The Haven
Published in

The Haven

There’s a story here.

But I should give it up before somebody gets killed.

Steinar Engeland | Unsplash

I had several “good” action figures, once upon a time, and then I had a whole mess of ones that I actually played with. Because I’ve noticed that the thing about “good” stuff that adults make for kids tends to reek of a distinct attitude of forceful suggestion. Whenever I had “good” action figures, I always felt like they came with this invisible note that said, in an officious voice, “See? You will like this one. It’s how you can participate in how cool Batman is. See what I’m saying? Then you can talk to all your friends about Batman, then when you’re done talking to them then maybe you can come tell me how much it works for you, and then maybe you can validate the sadness in my life that means I’m an adult designer making rubber facsimiles of the scenes from movies enacting fantasies that I never had as a child. I never had time as a child because I had to work. Do you know how much work it took to get where I am today? Assloads. I bet you don’t even know how much an assload is, do you? Of course you don’t. You’re just a kid. And kids could never afford what I planned to afford when I got to where I am. Not that I have any time to do what I planned to do, since I need to keep showing up to this slog every day in order to keep affording what I want to do. And now I’m too busy to participate in any of the fantasies I planned to afford. So here’s your tableau from Batman Forever. I hope you choke on it.”

That’s what I felt like my “good” action figures had to say. That didn’t really work for me. I wanted my toys to be conduits for my imagination, not suggestions about what kinds of franchises I should grow up to support.

Which is why I mostly played with off-brand G.I. Joes as a kid. Or, sometimes, on-brand ones, because even if they did have some kind of backstory or context that they pretended be involved with, the little cards that explained the backstory were so eye-crossingly bad that even if I did want to participate in their corporate fantasy then I wouldn’t even know where to start.

But the real reason that I liked G.I. Joes was because of how you could pose them any way you wanted. Not like all these stiff-limbed corporate caricatures, forcing you to participate in the delusion of some kind of reenactment of scripted fantasy assumed from some adults wet-dream of what they imagined they must have wanted as a kid.

It did nothing for me. As that one guy said — and I’m paraphrasing here — give a ten-year-old freedom and he’ll stick your stiff-limbed pseudo-action tableau figure right where you’re asking for it to go rather than give up his right to whine about it.

It’s a loose paraphrase, but you get the point.

So off-brand — on-brand — G.I. Joes were the way to go. Especially if I could find them at the thrift store, because then half the paint had worn away, so whatever identity they might have started with had been overwritten by the hard-wearing punk lifestyle of an already long-adventured life. And they came in a grab-bag of broken He-Man side characters and obscure and almost educational toys that nobody wanted in the first place. And that meant the original accessories had disappeared to Toy Heaven. But the accessories of all these unrelated toy mythologies came along with the G.I. Joes, like the heroes at the beginning of a new book you’ve never read walk into a room at the beginning and they’re invited to choose their equipment, and they can choose between, I don’t know, a rocket launcher, the sword from Thundercats, a Shetland pony, and a Gundam style mech, or something.

I could have any adventure in the world with those. That was true fantasy fulfillment. Not being shown how to be Batman, or whatever.

So I came up with a lot of stories with my toys. I learned a lot about myself, and I learned a lot about keeping myself entertained.

And I learned a lot about my attention span.

Because, you see, my action figures would have pretty intense adventures. The world got saved hundreds of times from unnamed fears and mad geniuses. And, because I was a middle-class child raised on Disney and so on, then, in general, their adventures tended toward cheerful conclusions. I needed to play again tomorrow. I couldn’t have any of the heroes die off. It wasn’t that difficult a conclusion. So even though my action figures would be run through the ringer and always nearly end in muddy wrecks, they always squeaked by in the end.

Or, you know, they almost always squeaked by.

Now, in retrospect, I understand what happened sometimes was that I played for ten or twenty minutes too long. I started to get bored. And when I started to get bored, I might start to run my action figures through scenarios that they hadn’t quite experienced yet. I might add an extra element into the adventure. Like desperation, or depression. Things sometimes got dark. And, you know, sometimes people died.

Not real people. My action figures would…and they aren’t real people.

Ahem.

So what happened later was that I replaced action figures with everything to do with writing. Words are my toys now, and everything that they do are the games that I play with them.

But the problem is that I haven’t changed much since I would sometimes get bored and start applying an extra element of adversity into the lives of the characters embodied by my action figures.

Which is why I’ll stop right there. Because I feel an impulse to start killing off characters.

I feel like I had a different punchline. I guess life takes me for a ride sometimes.

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