NOVEMBER 2008 – NO. 28
All the really good toys had the potential to maim
Growing up in the 1960s and '70s, my brothers and I had the privilege of playing with toys that were slightly edgy. It was entirely possible you could lose an eye, lacerate yourself or perhaps burn down your family home simply by playing with them. But they were truly great toys. Today's vigorously safety-tested toys pale in comparison since any chance of life-threatening fun has been eradicated. Better living through litigation.
My older brother, Terry, scored the best potentially dangerous toys back then. Me, I only owned one toy that stood a chance of causing bodily harm: the early version of the Easy Bake Oven. Although nowhere near the hazard level of Terry's toys, my friend Jean and I gave it our best shot when we did a little rogue recipe creating in the Easy Bake. Yes, we were among the first pioneers to attempt the homemade version of the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup. A couple heaping scoops of Skippy Peanut Butter and a generous handful of Nestlé Chocolate Chips packed into a mini cake pan. We theorized that a few minutes under a hot light bulb could fuse this combo into a perfect replica of the candy.
Unsupervised? Hell, yeah. Although, Jean's older brother was technically in charge that day. Imagine our excitement as we shoved our concoction through the little slat door and under the white-hot bulb of the Easy Bake, strategically placed on the pink shag carpet of Jean's bedroom floor.
The anticipation was palpable, so was the almost immediate smell of chocolate and peanut butter burning. But we didn't panic. No, we simply scooched back a few feet to give the experiment room to develop. For all we knew, the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup factory smelled exactly like this. Then the flames appeared, first visible through the little oven window and then licking out through the door. Then the bulb burst.
It was either our frantic attempts to vanquish the flames or the intense smell that caught her brother's attention. He grabbed the Easy Bake, yanking its plug right out of the socket, and ran. Once outside, he hurled the flaming Easy Bake into the yard where he proceeded to douse it with the hose. Our hopes of duplicating the famous candy and savoring our sweet success were extinguished there on Jean's lawn.
Naturally, once things settled down, Jean and I extracted the remains of our creation from the smoldering Easy Bake, picked away pieces of broken light bulb and sampled it — just to make sure we hadn't stumbled onto something. Alas, it did not taste remotely like a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup. The smell of burnt chocolate, peanut butter and melted plastic hung in the air — the stench of failure. While my own Easy Bake Oven was safely at home, Jean's oven was sacrificed that day in the name of candy replication science.
Slightly more palatable than our homemade candy — and just as dangerous to make — were my brother Terry's Incredible Edibles. This toy had all the fun and hazard you could ever want and you got to eat your creations. Incredible Edibles involved a chemical candy-like gel called Gobble-Degoop that you squeezed into various mold plates (mostly bug and reptile shapes) then cooked up in the Sooper Gooper, a hot electrical unit that looked an awful lot like one of the Banana Splits. Loads of potential here for second degree burns, electrical shock, fire, perhaps a little food poisoning. At the very least, a mold-shaped scorch mark in the Formica of the family dinner table.
I was never personally allowed to make any Incredible Edibles. I was only allowed to watch. Sometimes, I was allowed to taste. I held the esteemed position of designated mistake-eater. Oh, the anticipation. Hoping and praying that perhaps a root-beer-flavored lizard wouldn't make it through the extraction process and I would be permitted to partake of its broken body parts. And though this did happen on rare occasion, Terry kept very tight control over his Incredible Edibles.
When I recently reminded my brother about his Incredible Edibles he replied, "Oh yeah, tasted like flavored rubber". And that summed it up. Gobble-Degoop wasn't even close to being candy and every single flavor tasted like crap. Didn't bother us in the least that Incredible Edibles weren't "absolutely delicious" as stated on the box.
My brother was also the proud owner of a Vac-U-Form. This baby smelled like the Easy Bake incident even when things were going right. Now here was a toy with Significant Tragic Scenario Potential. Little sheets of plastic melting above a blistering hotplate that you would eventually flip over onto a mold, at which point you wildly pumped the knob on the side of the unwieldy unit to create enough suction to cause the plastic to "vac-u-form" to the mold. Again, I was only allowed to watch.
The recommended method for testing to see if the little plastic sheet had melted enough was to poke at it with the eraser end of a pencil (pencil not included). Finished Vac-U-Form products, however — little plastic boats, cars, picture frames — seemed somewhat low on the "wow" factor. I don't recall Terry putting a whole lot of energy into finishing his creations the way the wholesome kids in the instruction manual did. Clearly, the excitement lay in the plastic melting, the moment of the "flip", and the psychotic pumping action.
Finally, there was The Junior Dynamite Blaster, which used pressurized air to blow Styrofoam bricks (made to look like chunks of cement) sky high. Or at least ceiling high. The Blaster set included an explosion mechanism attached to a considerable amount of tubing which was subsequently attached to the detonating devise, "The Plunger." Remote detonation really appealed to Terry, who utilized the element of surprise whenever possible — the intended outcome that a certain someone might wet her pants. I never did and even if I had, I certainly wouldn't admit it here. I now consider the Junior Dynamite Blaster my early agility and survival training. One needed to be ever vigilant and dive for cover the second you heard that plunger go down somewhere in the house. I can still recall the "Blaster" box, which touted "Harmless Fun" but let me say from experience that a Styrofoam block hurled at appreciable velocity can and will leave a mark.
No, my brother did not grow up to be a home-grown terrorist because of The Junior Dynamite Blaster. And in spite of these great and treacherous toys, we somehow managed to survive our minimally safety-tested childhood.
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