Josh Baskin stood before the Zoltar machine dreaming of being big. He put in a coin and he made his wish, and he stared into Zoltar’s eyes and a little card came out of the machine. Stupid machine clearly didn’t work because Josh was still the same kid. So he went home. He went to sleep. He woke up. He nearly crapped his boxers. Damned if his dream didn’t come true! OK it was only a movie. But Tom Hanks went on to get a girlfriend, a dream job at a toy company, and an apartment in the city to live out every kid’s dream. It was the life. I was thirteen when I saw the movie and remember thinking that Tom Hanks had hit the jackpot. Sure his parents were home distraught and devastated thinking their son had been kidnapped. He had made it Big.
Fast forward now all these years later and I have two kids of my own. We went to an arcade one day and there sitting in the corner, was the same exact Zoltar machine from the movie, with the mystical looking eyes, offering to grant your wish just like in the movie. I have a photo of my daughter staring in Zoltar’s eyes. She was staring at him. I don’t know what she was wishing for. I DO know that I pretended to be a cheapskate and didn’t give her a quarter. I had her back away slowly from the machine. She’s never really seen the movie. She didn’t really know why I was acting so weird other than the fact that I’m her dad and that’s my job to act weird.
In the movie, Josh eventually realized that he wasn’t ready for adulthood yet, that he loved his parents and needed his parents, that he missed his friends and community. He gave up the girlfriend and the swanky pad in the city and he made one more wish to return to normal and let Zoltar do its thing.
It’s funny because now that I’m older, I’d love the chance to turn back the clock for just one day. There are so many people I’d like to see and so many things I’d like to do. To be a kid again and ride my red Schwinn bike, without a helmet, down Sandy Ridge Circle in my hometown without a care in the world. To be a kid again and to stop myself from selling my Darth Vader carrying case full of vintage Star Wars figures. What the hell was I thinking! To be a kid again, to thank some of the folks who really made a difference in my life, folks I never got to thank. Then again, I’d only want to visit just for a minute. I’m happy with where I am now. I recognize this is a one way trip. I keep that picture of my daughter gazing into the Zoltar machine to remind myself that my kids are only young once and will be big in an instant whether I like it or not.
Now it’s ME stepping up to the machine, and putting the quarter in, and making a wish to keep my kids young. Zoltar just stares back at me. He and I both know that was only a movie.