A totally unexpected, early Christmas gift from The Chef:
My mom has long been one of my heroes (heroines?) and a champion of my creative impulses and flights of imagination. One of the earliest examples of her limitless support was the Fiddlesticks sets she bought me.
Here it is. The Knickerbocker Fiddlesticks World of Mazu building set. Been looking for it for about five years now. This is one of the earliest toys I can ever remember having.
Gaze upon this image and appreciate it. You don’t know what I had to do to get it. Well, okay, I actually just had to look it up on Google, but it was only after five years of searching for the set, in addition to another couple of nights looking for it again (due to the fact that, uh, I forgot what it was called). But MAN, that second search was ridiculous; there were virtually no pictures of the set anywhere on the net, no matter how many search terms I submitted. Eventually, I had to resort to looking in the one place I suddenly remembered the pic would be – on my Facebook page, where I posted it three years ago.
This is what happens when I put things away. I can never find them again.
The Knickerbocker Fiddlesticks sets were comprised of a series of multi-colored tubes, about the thickness of a #2 pencil, which varied in length, along with a variety of two-, three-, and four-pronged connectors for putting the tubes together. Every unit was packaged with larger, plastic shell pieces that allowed the builder to make various objects, from vehicles, to buildings, to otherworldly Lovecraftian horrors of gargantuan proportions. “Action” figures (they could bend over and sit down) were included with the sets. The Knickerbocker company had a long tradition of making toys from licensed characters, and they continued in that vein with several popular Marvel and DC superheroes, including Spider-Man and Superman. One side of the figures was decorated with decals, with the characters standing invariably with arms akimbo.
Above: A Batman set. I had that one too.
As my little brain grew more and more complex in its ability to comprehend and appreciate my toys, I began to realize that the Fiddlesticks World of Mazu set had a certain aspect to it that I hadn’t noticed in other building toys: you could build stuff with Legos and Lincoln Logs, but this thing was candy-colored conflict and excitement in one large box. On the one hand, you get two astronauts. On the other, you’re presented with an absolutely massive alien, the dimensions of which you, the builder, could dictate. Though it’s solid, intimidating face and clawed feet looked a bit incongruous when mounted on its skeletal rainbow body, for one of the first times in my young life I had been presented with a toy that contained both antagonist and protagonists (or vice-versa) in one package.
Being a child who enjoyed the simple narrative of good-vs.-evil, the two astronauts would always have to be on their guard from becoming a snack for the malignant Mazu (I don’t recall ever using that appellation, however. Prolly just called it ‘the monster’). For his part, Maz was no passive threat. He was packaged with two huge pincers that the builder could operate manually, trapping the perpetually-in-profile explorers and dragging them off to their doom. Sadly, it wasn’t in my nature at the time to spin an adventure wherein the obviously enraged Mazu was an innocent actor somehow being provoked by the astronauts, possibly bugged by their environmentally-destructive attempts to score some unobtanium or some such.
But it mattered little. What I had was a toy that allowed me, though I was unaware at the time, to explore my ever-growing love of speculative fiction and storytelling. This was a toy that I could build into almost literally anything I wanted (a spaceship could be constructed as well, as the packaging shows), with an obvious push towards the realm of the FAR OUT! If I wanted to follow the included instructions and build Mazu, or a starship, or just a plastic thingamabob from Fancyville, I was free to do so. It wasn’t the little white connectors that kept my creations together, it was my imagination.
And this was one of the many reasons why my mom was my hero. No matter what my report card may have said, no matter how unprofitable a future in being a chronicler of the impossible may seem, she never stopped feeding my imagination, never stopped inspiring me, pushing me, challenging me to consider things from different angles in order to become a better storyteller.
Between that, those wonderful memories of her showing me how to put Mazu together, and the tireless work she did to keep Mike and me rolling in toys to begin with (obviously having dealt with proper food, housing, and healthcare first), my mom enriched my life in ways I can’t begin to thank her for.
Nevertheless: Thanks, Mom.