This was it. Weeks of meticulous planning have led us all here, to this point right now. A single lapse, a moment of confusion, indecisiveness or just plain bad luck could destroy everything we’ve worked so hard to achieve. It was almost in my grasp. I reach out, willing my fingers to comply with my commands but everything stops. All my senses (and half functioning hearing) suddenly go into overdrive when I hear the creak which ricocheted like a gunshot up the stairs.
This wasn’t going to end well.
Let me rewind a sec and try to paint a picture of the story leading upto the events currently unfolding.
There is something about summers through the 80’s which to this day gives me the warm fuzzies. All the usual suspects, the smell of cut grass, sun on the face, baking tarmac, the daily scrounge for stickers monies, fizz whizz, highland toffee, all combined to create a maelstrom of sensations that I would now gladly pay money to recreate. This summer had been particularly productive, I had managed to stay up for a full 24 hours in order to see if I’d won the competition on Going Live for a Ghostbusters HQ (I didn’t), and I had successfully appealed and won in the case of ‘Sister vs Leeroy’, the court ruling that she had in fact ‘fallen’ into the pond (she hadn’t), and therefore no punishment would be handed to the accused.
Most days and nights revolved around the tenfoot at the back of our house (or alley, snicket, whatever you want to call it… but it is definitely a tenfoot, because its ten feet wide see). This was the central hub for the majority of our day to day activities, water fights, re-al-io, british bulldogs, just everything you could imagine. The capacity to mould itself into a venue of our choosing was quite staggering, football field, Olympic size sprint track, Mumm-Ra’s tomb, Castle Grayskull, you name it, the tenfoot had your back.
It was during a daily meet at the trading post (or telephone pole, depending on which side of 12 years old you were on) that the proposition was put forward.
I was in the possession of a game (think cardboard and plastic rather than circuit board and crushing difficulty). Now, this game had been in my possession for some time and truth be told I was rather tired of it. It was called Escape from Atlantis, and although in my case familiarity had bred contempt, it was a very good game. A board game made up of hexagonal sections which when first set up contained different types of land (rocks, sand etc) with plastic pieces representing octopus attacks, sharks and other sea nasties surrounding, trying to hinder your escape from Atlantis. As the game went on, the land disappeared and you had to negotiate the dangers and escape. Very good.
The quality of this board game had not gone unnoticed by the denizens of the tenfoot, I’d had it out a few times and rattled through the rules (not unlike I just have) to tenfoot friends and we’d all had a great time dodging sharks and chewing the octopus tentacles when no-one was looking (I hate you whoever that was). One friend in particular, let’s call him ‘Jamie’, because that’s what his name was, had taken to it like a beach ball at a Nickleback concert. He pulled me to one side and laid out a proposal to swap this game for something of his.
I’d like to just make a point here that childhood swaps are the building blocks of successful adulthood, negotiation, value attribution, commerce, responsibility, respect, commodities….the understanding of all of these concepts have their baby steps made for them through swaps. Primarily these deals were made on the playground with stickers or later, trading cards. For example, I cannot emphasize enough the scarcity of the ‘shiny’ Ghostbusters PKE meter, that goddam sticker was made out of scotch mist I swear to you. We would have traded our siblings for that sticker (and some very nearly did). Supply outstripping demand to the power of ten thousand being what it was, would mean that any enterprising young Gekko could net themselves a tidy fortune of treasures by careful trading of this fabled object. Even at the expense of an empty space in the sticker book, but then who cares when you’ve just filled 3 others off the back of PKE goodness, Egon would be proud (sniff..).
Back to the trading post, Jamie had made his claim for Atlantis, only one thing remained. He had yet to put forward his end of the deal, just what was he going to offer? I was no patsy. Even though I had no great love for it anymore, I knew he wanted it, and I knew I wasn’t too keen, but then I also knew that he didn’t know I wasn’t too keen which gave me the edge. And he certainly had no idea that I knew that he didn’t know that I didn’t like it anymore. My brain was doing cartwheels but my stony poker face was holding steady. I expected him to threw a few nibblers at me first, just to test the water, see what I was made of. But not this time.
First thing that comes out of his mouth nearly knocks me over.
Rodimus Prime! Needless to say, the deal was done and spitfilled hand shakes exchanged before you could say ‘grifter’.
This was THE Transformer, certainly for our group of friends at that point in time. Optimus Prime had been forcibly deactivated along with the vast majority of the rest of the original Autobots when Transformers The Movie came out at Christmas, in time I had slowly come to terms with his death… no, that’s a lie, it still hurts. Ultra Magnus (the Gorman of the Autobot leadership) stepped up and had failed spectacularly to gain any sort of following, thanks to his wet-blanket style of leadership in the cartoon and a terrible robot form in the toy itself. A spray job over the old Optimus Prime truck and a blatant disregard for ratios does not a good Transformer make, (I will say that between IDW and the Masterpiece figures this has been more than remedied, and he’s actually somewhat of a legend for me now). This left good old spunky Hot Rod to pick up the Matrix, stick it in his chest cavity and become Rodimus Prime. Again with a vehicle towing a trailer but with a banging red and gold paint job and Hot Rod’s slick fire spewing exhaust (in my head anyway ) pulling the trailer. If Walter White had quit teaching and gone into toy design at Hasbro, this is what he would have created.
This was too good to be true.
Now, the thing about parents is, they have forgotten all of the training. It’s just been too long. This might be unfair actually, they have been out of the loop so long that they don’t understand the value of modern things, when they were kids they were trading canes and hoops for ration books and fire making rocks, so you cant really expect them to know the difference in value between a board game and a Transformer. I would hope that is the reason my very considered and no-lose request to swap my tired and non-robotic water island game was met with a flat ‘no’, because if not, obviously your brain chemistry starts to degrade once you hit puberty and accelerates with every passing year until you’re dead. And they bury you. With your last remaining possession. Which isn’t Rodimus Prime.
It was time for a plan.
If it was Action Force figures, or even smaller Transformers this would not be an issue. We could simply swap, put them in our pockets, trot home and pop upstairs and deposit in the bedroom as we saw fit. Mum would never be the wiser. Thing is, these were big. The game box was a good foot and a half across and Rodimus was a tad bulky for a 7 year old to convincingly smuggle anywhere too, so no amount of large coat wearing (in summer) subterfuge would get the game out of, and Transformer into, the house without alerting the Feds. We all (me, ‘Jamie’, and a hat trick of friends who lived on our street) resolved to make the trade somehow, but how would we do it?
We gathered round and hatched the best reverse Shawshank you could imagine.
- Wait until dark. This one time there would be a call to come in from my parents which would not be met with any resistance whatsoever.
- Get in bed. In, brush teeth, pyjamas on and tucked-in in 15 minutes flat.
- Give the signal. This was the master stroke.
In my younger years, between around 4 and 7, I had been he most avid He-Man fan. I loved the muscular lug. I’d had ALL of the figures. Webstor, who hung from my bookshelf with his grappling hook, Stinkor who wore ‘eu de garbage’ on purpose, Moss Man who felt like felt, and Ram-Man I could go on… Orko who came with a magic trick that bordered on witchcraft, Stratos who was a bird man, Kobra Kahn who spat water in your eye. I digress… Skeletor who came with a staff that had a goats skull on it, Teela who was hotness, Fakor who was a blue He-Man. This was my formative bread and butter, but as I had matured somewhat since then I’d moved onto far more military and sci-fi fare. He-Man and the Masters of the Universe had given way to Action Force, Visionaries and Transformers.
One thing remained however. Pride of place on my window ledge was a Skeletor money box (or ‘coin bank’ if you want to be like that). This was a big 3D pic of Skeletor’s horrid face, about the size of a really horrible skeleton face. You slot the coins into the back of his head when you turned it around. It was perpetually empty due to an addiction to stickers which I am still going to meetings about, but there it stood.
This was the signal.
Skeletor looking out of the window = Danger! Parents incoming!
Skeletor looking into the room = Coast is clear, proceed with caution.
As we lived one house away from a small alley that led into the tenfoot, you could see into my window if the curtains were left open. The ‘squad’ would wait in that alley until I gave the signal and then proceed to climb onto the extension roof, via next door, who had the same thing. A light footed individual could theoretically climb onto Ray’s extension, reach down to be handed Rodimus, walk across to my window, hand Rodimus through the open window and receive Atlantis in return..
Which neatly brings us back to the beginning of this tale…
After a few false starts and Skeletor head flips we had an opening. No noise from downstairs meant that parents were sat down, watching TV. I had at least the noise of the sofa gasping for breath once Dad got up, the noise of the door opening and at least 10 stairs or so to alert me and give me time to turn the head around.
I watched through the window as Jamie, made it onto the roof, grabbed Rodimus, tip-toed across the extension and to the open window. Now, only separated by very reasonably priced double glazing, the tension was palpable. I reached up and took Rodimus from him, with ninja-like footwork I stepped down from my bed and placed him underneath, behind the Kong-Man box. This was not the time for Transforming. Now I took the Atlantis box, making absolutely sure it was level to avoid the pieces moving around too much and lifted up to window.
The shot rang out so loud that my one good ear (mumps when I was 3, more common than you might think y’know) started ringing almost immediately. This was not the noise of a sofa, or even the door, my days it wasn’t even the first step. He was on the goddam landing! Jamie snatched the game through the window and bolted. Each step landing on the roof like a Polar Bear fishing on the ice. It was too late, the Dad-Man burst into the room to see an (admittedly damn fine) ‘asleep’ impersonation fall flat on its arse.
In the weeks that followed I had a lot of time in solitary to ponder what might have been. I never even actually Transformed him, probably for the best in the long run. Handing back the offending respective toys was a gut puncher but we both accepted our fates gracefully and as the parents were exchanging apologies we even managed to exchange a knowing glance. In between all the crying.