One of the best things about childhood is the freedom to create your own little world through the magic of imagination. No credit card debt, no significant others, no need to brush your teeth. The funny thing about a child's imagination is that the basic ideas have to come from somewhere: maybe a book, maybe a stuffed animal, but in my case (and probably yours) it was most definitely the old, brown & silver RCA television set.
The flood of pictures and information that hit me every morning (and mid-morning when my Mom was watching The Young & The Restless) was impossible to ignore and provided me with many moments of joy when I was away from its hypnotic glow. This article is going to focus on my favorite TV and Movie inspired pretend play moments from my childhood. I'll be very curious at the end to read your comments and find out where your imaginations took all of you when it was time to pretend.
One of my earliest memories is the fusion of 80's aerobics class and the musical magic of the Ghostbusters. Once a week when I was about 5 there was a free amateur aerobics class for local women (mostly Moms) in our church gymnasium. My Mom was as into fitness as anyone back then what with her vitamins, rowing machine and stationary bicycle, but I'm sure it was the social/communal aspect of putting on spandex and jumping around like "Maniac, Maniac..." that had her dragging me with her to the gymnasium each week. I remember that all the kids were basically given freedom to explore and while playing with blocks as "St. Elmo's Fire" blasted on in the distance was OK, I was always waiting for one special song with which to rally the troops. I got pretty savvy to the aerobics play list rotation and as soon as the latest Gloria Estefan tune was done I knew it was time for "Ghostbusters"! That's when I would grab the nearest Popcorn-Ball-Pushee-Thing for a Proton Gun and get all the kids to follow me around (as Venkman, of course) while we pretended to blast ghosts.
I felt so much joy and excitement as we went running up and down steps and in between the curtains on the gym stage. Then when the breakdown in the song came I would tell whoever was playing Egon to "Throw the trap" and they would slide a plastic play phone across the floor to capture Slimer. You may ask why I got such a rush out of this, the answer is very simple, "Bustin' Makes Me Feel Good!"
Around this time I also thought my older brother (by 17 years) was about the coolest guy in the world (He's still cool, but he's no Robert Downey, Jr.). Whenever he would take me on an errand with him, I felt like Luke Skywalker was inviting me to take a joyride in an X-Wing fighter, barrel rolls and all. In reality my brother drove a VW Rabbit, but remember, this is all about imagination. The fact that he was blaring the Star Wars soundtrack probably contributed a great deal to the illusion as well.
The best part was when we would drive by these mechanical city rigs that looked like oil pumps (but I didn't grow up in Texas so I can only assume they were pumping water). The cool thing about these pumps is that they resembled those Imperial Walkers from Empire Strikes Back, so I would pretend to blast them while my brother drove. Then there was that day I didn't shut my door all the way when we got in the car and on a left hand turn my door swung open ALMOST flinging me out into a galaxy far, far away. Yeah, after that I had my brother switch over to the Care Bears soundtrack.
When I was playing with the neighborhood kids I would always get dragged into acting out shows that I had never seen before. Apprently my mom and dad weren't as lenient as other kids parents during prime time, because while I was watching "Family Ties" my friends were watching "MacGyver".
So we'd been in the backyard having emptied the contents of the "What-Not Drawer" from the kitchen and this kid Kelly would start building stuff. "What am I supposed to do?" I'd ask. "You're the guy that distracts the bad guys while I build a rocket launcher with this Realtors magnet and a rubber band."
So I'd just yell, "Hurry, they're coming!" Needless to say I wasn't running to the TV every night to re-live those "exhilarating" moments. I didn't even catch MacGyver until it was in reruns on the USA Network and even then I was like, "Show-off".
The most confusing show to me was when Kelly wanted to play "Miami Vice". At least I had heard of MacGyver, but these guys might as well have been from the Russian version of "My Three Sons" for all I knew about 'em. Either way, Kelly knew exactly who they were and was very clear about the casting of the roles.
"I'm Crockett, you're Tubbs" Kelly would demand. "Ok, I don't care. What does Tubbs do?" Kelly never really had an answer for that question, so I would just follow his lead. "Look out, drug dealers! Get down, they're shooting Uzis at us!" (Back then every gun was an Uzi). It wasn't until years later that I found out Tubbs was Black. Wait, you wanted a chubby, pale, white kid to be Tubbs? (Forget, my brother, I'm no Robert Downey, Jr. either) For shame, Kelley.
There were a lot of other shows that inspired brief moments of pretend play, but there wasn't a whole lot to go off of. For example I liked to pretend that (now let me make this very clear) I had THE POWERS of Evie from "Out of This World" (not that I WAS Evie, I just had her powers!).
You remember, she would put her to fingers together and freeze time, then she would clap them together to un-freeze everything. But then what do you do? No one wanted to be Uncle Beano, so unless you had glass cuboid thing to talk to and pretend it was your Alien father, you were stuck.
Same thing with playing Captain N: The Game Master, I would wrap the NES controller around my waste like his belt and press Pause to freeze time, but no one could do Mother Brain's voice to my satisfaction so I pretty much played that one alone, too. Although that situation pretty much came by circumstance when all the other kids were busy playing video games and didn't want to join in the "Baby Games".
My imagination didn't shut down like all the other kids my age, so when 6th grade came around, I was still wanting to act out the adventures of my TV heroes. Power Rangers had just debuted and I was a Morphoholic! Not so much on the merchandise end of things, but just getting lost in the concept.
I even went so far as to make my own Morpher and Power Coin out of cardboard and that shiny, silver air-duct tape. I used to wear it on my belt under my shirt and when no one was looking I would take the transformation stance and doing my best Austin St. John impression shouting with determination, "It's Morphin' Time!". Yes, very sad.
What never got old was Play-Fighting. Boys like to fight, no matter what age we are, so I could always mask pretend play as just a re-creation of our latest game of Street Fighter II. The best place to do this was at the local pool because the buoyancy we got from the water allowed us to do all the aerial tricks within that liquid space and re-create fireballs out of H20.
Try it next time you're in the pool: just put your wrists together, swirl your arms in a circle from back to front and you're a regular Ryu, my friend. You could do M. Bison's horizontal flying attack by propelling yourself off of the pool wall or do a back flip like Blanka. Oh, the joys of violence and imagination.
My last moment of true pretend play where I let my imagination run the show, took place during the summer of 7th grade. (Sure, nowadays I roam the streets asking people if they want to play Bionic 6 with me, but I consider that more of a performance art piece.)
We were spending the night at my friend Devin's house and the X-Men animated series on FOX was all the rage. We had finished our Pizza, we were too full for Ice Cream, so we headed out to the park for Night Play. Yeah, there was something magical about going to make use of the park play equipment at night. It was our last chance to really call ourselves "Kids" (After all, 8th Graders are like the Seniors of Middle School) and we made the most of it.
Devin was Wolverine, Lawrence was Gambit and I was Cyclops. It was like we were going through Danger Room exercises as we jumped from platform to platform and swung from the rings. "Look out, Wolverine, it's Mr. Sinister!" "Don't worry, Cyke. I got these-SNIKT!" "I got your back, Mon Ami". We were really living it up with that last ounce of imagination we had left to give. Eventually Wolverine/Devin's Berserker Rage got the best of him and he turned on his teammates, oh it was high drama!
It kind of reminds me of that Twilight Zone episode where the old people go out to play one night to reclaim their youth and literally become kids again. We didn't turn into 6 year olds, but at least we remembered what it was like to be carefree and unashamed of our minds at work.
Nowadays I get my kicks by imagining that I have enough expendable cash to buy a that giant flat screen at Best Buy, but then the Mailman knocks on the door and delivers that stack of "Gimme, Gimme" letters aka bills and reality sets in again. Really though, I don't know why the mailman always hands me the bills face to face, I have a mailbox!
I guess next time he comes to the door I'll just bust out the old cardboard Morpher and shout, "Rita and Lord Zedd have unleashed a new monster on the city, Zordon needs our help, It's Morphin' Time!" Yeah, that ought to keep him from comin' around for about a year, that and the flying drop-kick I knock him out with when he tries to run away. It's called imagination, fool. DEAL WITH IT!