By Sean Wilkinson
Now that toy-shopping season is upon us, I’d like to discuss the World’s Best Toy Ever. Sadly, I did not find even one model of this toy in the 2006 Toys R Us catalog that came with the newspaper the other day. I scanned the ad thoroughly, but nowhere (not between the Bratz dolls and life-size Barbie heads, the mini drum kits and saxabooms), nowhere was there a version of the classic walkie-talkie.
What is it about walkie-talkies? Ever since I was a kid, walkie-talkies have been the most desirable toy I can imagine. I remember my first pair, a Spider-Man–shaped set with big blue antennas. They were pretty cheap, and I eventually lost one, leaving me with a lone walkie-talkie. (Or is the singular “walky-talky”?). No matter how many times I walked up and down the block calling “Anybody there? Over?” into the circle of holes in Spider-Man’s chest, I never got a response. One might think that sad and frustrating turn of events would lead me to abandon communication toys. But thankfully, for the sake of this column, that was not to be the case.
A couple years later, my brother and I got a box on Christmas morning labeled “Fisher-Price.” I generally considered Fisher-Price toys little kids’ stuff, wobbly figures and farm animals and the like. But there were two exceptions.
One was the Fisher-Price printing press. You could arrange words made of rubber letters in a plastic tray, ink them up with the felt pad Fisher-Price supplied, and print your own publications – one sentence at a time. I loved that.
The other was inside the box before us that morning: two black plastic rectangles with tall plastic antennas. There was a speaker at the top and a circle of holes at the bottom. The giant press-to-talk button on the side was orange, and another feature, seemingly common to all toy walkie-talkies, was the small, square, orange button with a line and a dot on it, below which was a Morse code chart. Pressing this button sent an annoying beep to the other walkie-talkie, purportedly part of a series of Morse code signals, but most often used just to annoy. Very occasionally, we would send back and forth the only Morse code anyone knows: S.O.S.
Upon receipt of this gift, everything became a task that required a set of walkie-talkies. “Hey, we’re out of Frosted Mini-Wheats, over.”
“Roger. Commence eating of sister’s Cinnamon Toast Crunch. I’ve got your back. Over.”
“Cinnamon Toast Crunch eating under way. Over and Out.”
The antennas were chewed by the dog. The battery compartment doors were hopelessly lost, replaced by a rectangle of cardboard and some black electrical tape. The annoying beep-buttons were a little spotty, shorting out here and there to create an especially grating spasmodic-beep-button. We didn’t care. The walkie-talkies were the most popular toy we ever received, shooting well past the former favorite, Ewok Village, which had held the top spot for years, having provided hours of Han Solo torture and C-3PO levitation antics.
Even my parents appreciated the novelty and functionality of the walkie-talkie. I remember taking a road trip down to a family camp in Massachusetts as a two-car caravan. My aunt Cathy and her three kids were behind us, and they had one of the Fisher-Price walkie-talkies. My mom had the other in our car. When we weren’t picking up CB radios and construction-worker chatter, we used the walkie-talkies for important road trip communications.
My mom would hold her walkie-talkie out the window and wave it. My aunt would reply by turning her walkie-talkie on and pushing the annoying-spasmodic-beep-button to let it be known she was ready to talk.
(This was, of course, years before cell phones. It was the early era of car phones, and the only people with car phones I knew of at the time were Donald Trump, Michael Knight and Inspector Gadget. You know, rich people.)
Anyway, walkie-talkie status having been clearly communicated, my mother and her sister would then proceed to relay info.
“Leigh has to poop again. We’re going to find a McDonald’s at the next exit. Over.”
“Roger. Over and Out.”
Years went by, and my brother and I eventually grew out of our childhood need to play with the walkie-talkies. There were, on occasion, situations when I did need them again, like when some friends and I were sneaking into someone’s grandmother’s camp to drink, and one of us was watching the road. Or when we were spray-painting a big red CLASS OF 96 onto the side of the school and likewise needed communication from the watch position to the sprayers. The Fisher-Price walkie-talkie helped us avoid not one, but two police cruisers that night.
I find myself now craving another pair of walkie-talkies. I also find myself wondering how many more times I can write “walkie-talkie” before the words lose all meaning. Mostly, though, I’m fantasizing about my ideal pair of boxy, black, Back To The Future-style walkie-talkies. In fact, the only reason I’m writing this Cheery Monologue about walkie-talkies is so my girlfriend might buy me a pair for Christmas. Not some new, bubbly, neon, eight-mile range set for $75. I’m talking the black rectangle with a circle of holes in the center and an extendable metal antenna. And, of course, the annoying-beep button, so I can send signals to the lucky person I talk into playing walkie-talkies with me. Over and out.