Christmas brings out the worst in humanity. I mean, if Christmas will turn a 9-year-old kid into a miscreant (“criminal sociopath” seems much too harsh a term for a fourth grader), what do you think the holiday does to someone really disturbed, like a serial killer, or a congressman?
My Christmas struggles began in 1974.
“Hey, Trent,” I said as we walked to the dugout for Little League batting practice (we needed it). “I’m getting G.I. Joe with Kung Fu Grip for Christmas.”
Nine is a tough age. It’s just young enough you still want toys as presents, but just old enough you don’t act like you want them.
“It’s June,” Trent said.
I nodded. “Yeah, so?”
I didn’t actually know a G.I. Joe with Kung Fu Grip would be in my future, but I really wanted it to be. The ads during cartoons wouldn’t let me think otherwise.
That year was a perfect storm of Kung Fu. The David Carradine martial arts Western TV show “Kung Fu” was in its second full season, one of the most popular songs was Carl Douglas’ “Kung Fu Fighting,” and the Kung Fu superhero cartoon “Hong Kong Phooey” (voiced by the legendary Scatman Crothers), was on ABC every Saturday morning.
Then Hasbro came out with G.I. Joe with Kung Fu Grip.
G.I. Joe’s hard plastic hands had always been awkward. Pinched in a way no human hands would ever form, Joe’s hands were designed to hold a knife, pistol, rifle, canteen, binoculars, and quite possibly a bottle of Jack Daniels. This was the 1970s. But Kung Fu Grip Joe’s hands were rubber and could bend to grab the aforementioned gun, or whiskey, in one hand, while cradling a newborn with the other.
Like every 9-year-old boy in America, I not only wouldn’t shut up about the new G.I. Joe, I couldn’t shut up about it.
Then one afternoon, after five and a half months of constant parental torture, I found a Christmas package with the label “Jason” tucked under Mom and Dad’s bed. It sat atop an identical package labeled “Greg.”
I pulled mine out and carefully unwrapped the red reindeer Christmas paper.
You know how it feels during your first kiss? Or the first time you held someone you loved? Well, it wasn’t like that at all because I was 9 and this was only a toy. But I’m surprised I didn’t pee, just a little.
I played with my G.I Joe with Kung Fu Grip every day I could sneak him out, battling Germans if I were in a World War II mood, or Soviets if I felt end-of-the-worldish. Then his hand broke, the rubber finger nubs dangling free like something from a horror movie.
I panicked. What’s a guy supposed to do with a broken Christmas present he wasn’t supposed to know about? What sort of horrors might follow me for Christmas’s to come? What … oh, yeah.
I switched my broken G.I. Joe with Greg’s brand new one. On Christmas morning I opened my fresh G.I. Joe and acted like I’d just won the Irish lottery. I don’t know what Greg did. He opened his at his home in Colorado. I still don’t feel badly about it.
See what I mean about Christmas? It brings out the worst in us.
Jason Offutt’s latest book, “Across a Corn-Swept Land: An Epic Beer Run through the Upper Midwest,” is available at amazon.com.