14 July 2017

Paying for the Aliens

I would have been about fourteen when I started "working"-- I became a babysitter for my neighbors. I was a freshman in high school; the two kids were, I think, five and six at the time. They had a full-time babysitter, but she wanted to go home about an hour before their mother got off work, so I filled in that gap, and I also worked longer days in the summer.

Babysitting well-behaved, imaginative kids is a kind of work that doesn't really feel like work. I read them the first four Harry Potter books aloud, completely with a panoply of voices. (By the time of book five, they were capable of reading them themselves.) Nothing reveals a pacing problem like reading a book aloud a chapter per day to a preschooler. I showed them episodes of Doctor Who and Star Trek; as far as I know they still watch both. I watched Fox Kids along with them, which is how I got into television triumphs like Beast Wars: Transformers, Digimon, Power Rangers in Space, and Mystic Knights of Tir Na Nog.

The best part of the job, though, was the aliens. "The aliens" was a long-form improvisatory story I told them, which much have lasted for years. Its original basis was a group of K'nex guys like these:

Plus some spinning plastic fairies, which I'm pretty sure were these:

Between them, these were the males and females of an alien species invading the Earth. There was also a purple plastic dragon; he was named "Pyre, Dragon of Dare," which was the name of the dragon in Mystic Knights. The dragon could be summoned to aid them, but he was not always a willing servant. The aliens had a base, which was something one of my charges had built out of K'nex. It span around, and it may have just been an adapted merry-go-round now that I think about it:

Spinning generated an impenetrable shield around the base.

The basic set-up, as I recall, was that the aliens (I don't think they had a name per se, but I feel like they came from "the Dominion") wanted to invade the Earth, so they set up a forward based to scout it out while the main fleet was on its way. So they would come under attack by native humans, usually played by LEGO figures (the aliens were very big). There were two spinning fairies; one was an empress, who stayed with the mothership after it deposited the aliens, while the other was her daughter, who joined the scouting force. The colors of the aliens corresponded to their jobs-- I think I cribbed from Star Trek, so the Gold Commander was in charge, with Blue Scientists and Red Guards and Engineers working under him. (There were more than one of each color, though.) Some of them had names (I seem to recall there was a little Blue Scientist named Oscarnarsius!), but many did not. I think there were even romances.

The story evolved in fits and starts, based on toys the kids acquired and/or built, things we/I watched on television or read, and just random ideas that popped into our heads. Like, they got a LEGO rock monster:

...and so the aliens fought a rock monster, who eventually was revealed to be under mind control, and so he joined the team under the name "Rocky." Over time, the aliens became more sympathetic in their objectives. They still wanted to invade the Earth, but in the meantime they had to protect it from other threats. Most formidable of all were the living flying bricks known as "the biots" (since I had just read Rendezvous with Rama):
This isn't actually them, but it's close. They were 1x2 in size, but they did have flip-open lids and interlocking pegs.

The biots were so dangerous that in one traumatic "episode" they actually managed to smash through the shield and destroy the alien base, putting our heroes on the run. The biots could stack and form large cubes that were invincible. Thankfully, our heroes could rebuild the base's remnants into a more-formidable spaceship. Characters lives, characters died-- things got pretty epic. As the tv we watched changed, so too the plotlines. When Beast Machines: Transformers came along, an encounter with a mystical circuit gave the aliens the ability to transform into "techno-organic" birds by saying "I am transformed!" The birds were actually Klingon and Romulan MicroMachines from my collection with bird-like designs, like so:
...or so:

Rocky, though, gained the ability to transform into a flying battleship of awesome proportions, I guess because he was in touch with his spiritual side, or maybe because one of them got this for Christmas:

I'm pretty sure that around this time they also ended up in the distant past, and eventually got to cause the Big Bang itself. Like I said, things got pretty epic, and the original goal of invading the Earth was long forgotten. Like a lot of adventure narratives always trying to outdo themselves, I think I eventually lost control of it all as it stopped being possible to go bigger. I even attempted a "soft reboot" where they went back to the core premise of running the invasion base, but no one's heart was in it.

Like I said, this went on for years, and though it was certainly derivative, it was always inventive. People who pay attention to my tastes in entertainment will see lots of resonances: long-form-but-reasonably-episodic stories about groups of people in/from space doing epic things (i.e., Star Trek, Legion of Super-Heroes, Farscape). And somehow I got paid to do it, which seems like a racket in retrospect.

I also learned how to use a gas stove doing that job, without burning down their house, so there's that too.

#456: What have you done to earn money?


  1. We were blessed to have Steve as our neighbor, friend and "baby" sitter. He certainly fostered the kid's imaginations and creativity. And, it is true, he didn't start any kitchen fires. - john k.

    1. True dat!
      And yes Steve mastered turning on the gas stove, but what about sunny side up eggs? Jayne