I’m getting to an age where, for one thing, I start to say things like “I’m getting to an age,” and for another I am starting to seriously evaluate everything I own which, it must be said, isn’t much.
Still, it oftentimes seems like excess. If this sounds familiar, well, I’ve heard it before too: time to put away childish things and all that business. Among the most intrusive possessions I must count books, war gaming miniatures, and a toy collection.
Why keep these things? Well, it must be said that the books I own are reduced down from a stack several times their number which I kept in Las Vegas. I would conservatively estimate giving away some three hundred books before I moved back to Michigan, and to reduce my collection down to only books with great personal significance or artifact significance (that is, first editions, signed copies, the sort of things that people tell you to hold on to because they might be worth money someday) was a herculean feat of sacrifice.
The wargaming miniatures are at least practical insofar as I do a fair bit of wargaming when time permits. There’s a diminishing return in having a large collection, of course – if you buy a miniature to represent, say, the sergeant of the guard in the town of New Phlan and you paint his tunic green, his shield orange, and his sword a gleaming white then naturally he’s useless as the sergeant of the guard in the town of Old Nalph as that soldier would wear a blue tunic, a red shield, and a sword of shimmering gold. Regardless, that doesn’t stop me from buying new miniatures every time I want to start a new campaign, and naturally forgetting about perfectly usable old miniatures which would be acceptable stand-ins for new heroes and villains.
Still, at least you could say that I’m doing something with them. Furthermore, the better part of them are for specific armies in specific games, and those games require the right miniature for the right army because the companies that make those games are douchenozzles.
Which brings us to the last items that I’m hard pressed to explain owning, even moreso than worn-out T-shirts and underwear with no elastic: my toy collection.
It’s not even like I take these things out for display (with the exception of all four original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, none of them are MIB). No, they’ve been sitting in either a sterilite tub or a busted-up moving box for the last three years. Why bother keeping them at all?
Like a lonely stray cat, little bits of old identity follow me around. It’s the same for all of us, naturally – an old shirt we can’t throw out, a drink we keep ordering even though we can’t stand the hangover, the ballgag an old ex stuffed in your mouth as she rode you around like a horse before leaving you tied up in a downriver basement as she drove away to Chicago never to be seen again outside of America’s Most Wanted – all things we acquire when we find them and say “this is it, this is me!”
The problem is that these things don’t stay me for long. Even many of the seemingly timeless items of which I’m so fond can be outgrown – what use is my silver cigarette case now that I have largely forgone smoking? Why should I need two hip pocket flasks (one in silver for black, one in brown for brown) if I were to give up hard liquor? Why would I even think that would happen?
In 1988 I was obsessed with Robotech. O-B-S-E-S-S-E-D. For those unfamiliar, it’s the story of a spaceship that crossed the galaxy and landed on earth, nearly destroying it, and the subsequent adventures of three generations of earthlings as they try to piece their existence back together. It was a TV show 85 episodes long, cobbled together out of three completely unrelated Japanese series. It was a role playing game using a rather obviously rushed half-completed version of the Palladium system by Detroit’s own Kevin Simbieda.
It was of course also a toy line, and I remember sitting on the cigarette-burned second-hand couch in my mom’s rented trailer home in Roger’s Heights, Michigan, staring at the back of the box for a Swanson Beef Pot Pie which promised that for just three UPC symbols and 4.95 shipping and handling, they would send me one OFFICIAL Robotech Excalibur Destroid toy! I was twelve years old, and I hadn’t had a new toy that didn’t come from a gumball machine since Reagan’s first term. I wanted it desperately, but at the time 4.95 was simply beyond my reach. That was more change than I could hope to steal or find, and too many beer bottles to pick up (my mom drank 40 ouncers).
My friends down the row, the Godbees, had just about every Robotech toy ever made (excepting the SDF-1) and I was so very, very jealous. They mowed lawns in the summer and then squandered their gains on toys and video games while their mother bought macaroni and cheese with food stamps. The brothers wouldn’t have me along on their mowing business, and as we had no mower of our own I was out of luck in terms of payable work that a young kid could do.
Still I coveted those toys and the amazing adventures to be had. I kept playing the role playing game which, while fun and satisfying in its own right, fueled my desire for Chinese plastic. Unfortunately, Robotech was introduced in 1983 and even by 1988 it had pretty much run its course. The toys eventually disappeared from retail stores and since Ebay hadn’t been invented yet, those that remained were destroyed or locked up in garages, abandoned, and forgotten.
Then, in 1994, a now mostly forgotten cartoon show called Exosquad rather obviously borrowed some of Robotech’s mecha designs. In one of those super ultra rare instances of corporate lawyers getting together and not just ruining something awesome, the makers of Exosquad and the producers of the Robotech toy and cartoon lines got together and – be still my boyish heart – REPRINT MOST OF THE OLD ROBOTECH TOYS!
I was ecstatic – I bought them all (except for the female power armor figure which is just a crappy repaint of the male power armor figure). I not only bought them all, but I bought duplicates. I then went out to collector’s meets and bought the stuff that was out of print. I developed a wonderful collection, one that rivalled the Godbee’s, and was a culmination of my wanton robophillia.
I bought them, I displayed them, I may in fact have pretended they were shooting at each other over the streets of Macross city, but now they’re sitting in a box in my dad’s basement and I don’t feel I can throw them out.
There’s no answer here, no quick fix to my ever present storage problem. Call it human nature, if you must. The things that were me remind me of who I was, good or bad. Old teddy bears, old love letters, card keys from hotel rooms, post cards, toy collections, posters, jackets we’ve outgrown, books we’ll never read again – they follow us around like lonely cats we can’t shoe away. They were us, and when we see them, we re-become that old us for just a while; and old me was pretty awesome.
Looking Back – 9 June 2021
A bit rambly, a lot self-indulgent, but to this day Robotech is still one of my favorite things AND I still have a LOT of those old toys, and in particular ALL of the Robotech toys. Since this post I don’t think I accumulated any more, but just last month I went through and carefully re-wrapped my collection in bubble wrap for future preservation.
The comics I kept too, though I don’t have any great affection for. And as for wargaming miniatures? Oh that’s a whole THING. All the Warhammer 40k stuff is long gone – sold to pay for moving money as I started a new career in Miami. No big loss as I had not played 40k in years. If I recall correctly, the last game I even played was in 2012 or 2013, and by 2017, when I sold everything, the dust was starting to gather. I have since replaced those figures, numerically speaking, with more versatile D&D / Frostgrave minis. Not that anyone asked.
Ugh, I nearly forgot that I also kickstarted the Robotech RPG Tactics disaster…what an absolute shit show that was. No need really to detail it here – you can read all about how the company burned through $1.4 Million without a worthwhile product…I also kickstarted the CAV reboot, but that game just hasn’t taken off. I sold that stuff this year and have subsequently embracing the magic of purging.
Of all the posts that would prove relevant to my career, this one (with its focus on materials and meaning) is probably in the top 10. Outside of fiction, zooming in on rhetoric, I am at least on paper a material rhetorician studying clothing and its a/effects. That study also spills into my rhetoric sections, writing and new media, and writing studies. Only my technical communication classes eschew studying unlikely materials as rhetoric, but even then I at least give a short presentation on clothing e.g. “professional dress”
The interest in things remains. The interest in how those things inform us, become us, and propel us, doubly so.