CHiPs motorcyle

When I started kindergarten, my lack of understanding the English language, and my status of only child made my socializing with the other children difficult. It did not help that I was a painfully shy child who was taught early on that the squeaky wheel did not in fact get the proverbial grease, but instead got the very real hand across the face. Lesson taught: keep quiet.

While that made me a teacher's dream, it also made me a teacher's nightmare. If I did not understand, instead of asking for help, I just smiled, kept quiet and faked it until I could figure it out alone. This, of course, lead to many misunderstandings of the sitcom variety that I may touch upon later. Just know that I quickly learned that a bum was not an explosive devise, and that "Dick" is not short for Dick Van Dyke.

Because we were young children and required supervision, I suppose, instead of a traditional recess with the older kids of the school, we were kept inside and had "Play Time." We had a variety of games, toys and other things to amuse ourselves. The most popular toys were the blocks and the miniature play kitchen set up. The teacher would assign us to either the block corner, or the doll corner. We would raise our hands and hope to get picked, and hope we got to where we wanted to go.

I usually went back to my desk and drew in crayon.

One day the teacher started to notice that no girl wanted to play with blocks and no boy wanted to play house. So instead of picking those with raised hands, she just randomly assigned kids. I ended up in the block corner. That's where I met Max.

Max was an Argentinian boy, who also struggled with English. We found a kinship in that. The more we spoke the more things in common we had. Turned out he lived about two blocks from my house.

I told my mother about him on the way out of class and she went up to his mother and introduced us. I guess my mom and his mom hit it off immediately, as we started hanging out on swing set after school quite a bit.

In class, Max and I became best friends. We always volunteered to play in the block corner. If one of us was chosen and the other was not, the chosen one would give up their spot to some other kid and we'd both go draw.

We started to notice that the teacher started making an effort to separate us. Max came up with an idea. He'd sneak in a toy from home and we'd play with that at our desks.

The first toy he ever brought in for us to play with was the CHiPs Motorcycle Launcher. Wed make ramps with stolen blocks from the block corner, we'd make obstacles with those fat crayons the school provided, we'd draw people and cut them out and make standees so the motorcycle could run them down, but most of all we'd found our own way to have fun.

Of course our teacher put the kibosh on it once she caught onto our setup. She told our mommies on us. Our mommies had our backs, but told us not to make waves in class and to mind our teacher. So we did... In OUR way.

We pretended we were no longer friends when the teacher was watching and we went back to our withdrawn ways. Finally noticing we were no longer participating and sad, the teacher relented.

We celebrated by playing with Max's CHiPs Motorcycle Launcher once again.

I don't know whatever became of Mrs. Micelli, our kindergarten teacher, or that CHiPs toy, but I do know that Max and I are still friends.

28 years and counting.


John Travolta

To say that many of my tastes were influenced by the tastes of my parents is to severely understate the obvious.

I was a child raised by somewhat trendy parents. You should see photos of my father's dashiki, my Mom's blonde Afro, and the beaded braids I was forced to endure. Bell bottomed pants, Sergio Valente's, newsprint outfits, jelly shoes, if it was a fad in NY, I endured it.

These trends were not limited to fashion. It bled right into musical tastes, and Television programming. Seeing as though we had one television until I turned 6 only helped further my Patty Hearst-like brainwashing.

If my mother wanted to watch it, I *had* to watch it as well. Since my father came home from his second job long after I went to sleep, his influence was focused to my love of the New York Yankees, and Hulk Hogan on Sundays.

One of the many shows my mother would watch was Welcome Back Kotter, starring the young John Travolta. My mom loved John Travolta. It's no surprise that on a shopping trip to purchase a Barbie-like doll (most probably a knock off blow mold doll), my mother became distracted by the new John Travolta celebrity doll display.

I remember seeing the most awesome Adventure Team Muscle body GI Joes, and really wanting them. The packaging was bright, and since they were sold in shorts, you could see their superheroic physique. Bulletman appealed to me. John Travolta appealed to my mom.

My mom convinced me I would much rather prefer the John Travolta doll. He was on TV, movies, etc. So I walked out the door with John Travolta. But my mom DID surrender on one point. I wanted an army guy, so she agreed I could get John an army outfit, complete with jungle camo, boots and rifle.

When I got home I was actually excited to play with my new stuff. I opened the box and pulled John free, ripped open the army gear, and got ready for adventure!

The adventure was short-lived. Getting John out of his light blue shirt and denim combo turned out to be quite the task for a 4 year old. His pants and shirt were actually a onesy, and the belt was flimsy. My mom helped after noticing me struggle and offered to put his army suit on for me.

That was a different struggle. Travolta was larger that your average Joe. My mom did manage to get the shirt and pants on, but it looked like he was wearing camo Capri pants that left nothing to the imagination, and his shirt would not close. His rifle looked like a BB gun, and his boots would not fit. I was pretty disappointed in the whole deal.

Finally I asked my mom to put his regular clothes on. I guess his only adventures would occur on the dance floor... solo, since I never did get a Barbie or Barbie like doll on that shopping trip.

I did finally get a Barbie doll, two years later. She was actually a Skipper doll, which was way too short for John. But that's a story for another day.


Hulk Skates

I must have been somewhere between the ages of 3 and 4 the first time went to the Aqueduct Racetrack. It wasn't too far from the apartment building we were living in at that time, and the Aqueduct was host to a large flea market on the weekends. (Oddly enough, I've just recently found out that the flea market would be closing for good soon.)

The Aqueduct was an amazing world of colorful sights and smells for a child. Toys of every kind seemed to litter the area. Salesfolks would stand in front if their booths demonstrating the latest Chinese tin wind up cars, symbol playing monkeys, and crawling babies. Others would play with paddle ball toys, or the amazing click clacks (AKA clackers, ker-bangers, popper knockers, and a variety of other names).

I wanted an orange pair of click clacks so bad, but my mom said I was too young. It's a shame, too. The sales guy had my dad on the verge of buying me one, so he could play with it too.

But I digress.

We were there to buy clothes, material for my mother to sew, a pair of Chinese cloth shoes my dad loved, and some rusty screws. I'm not too sure about the rusty screws. I just remember my mom saying, "That's right, we came here to buy rusty screws," every time my dad found someone selling dirty used tools. In retrospect, I assume she meant it sarcastically.

I know that I spent quite some time watching my dad paw greasy used tools, as that seemed less boring than watching my mom at the linen and material booth. The upside is that my dad was equally captivated by the cheap import toy booths, so we spent an equal amount of time watching demonstrations of remote controlled toys as we did staring at crap tool booths.

With my mother distracted buying things that were needed, my father and I ran around eating elephant ears, hotdogs, and playing with toys.

When my mom caught up to us I was wearing a headband with two springy antennae topped with glittery red balls. My dad proudly exclaimed that they looked like El Chapulin Colorado's antennae. My mom just laughed.

On the way out we passed a table selling roller-skates. My dad insisted I needed some. My mother was unconvinced, as they were costly and I would ultimately outgrow them in a few months.

In response, the seller shows my mom his line of expandable plastic figural skates. They were cheap plastic skates with plastic wheels that a kid would slip on over their shoes, and the size was adjustable. The tips of the skates featured the one thing no child could ignore: a superhero's face!

He had Wonder Woman, which I was excited about, but my mom, being a mom, required me to try them on. For some reason, perhaps the design of the figural aspect of the head, they did not fit properly and they hurt. So Wonder Woman was a no go.

I saw Batman and I knew I was to have him, even if he didn't fit, or hurt my foot through my sneakers, I was going to smile and lie through my teeth. But first I had to try on the Hulk skates. They fit like a glove, and before I could speak up, my mom had already brokered the deal. Sure, I could have interrupted... if I want to have a taste of the back of her hand. Children were never to interrupt adults in conversation, nor were they to speak unless spoken to.

So I went home with a pair of Hulk skates.

That afternoon, I went outside to try them out. My mom strapped them to my feet and off I went... About an inch. Those plastic wheels really had no tread, and on the rough sidewalk, it was worse.

Our apartment was carpeted, so no use there. The kitchen had linoleum, but was the size of a closet.

I had a pair of useless Hulk skates, but what I found out was I had a great pair a of Hulk race cars that my knockoff Playmobil guys could ride around in.

I never did wear those stupid antennae again. And I still want a pair of orange click clacks.


Found Spidey

As I have mentioned before, I was generally my mother's sidekick until I began school. My mom was never one to shirk responsibilities, and felt that leaving me to be watched by another adult in her stead was indeed avoiding the role that she took on when she became a mother.

That meant if my mom had errands to run, it was adventure time for me. Each new place to a child under the age of 5 can be a world of exciting and often scary situations. Since I knew better than to run amok in public, most of my adventures were silent imaginary scenarios. I had experience playing by myself at that point, so all was well.

On one such adventure I found myself on line at a very busy bank. My mother noticing how long the wait was said I could go sit quietly in the nice comfy leather seats reserved for those waiting to be seen by a loan officer. She did give me the caveat, if she looked in the direction and did not see me, all bets were off. I would have to go and stand in line with her and have to answer for disobeying. Believe me, that was not something I ever wanted to answer!

So I ventured forth to my new comfy local for the time being. It was an old fashioned leather armchair, the kind with the brass buttons that look like rivets. I always loved those chairs, as they instantly became spaceships, and the rivets became control and flight buttons.

After a few minutes of my long term space flight where I would be confined in my cockpit, I noticed something on the floor, behind the row of chairs across the ornate oriental rug that separated my ship from the others. It was red and blue, and could barely be seen as a chunky wooden leg from the armchair was blocking most of it from my view. What was it?!

This began a mind crushing period of time. I would look over across the back to the teller line and check to make sure my mom was not watching. I would then fidget and try to obtain a better view of this mysterious red and blue object until I would notice my Mom's gaze starting to turn in my direction. Rinse and repeat.

At one point during this struggle with my armchair, I almost fell off. But it was at that very point that I received visual confirmation of what my quarry was... It was Spider-man. It was a beautiful 8 inch Mego Spider-man that some other child must have dropped. I looked around, but other than an older gentleman sitting a few chairs away from me, who must have thought I was learning disabled or at the very least, plain stupid, there was no one else around in that waiting area.

I looked towards the teller line and all I saw were grumpy adults who were not happy to be standing in that never-ending line for ONE teller. From what I could tell, there were no other children in the bank. Spidey was going to be mine! That is, if I could figure out a way to get out of my chair, crawl under a different chair, grab him, and get back into my chair before my mom could notice. Then I would have to explain where he came from! What would I say? I found him?

It was the truth, but would my mom let me keep him? What if she made me give him to the bank owner? Then he would have a Spidey to play with.

As I sat there going through the scenarios, my mom tapped me on my shoulders. I hadn't noticed she had moved up in line, much less that she had been at the teller window when I last cased out the bank for other kids. With a sigh, I pointed to where the Spider-man was and whispered to my mom that it looked like someone dropped a toy.

She walked over, reached behind the chair and smiled at the old man and said straight faced, "My daughter dropped her doll." She handed the Spidey to me and said we'd talk outside.

When we stepped out to the cold crisp New York air, she turned to me and said, "Oh well, finders keepers!"

Sometimes I wonder about the poor kid who lost that Spider-man, and then I remember my mom. Finders keepers, indeed.  


Interlude: Just as good

Before I was legitimately old enough to understand the true economic state of my family, I knew we were in no way rich.

I knew by comparing the toys I did have to those of a rude little kid about three houses down. His name was Charlie, and he had every toy you could think of. He would come outside with his toys and play in his fenced in front yard, while the rest of the children on our street rode by on our hand-me-down bikes like gawking construction workers admiring a lady with too short a skirt.

Now, Charlie would on occasion choose one of the many admirers and invite them through the gate to partake of his many wares. The rest were "allowed" to watch them play.

I was never chosen, because I had committed the unforgivable sin of being born a girl.

Charlie did serve somewhat of purpose in my life, though. He served as toy catalog. If he had it, it was available at stores. I just could not for the life of me figure out WHAT store.

Whenever my mother would go shopping, she always took me along. It helped that I was rather well behaved. My mother was a bargain shopper, so generally when shopping we would stop at multiple shops. Among them: Alexanders, Odd Lots, ABC (in Cityline), Woolsworth, and several Oriental market type stores that carried stereotypical Chinatown like wares.

Although I was usually allowed to wander in the toy sections, the toys I found were usually either a few years old (and heavily clearanced) or they kind of looked like the toys I was looking for, or were in foreign packaging (read: knock-offs.)

On the few rare occasions I would find something I wanted, like say Voltron, my mom, smooth salesman that she was, would point out that the Go Lion Force Robot thing that was not diecast, but most probably blow molded was "just-as-good."

Although I never quite fell for this trick, I got the message loud and clear, "We can't afford it, get the knock-off or go home without a toy."

In my imagination, whichever knock-off I happen to be playing with, was of course the real thing. We all had grand adventures, Plastic Lion Robot, Googly-eyed Godzillaish Lizard, Bo and Luke Duke (on clearance from TruValue), their ride, a broken Bespin cloud car I found in the neighbor's trash one day (which I still own), Remco Warlord (instead of He-Man), Decker, and a Rambo lookalike from Remco's GI Joeish line.

Of course all the fun would come to a screeching halt, the day Charlie rode his brand new BMX by my house and loudly made fun of my cheap toys.

I started playing in my backyard more often after that.

Charlie was a jerk.


Mego Batgirl

[Preface: In previous posts I have alluded to an incident involving a set of Magnetic Batman and Robin figures. At times I come across as bitter, and in truth, I am to a certain extent. This incident is a painful childhood memory, and to this day I still carry some of the hurt. I don't speak of it often, and I have been putting this one story off for a while to the point that I have updated less often than I would like to. Today, I have decided it's now time to let go.]

It was the Christmas season of 1980. Ronald Reagan had just been elected president of the United States, and my father was overjoyed. In January he would take office, and President Carter and the lean times of the 1970's would finally be over. I would turn 5 that first week of January, and we would celebrate it Uruguay, with our extended family, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins that we were only able to see every 2 to 3 years.

As the 1980's had promised, this new decade was already looking good for my family. My parents had saved up and were now home owners of a 2 family walk-up in Ozone Park, Queens. This Christmas was to be celebrated like no other. As such, the first week of December included a shopping trip to Alexanders to purchase a full sized tree, decorations, more lights than should be allowed, and a few odds and ends for family.

Normally shopping trips involved my mother and I on a bus or the subway, as we were a 1 car family, with that 1 car being my father's mode of transportation for work. This Christmas, though was special. My father wanted to come along, as he felt that it was his responsibility to make the outside of the house glow like the sun. If it involved ladders, nails and hammers... it was man's work. We piled into our 1972 mustard yellow Ford Maverick (with the brown vinyl roof) and went off for a Saturday of shopping.

I don't recall much from that shopping trip, other than it was cold outside, hot inside, and boring. Relief came over me as we approached the checkout lanes. That meant it was time to go home.

That's when I saw it.

The one image that would burn into my mind for decades to come. I still dream of it.

Over each checkout lane hung white chains from the ceiling. Usually they attached teddy bears, dolls, balloons, anything that would bring a young child to a high pitched scream, and thereby force the parent to buy it to shut them up.

But I did not see teddy bears or dolls. I saw aisle after aisle, checkout lane after checkout lane, from ceiling to right above the counter... Mego magnetic Batmans and Robins. They had been taken out of the boxes and were hanging from their hands and feet. Some were posed as though they were climbing. Others held hands and made a Batman/Robin chain from over one counter to the next. It was beautiful.

And I wanted them so badly I could taste it. And it would indeed taste good. Like candy flavored candy topped with candy and sprinkled with even more candy.

I went to my father, the weak link in the "asking for stuff" chain of command. I asked him, "If I'm really good, do you think Santa will bring me a Batman and Robin like those?" as I pointed above our heads. It was too close to Christmas to even consider asking for anything outright. I was never a stupid child. I was just a little naive.

My father's response was a parental cliche', "You'll have to remember to ask Santa."

Fine. Now I just needed to find Santa, or one of his many emissaries.
[note: my parents once explained to me that Santa is a rather busy man, and as such he cannot be everywhere. To that end he employs emissaries around the world to stand at street corners and at shopping centers to "take orders" from the children of the world, and that these emissaries reported to the big man himself daily. I was a rather inquisitive child, and my parents were rather creative in answering my logistical questions with answers that had a little real world logic for backing.]

I wrote a letter to Santa with the help of my mother. I placed the letter in a mailbox and went on to dream of Christmas morning.

Christmas came and went. No Batman or Robin.

Evidently, the man can fly around the world in the span of one night delivering toys to every boy and girl, but he cannot read Spanish.

Immediately after Christmas, my mother needed to make another trip to Alexander's to buy some odds and ends for our month long trip to South America, and exchange some clothes which were too small for me already. Since my birthday was coming up soon, my mom said I could pick out something as a gift. I knew exactly what I wanted and made a beeline to it.

When I arrived... all those wonderful chains above the checkout lanes were bare. I asked my mother if she remembered the toys that were there a month previously, and she did not.

As I went to the toy section, I remember walking by a dump full of boxes. I know now that it was full of Mego 8 inch Batgirls, Catwomans, and Supergirls. What I knew then was, it was NOT the Batmans or Robins I wanted, so I didn't really care.

Disappointed, I grabbed an 8 Inch Mego Batgirl.

I have never hated a toy so much in my whole life. It really wasn't her fault though. She was just a victim of circumstance.  Just was a substitute for what I really wanted, and never received. I just couldn't look at her and NOT see that image of Magnetic Batmans and Robins.

And I could never look at Santa the same either.



This is what I generally refer to as the  Saga of Decker.

I obtained my Mego Decker action figure one chilly morning during one of my many childhood visits to my godfather, all the way over on the east side of the Van Wyck. Yes, a trip consisting of a total 15 minutes from my home. Across the street from my godfather's place was a small general store. It was a cross between a hardware store and pharmacy from what I can remember. On occasion my mother and I would go there to pick up little things while my father visited with my godfather.

On one such occasion, I noticed a spinner rack full of carded toys. Not much in the way of selection, but I did spot a Star Wars figure. There amongst the dredge was an Empire Strikes Back Han Solo! Oh boy, this was my chance to actually OWN a Star Wars figure. Finally I could shut up the jerk with the Bespin Luke.

I grabbed Han Solo and as I was about to show my mom, I noticed a figure from Star Trek the Motion Picture. Being that I was about 4 or so, and as of yet unable to read, I thought it was Kirk. Well, I knew my mom was a fan of the show. I had caught her watching it on occasion. I figured, I bet she'd get a kick out of it, so I grabbed it to just LITERALLY SHOW HER.

Of course it played as as follows: I carry two figures up to my mom who is talking to the guy behind the counter. I show her the Star Trek figure first. She takes it from me. I go to hand her Han Solo, and she puts it counter and says we'd better get back. Once across the street, I'm handed my new toy: Star Trek's own Decker.

I guess in the confusion of her not paying attention to me as I tried to explain which I wanted and which I just wished to show, she misunderstood and just grabbed the first thing I handed her and paid for it.

So there I was with my brand new "I don't know who the heck this is" Star Trek guy. I figured he was Kirk. So I called him Kirk. He became my new best friend, being that he was the only 3 3/4inch figure I owned at the time. (I had a previous relationship with a Comic Action Hero Penguin, but that ended badly... for the Penguin.) Still, Decker and me, we had lots of fun. Sometimes he'd wear a cape and fly like a superhero. Sometimes he'd put on a parachute and become a daredevil the likes of which had not been seen since Evel Knievel.

One day, a year or so later, I was playing with the kids next door when one particular kid flung Decker high into the air... and he landed on the roof. Bye Bye Decker.

A couple of more years go by, and the neighbors have their roof redone... and off the roof flies Decker. A little worse for wear, but still good ole Decker. Of course he's caught by the kid next door, who has experienced a bout of amnesia it seems since he claims Decker was his all along and that *I* threw him on the roof. His mother takes his side. Again, Decker seemed lost to me.

But that did not last long. All it took was patience, and a little bit of the sneak, and Decker was back in my possession. Yes, I bided my time and when I saw the opportunity, I stole him from the kid next door. Granted since he was mine to begin with, I don't actually consider it "stealing" so much as I consider it liberating a POW.

Decker was an indoor toy from that point on. He wasn't quite the same, the ravages of being behind enemy lines had left their scar. The kid next door was a toy biter. Decker came back from the front without any fingers on his hands, and missing a good 40% of his paint. But he was mine.

I still have Decker. It's funny, for a figure I never wanted, he turned out to be a pretty good toy.


Super Powers Superman

When I was a child, my choices of after school TV viewing were pretty limited. Sure, you had GI Joe, Transformers, Voltron and Thundercats, but that was a measly 2 hrs of cartoon viewing! Unlike today where there are entire channels dedicated to cartoons, we had to make due with the many syndicated live action (read:mind numbing) reruns of Diff'rent Strokes, Three's Company, and of course, the deathbringer of afternoons... MASH. To this day, I cannot stand to hear the first few notes of "Suicide is Painless" without having a panic attack. MASH signaled the end of a fun afternoon and the beginning of the nightly parental confiscation of the the TV. Oddly enough, MASH made for a pretty good segue into the 6 o'clock news.

Now, not all live action syndicated shows were bad. In fact one stick out rather predominantly in my mind: 

The 1966 Batman TV show.

Every afternoon, Adam West would don the cowl, and Burt Ward would slip on the pixie shoes and for a half hour (and sometimes a full hour) would battle evil in beautiful technicolor!

As soon as the show was over, it seemed like every kid on the block would flood the stoops and streetcurbs, all with the same thought in mind:

"I wanna be Batman!"

"But you got to be Batman last time! You be Robin."

"But I won't want to be Robin."

"I'll be the Joker." 

"My porch is the Batcave."

"My bike'll be the Batmobile."

And so on until dark when mothers near and far would stick their heads out the front door and declare, "DINNER!"

That simple 20 year old show captured the imagination of every child I knew. So much so, that on Saturday Mornings, when The Superfriends would come on, Batman seemed to be a shell of the man we spent the week with. 

One day, while watching TV a rather curious commercial caught my eye. Kenner introduced me to the Super Powers lines. Finally, I would get another chance at Batman and Robin figures! (I had experienced a setback a few years previously in attempting to acquire a  Mego Magnetic Batman and Robin set. But that is a story for another time.)

They even released a Batmobile. It didn't look like the REAL Batmobile, but any car Batman was in automatically BECAME the Batmobile.
On our very next shopping trip to Cityline for various clothing related things, we stopped into the Woolsworths. Now, Woolsworths was a welcome retreat after spending hours upon hours watching my mother buy underwear and socks for the family. Woolsworths had a toy section I could go and browse in. After a few minutes, my eyes went straight to a locked display cabinet. (This was one of those "I need a salesman to open the case so I can buy it" things.) From behind the glass Batman and Robin seemed to wave at me. 

To say that it took one minute to locate my mother and drag her to the toy section would be to exagerrate. I do not think it took that long.

Normally I was not a begging sort of child. In fact, I never really ASKED for stuff. I was always rather subtle. The usual "Oh mom, look how neat that it," and then I would go through the work of explaining exactly HOW neat the item was, and that it's probably alot of fun, and well you get the point. I'd try to get my mom to offer to buy it for me. I would feign humility saying how it was unnecessary and make her insist. In the end, I would come home with the toy.
This was not one of those times. I downright asked my mom for Batman and Robin. And the Batmobile. In hindsight, I do believe the Batmobile was the dealbreaker. I was asking for too much at the end of a day where too much money had already been spent. So I got the "Mommy would buy it for you if she had the money" speech. Lord, I hated that speech. That may be why I never came right out and asked for things. I just didn't want to take the chance that I would get that speech.

But all was not completely lost. At seeing my apparent disappointment, my mother said she had enough money to buy one. I could get one at thet very moment, and as soon as she saved some more money we would come back and I could get the other one.

I wasn't about to fall for that again. I'd fallen for that line before with other toys. Sure, we'll come back... and by that time there wouldn't be any more. So my choice was either get a Batman without a Robin. Who would Batman call "Chum"? I could get a Robin without a Batman. Who would rescue Robin when he was tied up? Or I could get nothing.

And suddenly a third choice looked out at me from behind the glass: Superman.

Superman didn't need anyone. He was Superman! 
When the sales clerk came over unlock the case and he asked which one I wanted, I calmly said, "Superman." My mom was rather perplexed. "I thought you wanted Batman and Robin." 

"I want Superman more," was the only answer I could come up with.

We did return to Woolsworths during our next shopping excursion. I went straight to the toy section and there were no Super Powers figures at all.

And once again, I went without Batman and Robin.


Baker Smurf

I started kindergarten at the ripe old age of 6. It was my first lone venture into the world.

Okay, maybe not so lone. My mommy came along.

You see, until then, I had never been apart from my mother. She was a stay at home mom (or as we called it back in the 70's, "a mom".) She took me everywhere with her. I never had a babysitter nor I was ever left with relatives. No, I was attached at the hip to my mother. You can imagine the look on my face when the whole topic of going to school came up. "What do you mean you drop me off and leave me alone in a room full of strangers?"

There were other issues, of course. Although I was born in the United States, my parents were not. They had immigrated long before I came around, but were still in the process of acclimating. They spoke rudimentary English, enough to get by in NYC, but almost exclusively spoke in Spanish to each other and to other members of the family.  I say "almost exclusively" because they were both fans of cussing in English, but that is a story for another day.

My point in this diversion is to explain that until the age of 6, I spoke only Spanish. I understood very little English. What I knew, I learned from Sesame Street and the cartoons of the day.

When Kindergarten came into play, I found myself being abandoned by my mother, in a room full of strangers who did not understand me, and who I could not understand myself. I felt like an alien. I felt like a baby. So I made like a baby and cried until they called my mommy in to calm me down.

After that, my mother began her unpaid career of "Teacher Helper" for my Kindergarten class. I stopped crying, and started to acclimate myself. Soon I made friends and learn the language...but if my mom ever mentioned retiring from being a helper....waterworks.

One Thursday, on the way home from class, my mom mentioned needing something from the stationary store a block away from the school. It was an old fashioned pharmacy/stationary store/ 5 & Dime kind of place. It's still there in one incarnation or another, if Google Streetview is to be trusted.

While my mom did what she had to, I found myself staring into the glass display counter. It was the first time in my life I ever saw the Schleich Smurf PVC figurines. My mom must have been silently observing me as I went one by one and examined the little blue elves, because she came up behind me and in a soft voice asked if I wanted one, I could have one.

I picked Baker Smurf.

Not because I particularly like baking or baking-like activities. Honestly, I thought he was some sort of digger Smurf with a shovel. Only when I got him home did I realize that it wasn't dirt, but a loaf of bread that he held. I felt a little stupid, but that lasted only for a little bit.

The very next Thursday, on our walk home from school my mom turns to me asks if I wanted to stop by stationary store to look at some more Smurfs. Well, ya I wanted to look at more Smurfs!

Once I was mesmerized by the magical display case bursting at the seams with Smurfy goodness, my mom makes the declaration:

If I behave myself, get good grades, refrain from crying and act like a big girl...every Thursday I will get a new Smurf.

I behaved myself. I got straight A's. I didn't cry.

And ...I got a Smurf every Thursday without fail for at least 2 years.


Bespin Luke

I was 4 yrs old when The Empire Strikes Back first hit the silver screen. At that time, my family lived in a small first floor apartment in a rather poor area of Queens, New York. As such, I tended to play outdoors only when my mother was available to supervise, otherwise I was left to my own devices indoors.

I was an "only child" at that time. You could say, I was a "lonely child". Bad pun? Yes, but accurate.

There were other children on the block where I lived, but not in the same building. I usually watched these children play ball in the street, or ride bikes, all from my bedroom window. I wanted very much to join, but they were all older children. So I just sat there and watched.

It was around the time Kenner started airing commercials for the Empire Strikes Back toys when it happened. A boy moved into an apartment upstairs. He wasn't much older than me, and like me he wasn't allowed to play outside unsupervised. I'd see him on the stairs or playing in the hallway. At some point my mother and his must have spoken and they would allow us to play together in the hallway... as long as we didn't go outside.

Sounds good doesn't it? It wasn't. That kid was a jerk.

One day he came over with a brand new Luke Skywalker in Bespin Fatigues action figure! He showed me his lightsaber and gun, but I could only see it. I wasn't allowed to touch it. I was a girl, and well, aside from having cooties, girls lose accessories it seems.

To convince him otherwise, he said, I'd have to bring out MY Star Wars action figures so we could play. Problem was, I didn't have any Star Wars figures. Heck, I wasn't sure WHAT Star Wars was, other than what I had seen in the toy commercials. (I was convinced Han Solo was captured by an upside drinking glass for years!) And don't let it be forgotten that Star Wars were "boy toys", and I was NOT a boy. So I went inside my home and came back with something that might pass for an action figure, a Playmobil knockoff. To say I was laughed at would be a disservice to the howling histerics I was subjected to.

So went back inside, sat at my window, and watched the kids outside play ball and ride their bikes once more.