Monday, January 10, 2005

California Delight #9: D & J Hobby Store

This entry is a little embarrassing, but I believe it constitutes a significant aspect of the Californian mentality that appeals to me, so I will confess it: I'm sorry to say goodbye to San Jose because it means saying goodbye to D & J Hobby.

Some background: when I was 12, I joined a model-building club that held a town contest in the early spring. I hiked over to the local hobby store (a vendor that could have been set up in a typical master-bedroom closet, with space to spare) and sought out the coolest model available. This being 1977 - too early for George Lucas to properly capitalize on Star Wars, and consequently too late to choose anything particularly "cool" - I settled for an F-15 Eagle (an airplane the US Navy developed then scrapped within a year), grabbed a tube of Testor's glue and a handful of paints, then paid seven dollars for the mess and hurried home.

Things went badly right from the start. My paintbrush was a blocky construction with brittle bristles that raked the paint over the plastic, producing a wide array of uneven loops and swirls. It didn’t occur to me until I’d finished the majority of painting that the cans of spray-paint on display next to the little bottles were there for the body-work, while this brush could probably have done an adequate job of the details. By then it was too late: an immaculate application of spray-paint would have done little to hide the damage I’d inflicted on my model.

Still, the money was spent, so I proceeded with the task of building. When it was time to glue the cockpit to the fuselage, I accidentally spilled a large drop of cement on the plane’s clear-plastic canopy – D’oh! I gingerly wiped it off, but this was now my model’s second fatal wound. In a panic, I called my father’s office to tell him what happened. He generously called a parishioner who had won a few of these contests, and returned to me with the following advice: “Try scraping off the glue with a razor, then polishing the scratches with some Brasso.” Hope was once again restored, but although I whistled while I worked, the effort produced further disaster. I pondered my predicament, and came up with an ingenious solution: paint the canopy black! The end result was, I thought, rather dangerous-looking.

Other problems arose that only model makers can relate to. The plane’s landing gear was spindly, and if you attempted to put the airplane’s weight on the wheels before the glue had properly dried, the result was surreal. I discarded the newly-warped landing gear, and glued shut every workable door and hinge.

The final result bore my unmistakable fingerprint – several of them, in fact. I very much doubted I’d win any sort of prize, but I entered the contest anyway, curious to hear what the judge would say.

There were some stunning models on display, including a couple of vans with interiors that had somehow been upholstered with miniature shag rug. These had their own display cases outfitted with strobe lights, and they both won top prize. The judge took care to say something about every entry, and I made notes, then held my breath as he approached my airplane. He paused, reached down and picked it up with pinched fingers. “This guy,” he said, regarding my model with a look of mild sorrow, “Well, he sure tried.”

The hoots of laughter haunt me still. I gave up model-making after that, but when I turned 30, I bought my first kit in years – a P-38 Lightning. I took my time with it, and must admit, felt immense satisfaction with the final result. I haven’t hung it with fishing line from my bedroom ceiling (in fact, it’s not on display anywhere), but I do make it a habit to build a model a year. And D & J Hobby, an enormous, cluttered mess of a store, has for the last ten years provided me with the best of them.
Oh, baby!
Funny thing, though: the customers all seem to be men my age...

California Delight #8


DarkoV said...

Hanging the P-38 from your bedroom ceiling? Now THAT I would have loved to see. I'm sure the wife would have her hastily assembled ack-ack guns lined up and firing shortly thereafter. Suspended model planes and feminine home decor? That's "The Battle of Britain" all over again.

Tom said...

This reminds me of recently heard pieces of trivia, that most of the Lego sold is to men over the age of 25! Apparently, there's enough Lego bricks for everyone in the world to have 14 pieces each! I have more than my fair share, apparently.

Whisky Prajer said...

And your 14 pieces are exactly the ones I need to complete my life-sized version of The Millennium Falcon - I'll be right over!