When we were growing up, one of my siblings' and my favorite toys was this giant, wooden spool.
No, that is not a typo. I didn't mean pool. Spool. Like the kind that could have possibly housed a few hundred miles' worth of thread. I have absolutely no idea where my father got this thing...the dump, perhaps? Or he found it on the side of the road, abandoned by some poor idiot who had no idea the treasure he or she was just throwing away, clueless to the hours and hours of joy and splinters it would bestow upon a crew of lucky kids.
We played all sorts of fun games with this spool, usually orchestrated by my older brother Matt. You remember him...the one who used to convert the bedroom my sister and I shared into a haunted house, complete with nail polish-covered Barbies dangling from the ceiling. The one who used old computer punch cards to make replicas of sharks, guns from the show V, and the entire helicopter cockpit from Blue Thunder. Anyway, he like to use the spool for games of balance and agility. We'd stand on top of it and see how long we could balance before the spool began to roll either under the force of gravity or the force of Matt pushing it so he could watch one of us sail to the ground, where we landed on our asses.
Come to think of it, our father brought home all sorts of cool stuff from the local dump. Saturdays were his preferred day to scavenge, which I guess was because other people from our town brought their castaways there, and our father knew the pickings would be good. Not like he had to fight through a throng of other dumpster divers clamoring for that perfect hubcap, lampshade or Mother's Day gift. We lived in an affluent part of central Jersey, where six kids on a teacher's salary meant toys mostly came by way of hand-me-downs, garage sales, or, on a really good day, the dump. No need to worry about bumping into acquaintances while he was up to his elbows in banana peels. He scored me a Big Wheel there. Purple with yellow trim. He also brought home stereo speakers, few bicycles, toy trucks, Sit-and-Spins, Hoppity Horses. In fact, my most treasured toys came from that giant landfill off of route 206.
Which is why I'm thinking about changing tactics when it comes to obtaining toys for my own children. It seems like stuff I get from Target or the Disney store just doesn't have the same character, the same shelf-life. My children like them, play with them for a little while, but for some reason these toys aren't as captivating as toys that came from the dump. It's like dump toys held this sort of character, this palpable mystique...like people who've come back from the dead. Or have seen the movie Freddy Got Fingered and lived to tell about it instead of stabbing themselves with an icepick through their ear and into their temporal lobe like I'd wanted to do.
Now that the gift-giving orgy that was our December is over, the focus in this house has shifted away from what Elsa and Rollie want for Christmas to what Rollie wants for his birthday. It's less than a month away. And now every time we go anywhere that sells anything that could even be remotely considered a plaything, Rollie asks that we put it on his wish list. This includes the gas station, the post office and the liquor store (what...you don't take your kids to the liquor store? What do you do, leave them in the car?).
I'm sure the fact that we've accumulated an obscene amount of toys over the years doesn't help our children appreciate the finer points of dumpster diving. Their toys have taken over almost every room in our house, and we are now running into the problem of storing them all. Especially now that we have another little juice-dripper on the way. Can't get rid of baby toys until next year. And by then Rollie will have moved onto more complex toys with smaller parts and all kinds of fun things for a baby to chew on. At least as kids get bigger the toys get smaller and easier to store. Until the kid is a 34-year-old man whose ideas of toys are lawn mowers and flat screen TVs. Hopefully Rollie will be out of the house by then.
Anyway, I'm thinking that I need to start incorporating trips to our own local dump in with our weekly errands. I'll dress the kids in some grubby clothes, let them out of the car and tell them that anything they find in the heaps of trash that isn't rusty, falling apart or infested with rat turds is theirs for the taking. Who knows what sort of surprises await us at the Nine Mile Road landfill? Maybe I'll finally get to relive some of my more cherished childhood memories and score a giant spool. And some tetanus, while I'm at it.