Sunday, January 27, 2008

Ricky Sprague's Tales of Regret

Many years ago, when I was but a small child of seven, innocent of the wicked ways of the world, free of all guile and cynicism, I collected dolls. Actually, they were more properly known as "action figures," featuring favorite characters from science fictional adventure films ("Star Wars"), television series ("The Muppet Show"), rock and roll ("Kiss"), and of course comic books ("Spiderman"). I had a collection that was the envy of all my neighborhood chums-- a collection which, if they hadn't all suffered mildew and water damage from a leaky basement would be worth thousands, perhaps millions of dollars today. I suppose I regret not taking care of those toys, but that's not what this particular story of regret is about.

I had many friends with whom I would play, and we would use our action figures to craft involved stories in which Batman could fight against the Hulk (in spite of the fact that they were published by rival comic book publishers), or Darth Vader (in spite of the fact that Darth Vader would have no chance against Batman). Anyway, it wasn't uncommon for one of us to inadvertently leave one of our toys behind at another's home. Usually, this toy could be picked up the next day, and no harm was done.

One day I was playing with a friend named David, who lived with his parents and grandmother in a home three doors down from my house. I had brought along my precious and difficult to find 8 inch Mego Thor action figure. If you click on the link in the previous sentence you'll get a look at him. As you can see, he had long blond hair. Beautiful and lustrous, but extremely manly. Thor was, after all, the God of Thunder; an ass-kicker character from Norse mythology made into even more of an ass-kicker by the great Jack Kirby as a part of Marvel comics mythology.

Yes, I was playing with a doll that had long lustrous blond hair. But he was an action figure. An action figure with a Mjolnir that would bash your head in, when he wasn't using it to propel himself through the air or summon up a tsunami, depending on his mood.

When I was called home to dinner by my mother, who had prepared something from a box, I gathered up my toys and hurried home. I left behind poor Mego Thor. I didn't discover this important fact until well after the dinner had made me sick to my stomach. Upon finding the toy gone, I begged my mother to let me go retrieve it, but she would not allow me to leave the house. As she explained, "You were too sick to finish your Hamburger Helper, you are too sick to leave the house to go get your little doll!"

I lay awake all night, unable to sleep, sick with worry over leaving behind Mego Thor. I grew up in a small town in the middle of a small midwestern state. The internet did not exist. Amazon.com did not exist. Trips to the big city (Indianapolis) with its almost impressive toy stores, were rare. Finding the Thor action figure had been a real coup for me. Arguably the most impressive accomplishment of my young life. Now, I was having to spend a night away from it! I couldn't take it. My soul was rocked by storms, much like the storms that the Mighty Thor himself would raise with the help of his powerful Mjolnir.

To this day, I don't know how I made it through that tempestuous night.

The next day, after school, I did not go straight home as I'd been told to do, but instead went straight to David's house. While he was not yet home from school, his grandmother was home. I knocked on the door and asked her if she'd seen my Thor action figure.

"You mean the doll." The old woman, her skin like crumpled paper, said. The miniature poodle dog she held in her hand growled at me.

"No. Well, okay, he's a doll. Just have you seen him?"

"I've seen him. But how do I know that it's not David's doll?" The poodle, almost like an extension of the horrible woman, a physical manifestation of her tortured psyche, now barked at me.

"It's MY doll!" I would have screamed at her, and she'd have deserved it (that and much, much more dear reader I assure you), but for the fact that someone had once mistakenly told me to respect my elders.

"I'll ask David about it when he gets home," she said. "Now you go home, too." Through an almost blinding haze I could just barely make out the poodle dog, elegantly groomed, a ridiculous tuft of hair on its head.

I went home and brooded. This was absurd, bordering on tragic. That horrid old woman was keeping my Mego Thor doll from me. I had a Mego Captain America, a Mego Hulk, a Mego Iron Man, and Mego Falcon action figure ready to go, ready for some exciting Avengers action. I sat on the porch and devised scenarios in which the assembled heroes fretted with worry over their comrade Thor, who'd been kidnapped by some unknown malevolence.

My heart leapt when I saw David walking toward my house, carrying my Mego Thor action figure. Then it sank when he handed it to me.

Those long, thick, glorious, lustrous blond locks had been clipped!

"Here's your Thor doll," David told me. "Gran'ma said you came over asking for it."

"What-- what did-- you-- do--" I sputtered. Filled with panicked rage.

"Gran'ma cut his hair off. She said that little boys shouldn't play with dolls that have long hair like that."

"It's Thor!" I objected. "He's the God of Thunder!" I didn't yet have the vulgar vocabulary I'm blessed with today, otherwise I'd spewed obscenities.

David shrugged. "Gran'ma says only girls and gays play with dolls with long hair. Sorry." He ran off to his homophobic and clearly deranged grandmother.

I stared at that doll in utter fascinated disbelief. First of all, it was my property. It was my doll excuse me action figure, not hers. Not even her grandson's. It was MINE. She had no right. Second of all, what the hell kind of world did she live in where playing with a doll with long hair made you gay? What if it had been a Jesus doll? Or perhaps more appropriately, a Samson doll? I mean action figure. Would she have thought it was gay to play with a doll like that?

Mego Thor was humiliated. The worthless old hag had shorn his locks so that they barely reached the top of his neck. He was a mockery of his former self. He was no longer Thor. He was useless to me.

I stole her dog and shaved the hair off its head. Only a gay old woman would have her dog groomed that way, I reasoned.

I regret that I never told her that I was the one who shaved her dog.

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