When I was three and four, toy cars and trucks were not that important. What was? Guns.
Little boys had toy pistols. We had guns that shot ping-pong balls. We had guns that shot arrows tipped with suction cups. We had guns that shot balsa airplanes into the air. We had guns that shot rubber bands at cardboard soldiers. We had flashlights shaped like guns. We had guns which had no other virtue than that they looked like real guns. And every summer our collection of worn-out water pistols from the summer before was replaced with new ones.
At six I was given my first cap pistol. A pair of them, actually – two long-barreled revolvers, like Hopalong Cassidy’s, and a wide white real leather gun belt with two holsters with tassels. I wore my guns whenever I could. As soon as I came home from school, I’d strap them on and leave them on until I went to bed. It wasn’t obsessive, exactly; it was more fetishistic. It gave me an intense pleasure, wearing my holsters and guns.
Not long ago, Chops and I were in a thrift shop, browsing through a clutter of old toys. I spotted a toy jeep, with a machine gun mounted in the back. I pointed to the gun. “What’s that?” I asked. Chops was stumped. Finally, he posited that it was something for towing cars, but I could see that he wasn’t convinced.
Toy guns have become a totem, for one tribe, and a taboo, for the other. For some American children – and not just boys, these days, I’d guess – guns are iconic representations of sacred objects. In the other tribe, toy guns are considered such an abomination that children are kept ignorant of their existence. One way or the other, the obvious phallic symbolism of guns, which made them so attractive to the subconsciousnesses of little boys of the past, has been subsumed by their societal significance. That is why cars and trucks have become so important to little boys of both tribes. Like guns when I was a child, for little masculine imaginations they now are the playthings of choice.