When I had all the pieces laid out, the problems of modeling returned in a rush. First of all, there were two sets of arms and legs. You could make a Cro-Magnon Veronica manifesting different reactions to the snake: scared witless or apoplectic. I went for the extreme. The parts snapped together easily enough, but then there was the question of painting. Veronica was an even coffee color. How does one pick a color scheme for prehistory? Also, Veronica wouldn't stand up on the plastic base that came with the kit. The snake stuck in the dead tree looked fine, so I placed Veronica lying down, in a dead faint. I thought it was quite creative until my daughter happened by and said, "Thanks for the doll, Dad," and wandered off with Cro-Magnon woman, leaving me with the two-headed snake. So much for realism in model kits.
Another whole new area of modeling had developed since I built ships as a boy: cars. The discount and hobby stores are lined with model auto kits. Of these, racing cars are the most detailed and the most exciting. There is Bobby Allison's Malibu Chevy, with a tiny Bobby Allison at the wheel of the Grand National car, which, like the original vehicle, can be covered with tiny decals listing the sponsor's products: Hurst shifters, DieHard batteries and Coca-Cola, including an "It's the real thing" paste-on. Then there is R. Penske's Indy special, which, with proper painting and choice of decals, can be built as either a "Norton Spirit" or the " Sunoco Dx." And Roger DeCoster's Suzuki motocross motorcycle. This comes minus Roger, so you must pretend that he is off somewhere giving an interview or that he is hospitalized.
I also found that, along with prehistory kits, TV series and fantastic tableaux with giant spiders, there are models of real animals. If you believe in sympathetic magic, as did Cro-Magnon man, who drew pictures of the deer he hoped to kill on his cave walls, you might want to get a white-tailed deer kit. It comes complete with a red squirrel perched on its back. You can also buy a model kit of a flintlock pistol and go "boom" at the tiny buck.
With all this available, I refused to give up after the failure of the Cro-Magnon woman, and next tried one of the classic plastic model kits, a Spitfire Mk. 5, in�8 scale. The Spitfire, one of the great fighters of WW II, brought back memories: Their Finest Hour, So Much Owed By So Many to So Few, Ack-Ack Over the Channel, leather flight jackets with woolly collars.
Only six inches long, the kit contained maybe 50 parts. The usual problems reared their heads. Glue bubbled from the seams, decals still needed the hand of Marcus Welby, M.D. to be affixed correctly and painting had moved to a new order of reality, difficult to fathom. The instruction sheet showed three versions of camouflage, for different years and squadrons of R.A.F. home-based Spitfires. There were alternative gun placements, antennae and accessories, depending on which version you intended. The kit purported to be an exact replica of a Spitfire MKVB No. 74 Tiger Squadron, R.A.F., as the plane appeared in 1941.
The directions said that the plane was flown by Adolph G. (Sailor) Malan, Group Captain, who shot down 32 planes in his stint with the R.A.F. Captain Malan was an Afrikaner from Wellington, South Africa. As a kid, when I'd built a Spitfire, I had to be Tyrone Power in A Yank in the R.A.F. But no longer would I have to pretend to be a mere actor. Now I could be Captain Adolph G. Malan in 1941. "Start your engines. Cheerio!"
A final stunning blow to my quaint ideas of the model scene was the name of the manufacturer of this kit: the Fujimi Mokei Co., Ltd., Shizuoka, Japan. Modeling had gone international, and the fact that a former enemy put out models of a British plane seemed to bother no one.
The last kit I attempted was from Monogram, an established American firm. The model was of a P-61. Made by Northrop near the end of WW II, it was commonly known as the Black Widow. Painted black and flying at night, the heavily armed fighter took over the South Pacific skies; as a daytime fighter it was far less effective. As with the Spitfire kit, the historical information accompanying the Black Widow was minutely detailed. I learned, for instance, that there was a change of eight inches in length between the "A" and "B" versions of the aircraft. And this particular P-61 had been piloted by Major Carroll C. Smith of the 418th Night Fighter Squadron. I even learned that on the night of Dec. 29, 1944 Major Smith and his radar operator, Lieut. Phillip Porter, shot down four Japanese planes, a record. The plane, for obvious reasons, was dubbed "Time's A' Wastin'," and had a logo of a Snuffy Smith-type figure scurrying toward home.
The kit was another masterpiece of detail. There were, of course, various instructions for the "A" and "B" versions: there were six separate canopies of clear styrene; the flaps could be positioned either up or down and the cockpit interiors were lavishly detailed with tiny altimeters, levers and wheels. Had I still been 13, I probably would not have been able to bear the detail. I would have gone quietly out of my mind, entering some total fantasy from which I never would have returned.
I had no hope of completing the plane, but examining the parts and reading the instructions were almost worth the $6 I paid for the kit. The interior of the P-61 wasn't to be painted a yellowish white, but "zinc chromate." The decals had invasion stripes and tiny Japanese flags for the seven "kills" of Major Smith, and writing so tiny you needed a magnifying glass to read "life raft inside panel," "caution—remove service wires before removing radar cone" and "first-aid kit inside door."