by Warren Rawson
On the outside of the cardboard box, written in my mother’s careful longhand, are the words “Boy and Girl Dolls.” Except for the tape, which is yellow and brittle, the box itself looks in remarkably good shape, with no holes, no crushed corners, and no obvious signs of the 30 plus years it has been stashed away in this unairconditioned room off of my childhood bedroom. The scissors make quick work of the old tape; with the slightest touch it cracks and turns to a sticky dust that clings to everything. Inside, I find a Spider Man costume sized for a 6 inch tall figure, several GI Joes (with beards but not a shred of clothing), a couple of Big Jims (a 70s doll for boys–sort of a rugged version of Ken) and a bunch of super heroes, ranging from Batman and Superman to their less renowned peers in the Justice League–Aqua Man and the Flash.
Most of the dolls, the Big Jims in particular, have partially melted arms and legs, and their bodies have fused with their compatriots in the box. The GI Joes have become inextricably bound to Flash, or Spider Man, or the grotesquely proportioned Wonder Woman; the Big Jims and Batman are joined in a pose from an impossible Twister game; all the jumbled arms, legs, torsos, and heads form a huge melted together mass of plastic that resembles nothing so much as some over-the-top gay porno film with Wonder Woman thrown in for a little variety.
But when I get past the first layer of dolls and reach the bottom of the box, I see a smallish figure in a white jumpsuit with blue stripes and red stars, still wearing his similarly spangled helmet, who appears to have made it through 30 years in the attic relatively unscathed. Amazingly, when I begin to pull him out, I see he’s still astride his white motorcycle, which is held together by what looks like a piece of a coat hanger. It is, of course, Evel Knievel, the iconic 70s daredevil. Remember when he jumped 30 cars on his motorcycle? Remember when he tried to jump the Snake River Canyon in a little rocket? This Evel figure looks ready to try a few new stunts, though the motorcycle looks like it couldn’t jump as much as a Hot Wheels-sized Volkswagen Beetle. When this little Evel and his bike were in their death-defying, stunt performing prime, you revved up the motorcycle by frantically turning the plastic handle of a red launcher and hoped that you had generated enough force so that the tiny motorcycle and rider would leave the contraption able to perform some feat of derring-do by zipping off the end of the included red plastic ramp. But the toy Evel never worked as advertised–it was even better. He would zoom off the launcher on his bike, weave and totter for a few feet, then either hit the ramp and shoot awkwardly into the air and land in a glorious wipe out or miss the ramp entirely, skitter across the room without ever quite catching its balance but never quite falling either, and eventually find itself behind the green toy box where my mom piled the newspapers (and inside of which now rests decades of used sports equipment) or under the ancient metal typewriter stand by the back door where my dad kept his “fishing kit” packed (a Tupperware container full of cans of Vienna sausage). No matter what happened, the mayhem that the toy Evel created meant that I cranked the handle, again and again, over and over, until the cheap plastic wore blisters on my fingers.
But even though it’s February, it’s as hot as hell in this room. My skin feels like it’s melting and sweat flies as I fling the plastic-fleshy mass of doll bodies into the Hefty Yard Bag at my feet, then hurl the bag on top of the pile of about 30 other bags in the corner. But I save Evel and his decrepit bike, and both go into the ever-growing pile of things I’m going to save. But dammit. Even though it’s nowhere near as big as the pile to throw away, the pile of stuff to save is going to test the capacity of my Honda Civic and, if I manage to get it all back to Houston, what exactly am I planning to do with it?
God dammit, why is it so fucking hot in here? Why is there so much crap in these boxes?
Why do I want to save Evel? The doll is in good shape but the motorcycle is shit, staying together only because of the thin coat hanger wire. Maybe it’s because Evel is a daredevil, willing to try anything. He tried to jump over a canyon in a freaking rocket, for God’s sakes. Nothing scared him. But it scares me to start throwing all this stuff away. It scares me that my mom has died and my dad is 91; that the memories of this house, my parents, the ridiculous things they bought me and then stored away for 30 years, might be gone and I might forget about them and everything they bring to mind, like that Tupperware container full of Vienna sausages by the back door. I’m scared to take that leap, to acknowledge that it’s soon going to be gone–all of it.
And then I get angry. I shove a huge pile of old maps (a 1977 map of the Eastern US; downtown Boston; Rock City!) into another bag and I’m angry, angry at Mom for dying and leaving me with all this shit to clean up and angry with Dad for never throwing away anything in his life–because the piles of trash really are a storehouse of our memories and I’m angry with myself for such a trite, stupid, asinine metaphor–how could I think of something so stupid when I’m doing something that’s supposed to be so significant?– and I toss the bag full of maps onto the pile to throw away and I can’t stand it anymore, so I pick up Evel and his bike, run downstairs and go out into the backyard where my 5 year old son Oscar runs playing with a toy plane that’s probably older than the huge pecan tree he’s circling, and I hand him Evel Knevel and tell him “Evel was a daredevil” and Oscar takes the doll and the motorcycle and zooms away with them held high over his head, shouting “I’m a daredevil” at the top of his lungs, jumping as high and as far as he can while he bounds across the backyard under the bright February sun.