“Master your desires”, counseled the ancient stoic philosophers, “and you won’t be ruled by them.” It’s a seductive philosohpy (and a hypocrical one, usually — most of the stoics were colossal yuppies by today’s standards.) One of the worst side-effects of this point of view is the loathsome feeling of superiority you get when someone gets effusive about a passion you don’t share. My mom likes to tell the story of a tour guide in Leningrad; we were on a Franklin Mint Collector’s Society tour — my dad, as the editor of the Franklin Mint Almanac at the time, was the titular head of the Collector’s Society, and we went on what were really quite fantastic, if rushed, two-week cruises every year — and one septuagenarian collector was going on and on about the Russian desserts to our tour guide, a willowy Natasha type standing balanced in the front of the tour bus. “Oh, I simply can’t resist them! They’re wonderful!”
To which the guide cocked one plucked eyebrow and replied “…it appears you have a weak-ness.”
That phrase, along with its arch, very slightly reproachful delivery, became a family byword. Get too enthusiastic about something stupid, and you were likely to hear from the Russian Tour Guide about it. This is not to say I grew up in an atmosphere of stymied enthusiasm. It’s true that the Baldwin family reveres the iron discipline of my grandmother, who one morning announced to a cigar-smoking salesman in the living room “Oh! I’m glad I’m rid of that filthy habit!” (she had quit just an hour before, and — this is the important bit — never smoked again.) But the Baldwin family also reveres enthusiasm (my uncle Bob can do one hell of a Prospector Pete I-struck-gold dance, when requested), so the Russian Tour Guide quote is meant mostly to poke fun at the speaker’s feeling of knee-jerk superiority, rather than the guide-ee’s effusiveness.
Which is all a torturous way of saying I no longer have one up on those with a Fiestaware jones, any more, as I’ve gone berserk for seventies Fisher-Price toys. I mean, seriously bug-nuts over the stuff.
Why seventies Fisher-Price, particularly? I’m not sure, but I have a couple of bullet points around which to organize my effusiveness.
- It doesn’t have the cutesy, foreshortened, hydrocephalic styling of the modern stuff. The little seventies figures, plain and unstyled as they are, seem to be representative of actual humans, not the bizarre little homunculi in the modern sets.
- The seventies styling of the sets. Let me rephrase that: the utterly
styling of the sets.
- The fact that there are no batteries or buttons. Nothing wrong with buttons, but I think those toys teach causation; they’re not just a blank canvas. Hmm, by that same token a play airport isn’t a blank canvas, you’d need plain wooden blocks for that. Okay, so probably a huge part of the reason is just
- Nostalgia. Okay, I said it, alright? It appears I have a weakness! My eBay trigger finger is itching! Must! Buy! Houseboat! With spring flag and dinghy!
The snowmobile has a trailer for the dog. Oh lord that’s hip. See all the playsets here.
PS. It turns out that I was only looking at the “Little People” playsets, and that there’s all sorts of other daredevil seventies stuff: “The Adventure People and their Wilderness Patrol“!? Come on, people, I’m not made out of stone!