Friday, December 11, 2015

My Red Ryder BB Gun

We've all seen A Christmas Story, so when reading the title of this post, one reflexively thinks of little Ralphie's quest to get his most coveted Christmas gift — a Red Ryder BB gun.


But not all gifts are as iconic as the Red Ryder BB gun. It seems like every Christmas, one new gift rises to the fore as that year's "must-have" item.

My first recollection of the annual gift phenomena was the Cabbage Patch doll. Even though she had three boys, my mom went out and got one. His name was Preston, he had denim overalls and I can still remember the smell of his plastic head.

In retrospect, I'm not sure why mom bought Preston or which of her three boys he was gifted to but, hey, it was Christmas and we had a Cabbage Patch doll.

That's 32 years ago. In the years since, theres' been Teddy Ruxpin. There's been Transformers. The popularity of Nintendo was absolutely bonkers. Beanie Babies were huge, though I have no idea why. Pogs were also huge and I think we have collective amnesia as to that one's appeal too. Tickle-Me-Elmo was as big as it gets. And remember when every kid just had to have a Furby?

So each year we watch as one toy erupts into must-have prominence. If it's like the Nintendo, it can entrench itself, and occupy a permanent spot in our world. But most of these toys are like Beanie Babies or the Cabbage Patch kid — here for a moment before receding into the abyss of forgotten pop-culture detritus.

All he's asked for is candy. I bet
Santa will oblige.
My big gift, my Red Ryder, fits into the latter category.

It was the mid-80s and all I wanted for Christmas was Lazer Tag. (Notice the strategic use of the letter 'z'? Man, the 80s were cool.)

You might not remember Lazer Tag. It wasn't the most popular toy but, amongst all the kids my age where I lived, it was the coolest.

It was a futuristic looking pistol, made with black and red plastic, and it included an electronic target. The pistol shot some sort of invisible ray, probably ultraviolet for all I know. Striking the target caused it to light up, flash and blink while emitting loud "computer-ish" noises. (Like I said, the 80s were just the best.)

It was, to put it mildly, the most badass toy out there. My parents knew I wanted it and, because they were awesome, they told Santa and he brought it to me.

I still remember grabbing the box and, per family tradition, pausing to read aloud whom it was from, before ripping the paper off.

I nearly jumped through the roof when I saw it. I screamed. I shouted. I was as excited as a kid could be on Christmas morning. Mission accomplished Santa.

And, not that I needed a reminder of how big this gift was, but I got it when my older brother started crying that he didn't get Lazer Tag. My parents put the kibosh on his tears quickly but it was even clearer than before — Lazer Tag was a big, big deal.

I was a lucky kid. I was elated. I was grateful. I was ecstatic. I was also the only kid I knew who got Lazer Tag.

To clarify: I had a gun. I had a target and I knew no one who had either of those things.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know, I already got
my gift this year. 
This meant I could practice shooting by myself. Or, if I was persuasive enough, I could coax my little brother into wearing the target around and letting me shoot at him. I wasn't persuasive enough and my little brother was too smart to be coaxed into anything.

I had fun with Lazer Tag, practicing my aim. I remember I learned that I could shoot it off of mirrors to hit the target behind me. I maxed it out and made it as fun as one could make a gift that you play by yourself.

And, I took a few lessons from the Lazer Tag episode that I'd like to pass along to my boys.

First and foremost is that it's fun to watch your older brother cry on Christmas morning. (I keed. I keed.)

I suppose the biggest lesson is that almost all of life is better when shared. I like my alone time more than most. But no matter how much I enjoy them, those moments never compare to those spent with friends and family.

As the holidays come barreling at us all once again it's easy to get caught up in all the responsibility and labor that comes with them.  When you're a kid you can get caught up in whatever the hot toy-of-the-moment is.

It's good to know that even the fleeting toys can serve as a reminder of the really important stuff.

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