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.