Saturday, June 30, 2012
ZBots - A Childhood In Plastic or Trips Down Dim Memory Lane
I can recall the too-bright Florida afternoon when my father drove us, my sister and me, to Toys R Us, the church of our childhood fancy. We'd often wander its aisles taking in the wonder produced by manufacturers like Mattel and Galoob while my father followed close behind. My mother would wait in the car. Mounted upon the perforated display walls we'd see faces from our beloved Saturday morning cartoons beaming down at us with painted-on grins. It was heaven and I was cloud-seated with harp in hand.
My father would, despite his powerful disinterest in my interests, occasionally call my attention to some new magnificent toy he was waving about which he would then re-shelve and have us be on our way. I'd rush back, grab it, and then spend the remainder of our time in the store extolling the virtues of the toy and desperately attempt to sell him on the idea that I should be its new owner. This worked every once in a great while, but usually I'd end up severely disappointed. One time, specifically on that easily recalled sunny afternoon, I managed to convince him to buy me the toy upon which my child mind was fixated during that particular visit to the toy store. They were called ZBots, and little did I know, they were to give me hours and hours of imagination exercise, tremendous joy, and escape from some of the harshness of my early life.
Being very young and coming from a family that had perpetually unhappy parents and little in the way of money and material wealth, I tended to get quite creative when playing with my toys, and I'd play with them as often as I could alone in my room away from the family. There were some kids, few that I knew personally, would have the awesome, ginormous playset with all the add-ons and fancy gadgets that was produced specifically for their figures. My figures would wander the wilds of bunched up cowboy sheets or borrow the Ghostbuster's Station, my one and only and greatly worn playset. So it was a common thing to see the four Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles hang out atop old Spook Central, a basic, plastic model of a typical New York Brownstone, instead of in their cool sewer lair with neat defense features and bright-colored decals. This often bummed me out. When it came to the ZBots, though, for some reason it didn't matter that I didn't have the proper playset. They were able to go, and did often go, anywhere and everywhere.
There was the white bot who dual-wielded sledgehammers, I called him Sledge, naturally. He was probably my favourite, but my child mind made me feel like I had to pay attention to the other figures first, who weren't as interesting, because they might feel left out. I can recall feeling terrible that the cool-looking cyber-dreadlocked Void with the robin's egg blue paint job and the flipper feet was a Void. He looked so cool, but he wasn't one of the good guys. For some reason I lacked the ability to allow for redemption plots in my action figure play, otherwise he would have played the part of Dinobot in my ZBots fantasies.
I'd whip up adventurous plots for my ZBots as they fought against the sinister Voids. Some of them would battle over cloth hills while others, the smarter-looking ones to my mind, would sit behind cover and discuss plot. It was a wild world of roleplay and science-fiction marvel happening upon my bed day in and day out. When my parents would row I'd duck back into my room and remind myself of how fascinating my ZBots were. I'd have them fight for me, or have them work out a peace which seemed far easier to constant struggle. They spoke for me silently in my solitude while my world fell apart and reassembled beyond my bedroom door.
It's been over fifteen years since I first received and played with my ZBots. In the time since my family has broken apart, but I still hold on to that fierce fire of imagination those little, colorful bits of plastic helped me grow and preserve. I recently found my ZBots in an old tote after my wife and I moved into our new apartment. Common sense dictated that I should display them proudly instead of throwing them out or donating them, as I unfortunately did with other bits of my younger years. Up until I glanced them in their plastic home of over a decade I felt that it was time to grow up and get rid of all the random bits of junk from my youth. Rediscovering them and viewing them now as they sit atop my television reminds me that childhood treasures should never be tossed aside or forgotten to the death of their significance. They should be kept, revisited, and maybe even shared. Here's to the toys that enriched my life and stoked the fires of my dreaming mind.