Remember action figures?
Like all my childhood desires for material things, my yearning for action figures began at another kid’s house. One Sunday afternoon, my parents consulted the magic directory of boys my age who lived nearby, and conveyed me to a house I’d never before seen. And as I entered the boy’s den, it was as if I had discovered an underground city of gold.
In this room were these little plastic figures. Properly known as “Masters of the Universe,” I referred to them by the name of their fearless leader, He-Man.
The display was intoxicating. It seemed like there were hundreds of figures standing up to greet me. My new best friend let me touch them, pick them up, and pretend that they were mine for a few seconds before he took them away, wiping each one down with a sanitized cloth.
As I held He-Man aloft and gazed into his noble face, the first thing I learned was that the figure made me feel powerful and special and convinced that I had to own one. The second thing I learned about action figures was that it was very dangerous to get the web of skin between thumb and forefinger near He-Man’s rotator cuff or hip.
For the rest of that school year, the only thing that I believed would brighten my little world was to own a He-Man figure. “He wants these things called Masters of the Universe,” my mother told my grandmother as my birthday approached. “Just ask for those at the store.”
But instead of the He-Man figure I wanted, my grandmother got me a button shirt that my mother made me wear whenever we went to my grandmother’s house. “I looked all over,” my grandmother said, “going from store to store, but no one had ever heard of the ‘Masters of the Human Race.’ Where are you supposed to find these things?”
Eventually my prayers were answered, and He-Man and a few of his friends had taken the place of my real friends and family. But He-Man needed a place to hang out. The hero of Eternia could not very well lie around on my bedroom floor like in some flophouse. Fortunately, the Mattel company had conveniently solved He-Man’s housing problem by producing a replica of Castle Grayskull, where He-Man went to see the Sorceress, usually after a long wait in the reception area and a $25 co-pay.
All I wanted was that Castle Grayskull. As the holiday season approached I told my parents and everyone I knew that I wanted Castle Grayskull. I pined away at school, my coloring uncolored before me, imagining how Castle Grayskull would look in my room. I pictured how I would wake up every morning, and open its gates, and greet He-Man and his entourage. When I frolicked on the splintered and nail-exposed wood of the playground, I pretended that I was He-Man patrolling the ramparts of the Castle Grayskull that would no doubt soon be mine. And as I laid my weary mop-head to sleep at night, I could see the outline of the great toy sanctuary in the shadows that danced on my cartoon wallpaper.
But my Castle Grayskull never came. I received other toys, toys that time forgot, but my He-Man figures remained nomads on my bedroom floor, and eventually had to opt for a Velcro-sneaker shoebox with a sign out front that said “Interdimensional War Vet – Please Help.” Years later, as I was concluding my therapy, I found out what happened.
“I spoke to the mother of that boy you used to see,” my mother said. “You know, the one with all those He-Man things. And she said, ‘Whatever you do, don’t buy that stupid Castle Grayskull. It’s $30 for a plastic piece of junk.’ So I got you something else instead. I hope that was all right.”
Sometimes I wonder if my life would be any different if I had gotten Castle Grayskull instead of the corduroy shirt with the cat face on the pocket. I found a semi-used Castle Grayskull on eBay, and the small product image sent a shimmer of the power down my spine. But I couldn’t bring myself to enter a bid. For He-Man, and for me, you can’t go home again.