Friday, December 21, 2012

My Favorite Christmas Present Ever. Like Ever.

What was the greatest Christmas present you ever received under the tree? I've had some good ones over the years.

The big wheel from Santa was undoubtedly breath taking.

A few years later, the wind-up Evel Knievel stunt bike from Ideal brought hours of entertainment.

The problem of receiving gifts like these was in trying top the experience year over year. That's all fine and dandy when you start off with rootie toot toots and rummie tum tums, but what happens when you climb all the way up to the top and have yourself an  Evel Knievel Christmas? Where do you go from there?

Flying Finnegan. That's where.

Flying Finnegan was a Kenner's answer to Milton Bradley's Mouse Trap board game. In Mouse Trap, you built this rube goldberg contraption as your mouse moves around the board collecting cheese. Once the trap was built, you hoped to avoid elimination by not landing on the crank wheel case, for doing so could lead to... MOUSE TRAP!

Flying Finnegan was like Mouse Trap, but supposedly better. Better because instead of building a mouse trap, you built a circus with a flying trapeze that launched Finnegan across the room and into a shark tank.

I can just imagine the Kenner marketing wizards pitching the idea.

Kenner Rep 1: "Hey, how's this sound: 'Flying Finnegan, like Mouse trap only better!'"
Kenner Rep 2: "Ew, ew! What about this: "'Flying Finnegan: think Mouse Trap with circus freaks and a shark jum--'"
Kenner Rep 3: "-- Circus freaks? Might as well say 'trailer park trash' while you're at it. No. We have got to believe that we built a better, uh, mouse trap. I mean, we got ourselves a frickin' shark jump don't we? No, we don't need anything fancy slogans, just a picture of two snot-nosed kids  --with hands waving in front of them for dramatic effect -- with the banner, "FLYING FINNEGAN, ACTION GAME OF SKILL AND DARING" right above Finnegan as he's going into the sharks. Shoot, it'll be a slam dunk!
-- Reps 1 and 2 sat dumbfounded, jaws agape --
Marketing Rep 3: "Anyway, no worries, PT Barnum's already shown that a sucker is born every minute."

I was one of those suckers. I wanted it. No. I needed it. No. I must have it, that Christmas. Resolved, my greedy mitts ripped the page right out of the Sears Roebuck and presented it to my parents. No Red Rider BB Guns, no Zeppelins, just Flying Finnegan. Thank you.

Christmas morning came and Flying Finnegan was under the tree with my name on it. I tore in and had it set up in minutes. The first few launches had Finnegan wildly missing the shark tank. But with each attempt, my range and accuracy improved until I finally dropped Finnegan right into that shark tank. The lid snapped shut with a loud bell. It was exactly like the picture of those bratty kids above. I repeated the process.  Finnegan again flies through the air, lands smack in the middle of that tank, lid shuts and bell dings. Sweet. Again, shark tanks, ding. Again, sharks, ding...

After a couple of more tries, I hated that game.

As it turned out, Flying Finnegan was a complete bust. It took about five minutes to master and then it was totally boring after that. I suppose the silver lining was that it taught this third grader a valuable life lesson on Moore's Law of diminishing returns. But it was a cruel lesson to learn at a young age. Flying Finnegan ruined the thrill of Christmas for me.

By the time I was in eighth grade, I could care less if I received a gadget or another acrylic sweater. It was all the same.

That was, until a pair of Bauer Turbo hockey skates appeared under the tree.

The timing couldn't have been better. That winter, a strong cold snap fell upon our hometown of Kirkwood (St Louis, MO). The golf course's hole #12's lake had completely frozen over, creating a perfect opportunity to learn how to skate. My brothers, who also received skates, and I spent our entire Christmas holiday at the lake. These were all day affairs. It wasn't pretty at first. But as soon as I got some of the basics down, I tackled the cross over, skating backwards, and then even the backwards crossover. When it snowed, we brought shovels to clear a sheet. Others arrived from around the area for pickup hockey. I was no Wayne Gretzky, but by then end of that winter, I could skate and manage a puck well enough.

I never outgrew of those skates because I stopped growing that year. I've still got them. And use them, too. That's 28 years worth of usage! Looky here, from this past weekend with Ms Katherine at ConAgra's downtown rink:

Thanks for the blades, Mom and Dad. It was my favorite Christmas present ever.

Merry Christmas everyone.

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