Have you ever fallen down an internet rabbit hole? You innocently look up one topic on the internet, then you click a link, then you click another link, and soon an hour has gone by and you’ve looked at every single piece of Dick Van Dyke fan art on Etsy. These rabbit hole rides don’t necessarily last just an hour, some can go on all day and some can even spiral into a whole new world of strange obsessions that strike fear into the hearts of your friends and loved ones. I found myself in such a rabbit hole recently.
It began innocently enough one night in bed when I was chatting with my non-existent wife, Sheila, just before bedtime. I was reading a magazine and the article was about forgotten advertising icons. While reading it I said to Sheila “Do you remember those creepy battery ads with the robot people who looked all plastic?” Sheila cocked an eyebrow and looked at me as if I had two heads. I continued, “You know, it was like a family. They’d be doing mini-golf and their big battery in the back was better than the other brand. The Dad kinda looked like Herman Munster if he had an accident with a toy doll factory.” Again, blank stares.
“You know what, let me just find the commercial,” I said as I reached for my iPad and went to the internet’s video basement, YouTube. Though most youngins think of YouTube as a place for dope videos with people who make more money and I do, YouTube to me has become a sort of video time machine. A way to do some “pop culture anthropology” by finding commercials of yore and to be reminded of how straight-up weird cable TV was in the 1990s.
I typed “90s battery family ad” into the search box. There it was, a whole bunch of the ads which I showed to Sheila, ending with the putt putt ad that sprang this search to life. After the ad ended, I noticed one of the YouTube videos that the algorithm was suggesting to me was an hour-long collection called “90s Commercials, vol. 27.” Having nothing better to do, now that Sheila was wondering why she married me in the first place as she settled down to bed, I clicked on the video.
It was a delightful nostalgia bomb as so many ads that I hadn’t thought about in nearly 25 years were flashing back to memory as I saw them. One of the ads was for that popular line of “do it yourself” home improvement books from Time-Life that Bob Vila used to be the spokesmen for. I have such vivid memories of those ads from watching a little too much TV on the weekends. These books promised to be the one-stop-shop for everything to be handy around the home.
Such handy collections as “Kitchens and Bathrooms,” “Cabinets and Kitchens,” “Rumpus Rooms and Kitchens,” “Music Rooms and Kitchens” and lastly “Kitschens and Kitchens” a collection to take your 90s kitchen back to the 70s. My mind began to think of how I always wanted to see one of those books, so off to eBay, I went. I found a cheap copy of “Kitchens and Bathrooms” and bought it. “I wonder what Bob Vila is up to today?” is what led to another search, and next thing I knew it was nearly three in the morning, I was out $20, and I had watched two episodes of “This Old House” with Norm Abram.
In about a week the book arrived and Sheila seemed surprised that a Home Handyman’s book showed up with my name on it. “What? I was just curious, I’ve been wondering what’s in one of these since I was eight.” I settled into my easy chair and began leafing through the book, which was full of wonderfully dated, early ‘90s computer-generated graphics. But when my eyes reached a section called “How to fix a squeaky cabinet door” I stopped to read it. I had noticed for a while the basement bathroom doors were starting to get quite noisy. Flash forward to two days later and the doors to the cabinets in the basement bathroom squeaked no more.
Filled with new confidence, Shiela noticed that I suddenly was convinced I could tackle any job in the house the need to be done. I was morphing into a weekend warrior, ditching the alt-rock band shirts I typically wear around the house for button-up plaid shirts, I got a tool belt to match too. It all came to a head when Sheila came home one afternoon from her job at the burnt smell factory and saw the basement toilet sitting out in the hallway. She asked me what was going on and I responded in a mid-western accent “Oh, y’know, eh? I just thought that the mater joints on the flange here needed some work and I could smooth those out to save us the cost on future repair jobs, don’t cha know, eh?”
Sheila’s face had the look in it which said “What have I gotten myself into” and her eyes slowly moved from me to something right behind me, resting on the seat in the shower stall. “What…what is that?” Sheila said, pointing to a pillow with a photo of Norm Abram on it. “That’s my Norm Abram emotional support pillow, don’t cha know. He believes in me!” I told her. Sheila slowly backed away and then ran from the bathroom.
Much to Sheila’s delight, this whole adventure ended when I got a little too ambitious and knocked open a pipe in the bathroom, because someone didn’t turn the water off (raises hand), next thing you knew it was a whole new world of running to a valve before it got to the carpet in the hallway. We were lucky in the sense that nothing was damaged by this adventure, a good mop and some day-long cleaning by yours truly took care of it. I am sad to report that my Norm Abram emotional support pillow took on so much water it became moldy and had to be tossed. To this day Shiela refuses to let me watch any HGTV or PBS on Saturdays. She fears the bug will return. But I don’t keep tapes of This Old House under my bed or anything. No. Not at all. See you next week.