(Revisiting an anecdote … other projects have my attention at the moment.)
My lust for toys went through phases when I was a kid, from action dolls to Matchbox cars to magic kits to a brief fling with fully functioning model trains, to video games.
The most “useful” action doll was “Stretch Armstrong,” which was the one doll that lived up to its name and moved just like the cartoon character. It stretched. Thus, it was “realistic.” One of my friends had one of these. The least useful was the “bionic man” Steve Austin doll, which was easily broken yet completely indestructible. His bionic eye was not a telescope but instead a simple hole drilled through his head with a glass tube inserted. The tube was cloudy with dust within months or minutes of opening the doll’s box. Thus, it was “real” as opposed to “realistic.” And that of course was the doll I owned.
The pages that I really loved in the many catalogs we received in the mail displayed the model car tracks. Not the model cars or radio-controlled cars. The tracks. Mind you, any track that I ever actually owned myself was a simple oval, and, whenever the project of assembling one was left to me, I would somehow have sections of highway unfinished and unfinish-able as well as unmatched leftover pieces of track. (Later in life, I wrote instruction manuals used in constructing houses. You’re welcome, America.)
Oh! But I desired a multiple-lane highway of a Matchbox track, a complex of exit ramps and traffic circles. Some of the kits even came with small stop signs, because traffic would be inevitable on them, what with all of those friends flocking to your house to see the realistic depiction of real-life complexity in your basement, and I aspired to be the Robert Moses of my house.
Look at this page at the top of this post, from a Montgomery Ward catalog, with its huge illustrations and dense, descriptive copy. The track depicted over there on the bottom of the page on the right, with its merging lanes and underpass, has me envious all over again. I want it. “Wish Book,” indeed.
The one time I played with a radio-controlled car on an elaborate track like this was at a friend’s house; he had set it up on his living room floor, which made little to no sense to me because I could foresee bad things about to happen, and the moment he handed me a controller, my car flipped off the track, rolled under a couch, rolled onto its wheels, and re-emerged for a split-second just before falling off the landing to the hardwood foyer floor below. (This may explain my lifelong hatred of split-level houses.) (Why put the back of a sofa against the railing?) We looked at each other during that two seconds of loud silence that always precedes the unmistakable sound of irreversible destruction.
I do not remember visiting his house ever again.
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Some of this first appeared in 2013 and here.
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