Backyard Quest

by Michael Channing

Remember how excited you were when you first found out that some of the things you loved simply for their coolness could also hold real monetary value as Collector's Items? Like the first Action Comics or that issue of Iron Man where he comes out of the closet. Those are insanely valuable. I logically assumed that any comic book could be a college investment. Even one on bicycle safety. The first and only issue of Sprocket Man has to be worth something, because I own all of them.

One thing I loved more than collecting things was video games. And the only thing I loved more than either was digging through junkyards and imagining all the amazing inventions I could invent with all the amazing junk I found. Then one day all my obsessions collided in one fantastic hobby crossover mind orgy.

A Big Ball of String by Marion Holland

This is from A Big Ball of String by Marion Holland,
a book that inspired more hoarders than I'm sure the author intended.

I was digging behind my granny's house, and I unearthed a large metal gear. I figured it had to be worth money, because stuff underground equals treasure. But how much was my treasure worth? I barely knew how money worked, so I consulted the most obvious source for evaluating found artifacts: the two drunken rednecks on the porch.

My dad and my uncle took one look at me--dirty, sweaty, holding up a piece of an old lawnmower with the hopes I'd located the lost treasure of Blackbeard in my grandmother's shrubbery--and decided today was the perfect day to ruin my dreams. My uncle said, "That's worth a lot of money. But only if you find the other six. You get all seven of those, and we can make enough money to go to Disney World."

Okay, so the ultimate objective wasn't to save the village or rescue the princess, but I had my quest. And a Triforce of rusty lawnmower parts.

Our hero Link holding aloft a rusty gear (not game canon)

As legend foretold.

My father took the gear from me and said, "Go see if you can dig up the rest of these."

Which was another way of saying, "We don't need topsoil." Have you ever seen old photographs of World War I battlefields in France? That happened in my granny's backyard.

WWI battlefield somewhere in France somewhere

I just told my kids that a while back, I buried a jar of wheat pennies in the yard, and then Paris disappeared.
Let's tell the future we had a war. That'll be less embarrassing.

I didn't find one single gear like that first one, but I did find a spring, an old knife blade, a screwdriver handle, and every time I took my newest treasure back to the porch for evaluation, I was told that it was part of a set and that, incomplete, it was worth nothing. I vowed time and again to retrieve the lost treasures, for the sake of the kingdom, for the sake of the world. For Disney World.

Have you ever lost a video game? No. There's always a way to win. It's either too hard and you give up, or you keep playing until you beat it. The game doesn't throw up a title screen that says, "You Suck at Things" then snap itself in half. But that's what happened in the backyard of my granny's house. I failed every one of my quests. No resets, no save points, no walkthroughs. Hyrule burned to the ground because I sucked at everything.

A child's world is never more dim than when an adult tries to make light.

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Chokes and Warbles
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Chokes and Warbles, a collection of essays and poems by Michael Channing