My Backlash With Comic Book Advertisements
It started innocently enough when I was ten years of age. Like every other young lad dreaming of adventure, I would read Spiderman, Superman and The Hulk comic books as a form of escapism. Sprinkled amongst the exploits of these superheroes were advertisements with grandiose claims of miraculous muscle development, X-ray glasses and the wonders of keeping pet sea monkeys.
I was particularly drawn by the “build your muscles” advertisements. They frequently featured spring chest expanders with their specious promises that your chest and arm muscles will bulge to amazing proportions and will dissuade any would-be-bully at the beach from kicking sand in your face.
I confess that I was desirous of developing huge muscles. After all, without a Herculean physique, how could I join my beloved superheroes? And how could I impress friends with a puny body that struggled to remain upright on a windy day?
With neither funds nor the opportunity to acquire a bona fide chest expander, I was inspired to improvise. After recalling that my bed also served as a decent trampoline, my trek took me to an abandoned mattress I had seen in the street. Ignoring the puzzled looks of passers-by, I rummaged inside this water-drenched and foul-smelling item and rescued several of the steel springs.
In the privacy of my bedroom, I held the spring at chest level and pulled both ends in fair imitation of how I believed it was supposed to be done. But the spring had no ‘spring’. It retained its stretched shape. I forgot my disappointment as soon as it occurred to me that the spring works when it is compressed. Using another pristine spring, I exerted considerable force at both ends and, to my delight, it provided resistance and recoil. I imagined that my arm muscles were already enlarged and were pushing hard against my T-shirt.
The length of one spring was insufficient to span my chest area, so another inspired thought led me to intertwine the two ends of two springs to create one continuous pseudo chest expander. Painful memories prevent me, even now, from describing in detail what transpired when I pushed hard to compress both ends of my ad hoc contrivance. It suffices to say that I grimaced, and the nipple pain caused by the closeness of the spring to my chest evoked an immediate yelp. This heralded the arrival of concerned parents, who dealt with my embarrassment by solemnly offering sympathetic comments whilst trying to suppress giggles.
In addition to my adulation of superheroes, I avidly read comic books of stories about the fearless work of detectives and police to maintain law and order. I was particularly impressed by Dick Tracy, whose secret-agent manner, his use of gadgets and the amazing assortment of weapons rendered every criminal powerless.
In one edition of a Dick Tracy comic book, I came across an advertisement from the “Fun-E-Gadget Co.” which immediately buoyed my spirit. It was for a Junior Detective Kit, comprising handcuffs and two-way wrist radios, “just like the ones Dick Tracy uses”, I thought. The price tag seemed prohibitive, but by cutting out on ice-creams and chocolates for a few weeks, I figured that I could scrape together the required amount.
I had not informed my parents of the intended purchase, so I waited patiently each day for the postman’s whistle to take delivery before any family member sensed what was happening.
When the eventful day arrived, I furtively accepted delivery of the item from the postman and immediately retreated to my bedroom sanctuary. Hastily I ripped open the package and had my first look at the product. It seemed real enough, down to the coolness of the metal against the skin, the apparent strength of the chain links and the shape of the key.
Hastily, I glanced at the enclosed instructions, with their usual precautionary warnings relating to correct use of the equipment and a recommendation that the duplicate key be kept separate from the other. I unsuccessfully searched for the duplicate, but this did not worry me at the time, because I imagined that it was somewhere in the box.
I inserted the key in the lock, turned it clockwise and heard the handcuffs realistically click open.
“Great, it works!” I said softly. I held my right arm in front of me and, with my left hand, I placed one cuff over my right wrist. I pushed the cuff slowly, listening to each click of the ratchet mechanism as it tightened. When the ratchet stopped moving, it would mean the cuff was securely in place.
Well, the ratchet did stop moving, indicating a tight fit. As a litmus test, I pulled on the cuff with my left hand and happily realised that only the key will unlock it.
I absent-mindedly let my right arm drop, and a moment later I heard the handcuffs hit the wooden floor, making a loud noise. The ratchet was not capable of dealing with my skinny wrist, which was even too skinny for the minimum setting on the handcuffs!
While I considered the option of returning the goods for a refund, the door was opened, and my brother, Jim, entered. He was five years older than me, considerably bigger and broader.
“What’s going on?” he asked authoritatively.
I knew I had to reveal all, even the part about my small wrist size. After a fit of laughter, he picked up the handcuffs and examined them.
“They look cool,” he stated. “Where’s the key?”
I handed him the key and watched with interest. “What are you going to do?” I asked.
“I want to test them,” Jim replied, placing the key in his left pocket.
Whereupon he closed one cuff over his left arm, engaged the ratchet and swung the cuffed arm every which way but loose. There was no way the cuff was going to leave his solid, muscular hand.
When he saw the two-way imitation wrist radio, he picked it up and began his teasing.
“Calling Dick Tracy. This is Officer Jim,” he spoke officiously. “I have the suspect in custody. He is short and skinny. I can’t use handcuffs on him because he has small hands.” My brother began to laugh uncontrollably.
“What should I do, Detective Tracy?” He flopped backwards onto my bed, staring at the ceiling. His left arm was resting over his right leg.
Then it all became clear to me as to what had to be done.
I dashed towards him, grabbed the loose end of the handcuffs, placed it around his right leg and engaged the ratchet. It was a tight fit, but it worked.
“What the hell are you doing?” Jim blurted out when it dawned on him what I had done.
“I’m just testing them,” I explained, already feeling uneasy.
“Well, you’ll get yours in a minute,” he warned me, as he began to squirm in a most ungraceful way.
At the same time, he was exerting considerable force to pull at the handcuffs with his right hand.
“Get the key from my pocket and unlock me,” he demanded.
I stood there, as if I had heard nothing.
“Come on, do it now!” he yelled. I stood there, still.
“Please, I’m sorry. Let me go,” Jim finally pleaded.
I thought this was punishment enough, and I moved towards him to take the key from his pocket.
But fate intervened, in the form of my parents marching in. They were reasonable minded people, as far as parents go, but the sight of my brother shackled in a most undignified way brought out the worst in them.
After a bout of glaring, my father found the key and turned the lock on my brother’s left wrist. Nothing happened. My father, in his methodical way, tried turning the lock on my brother’s right leg. Nothing happened. He repeated the process, with similar unspectacular results. The threads of the ratchet were damaged by Jim’s efforts to free himself.
My father’s anger and frustration finally got the better of him. He turned the key as hard as he could, with the predictable outcome of a broken key. My mother watched on in silence.
After deservedly copping my father’s tirade of invective, his anger subsided, and he began to think rationally.
“I can use a blow torch or an axe,” he proposed.
Fear appeared on my brother’s face, as well as on my own.
“Well, which is to be?” he asked, waiting for a response.
“Dear, don’t you mean bolt cutters?” my mother suggested, smiling.
“Yes, I suppose that will have to do,” he winked at my mother.
“But mind you,” he continued, looking at both of us in turn, “any more of this nonsense will see both of you in real handcuffs.”
Following that incident, I had more respect for my big brother, at least for a while. After all, most of what happened originated from my own misguided sense of righteousness and vengeance.
It was not long afterwards when his opportunity came along. My brother convinced me that a girl that I worshipped from afar rang to say that she wanted to see me at her home after school.
I visited, I met the irate father, I saw the confused girl and I was rudely ushered out.
But that is another story.