The Billy Blastoff Incident

While prepping for a Dragon*Con panel recently, I got to thinking about how and when I started making stuff. What started me on the path to taking things apart and putting them back together wrong? As far as I can tell, it all stems from what will henceforth be known as “The Billy Blastoff Incident”…

When I was a kid, there was this really cool toy called Billy Blastoff. It was this little astronaut guy in a space suit.

The space suit’s backpack was where you put the batteries (two AA). And there was a motor inside Billy …pointing downwards …with a gear …sticking out of his butt. (Note: This was a long time ago and no one was the least bit concerned about stuff like toys with things sticking out of their butts.)

The gear was used to run the moon buggy that came with the set. You’d put Billy in the seat and turn on his backpack and the moon buggy would move. Like this:

Now, keep in mind that PONG hadn’t even been invented yet, so this was seriously cool stuff.

I begged my parents for a Billy Blastoff space set. I really wanted the set with Billy and Robbie Robot. Robbie had the same sort of setup as Billy, with a gear sticking out of his robot butt.

So Christmas comes around and I get a Billy Blastoff set. No, it wasn’t the one with Robbie. It wasn’t even a space set. Now, I don’t know if the space sets were in short supply or my parents just didn’t get me – probably a bit of both – but what I got was the Billy Blastoff construction set. Yeah, they made a construction set. Not a space construction set. No, just a construction set. This Billy wasn’t an astronaut at all. He was a construction worker. In overalls. And a backpack. The hell? Construction workers don’t wear backpacks! No moon buggy either. He had a dumptruck.

Needless to say, I was disappointed. But I went and played with it for a while …and then I took it apart. Partly to see how it worked but mostly because a construction worker Billy Blastoff was boring as crap. And I pulled out the wires and the motor and the gears and started to make things with them.

And from that I developed an affinity for taking things apart and putting them back together wrong. And I’m still doing it

So what’s the lesson here? Could be, “Through hardships to the stars.” Or, maybe, “If you give your kids crappy toys, they’ll turn out a bit weird.” One or the other.

Steve DeGroof

Steve consists of approximately 60% water and 40% organic molecules, arranged in a configuration that is, among over things, capable of describing itself in this manner.

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