June 4, 1998
I hadn't thought about it in at least 25 or 30 years. Then, while talking to my older brother on the phone a couple of years ago, he mentioned something about "Mister Destructo." The name sounded faintly familiar to me, but I had to ask him to remind me who "Mister Destructo" was. He laughed, and reminded me that my entire family had called me "Mister Destructo" when I was little, because I had always taken apart all of my toys, as well as pretty much everything else around the house that caught my interest.
As soon as he reminded me, the memories flooded back into my consciousness. I suddenly remembered all the times I had gone down to the basement and climbed up onto a chair in my Dad's workshop to liberate the screwdrivers, hammers, pliers and other pegboard-imprisoned assistants I needed to help me perform radical surgery on my victims. I remembered the rush of excitement I had felt the first time I opened each object and had seen its hidden motors, gears, wires, wheels and levers. I remembered the sharp, tiny shards of brittle, brightly colored plastic that had exploded onto the floor every time I had forced open something whose hidden assembly screws had not been visible to my young, untrained eye.
I remembered how, time after time, my initial feelings of exhilaration were always replaced by a slow realization and its subsequent feelings of panic. Panic that I was never going to be able to put the object of my attention back together the way it had been before my little research project. More often than not, my panic was well-founded, as it wasn't very often that I succeeded in totally reassembling the tiny, lifeless pieces back into a living toy or working appliance.
Failure didn't stop me, though. Panic didn't stop me. Getting yelled at for not returning tools didn't stop me. I just had to know how everything worked, and no one was going to stop me. With time, I learned some of the manufacturers' secrets -- how they hide the tiny screws that hold things together; how they fit a shoebox full of tiny individual parts into a toy the size of a shoe; how I could tighten cheap parts that had loosened with wear; and how I could refurbish or even improve parts to make them run better and last longer. Not that it really mattered if any of my toys lasted longer or not. I wasn't going to play with them the way they were meant to be played with any way -- for me, playing with a toy meant taking it apart. My initial fascination with wanting to see how things worked turned into a real education in how to make things work better.
Over the years, I continued to take apart pretty much everything I owned; in fact, I still do. A few of my victims have been several computers, VCRs, cassette recorders, washing machines and toasters, plus a clothes dryer, parts of several automobiles, and a pocket watch. I've also repaired and/or improved my home's electrical, plumbing, natural gas, and heating systems. In the early 1980's, I once saw an old washing machine discarded behind an appliance store, so I took it home and completely dismantled it, thinking that someday I'd use its motor, transmission, belts and pulleys to build something really cool. I've also had the opportunity to dismantle and fix many of my friends' broken things. My philosophy has always been, "If it's broken, and you're going to throw it out anyway, then I might as well take it apart and see if I can fix it." With a philosophy like that, someone like me will never run out of interesting stuff to take apart.
Somewhere along the way, my success rate got better than my failure rate. Somewhere along the way, I stopped getting yelled at for borrowing tools. Somewhere along the way, my family stopped teasing me about taking everything apart.
But somewhere, way down deep inside me, in a little room filled with motors, gears, wires, wheels and levers, five-year-old Mister Destructo still lives, and still needs to know how everything works.
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