The Hall of Justice crashed down and Batman and Black Widow fell into the abyss; all were the victims of a single push that accomplished more than a thousand assaults by the Legion of Doom.
The Batmobile was overturned and Robin lay twisted beside the wreckage.
All manner of cars — from Scooby-Doo’s Mystery Machine to a G.I. Joe jeep — coagulated into a traffic calamity for the ages.
It seemed nothing could slow the rolling disaster embodied by a real, live human toddler except the magic elixir of chocolate milk in a sippy cup.
Otis visited Camp Daniel with his father and my friend, Andrew, on a recent evening.
Andrew’s wife had been exposed to COVID-19 and was isolating pending a test.
I invited him and the boy to hang out while she rested.
I haven’t been around small children in many years.
When I was younger, my cousin’s children were toddlers. Many of those “kids” are in college or married with children of their own now.
Otis is a sweet-natured boy, like his parents. He likes “trucks,” which is his catch-all phrase for cars of any kind. He pushes them around on the floor. He loves the turn of their wheels. He loves their crashes more.
My house is a sort of monument to pop culture past and present. Otis cased the apartment, guided by his dad, for cars and gathered up as many as he could find.
He was fond of the A-Team van, Ecto-1 from “Ghostbusters,” and “The Transformers” Optimus Prime, but only in truck mode. I transformed Optimus into his robot mode. Otis lost all interest. He is a wheels man, not a robot man.
Andrew asked me if there was anything that was off limits; He would steer Otis away.
I am a collector, but I also believe comic books are meant to be read and toys are meant to be played with. Aside from a few pricier statues, everything was fair game.
I never married or had children.
There are a lot of reasons for that, but that’s the way it is.
But there is something about a child with a toy that touches me in a deep place.
The visit was inspired a week or so back. Andrew came by to help me with a project. I’ve struggled with some basic tasks since knee surgery, arthritis, and obesity have limited my mobility.
I decided to tidy up my desk, both inside and out, and pulled three large trash bags of detritus from the big, gray steel World War II surplus desk.
Andrew dropped by for a beer or two and carried out my trash. I gave Andrew a big bucket of old cars, some newer, but many that dated back to my childhood.
He said he should bring Otis by. It was a joke, I think, because he worried, I think, that I would be overprotective of my collectibles.
But I said sure. So when the opportunity presented, Andrew texted an offer of a visit and pizza.
I enjoy my pop culture menagerie.
I look at a Darth Vader action figure or a Transformer and remember happy moments fueled by imagination as the forces of good and evil did battle on shag carpet in the house on Lynner Drive.
That pales in comparison to watch in a relatively new human explore those same adventures for the first time.
On occasion, Otis would come to the edge of my recliner and say, “Up! Up!” I would heft the boy onto the arm of my chair. He would delight in rolling cars off the side of my belly.
I thought back many years ago, when my dad would stretch out on the living room floor after dinner for a nap. I would jump on his belly. We would wrestle for a while before we both fell asleep.
Otis’ bedtime approached and he and his dad helped clean up the disaster area that my living room floor had become.
The Hall of Justice returned to its perch, with Batman overlooking. The Batmobile parked in its usual spot and Robin was none the worse for the crash.
All the toys went back to the shelves and boxes.
Otis and his dad went home.
I rarely have company, much less such energetic company. I was exhausted. I texted Andrew.
“How do you keep up with that much energy?” I asked.
“You don’t,” he replied. “You just get used to being tired.”
That I believe.
Daniel P. Finney wrote for newspapers for 27 years before being laid off in 2020. He teaches middle school English now. He writes columns and podcasts for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating $10 a month to help him cover the expenses of this site.
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