How a Girder and Panel Construction Set is like a stuffed squirrel

One of the best presents little boy Spookyblue ever got was his Girder and Panel Construction Set. Black plastic posts and beams interconnect to form a framework. A variety of window panels snap onto the skeleton to form a blue plastic superstructure. Eventually you end up with a very cool Skyscraper.

I love toys like this because there are three stages of fun. The first is the construction process. You can choose to follow the instructions and build any number of models out of the little booklet that came in the box, or you can use your imagination. Guess what I did.

It’s impossible to accurately predict how long any given construction project will last. Hours or days doesn’t really matter unless work began on the coffee table in the living room. In that case, there are definite timelines that one must observe and little sympathy for tears shed when your enterprise is unceremoniously dumped into a cardboard box and parked in the upstairs hallway.

Barring catastrophe, a shiny skyscraper stands tall and proud. Now the second stage of fun begins, and it usually involves Spiderman, aliens, a giant car-eating robot, and a tornado. Robots are usually of Lego origin, but certain rules of ontology limit such cross-platform/genre commingling.

It is widely accepted that the Play Universe is populated exclusively by cars, trucks, robots, monsters, black holes, and Spiderman. More mysterious, however, is the list of unspoken, but explicit, formal requirements that determine the nature of their existence and the relationships they share.

Mismatched scale alone accounts for a huge percentage of failed relationships. For example, a Matchbox car is just a roller skate to a GI Joe action figure. (A real GI Joe is 12″ tall and has a fuzzy beard.) In addition to size, genre also plays a significant role in these relationships. Lincoln Logs can only relate to cowboys and indians, and possibly army men that have been swept backward in time.

That explains why the newly constructed tower is attended mainly by Matchbox and Hotwheels cars, and why there are never any attacks by Tinkertoy contraptions or a giant mad Pooh bear.

Swinging from the highest spire, Spiderman battles the car-eating robot. Then some aliens. A ghost monster. Another robot. This may go on for several days until the fun plays itself out and a final earthquake or tornado critically damages a crucial support, triggering stage three.

The third and final stage is a sort of primal quirk not limited to humans and can be witnessed in any household that has a dog. He has carried around a stuffed squirrel for weeks. He sleeps with it, takes it outside with him on rounds, and when you come home from work, he frantically searches for it to share in the “moment of greeting”. But one day a strange threshhold is reached. A logic gate trips and his darling baby, the soggy friend with whom he has shared such quiet intimacies as to make poets weep, is gleefully and mercilessly gutted on the living room carpet. All that’s left is the shredded carcass and a localized snow storm of polyfill stuffing.

A similar storm of violence reduces the skyscraper to a heap. Now liquidated, it is dismantled and returned to its box under the bed where it waits for the day when it will rise again like a blue plastic Phoenix. I find a long plastic tube that holds several yet-to-be-colored fuzzy black posters rolled up inside. And the package of felt tip markers hasn’t been opened yet. Sweet.

One Response to “How a Girder and Panel Construction Set is like a stuffed squirrel”

  1. Why on EARTH have you not published a book, yet? Your writing style is lovely.
    My two favorite presents:
    Jayne West, because she came with her own horse, spurs, a Colt .45 and a rifle.
    Derry Derring, because she rode a motorcycle. I even forgave the fact she was dressed in a pink motorcycle outfit.
    Adult ShellHawk bought a real Mustang horse at a horse auction, can shoot pretty darn well, and has her motorcycle license. (She just knows enough about driving motorcycles to know she’ll get herself killed, so she doesn’t ride.)
    Ah, to be that young hooligan that gave my mother fits, again.