As far as I can determine, my brain is composed of a lump of Swiss cheese filled with marbles, and all day long the marbles roll up and down, all around and against one another, like monkeys in a cage or hamsters fueled by Diet Coke, causing misfired synapses and weird thought trains. Or maybe it was something somebody said that triggered this blog, because last week I half-closed my eyes and started remembering all the dangerous toys my sisters and brother and I grew up with. We’re all still alive (loudly and colorfully so, especially in groups, and often when alone) considering that toys in those days didn’t come with warnings about small parts or sharp edges or even polyvinylchloride fumes; even plastic bags today are covered with dire warnings– you’re not supposed to leave the baby alone with them. These days, even pool toys are oddly labeled:
NOT TO BE USED AS A LIFESAVING DEVICE.
In my conscious childhood, which lasted from 1959 through 1969, many toys were potential weapons of mass destruction, and you didn’t have to travel all the way to Iraq to look for them– they were right there under the tree, shiny and beckoning…
The Easy Bake Oven. These small ovens painted in lead-based (no doubt) enamel enabled the young future Mommy to bake tiny cakes and little cookies for the family. My little sister Lois had one– in Aqua, I think– and she fed us for days on her little creations. First introduced to an innocent world in 1963 by Kenner, it’s gone through various permutations. Originally, the heat was supplied by a ten thousand megawatt light bulb which rendered a metal cooking top hotter than the surface of the sun. Christmas morning, 1963… prescient Mothers and Fathers also gifted their daughters with fire extinguishers and boxes of bandages, but I always imagine the still, chill air sundered by the sounds of thousands of screaming ambulances rushing their little charges to emergency rooms as the scent of burned miniature chocolate cakes wafted across America.
But did things change? From Wikipedia: “In February 2007, Hasbro and the Consumer Product Safety Commission recalled 985,000 Easy-Bake toy ovens after finding that children’s hands and fingers can get caught in the oven’s opening, thereby posing serious risk of burns. Since the recall, there were at least 249 reports of children getting their hands or fingers caught in the ovens, including 16 reports of second- and third-degree burns, and partial finger amputation.” How lovely! And this after a re-design. I rest my case.
Lego. I loved Lego building blocks and, in fact, any type of construction set. Lincoln Logs? Check. Skyline by Elgo? Check. Kenner’s Girder & Panel and Bridge & Turnpike sets? I had them all, and loved nothing better than creating dream cities with no slums, no packs of wild dogs, and no visible garbage cans.
One day I took all the girders and panels from the Kenner set and constructed two very tall towers rising from a complex of very short buildings. Mom asked what it was, and I said “it’s a world trade center, where all the countries of the world can meet and do business.” This was in about 1964, when I was eight; she expressed doubt that anything like that would ever be built.
Lego sets were especially composed of tens of millions of tiny pieces, though I remember no warnings about not swallowing any of them. You could build working clocks and little gas stations, but the projects never looked quite sleek enough, what with all those lumpy raised dots.
Last year when I went to Disney with cousin Matt, I bought myself a new set, which allows you to build three different house models. They now have pieces that resemble trees and bushes and flowers, and there are clear swinging doors and ways to make ornate front porches. All very fascinating, though I still have to remind myself not to swallow the pieces.
Flubber. Apparently still made, this is a rubbery compound that, especially after a day of play, resembles nothing more than a huge wad of something that comes out of your nose. A movie was even made in 1961 about its gravity-defying properties, starring Fred MacMurray and Nancy Olson. Unfortunately, the Flubber of my youth was recalled; it was giving off something noxious, and all of us– we ALL owned a glob– had to get rid of it. (That’s what the Staten Island landfill is made of.) These days I presume that the formula is non-toxic, but for a while there it was thrilling to be the owner of something that could have brought civilization to a screeching halt.
Chemistry Sets. Don’t even get me started– I don’t want to know how much sodium bisulfite I may have absorbed through my fingertips when I was a boy. When I got my first chemistry set, Mom diligently helped me through the first few experiments in the instruction guide, which were achingly boring, and then trusted me to continue on my own while she went into the living room and read Valley of the Dolls. Who knows whether I stunted my growth, jump-started my growth, or even brought on early puberty thanks to my ministrations? Like a bespectacled Dr. Jekyll, I mixed and measured and decanted and brewed, all toward an end I have mercifully forgotten. (If I glow green at night, it’s because the street light is shining through my bedroom window.)
The Great Garloo. This 2-foot tall, green plastic monster arrived in 1961, and of course I had to have one. A battery-driven device made him go every which way but the way you wanted him to, and his head sported an attractive raised ridge. He was supposed to be a monster but, unformed blob that I was, I always felt a sadness emanating from poor Garloo. Why? Probably because, as fierce as he looked, he was at the mercy of some stupid kid’s whims– give a boy a remote control, and suddenly he’s Napoleon. Poor green Garloo could only wreak mayhem when you ordered him to, and that frozen rictus of bared fangs and red maw snapped at nothing.
Yet– he harbored danger because, in all of America, there was not one little boy who didn’t go to sleep thinking that Garloo was going to come to life, grind toward the bed, and snatch little Jimmy from sleep, eventually managing to drag him outside and into the darkness. Even when you remembered to remove the batteries from the control unit, you suspected that, somehow, Garloo was going to pull off his big shining moment– finally he would become the monster he always wanted to be!
It wasn’t to be; our family came driving down the block from an outing one day and saw Garloo hanging upside down from a tree in the Jones’ front yard; I think one arm was missing. Slow curtain… the end.
I did see a Garloo sold on eBay recently, for more than five hundred dollars. Now, perhaps, the Great Garloo is planning a terrible revenge on some nostalgic Yuppie who remembers the innocent days of his youth. If I were him, I would be very careful when going to sleep.