Dispatches, thoughts, and miscellanea from writer Jon Konrath

Hobby shop nostalgia

It rained all weekend. Poured. It’s always good to have the two days off, but I get a bit restless when I can’t go to a store or a movie or whatever without dressing in a scuba suit. While I was dodging to get some lunch on Saturday, I decided to duck into this hobby store that’s about a block away from me. Like a lot of other businesses in Astoria, it’s run more like a hobby than a regular place with regular hours, and pretty much every time I walk past it, the gate is down and lights are off. But I saw the doors open for business, so I decided to duck in there.

I’m no stranger to hobby shops. As a kid, my interests ran from trains to planes to cars to pretty much anything else you put together with plastic cement and little glass jars of paint. I built military airplanes, 1/48 scale plastic kits with way too much detail, at an age much later than I’d probably like to admit. When most kids were off trying to chase after girls for the first time or sneak into their parents liquor cabinet, I was in my parents’ basement, sitting at an old card table, listening to a Rush cassette and painting each individual dial on the instrument panel of a 1/32 scale F-15. My room had two walls of shelves filled with planes, and I had a workbench in the basement filled with half-built kits, tools, and supplies. I don’t entirely remember when I stopped or why, although I’m sure a lot of it had to do with a driver’s license and the desire to fit in. I don’t regret the time I spent doing this, although there is a certain shame factor, thinking about the geekiness of it. I mean, working on a computer – at least that could eventually lead to a job and money. But model airplanes don’t have any analog.

Walking into the old shop was like a flashback to me. It was a narrow, run-down little spot, but the walls were filled with shrink-wrapped cardboard boxes of many different areas and scales. Even the toy stores have the typical stuff, the half-dozen Testor’s kits that are made for kids with little patience. But when you get to a REAL hobby shop, they have the Pacta paints and the Tamiya kits and the sheets of custom metal foil detail pieces that cost more than some models. And this place had all of this – some older, almost vintage kits, and all of the heavy duty planes: the 1:48 B-1 and B-52 models, the 1/32 MRC planes, the Hellers from France, the DML armor kits from Hong Kong, the Paula and Antares resin kits from the Czech republic. It was all there, and I spent an endless amount of time looking at all of the kits, looking at the revised versions that had been re-released in the almost 20 years I’d been away from the hobby, and the new kits with generations of improvements in details, and technology. It made me really think about a lot of things, about life.

I’ll admit – I don’t really know where I’m going with my life these days. I’m punching the clock, eating the meals, sleeping when I can, but that’s about it. I haven’t been writing, and I haven’t been thinking about other projects. But I’m always hit with the whole “what am I doing?” volley of simultaneous and confusing emotions. I look at the people around me, the people my age, and they’re married, with kids, working, saving, buying houses, and in the conventional sense, they are DOING something. And then I look at what I’ve accomplished (which isn’t NOTHING, but…) and I look at my apartment full of toys and computers and DVDs, and I think I am not a grownup. And I think that if I was grown up, I would buy a new suit instead of buying a Slayer box set, or something. That I’d get my priorities straight. And maybe that would start the domino effect, of respect in my career, and meeting new people, and settling down, and everything else.

But then I also think that all of this is bullshit. I can’t – I don’t know, I can’t get up on a building and shout THIS IS BULLSHIT! and really fly my freak flag and… whatever. It’s more like a soft decision. But the decision is that I don’t really care. I don’t want to be a “grown up,” whatever that means. I can’t write the sequel to Rumored while I’m changing diapers, or busily shopping at The Gap, or whatever else. I care about eventually meeting someone, but I don’t care enough to ignore the opportunities around me that I’d rather pursue. I’d rather travel alone, and buy lots of DVDs, and stay up late at night playing video games. I don’t need to defend that against any other standard.

So I bought a model airplane. It’s a B-25, in 1/32 scale, and it’s a balsa kit, which I’ve never tried before. You actually cut out all of these balsa pieces, strigners and keel pieces and formers and stuff, and pin them to this big blueprint and glue it all together, so you get a skeleton of balsa. Then it is covered with a tissue paper and glue, and plastic pieces like windows and engine nacelles are included. It’s designed to fly with engines or be a static model. I’d like to build an RC plane, but I decided this would be my “learn from my mistakes” model, before I sink any money into a bigger plane.

I bought glue and knives and sandpaper and some other small tools, and also got a big piece of foamboard to use as my “table.” While it poured outside, I sat on the couch with the board in my lap and pinned down my pieces, cut out rib holes for stringers, and had the TV on in the background. It reminded me of what I really missed about building models, which is the almost hypnotic effect of working with your hands, going through the steps, trimming and eyeballing and test-fitting and inspecting, and actually building something that passes the time in such a different and more fulfilling way than just sitting on the couch and watching SuperStation reruns.

So that was my weekend. I mean, I went to dinner at Kiev on Saturday night in a short break of the rain, but I came back and kept gluing and cutting. I mostly finished the fuselage frame, then took a long walk to Home Depot and bought a Dremel MotoTool so I could cut things up a bit faster. But it was a good weekend overall, despite the shitty weather.

[2020 update: never finished that model. And I still have the same internal conversation about being an adult.]