How to defeat the Sunday scaries
Reconnecting with an old collection
This is no secret but it’s time I go public regarding my lifelong love for LEGOs. I wouldn’t call myself a "LEGO maniac," nor has my affection gone uninterrupted— there were those high school and college years when partying, girls, and I suppose school made LEGOs about as cool as my Boy Scout merit badge sash. But I think it was in 2009, I had a real job and a serious girlfriend that appeared to find me charming. This must have given me enough confidence to back the truck up and unload my childhood LEGO collection into our South Plaza apartment.
I don’t exactly know why I did this but clearly there was a lasting attachment and desire to reconnect with my LEGOs, which had been stored in my parents’ house. Building a set though in that small apartment presented an issue because my mom and I decided back in the late ‘80s to sort all my LEGOs by color and put them into separate plastic bins. This meant to build set #1682: Space Shuttle Launch, I had to drag out two big boxes with grey and black pieces, four smaller boxes with white, blue, yellow, and red pieces, two more small boxes with green and brown "nature" pieces and a colorful one full of LEGO minifigures, swords, flags and other small miscellaneous pieces. To get it all started it required another big box that held instruction booklets and a hodgepodge of oversized pieces.
Allowing LEGOs to overtake my childhood bedroom was okay, but with needing to maintain appearances as a proper young socialite, I could not just sprawl out like Johnson County, Kansas. If I wanted to regularly scratch the itch to build a LEGO set, I needed to get things reorganized, or to keep the urban planning analogy going, I needed to improve my infrastructure so I could efficiently enjoy a wider range of activities.
I must have promised my girlfriend, who subsequently became my wife, and then not so much my wife, that this would be a brief project. I don’t recall her response but clearly it was in the positive because for the next couple weeks there were boxes and LEGOs littered across the creaky wood floors of the living room. I diligently worked through each set by building them completely then breaking them back down to store in small individual canisters, which then would go back into the larger bins. I had to shift to big plastic baggies because too much air volume was being created with the small canisters. This project needed to be accomplished without renting a storage unit. It got a little out of hand when I started a filing system for all the instruction booklets and made notations for missing and broken pieces. Those notes though were limited since 99.99% of the pieces remained intact. I must thank my mom for this. It is clear she did not allow me to stray far with my LEGOs.
This new way of organizing LEGOs suited my habits much better. Some enjoy taking a pile of random bricks and building freestyle. Maybe I lack the creativity, but I only want to build LEGOs according to the instructions.
What might be the bigger truth here is my ability to imagine amazing things but usually resist even attempting such fantastical ideas because I know I lack the skills. I’ve imagined myself being some LEGO master builder developing a medieval castle from scratch, but have never gone beyond the instruction booklet for I know this is too far from my abilities. Quite frankly, there is more of my Grandma Polly, the pianist, in me than my Grandpa Bob, the engineer. I have though imagined myself being a bestselling author, which might still be a fantasy, but sometimes you must act on your dreams.
There was an abundance of nostalgia while digging through those boxes and building thirty-year-old sets. It was also quite therapeutic. If a case of the Sunday scaries was settling in, I came to learn that building a LEGO set used just enough brain power to distract me from work anxieties but not so much that made the activity laborious. It also provided a quick hit of accomplishment. Life is full of projects that seem to never finish or are so drawn out that the end is anti-climactic. The long and arduous path of commercial real estate leasing is one of the worst. There were moments of jubilation throughout the process but by the time the fee had hit the bank I hardly reveled in the accomplishment.
Despite the grind we sometimes face as adults, I wouldn’t ever want to be a kid again. I like being able eat seven cookies in one sitting and if I want to buy a LEGO set I don’t have to wait until my birthday or Christmas. So what was a modest childhood LEGO collection has easily doubled these past fifteen years. There is no ambition to creating a trust based on a LEGO collection, but I did have to consider again what to do with it as I prepared for my move to Germany. They did actually sit in a downtown storage unit for a while but like a lot of things life, my LEGO collection has come full circle and is back resting safely in my parents’ house.
Beware: You will start getting LEGO ads
LEGOs seem like a very Germanic toy with its high quality and design but it was actually the Danes just to the north who patented in 1958 the plastic brick we know today. Moving to Germany was not an effort to get closer to the source, and in reality I had entered another phase of my life that did not include LEGOs. Exploring this new culture, going to school, and figuring out the dating scene left LEGOs largely forgotten. I also had to consider the severe space issue in my tiny Munich apartment. My preference is to have most things tucked away and with clothes already being stored in the kitchen area, I have resisted buying much stuff to avoid putting more pressure on my closets. And there has been a hesitancy to begin a Germany based LEGO collection. I already have two libraries going that may or may not ever merge, so to create another pole of influence seemed disorienting.
The space issue remains but by now I’ve got a couple things figured out about European culture, the German dating scene, and my MBA is all done. The demands on life though have not lessened.
You have probably noticed that I’ve been quiet these past couple months. With having my parents here for five weeks, diving back into my book, and finally taking a series of intensive German language classes, writing for The Munich Times was put on the back-burner. Unfortunately though, that is where it needs to remain. You will come to read very shortly that I agonized over buying a LEGO set. Some of that is my nature but it also means things are a little too tight for my lifestyle. I knew this day would come but The Munich Times will be less frequent to make room for my top three work priorities: finishing my book, continue learning the German language, and writing for commercial real estate firms. This latter point is to marry my professional background and writing skills to earn some income.
I don’t like being inconsistent with this publication since expectations had been made, but something had to give. I actually had a fifteen-hundred-word essay explaining myself on why this has to be the case, but I believe you know my intentions have been good and that you will give me a break on this small pivot in life.
What has not changed though is my desire to live in Munich. This will be like a tornado siren to my parents’ ears, but if you are a relatively happy and fulfilled expat like I am, that means the positives of living overseas outweigh the negatives. You can mine all my previous writings for the positives but the biggest downside to the expat life is not being around family during major holidays. These gatherings for some are tough so being away is a positive, but I am filled with fond memories of being with my family. I have reasoned away some of this downside because nearly all those old traditions haven’t existed for years, but I still feel the pull from 5,000 miles away.
When Thanksgiving Day rolled around last week I had nothing special planned. This is completely my fault because I had made no efforts to organize something or make myself available. After my German class I didn’t want to simply go to the office and write for the rest of the day, so I found a Bavarian restaurant in the city center that served turkey schnitzel. It wasn’t as tender as a veal Wiener schnitzel, but when you deep fry anything in batter, who cares.
With a full stomach it was just mid-afternoon but these days the sky turns dark early and the cold air has arrived so there was little desire for an outdoor excursion. I wanted something joyful to do and thought maybe the light-heartedness of LEGOs could fill some of the emptiness I felt that day. Kind of like those Sunday scaries, maybe building a set could bring relief to some holiday horrors.
I wanted to choose a set from a broad selection, which meant I had to venture out to Riem Arcaden since there is no proper LEGO store in the city center. This is a little perplexing that LEGO does not have a flagship store in Germany’s largest shopping district, which my assumption is that some anti-competition exists, but the U-Bahn made the journey easy to the eastern outskirts of town.
Riem Arcaden is one of Munich’s three American-style enclosed malls. With an open atrium connecting the levels, it was like stepping into Oak Park Mall except for hearing all the different languages and a preference for gelato stands on each floor. The LEGO store was easy to spot with its bright lights and bold lettering. My eyes widened as I stepped in and saw the latest models. The small baby grand piano and fender guitar under the glass box made my heart flutter. I skipped past the City collection for I have built enough fire trucks and airplanes, but ogled between the Star Wars and Architecture sets.
In March 2020, just in time for the Covid lockdowns, LEGO introduced an 18+ marking on the packaging for “expert” sets. This is clearly catering to adults, which has grown four-fold this past decade. Who do you think is getting that €650 Colosseum set sitting under the Christmas tree?
It’s not going to say, To: Teddy Jr. | From: Santa. But rather it will say, To: Ted | From: Your loving & tolerant wife.
I am a little amused with these 18+ ratings. Will we soon see a set with a 25+ marking that suggests one must be able to rent a car to attempt? Let’s just hope that some 16-year-old kid applying for a summer job does not list off the building of the 2,325-piece Ghostbuster wagon as an accomplishment. I suppose though it is better than saying, “I like to hang out with my friends.”
Just to get this far I had to relax my self-inflicted austerity measures that have made discretionary spending almost non-existent. It had been a good month since evaluating my burn-rate so not to create a crunch I hoped to spend only €50. Well, the LEGO marketers are on their game. Not only has my web browser been inundated with LEGO ads due to the research for this article, but they have figured out that one has to fork over €80 to €100 to get into a compelling set. There were a dozen that dazzled me but none made me leap forward and grab. So I started for the exit thinking this is such a foolish endeavor. But then I stopped short and told myself: Try it out, stop being such a tight-ass. If you don’t get any joy out of it, then you will know not to waste your time and money next time. And you didn’t haul all the way out here to come back empty handed!
So, I turned around, marched to the Christmas section figuring I'm not going to spend any money on decorations this year and zeroed in on the 1,445-piece set called Santa's Visit. Not only was it an 18+ rating but the house reminded me of my old home in Brookside with the high-pitched roof, the snow-covered flower-boxes under the windows, and the stone foundation.
When people saw me on the U-Bahn ride back home with my oversized bright yellow paper bag and a big screaming LEGO logo they probably thought: What a sweet dad to buy his little girl a LEGO set. Nope, just a lucky single guy indulging himself.
Back home, I popped open an alkoholfrei bier and turned on an action movie I knew well to easily track while concentrating on the set. I noted the time from the oven clock, not to set a record, but rather to place a value to the experience. This regular accounting of things is not one of my more endearing features, and a little odd for someone who has never billed an hour in his life, but I’m just in a stage of my life that keeping track of things is easy and provides some peace of mind.
I dumped everything out on my kitchen counter and found that Santa’s Visit was a nine-bagger and two instruction booklet set. I had my work cut out for me. One little beef I have with LEGO is that they now break down the instructions into so many steps, list out which blocks need to be pulled, and even highlight where they go. They’ve removed all analytical demands from the instructions. According to LEGO’s "audience marketing strategist," they have specifically revamped "instruction manuals to make kits foolproof for frazzled adults." Ernsthaft! (German for Seriously!) Is it really necessary to dumb down LEGO instructions for adults? I’m going to let this lie and pick another battle for I’m still fascinated when working on a section that looks odd at first, but when you click it into the main body it immediately forms a greater whole that makes complete sense and has incredible detail.
Just before 10:30 I snapped the last piece into place which put it at a 4.5 hour project. The equivalent price to value would be a round of golf at a nice public course, which I can budget for both of these a couple times a year. I’m going to resist calculating the experiential value if I spent €800 for the 7,541-piece Millennium Falcon. My estimation though it would be worth every penny, but my golf game would suffer tremendously.
The final step was to find a place to display my completed project. To do so I reorganized my bookshelf to provide just enough space to rotate a single set. There are still some optics I need to consider for my dating life, and I think one LEGO set on display will not hurt my chances.
I’d rather not make a Thanksgiving tradition out of building a LEGO set by myself, but I did find joy that evening. Of course, this whole essay was just a long way of asking: “Dear Santa: All I want for Christmas is the Seinfeld LEGO set.”