medieval times

You ever try to explain a rotary phone to your kids? The whole circle of numbers with this plastic Frisbee with holes in it thing? You put your finger in the number hole and you whip the little Frisbee around until your finger hits the metal stopper and then you let it spin back the other way.

And your kids are just looking at you like you’d completely lost your train of thought while trying to describe a phone because what you just described, man, that’s not a phone. That’s a carnival.

Remember those moments on those rotary phones when you had to dial fast? You couldn’t! Like if a swamp monster was trying to break in through the window and you had to call the police, there was no way to speed up the rotary. Why didn’t they make 911 just 000 so it was super quick? You could zip through those zeros! But you gotta dial that 9 and it takes forever to let the 9 spin all the way back around and you’re like “Come on, come on!!” And you can’t even run to a different room because the receiver is connected to the phony by that squiggly cord.

Anyway, here’s why I was thinking about this:

I was setting the clock on our coffee pot the other day and didn’t have my phone with me, and was wondering what the exact time was.  And I remembered being a kid and using one of those old rotary phones to call that robot woman to tell me the time.

Remember that robot woman?

And that got me thinking about how when I used to go to Ireland every summer with my dad, my mom would send me letters in which she would include newspaper clippings of the baseball standings so I could see how the Mets were doing.

And so on.

I guess my question is this: Why do we have such fond memories of things like that? All of them are fundamentally less convenient.

But perhaps the oddest example of nostalgia is the pining for a thousand years ago, before modern medicine and toilets. That is not something anyone should pine for. But apparently we do because there’s a restaurant and show thing called Medieval Times. And we took the kids.

It wasn’t something we had planned out. But it was President’s Day and we had the day off and it was one of those things where we were trying to keep the kids entertained.

(And seriously, Presidents Day?? I don’t want to come off as unpatriotic but what are we doing using a bank holiday to celebrate our presidents?  Were they previously overlooked and in need of special recognition? I’m as big a George Washington fan as anyone, but I feel like he’s gotten his due considering we’ve already named after him 56 towns, 12 colleges, and a multitude of parks, forts and lakes. And also a bridge and an entire state and 4 mountains. We can’t have a day off to celebrate single moms? I say we change the name of every river in America and name them all after single moms. I’m serious. Right now the biggest rivers are all named after states. Hey, Ohio River – guess what? Now you’re Janet River. Boom. Don’t @ me, #Buckeyes.)

Okay, back to Medieval Times.

So if you haven’t been to Medieval Times, lemme tell you – it’s all kinds of crazy. We walked in and they put the crowns on our heads. I caught Liz’s raised eyebrow as they explained to the kids which part of the kingdom we would be representing, but because she’s Lizzie, as soon as the kids turned to her, all excited, she got totally into it. That’s what moms do.

Here’s how it works:

They put you in one of six sections surrounding this horse arena and you cheer for the knight representing that section. These knights come out, and there’s this queen, and they’re saying all this stuff. Acting and whatnot.

And meanwhile, they just start bringing you food.

Which is sort of the best part for the kids because there’s no utensils so you just sort of slurp everything up. (When she was young Lucy used to say “slurfing” which is much better.) They give you a half a chicken. Literally one half of a chicken. Now, at home, Lucy will maybe eat a tiny bite of chicken when I prepare some delicious herb-crusted chicken breast. But slap a half a chicken on her plate and take away a knife and fork? She’s whooping it up, slurfing it down and waving a chicken leg around like she’s trying to sell Enron shares on the floor of the stock exchange.

It’s nonstop entertainment.

There’s a lot of talk between the queen and these two other guys – the handsome fellow and the older weasly guy. And there’s a lot of talk about how people are doing stuff for their honor or her honor or the honor of their people. (Which I don’t think I totally understood but I never wanted to ask what that meant exactly because that would have outed me as somebody that had no honor.)

It starts off pretty awesome, with them doing these tests of skill, riding these horses around. Then there’s more banter and a general storyline that I didn’t totally follow but who cares because here’s the thing:

At the end the knights actually started jousting.

Like, literally jousting. Running at each other on horses holding massive javelins.

Lemme tell you something – it’s one thing to see it in a movie. But it’s pretty intense when it’s happening inside your restaurant.

And I think after the jousting we all would have been good with that and went home happy.

Except then the knight that won off jumped off his horse and they started fighting with swords or battle axes or whatever.

Then one beats the other and holds the sword over him and looks up at the queen perched on her balcony. Then the queen declares to the crowd “Shall they fight…to the death??”

And the crowd erupts with a “YES!” except for the Grennan family, and we’re all shouting “NO!” because isn’t that the right answer??? Have we all gone insane??

Luckily the queen – unlike our fellow Medieval Times patrons – had mercy and decided they weren’t going to kill each other and that the dishonor was punishment enough. (Again with the honor. You get knocked off your horse because the other guy had a javelin and that means you lose your honor? I don’t get it.)

So the kids loved it.

Here’s the point about it, though.

We love that we experienced the most sanitized version of 11th century Spain imaginable. We ate chicken with our hands and watched dudes pretend to fight.

Maybe that’s the key to nostalgia. You take a moment that reminds you of something wonderful, like being a kid and using the rotary phone because it made you feel like a grownup without all of the grownup responsibilities. And the inconvenience falls away and you’re left with something beautiful.

Like getting to eat with your hands without worrying you were going to catch the black death.

Maybe nostalgia makes us feel protected. Maybe it scrapes away bad memories and leaves us with the only the good. And maybe I sort of love that idea.

By | 2019-02-27T09:06:54-05:00 February 27th, 2019|14 Comments


  1. Lance Arguello February 27, 2019 at 8:51 am - Reply

    Ahhhhh…nostalgia! I recently found my old View Master and spent ours clicking through story after story that lasted all of 12 pictures. Thanks for the memories-it made my pointer finger hurt just thinking about dialing that phone.

  2. Conor February 27, 2019 at 9:07 am - Reply

    View Master!!!

  3. Liz February 27, 2019 at 9:09 am - Reply

    Secret decoder rings.
    Prizes in cereal boxes.
    Betty Crocker oven.
    Snoopy Snow-cone machine.
    Totally on the View Master.

    • Conor February 27, 2019 at 11:09 am - Reply

      Shrinky dinks. Amazing. And the oven I could never figure out. That was seriously ahead of its time.

  4. Sharon Moebus February 27, 2019 at 12:31 pm - Reply

    As one of your more senior followers, may I mention that I used to work the switchboard at Bell Telephone as a long distance operator. (You know, that big board with all the holes in it?) And you think a rotary dial is confusing? While you were waiting to get connected you had time to think about what you were going to say because you paid by the minute!

    • Conor February 27, 2019 at 1:33 pm - Reply

      I don’t get how those things work. All I know is that people were plugging and unplugging. Very dramatic!

  5. Mark February 27, 2019 at 1:40 pm - Reply

    Nostalgia feels like grace and redemption does, where past experiences are remembered with fewer rough edges and nasty smells and instead with bright colors and a very real (albeit hard to entirely grasp and hold onto) sense of wonder and delight. And for these reasons, and further because it is a universal human sensation, nostalgia seems, at least to me, to be some evidence for the existence of God.

    • Conor February 27, 2019 at 3:09 pm - Reply

      I’m going to just copy and paste this for my next blog.

  6. Rumplestiltskin February 27, 2019 at 4:53 pm - Reply

    Please tell me you’ve seen “The Cable Guy”….

    • Conor February 28, 2019 at 10:36 am - Reply

      Oh my gosh, like YEARS ago. Is it worth it?

  7. Jenny February 28, 2019 at 9:42 pm - Reply

    re: rotary phone- wouldn’t dialing 111 be quicker than 999, especially with swamp monster
    coming thru window?

    • Conor March 1, 2019 at 4:27 pm - Reply

      In fairness, it’s probably best to just drop the phone and run. I don’t know what I’m doing trying to fight off a swamp monster with one foot while I’m making a call.

  8. Carol Hennessey March 20, 2019 at 10:06 pm - Reply

    Conor, you have a new fan. Just hung up talking to Wayne Harvey (an old Towson High School buddy). We try to catch up now and then, and our conversations are all over the map………. dream jobs, great ideas, etc. I’ve just recently started a blog and mentioned I need/want to monetize so I can work from the Arctic (if I want to. But way too cold.) Wayne mentioned your experiences, books, and blog. So I googled you………… Rotary phones jumped off the page, and I HAD to comment. Yup, I remember how happy I was when Mom and Dad got the extra long squiggly cord that I could stretch halfway down the ‘cellar’ steps. A red wall phone. Really?? What were they thinking? It certainly didn’t match the kitchen wallpaper that had huge green zucchini’s on it. Ahhhhh….. nostalgia at its best. Thanks for the post. Can’t wait to read more!

    • Conor March 21, 2019 at 2:50 pm - Reply

      That’s so cool! Small world! Thanks Carol!

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