Wednesday, April 30, 2008


In Which We Count to 7...

Dear God, I can't leave such a depressing post up for that long, can I? All I can say is, thank God the Brownie had the foresight to be born today, so I'd have something fun to talk about.

I wish I had pictures to show you, but birthdays at the Magazine Mansion start so early that the only way we get images of the opening ceremonies is if there's a grandparent in the house or the dog spontaneously develops opposable thumbs. Although that's really not fair to Blaze. I mean, I have opposable thumbs, but at 5:46 in the morning I just do not have the wherewithal to handle anything more technologically advanced than the flush handle on the toilet, so who am I to talk?

And 5:46 is when the Brownie woke up. In her youth, she was such a slug-a-bed, but six years of living with her brother, Captain Early Bird, Master of the Dawn Patrol, has reset her internal clock.

"La la! I'm seven! I'm seven! This is my 7-year-old soooonnnng!" she sang down the hallway, as she came to wake me up. And in the second and a half it took her to reach me, I summoned whatever will and memory I had at that hour and reminded myself what birthdays were like when I was a kid.

If I have a parenting secret, sports fans, this is it: my ability to dig deep and try to bring back some scrap of what things felt like when I was their age. It isn't easy, certainly not as easy as it used to be. I have a better time of it with Thomas, probably because he's a boy, but also because he's just a lot like I was, growing up. The Brownie, though, is something else. I did not have her quiet confidence, her calculating mind. I thought I did, but I was just kidding myself.


I dug down. What did I remember about 7? When you're a kid, each year is distinctive, starting from the time you're even bothering to think about such things, which is usually around 4 or 5. Four is a big transitional year because you're on the cusp of graduating from toddlerhood, which means you're usually in school, and you're just about out of the accident-in-your-pants years, but you're still a bit of a baby. Five is really big because, well, it's 5. Five years, man! No way anyone can call you a baby now. Why? Because you're 5! Six is big because it's one year older than 5, and you can't believe it because you still remember what a big deal turning 5 was. For me (and for my kids, too) six was a year in which we started to use our powers, and not necessarily for good. Also, a big year for freedoms because you're out of kindergarten and riding the bus and being allowed to play with friends down the block.

What about seven?

And then I had it: Seven was the year in which I really got money. I mean, I understood that having your own was a very cool thing. No doubt this coincided with learning some rudimentary things about money in school. But it was also a year in which I was old enough to start having a discerning palate about certain things that I wanted--no more copying my Big Brother--and I realized that if your parents didn't get the hint and give it to you, you had to get it yourself. And man, there was just one way to do that.

I still remember looking at the ten-dollar bill my grandfather, Papa Jim, sent me. He always sent me money in a card, but until seven, I never really bothered with birthday cards before, I never really got that they sometimes contained some big presents in and of themselves. Typically, my parents just took the money and put it in my meager savings account, or held it in trust until we went to Zayre's in Manchester and they reminded me I had birthday money and could pick out one thing. I remember looking at that ten-dollar bill and wondering: How much were the items I'd let Mom buy for me in the past? And if they were less than 10 dollars, what exactly did Mom do with the change?

Seven, apparently, is also the year in which you first start to nudge your parents off their pedestal.

Anyway, I remember looking at that money--it really was a small fortune in 1975--and asking Mom if I could hold onto the money this time and spend it myself. She faltered for a moment, but hey, it was my birthday. How could she refuse? And so she said yes, and that afternoon we headed into Manchester to the 606 Toy Store. Back then there was no Kay-Bee or Toys R Us in New Hampshire. Toy stores were weirdly scarce in my neck of the woods--or so my parents had always led me to believe--which made the 606 a veritable mecca.

My impression of the place was as a fairly dark store with lots of stairs leading up and down. Once you opened the door, you had to go up a small flight just to get to the main sales floor. And to get to the hobby area--where my Big Brother always went to stock up on car models and tubes and tubes of hallucinogenic glue--you had to go down some steps.

I stayed on the main floor, where most of the toys were. I was a man on a mission. I was big into action figures in those days (my Mom once made the mistake of calling them "dolls" and I flipped out on her. But hey, I was only four). I had two kinds: the 12-inch GI Joes with their nigh-mythical Kung-Fu Grip and fuzzy patches of hair and beards that were weirdly satisfying to rub with your thumb; and the 8-inch figures made by the Mego company that included a stunted GI Joe knock-off known as Action Jackson. I had several of him and a multitude of his accessory outfits--the Jungle Adventure Safari Outfit, the Scuba Adventure Kit, the Nuclear Disaster Response Kit, and so on. But Mego also did a nice line of super-hero action figures. I had a Spider-Man and an Aquaman, but the prize of my collection was my Batman. He really looked just like Adam West on the reruns on TV (which was actually a selling point back then). He was also Mego's cash cow and there were a number of other figures and accessories that were part of his line.

I went in thinking I might get a Robin figure. I had fashioned for myself a makeshift Robin using one of my Action Jackson figures, an orange scuba suit cut way down to make a vest, one of my mom's yellow scarves, also cut down for a cape, and a pair of combat boots painted green for shoes. I drew on a mask with a black magic marker. But my Action Jackson/Robin composite was a letdown--and a rather disturbing one--in a couple of significant ways. For one thing, he had no pants--I couldn't make a pair of green shorts to save my life. For another, all my Action Jacksons were bearded--it was a 70s thing--and that totally ruined the effect. If you want to know the truth, it made him look like a degenerate pervert. So I thought an upgrade was in order.

The 606 Toy Store did have a Robin figure, reasonably priced at $3.49. I grabbed him, thinking I might then find a villain, like the Joker or the Riddler--I could buy two figures and still have money left over! But as I was looking, I noticed larger boxes on the shelf below me, and my heart stopped.

There on the shelf below the figures was a Batmobile. I could almost hear the theme song to the show coming out of the box. Until now, it had never occurred to me that I might be able to buy something this big. Whenever I went shopping with my parents, I was always constrained to get something small, certainly nothing as extravagant as a Batmobile. I looked at the price tag: $8.49. Nearly all my money. If I bought that, I wouldn't have anything left over for Robin. What to do?

And then my Mom came up the aisle and saw the Robin figure in my hand, and said, "Oh good boy! You're just getting the one doll?" And that clinched it. It took some serious pouting and whining of a kind I probably should not have exhibited at 7, but I got the Batmobile. And $1.51 in change.

I never did get a Robin. And so, whenever I had my half-assed Dynamic Duo roaring across the playroom in the Batmobile, it always looked as though Batman had an orange-vested, pantsless, masked, bearded child molester in the passenger seat and was bringing him to justice.

That was seven for me.

And then my second or so was up and the Brownie was in my room. "Lalala! I'm seven, seven, seven today. HOORAY!" she yelled, practically in my ear.

I hopped out of bed and gave her a hug. "You didn't open your presents yet, did you?"

"No," she said brightly, then corrected herself. "Well, just the ones from Uncle BB." Presents that come in the mail fall into a gray area as far as gifts that have to be opened in front of everyone (or even on your birthday) go and so I nodded, understanding. I also remembered something: Every year, my brother likes to do what my grandfather did, and send actual cash. BB usually sends singles, so he can get away with sending a little but having it feel like a lot. And having been seven, I knew what having money--any amount--felt like.

"So, did Uncle BB send you money?"

The Brownie lit up like I'd just said the magic word. "Oh yes! He sent me a whole stack of bucks!"

"So, I'm guessing we could go shopping?" I said, as she led me through the predawn gloom and down the stairs to the kitchen, where the presents sat.

"Sure, but not right now. You can take me later. I'm seven all day," she said.

Actually, as far as I know, she's seven all year.

Happy birthday, baby.

From Somewhere on the Masthead

You mean you don't have to spend your birthday money THAT day?

What a great day for her!
Happy Birthday Brownie!
The child molesting faux-Robin action figure brings back memories...of last night.

Actually, I was showing off the Star Wars lunch box and Han Solo Action Figure with the Trilogy on DVD press invite on the back that you gave me.

I was showing it to a girl. She gave it a once over and made a comment. Naturally, I kicked her out of my house.
Happy birthday to the Brownie!

My brother had one of those 12 inch GI Joes with the fuzzy beard. Still don't think he's forgiven me for losing it. But then, I've barely forgiven him for putting my lego set together before I got to play with it on my birthday. ;)

I had a batmobile sort of big wheel contraption when I was a kid that had two levers instead of a steering wheel. It was awesome!
Wonderful, wonderful post. Happy Birthday to The Brownie!

You brought to mind something I hadn't thought about in years. I had a Captain Action. I think his short time in the sun occurred a few years before your 7th birthday.

He came with a number of costumes (or you could buy them; I forget which) so that he could become an ersatz Batman, as well as other fellows more-well-known than the Captain himself.

I wore him out. In particular, I broke one of his arms. Snapped it right off at the elbow during a fight with The Rubber Man, another action figure sort.

(That wasn't his actual name. I can't recall what it was. He was made mostly of a hard foam of some sort, laid on top of wire, so that he could be bent into all sorts of grotesque positions, which he often was. He was meant to be dressed up in various sporting attire - football uniform complete with helmet; basketball uniform with short-shorts that probably would have done the job for your Robin figure - but it was hard as hell to get the clothes on over that damned rubber, so he mostly became a grotesquely-posed naked nemesis of Captain Action.)

Anyway, I re-attached the Captain's arm with shitloads of masking tape. He looked OK when he was flying, since you had to have your arms straight out in front of you to do that, but it limited his believability in other areas.

I actually held onto the Captain well into my thirties, always stuffed into some box of detritus or another. He finally got his well-deserved final rest when MY WIFE and I moved from Dorchester to Watertown. I'd be lying if I told you it didn't bring a good deal of melancholy to the fore when I tossed him...
Happy Birthday, Brownie :)

My childhood memories all sort of blur together; I couldn't tell you how old I was when such and such happened. However, my dad started remembering things really well as he got older, and still does to this day, so maybe I just need to wait awhile.
Humongous birthday happiness to you Anna! You are growing into such a smart & beautiful young lady.
Happy Birthday Brownie! Hope your day was fabulous!
I'm so old, I watched Adam West's Batman when it was new.
"it always looked as though Batman had an orange-vested, pantsless, masked, bearded child molester in the passenger seat and was bringing him to justice"

Hee. That's a great line.

I like your advice about remembering what it's like to be a kid, so as to keep the dark cloud of adulthood from infringing on their freely happy ways. I have to remember that the next time I'm stressed out about planning a birthday party for my 2 boys, who were kindly born 2 years and 6 days apart.

Happy birthday to the Brownie! I live in Concord and Manchester now has many toy stores that I didn't have the sense to hide from my kids. When I was growing up, it was all about going to the comic book store on the corner of Elm and some other street - now, they only want to go to Gamestop for new Nintendo games.
Happy birthday wishes to the Brownie! It seems like just yesterday you were celebrating her fifth birthday here.
Happy Birthday, Brownie!

Old Auntie Thim :)
Hope the Brownie had the happiest of birthdays!

I was such a geek, most of my birthday money was spent on books or Bryer horses...most of which are taking up space in my basement.
How many people actually remember Action Jackson? Geez, I still know the theme song and supplant lyrics to mock certain driver types.

But I digress. I had GI Joes, the sixties version with the molded plastic hair. One Air Force, one Marine and one Sailor so they engaged in ground warfare in dungarees and a neon stripe carrier landing suit. Interestingly he usually blew his cover first.

Later in life I painted their faces to look like Kiss. Stoic Kiss with scars and uniforms but I guess that pales next to pervert Robin.

Happy Birthday Brownie!
Yay!! Happy number 7 Brownie!! ^_^
Glad that you had a good birthday!

Hugs to everyone at the Magazine Mansion.

I laughed and laughed (when I was supposed to be seriously working) about Batman and the bearded, masked pervert.

Happy belated birthday to Brownie!
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