treasured childhood opportunities to paw through the detritus of years of geekery

March 19, 2011

in the late 1980s and early 90s, once a year in my hometown of Chicago, there would be a tremendous garage sale (really a flea market) inside of a huge parking garage. multiple floors of  people’s stuff, some true junk (mismatched dirty shoes?), some appearing useful and practical even to head-in-a-dragon-filled-fantasy-land childhood me (perhaps every tool ever wielded by a 1970s era american human? i bet i could smash rocks and bricks into magic dust with some of those!), but most of them highly specific, esoteric collections (i.e.-the realm of the geek).

the ones that drew me offered up  many tables covered in fifty cent paperbacks of fantasy novels (anything with a girl on the cover was sure to catch my eye… i was Talia from the Heralds of Valdemar series, and Menolly of Pern, and…), huge boxes of comic books (i mostly liked X-Men because there were lots of girls and women in the series), or 2 dollar Atari 2600 cartridges (i was an Atari loyalist for a very long time, even through the Atari Lynx (a portable, color system with very few good games)).

i loved coming home smelling vaguely like pre-moldy paperbacks, with the thick feel of dust on my hands, with several bags of loot i’d saved up my $1.25 a week allowance for for weeks preceding the big event. i always eyed the Star Wars figures (i somehow failed to ever obtain Princess Leia) but even then the prices for the toys were greatly affected by the people who collected them in their pristine bubbles of plastic. i also cast a nervous glance or two at the My Little Ponys, great objects of interest for me for years, but ones i didn’t get to explore until i was a teenager, when other riot grrrls i was friends with began giving them to me, partially healing my exclusion from something i would really have loved to explore had i not been trans.

after years of finding so much to covet a these events, i grew into a teenager, the kind of teenager who was so wrapped up in her own identity (at the time: radical separatist punk dyke) that she couldn’t enjoy things that weren’t offering to hold a mirror to her. this was necessary in some ways for me to survive coming out towards the end of junior high, and yet i also view this time with sadness, thinking of the things that were authentic interests for me that i put aside in order to make myself a more cohesive (i almost want to say marketable!;) package, easily defensible against all manner of villains, both the real, wanting-to-beat-me-up-or-spread-rumors kind and the kind my brain transformed into villains for being not-like-me.

just last week, i accidentally rediscovered ebay while searching for a computer i could afford (discovery: ebay is still not that great of a place to buy a computer). this led to a chance for my kids to paw through a virtual (if overly commercialized) version of my own long-ago geeky garage sale: the older one seeking 1 inch tall pokemon figures so he can make a board game with them and the younger one seeking my little ponies. of course, i prefer free piles and thrift stores and summertime garage sales for these purposes, but sometimes finding one person who is selling seventy-five thousand different my little pony accessories they’ve collected or hundreds upon hundreds of tiny anime figurines is hard to do on our adventures, so a brief indulgence in a chance for them to paw through the detritus of someone else’s years of geekery was called for, and for a few dollars (of their own saved allowances) each, they came away glowing and with a reason to watch the mail slot (one of my favorite past times, albeit sometimes a slow one in these days of e-mail and blogs, not handwritten letters and ‘zines).

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