Or So it Seems … Toying With Trouble

Uncle Joe bought me my bazooka. He lived 3,000 miles away, in Detroit. I don’t think he could hear the explosions, but I’m not sure. He quit calling us after Christmas.

That Sonic Blaster was one of two presents from my “Genius Uncle,” as Mom called him. The other was the “Big Ear” eavesdropping dish. Mom confiscated it immediately. This seems an odd choice.  You’d think that she’d have appreciated the peace-and-quiet afforded by “the Ear….” over the Blaster’s glass-rattling explosions.

My parents were remarkably patient people. But it took them a while to discover our fundamental philosophical difference. They thought that toys were supposed to be fun and buy them a few moments of peace. I thought that my toys were tools of discovery, or war, depending on where you stood. Standing far away was usually a good idea.

Some of their gifts they soon regretted – toy saws that really cut wood, pocket knives and magnifying glasses. I blamed them. They were the adults, and it really was their fault when I torched leaves, incinerated bugs, or modified our furniture to better fit a family of Munchkins.

Take the “Bangsite Cannon.” This 18-inch piece of artillery fell into my possession when I was 10. It used the same gas that fuels a cutting torch.

The cannon’s operating instructions said to “Put two teaspoons of water in the barrel. Dip plunger into ‘Bang-site compound’ available at toy stores everywhere! Insert into assembly into breech, rotate, count to 10. Depress plunger smartly.”

“Smartly” in this case, means rapidly, it does not reflect the wisdom of giving an explosive device to a hyperactive boy.

I loved the cannon. It made a bigger bang than grandpa’s backfiring Studebaker. But soon the noise was just boooring. I looked at that barrel, and it wasn’t enough just to imagine a shell flying from it into an enemy camp. It needed more oomph, so I applied “plaything-synergy.”  This is done by combining toys in unintended, forbidden or unimagined ways.

I transformed my Tinkertoys, a sedate set of sticks, into missiles. Here’s how it’s done. Grab a stubbie, a Tootsie-Roll-shaped cylinder, tack on a red tip for aerodynamics, and insert into the cannon’s barrel… Voila! You’ve got an artillery shell.

The first volley was so-so. It flew over the house and bounced off the dog.

Further work was in order. In a short time, I discovered that TWO stubbies, connected with a yellow shaft, were the ticket. This setup had stability and heft. Better yet, it looked cool, and felt like a real weapon, one to strike fear in the hearts of our neighbors and other enemies.

Sadly the newer, bigger, better bombshell would barely go across the front yard. It did put a cool looking dent in Dad’s old Chevy, but it needed more “go-power.”

Father always said: “When all else fails, read the directions.” And he was so right! Instructions are the place to look for innovative methods only dimly anticipated by the manufacturer. Just remember that they’re suggestions, not hard-and-fast rules.

So, I saw, in big red type, a cautionary a note to “NEVER USE MORE THAN ONE SCOOP OF THE BANGSITE SOLUTION.” There were words I didn’t understand like “excessive gas”… “injury to the operator.” But what caught my eye was the “risk of explosion.”

Of course, we needed an explosion—that’s what powered the moon shots!  So I doubled the charge. It helped. Tripling worked even better. I was back in business.

Scientific advances, though, often have setbacks and misfortune. Bad luck, in this case, arrived in the form of my kid sister. She came. She saw. She ratted me out. Little Sis dragged Mom into the front yard in time to witness the full glory of triple-charged Bangsite power applied to multi-stage-Tinkertoy technology.

It was a beautiful sight, that missile streaking nearly a city block. But Mom freaked, and that was the end of my cannon. Grownups have pitifully little appreciation for novel ideas. So somewhere out there in the Twilight Zone sits a shelf full of long lost toys. My beloved cannon rests next to all the other cool stuff that was taken to keep me from killing myself.

Did Mom do the right thing? Who knows. Letting me be could have led to a benign but helpful career in applied physics, demolition, or the infantry. But she meddled, and I became an English major. So instead I’m both dangerous and useless.

Robb has enjoyed writing and performing since he was a child, and many of his earliest performances earned him a special recognition-reserved seating in the principal’s office at Highland Elementary. Since then, in addition to his weekly column on A News Cafe – “Or So it Seems™” – Robb has written news and features for The Bakersfield Californian, appeared on stage as an opening stand-up act in Reno, and his writing has been published in the Funny Times. His short stories have won honorable mention national competition. His screenplay, “One Little Indian,” Was a top-ten finalist in the Writer’s Digest competition. Robb presently lives, writes and teaches in Shasta County.

Robb Lightfoot is a humorist, author and educator. He and his wife raised a family of four kids, a dozen or more dogs and a zillion cats. He has enjoyed writing and performing since he was a child, and many of his earliest performances earned him a special recognition-reserved seating in the principal’s office at Highland Elementary. Since then, in addition to teaching at Shasta Community College, and his former column on A News Cafe - "Or So it Seems™" - Robb has written news and features for The Bakersfield Californian, appeared on stage as an opening stand-up act in Reno, and his writing has been published in the "Funny Times". His short stories have won honorable mention in national competitions. His screenplay, “One Little Indian,” Was a top-10 finalist in the Writer’s Digest competition. Robb presently lives and writes in Chico where he manages ThinkingFunny.com. He also hates referring to himself in the third person, and will stop doing so immediately. I can be reached in the following ways: Robb@thinkingfunny.com PO Box 5286 Chico, CA 95928 @_thinking_funny on Twitter
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11 Responses

  1. Avatar Charlie says:

    And now you've become the Uniwriter.

    • Avatar Robb says:

      Notice that I didn't mention that the bangsite cannons are STILL AVAILABLE on the web. Wow, what they cost now. Apparently, there's generation after generation of naive parents….

  2. Avatar Joanne Lobeski Snyde says:

    I loved this story Robb! You WOULD have kept going with your research if your mother hadn't intervened.

  3. Avatar Rebecca Lightfoot says:

    I got a kick out of this one. As always, thanks for your stories.

    I don't ever remember having dangerous experiences with toys…I guess I didn't need toys to find danger. From climbing on roofs, hopping over a neighbor's barbed wire fence, and nearly drowning in a dam, I guess I was safest at home and not outdoors. But luckily I had you and Mom around to rescue me 😛

  4. don williams don williams says:

    With all the things we did as young boys, it's really amazing that we lived to be grown men. Chemistry set, gunpowder and nitro anyone.

    Robb great column as always and it brought back memories of wasted youth 🙂

  5. Avatar Robb says:

    A good friend has called our childhood years "the unsupervised '60s." Apt description.

  6. Avatar Terry says:

    Thanks for the memories! My brother and sisters and I, too, loved to invent "unintended uses" for our toys, and use the things that were just lying around the house. (Well, okay, they were items of our parents' home decor.)

    • Avatar Robb says:

      One time I tried doing something nice… that brought Mom to tears. She had a crystal set, antique, and it was covered with gold leaf. I put it all it the dishwasher…. and washed all the gold off of it. I remember he bursting into tears. But she didn't punish me.

  7. Avatar Paul Lehman says:

    Great story Robb – new to the NewsCafe and great articles like this will keep me coming back!