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They stood in their colorful cardboard boxes, regiments of laser armed plastic figures, beckoning for adventure. I was on a shopping errand at Target, pushing my little red cart through the store while keeping an eye out for decent deals. When I drifted into the toy aisle … Instead of speeding through, I froze in front of the action figure shelves as a blast of nostalgia drove my memory back in time to the fifth grade. Hasbro had re-minted all the toys I grew up adoring — in vintage packaging! Luke Skywalker in Bespin gear, Jabba the Hut play set and the coveted G.I. Joe Sky Striker Combat Jet. (I was a virgin in high school, Dungeons and Dragons manual included.)
When I was a boy I spent hours staring longingly at the back of toy boxes, at all the figures I didn’t have. Now, at long last, I could finally buy all the toys I ever wanted. I loaded my cart with everything I could get my hands on, and then stopped midway, when another thought struck me; where am I going to put all this stuff? And worse, what would a grown ass man want with toys? Then, a sort of sadness touched me. I put everything back, and walked away.
After sharing the experience with my girlfriend, she said the same thing happened to her, except instead of toys it was with candy. When she was a girl, she craved candy for breakfast lunch and dinner. As a child, that may sound amazing, but as an adult with knowledge of health and nutrition, it’s ridiculous.
In a way, the notion that I’m a grown ass man makes me feel like I’m going through second puberty. Having to acclimate to a new stage of adulthood that’s filled with different customs and expectations that are often very subtle and marked by a kind of civilized brutality. What didn’t seem relevant in my youth, things like physical and financial limitations have come to the forefront of my mind. There’s also the silent trepidation of time accelerating and the need to spend it correctly so that your life has more meaning in your own eyes. A family friend once shared, “Children think that adults have all the answers to life’s questions, and then they grow up to become adults and realize we’re just as clueless as they are.”
Life has changed in subtle ways too. I have a job, I pay bills, hell I even use Rogaine. Just yesterday I was a fresh-faced college graduate, but now that I’m five years into my job, I’m meeting new employees who were juniors and seniors in high school back when I was first hired. I’m beginning to be surrounded by friends who are newly married and having kids.
There’s this internal struggle within me, one part of my soul yearning to accept the role of an adult, and while the other is nostalgic and clinging to whatever relics of my childhood I can get a hold of. Maybe that’s why all the franchise reboots and retro rereleases Hollywood is pushing work at the box office, because just for a little while, audiences get to be a kid again. It reminds me of the Twilight Zone episode Walking Distance. Where a young insurance executive’s car breaks down in Upstate New York. He realizes that he’s just a jaunt from his hometown, so he takes a stroll back to discover his town has reverted to the era from when he was a boy, and he yearns to share a message with his past self.
“I only wanted to tell you that this is a wonderful time of life for you. Don’t let any of it go by without enjoying it. There won’t be any more merry-go-rounds, no more cotton candy, no more band concerts. I only wanted to tell you that this is a wonderful time for you. Now. Here. That’s all…”
I returned to my hometown this past November, on Maui, Hawaii. For the most part, home was the same, quaint, tropical and friendly town from memory, but it was I who had changed. I, who once was a local my whole life had been transformed into a tourist. A few of my friends kept asking me what I was doing back home, and I didn’t really have an answer. Maybe I didn’t want to admit that I was just trying to relive a part of my childhood, or at least try to keep it in memory so that I’d never forget.
I even revisited my alma-mater, Maui High and was blown away at how idyllic the campus was. I hated high school but coming back, I couldn’t believe that such a warm sunny place was where I amassed so much depression and angst in my early youth. This verdant campus was an unstoppable soul-crushing machine when I was 15?
It has a backdrop of mountains! Mountains I tell you!
The trip was incredible, but was a tad bittersweet, because I couldn’t go back to the home that I remembered. Not to that era of being a carefree boy, living in Hawaii during the 1990’s who watched Dark Wing Duck, played Sega, drank Capri Sun and went pool hopping at the resorts. As a friend put it, “When your younger all you want to do is get older, and when you’re older all you want to do is get younger. It’s a universal feeling.”
I’m still young, and I suppose it’s better to be a grown ass man, than being a grown ass boy. But one evening, after all this wistfulness had me in melancholy, a thought flitted in my mind that gave me some solace. Maybe I don’t need the toys, not just because I’m an adult, but because I have a great imagination, and that’s the one toy you should never throw out. Then again, there’s always EBay.
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Originally from Maui, Hawaii, Joshua is a writer and humorist. He has written articles for Heeb Magazine, co-wrote the produced game show pilot Geek Vs. Geek for OMFGeek.com and is a contributing joke writer for the Marvel comedy web-series, Marvel Heroes What The?! Joshua is the recipient of a Devery Freeman Prize in Screenwriting, a Brooklyn College Departmental Award for Distinguished Television Writing, and an Upright Citizen’s Brigade Diversity Scholarship.
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