There’s something to be said for cities where you can still walk into a store and buy a resistor, model airplane parts, and a porno mag. It doesn’t have to be the same store, but just that those stores actually still exist in the city: it means something.
I was behind a man in line at a kiosk a couple days ago, waiting to top up my mobile credit, and he was bantering and laughing with the person at the register waiting to be handed his goods: a pack of cigarettes and a porno mag. They chatted amiably, and he turned to wander up the street, along the bustling main drag that leads to the central city square.
It made me think of being a kid and trying to steal porno mags from local gas stations and places like that (there was a mall in this town near where I grew up, Silverdale, that had a bookstore in it that inexplicably also sold porno mags) and realizing that there was a period in the 90s where porn mags slowly disappeared. You could blame this on the internet, but there were two other places that slowly died too: places to buy model airplane parts and resistors.
I have no idea how these three things are related, or if they really are, I’m sure someone out there that knows something about R values (P values? Someone who knows statistics and things abut correlation just go ahead and jump in here), but I do know that the 90s were a period where these three things slinked off into the background.
In my hometown you used to be able to buy all three of these things between local hobby stores, a Radio Shack, and a gas station. But slowly these stores closed or stopped selling these items. Radio Shack turned into a weird backwater of Made for TV items and electronic devices that paired with a VCR, or a home intercom system, or something equally useless. Hobby stores closed and gas stations got classy (or not classy, but you just couldn’t buy porn anymore… you could still get vibrating cock rings from those quarter machines in the bathroom and ground up rhino horns, or wasp hormones, or whatever, in those weird pills by the cash register which supposedly would give that special lady in your life the best sex of her life.)
I remember the nearest hobby store to my home actually ended up being next door to the diner that was used in Twin Peaks; beautiful North Bend Washington. That was a hefty distance to go for a new prop or balsa wood wing kit. And given my flying experience these were all in constant, desperate need. I crashed planes faster than I could build them and gold stars to my dad for his commitment to trying to start small gas engine airplanes while sitting in some empty, gray cloud-covered field, soaked to the bone from dew that somehow could hang in gallon drops on each blade of grass.
We had some nice moments where I think we were both equally miserable, but just sort of liked having something to do. I liked hanging out with my dad as a kid, because he’d always get into optimizing things I cared about and he’d approach these endeavors with the same gusto as designing some piece of furniture or engineering a part of a house. It made me feel like the things I cared about were important and as a kid that’s huge. I remember him giving some design tips to maximize the mobility and power of a mobile water balloon launcher or in the case of the model airplanes, making an attachment for the cordless drill that would spin the prop instead of having to flick it with a finger and hope I always walked away being able to still count to ten visually on my hands.
If YouTube had been around then, I could have made a super cut of my dad running after departing planes flapping his arms above his head madly, trying to get me to steer away from imminent disaster. Mind you, it would be hard to tell if it was a super cut except for the fact that the background and the color of the planes changed, as my dad wears the same outfit everyday (which I think has trickled down a bit, as I recently had someone show me pictures of one of my projects in progress and noticed that while everyone else’s look changed I remained constant in my apparel.)
Two instances of note involving model airplane tragedy:
1. After taking off, banking hard left and flying directly into a tree. My dad only ran waving his arms for about two strides during this 5 second flight.
1. I took off out of an empty parking lot only to go into erratic flight patterns, causing some utility workers sitting on the back of their truck eating lunch to start laughing and pointing at my drunken plane path. Unfortunately for them, that erratic flight pattern included a collision course with their truck, meaning they all had to dive to safety as the plane crashed into the fence behind where their heads had once been.
Model planes also make me think of my best friend from those years, Eamon, and his Dad who smoked cigars and built beautiful model planes. (Eamon and I’d always sneak out of his parents house at night to go Night Watching, where we’d go to a pond near his house and listen to frogs. We’d also peak in neighbors windows to see what people were up to.) My Dad had friend’s his age, Wade and Glen (who limped along in a cloud of booze), who built planes, but they did it in that way of putting ships in boats where it was meticulous and surgical and seemed to indicate a fine glass of whiskey in the background somewhere. I was more “I hope I don’t super glue too much stuff to my hands, and we can get this done before lunch”.
I still have a model airplane sitting in my garage, because I keep thinking I’ll finish it and fly it with my dad. It’s one of those things that I used to believe is needed to make my relationship with my dad whole, and then realized that the relationship is whole already, because it’s our relationship. The medium is the message sort of thing.
Porno mags my friends and I would steal and trade in middle school. I remember trading Super Mario 3 for a stack of Penthouse Letters, which people thought I was crazy for doing at the time. “THERE’S NO PICTURES!” said my friend Joey, which in my head I responded to with “Yeah, it’s better cause you get to imagine everything.” I still think I’m right on that one.
As for resistors, I wasn’t into electronics too much as a kid (computers: yes, electronics: no), but I miss that I don’t see them around. Something about seeing them made me think the possibility to fix anything was close at hand: acid rain, spotted owls... anything could be mended (sidenote: whatever happened to acid rain and the spotted owl? Did they cancel each other out? As kids we'd be diving under desks for earthquake drills as teachers voices echoed in halls about acid rain and spotted owls and then suddenly there was silence. Maybe we all just reached a certain state of acceptance.)
Being in Eastern Europe a lot, I find these three things EVERYWHERE, and I wonder what changes in a place that causes them to disappear. I guess the easy answer is probably just because online shopping has become more prevalent, but as I’m wont to do, I’ll go ahead and turn this observation into some enormous generalization that covers way more than it should.
So my generalization for why these three things disappeared is: there’s been a reduction of intimacy in communities.
Building airplanes in garages, soldering up little custom electronics, or reading a porno mag are all things people do individually in their spare time. Maybe every once in a while you share the experience with friends. I won’t tell stories highlighting this, but quite a few people reading this just nodded their head in a knowing embarrassment or at least recognition. I feel like being out among other people in the community and being seen engaging in the things you do while alone is something we don’t like to make visible anymore.
I get in a lot of conversations with Serbians about the tightness of family and the pros and cons of it. The stereotype here in Belgrade seems to be that people structure their life much more towards their family and the idea of community: much more than back in the States. I remember back home people leaving high school, or graduating college, and talking with pride about moving across the country or to a different country: they were cool for having left their families behind. People that stayed where they grew up were somehow Less Than. Here people don’t think like that as much.
And maybe that’s why I can walk out my door here and buy a model airplane, a resistor, and a porno mag.