Thursday, February 22, 2007


El Capitan recently posted on the subject of toys - five favorite Childhood Toys, plus five toys he never had (but wished he did). That would make a resoundingly good meme, for everyone remembers with affection certain Playthings of their Snot-Nose Days.

I am convinced that one of the engines that drives the success of online auction sites (e.g., eBay) and online classified sites (e.g., Craigslist) is the nostalgia we Baby Boomers have for our toys. Finding an old favorite online is a little like striking gold.

My earliest Toy Memory is of a pair of rubber squeaky toys I had as a toddler: a giraffe and a frog. She Who Must Be Obeyed is convinced that I only remember these toys because they appear in photographs of the Extremely Young Elisson...but I know otherwise. I can still remember - albeit vaguely - clutching those little rubber critters as I waddled around the house.

When I became old enough to be trusted with small objects, I had toy trucks and road signs, all made of intricately cast metal. They’d be worth a small fortune today.

Anyone remember cap pistols? Every red-blooded American kid of the 1950’s had an arsenal of cap pistols, even kids from effete liberal families that believed in nuclear disarmament. When we weren’t playing Cowboys and Indians Western Beef Cattle Ranchers and Indigenous Americans, or Cops and Robbers Law Enforcement Officials and Possible Perpetrators (Assumed To Be Innocent Until Proven Guilty), we would just take the rolls of caps and smash them on a cinderblock with a hammer. More fun and noise even that the (yet-to-be-invented) bubble wrap!

Mattel revolutionized the Cap Pistol world with the invention of their Shootin’ Shell™ line of cap guns. These featured Greenie Stick-’Em Caps, individual circular caps - green instead of the traditional red - that could be peeled off a sheet and stuck to an individual cartridge that had a plastic spring-loaded bullet. When you fired one of those babies off, you’d get a satisfying BANG! and that grey plastic slug would actually fly out of the gun’s muzzle, the better to lodge in your kid brother’s gullet. The CPSC would shit a massive blood clot if one of these bad boys showed up in a toy store today.

We had board games, too. I remember one board game that purported to teach the names of all 48 states (this was the 1950’s, remember), along with their capitals and major products. Iowa - Des Moines - Fuckloads o’ Corn! To this day, I still know the capitals of all the states thanks to this obnoxious educational “toy.”

Cappy mentions Mousetrap as a toy he wished he had had. I had one of them when I was about ten years old. Hours of mindless amusement, building that Rube Goldbergesque mousetrap and then watching it function as the Big Finish. There’s probably a whole generation of operating system developers and programmers who got their first taste of Systems Design from this game. And it shows.

Anyone remember the Gilbert Chemistry Set? Chemistry sets nowaday are mere shadows of their former Toxic Selves, but back in the day, you could do some Major Damage with one of those things. Potassium Ferrocyanide! Copper Sulfate! Magnesium! Sodium Silicate! Better Living through Chemistry? Shyeah, if Better Living means filling the house with the aroma of brimstone and blowing up the parakeet.

I could go on and on. Fat-tire bikes. Block City. Tinkertoys. Great Garloo. Tonka Trucks - made of real, honest-to-Gawd steel!

But one of my favorite toys is one I made myself.

I took a chunk of wood and nailed all sorts of miscellaneous Random Hardware to it, calling the resulting Hotch-Potch my “Switchboard.” Of course, there was zero resemblance between this cobbled-together Magnum Eppis and anything that could actually be called a switchboard - but no matter. Childhood Imagination made it the most marvelous object in the world.

And then, one day, it simply disappeared. Had the Old Man found it and discarded it without realizing its import? Did it just get lost amidst the Miscellaneous Garage Detritus of our homestead? Who knows? But I mourned its loss as I had not mourned the loss of any Object Physical.

What toys do you remember from your Snot-Nose Days?

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