The following was originally an entry for a contest sponsored by a retro-pop website. The submissions dealt with stories from childhood where one’s mother refused to purchase them a particular toy. Our blogs usually feature commentaries on the unexplained in our lives, but since The SpiritChasers have always been about looking for wonder, I found this story about my own “puer eternis” suitable.
Do you remember / did you have a Yellow Front in your neighborhood? Ours was in Thornton, Colorado, and I still vividly remember my father driving me there for a Darth Vader store appearance. I waited over an hour to meet him and all I could think to do when I did was attempt to screw up the controls on his life-support chest panel for the Rebellion. He simply shoved a signed photo at me dismissively and the clerks waived me out. This was not good enough, as I had my mother purchase so many of his products since I saw him for the first time at the Continental Theatre when I was only five years old. Plus, I was a part of the Rebellion.
With my cousin providing a distraction by screaming her lungs out, I ran back through the line, jumped over the rope barrier, rolled under a table and popped back in front of him again. This time he stood up - my father at the ready with a camera ( as he usually was whenever his son was about to humiliate himself in front of others ) - and pretended to crush my face. I was about to ask why he didn’t just use his force powers but I was physically hauled out by Yellow Front staff. Perhaps they remembered me as the odd little boy who always sat in the toy aisle while my mother shopped for beauty products.
I actually preferred Woolworth’s, which was where my mother went into labor with me in the first place, so it had a poignant feel about it. Perhaps that was why it was easier to use my own force powers on her when asking for something. “Momma, can I get this?” I proposed this countless times within five minutes of entering this store. Usually she’d just sigh, scan the price tag and throw it in her cart. I had a weekly allowance but anything over ten dollars was pushing it. I was the kind of kid who wrote notes to the tooth fairy asking for a loan until the next tooth, who during the Christmas season cut the photos of the toys I wanted out of sales ads and catalogs, covering the entire fridge with price comparisons, store locations, hours and sometimes even directions.
“Hi, I’m someone’s kid. How do we get to your store? And do you know if you still have the Blastarr and Soaron Captain Power action figures?” This is how I acquired the Side Gunner vehicle from the 1985 Star Wars Droids line, a Kronoform transforming robot watch, my favorite Secret Agent Secret Weapon Watch which fired fake little red bullets, and countless other pieces of plastic lost to time ( but acquired again thanks to eBay ).
I would sit in the living room, pretending to be content, pushing the tab on the back of my V Enemy Visitor 12” action figure, moving his reptilian tongue in and out of his mouth while watching CBS’s Saturday Supercade, but I was a child of the 80’s and there was always something new to want. At Westminster’s North Star Drive-in one evening I recall nearly hyperventilating when the first of the Lazer Tag commercials was projected in futuristic glory over the rusted playground I loitered at. I remember the only thing that stopped my crying as we drove home ( we just saw E.T. ) was thinking of running around with an actual laser gun without adult supervision.
Later that month I entered a contest to win one of the very first Lazer Tag game sets sponsored by one of our local TV channels. I was watching The Goonies when I saw my name flash on the screen, furiously bounding over my couch and my cats to get to the phone, interrupting my mother’s afternoon phone call to my aunt with eyes as big as saucers, scaring years off her as I struggled to dial the rotary wheel without explanation. I was pretty lucky, all things considered. I grew up in a drab little apartment complex next to a busy highway. We had no back or front yard of our own, nothing like the kids from E.T.’s perfect suburbian Californian community or the Freeling’s Cuesta Verde neighborhood from Poltergeist.
Our parents both worked and did what they could. I was a latchkey kid, the last one to leave the apartment and the first one to arrive home. The bonus was that this obviously made it very difficult for my mother to hide Christmas presents from me. Still, I had the Star Wars Death Star Playset and several action figures, all with little nails hammered into their heads ( as my sister was fond of biting the heads off them ). She was a perfect if reluctant playmate, and I often got her into all kinds of trouble running around our apartment complex playing spies after watching Cloak & Dagger for the umpteenth time or “smoking” those fake bubble-gum cigarettes outside of shopping malls. She was right by my side the day of Westminster, Colorado’s new Toys R Us grand opening. I didn’t give a damn about the man in the stuffed giraffe costume or the firemen riding up and down the extended ladder of their fire truck. I had only one thing in mind: the release of the new M.A.S.K. T-Bob With Scott Trakker action figure- as I’m sure most of the same shifty-eyed boys my age waiting in line did.
I had on my Secret Agent Secret Weapon Watch and I’d filled me and my sister’s pockets with those “POP POP” firecracker snappers. We were taking no prisoners. I didn’t get my T-Bob in all of the chaos but I did find him at a K-Mart later. My sister also got me back for mandatorily employing her services as security guard during a visit to Chuck E Cheese. Back then, our favorite restaurant featured a big Swiss cheese maze you could crawl around in ( I was actually getting too big to do so but did anyway - none of the waitstaff ever said anything though they did look on in concern as the penny-operated rides creaked under my weight ). Trying to act cute in front of another youth my age, I crawled through one of the holes and got myself stuck. My dad would have been there with his camera but he was too big to fit inside. My sister extended her hands as if to offer help but instead took all the game tokens out of my pocket and left me trapped until she was through with her skeeball game. I had to pretend to be resting for 45 minutes.
I honestly don’t know how my mother kept up with us. I had enough Which Way and Choose Your Own Adventure books to start a library. One day, leaving Woolworth’s, the word “SUPERMAN” emblazoned on a vinyl ‘45 at Musicland caught my eye. I imagined it to be full of sound effects from the movie, so my mother bought it for me. I had one of those old white plastic suitcase record players and immediately flipped it open as soon as we got home. I put the needle down carefully and sat on my bed looking over my poster of Christopher Reeve flying above my entire LJN Dungeons & Dragons toy line. Instead of hearing the voice of my longtime hero, my room instead became filled with the sound of a dirty disco beat. Soon after, some woman began to croon about Superman making her feel like the queen of the world. I thought it might have been like the “Can You Read My Mind?” single, and so I waited patiently for the voice of Margot Kidder as Lois Lane. Instead, the woman droned on about Superman making her feel so special when he moved her up and down, and how deep he went inside her and warmed her up. She repeatedly asked that my hero do it to her. I wasn’t sure what she was referring to other than a friendly ride above the city, so I started to dance along with my arms in flight mode. The lady kept saying how much she loved it, and that was when my mother burst through the door and demanded to know
“WHAT ARE YOU PLAYING?!” I innocently pointed at the record she’d just bought me, which she ripped from the turntable. “THIS IS CELI BEE!” Apparently she was a disco queen who dressed like a prostitute and did naughty things with her backup dancers ( type “Celi Bee Superman” into the YouTube search engine if you dare ). Who knew? ( http://youtu.be/8TU2mnCFGNI )
When 1984’s Dune line of toys were released I had my mother make a special trip to Woolworth’s under the guise that they had the cheapest cough syrup and I was coming down with something. As always I ran straight for the toys, but she took one look at the hideous Baron Harkonnen and Feyd Rautha action figures and said, “NO.” Feyd came with some kind of cat in a box which horrified her. Something in me snapped, perhaps due to the imaginary cold I was laboring under, but I caused a small scene by throwing both figures on the well-worn tile floor and shouting
“YOU BENE GESSERIT WITCH!” For which I was popped in the face in full view of startled shoppers.
Later, as a peace offering, I attempted to do the mother / firstborn son thing of watching a movie with her on HBO one evening. I made popcorn with her and poured us sodas. The movie was Dune, of course, as I was still trying to soften her stance on that toy line, but she shut it off in disgust when the Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam has Paul Atreides put his hand in that box which appears to burn in a very graphic manner. A decade later, though, she would purchase blue colored contacts for me as I tired of glasses. My eyes are naturally brown, but I still wanted to look as much like Dune’s Fremen as I could, the people in the movie whose eyes have turned blue to due blood saturation of the spice Melange. Last month, attending the StarFest Entertainment Convention in Denver, I again acquired blue colored contacts, once more wanting to appear Fremen. I had made all three of the rare Dune Revell models from 1984 for submission into the StarFest Model Show. These included a Sandworm, Sand Crawler and Ornithopter. I even put them in a pexiglass tray filled with sand. They won me the “Rare Kit Award”. I phoned my mom afterward to tell her the good news and to thank her for the $100.00 birthday money she sent me for “collectibles” in the StarFest Dealer Room. I told her about the contacts I got and she asked me how much they were going for these days. I told her they were only costume lenses and were on sale for $35.00
“$35.00?!! CHRISTOPHER DO YOU KNOW I PAID $500.00 FOR YOUR LENSES WHEN THEY FIRST CAME OUT?!!”
“I know you did. And thanks, mom.”
My models are proudly displayed under their award near the front door of my apartment. In another room are my Battlestar Galactica models, which won “Best BSG” at last year’s StarFest. It was at this convention that I met the real Darth Vader, David Prowse. I made a light-up shadowbox diorama for him to sign with Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker action figures inside. I told him about the traumatic face-crushing incident and asked him if he ever signed photos at a Thornton Yellow Front. He didn’t recall ever doing so.
“Imposter!” He laughed, looking over my diorama with appreciation. I look at it every day, my blue Fremen eyes beaming with gratitude.
Christopher Allen Brewer, May, 2013