Monday, March 05, 2007
(10:36 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Playing with Batman DollsIt would be a mistake to say that I simply played with action figures. That would indicate a certain casualness, a lighthearted tossing around, perhaps holding a hero in one hand and a villain in the other and mashing them together, making that distinctive noise that every little boy makes to indicate violence. I was not playing -- I was constructing entire worlds.
My action figures during my classical period were made up primarily of Ninja Turtles and Batman characters, together with a Superman figure and a few vestigial GI Joes. (It's unclear to me where all my GI Joes went -- I used to have millions.) These normally fell into three groups according to moral valence: the good guys, the bad guys, and the wildcards who were indifferent to the conflict and could only sometimes be brought into alliance with one of the other two groups. Within each group, there were varying levels of loyalty, some who would fight to the death, others who had grown disillusioned with the cause and were already virtually free agents, and a lot who fell somewhere in between.
So for example, the blue-and-gray Batman was resolutely on the good side. The smaller, all-black Batman (a movie tie-in) was more of a tortured anti-hero, symbolized by his lost cape and by his hideously deformed left hand, which had been chewed on by the dog. The all-black Batman would frequently dramatically hurl himself off the table in the basement, apparently commiting suicide -- only later would we learn that it was all a ruse, and he had actually landed safely on the chair instead of on the floor. Or, even better, the Batwing would swoop in and save him, a maneuver that was not possible for the blue-and-gray Batman who was too tall and whose legs didn't really bend right.
We moved the furniture in my house pretty often, since my mom was the co-proprietor of a country furniture store and liked to experiment with new arrangements. The basement was not excluded, not strictly for any aesthetic reasons, but simply because my sister and (especially) I were used to frequent rearrangement and liked our area to be changed around too. Every arrangement was a new geography, necessitating the shifting of bases. The nice round table -- repurposed from its previous life in the kitchen -- was the most dramatic space, with its wide expanses and cavernous underside, so that it was almost a shame to waste it on a base. Shelves, couches, stretches of the floor, even the metal poles came into play. Stairways could allow heart-wrenching, torturous falls, occasioned by dramatically-appropriate accident, by murderous impulse, by suicidal despair.
The best, of course, were those rare times when I could bring everything up to the living room. I distinctly remember one of those times when my mom picked me up from church camp, probably in fourth or fifth grade. Church camp was always something I endured. It wasn't that I minded the games or the various religious services, but simply that it wasn't my idea of a good time: living out of a suitcase, sleeping on a squeaking bunk bed, taking showers in gross buildings where your feet almost always got dirty immediately afterward. Then there was always the contrived nonsense of dividing into teams and competing in all the games -- even then, the idea of team spirit was foreign to me, and in any case, I always got a lame-ass team that was sure to lose from day one.
It wasn't my idea of a vacation at all. Summer time was supposed to be free time, and instead of relaxing by myself, I had to waste a week in a place where they would hardly let you keep still and they insisted on waking you up at seven in the morning. My favorite parts were the fleeting "free time" sessions, where we could just sit around in our rooms or go to the snack shack and enjoy a Lik-M-Aid in peace. Usually I hadn't brought anything to read except my Bible, but compared to my other options, reading the Bible sounded fun.
This particular year, though, I ended up with a roommate who had the foresight to bring action figures with him -- mainly some Turtles, but also a few others I didn't have. By the grace of God, I had finally, one year, landed with a kindred spirit. We set up elaborate plotlines together and generally had a good time, at least during the free periods.
We hung around during some of the games as well, the obligatory couple of guys kicking the grass, waiting for the game to be over. I was already an accomplished grass-kicker by that time. My T-ball career was spent in deep right field, where I would kick up the grass with reckless abandon; I seem to recall the ball coming my way maybe once, but by the time I got to it it was pretty much a moot point. I feel like after that, it was our turn to go back to the dugout, so that was good to sit down, maybe throw back a glass or two of Gatorade. When it was my turn to bat, I always stood there waiting for something to happen so that I'd know it was time to swing -- I looked back at the umpire, and he would nod slightly, giving me the go-ahead. I must've gotten on-base at least once, because I distinctly remember kicking around the dirt, trying to make a little moat around the base, putting dirt on it so that I could brush it off.
My friend at camp was kind of an embarrassment those few times I could convince him to go to the snack shack. I was no social butterfly, but this kid was catatonic, already developing into a committed nerd -- oversized glasses, a hairstyle whose precise intended arrangement was unclear, and (though it seems impossible at summer camp) a black sweatshirt all the time. I feel like I had a shot at impressing some of the girls with my wit -- the pretty dark-haired girls who already kind of resented the fact that the more rambunctious, aspiring-athletic boys ignored them -- but not with the kind of baggage I was carrying around.
Who knows what would've happened had I approached one of those pretty dark-haired girls? A memorable experience, no doubt. Someone to sit next to at the service, holding hands. Someone to walk off to some obscure corner of the camp with, unsure of exactly what we were supposed to do. Whatever it was, it would've made up for all those days of feeling like the insides of my socks were perpetually dirty and of waking up when the dew was still on the grass.
Be that as it may, I was glad when I got home and got back to my own familiar action figures and mom let me play in the living room while she ran some errands. My only mistake was admitting that I had made a friend and had a good time, however limited -- that concession cost me dearly each successive year when I was trying to convince her not to send me to camp again.