The Great Forbidden Action Play Set: My Mom’s Glass Coffee Table
I grew up in the early 80’s when video games were still for the most part awful or too expensive for my household, and for grand fantasy you needed dice, paper, friends and tons of rules; but for every day play the action figure was king and nothing was so coveted as the “action play set”. Be it “Castle Grey-skull”, “Fortress Maximus” or the grandiose “U.S.S, Flag”; no other toys were so dearly prayed for or more crude shrines made from the toy section of the Sears catalog than the great play set. However, despite of all these mass produced technological terrors; I had occasional access to the great forbidden play set, perfectly suited for all genres—my mother’s antique glass coffee table.
The origins of the table are a mystery to me, only as an adult do I realize it was obviously a valuable antique; all I knew as a child was that it was the perfect setting for my imaginary adventures. In actuality it was a set of three, two layer tables, two of them were rounded triangular pieces (not very dissimilar to the Star Trek Federation insignia) and circular piece usually kept between them. Not only did this provide a three level play area (if you counted the floor under the bottom shelf—which of course was usually the dungeon) the ornate, suburban Rococo cast bronze legs just added a certain je ne sais quoi to my imaginary play. Paired with this prince amongst coffee tables were two equally ornate table lighters, both massive, heavy brass representations of a fleur de lis, which usually found themselves the resting places of arcane magics in my mind.
Sadly, the forbidden fruit is all the sweeter. I grew up in the type of old school Italian-American household most people think only exists in sitcoms. By this I mean, disturbingly clean, plastic on the furniture, towels on top of the plastic, more plastic on the most traveled paths on the carpet, and what, wasn’t covered in plastic was made of glass and what was the enemy of glass? Dust and fingerprints. Every single day all the glass surfaces were dusted with paper towels and Windex (always that specific brand) – god help you if you left a streak. The unwritten, though frequently screamed, rule was don’t touch anything coupled with “Goddamn it Dom! How many times do I have to tell you not to play on the coffee table!”.
Now believe it or not, I was a pretty well behaved kid (frankly I was too knocked on my ass by severe asthma to cause much mischief overall) but the one thing I could never resist was playing with my action figures on that table. So great was my obsession, I would actually wake up at four in the morning, well before my parents got up on the weekends, to sneak into the living room and get in a couple of hours of forbidden play before they got up then ferociously Windex the tables (yes I’m using a name brand as a verb that was the dialect of my people) to eliminate the evidence. Frankly, my immature attempts at stealth rarely were convincing and I usually ended up in trouble. The only times I was allowed to use the table as I so craved was when I was very, very sick which was when my mother’s resolve would waver and I could play to my hearts content.
Whatever happened to the table sadly, has long been forgotten, around the time I hit thirteen, my mother got sick of the furniture we had and replaced it with the most bland and unimaginative Formica crap, colored in a depression rainbow of beige, teal and mauve. The ornate and fascinating antiques I grew up around and helped to shape my personal aesthetic; being put aside because they were “too hard to clean…” Still, I remember with shocking clarity a specific day when I was nine years old, wheezing like a miner with black lung, playing with my Dungeons & Dragons action figures (not the RPG look them up those figures rocked) in my pajamas as I created grand adventures for my toys. Even the itchy texture of the hideous orange shag rug is etched upon my mind, a moment of play, a moment of escape, a moment of joy.