Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Reading Rainbow

Were your parents too cheap to buy you a Shogun Warrior when you were a kid? Did they not love you enough to shell out for a complete set of Strawberry Shortcake dolls? You're a grown-up now - head to the flea market or Ebay and fill that nagging hole in your soul! Who's going to stop you? Your spouse or significant other? Your financial planner? Why are they trying to keep you down? Do they hate your happiness and well-being?

As a kid I wanted anything associated with Star Wars, even more so than dinosaurs and Peanuts, my previous obsessions. Put a Star Wars sticker on a comb and I'd start negotiating: "Mom! Dad! You know how much I love combing my hair - please, please, please get this for me. I won't ask for anything else until Christmas, I swear. I'll brush my hair every morning please, please, please!" Then I'd get it, be a styling combed hair little kid for a couple days until I got bored and wanted a Star Wars pencil holder or trash can.

Couple weeks ago I finally recalled the name of a Star Wars book I had as a kid. The way I remembered it, it tied the movie in with its influences in westerns, war movies, and science fiction serials. There was photo of John Wayne from The Searchers, as well as that half guy from Freaks that I'd dare myself to look at. There was a chapter on Universal monsters which I was also getting into at the time. Even though it was a kid's book, it still planted the seed of an idea that a movie (or any artwork, actually) is more than what's on the screen, it's all sorts of previous influences and inspiration and can be a way to understand the bigger culture.

This meant that I was one of the few kids on the playground in Mississippi who was able to say with an affected sigh, "Yeah, Star Wars was OK, but it was better the first time when Kurosawa called it Hidden Fortress."

After finding the generically named The Star Wars Album on Amazon for three bucks (and 25 on Ebay - come on people, knock it off), I found that I was sorta right in my memories. The Star Wars Album is a quickie production with no author listed but manages to be better than it should be. The first twenty pages or so deal with the influences, then about a third of the book is taken up with movie summary, then there's info on the art and models and behind the scenes stuff.

Flipping through it, I remembered how many of the movie photos I tried to draw (and also remembered how I was sort of annoyed the book spelled out names like Artoo Deetoo.). And yeah, the picture from Freaks that fascinated and terrified me was there, ready to terrify me again.

This photo really  messed with me as a kid.
Funny how such an obvious cash-in held such a place in my memory for so long, and I'd suspect began my obsession to research and investigate my media tastes, from finding out all I could about the movies that influenced Star Wars (well, the monster and sci-fi stuff) to poring over Thank You notes on punk albums and noting what shirts my favorite bands wore to find more musical obsessions, the book started me down a collector nerd path of which I've only recently sort of stepped off of.

Years later (or between Star Wars movies) I was became obsessed with the Hardy Boys. I saved all my money to buy as many books as I could. I wanted a brother I could solve crimes with (I had a perfectly fine sister, but detectives seemed to travel in same-sex groups), and if I couldn't have that, at least give me a bumbling fat comic relief character who would blurt out something so stupid yet genius that he would help crack our case.

I had a friend who was equally obsessed, and we'd trade books after school in my mom's classroom, filling in the gaps in our respective collections. He had one book, however, that he would not part with - The Hardy Boys Detective Handbook. I don't blame him at all. Damn, did I want that book. I needed that book. He wasn't using it - he never told me about solving any crimes or tracking clues at all. It just sat in  his stupid house while crime ran rampant in Bradenton.

I did get to borrow it, and committed some of the techniques to memory, which is more than he ever did. In the years since I've forgotten most of it, but I did remember it had a glossary of criminal slang which I hoped I'd overhear some unsavory character use someday so I could tell the cops or my dad or something.

I figured while I was buying ancient Star Wars books, I should probably shell out for the Detective Handbook. Who knows, maybe it had as big an effect on me as The Star Wars Album did. Or maybe I can finally launch that detective agency this city needs, or at least learn some cool old-timey slang.

I had completely forgotten that Detective Handbook opens with a bunch of  chapter-long cases designed to illustrate different aspects of detecting to junior sleuths. Like one chapter would deal with making plaster casts, one would tell you how to dust for fingerprints, that sort of thing. Also, one chapter is called "The Case of the Shabby Shoes," which I think was Tim Gunn's first big case. These were kind of cool, but learning that criminals call the electric chair "pew" or a passer of counterfeit money is called a "queer shover" (at least whenever this thing was first published) is sure to repay the 2 dollars I paid for it in no time.
Sharpening my observation skills.
Overall, it's not as corny as I would have thought, and had I owned it when I was younger, many crimes might not have gone unsolved, or maybe I could have used my powers of deduction to free some innocent people. Instead, my meager detective skills were put to use investigating bands and records, crime continued to spiral, and we ended up electing a TV conman as President of the United States.

One of the great things about being an adult is that you're fee to use your wealth and discretion to fill up those nagging holes in your soul. So check that Paypal account! Hit the yard sales this weekend! Get on Ebay at work! You've got childhood trauma to fix!

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