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.
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.
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!