Hearkening back to the old days, when I was a wee lad. There were many toys of great inventiveness that passed by my small hands. I recalled a visit to the parental units and my old closet of “potent archaeological relevance” earlier this year, where I sighted the old Strange Change Machine from days of yore. Since I’ve been pondering the effects of exposure to “ancient artifacts of alien training” on my brain’s development, I figured I ought to consider this interesting tool.

The machine is this square piece of metal, basically a heating unit, with a thin wire grille over the dark recesses of heat that emanate from the depths of who-knows-where. A hard plastic capsule with a sliding door covers the grille area, and there are three vents at the top to allow heat to escape. To the side of the capsule/grille is a small metal compactor area, like the kind used to crush cars into squares of metal, with a sliding plastic panel to seal it off and a crank that screws the compactor wall in and out.

The machine’s design suggests an infernal time machine created by some mad scientist not eating with both hands. Accompanying the machine you get a set of plastic tweezers, a plastic play-mat illustrated with a gorgeous “dinosaur era” landscape, and a number of green, pink, red and yellow plastic squares, all blazoned with the Mattel brand logo on them.

You plug in the machine, it heats up, and you pop a square into the capsule. As the square heats up, it unfolds and changes before your eyes into a monster! Cool, huh? You then take him out with your tweezers, let him cool (as he is a bit soft and very hot), and set him aside to work on the next one! Pretty soon, you’ve got a whole slew of characters for use on your play-mat, and its time to have them battle for supremacy and your amusement!

Some of the monsters included, a scorpion, a snake, a spider, a mummy, a brontosaurus, a tyrannosaurus, a winged mothman demon of some outlandish sort, and a pterodactyl. When you were done, you put them in the capsule to heat them up, and then you jammed them into the compactor, which was also hot, and gradually squished them back into a square! You plucked them out, let them cool, and had a pile of squares again!

I’m not exactly sure such a toy would pass safety standards today, since it’s really easy to leave the machine on and go watch cable and forget about it. Hey, what’s that smell? Oops, left the mummy in the compactor too long! I looked the machine up on the internets, and learned that the secret to the magic of the monsters is that they are made of a special kind of plastic, that when passed through a special chamber and bombarded with radiation, the molecules of the plastic are set into their current shape, and thus they will always try to reconfigure themselves to that shape even when squished into a hard square!

That was I as a kid, handling irradiated super-plastics and playing with high heat to make characters for my latest play-set. Was it the toys that made the adult, or did the child summon toys suitable for their own development? I wonder if natural selection favors those children who are able to acquire the right toys for their training. Is the future creating the present by manipulating the past? I start to get flashes of that old horror classic, Children of the Damned. Parents have every right to be concerned over what their child is playing with, because those toys are the symptoms of their own destiny!

What does it mean then, that so many toys with lead in them are being recalled? On the surface, it could easily be explained as despicable carelessness and reckless endangerment of the young. Is there some collective unconscious fear of the new breed of little monsters? Is the greed and unconcern for our children symptomatic of a sick desire at self-preservation against the future? Is it a mere obstacle of natural selection to be dodged, like so many things in life? Is it an experience summoned by the unconscious to test a new generation of children? Lead is not conducive to good health in reality, but in the dreamworld, lead is turned into gold. Or it could be a vital element in some great task – used in the building of a new shielding against hostile radioactive mutants, for example.

I think about Black Sabbath’s old classic, Children of the Grave, where Ozzy Osbourne sings, “Children of tomorrow live in the tears that fall today” and “Can they win the fight for peace or will they disappear?” The kids are training; their story has only just begun.