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Joy Toy The World … Gadgets Before Wi-Fi

December 23rd, 2015 · Tags:Cities · Gadgets · Satire · Wi-Fi

Christmas Lights

After the recent change of address for the world headquarters of, the first thing I did was set up the Wi-Fi hotspot, of course. Then I contacted The Vega Enterprise editor, “The Q,” to request an address change for my subscription to the hometown paper — a news gathering organization dating back to 1948.


For the record, you would be surprised at the adrenalized content of the Vega paper. In addition to all the community news and local politics and school news — the lifeblood of a farming community — there is some pretty hard-hitting stuff in the form of the sheriff’s column. You may know, Vega is on what was once Old Route 66 — now the modern Interstate 40 — the busiest highway in the nation, running coast-to-coast. The firsthand accounts of murder suspects apprehended, kidnappings, cartel drug trafficking, first responders and such rival any TV cop drama. No, the juicy headlines don’t originate in Vega, but they pass through our county on the way from California to the East Coast or vice versa … You cannot believe some of the chase scenes and helicopter surveillance stories and canine patrols the area law enforcement officers perform routinely.

And there are special things … seasonal things in our paper …

The first edition delivered to my new address — a favorite — the annual “Letters To Santa” issue. Being a journalism grad, I grin because of the content that fills that paper, cover to cover, “above the fold” and all. But when I looked deeper and read the letters, there was a headier thought … A special Christmas edition is probably not uncommon in community journalism. And who’s to say that a Santa letter isn’t serving the good of the community any more or any less than the one-sided, zero-objectivity rants that pass for journalism today … biased coverage for both sides of the aisle, depending on which site you read. What was it, 1987, when the FCC did away with the Fairness Doctrine and equal time for opposing viewpoints in media? (Two years after my journalism degree.) A dark day … I digress …

Any who … you can learn a lot about a community from the Santa letters. I hope your town does this too.


Ping Army Christmas crop


Immediately, my favorite Santa punchlist was from a young girl who requested a new calf rope and a “roping dummy” (plastic steer, I presume). You go cowgirl! What a great little “DNA swab” of the 880 people in my town. … “Mighty Western” right down to the marrow. (This triggered memories of my brother using me as a roping dummy …)

But like any other community, big old Vegaville has television, the Internet and all the social media enticements we city types deal with on a daily basis … and I think I could see that influence when I read another innocent young child’s request for a remote-control zombie apocalypse sort of toy.

Other toys … some “normal” … some not so.

Dork Diaries (?), iPhones, transformers and tractors, doll houses, robots, paintball guns, Barbie dream houses, xBox … my favorite: “Bring presents.”

No doubt the all-star list of toys at the link below was well represented in the Vega letters – the hot Christmas toys of 2015. Hmmm … But what about StarWars? The kids from a town that shares its name with a star in a remote corner of our galaxy didn’t seem to be smitten with Star Wars like every other carbon unit in The Milky Way and beyond … Hey did you know Vega was once the North Star?  I digress …

The North Star

Top Toys R Us

Reading The Santa issue reminded me of the sights, sounds and even the scents of Christmas past. When I was a kid, a civic group in Vega provided to the kids a Christmas tradition on the county courthouse square, very near the Manger Scene (that no one ever protested … ever) and Santa made a cameo appearance to pass out candy, despite his travel schedule in the coming days. More than the taste of the candy, I remember the smell of the loot. It was handed out in plastic bags. The candy was that hard Christmas variety with pieces that resembled fruit, fruitcakes, or jewels or even squiggly Christmas bows. Most of the candy had melted a little and there was always a sticky mess on everything by the time we got the candy home, and there was usually a fresh orange in the bottom of the bag as well. Was someone a Citrus Bowl fan? I digress … I don’t know. But the candy and the orange perspiring in the plastic bag created a special, fragrant Christmas potpourri I will always remember and appreciate so clearly.


Ping Christmas at Jacksons crop


The Christmas Letter — such a wonderful part of Christmas — right up there with that first BB gun and licking frosty flagpoles (yes, the movie…) But, alas, the Santa letter also brings to mind a darker memory.

Let me set this up … Any journalist will tell you they stand a good chance of missing typos and grammatical errors in every piece they write, and they hate that. That’s why there are editors. But if you ever want to see a journalist really upset, hang around after some editor actually inserts or creates a mistake in an article. It has happened to me. It has happened to all journalists, no doubt. But it is unlikely most journalists recall the first time it ever happened to them.

I do.

It was in the printing of my Santa letter! For the record, The Vega Enterprise had another publisher back then, and for the record I loved that editor like a member of my own family — a funny, clever, outspoken old sportswriter who was also one of my first baseball coaches*. (Leon coached me in the 8&9-year-old *developmental league …) This guy was one of my local heroes … So how could he have done this to me?

Here’s what happened.

Back then, so many years ago, there was a craze among toy manufacturers — especially Mattel — to sell little ovens and bottles of liquid plastic and metal molds … so kids could “manufacture” their own toys. There were Creepy Crawler ovens, Creeple Peeple, Thing Makers and high atop my wish list, the coveted Johnny Toy Maker (by Topper).

Creepy Crawlers Set

The Story Of Creepy Crawlers

Johnny TOY Maker

I had first seen the Creepy Crawler oven at my friend’s house. He had a second-story playroom with a ping pong table and lots of toys, but when I picture the place now in my mind, I smell the scent of molten plastic, being heated, molded and cooled in the shape of tarantulas and centipedes and what have you. That year, I think the Johnny Toy Maker had caught everyone’s eye, just about the same time. My buddies and I were probably eight or nine — kind of that in-between, awkward age where you never knew if we might burn down the playroom and the house that went with it … and we were having our first doubts – though we would never admit it — about the whole Santa Claus thing. But, I mean, about this wonderful toy … the kit came with a battery-powered car chassis and you and your creative self could mix any color combination to create the car body – just pour the plastic in the mold and pop it in the oven. Get this … the car body was one of the coolest cars ever too — a Jaguar. (Yes, Virginia, like James Bond … well, one of the Bond cars.”)

“I must have it!” (I am sure I might have said that, loudly, so many years ago.)

And the best way to get it was to hone up those writing skills, put the words down on paper, and let the teacher forward the manuscript to the local paper — which in turn would make our wishes known to the free world which Santa frequented. I finished the letter on-deadline as we say in the newspaper biz … and “fleshed out” the letter with two or three other items, so Santa wouldn’t think I was one-dimensional … and I threw in the obligatory tease for Santa … “I’ll leave out some cookies for you and Rudolf, Santa.” (Come to think of it, with that little clause, that might have been my first foray into public relations too.) … I digress.

So the paper hit the stands and also the rural route farm mailboxes, and I rushed to grab up our copy. I skimmed the requests for skateboards, and deer rifles and go carts and bicycles and whatnot … and finally found my letter. I think my letter ran on page two … “not bad play” as we say in the newspaper business.

Then I saw it. I think it literally knocked the wind out of me. TYPO! (Yes we say that in the newspaper business, but no one ever wants to hear it.) My Santa letter boldly proclaimed that I would like a “Johnny To Maker.” “Where the hell the ‘Y?,’” I said under my breath, not loud enough for any elfin shelfling to hear.

With Kris Kringle as my witness, I know that I had handwritten Johnny TOY Maker in my first draft. But, the letters had to be typed at the paper and then set in newspaper type. Well, regardless of where the fault might lie, the bottom line was — “Would Santa know what I meant?” As a sidebar (yes we say that in newspaper), I was also mortified at this early, and now pivotal point in my writing career with the really stupid-sounding mistake. “Would people think I just didn’t know the name of the greatest toy on the planet!?!” Mortified. I think I had nightmares — visions of taunting dancing in my head, with my friends shouting “Johnny TO Maker! Johnny TO Maker!”

(OH … there was also a rumor that the adults would put typos in the kids’ letters to make them sound more cute.  Please tell me I was not a victim of cute …)

Well … at many Christmases-eses-es I didn’t always get the gifts and the peace on earth for which I had asked. Overwhelmingly, for the week leading up to D-25 Day, I was a nervous wreck. But some how, through his omni-present, all-knowing, culture-crossing magic, Santa had deciphered my “type bust” and on that Christmas Eve under the tree I found the most wonder Johnny Toymaker ever, with three or four different colors of the plastic goop.

I never burned down the house — we didn’t have a playroom — and they all had a Merry Christmas!

Know what I sayin?