Sunday, August 30, 2015

Like Everyone

Buddy playing catch with a member of the opposing team after a match. Sometimes you feel like you're doing it right.

Sometimes I have those moments when I feel like a "good parent;" those moments when I feel like a modern day Ward Cleaver. Before my kids were born I had no idea what I would teach them in terms of being people in the world. I didn't have a "parenting philosophy." Sometimes people would actually ask me what my parenting approach was going to be. I think it's because of the popularity of self help books and parenting guides. I had no idea, and really I had no interest. My mom didn't have a parenting philosophy, she did fine. Now that I'm six years and three kids into this adventure I am finding that I do have certain points I try to emphasize with them.

As I've aged I have found that my disposition towards people has changed. I used to hate everyone unless they gave me a reason not to. Through my 20s and 30s I've done almost a complete 180. Now I generally like everyone unless they give me a reason not to. This became important as I navigated corporate and academic politics. It's been a key to whatever success I've had, but until yesterday I had never made it an explicit part of my parenting philosophy. Sure, I had told the kids to "be nice." Last week, when Lou started pre-k there was a girl who was having a very hard time separating from her parents.  I encouraged Lou to sit with this girl and to be extra friendly towards her for the day. My worry was that Lou and other kids would shun this girl because she was melting down in a way that was kind of off putting, especially for a room of four-year-old strangers who were already nervous and in a new place. I was hoping this girl would see that there's at least one friendly face, and that Lou would learn about "loving everyone."

I grew up in Berkeley, California. I am also a member of a church. In both places I have often heard that you should love everyone. I have always felt that this is a tall order. How can I love everyone? Some people are terrible. As I've gotten older I've come to understand this idea more for what it's supposed to mean in terms of finding a way to reserve judgment of people until you know more about them. It's supposed to get you to empathize with strangers as you would with the people you really do love based on knowing them. But it's a hard concept to impart to a child. Especially when my daughter is so friendly she'll happily wander off the porch and down the block with anyone who stops to say hi. It's hard to say "Love everyone, but don't trust people you don't know." Learning to love new people is often bound up in trusting them. Love feels like too tall an order.

This weekend we took a family trip to the beach. We parked at a park and ride where you could get a shuttle to the shore. There was a typically diverse crowd waiting for the shuttle, people of all races, ages, and sizes. While we were waiting Buddy asked each of us about one thing we needed, and one thing we wanted but didn't need. I assume they're teaching this in school, and I'm very happy about that. Then somehow it got changed to naming one thing we loved, and one thing we liked but didn't love. Buddy said he loved everyone in his family, and liked his friends but didn't love all of them. I said I loved my family and that I liked everyone at the shuttle stop.

Buddy was shocked. "Wait, dad, you like everyone at this shuttle stop? How can you do that?" And that's where I felt like I was having one of those important parenting moments, the ones where you hope you're saying something that's going to stick with them and help shape the core of their being. I explained that I like everyone until they give me a specific reason not to. I told him that unless someone does something that hurts me or others I just assume that I like that person. I imparted that if you go into every new interaction assuming that you like the person in front of you and they like you the world opens up to you. As I said it I prayed that the kids were really listening, the way they do when you slip up and yell at a bone headed customer service rep on the phone. They always remember that.

It works (liking people, not yelling a customer service reps). I'd seen it long before I experienced it. I never realized it until recently, but my dad was really good at treating everyone as if he already liked them. I remember being out with him as a kid and he would talk to people many parents would tell their kids to avoid. He never had any problems with it. If he needed a light, or directions, he'd just ask whoever was at hand, and we used to inhabit some pretty rough areas of SF and the Bronx.

I've also seen it in a friend who did more to meet my neighbors in one walk to the store than I had in two years. I had assumed that my neighbors wouldn't like me. I was the male figure in what looks like a white family in a gentrifying area. I worried that my neighbors saw us as the tip of a young hipster professional spear that was going to take over their town and push them out. So I kept to myself, and so did they. Then my friend came to visit. We went for a walk and he said hello to every person who was sitting out on their porch, and they said hello back in a way that was warm and welcoming. I realized that I'd been missing out. I saw that he assumed that he liked them, and that they liked him, and it was true. After that I followed his example and I got to know my neighbors better and it was great.

I don't know what happened with that little girl in Lou's classroom. I know that as of Thursday she was still melting down at drop off. I hope Lou has continued to be kind and welcoming towards this girl. I don't love everyone, and I don't expect my kids to either. (In fact, I sometimes wish they'd love people a little less. They are very quick to show physical affection towards new people.) I do try to go through my days liking everyone though. It's been a positive force in my life and it's one of the few things I'd put into the box labeled "parenting philosophy." I hope my kids can learn to approach everyone with the assumption that they already like each other, then I'll feel like a "good parent."

Friday, August 7, 2015

Never Junk an Expensive Toy Again

OK, maybe the title is an overstatement, but that's how I felt when I saw a Facebook page for a service I always thought I needed, but didn't know existed. I'd say something like, "Toys these days are complex," but the fact is that toys have been complex since I was a kid. This is especially true of things like Transformers, which have inscrutable and, in my mind, unrepairable tiny parts. For the entirety of my life a broken Transformer stayed broken. Still, I usually found it hard to part with these broken treasures. I thought I was just a hopeless pack rat until I read this post by Tenor Dad who put to words what had been a vague feeling for me:
"...because we moved so much when I was kid (pretty much every year), stuff became my home and my comfort. My room wasn’t a structure or a place, my room was my posters and my toys. If a room had my bed, and my desk, and my Thundercats, then it was my room. And so I began a lifetime of packrat living, unable to get rid of anything, because everything I owned was a living piece of me."
Yup. That was me too, and true to form I've been carting around a broken VF-1 Varitech toy for almost 15 years because even though it had a busted arm I couldn't bear to part with it.

Then today I was invited to like a Facebook page called Jamiko's Action Figure and Collectable Repair. The service is run by Jamiko Hercules, a dad and a jack of all trades who recently went into business repairing Transformers, Robotech/Japanese Robot toys, and basically any complex, non-electronic toy or collectable . I got in touch with Jamiko to ask him about his business and the mission of saving broken toys.

Name: Jamiko Hercules
Business: Jamiko's Action Figure and Collectable Repair
Location: Online
Service Area: National, by Mail
Quote: "If it can be fixed, I can fix it"

An Interdisciplinary Life: This looks like a cool service. How did you get started, and why are you the person filling this need. Basically who the hell are you and why should we entrust our toys to you?

Jamiko Hercules: I’ve been doing this for a little while now, over 6 months, and I just figured out how to invite people to like my Facebook page. When I first made it I was like, “Now I just need to invite people...I don’t know how to do that." So, I'm learning how to program the VCR

IL: Yeah, my friend just posted a story about her 5 year old daughter secretly creating a new Netflix profile so she could get around the parental controls. I'm like, "My kid just learned how to use the space bar to pause and un-pause." It's been a struggle for me to figure out how much technology and at what ages.

JH: That's the game you play as a parent in the 21st century. You want your kids to go out and ruckus, and skin their knees, and at the same time you also don’t want them to be behind the curve. The thing about computers is that the thing that stops people from doing anything with them is fear. They don’t want it to break, but unless you throw them against a wall, you kind of can’t really break them. Just messing around in a program you can’t break it. You can get somewhere and you don’t know how to get back, and then you need to ask for help, but you can’t really break it.

     Someone told me, years ago, "If you don't learn computers now, you'll never learn." But because things change so rapidly you can really jump in at any point. Learning computers is like the universe. There’s no beginning and no end. No matter when you start you're at the center. Anyway, my son can do all this. I’m figuring it out.

IL: That's deep man, but we're way off topic. Who the hell are you? Why should I send my broken Transformers to you?

JH: I started off building model cars and I quickly found that the pieces I wanted, because I didn’t want to build out of the box, I wanted to build what was in my head, weren't available from manufacturers or from third parties. I had to start scratch building them myself. So I started getting parts  and doing that. After about 20 years of that I got good at it.  I also worked in a robotics lab for 2 or 3 years. I worked in a machine shop and that’s one of the places where I built my skills.
     Then about seven years ago I got back into collecting Transformers and Japanese robots. I quickly found that I’m poor, and buying Transformers, especially Gen 1, can get expensive. If they’re pristine they can be $300, but broken ones can be $25 or $1. So I started buying broken ones on eBay. For me having the figure is enough. The figure is attached to a character and having the character is what was important to me. I don’t need some pristine in the box collector’s edition. So I started repairing these broken toys. Then I realized I was good at that and I started coming up with some innovative ways to make repairs at home. But I started doing it because I was broke.

     I realized I was getting good at it and I wondered if there were other people out there who had the same problem but didn’t have the same tools, or space, or know how to fix them. I joined some Facebook groups for toy collectors and got my name out there. Half the people were like “Cool!” and the other half  were like, “It’s scam, you’ll never get that toy back again." But people started contacting me.

     Also, I have an eight-year-old and toys break. If they break I can’t afford to buy new ones, and many were gifts. So when something broke, instead of junking them I could repair them and he could get more years of enjoyment out of them. Bottom line, I’m a parent, I want to help my kid.

IL: What kind of toys do you work on?

JH: Transformers, Robotech, Japanese robots, or any action figure that exists. I also do custom work, so if you want a different head to make it a different character, or a gun built, I can do that.

IL: So what's a typical repair like?

 JH: One of the first repairs I did was on a third party Transformer. Third party toys are expensive, they're made by companies that are not Hasbro or Takara (the primary makers of Transformers). They’re not knock offs because they’re not copies of Transformers. But say a particular figure hasn’t been made, because there’s a lot of figures that they don’t make because it wouldn’t be cost effective because it would only appeal to hard core collectors, not droves of kids. But say you want a highly articulated and detailed Overlord, no kid wants that, most people don’t know who that is. So these third party companies step in and they operate in a grey area because they're stealing intellectual property from the companies. They’ll make a cool new updated version of something and then call it something else. So they pretend they’re not stealing intellectual property, but they are. Some third party companies will do add on kits for Transformers. They add something cool to an existing toy, adding height, or guns or a cool new head, or a movie style head.

     For this repair the toy was shipped to a guy and the shoulder ball joint was broken off at the stock. So I had him send me just the figure, not the accessories, just the parts that are broken. It took a couple days and I rebuilt the shoulder ball joint from scratch.

IL: What was involved in that?

JH: I took the ball joint, I cut off the part where it snapped and flattened out the surfaces. This joint is attached to a stock. I rebuilt the stock using concentric pieces of aluminum tubing. Then I drilled a hole the body of the figure and added a new piece of aluminum that went through the stock and all the way through the figure. Then I drilled more holes in the stock and the figure so there were 3 tubes that attached the joint the figure. That protected the rotational force on the stock. Then I glued the stock in place and covered the entire length of the stock with super glue. A 1/37 of an inch cocoon around the whole stock. I sanded it and color matched the paint, reattached the arm and it’s as good as new.

IL: So you do this by mail? What's the turn around time?

JH: Time depends on complexity of the fix, how much I have to build. I just did two for a guy in SF. For one, all I had to do was build a spring, and one was just a shim. If it’s complicated then it can take a couple weeks. But usually it’s within a week.

IL: This seems like a unique service. Are there a lot of people doing this kind of thing?

JH: I’m one of  a few. There are others out there, but most people don’t have the skills to fix transformers or complex toys. The people who do have the skills usually apply them to other things. They become jewelry makers, or watch makers, or work in robotics labs. They don’t think to apply the skills to toys because most adults don’t like toys. I’m not the only one out there, but I’m not one of the many, I’m one of the few.

IL: So the big question is, what does something like this cost?

JH: That’s a good question. All I’ve been doing is saying, the customer pays shipping each way and then I’ve been working on a sliding scale. I try to keep prices fair. I got into this because I was broke so I don’t want to break anyone else’s bank. Most of the reason I do this is that I love toys and I hate to see them broken. I’m not trying to get rich off of this, it’s nice to make some extra money. Obviously I'm providing a service and I need to get paid for it. But when I take a commission I always talk to the person to work out what we both think is a fair price for the work involved.

IL: So how can people find you?

JH: Get in touch using the Facebook page. You can like the page, you can friend me. That’s a great way to get in touch because I’m part of the 21st century now and it all comes to my phone. I just got an iPhone so I can use Facebook on my phone. I used to have to wait until I was at a computer. Now I am constantly available for toy repair.

IL: There you go, it's just like the universe right? It doesn't matter when you jump in. Any last words?

JH: You don’t have to junk your old Transformers or other figures and collectables. If it can be fixed I can fix it. Some things will be beyond the realm of fixability. (Is that a word?) Some things will be deteriorated beyond where they can be fixed. But an arm, a leg, point of articulation, or almost anything else, I can repair . One of the first things I repaired was a Masterpiece Robotech Alpha Fighter. They’re about $300 on eBay. I got it for $25 because they have fully articulated fingers that are infamous for breaking. This one, all the fingers were broken off, the feet were broken, the arms were off, I rebuilt the head. I color matched the paint and now it looks great.


So there you have it.  My old Varitech can live again. There's a very Toy Story 4 vibe to this whole thing that gives me the warm fuzzies. Like maybe this is what Spike really grew up to do. Our old broken toys can live again.