I Want a Lego Pirate Ship

I feel like I have to get this toy for myself, now, to wipe clean the slate.

Lego Pirates “The Islanders” commercial.

I don’t know how or why I became obsessed with Lego pirates in the mid-90’s — I was living in some rural German hamlet without cable in a time where everyone was still obsessed with Ninja Turtles.

I suppose I saw them in the American magazines we ordered to maintain that cultural “loopness,” for a lack of a better word, with where we came from. When I tell people I spent part of my childhood in another country they are want to insert their own romance into it — ah, the old country, long walks on cobblestone, espresso, and Charlemagne.

When they learn you’re American, they dismiss and disdain you. The kids on our street threw rocks at us. When we visited Paris, the death glares we got from passerby were so bad I begged my dad to just hide in the car the whole trip. Most adults, even chauvinist ones, understand this is people pushing back at the cultural dominance of America.

When you’re a kid, though, you just cry a lot. And act out. My father was in the military, so I saw military psychiatrists; to them, any sort of noncompliance is pathological. If I were nine years old today a lot of my behaviors would be classified as on the autism spectrum; then, they gave you whatever diagnosis would justify giving you Ritalin.

Giving Ritalin, a drug that inhibits your ability to regulate emotion, to a child, a creature of pure id with a bad bowl cut, is a very precarious situation when you are in a line of work where familial stability factors into whether or not you get passed up for promotions. When the Ritalin wore off, I would just scream or start crying without provocation. Picture a nine-year old going through the breakup of a ten-year relationship. That was my parents’ life.

It was near the end of the school year, 1994. I was at baseball practice, my Ritalin had worn off, and I was having a low-key panic attack on first base. My father pulled me aside:

Dad: What do I have to do to get you to keep it together?

Me: A Lego pirate ship.

Dad: Okay. If you go the rest of the year without a breakdown, I’ll get you one in the summer.

I don’t know where that sudden desire came from. All the Lego I had were space-themed and pirates wouldn’t be cool again until I was in high school. I’ve since rationalized it to be that the pirate ship was reflective of my own inner turmoil as an emotional castaway to a world whose enmity for me I’d never understand.

Anyway, in the parlance of our times, I did the thing. I went the rest of the school year and the whole Little League season without embarrassing my parents with a public display of losing my shit. I honestly don’t know how I did it. Pictures of myself from that summer show me at my absolute thinnest. It’s possible I kept taking the Ritalin on weekends and summer break.

Then it came time to pay up. We were at a Toys “R” Us in Illinois — we visited stateside family in the summers — and my dad, unable to locate a Lego pirate ship, convinced me to settle for one of the two playsets that made up the Power Rangers MegaZord from the movie. The one that was, like, all the other robots that made up the arms and legs. Once we went back to Germany, I’d probably never find the other playset to actually build the whole thing.

It was a papercut that grew into a festering abscess. For like, a year, I would burst into panicked crying just thinking about it.

See, it wasn’t about the pirate ship itself (though that playset is pretty boss). It was the betrayal. I came through on something for someone I loved and trusted, and they shafted me.

For years, this transaction became the blueprint of my relationships; when partners asked me to go to therapy, or work on myself in some way, I would relive that childhood anger and just slowly sink into myself until I was able to convince them that this stone was in fact bloodless.

And it’s not my dad’s fault. The Skull’s Eye Schooner was released in 1993. It was a year old by the time we tried looking for it. These aren’t Rubik’s Cubes or Slinkies. Power Rangers were very hot at the time. I’m older now than my father was when he made that trade, and I probably would’ve made the same trade if I had a child addicted to amphetamines pressing me to pay up on a bet I was confident she would lose a week in.

Some girlfriends, doing the math, have offered to drudge up their Lego ships from storage or bite the bullet on eBay — until they do a search and find that the Skull’s Eye Schooner kit, Item 6286, made in 1993, goes anywhere from $600 to $3,200. As a nine year old, it was just some toy where I could pretend my carpet was the open seas and my Andre the Giant action figure was a sea giant or something. It’s flattering, in a sad way, to see that my unrealized childhood has such a hot price tag.

I feel like I have to get this toy for myself, now, to wipe clean the slate. And it has to be the Skull’s Eye Schooner. If I settle for the Renegade Runner or the Cross Bone Clipper, I’ll always know it in my heart that I superglued a cut I could’ve sutured.

As a freelance writer, the likelihood that I’ll be able to squirrel that money away over time is a longshot; this isn’t a story about how I started a savings account. Almost any writer would tell you anyway: your success is built on the connections you make. I corroborate this as someone who’s helped launch several young writers into full-time staff writer jobs as I eke out a niche in food writing and local reporting.

Collector’s communities dovetail—I started volunteering at the Pacific Pinball Museum in Alameda, meeting pinball collectors and getting familiar with the economics of buying and selling arcade machines. Going to meetups and consulting people on sales helped me meet jukebox and other automata collectors, who in turn introduced me to memorabilia collectors, who have in turn introduced me to toy collectors. It’s a lot of emails and texts about lunchboxes and Pez dispensers for now, but somewhere in my cultivated garden of contacts is someone who has or knows someone who has a Lego Item 6286 and doesn’t want to go through the hassle of an eBay listing.

Those gardens require tending; you gotta go to the conventions and post in boards. It’s time and labor — a currency all unto itself. I had a girlfriend once who told me “if you can throw money at it, it’s not a problem, it’s an expense.”

When the alternative is to grow into a bitter 40-something woman who still blames her dad and some out-of-print kid’s toy for why her ex-girlfriends won’t accept her friend requests on Facebook, it’s really, really not a problem.

In all reality, once I get it, I’ll take it out of the box, build it, and leave it untouched on my office. If you spent decades looking for the missing piece of your heart, you probably wouldn’t run around the house pretending to shoot cannonballs at your adult roommates with it.

Or at least you wouldn’t admit to it.

Jetta Rae is a writer, an intersectional alchemist, and a born-again heel. She can be found on twitter at @jetta_rae

This story is part of The Billfold’s I Want It Now series.

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