An array of Thomas the Tank Engine toys lies spread out across the floor.

Crazy Train

Friends, let me tell you how madness starts.

It begins with an Amazon wish list…

Wait — too close. Let’s zoom out a bit.

It begins with a desire to make my child happy…

Sounds like a reasonable enough request, yes? As parents who have brought new lives into the world, we see them evolve from mindless, fleshy blobs into functional, mostly bipedal organisms with thoughts, feelings, and desires of their own…

But once those desires are projected toward objects of questionable motives, we’ve a right to become wary. Because deadly are the outcomes where our progeny obsess after those objects, and deadlier still when they consume us as well.

The head of Percy stares up from below an exercise bike.
He sees everything…

Toy Train Crazy, You Know

I saw it coming — I saw the signs, and I even foretold my own doom. I knew I had a predisposition to collecting — physical and digital music libraries, Magic cards, even hotel soaps and ticket stubs — and I foolishly thought that that foreknowledge would shield me from the fate that awaited me. But I was weak, worn, broken. I found the allure of the deceiver, Thomas, and his fell Friends too powerful to resist. And now my wallet pays the price.

The Thomas & Friends series of wooden toys has got me by the throat. There’s nary a body of water in the entire Wooden Railway, yet I’m drowning in it. From the very first purchase, it seduced me like forbidden fruit from a serpent. What started with only a few of Gorgonna’s favorite engines exploded into an intense yearning — mine, not hers — for more of them.

A period of weeks (I’m ashamed to say) passed where I attuned my every antennae toward the various heretical bazaars that would purvey these idols of wood, magnets, and metal. Amazon, Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, thrift shops, garage sales… the possibilities for uncovering caches of rare rail-bound prizes seemed endless. And, so it seemed, would the resulting joy following their purchase.

But I knew from the beginning it was a problem — my typical idle time-wasters of checking email and dead-silent social media accounts buckled before the powerful hunger for sick deals and swelling lots of rare engines, tracks, and trucks.

The worn face of a Gordon sticker stares up from the bathtub floor.
Nowhere is safe…

The Divine Land

The obsession reached a boiling point at perhaps the greatest discovery yet — Totally Thomas, a specialty toy store with a dedicated rewards system meant to encourage (or in my case, assuage) the intense, burning infatuation for all things related to the Cheeky One.

On our first visit we unearthed an unopened two-pack of Giggling Troublesome Trucks (the 2013 out-of-manufacture model by Learning Curve, $42.50 on Amazon at the time of purchase) for half the price. We also splurged for an older, open-box trackset at a 20% discount, quenching my desire for not only more trains but for retired (and therefore exclusive) products in a single transaction. It was like stumbling into my local record store and finding the non-remastered version of Rust in Peace — I’d found the holy grail.

The decked-out Thomas train table at Barnes & Noble.
One day…

For Lack of a Legacy

Like Philip II of Macedon, father to Alexander the Great, I aspired to grant unto Gorgonna a kingdom of her own, for that which I left was… well, nonexistent. I hadn’t been into Thomas growing up, and so I didn’t have any well-worn trains to pass onto her. More importantly, I didn’t feel like I was projecting my own likes and dislikes onto her — these were her interests I was supporting, not the usual impositions we mostly metal parents usually struggle with.

Of course, I’ve been blathering on about all this in past tense — as if I’ve somehow magically moved on from eyeballing the fluctuating prices of Rocky (the medium-sized crane engine, currently $21.55 on Amazon) or Tidmouth Shed (the engines’ resting place after a long day of Hard Work and being Really Useful; the $76.80 version with deluxe spinning turntable). Such items must be carefully monitored if I’m to relinquish my hard-earned funds upon even more wooden manifestations of my love and devotion.

And the worst part? Whenever we do break down and buy another piece of our ever-expanding Thomas-verse, as soon as those tracks are carefully set into their secure (and smartly universal) positions, I’m suddenly filled with an urge for more. Assembling the world one piece at a time is granting me a vision of what could be, a utopia where Thomas is prophet, Lord and Savior and burning bush. And because I’ve become invested in the lore, the fucking cartography of the Island of Sodor, I’m even more compelled to “fill out the map,” as it were. I’m well on my way to becoming a Thomas junkie, ever in search of my next hit.

I am proud, however: we are withholding a few engines (Marion, the railway steam shovel, $8.13 off Amazon, as well as the Stanley that came with the trackset) to serve as future holiday gifts. Don’t want her getting spoiled, right? Besides, there isn’t enough room on Gorgonna’s current number of tracks to support any more engines — and that’s the real problem isn’t it?

“I know that things are going wrong for me /

You gotta listen to my words.”

– “Crazy Train”, Ozzy Osbourne

Twilight of the Idols

As parents, I think we have a natural inclination to become invested in our children’s interests. We want them to know that we’re paying attention, we want to encourage their developing emotions in the hopes of one day applying them to something constructive (maybe even constructing real train tracks someday).

But this can’t go on. If there’s anything I’ve learned about parenting in the last two years, it’s that no era lasts forever. She’ll lose interest eventually, so there’s no reason to go so hard, as if it’s a defining part of her identity (or our parent-child relationship).

Then again, she might be establishing a life-long passion; she might go on to become an honest-to-Gordon railway engineer. Maybe she’ll be able to trace her love for trains all the way back to these first few possessions; by that time, they won’t be considered investments — they’ll be inspiration. There’s just no fucking knowing!

One thing’s for sure — if I’m going to make it through Gorgonna’s third year of life with her college fund intact, I’ve got to slow my roll. This is a hype train I have to hop off of.

Still from AFI's "White Offerings" music video, with vocalist Davey Havok looking deeply into the camera.

Gorgonna’s Playlist, Vol. I: AFI, Power Trip, The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?)

It was only a matter of time before all the lullabies and nursery rhymes gave way to actual music.

Gorgonna’s going through a daily state of self-discovery. Along with picking up favorite food preferences, vexing behaviors to challenge us with, and other assorted yet endearing quirks, she has acquired an affinity for songs from Mommy and Daddy’s music libraries. I’m thinking that, since both the wife and I are music lovers (albeit on different, often opposing sonic spectrums), this isn’t going to be a rare occurrence. And naturally, I saw the inevitable outcome of making a recurring series out of it. So here we are.

Presenting Gorgonna’s Playlist: Vol. 1.

AFI – “White Offerings”

Currently, this is far and away Gorgonna’s favorite song. She requests it every time we get in the car, so much so it’s become synonymous with on-the-road travel.  I have to keep the CD in my car and have had to download it to my phone — just for the anywhere, anytime flexibility. She was first subjected to its emo/rock programming via a Sunday afternoon of repeated YouTube viewings — I think she likes the song as much, if not more so, for the enthused rock-out session I perform for her whenever it plays.

I’ve only recently developed a deep appreciation for AFI . I’d listen to a few tracks here and there during high school (what should have been my angsty golden years with them, I know), but they’ve largely been off my radar until now. I can attribute this excellent podcast for my current adoration (both for the podcast’s hosts and for their journey through the band’s discography), but it’s really the timeless quality of AFI’s music that has (ahem) ignited my passion for their songs. It does become a bit tiresome to play “White Offerings” every time we hit the road, but we follow it up with other favorite Blood Album tracks to keep things fresh for my sake.

Status: An Appealing Audio Offering

Power Trip – “Soul Sacrifice”

It seems so counter-intuitive, the way Gorgonna “happened” to like this song. This is metal, a style of music that wants to dominate, to make other genres bend the knee and swear fealty. More than that, it’s thrash — not exactly one of the more accessible subgenres. It’s noisy. But leave it to vocalist Riley Gale’s endlessly appealing charisma and delivery to win over the tykes as well as the die-hards. Gorgonna loves mimicking the opening “WAH!” and more deathly “Owwww!” that occur throughout the song; next thing you know, we’ll be enacting our own gang chants on “Firing Squad.”

My love for “Pow’ Trip” is well-documented. That Gorgonna mirrors even a fraction of the enthusiasm I feel toward this song in particular makes me a very proud papa indeed.

Status: Diaper Thrash

Ylvis – “The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?)”

Surely you remember the YouTube sensation that swept the world in — what was it, 2011? 2013? The one that had suburban grandmas, tech-illiterate uncles, and junior high schoolers all in a tizzy? Allow me to refresh your memory with a few of the lyrics:

“Ring-ding-ding-ding-dingeringeding!
Gering-ding-ding-ding-dingeringeding!
Gering-ding-ding-ding-dingeringeding!”

Who could forget?

I’ll be honest — we bought the book-version of the song long before Gorgonna began turning paper pages, even going so far as to inscribe it with the first “Merry Christmas from Mommy and Daddy!” By then it had acquired too much sentiment to simply hide away, and so her exposure to it was assured; “The Fox” will forever go down in the Annals of History as the first “song” she ever liked. Although, to this day, Gorgonna has only seen the video a single time (at our house, anyway; I can’t vouch for the grandmas). But you only need to have heard the song a couple times to have its melodies entrenched in your deepest cranial pits forever.

At the very least, repeating the gibberish that makes up the majority of the song’s lyrics was (and still probably is) a serviceable way to distract Gorgonna from flipping out at the dinner table or on the diaper-changing pad.

Status: Situationally and Functionally Tolerable