Mork from Ork

Like most children of the late 70's and early 80's, I was in thrall of Robin Williams' quirky character, Mork.

Mork and Mindy was a watch or die show for me. I knew when it was on, and demanded command of our only color TV to watch it. It was convinient that my mother also enjoyed the show, otherwise I doubt my demands would have been met.

It seemed like Mork was everywhere we went in those days. The newsstand sold Mork and Mindy trading cards. Rainbow suspenders were sold at every flea market stand (and yes, my mom bought me a pair and I wore them to school well beyond the acceptable coolness period.) But what I remember most were the toys.

I wanted them all. The talking Mork fall, the stuffed Mork, the little Mork in the egg ship... I made it clear to my mom that I needed my Mork.

I even tried to get my mom to by me the Ben Cooper Mork costume for Halloween. It didn't work. I ended up in a homemade costume of either a Bunny or Tiger that year.

Not having Mork toys didn't prevent me from playing Mork, though. I had my trusty Decker action figure and a piece of electrical tape cut into a triangle on his chest. Instant Mork.

For his egg ship, I confiscated one of my mom's pantyhose eggs. Thank you Leggs for that marketing brilliance!

It was on one of those Mork adventures that Decker ended up on the kid next door's roof. Bye bye Decker... Bye bye Mork.

I told my mom about how I lost my "Mork" and I could see she felt bad for me, but she said nothing. I moved on and tried making my John Travolta into a Mork, but without a ship it just wasn't the same.

Then came my birthday.

I usually got all the good stuff on Christmas the week before, so I didn't really expect much in terms of toys. I was wrong... And I was never happier being wrong than that moment.

I unwrapped my gift (in Christmas wrapping, as all my birthday gifts were usually wrapped in) and there stating back me was the Mattel 9inch Mork doll!

He was upside down in the box and he talked. It was actually a backpack you put on him that made him talk, but that didn't matter to me. That was his flight pack as far as I was concerned, ala James Bond and that episode of Gilligan's Island.

The first thing I did when I got him out if the box was take his clothes off. I don't know why. I just always did that with all my toys. I tried to put Mego Spider-man's suit in him, but it didn't fit. I put some generic GI Joe marine combat fatigues, and went to town.

I finally had my very own Mork doll... And the first thing I do is play army.



Interlude: Bike History 101

My family was a bike family.

As a toddler I had the common red and white radio flyer tricycle, which I spent much time using as a scooter thanks to its brilliant back step design. My mom had a light blue almost silver ten speed bike with a basket. My dad had a green foldable fixed gear.

They were stored in our huge multicar/loft-having/separate structure that we commonly called, "The Garage." The big "2 wheelers" as us kids called them back then, hung on the wall. My bike usually just sat there in a corner. 

One summer I started to hang out with kids who had "grown up bikes" and my dad started to realize it may be time for my own 2 wheeler and for my sister to get my trike... But with his work schedule being as it was, he did not have time to teach me. His solution? Training wheels.

My mom's bike was too high for my shorty legs, and with the gears and handbrakes, it would be a disaster. So he put the training wheels on his ugly green fixed gear for me to ride.

All the kids I played with had nice bikes. Some had Huffy's, some Schwinns; all had banana seats, tassels, baskets or flags. I had an ugly green bike with chipped paint, cruddy hands, and training wheels. Worse of all, I didn't even have access to my bike unless my dad was home to open the garage.

Luckily the neighbor kids next door had an extra bike; a beautiful red and white Schwinn... Which had no training wheels.

I had no choice but to learn to ride or be left behind by Steve and Angela, the two generous siblings with the extra bike. Steve was 2 years older than me, Angela was 1 year younger. She couldn't ride either and Steve was in the process of teaching her when I joined in that summer.

It started slow. Since the bikes were low, I could sit on the seat and my feet could reach the ground, unlike my ugly green bike. We started to sit and push off with our feet, and just roll with it. As we went faster we'd try to get our feet on the pedals a little, until we lost our balance and our feet would hit the ground again.

It went on like that for a week or two, until my dad came home from work early one Saturday and saw me. He asked if I thought I was ready for the training wheels to come off my bike and I said YES.

Did I mention that ugly green bike was about 50 feet off the ground?

My first attempt to hoist myself up with no training wheels resulted in a skinned elbow and knee. My second was accomplished by using the backyard fence as a stabilizer. I went a couple of pedals and hit the hard concrete sidewalk with my side.

The training wheels went back on.

As the seasons changed and school started, bikes were put away as winter brought with it snow and darker afternoons. As Christmas approached, I noticed my dad sneaking something into the garage. The next day after school I decided to investigate. (I had figured out how to get into the garage during that summer to sneak my bike out, and I had plans to put those skills to use.)

With my mother engrossed in laundry in the basement with no way to check up on me, I announced I was going outside to play. I grabbed my dad's garage keys, undid the padlock and manage to lift the heavy door about 2 feet. (No automatic garage door opener for my dad... That would be an insult to his manhood.) The lucky thing was that 2 feet was big enough to slide into the garage on my belly, grab my bike, push it out sideways and be on my way.

Upon entering my father's testament to all things manly, *his* garage, I found what he had snuck in... A brand new black and yellow BMX bike. It was glorious. It was also a boy's bike, but that didn't matter... I was going to ride this thing, and I was going to ride it NOW. I scooted it out the door on its side, and jumped on.

It was low enough to the ground so my feet could touch the floor. Perfect. I gave a push and took off at full speed, pedaling like my life depended on it. I had to be quick, get a ride in down the block and get it back in the garage before my mom came out to check on me.

I got as far as the neighbor's house next door.

I wasn't caught by my mom, or dad or Santa Claus. I was caught by the telephone pole I rode straight into at full throttle.

I saw the pole getting closer and pedaled backwards to apply the brakes... Like I had learned on every single bike I had ridden before. That didn't work on this bike.

No, this bike had weird levers on the handles that I messed with before taking off. I didn't give them much of a thought... Until I crashed. Yep. Hand brakes. That would have been good to know.

I grabbed the bike and limped back to the garage, slid in, put it back where it was, locked the door, went back inside and watched TV. I was done with bikes for the day.

When the weekend came, my dad showed me the BMX bike and asked if I thought my best friend, Max would like it. It was for him. I was sworn to secrecy. No problem...

Max got the bike, and when I'd go over to play with him, he'd ask me if I wanted to ride it. My answer was always No.

I did finally get a bike later that same year. I got to pick out the color, but make and model, never a choice as far as my dad was concerned. He picked out a girl's 10 speed that I'd hasten to say was bigger than my mom's bike. It had curved handles which meant no tassels, it had handbrakes which meant no back pedal stopping and skid marks on the sidewalk to compare with other kids, and no basket, banana seat or flag.

But it was shiny and red... and not ugly green.


Dazzle Dolls

I received my first library card during a kindergarten field trip that my mother served as a chaperone on. Until then, my mom was unaware of the magical place that let you borrow books, for free.

My mom was always a voracious reader, and each trip to Jamaica to pick up my dad's foreign newspaper included a stop at a used bookstore where she would trade in her old paperbacks for ones she hadn't read. Since her command of English was limited to speaking enough to get by, and inventive cussing, her choices for books were also limited. She was fortunate to locate this store that sold books in Spanish, however being in Jamaica and too far to obviously walk, her reading was limited as well.

This changed with the discovery of the library and my card which would allow her to check out books as much and as often as she wanted. It also got me hooked on reading.

The summer of 1982 was spent in the library. Every Wednesday or Thursday we'd wake up early, get my sister into the stroller and walk the several blocks and spends hours reading, and enjoying the air conditioning. 

Usually on the way home, before my sister could get too fussy, my mom would take advantage of excursion into the heat and we'd stop at the Odd Lots store for whatever the house needed at the time. If I played my cards right, I could usually talk my mom into White Castle across the street.

On one such trip, I was in charge of carrying the library books in a lovely cloth tote bag we'd received for being "Star Readers" that summer. I remember bouncing the bag back and forth as it hung on my little shoulder, pretending to be an explorer carrying my treasure as we walked the aisles at the Odd Lots. I told my mom I'd be in the toy aisle and was given my leave.

I looked at the same toys I had seen the previous week, peg by peg. Nothing new; nothing exciting. I had a bag of Encyclopedia Brown books, and this trip was delaying my mystery hunting. 

And then I saw them.

They looked like Barbie dolls. 

Some were blonde. Some brunette. 

Each wore a gown, or some other fancy outfit. One looked like Dolly Parton to me.

They were beautiful... But what really caught my eye was their size. They were tiny.

They were Star Wars tiny.

They were little action figure sized Barbie dolls!  

My bag of mystery books forgotten, all I could see were tiny dolls. I was dazzled by Mattel's Dazzle Dolls.

My mom found me staring open mouthed at the display. I didn't say a word. She took one look at me, and one look at the dolls and said, "I have enough to get you a couple but we'll have to skip White Castle."

White Castle? How can you think of White Castle at a time like this?! These are tiny Barbie dolls!

That's what I thought.

What I said was, "It's ok. I just want a cheese sandwich for lunch."

I left with two Dazzle Dolls. One in a dress and one in a western pantsuit.

The next week, it happened again.

And then the following week as well.

By the start of the school year I had each one pictured on the back of the package and one of the boyfriends.

I also read through all the children's book section and started in on the adult fiction section at the library before first grade.


Play Big regrets

In 1976, I arrived ready to play with toys society did not want me to have.

I am a girl, and as such it was dictated I play with baby dolls, tea sets and little play kitchen sets. I had many. Every birthday and Christmas until I was maybe 4 years old, I was inundated with such things by well meaning relatives.

My dad had other ideas. 

He supplied soccer balls, frisbees, kites, whiffle bats, and stuffed animals he made a big show of winning for me at Rockaway's Playland.

The one thing I wasn't given were action figures. 

The only kids my age in my neighborhood were boys. They had action figures and little toy cars. That's what I wanted to play with. 

I saw commercials on TV.

I saw them on the racks at Woolsworth while shopping with my mom.

I saw them in action from the window of our apartment as the boys played on the stoop.

I finally got the nerve to say something about it at the very industrious age of 3. My parents response? I received a ballerina doll.

But something must have clicked in their parental brains, because one day my dad came home from work with three little men. I don't know where they came from, all I know is that I loved them.

They looked like Playmobil men, but had buttons in their torso, and feet which moved at the ankles. 

(After many years of searching I have finally learned they were Play Big figures.)

I never really cared that I knew next to nothing about them. One was green. One was blue. One was yellow.

I used to make capes for them and I'd pretend they were Batman & Robin fighting the Hulk. Their Batmobile was either a shoebox I found or later on, one if my Hulk skates.

I took them everywhere with me. I even named them: Bruce (blue), Dick (yellow)and David (green).  I was so proud of them, I treated them as the Crown Jewels of my toyroom. 

It wasn't until the mean kid with the Bespin Luke that I ever questioned my little men. I've always regretting letting that little jerk do that to me. He essentially killed my fearless action figures.

The Play Big men proved to my parents that I could be left alone for hours in my own world quiet, behaved, and hassle free if I was given action figures.

They opened the door for Decker, and the rest that followed.

I lost Bruce many years ago.

Dick and David are still with me, scraped, scarred and battle worn. They are badges of honor. They lived up to their name. They played big.


Blue Siku Porsche

In the late 1970's, my dad took a second job working at JFK airport. He washed pots and pans in the food service department for Lufthansa.

As a little girl, no more than 4 years old, I recall going to visit my dad to take him lunch or pick him up from work. He always brought me around to his co workers in the other departments to show me off.

One department that always fascinated me was what I called the goodies section. This was the department where they kept the cases of little bags of peanuts, sodas, mini liquor bottles, wing pins and anything else they would stock on the airplane for passengers. This was a giant cage full of colorful boxes, which we could not enter. Instead, we would walk to a little window and speak to a little man on the other side. This man was Edwin, and he was my dad's best friend.

 If a case came damaged, they had to discard it completely, so Edwin would tell my dad to stop by with me if they had any opened cases. He always had goodies waiting for me when we'd arrive. Sometimes it was little bags of peanuts. Other times it was little bags of Haribo Gold gummy bears. I loved those best.

On one such visit I was greeted with a major surprise. Seems like Lufthansa had some kind of promotion with a toy company in Germany called Siku. Siku produced a bunch of diecast cars and little planes to give to children traveling on their planes, much like the pilot wing pins usually seen. So that night, I came home with an armful of little blue Porsche cars.

The cars were wider than your typical Matchbox or Hotwheels car, but they were relatively the same length.  An added feature: the doors opened. 

Like many children of the 70's, I had a vast collection of cheap giant plastic trucks and cars, but these little blue cars were small, heavy and rolled like a dream. I spent many an afternoon racing those little blue cars on kitchen linoleum, living room plush carpeting, and freshly laid sidewalk cement by myself. They were the first metal toy cars I ever owned, and I loved them.

As I got older and started playing with other children close to my age, I would bring them out. No one ever seemed impressed by them. In the sea of brightly colored Hotwheels and stylish Matchbox cars, a fleet of light blue wide porches that were an off-brand (by American childhood standards) was something to be ridiculed for.

After a while I stopped bringing them out to play. They languished under my bed like exiles, only to see the light of day when I was forced to clean my room.

One solitary car survived the many purges of childhood... with rust stains, paint chipped, wobbly wheels, and cracked windshield. Much like a real neglected car from the 70's. 


Match Box Dolls

I've mentioned in passing how as a child, my parents and I would routinely visit our extended family in South America. It seemed to me that we would visit every two years or so, during the holidays. It made some sense, as my mother's birthday was in late December, my birthday was in the first week of January, and in between we had Christmas and New Year's. It also helped that it was summer in Montevideo, Uruguay at that time of the year, and it allowed us a reprieve from New York winter.

Every time we would go, most of the space our suitcases was taken up with various gifts and goodies for our family. My mother used the excuse of Christmas, but in reality it was a way of sharing our good fortune with family and friends in South America that had much less. Clothing for the women, electronics for the men (which always necessitated a trip to Manhattan to my father's chagrin, to find the proper voltage) and for the children, toys.

What there wasn't room for in our baggage, was for my toys. My mom would say I shouldn't bring my toys since it may be viewed as showing off to my cousins. I didn't want my cousins to feel bad, so I usually agreed. I mean, I had Christmas and my birthday to look forward to.

Christmas in Montevideo was slow torture for a child accustomed to Americanized holiday customs. Christmas, in my Wishy-washy Catholic extended family was neither super religious or highly secular, but certain customs were adhered to. Christmas Eve was the big family dinner followed by watching the telecast of the Pope's midnight Christmas mass and card playing. Christmas Day was a big family lunch/dinner get together. 

No gifts were exchanged on either day.

It was explained to me in the simplest terms possible: Jesus didn't get his gifts on Christmas. He had to wait for the Three Kings to show up. So YOU have to wait until Three Kings Day. 

Three Kings Day is January 6. That's TWO whole weeks after Christmas. It was a good thing that my birthday was a little before that, otherwise I believe I would have exploded every visit.

It was 1982 when I first became aware of the grueling passage of time that occurred during those two never ending weeks. Since I had not brought any toys with me, I had to make do with whatever was available to me. I learned to make great mudpies, bounce a soccer ball on my knees, and how to play marbles. It didn't help that I had only one cousin my age, and he had his own friends. Don't get me wrong, I had a blast with him, but he wasn't always available to keep me entertained. 

My birthday brought with it many pieces of clothing and other nice things, that didn't lend themselves to solo play. My parents assured me I had other presents waiting for me back home, awaiting me in NY. That didn't necessarily endear me to our visit.

Three Kings Day finally came, and I received the same thing from every family member as did every other girl in my family it seemed. I received little match boxes.

Now, I don't mean the little cars, I mean cardboard little boxes that usually house matches you use to light the BBQ or birthday candle. I stood there confused staring at this mountain of boxes as the rest of the girls let out excited squeals.

I didn't get it.

And then the heavens parted.

One of my older cousins took one of my boxes and slid it open. Inside was a tiny doll. The body was cloth filled with beans or sand, the head was plastic, and it had colored stones for eyes. I opened the rest of them, and each was different.

I was told they were Fofoletes from Brazil.

They were a craze and impossible to find during that holiday season, so one of my uncles who ran the neighborhood boliche (small grocery store) with my grandmother had a contact in Brazil who was able to secure a case. Instead of placing them for sale to the public, my uncles and my dad went in on it together and divided them up equally for all the girls in the family. 

Every dad and uncle was a hero that year.

I wasn't aware of the work that went into it at the time. I wasn't even aware how popular the dolls were. I was just happy to have small little dolls that could fit in my pocket so I could play with them. Like  a sip of water to a thirsty man in a desert, I was elated. 

The rest of my time in Montevideo went by quickly. I played with my army of match box dolls, and even traded some with the neighborhood kids that would visit my grandmother's boliche.

had a handful of little dolls and I was happy. I didn't even remember the gifts awaiting me back home. I didn't need them.

I still have one of my childhood Fofoletes. A red and black one, with blue eyes. She's survived childhood, transcontinental travels, moves, college, marriage and she sits on my entertainment system. And to this day, she still makes me happy.


Superman jiggler

I was a bicentennial baby, so it can be said I was patriotic from birth. Born in 1976 in the city that never sleeps, with formative years at the tail end of the disco era and onslaught of the Reagan decade, I am a sum of those parts.

I am also a child of immigrants who to this day remind me of the hardships they experienced in order to provide for me this birthright. I am forever grateful.

As is my father, who will openly cry when the American National Anthem is played right before a Yankees game.

It is no surprise, that when it came to toys, if it was patriotic in anyway, my dad bought it for me. I even had an ABA basketball, and my dad had no clue what basketball was. He just liked the red, white and blue ball. 

It did surprise me though, when my dad brought home a Ben Cooper Superman jiggler toy for me. It wasn't sports related in any way, nor was it a glaringly obvious red, white, and blue item. He told me he was at the hardware store and they had them on the counter with a picture of Superman standing in front of the city and one with Superman holding the flag from the movie. Then it clicked for me, Superman to my dad was the ultimate patriot. He was an immigrant who did everything he could to defend his chosen country. My dad found the perfect patriotic toy.

This Superman jiggler became a mainstay for me for many years, even though all I knew of Superman at that time was what the Superfriends showed me on Saturday mornings. Sure, the string broke, and the color faded or peeled, and sometimes I would misplace him for long periods of time, but every time I found him, he was elevated to number 1 toy in my room, and my dad was my hero for giving him to me.

In 1982 when Superman the Movie was to be broadcast on ABC, I went through my room in a frenzy. I needed to find Superman so I could watch the movie while playing with him. It was necessary. All day long leading to broadcast time was spent in such a pursuit, I had enlisted my mom to help search the basement in final desperation. My father was handling dinner, and he, the man who falls asleep during any and every movie ever made, who's attention to the TV is only reserved for sports, *he* was excited to see Superman.

During one of my passes through the kitchen, the phone rang and my dad told me to answer it since his hands were full. It was long distance, I could tell due to the crackle on the line. My aunt's voice carried through, and I remember getting an uneasy feeling when she asked to talk to my father. I handed the phone to him and watched.

I remember him looking down and giving short answers. He thanked his sister and told me to get my mom since the movie had started. I didn't even notice. 

When my mom came upstairs I remember her asking who was on the phone. He looked at her and just said, "My father died." Then he looked at me and gave me a sad smile as he sat in his chair. The smile turned into laughter, which confused my mother, until she saw him pull his hand from underneath him holding my Superman jiggler. 

I don't have any memories of my paternal grandfather, but I know he wasn't overly pleased with my father's decision to follow my mother to America. And yet every time I see a Superman jiggler, I remember that day. I don't remember it as the day I lost a grandparent I barely knew though, I remember it as the day my dad sat on Superman and watched a movie with me without falling asleep.


Dime Robots

Pictures from CollectionDX...check them out!
I must have been between the ages of 8 and 9 when my mother decided it was okay for me to walk to school without her. (This seemed to coincide with the end of my weekly Thursday Smurf.)

 My school, lovely old P.S.64 in Queens, was roughly 4 city blocks away in a serpentine route, so there were a few corners to turn at, and quite a few streets to cross for a child. My mother would watch until I reached the corner of our block and joined a small group of children. We'd then disappear around the corner, and would continue on our way under the watchful eye of one of the other kids' mom.

Oddly enough, once we reached the incredibly busy thoroughfare that was 101st ave, and turned that particular corner, we were completely on our own. I'm sure our folks felt that since we were about a block away from the school and the only street to cross would be covered by the crossing guard at the school, that we'd be safe.

Now, walking home was a different matter altogether. We had no supervision. We usually stuck together once we met up after the bell and would begin in mass, to migrate to out homes. It was during one of the migrations that one child mentioned going to the candy store down the block before heading home. Since we all stuck together, and no one wanted to explain why this one particular child was missing from our group, we all went to the candy store with him. The candy store was only half a block in the opposite direction of our way home, but to me it might as well have been in another city. We were off track, doing something we never asked permission to do. I was scared, but everyone else seemed at ease with it, so I just kept my mouth shut and went along.

When I first set foot in that candy store, I was blown away! So many different kinds of candy, and trading cards. I had never seen some of this stuff before, and I was blown away. Having no money, I could not partake, but I watched as the other children with spending money bought this and that.

The next day in class, a couple of the boys from our group showed me these tiny colorful robots. They were small enough to hide and play with on your desk, but in colors that could pass as an eraser in case the teacher caught you. You had to put them together. They had tiny weapons and their arms moved. In that moment I knew, I just *knew* I needed some. Not one, mind you, I needed some. I needed a few to stage battles in my desk.

The next morning, I asked my mom for some money, and I said it was to buy candy on the way home. My mom assumed I meant I would stop at the little grocer store closest to our house which was on the way home. I didn't correct her. I knew I shouldn't be going the other way after school, but I couldn't help the thrill I got.

The robots were only a dime. The person who ran the candy store obviously never charged tax on children paying in coins, because walking in with fifty cents allowed me to walk out with 5 robots.

They were called Puzzle Space Fighters. They were obviously bootleg toys. They came in a baggy with candy. And they were the best ill gotten toys I ever had. Ten cents brought me so much happy and so much fun and I got away with it. I felt invincible. I felt free. I felt grown up.

After that, I became less scared, and more adventuresome as a child. I stopped sticking to predetermined routes when running errands for my mom, and started to explore my neighborhood a little more. But *that's* a story for another day.


Sport & Shave Ken

(Or how a Ken doll became a bicycle for my sister)

Although it seemed my parents had a Catholic priest waiting in the delivery room to christen me the moment I first drew breath on this Earth, they failed to sign me up for catechism classes at the same time as my peers. Being that we live in a predominantly Roman Catholic neighborhood of Ozone Park, that was a faux pas that was not easily forgiven. As such I was enrolled as quickly as possible in the first available course at the local Catholic school. I was still a year behind and would not have my first communion until the 3rd grade.

It is important to note that while my parents were rather lax on the whole "going to church thing," they placed a great deal of importance on the rites of catholic passage. Actually, my father really did not care one way or another. He found going to church a rather trying thing, and avoided it when possible. It was probably left over bad blood from his years of being "disciplined" by nuns in school. My mom I believe just wanted me to go through the motions, as that what was expected in our family and society.

I personally did not really care about the religiosity, and cared more about feeling left out. Everyone I knew was going to these special classes and being the odd one out was never fun. Add to that the fact that I knew from the other kids in my class that having your communion meant having a big party and everyone giving you presents. That sounded pretty good to me, and I wanted it.

There were days during my catechism classes where I just didn't feel it. I understood the concepts, I memorized the prayers, I studied the stories... But I asked too many questions. The nun teaching the class always answered with a "it's God's way." I just wanted to understand "God's way" not just take it on faith. That did not gain me any favors with the nun, or the younger kids in my class... Who all knew each other from public school and had already decided to shun the interloper I was.

Every time things got rough, I would think of the party and presents and I'd make it through one more class. That worked for the first year. (Catechism classes were one hour, every Wednesday afternoon, during the normal school year, for 2 years to reach communion. More if going towards confirmation.)

The actual year that my communion would be done, I was begging to quit. I hated feeling like an outsider. I hated being treated like a trouble-maker by the nuns for questioning things. I was inherently shy, and therefore rather soft spoken and polite when asking any questions. I didn't pester. I was well behaved, did my homework, and aced tests. But I could not wrap my head around the concept that asking questions in public school was accepted and expected, but in Catholic school it was seen as questioning authority.

My dad told my mom to let me quit if I wanted to. My mom took a different route. She reminded me that I'd already suffered one year, why not two and finish it so we could have the party. We compromised. One more year and my communion, but that was all.

I still wasn't particularly happy.

And then around Christmas time I saw a Sport n Shave Ken at discount store we were shopping in. I fell in love. He had real hair, and a tennis racket... and I wanted him. My parents had already purchased my Christmas presents, and my birthday present, for the year, so I knew I had zero chance when I asked. Instead of being told "No," my mom, the shrewd parenting machine that she was simply said, "You can buy it with your communion money."

My WHAT?! I get money?!

I was then told that since most of my family was in South America and could not make the journey, they'd been sending cards with money for my communion... But she couldn't give it to me until my communion because it was a surprise. 

I won't lie. That particular bit of knowledge sustained me.

 It kept me strong when we'd journey into the big, dark scary cathedral style church (which in my memory is lit only with candles, which created the affect of moving shadows in front of the many statues of Saints littered all over the place, tuck in little alcoves.)

It kept my mouth shut when questions arose in my head.

It kept my brain calculating how many sins I could tell the priest in my first confession and still get away with the minimum of Hail Marys. (Some kids got stuck with doing full rosaries.)

And so when the day came, I was the model little catholic girl, in my white dress my Godfather purchased, reading from the bible during the ceremony. The only thing wrong was I had the flu, but my dad came prepared with a pocket full of tissues for me. Nothing was going to stop me from getting that Ken doll!

When they called all the kids up to receive communion, I got in line, bowed my head, and opened my mouth. As soon as I took the wafer in my mouth, I just about gagged. By the literal grace of God, I made it back to the pew where my father was waiting, without throwing up. As I sat down, I still had the wafer in my mouth. I couldn't swallow it. My throat was sore, my nose was runny, and I felt sick to my stomach. My dad noticed my pallor and asked if I was okay.

I shook my head no. I couldn't open my mouth, I was sure I'd throw up. Somehow my dad knew. He looked at me with a kind smile. He told my mom to go ahead if she wanted to receive communion, and that he'd stay with me. 

After she left, he looked around and saw that the coast was clear. He pulled out his pocket hanky from his jacket, opened it up and told me to spit "it" out. Then he added the magic words,"quick before your mom comes back!"

I did. 

We left the church that day with everyone congratulating me, taking pictures, and singing my praises... And I spit out the wafer into my dad's hanky. 

Later on that day, I received presents, ate cake and ice cream, and celebrated my communion, not with the Catholic Church, but my communion with my dad. He was always bigger than life to me, and on that day he became the biggest hero I'd ever have.

I still felt bad about spitting the wafer out, since it represents the body of Christ... and I didn't keep up my end of the bargain with my mom. I didn't actually have my first communion.

The day we went to the store so I could buy my Ken doll, I felt the guilt eating me alive. I hadn't told my mom what really happened in the pew that day, and I felt I had cheated her. So there in the store with enough money to buy the Ken doll, several times over, I looked at my mom and said, "I want to buy my sister a real bike for her birthday next month, with this money."

She smiled at me, and said if that was what I wanted, it was my money. So I picked out a 2 wheeler bike with a pink basket and paid the man.

I left that store without my Ken doll.

But my sister loved her new bike. 

I guess I did learn something from my catechism classes after all.


Looney Tunes Dominoes

Being the only child at family get togethers was a double edge sword. Sure, I received all the attention to begin the day, but that also meant that when the attention shifted elsewhere, I was left to play alone. Most times, I just sat quietly and watched.

As far as I can remember, my parents always had sets of Spanish playing cards, and dominoes around the house. During these family parties, I would watch as the adults would gather around the table after dinner and dessert had been served and observe as they drank, laughed and loudly played their games. They always looked like they had so much fun.

My favorite was the dominoes. Watching the adults play dominoes completely mesmerized me. The game fascinated me. The little tiles looked like bricks with dots, and they could stand on their own, but 3 year old me couldn't quite grasp the rules.

My dad seeing my interest offered to teach me the rules. It seemed simple enough, but watching the adults play so fast, while loudly telling jokes that went over my head, something was lost in the translation.

During one of our regular trips to the Aqueduct Race Track Flea market, my dad discovered the solution:  Looney Tunes Dominoes. This was a set of red plastic dominoes, which substituted pictures of my favorite WB characters in place of the dots.

We got home and immediately opened the box to play a game. Suddenly it all made sense to me. Match the faces, and be first to finish my tiles. I was really good at that. Too good it seemed, as I began to beat my dad continuously. My father's response? Cheat. He insisted that Porky Pig and Elmer Fudd was the same character when it was his turn, but two different characters when it was my turn.

Trying to argue with his regarding his logic led to his declaring he no longer had time to play dominoes with me. I asked my mom to play, but she was legitimately busy, with taking care of the house and making dinner while my dad on the other hand was watching a Yankees game on TV.

This taught me three things:

1.) Never argue with my dad especially when he's wrong.
2.) Always let my dad win no matter what.
3.) You can build things with dominoes when no one will play with you, and that's much more fun anyway.


Interlude: Toy Stores

I was 14 years old before I ever set foot into a Toys R Us. Before then, the closest I ever came was passing the multi-colored sign on the expressway on the way to Kennedy Airport.

Now, that's not to say I was never taken to a toy store. There were a few mom and pop independent toy stores in Queens back in the 1980's that I distinctly remember going to during the holiday season, or during the summer for bicycle purposes. But nothing in the scale of a Toys R Us.

Geoffrey used to lure me with his siren song on Saturday mornings, with the promise of staying young forever if only I would be a Toys R Us kid. I so wanted to be one.

The other children on my block would tell the fantastical tales of venturing into the den of all that was holy to a child. Toys stacked from floor to ceiling! Every toy imaginable was there, even stuff that was never advertised on TV. This sort of place could not really exist, could it? 

But it had to. I had first hand eye witness accounts. I myself had seen the very building that housed this wonderful place from the dirty backseat window of my dad's Ford Maverick. 

At times, I would ask to go there, just to see it with my own eyes, however the answer was always no. There was no reason to go there according to my parents. 

Alexander's had a small toy section, and we could go *there* if I wanted, since that would allow my mom to buy my dad some pants. Or I could go with my dad to Tru Value and look at their toys while he bought a hammer or something. Maybe if I was lucky, we could go to Odd Lots, home of the Isle of Misfit toys, where not only I could look,  I might be able to go home with something... if there was money left over after my mom bought me my school supplies.

There was never a reason to go to Toys R Us.

I still never grew up, despite I never being a Toys R Us Kid. 


Cabbage Patch fear

Like every child in 1980's, I had a Cabbage Patch Kid, courtesy of my Uncle Joe.

The interesting thing about this fact is, I never really wanted one. Sure, it seemed like every girl in America wanted, needed, and had one or two... But I never really cared much for them. 

I didn't like playing house. I never enjoyed playing "mommy & baby." I preferred action figures, or even dolls that you could project unto, like Barbie or Strawberry Shortcake. Baby dolls did nothing for me.

However, I did enjoy having Cabbage Patch Kid as a playground status symbol. Owning one made you fit in, and I wanted to fit in with the girls in my class so desperately. So I played with it in public. At home, it just sat on my vanity and stared at me.

It was a little disconcerting, to say the least. However, it went from weird to downright horrifying not soon after.

Now, something you must know about my mother, she loved reading trashy tabloids. The weirder the headline, the better. So it was not unusual to find the latest copy of the National Enquirer or Weekly World News in our shopping cart at the local Key Food. 

On one such trip, I found myself at the checkout with my mother as she glanced over the latest "Newspapers." A blurb on the cover of the National Enquirer mentioned a Cabbage Patch Kids collector. I found that interesting and picked it up to check out the article while we waited.

I wish I hadn't.

The article went on to describe an obviously looney woman who could not have kids of her own, who had taken to "adopting" a slew of Cabbage Patch Kids and turning a room in her house into a nursery for them. She went so far as to purchase a baby monitor and schedule "feedings." She insisted they weren't really dolls, but real children that pretended to be dolls when people were in the room, but she could hear them laugh and play through the baby monitor.

That's about as far as I got before we had to leave, so I put the rag back on the shelf, but my 8 year old brain kept churning that information. When you don't watch them they come to life!

Later that day I sat in my room watching my little 13" black and white TV, avoiding eye contact with the doll. It seemed like every time I'd turn my head, I would swear the thing moved. Any tiny noise was blamed on THAT doll, as I began to call it in my head. I would lower the volume on my TV and strain my ears and swear I could hear it breathe!

That night as I lay in my bed, I was overcome. I couldn't sleep. If I slept THAT doll would come to life and kill me. I was certain.

So I got up and did the only thing I could thing of to do. I grabbed the doll and snuck into my parent's bedroom and stuck the doll in my baby sister's crib.

My rationale? If it wanted to taste blood, it could start with my sister. That would give me a head-start.

I never told my parents that, though.

In the morning when they found the coveted Cabbage Patch Kid in my sister's drooling mitts, I said I was giving it to her as a gift. My parents thought I was being a generous and loving big sister. I smiled and accepted the praise when in reality, I was nothing more than a coward, afraid of a doll, willing to sacrifice my sister to save my own hide. 

And the funny thing is, I'm still creeped out by Cabbage Patch Kids, to this very day.


Michael Jackson dreams

The year was 1984, and I was an 8 year old caught up in the Michael Jackson craze.

There was no escaping the mania. Thriller was *the* album. Kids of all ages were either wearing or begging for red leather jackets covered in zippers. Knowing how to execute the perfect moonwalk on the playground won you more accolades than owning the latest, greatest toy. My elementary school even piped in Weird Al's "Beat it" parody, the aptly titled "Eat it" in the cafeteria during lunch.

My mom even fell victim to the craze and I found myself wearing a red leather "Beat it" jacket that winter. I wore that jacket with pride, over my Michael Jackson Thriller cover iron-on T-shirt, my vending machine Michael Jackson pendant, while carrying my Michael Jackson loose leaf binder to school.

I thought I had it made, until I saw the commercial on TV for the LJN Michael Jackson 12 inch fashion dolls. Forget Ken. Barbie needed Michael Jackson!

I told my mom.

This wasn't something I wanted. This was something I needed! I needed this doll. Every kid I knew needed this doll.

My mom understood.

Christmas was coming up and she said I'd done extra well in school and that I earned the doll. I just had to choose which Michael I wanted.

He came in three styles if I remember correctly: Thriller, Grammy Awards, and Beat it.

I choose Beat it. I liked that particular jacket best, and I did already have a child sized one I wore every time the temperature dropped below 70.

I remember going to several stores with my mother looking for it. Seems I had been correct: everyone needed this doll. They were no where to be found. If you got lucky and found one, it was Michael wearing the sparkly military jacket he wore to the Grammys. No one wanted frilly Grammy Michael. You wanted cool Zombie Thriller Michael, or young street tough gang banger Beat it Michael.

I'm not quite sure how, but my mom managed to find a Beat it Michael with the help of her brother, my uncle Joe. Of course, I was unaware at the time. All I was told was that Santa brought me *a* Michael, but not which one.

To make thing worse, Santa dropped off the present in early December, where it sat under the Christmas tree... Taunting me nonstop for weeks on end. I do believe that was the longest wait of my young life. Every day I woke up I would go to the tree, pick up the wrapped box and look at the label with my name on it. Every day I had to force myself to put it back before my mom caught me.

Those endless days were absolutely nothing compared to Christmas Eve though. That was the epitome of a slow torture: 24 hours that would never end, that dragged on and on, no distractions since it was too cold to play outside, nothing on TV, and that brightly wrapped box with my name on it.

The night before, I had the most vivid dream. I dreamt I opened the box and played with my new Michael Jackson doll.
Michael went camping in Barbie's camper and hung out with John Travolta. We ate lunch together. We built a snow fort outside in our matching red zippered jackets. It was magnificent.

Then I woke up and I realized I had been dreaming. The sense of loss I felt was overwhelming. I had to go out and look at the box to remind myself that, yes it was a dream but that I still had a chance to live it.

When the time came to open presents, I grabbed the Michael box and set it aside. I was going to savor the moment. I was going to open all my other presents first to get the crud out of the way so that nothing would taint my Michael moment.

I remember getting a plush Gizmo from Gremlins that year, which I was pleasantly surprised by. I loved Gizmo. I also received a Cabbage Patch doll. Cabbage Patch dolls were the hot ticket item that year, and I fear what my uncle must have had to do to get me one... only to have me set it aside, unimpressed. Xavier Roberts' golden goose was nothing compared to the power of "The Thriller," as Vincent Price was fond of telling me.

Finally I ripped open Michael. He had the Beat it outfit on. I was overjoyed.

I don't think I came out of my room for the rest if Christmas break, as Michael and I were busy. Michael enjoyed wearing Ken's fashions and traveling by Barbie camper. Sometimes Barbie wore his jacket.

That was an awesome Christmas vacation.