rushing the season

Apparently, I was confused. I thought Christmas celebrated the birth of Jesus (which, from what I’ve read, was a one-day event), but last year my local Walgreens was under the impression that we’re celebrating Mary’s last trimester. That’s right; they had Christmas items on the shelf in October.

I’m a big ol’ Jew now, but I was raised in a Christian home, and I still have some fond memories of Christmas traditions. For me, the start of the holiday season was always marked by the ad with Santa riding a Norelco electric razor. Call me sentimental.
Of course, when I think of childhood, I mostly remember all the toys, beckoning from under the twinkling lights of a tree trimmed with strands of tinsel. And looking back, I can see that most of my toys sucked.


I got the short end of the gift stick through no fault of my parents. Even with just my mom’s social security and my stepdad’s veteran’s benefits, there was always something for me to open on Christmas morning.

The problem was, having been born in 1960, I was too old for toys by the time the cool toys came out. I still remember being envious of kids who had a Big Wheel, because the Big Wheel debuted in 1969, and what with me being nine, I was too old to ride one.


Another problem was that I was really smart, so Mom would always buy me smart kid toys, as opposed to toys that involved, say, going outside. Don’t get me wrong—I always asked for brainy toys, but it probably would have been a good idea, social-development-wise, for Mom to get me a ball, or a bat, or a glove, and suggest I leave my room. Instead, one year, she got me a globe.

Great. I’ll invite some friends over. We can…point to different countries.

visible man and woman anatomical

One year for Christmas, I got what was called ‘The Visible Man,’ I guess the reasoning being, “He’s sure smart for a sixth-grader, which must mean he’ll become a doctor, so he’d better learn where the spleen is.” Of course, I could always invite friends over and point to it. Maybe the reason my generation is so fat and sedentary is that so many of our toys didn’t actually DO ANYTHING. Or, I got a lot of toys that did one thing, and that’s it. So, I’d gleefully open a package, do the one the toy was capable of, and think, “That’s all it does?”

Here are some examples of toys which…don’t do a whole lot.

(To my younger readers, none of these toys ‘plug in,’ so they would make perfect gifts for your Amish nephew.)



Behold, the Wheel-O. Through the magic of gyro-dynamic something-or-other, the wheel goes around the loop thingie, and back. Down. And up. Minutes of fun.


These were called Clackers. They bang together. Loud enough to annoy the entire family, yet dangerous enough to leave a bruise.


Our last entry in the Parade of Pointless Toys is the Wizzer. Despite what it says, it does not do ‘a zillion fantastic tricks.’ It spins if you roll the rubber tip on the ground. And then it stops spinning.


I never had a Slinky, but only because our house didn’t have stairs.

hot wheels

Though I’m not a car guy (somehow I missed that genetic marker), I had some toy cars. Hot Wheels cars were how I rolled, and the best thing about Hot Wheels was the track that came in pieces you could assemble in infinite combinations. Or, you could just do a straightaway, with a loop in the middle.

Anyway, I would push my car toward the loop, and the car would race to the top, and…plummet to the floor. The imaginary carnage was horrifying.


Then came the ne plus ultra of car toys for 1972, the SSP Racer. First of all, this commercial mentions that it comes with ‘sonic sound,’ and there’s no sound more thrilling to a young boy than sonic sound. So, I would insert the special T-stick, pull it out, put the car on the floor, and…then the car would be lost, or broken. But it really went fast that one time.


The two most frustrating toys from my youth were the Etch-A-Sketch and the Spirograph. Etch-A-Sketch was great for drawing steps (and what kid doesn’t enjoy that?), but then there was that special moment when you figured out you could draw a curved line by turning both wheels at the same time. And….then you were done with it.

Side note—if you fight with your cousin over an Etch-A-Sketch and it breaks, aluminum powder is a bitch to get out of the carpet.


The problem with Spirograph was that the box would tell you that you can make designs like the one on the right, when in fact, you can’t.

That, and the fact that if you lost either the pens or push pins that came in the box, no other pen or pin made by humans would fit in the little holes. And, the fact that it was impossible to use the long skinny pieces at all.


My childhood was a time when it was considered entertaining to look into plastic binoculars and see 3-D still pictures of the Grand Canyon. Presenting–the Viewmaster! Entire afternoons spent clicking and staring. You could even get discs for it with still pictures from movies and TV shows! Did I mention they were in 3-D?  Now that I think of it, if they still made these, I could catch up on ‘Mad Men’ without having to pay for cable.

Every year, I gave my mom a Christmas list, and from the time I was seven or eight, I wanted an ant farm. It went on the list, and every year, no ant farm. Oh, I always got the new edition of the World Almanac and Book of Facts, but never the ant farm. Until, one Christmas, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I tore off the wrapping paper and there it was—UNCLE MILTON’S GIANT ANT FARM!

The thing is, I was seventeen when I finally got it. Really, Mom? I know the box says ‘ages seven and up,’ but, really? Only thing I can figure is that Mom kept all the old Christmas lists and, since I never told her I had stopped wanting an ant farm, she finally decided, “He’s ready for this now.” Oh well, it’s the thought that counts.

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Posted 7 May 2011 by goodwriting in category "IT'S PERSONAL