Shell Shocked: Sex, stamp collecting and model airplanes
Sex. There, does that get your attention? No, this is not a column about sex. It’s a column about boyhood hobbies. And sex wasn’t one of them.
To say that I was a failure at boyhood hobbies would be an understatement. I tried several of them and lost interest in them quickly. The primary reason I lost interest in them was that I stunk at them.
I started with stamp collecting, which is a far cry from sex. Some of my boyhood friends had started collecting stamps and they urged me to try it. So, I got some stamp albums and scoured all the sources I could think of to gather stamps.
The first thing I did was ask my neighbors to give me stamps from mail they received from foreign countries. I was on my way. I showed my budding collection to my friends who encouraged me. But they told me that my collection was too average and plebeian. They said I needed to find rare stamps. I asked them what they meant by rare stamps. They told me I would have to find out by myself.
So here I was, a ten-year-old boy, collecting stamps from neighbors that came from overseas mail and I didn’t know a rare stamp from a hardboiled egg. I asked my mother if she ever served rare hard-boiled eggs and she said no. Then one of my stamp collecting friends gave me a hint. He said that rare stamps were those that went back many years, sometimes centuries, or that originated from a limited supply printing so that very few were in circulation. I asked him how I could find them. He said that’s for him to know and me to find out. I shot my friend in the head and he was never heard from again.
I thought about breaking into my stamp-collecting friends’ homes and stealing their stamp collections. But I quickly realized that they would probably shoot me in the head also and I wanted to be heard from again. So, I gave up stamp collecting and gave my nascent collection to the Salvation Army.
I then went on to my next hobby – building model airplanes. If you recall, you would purchase a model airplane set in a toy store and build an airplane from scratch. The basic ingredients were toothpick size sticks of wood and wax paper. The idea was to put the pieces of wood together so that it resembled the airplane model you were building and then cover it with the wax paper.
From this effort, a modern, sleek airplane would emerge which you could show to your parents as a sample of the cognitive powers you were mastering. But my cognitive powers were lacking, and the directions were hard for me to follow. I messed up every time I tried putting together a finished model airplane. All I could build were airplane models that looked more like prehistoric monsters than airplanes. When my parents viewed one of my masterpieces they would smile and suggest I take up road construction.
I was not discouraged. I simply went on to my next hobby – playing the piano. My parents found a music teacher who visited my home once a week. After several weeks his hands began to shake when he gave me lessons. I don’t believe I personally was the cause of it, but he was institutionalized six months later after setting fire to his own piano and hurtling his piano instruction manuals out his window.
It took me six months to learn how to play “Chop Sticks” on the piano. It appeared that I had two left hands. I was about to be lynched by my neighbors who had developed degenerative ear issues because of my practicing. My parents were forced to sign a peace treaty with the vigilante neighbors and donated our piano to an institution for the criminally insane. I then went on to my next hobby – girls.
By this time, I was old enough to notice that girls were very different from boys. It hadn’t occurred to me before. Where had I been? Growing up, of course. I was now sixteen and began to take notice of the girls at school. My initial conversations with girls went something like this:
Girl: My hobbies are knitting, cheerleading and dancing. What are yours?
Me: I’m a world class stamp collector, a leading airplane manufacturer and a concert pianist. I was a child prodigy.
The word I should have used instead of “prodigy” was “disaster.” Thank God I outgrew my hobbies.