory with a readiness that was both comforting and eerie. As the words to the songs fell easily from my lips, and the images put me right back to being in front of a rabbit-eared television set, I marveled at how so much of my childhood could be encompassed in a few video segments. And how my entire generation was molded by these sights, sounds, and concepts.
Recently, some friends and I were discussing being a part of Generation X and how it shapes our parenting and the ways we deal with life. I was reminded of this conversation as I watched the Sesame Street videos, contemplating the impact television had on our current values and outlooks. My kids may be the generation raised by the internet, but Gen X was definitely raised by TV. And maybe everything we became as a generation can be partially traced back to these weird little videos we watched over, and over, and over again.
Regardless, they left me with the best feelings of nostalgia and “what the f*ck?” Here they are for your viewing pleasure.
This video is so satisfying. The mesmerizing fluidity of the melted wax. The way it spirals up, once it’s hardened, like a swiss roll cake. But orange. And waxy. The perfect symmetry
as the crayons pop up through the molds. How that guy (who feels like he could be portrayed by Tom Hanks in the motion picture exposé on “Big Crayon”) scoops up SO MANY crayons, nestled snugly together, and not one drops to the floor. Then those off-duty lunch ladies, getting extra mileage out of their smocks, put the crayons into the labeling machine that I could LEGIT watch for three days straight. (That’s probably why Blue Smock Lunch Lady can’t help but smile as she watches all those newborn crayons getting dressed in their crisp labels. She’s thinking this job is way cooler than serving green beans.) And next, the sorter. Oh, the sorter! Even the crayons are vibrating with excitement as they await being precisely lined up in a fresh, unadulterated box, to exist in that pristine state until meeting their ultimate fate: worn-down tips, snapped halves, torn labels, and over-crammed rows next to rogue crayons from other boxes. Also, if someone didn’t win a daytime Emmy for that inspired musical score, a great injustice occurred.
How did this video influence Gen X? Well, we are known for being the most brand loyal generation, no doubt thanks to television brainwashing and the glory that was 1980’s commercials. Case in point: I have only ever bought Crayola crayons. I don’t even feel the need to see if another brand compares. The Sesame Street video never specifically displays the Crayola name, but come on. We all know that box. I kid you not, just about every time I use a crayon, I think of this video. And I feel a certain kinship with the crayon, knowing the process of how it came to be. How can you NOT trust something that was made by Tom Hanks…and the lunch ladies who also gave you rectangle pizza?
The Ladybugs’ Picnic
If you can’t appreciate a folk song about ladybugs, who all look like extras on Little House on the Prairie, having sack races and talking about the prices of furniture, rugs, and fire insurance, punctuated by a kazoo accompaniment, well…I’m not sure I want to know you. Because there is absolutely nothing wrong to be found with this jaunty little animation.
But it could also point to why Gen Xers highly value the work/life balance. The image was burned into our brains at a young age of ladybugs being invested in the responsibilities of adulthood (you know, those serious conversations about rugs and insurance), but not to the point where it interferes with their ability to kick it with good friends, throwing back some tiny toasted marshmallows. And our skill to adapt betwixt analog and digital worlds, thanks to a coming of age that straddled the rise of the technology boom, was brilliantly showcased when the jump rope breaks and the ladybugs still find a way to be entertained. Wifi is out? No problem. It will probably be back on in less time than it took my dial-up modem to connect to the internet in college. I’ll just go play a few rounds of M.A.S.H. in my notebook while I wait.
The Pinball Counting Song
If you are a part of Generation X, raise your hand if you instinctively sing this song in your head any time you have to count to twelve. It’s a good thing I don’t work at a bagel or donut shop. Because any time someone wanted a dozen, I’d be over there filling the order like, “1,2,3,4,5 – 6,7,8,9,10 – 11, 12 – doo doo un doo doo doo un doo doo doo un doo doo doo – TWELVE!” And I probably couldn’t resist doing a little boogie as well…because the groove kind of moves you. However, I do feel this segment gave me unrealistic expectations for how seamlessly Rube Goldberg machines should work, leading to many disappointing experiences playing the Mouse Trap board game.
But this is likely why Gen X is adept at dealing with disappointment. If we didn’t win, we didn’t get a consolation trophy. If we had to pee during the season finale of Silver Spoons, we either had to wait until a commercial or miss Ricky dedicating the song “Broken Wings” by Mr. Mister to his girlfriend after their breakup. Hell, our whole tagline is “The Forgotten Generation.” But we never let our disappointment stop us from playing another game of Mouse Trap. As a result, our generation is lauded for a strong work ethic, solid problem-solving abilities, and engineering innovations that have changed the cultural landscape. Like a pinball, if we hit a bump, we just bounce to the next thing. And usually with a great soundtrack in the background.
We’re also really good at counting to twelve…since that’s the highest number these videos usually ever went to.
Me and My Llama
It’s just a girl. Taking her llama to the dentist. Set to a tune that sounds like it was performed by the same kid who sang “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas.” And it was everything.
So let’s break this down. First, the llama’s name is Nikki. I don’t really have anything else to say about that, but I felt like it needed to be noted. Or maybe it’s actually Nicky. That feels more like a Brooklyn llama name. He’s probably Italian. Also, has anyone fact-checked whether it’s permissible to own a llama in New York City, let alone walk it down the city sidewalks? Then the two of them just walk down these steps into the lower level of a brownstone like it’s no big deal. Because that seems like the perfect space to open a llama dentistry practice. They enter the waiting room, where there is a cat who is probably still sedated from a tooth extraction, because a llama just walked in and the cat clearly gives zero f*cks. Or he’s just a normal cat, giving zero f*cks. Then the girl takes off her jacket to reveal what is quite possibly the world’s most perfect haircut: a bowl cut + a mullet. A bullet.
At this point, the camera cuts to Nicky, the Italian llama, and we get a good look at those chompers. Upon first glance, I assume he is munching on a giant walnut. And then it’s like, Holy hell, dude. That is some underbite you got going there. Now initially, I’ll admit I thought taking a llama to the dentist is a little, well, much. I had a dog for fifteen years, and she never went to the dentist. Most humans don’t even go every six months. But then I see his teeth, and I think, “I’ll allow it.”
Here’s where things get dicey. The dentist calls them back and starts prepping that scrapy tool that puts nails on a chalkboard to shame. And the girl seems to be second guessing this whole thing.
Then Dr. Doolittle just goes at it. And those Sesame Street producers are like, “Don’t cut away! Get in there! Give us raw! The kids can take it!” So apparently, today’s episode was brought to you by the sight of extreme plaque removal and the sound of metal filing down on teeth. But damn, I gotta give it to them. By the end, those are some pearly white walnut teeth Nicky has.
While I credit seeing that dental transformation over and over in syndication with my current devotion to periodontal health, I also think it probably helped inspire the Gen X caregiver mentality. At this stage in the game, many of us face caring for our children AND our aging parents, as well at our community at large. And some of those things we willingly take on are extra burdens we shouldn’t take on for our own well being. According to Gallup,
Gen Xers are now old enough to contribute to or lead community activities — and Gen Xers may feel they have little choice but to step up. Gen Xers spend far more time with their children than their parents did, have bigger families than millennials do, and it’s a small generation. If they don’t join the PTA or booster club, it can seem like no one else will.
It’s like, yeah…maybe I should be taking myself to the dentist instead of this llama, but if I don’t do it, who will? Not that cat. He’s just over there trying to decide which filter will get his tooth extraction selfie the most likes to boost is social influencing brand. Gen X spent our childhood watching bullet-hair girl walk a llama into a New York city dentist like it was the most normal thing in the world. So naturally, we grew up with a basic mentality of, “Sure. Whatever. I’ll do it.”
I hope you enjoyed that little trip down memory lane as much as I did. And I would love to hear from you…what other little nuggets from yesteryear are a permanent part of your cultural literacy? You need not be a Gen Xer to share. (On that note, this piece was in no way a proclamation that Gen X is superior to any other generation. It’s a debate where I make like that cat and give zero f*cks. So don’t start it. Or do. I don’t care. I personally feel it behooves humankind for all the generations to step up in awesomeness levels.)
Also, it may be worth mentioning that, in typical Gen X fashion, I wrote the first draft of this post in a notebook with a pen while my kid used my laptop for a class zoom.