Monday, April 10, 2017

Horoscope Vending Machines and Other Super GenX Stuff

The first thing I want to say about this post is that Allie Cat started it.

She posted a picture of a Starscroll.

Holy shit, I haven't thought about Starscrolls in...35 years? I didn't even remember they were called that. But as soon as I saw it, my powerful GenX memory circuits went into overdrive, and suddenly I was singing "Jessie's Girl" and trying (mostly in vain) to feather my hair.

Starscrolls were these little rolls of paper crammed into a cardboard tube a bit larger than a cigarette. The scroll contained the monthly horoscope for your star sign. Which was a very big deal when I was a kid. Nobody is sure why today. The horoscopes themselves typically were less entertaining than working the scroll out of the tube and then trying to roll it up tightly enough to fit back inside. Which probably was easier if you (unlike me) were used to rolling things.

Anyway, Starscrolls were commonly sold on the counters of drugstores or dimestores (and if you don't know what a dimestore is...ugh, look it up, junior). Or from one of these amazing vending machines, which I had totally forgotten about until I found a picture of one on Google.

You could find these machines in the entryways of
supermarkets, or in the area of the record store
just before you got to the drug paraphernalia.
Well. Allie Cat's post sent me down the rabbit hole of nostalgia, aka Pinterest. Soon I was a dozen pages deep into other people's memories of the 70s, which corresponded eerily to mine. Seriously, if I'd known how much I had in common with my contemporaries while growing up, I may never have become the disaffected teenager and emotionally stunted adult I turned out to be.

I'm not sure that's how I would have wanted it. Still, interesting to ponder.

I started saving images to a folder called "Nostalgia," thinking they would make a good blog post. And then I realized there was a more interesting narrative unfolding. Of the images I was downloading, some were simply warm fuzzies: products, activities, fashions that I readily and warmly recalled.

But others were true recovered memories: shades of my past that I had completely forgotten about (about which I had completely forgotten...whatever) until I stumbled upon them via Pinterest link. Those hit me particularly hard. The intensity of those memories was every bit the equal of the others; but they also carried the joy of rediscovery, to shamelessly rip off an old Journey song.

Those are the ones I'm going to share here.

No matter what generation you belong to, you could write a post like this. This one happens to be mine.

Avon Pink Bubble Bath: It's not so much the product itself, which was, you know, just bubble bath. It's the iconic bumpy pink bottle, and even more than that, the memory of the Avon lady coming to your door, of perusing through the little monthly catalog, of placing an order with your hard-earned allowance and then waiting for it to arrive. Amazon has kind of rendered laughable the ideal of the Avon lady. But pretty much everyone had Avon products in their homes in the 70s and 80s.

Tickle Roll-on Deodorant: I never used Tickle myself. I think my deodorant-wearing days probably began with something prosaic like Ban Roll-on. But I remember the ads for Tickle. Nobody had ever really advertised this particular product with trendy colors, mod packaging, and the idea that preventing armpit odor could be fun and sexy. Tres Seventies. I remember feeling grateful when solid deodorants came out, because roll-ons always made me feel sticker and more gross than underarm sweat itself. Alas, Tickle remained an aspirational product for me.

Avon Solid Perfume Pins: Back to Avon. They used to sell these cute plastic pins (some seasonal, like the above, some simply whimsical, like snails or owls) that had a small compartment of solid fragrance on the reverse. Adorable, and I totally had the bunny, and I think my grandma had the Santa. Here's the thing about Santa. In 2017, can you picture marketing, toward children and matrons, a likeness of Santa whereby you pulled a string between his legs, causing all of his limbs to flex and spasm? Were we that jaded - or that naive - in the 60s and 70s? I don't know. But if you didn't delve too deeply into the psychosexual implications, these were adorable.

Body on Tap Shampoo: Hair care was a huge freaking deal in the 1970s because of disco and Farrah Fawcett and Shaun Cassidy and "Werewolves of London." The motto of the 70s is frequently portrayed as "If it feels good, do it." Actually, it was "If your hair doesn't look good, fuck you."

So shampoos and conditioners and whatnot sought to carve out a unique niche for themselves in the very competitive hair-care market. That spirit brought forth Body on Tap, a shampoo that declared itself "beer-enriched," as if suddenly beer was a centuries-old elixir for split ends and limp roots. No matter; it was very novel. Underage girls wanted to use it, because it supposedly contained (giggle) BEER. Girls of legal age (18, believe it or not) wanted to use it to demonstrate how sophisticated they were, because BEER. My sister and I (both decidedly underaged) used it for a while. I remember it smelled nice, but other than that, it was freaking shampoo, no better than Prell or Clairol Herbal Essence or anything else on the market. Still, at some points in your life, feeling grown-up enough to pour beer on your head is a pretty big deal.

Garbage Can-dy: Oh, sweet Jesus. This was a punch to the gut. I LOVED this stuff. Essentially, it was a small plastic garbage can filled with Sweet-Tarts-like candy, but in the shape of, well, trash. Soda bottles. Chicken drumsticks. Fish skeletons. Tin cans. Appetizing, right? But the thing was, the little plastic trash cans were pretty adorable and came in different colors. And if you were one kind of kid, you could save your spare change in them when the candy was gone. And if you were another kind, you could hide your weed or pills in them.

I was the former. Because of course I was.

Last one for tonight: Impulse body spray. WHOA. The first "fragrance" I ever wore was Avon's Sweet Honesty. (Holla if it was yours, too.) Then I graduated to Impulse. Not nearly as douchey as today's Axe is for young men, Impulse was a bit more innocent; if you're OK with your daughter wearing Bath & Body Works body spray now, you'd be OK with Impulse. It was a budget-friendly, drugstore-available precursor to actual cologne/perfume. I loved it, because to me it always smelled a little hippy-dippy, which I was totally into at age 13. If Impulse were to be re-released today, probably I would pick up a scent or two.

That's enough repressed memories for one night. What are your long-lost memories, GenX (or Y, or you know, whatever?) I really want to know.


  1. So many memories. So much Warren Zevon stuck in my head now, for which I am grateful. The one that stands out is Body On Tap shampoo. I never used it (Y-chromosome, too young to disco) but I remember the commercial with a man's voice saying, "It's made with beer?" and a woman who replied, "But don't drink it!"
    Sweet Seventies. So innocent you had to be told not to drink shampoo.

  2. For me it was "Gee You Hair Smells Terrific!" shampoo. As I recall, it did smell pretty good. Ah, youth.

  3. Herbal Essences shampoo used to actually smell... herbal. And it was green, and had a hippy-dippy label. My first "scent" was probably Love's Baby Soft or Love's Fresh Lemon. Both probably clashed with the herbal smell of my hair. I do remember using spray deodorant -- and since we kept our weed in empty film canisters, I probably inhaled enough poisonous chemicals to do me in down the line.

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