Posted by on July 27, 2017

When I was a kid, besides playing basketball, football and tennis with my friends and classmates, I spent a good deal of time alone.  In my early teenage years, I set up a shop in the basement of our house alongside my brother’s imitation radio disc jockey studio complete with control board with lots of toggle switches and meters and lights that lit up if buttons were pushed in a certain order.  Also down in the basement my father worked on his various wood-building projects.  I remember that table saw would suddenly start blaring in the middle of the delicate work of building model cars.  I think of my mother, alone upstairs, probably quite content to be rid of the males for the evening, listening to the shriek of that saw and the boyish hubbub down below.

In my model building phase, I specialized in one particular model for several years.  The ’32 Ford, a classic hotrod.

I used swatches of corduroy to imitate rolled and pleated leather upholstery.  I chopped and channeled these cars, melting the plastic bodies with wood burning tools.  I’d cut away the hardtops, install swivel bucket seats and door hinges.  I’d coat the bodies with layer after layer of cherry apple red spray paint.  And sometimes if the cars didn’t come out just right, the paint peeled or one of my customizations wrecked the body, I’d take the car out into the backyard, insert a firecracker inside it, and blow the mess up.  Feel free to psychoanalyze.

In my younger years before moving down into the basement, I spent a lot of time on the floor of my living room (photo above) playing with miniature rubber men–cowboys or soldiers were my preferred characters.  I made up stories about Indian attacks, or Germans rolling their tanks across humps of sand in the outdoor sandpile.  (photo below)  That’s me on the right, and my brother John on the left.  Don’t remember the dog.

In that sandpile and others later on, I spent long hours imagining troop movements, repositioning my favorite Captains and Corporals and Privates.  I guess you could consider these battles to be early drafts of my first stories.  I got in the habit of making up narratives that featured heroes and villains.  And with the model cars, I learned to sit still for hours and piece together a complicated structure and then innovate (customize) with my own ideas and add-ons.

Thorn, my fly-tying hero from 14 of the novels, would understand my fascination for building model cars.  And I like to think Harper McDaniel would appreciate the skills I developed by strategizing troop maneuvers to take down a bad guy.  She likes to set traps herself.

And during all those long hours in school classrooms, I remember my eyes drifting to the windows, the slow disengagement from the teacher’s voice or the task at hand.  Daydreaming, imagining.  I spent years doing it to enrich many otherwise tedious hours.  I do it still.

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Comments

  1. Neil Crabtree
    July 27, 2017

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    Building model cars and airplanes was such a wonderful way to concentrate on the here and now. The Matrix doesn’t allow much of that anymore. Staring at glowing rectangles in quiet desperation, waiting for a digital response from someone who is never there, Lordy.
    We are the last generation connected to the crap our teachers were talking about. Kids today are connected electronically to the here and now, while making it look like we were simply attached to the dead and gone. But what happens when the power goes out?

    • JWH
      July 27, 2017

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      What happens when the power goes out? I’m afraid one day soon we’re going to find out.

  2. PJ Parrish
    July 27, 2017

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    What happens when the power goes out is only one of the themes in Emily St. John Mandel’s splendid book “Station Eleven.” I loved this book but not just because I like apocalypic novels. The story is about a motley band of pandemic survivors who wander the wilds putting on Shakespeare’s plays. The troupe’s motto is from “Star Trek” — “Survival is insufficient. ” So the novel about what happens when the power goes out is really about the power of art and imagination. Not just surviving but living. It’s also about hope. It ends with a character who has lived only in post-pandemic darkness viewing the far-off lights of a town coming back to life. Great blog, Jim.

    • JWH
      July 28, 2017

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      Thanks for telling me about this, Kristy. I’ve heard about this book for a long time. Moving it to the top of the list.

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