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.
This “Best Of” article originally appeared November 8, 2012. Robb is taking a break for a few weeks, so we’re re-posting some of our Lightfoot favorites.
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.