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.