There was a pre-WalMart, WalMart-type store in my town when I was a boy way back in the seventies, and it was a child’s entertainment mecca. Why?
First and foremost, when a youthful patron (myself) entered the establishment, an immediate left turn took him straight to the toy department, the back wall of which was covered for its entire length and for a height of about six feet with…fish tanks. Cue the calliope music!
Fish of all kinds! All shapes! All sizes! Oh, the countless hours of entertainment to be had observing the cornucopia of marine life from the air side of a ten gallon tank! To watch their little life cycles from the roe drifting around, to the half-eaten skeletons of the very recently dearly-departed drifting around…practically a private glimpse into Davy Jones’ Locker to a seven year old boy! There just had to be sharks in there…
Once one grew weary of this feast of flesh (about five minutes), an about-face brought one intimately in touch with Christmas in July. Aisle upon aisle of toys of all kinds…more varieties than the fish, even! And so the traditional cadence would begin, once I had relocated Mom in this fantasyland of pleasure: “Mama, can I have a toy? Mama, can I have a toy? Mama, can I have a toy?” Guantanamo had nothing on me.
Wearily, digging through the limitless nether regions of her purse, Mom would usually (if I had otherwise been pretty good) come forth with a dollar. A dollar! Willy Wonka never printed a more valuable ticket to ecstasy. With eyes larger than the fifty cent pieces everyone spent like nickels back then, I would grasp my prize and head back into the heathen pleasure house to make my mark upon the world of childhood treasure hunting.
I remember Tonka trucks and little green army men and all the plastic weapons they could use. Cowboys and Indians and books of punch-out fold-ups that would turn into city buildings and police cars and smiling happy citizens. I even snagged a goldfish or three over the years.
Ah, so many wonderful toys to a child! A mere pittance to an adult but a wonderland of fun to a youngster! But do you know what was my favorite favorite favorite toy as a youth? Actually, there were two, but in my mind their disparate forms were as integrated as peanut butter and jelly. I never thought of one without the other.
The most fun I ever had was with my magnet and my magnifying glass.
You give a kid those two items and they’ll create and manipulate and destroy whole worlds. Such simple machines bring out the creator and the destroyer in anybody under puberty who wields them. How is this so? Oh, it’s joyously simple.
To you and I a magnet is something we hang homework on the fridge with. To a child it’s a tractor beam. It’s a repulsor field. It’s an anti-gravity machine.
To me and you a magnifying glass is something our eyes need as we get older in order to finish the Sunday crossword. To that same child it’s God’s wrath on the puny denizens of a puny world known as an anthill. It’s a nuclear Armageddon to Paperville. It’s Jim Kirk’s phaser. It’s Luke Skywalker’s light saber (after a few second’s work on a weed stem). Alderaan? This Alderaan you speak of is a cloud of cosmic dust now, Princess.
They wielded the power of the Force in a tangible way to me, and Hollywood has still not come close to the special effects those two little playthings caused my mind to generate to support my imaginings.
Thanks for the dollar, Ma.