Today we begin a special three-part holiday series on our favorite Christmas gifts of yore.
When you grow up with two sisters, especially when one of them is older, you can easily be led astray. I watched “Dirty Dancing”—with interest—more times than I could count. I cried during “Steel Magnolias.” When New Kids on the Block emerged and my sisters scooped up all the albums and merchandise, I thought NKOTB were the coolest guys in the world and I wanted to be a member of their singing posse. Until I went to school one day and my third-grade friends started making fun of them, and I was like, “Ha, ha, yeah, those guys are THE WORST. I’m really into Johnny Cash these days.”
But there were occasions when my natural, unconscious masculinity shone through. For example, I was very much into He-Man. These days, people might view He-Man (and that previous sentence) with some homoerotic skepticism, but I’m telling you—He-Man was a healthy representation of manhood back in the day. He carried a sword and rode a green tiger for crying out loud. The green tiger wore a helmet! That is gangsta.
As such, the first Christmas gift to leave an indelible mark on my childhood was not a He-Man figurine, which I obviously already had (plus the tiger, Battlecat), but Castle Grayskull.
Castle Grayskull was, as Wikipedia notes, “a fortress located on the fictional planet Eternia” and, more importantly, “a place of refuge for He-Man.” Underneath the Christmas tree, it was an absurdly ugly plastic thingee with a giant skull head that opened in the middle. To me, it was beautiful.
What resonated most about Castle Grayskull Christmas, as it would henceforth be known, was the sheer unexpectedness of it. I cannot recall if I asked Santa for the fortress, but if I had, I was certainly aware it was a shot in the dark to ask Santa to include such an ominous-looking gift in his bag of otherwise pleasant toys. It was more likely I didn’t even know Castle Grayskull existed in plastic form, or, if I did, thought it too luxurious a gift to even request. We were middle class! If you had asked me that Christmas morning to guess the market value of Castle Grayskull as compared to that of, say, my dad’s car, I probably would have guessed $100 for the latter, $75 for former, exposing my 5-year-old grasp of Reaganomics.
I just couldn’t believe it. It was to the point where I actually felt bad for my sisters. Here I was gallivanting my figurines’ way through the LAIR OF HE-MAN. Nothing they received could possibly compete with this, and their stares of jealousy penetrated my skin and tinged me with a sense of guilt, my first lesson that no joy this side of heaven can be experienced fully. (In retrospect, I now consider those stares of jealousy to have been stares of “What the hell is that?” as they brushed the hair of dolls that likely cost twice as much as Castle Grayskull.)
As I scrolled through Wikipedia during my romp down memory lane, it went on to say, “Castle Grayskull was made as a playset for the 1980s Masters of the Universe toy line. It was one of the more popular Christmas presents for pre-adolescent boys in the 1980s.” So I guess it turns out Castle Grayskull was not just a place of refuge for He-Man, or even for me, but it was such for countless young boys out there trying to avoid having to play dress-up with their sisters.
It would be cool if I still had Castle Grayskull, not for nostalgia, but so I could maybe sell it on eBay for like $400 to some He-Man nerd weirdo. As it stands, Castle Grayskull is but a Christmas memory, albeit one that will last from here to Eternia.
Personification of beauty
Note: This column appears in the 12/4 issue of The Glendale Star and the 12/5 issue of the Peoria Times.