I broke into many homes in the early 1990s — my knowledge of the trends of 90s Homes and what made them extraordinary is firsthand.
And before anyone calls the police (never mind any statutes of limitations), the homes I broke into were new constructions. They were just wooden shells of their future selves.
Further, my parents sent me to military school; twice.
“Breaking into homes” was never about thievery or more sinister intentions. These unfinished households didn’t need much imagination to become pirate ships, a place to play contras engaged in urban warfare, or a dungeon burdened with ghosts and monsters.
Have you played video games of the late 80s or 90s? The “television games” of our time were fucking boring. We weren’t at home playing out immersive scenarios with winning sound design and compelling characters.
I may be projecting here with our family’s antique television games. My friends had systems like Sega, Nintendo, and NeoGeo, which were terrific. One dude had the Zaxxon 3D. And if you had a premier gaming system, you were automatically in the running for epic 90s Homes.
The Notorious B.I.G. front loads my point in his ode to making it, “Juicy.” Where he brags about having both entertainment systems — saying a lot more than kids of today would suspect.
YOU MADE IT; YOU HAVE BOTH SYSTEMS IN 90s HOMES
Did Biggie have a separate television just for Sega? Did he order from Pizza Hut and Dominos at the same time? It was the age of Nintendo households or Sega households (note the “or” there).
You think politics are tribal? The animosities of Nintendo households for folks living in Sega households felt remarkably similar. And the same was in play for a household’s preferred delivery pizza. “The Smiths have Sega, and a Dominos guy was just there… are we sure they aren’t communists?”
The cold war had us all thinking social oddities were spies next door…
But more importantly, there weren’t multiple inputs on television sets. HDMI 1, 2, and AUX were, like, a thousand years away. If you wanted to plug two game consoles into one TV those days, well, you didn’t. At least not concurrently.
If you wanted to go from Stadium Events with the Power Pad to Shinobi, you probably needed a flat-head screwdriver. And physically loosen screws to the television’s antennae, pull the NES game adapter connections free, replace them with Sega’s, and then screw that back in. No wonder game adaptors looked like unfinished handcuffs.
There’s the chance you jostled connections free anyway while pounding the floor into oblivion, stomping out the Nintendo Power Pad. That happened all the time.
Also, mom eternally had “a long day at work.” She wanted to watch Entertainment Tonight, so at the end of any gaming day, you would need to return the television to the state where mom could just turn it on for John Tesh.
90s HOMES REQUIRED NINTENDO OR SEGA
Whether 90s homes were awesome or not depended on the family’s video game system; if they were lucky enough to have anything.
At this point, I bet you can tell I’m jaded — we had two game systems. We had the Atari 2600 and a cracked Intellivision that died and was just collecting dust in a corner — thought to be “too expensive to throw away.”
Atari 2600 games, even in the earliest days of gaming, would grow dull after, like, four minutes of play. And playing Human Cannonball at sleepovers with friends who had Shinobi or Blaster Master at home… was embarrassing.
If you’re all like, “come on, no one would break out Human Cannonball at an early 1990s sleepover,” you’re right. Except to shoot the human as high as possible and see him land in a crumple with a tiny “ouch” word balloon. Laugh for a few seconds, then shut everything off and break out the Connect 4.
Pitfall II was the rare Atari game with decent-enough graphics/ gameplay for sleepover gaming. And for any reader born after the rise of the Wu-Tang Clan, Pitfall II was the original Tomb Raider. Minus the twin Uzis.
Shit, an argument could be made that Lara Croft actually was the rectangular character from Pitfall.
That would add just another rectangular step in her metamorphosis from titillating Mary Poppins with guns. Over the years, we watched as her isosceles bosom rounded out, expanded, reduced, and became lynchpin for heated discussions.
But that would be much later in the 90s — earlier gaming systems couldn’t use sex to convince us to stare at them for too long. Have you seen Ms. Pac Man?
Nintendo friends did race to complete Metroid in record time. The faster you complete the game, the more clothes Samus disrobes in the end screen.
Obviously those were the days before sexual harassment.
MONKEY BARS NEED BETTER PR
I’ve completely strayed from my point onto a game whose purpose was to run a labyrinth of challenging screens to get your hands on a vibrating monkey. And Lara Croft.
In the 80s or 90s, if you were inside at all during daylight hours, you were in some deep shit. I broke a window when I was nine and wound up confined to my room for a month — only allowed out for the bathroom, school, or church.
There wasn’t shit to do in the house besides scratching “read along story books” records on brightly colored plastic turntables pretending to be part of the Fat Boys.
We wanted to be outdoors with friends. We had glorious playgrounds, construction sites, to create fantasies of shooting bad guys with plastic machine guns.
New home constructions were the favorite, but empty lots could be just as grand as we molded them into BMX playgrounds. Mounds of dirt piled for sick jumps. We would call each of our tracks “HELLTRACK,” in a nod to a favorite BMX movie.
The actual playgrounds of the time were pretty terrible. Google public 1980s, 1990s playgrounds. We had monkey bars. That was basically the entire goddamn playground in the 80s and 90s.
And we didn’t have those split or circular monkey bars you see in modern playgrounds. We had an ugly fucking piece of hollowed steel standing menacingly in a small plot overgrown with bushes that hid the bullies. They waited in the bushes to ambush some dumb ass inexplicably wanting the monkey bars that day.
The monkey bars were ugly, with angles like a tombstone. If you were magical and needed to assemble one today, you could sprinkle growth pixie dust over a croquet gate.
Or find the vintage B-Roll CNN would cycle while talking Al-Qaeda. The only clip anyone seemed to have of Al-Qaeda was a dude furiously traversing monkey bars.
That had to be a blow to “big monkey bars,” or whatever industry specialized in selling monkey bars was called. Only two characters appear in that Al-Qaeda B-Roll; dude and monkey bars. How do you separate vintage monkey bars from Al-Qaeda at that point?
No one wanted to go to community playgrounds anyway. All they had was a fucking climbing bar, and you would just populate a space that would become a juicier target for neighborhood bullies when more kids showed up.
Unaffiliated bullies would descend from all around like the Legion of Doom. Zack, the forest bully, joining Dillan the new house at the other end of the community bully. Davis, the bully from camp that doesn’t live around here, seriously, Davis, what are you even doing here?! Andy, the two years ago bully — Tim, the pool bully…
I’m not sure if lessening the forces of bully blackholes was why most parents bought us playgrounds for the backyard. Those cheaper wooden playgrounds were a quarter of the size of regulation playgrounds and even less fun. It certainly didn’t add any panache to 90s homes.
A CHRISTMAS STORY-STYLE MASSACRE
If bullies were hiding in the outskirts of the backyard, a kid could at least have a fighting chance to make it to the backdoor. Most kids in the neighborhood had BB guns, so the scene could suddenly become a Christmas Story reenactment.
Suppose you were gunless and unable to initiate carnage. In that case, you could do the less cool thing and alert everyone via radio intercom. “KSSSH! WE ARE UNDER ATTACK!”
Intercoms were essentially walkie-talkies for homes, just bulkier and built into the walls around the house. Or think Alexa or other smart speaker setups used to communicate with family members in different areas of the house. And imagine it was something you couldn’t unplug.
That’s because Intercoms were wired directly into the fucking home, becoming latched into the nervous system of the house.
Have you ever heard of zombie crabs? These are unfortunate crustaceans invaded by a parasite that rewires the host from the inside. Then the parasite makes the crab do really questionable shit, like forced castration and forced parenting. (This is my twin doc sister’s research btw).
1990s home intercoms were a similar parasite for unfortunate 90s homes. Intercom wires ran throughout the house, some parallel to necessary cables carrying electricity to light switches. And fastened to giant hunks of cheap plastic receivers in the walls.
PLEASE TAKE IT WITH YOU
The intercoms came in just two colors, brown with white accents and silver buttons. And an utterly white model. Each would fade their already lousy colors over time. One faded into a grayish-brown, and the latter collected enough dust to resemble cigarette stain yellow.
Future homebuyers would be totally into all this, right?
As mentioned, while exploring new home constructions, I witnessed countless homes being wired for intercoms. And the brown receivers were overwhelmingly the favorite color. Barf.
Do you know what else was high on the list of 90s homes? Giant baths with whirlpool jets. 90s homes were balling out with salivatingly-futuristic new technologies; that didn’t age well.
“Why does our house have to be so uncool, dad? Our house sucks.” I would lament listing off the features of new home constructions. “They have intercoms and jacuzzi tubs inside the house! Jacuzzi tubs, dad.”
The whirlpool tubs amazed me, boasting torrents of heated water and bubbles — a hot, chaotic personal hurricane. I had once experienced it at a Courtyard Inn by Marriot, and that was suddenly all I wanted in my life.
“They’re not fun to clean,” he said and then would list all the boring shit he knew would add value to a home. My father’s maxim, “the next buyer is going to want to see as blank a slate as we did when we bought this home.”
Although dad tried to hock off the tiny jungle jim in the backyard on the next buyer, who was like, “Nah, please take that shit with you.” I’m paraphrasing.
YOU DON’T NEED BUBBLES THAT MUCH
Whirlpool tubs are terrifying vats of smooth surfaces occasionally breached by spidery tubes. This is probably the pod Neo was stored in during the Matrix movies.
The awfulness of 90s-era jet tubs finally struck me decades later when our family began our own search for a home. I had come a long way in the twenty or more years; the tubs had not.
One home with a godforsaken tub sported a Post-It note — in large scrawled red sharpie ink, read, “as is.” Which was the seller copping to the tub flopping the home inspection, and they still weren’t doing shit about it.
Seeing these aged behemoths today, with their overabundance of hard-to-clean surfaces and tubes that have collected and stored decades of human filth… I don’t believe in evil spirits — especially those that infect inanimate objects. Still, I would be begging the Warrens over to carry out the tub to their haunted museum. Or, at the very least, plead they immolate the tub in exorcisms.
I’m not a multiple exorcism guy — no multiple exorcism story ends happily. And I would still risk multiple exorcisms on domestic 90s-era hot tubs before I ever moved into a house with one. Or at least burn some sage.
One homeowner I knew that wound up with a jetted tub mentioned trying to use the tub immediately without realizing how gross the thing might be… She had some candles, wine, and a book — flipped on the bubbles and was suddenly joined by a retinue of debris and floating hairs. “Don’t ever buy a tub with extra holes,” concluded her story.
BUT HUMANS LOVE HOLES
Laundry chutes were certainly not exclusive to the homes Gen Xers grew up in. Not like hot tubs or water beds or machetes or tarantulas. Almost every kid I knew in my 80s neighborhood had a dad that owned either a machete or a tarantula. Some had both.
“You could totally cut your head off with this,” was a frequent boast uttered in 80s homes. We weren’t begging kids to show us their laundry chute.
We wanted to see the tarantula get fed or hold their dad’s machete again. And machetes were usually hidden in the same spots as smut and pistols — and we knew all the hiding places. We just had to convince the kid to acquiesce.
Humans have always loved putting holes in buildings to whisk away trash, laundry, blood, and explosives.
My mother’s hospital utilized a system of pneumatic tubes for sending all kinds of shit flying. Think of the tubes you stick bank deposits in that returns with a receipt and lollipops for the kids. Just multiplied vastly in scale and never a lollipop.
If my mother needed to transmit messages or whatever to the other end of the hospital, she would enclose it in a heavy capsule. Then open a windy pneumatic tube that sounded like a bottled tornado — and fire off the capsule like a torpedo to another location in the building.
DROPPING AWESOME STUFF THROUGH HOLES
When my mother was away from the system, I would put loose pieces of paper or staplers or hole punchers into the tubes to see what would happen. Once, I stuck a small transformer, Cliff Jumper, in. It clunked and clattered off through the walls, never to be seen again. I cried.
Apparently, pneumatic tubes are great for quickly sending samples, like blood, or shit, to other locations in a hospital — my other doc younger sis corrected my thinking on it being just a vintage communication system on the cusp of email and computers for daily patient care — not so much.
Hospitals still use pneumatic tubes (hopefully sans terrible children).
Sending dirty laundry quickly from one part of a house to another will not save anyone’s life unless a lice treatment kit is involved.
What it will do is make one part of the laundry process fun. And that is everything — if I had a time machine and one trip into the past to meet the originator of aqueducts or laundry chutes — I would want to meet the laundry chute person.
Before you start pegging me as some Harvey Comics rich snot, the chute wasn’t fancy. It was not an elegant underwear elevator. Not at all a dumbwaiter for dirty socks.
It was just a hole. And you don’t need to be rich to drill a hole from the upstairs to the downstairs. And I mean, sure, Bob Villa would have some shit to say about my last sentence.
Why was there but one laundry chute out of the many unfinished 90s Homes I explored?
LAUNDRY CHUTES ARE BALLER AF
We really do need a reboot of the laundry chute. We need shafts for our soiled sheets to be a standard in new home constructions.
I’m sure you’ve had to shlep a week’s load of laundry down a flight of stairs — and eventually that shit will need to get back up the flights of stairs.
My joints and muscles are aging, and my children’s clothing has increased from infinitesimal onesies to baggy as fuck FNF (pronounced “Fi-naf) sweatshirts. I yearn for that one home I lived in with a chute.
Imagine walking five feet from where you pile laundry to a flap in the wall and making all your shit-streaked boxers slide away to the recesses of the home.
You didn’t even have to do the laundry right then. Hell, mom wanted the room clean — not the room and the laundry clean. Might as well smoke a bowl and play California Games.
The dirty clothing could chill in the basement for weeks until someone accidentally washes the laundry for you.
And the laundry chute wasn’t just great for making dirty laundry disappear — when my parents were in Montpelier, I wound up stuffing all kinds of dumb shit in it.
I invited, like, my one friend over for a party to watch Ninja Scroll, and when he asked for a beer, I was like, “holy shit.” And led him to a point in the basement. “Close your eyes, hold your hands like this, and wait for a second. No, seriously, this is going to be so awesome.”
I ran up to the fridge and then flew up the stairs to the chute’s flap; “you ready?!”
“What am I supposed to be doing?”
“Just close your eyes and hold your hands out!” I released the beer into the void. It crashed into an angled portion of the chute — sounded off a “boosh!” and transitioned into an audible rush of foam and spray.
DO YOU KNOW HOW HARD IT IS TO CLEAN A LAUNDRY CHUTE?
By the time I had gotten back down to the basement, the hole in the ceiling was dribbling beer. My buddy looked up at the ceiling; what even was the joke? Why sacrifice a beer like that?!
What I did was dumb and slightly reckless. I could have conked my buddy with a beer falling two flights. And if my parents knew I had been drinking and dropping beers through the laundry chute — I would have been toast.
Yet all the amazingly idiotic shit I stuffed in the chute was nowhere near as potentially deadly as the most radioactive towel ever, sticks (plural) of dynamite, and folks stuffing themselves in for a ride to the laundry room.
Still, I had a mess to deal with — cleaning anything out of a laundry chute can be a difficult a process. And cleaning beer out is no exception — especially when flexing my worst-son-ever gene and waiting to the precise day the parents were expecting to return home.
My dad knew some shit was up; the house smelled low-key like a brewery. And all the sheets wound up smelling yeasty for a season after I shoved all the linens in the house through a few times.
The only thing that saved me was shooting a shit-ton of Windex into the hole. Yes, the house had an air of alcohol; it also smelled “clean” being that I cycled through a bunch of chemical cleaners through the spine of the house.
90s HOMES CLOSINGS
At Thanksgiving mom unfolded the good table covering and a large Windex-blue stain appeared on a corner of it. I flushed. And my father stared at me in a way I knew to be accusatory.
So, I think the overall moral here is that you shouldn’t have children. And if you buy a house from the 1990s make sure to burn a lot of sage to rid the house of hot tub heresies.
Also if you ever wind up in the laundry chute house there’s still a half-finished bottle of Bacardi hidden in the attic. I hollowed out a bit of the insulation to keep it hidden.
Did I miss any obvious 90s homes amenities that have or have not aged well? Let me know in the comments!
And this post was mostly written while listening to a fantastic mix by DJ Nu-Mark, Nu Crack City 2 Mix which combines a bedrock of 90s hip-hop with vintage R&B and newer stuff. Highly recommend.
Oh, and Pen & Pixel is the shit — had some of my absolute fave 90s album covers. The banner pic up top is my umpteenth homage (bc it’s so fun to do).