Today's entry should serve as a cautionary tale to you all: be careful what you wish for! Our story takes place in 1969 - I'm 12 years old and the family is once again asking me what I want for Christmas. Keep in mind this is LONG before the Internet, when most kids (myself included) would either decide what was their heart's desire that year from A) - the Sears Wish Book (seen at left), which was mailed to everyone's house months in advance and kids like me would 'circle for Santa' (who must have had an 'in' with Sears) what they wanted, or B) - would tell the adults what they wanted after seeing the barrage of ads on TV over and over again, day after day after ... keep that point in mind as we go forth.
My Mom and other relatives each year gave me something they thought I would like. Being the 1960s, I was a dyed-in-the-wool 'Monster Kid', and was living, breathing, eating everything monsters, thanks to magazines like Famous Monsters Of Filmland, etc., and shows like The Munsters and The Addams Family on TV. So of course, what did I want for Christmas? MONSTERS! What did I get? Anything but ... sigh.
The 1960s was the time of the Monster Craze, the Spy Craze (James Bond 007, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., etc.) and the Superhero Craze, specifically Marvel (circa 1966), with the Saturday morning Spider-Man cartoon (which future Fritz The Cat animator Ralph Bakshi worked on), as well as Hanna-Barbera's animated Fantastic Four cartoon (STILL the best one made, just by adapting the actual comics ... seriously, how hard is that???) - the photo at right can be dated via the Superhero Craze, as it shows me (at age 9) on Christmas morning with an opened board game to my right (your left as you look at the picture) - after blowing it up and some judicious investigative work, I figured out it was the board game below: the Amazing Spider-Man game, with the 'Marvel Super-Heroes' (a topic for another blog entry another time). SO Monsters were out, Spys were out, but Superheroes were OK - got it. Happy as can be, right? Here's the problem: I was also an only child and an original latch-key kid in a Boston apartment, with a Mom who worked a nursing shift 3:30 - midnight most days, and I did not know another kid in the neighborhood AT ALL, since I went to school not only out of town, but out of STATE (I went to a military boarding school in Tennessee and only came home for two weeks at Christmas and during the summer). So my family's propensity for board games was sort of wasted on me: how many games could I win playing either by myself or against the family dog? The satisfying answer is ALL OF THEM, but even that novelty wore off after awhile.
Enter Grandma Ruby, my Dad's mom, who was visiting us from Ohio and was staying with us over the holidays. Let me back up here and mention my Dad had passed away when I was five, so it was just my Mom, me and our poodle, Toodles (DEFINITELY another blog entry for another time). I've mentioned Grandma Ruby before in these pages, particularly her indulging her grandson in his Monster Mania, when no one else would, by going with me to the corner drugstore, buying me the monthly copy of Famous Monsters Of Filmland, which I would devour, then hide under the bed until my Mom found it, threw it out and explained to Ruby she didn't want that magazine in her house, with Ruby smiling sweetly the whole time and nodding, then buying me next month's issue, etc. Long story short: my Mom finally caved - go US! :) Back to 1969 - here's where the story goes off the rails. Remember my mentioning about being at military school? While I received a great education there (much better than I would have received at Boston Public Schools at the time), I also had NO access to TV, so would literally binge-watch anything and everything when I was home over the summer and Christmas. One of the advantages of having a Mom who worked the evening shift was having the TV completely to myself most evenings, ALL EVENING, and no parental censorship in what I could or could not see. Many a night my Mom would get home at 1AM to find the apartment completely dark, with only the eerie glow of a cathode-ray TV set, giving off a hissing sound as nothing but static snow filled the screen (years before all-night programming), and then having to try and drag me out from UNDER the couch, wrapped in a blanket and passed out. WHY under the couch? Because this Monster Kid was going to get his fix somehow, by watching reruns of The Outer Limits or The Twilight Zone or Shock Theater (which ran all the Universal monster movies), and under the couch was the only safe place to watch them, duh!
It was also around this time that I branched out into science fiction. My first and still favorite childhood love was LOST IN SPACE, which led me to Irwin Allen's other sci-fi shows of the '60s: THE TIME TUNNEL, LAND OF THE GIANTS and VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA. Then there was STAR TREK. I remember watching the show, but not being that great a fan of it. However, I readily admit my mind may be playing tricks with me, as my Mom used to tell me it was the One Show every week that I would ask to see (on the rare times she was home) with a TV Dinner in front of the set - she swore I was obsessed with that show! That's a Very Long Explanation and setup for you to understand what comes next. Let's go with Mom's theory, it will help to explain the perfect storm that's coming. Take one obsessive kid, add the OTHER big hobby of the '60s, namely plastic model making, and one indulgent Grandmother - what could POSSIBLY go wrong?
Remember when I said at the beginning of this article there were TWO ways of having your Christmas wishes known, the first being the Sears catalog and the second being the incessant TV ads? Well, the ads were Seriously Pushing that YOU (YES, YOU!) could build and OWN your Very Own Starship Enterprise! How cool would THAT look in my room? Well, this wasn't just a want, a need, this was Life and Death to my brain and I mercilessly hounded and explained to Grandma Ruby what I HAD TO HAVE OR I WAS GONNA DIE (only a bit exaggerating here) for Christmas that year! She sweetly smiled and I waited for the Big Day ... ladies and gentlemen, BEHOLD the absolute BANE of my existence for 1969! Grandma Ruby, bless her, had NO INKLING of what STAR TREK was and just told the fellow at the department store that her favorite grandson had his eye on that nice Enterprise model. I opened up this HUGE box on Christmas morning, thinking it was a LOT bigger than it looked on the TV ads - the wrapping paper came off the box, the scales fell from my eyes, and I stared in DISBELIEF and HORROR at the Revell USS Enterprise Nuclear Carrier! You can only GUESS how well that went down ... I started to cry, and said, "That wasn't what I wanted!", only to be carted out by my Mom and told to shut up and say thank you, that Grandma Ruby had paid a lot of money for it, etc., and that I will damn well like it and take it (which I sniffingly did). Just looking it over, though, I knew this was WAY out of my league. This thing had what looked like a MILLION tiny pieces - mind you, I could BARELY glue together body part A to body part B on my few (VERY FEW) Aurora monster models - sigh. Actually, my Mom's brilliant solution (and it was a good one) was taking it in to the VA Hospital where she was Head Nurse and having the patients make it. They did a magnificent job and it came back and taunted me in my room for years - and by the way, I never DID get the Starship Enterprise model - sigh # 2.
For most kids, the story would end there - lesson learned. Not THIS intrepid soul! Grandma Ruby got some wind of what happened somehow (maybe it was the wailing coming not from the drafty windows of the apartment or the poodle ...) and wanted to make it right. 1969 was ALSO the year LAND OF THE GIANTS was on the air in prime time - my latest obsession. It has GIANTS, Man! It also had a Very Cool spacehip the Earth people (or 'Little People', as they were known on the show) had, called the Spindrift, and yes, Aurora had a model for THAT, as well! Sooooo ... (you can see where this is going, right?) I figured there was NO WAY Grandma Ruby could screw THIS up, what with the name of the show and the distinctive name of the spacecraft!
Off she went to make things right and came back pleased as punch, telling that nice young man at the department store EXACTLY what I said: LAND OF THE GIANTS, check. SPINDRIFT, check. I opened up the package and just STARED in slack-jawed horror (I'm getting chills all over again just writing this!) - I have no idea how or where she found this, but instead of the Aurora plastic model of the ship, she had found the Remco TOOTHPICK CRAFT MODEL! Take a moment to let the sheer terror of this sink in! It had a cardboard base with a million holes punched out in it, wherein you took TOOTHPICKS (TOOTHPICKS!) and lined them up One At A Time, putting one end of the toothpick into Hole A, then BENDING the GODDAMN TOOTHPICK (did I mention TOOTHPICKS???) to fit it into Hole B and did that OVER AND OVER until you built up the shell of the ship! What sadistic, deranged mind thought this up? I couldn't even cry over this one - I was just numb. I remember mumbling some sort of thank you over this (under the withering glare of my mother) and sitting at the dining table TRYING to do this - SNAP!, went one toothpick, SNAP! went the next one ... thankfully (?) there was a bag of about a thousand of them, but it didn't matter, I was all thumbs with this monstrosity and after a few more eternitys of frustration, wanted nothing more to do with it. Again, Mom took it into the VA and those stalwart souls made it and returned it to me - and again, you guessed it, I never got the Spindrift model - le sigh # 3.
So there you have it, boys and girls. Take it from this battle-scarred old soul: Be Careful What You Wish For! One quick postscript and I'm done: MANY years later, Laura and I were at a Christmas Collectibles Show at the BaySide Expo Center here in Boston around 1990 and were going up and down the aisles looking at vintage toys and games, when I turned the corner at the end of one aisle and there, all by itself, was this TOOTHPICK TOY FROM HELL. I stopped in my tracks and let out a small, sickly shriek of horror and pointed it out to her, and her reply was, "Yeah, it's a toy, so what? Oh, that's the one you told me about", NOT comprehending the sheer malevolence of this Nightmare Craft Kit from my childhood. The Sun lost all its warmth and my soul shriveled a tiny bit inside and I couldn't wait to get out of there and head home. Brrrrr ......
As I mentioned to Laura and Justin, I couldn't believe I've done this blog for twelve years and have never told this story! All of my friends have heard the in-person narrative of this (and I think secretly enjoy it, as I get myself worked up into a frenzy every time I tell it - some things are just that scarring!).
Phew! OK, thanks for the catharsis - we'll be back tomorrow with OTHER folks' horror tales of the season!