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.