I found this object in my brother Wylie’s former room. When we were little, we spent a lot of time at my parents store, Architectural Salvage, on 17th and cherry. It was a dark old warehouse that used to be a horse stable. The store was only open on Saturdays, so we were there every Saturday for years. There was a uniform cleaning service across the street and a nasty dive bar next door. I want to say the bar was called Charlie’s. Both of these establishments have since been torn down. But anyway, Wylie and I would be super bored all the time at the shop and so we would entertain ourselves by fighting or scavenging the floors for wire, wood and random pieces of metal to make little sculptures. I think this piece was one of the sculptures that Wylie made. I always liked it.
This sweater was made by a friend/co-worker of Luke’s as a gift for our (still 3 weeks out at the time of the photo) new baby. Besides being just about the cutest thing, it made me really excited to think of a new child, our new child, wearing this as a person independent from us. I was so cautious through my pregnancy not to be silly about buying too much baby “stuff” and even kept the bump under wraps in my online presence, but I was truly excited about everything that was happening. This little sweater will always make me smile and remember how it felt to have so much anticipation about the unknown.
My brother and I are about six months apart, due to a quirk of fate involving his adoption coinciding with my mom’s unlikely pregnancy with me, which none of us find all that interesting, since it’s all worked out just fine since the start. Our closeness in age, plus the weird timing (his birthday = day after my half-birthday, my birthday = day before his half-birthday) meant double presents for both of us for at least the first six or seven years of our lives. I think the stated purpose for this was fairness, but it was probably just easier to buy stuff for both of us, rather than repeating the scenario where one of us got Legos and cake while the other stood in the doorway, sullenly eating the second slice of cake while sizing up the situation to figure out the most opportune moment to swoop in and steal all the Lego policeman hats for himself.
Back then, Legos didn’t do all the work for you. Repurposed Topsy’s popcorn tins full of multicolored blocks would show up from somewhere, and it was up to us to try and find enough yellow ones to make a building, leaving holes for the doors and windows, since actual Lego doors and windows wouldn’t become available until sometime in the early ’90s. Our Lego towns operated on the Honor System to keep burglary at bay. Plus, it was impossible to tell which ones were the cops, so they had no choice but to police themselves.
When toys arrived, usually secreted inside my dad’s briefcase or suit bag upon his return home from the office or a work-related trip, there was always one for each of us; if it could be helped, they were different colored version of the same thing. If not, we had no problem knowing which one belonged to us, because there wasn’t much in our lives besides toys, the backyard, our grandmom, and our extremely patient schnauzers. The color coding tended to fall along the same lines, and fit into the “I like this version of this thing, he likes that version of this thing” breakdown we used to scrape together our respective distinct identities: I’d get the blue thing, he’d get the red one. I was an orange juice man, he got apple juice. He can choke on those Cheerios, for all I care, I’ll be supping on Corn Flakes out of his skull. And so on.
I imagine, as a parent in the mid-’80s who enjoyed giving his sons gifts but never really veered into actually spoiling them, you’re somewhat limited in your choices: the kids are too young for action figures based on cartoons, and no matter how badly they want one, they’re never, ever getting a Power Wheels truck, but they’ve been conditioned to expect a toy of some sort, and since it can really be anything, so long as it’s toy-shaped, once in awhile you just kind of grab whatever’s nearest the register that won’t make you break a twenty.
Sometime in 1985, my brother and I each received a Godzilla toy, for some reason. I remember it being handed to me, noticing immediately that the spines on the back were unpleasantly sharp, but could be weaponized if the tail was rotated 180 degrees and employed as a handle, if things ever got hectic with my brother. I gave the arms and legs a push to gauge their radius. There’s a tiny, crisp snap when you first move an action figure’s limbs, breaking the seal made between them by the paint applied at the factory. You only get this sound once. Godzilla appeared to be hollow, which could make for some realistic gobbling of Lego men’s heads if we chose to crossbreed our toy brands (we rarely did, being purists).
I should add, we’d never seen a Godzilla movie, though there was probably some low-level recognition of him as a Thing That is Sort of a Dinosaur, a mental list which all little boys keep handy. Godzilla never really factored in to any of our play sessions, but he hung around, sturdy and agape, and avoided the many culls that swept the toys which had fallen out of favor into a purgatory spent in laundry baskets and boxes in the unfinished part of the basement. I think my dad picked them up for us more for the dinosaur-ness than any sort of cultural enrichment. Even children recognize those movies are garbage, just as they do with Hanna-Barbera cartoons.
I like that this Godzilla is as basic as a Godzilla toy can be without being rendered worthless by being molded without joints. This Godzilla moves exactly as much as he needs to, and his tail is broad and low enough to keep him from toppling over easily. His mouth is open just enough for him to spit fire, eat fools or scream in rage or pain depending on his role in the play session. If it were open more or less, it’d overstep its bounds as a vector for play by dictating a context. There aren’t any super-specific features to him that work only in a single context during play (see: those awful action figures from our childhood that would lift their arms to simulate punching or whatever when you’d squeeze their legs together, like I couldn’t have just put his arm there myself. Plus, whatever mechanism allowed this action feature to function made both the legs and the punching arm largely unusable for most other poses, as it restricted their user-preferred use for the sake of the manufacturer’s predetermined function), but you’re not left wanting for anything more Godzilla-y out of him. You want something else? Go get another toy, kid. We didn’t even pay Toho a license fee when we made this thing.
When I left for college, I decided to bring Godzilla along because there was no danger of him breaking during transit, and I liked having him on top of my computer monitor, because I was in front of my computer a lot, and it’s comforting to me to be able to look up at any time and see a monster dinosaur.
He’s been with me through all my moves since graduation, though the advent of flatscreen monitors has seen him migrate down to desk-level. He’s with me as I type this, being exactly as much Godzilla as is appropriate for a man my age to have within arm’s reach. I’m not sure where my brother’s Godzilla is, but I look forward to the day when I can take it from him and make them into bookends. For now, though: patience.