We open the door to the basement and are immediately blasted with the dead smell of mildew and sawdust. It’s clear nobody’s been down here in years. And why would they? It’s all boxes. Plastic boxes (bent), cardboard boxes (torn), and even wooden boxes (rotting). Against my better judgment, I let my son, age 10, walk ahead of me. I hit a switch and an exposed bulb above casts a sad halo of light around the room. One box sits by itself in the corner, its lid missing. Inside it a jumble of little arms and legs, all reaching for the sky. My old toys.
His Spidey-sense for plastic playthings kicking in, my son has already made his way there and begun to rummage through it. Through his hands pass colorful limbs and chiseled torsos and dead stares, some still vaguely familiar to me.
“What’s this?” he finally asks, yanking out an old robot, gray and silver and white, one arm missing. “A Transformer?”
I examine it, trying to remember. “No, I don’t think so. Transformers have faces. Besides —” I try twisting its legs, turning its arms and head “ — it doesn’t transform into anything.”
With a quizzical look, he takes back the broken toy. “It’s from another movie,” I say, starting to remember. “Not an Iron Man, not a Voltron, and not a Chappie. It was the one where robots fought dinosaurs. Or, not dinosaurs, exactly. They were like Godzilla, only there were lots of them and they all looked different. And they weren’t called Godzilla.” The more I speak, the more I remember. “Lots of robots and lots of monsters, but I can’t really recall what any of them looked like.”
“What was the movie called?”
It comes to me, finally. “Pacific Rim! Or maybe Pacific Rim 2? Yeah, it was the sequel, because I remember the actor from the Star Wars movies was in it. The one who played that character you liked.”
“No, not Jacob Tremblay. John Boyega. He was the original Finn in the first Star Wars Hexalogy, before he became the third Thor. In Pacific Rim 2, he played the son of Idris Elba’s character, who died in the first movie. That was before Elba became Secretary General of the United Nations.”
“Pacific Rim 2? I forget, which one was the Pacific again?”
“You know the beach we go to in Utah? That’s the Pacific. Anyway, I remember we had this movie on DVD once.”
“What’s a DVD?” he asks. He fiddles with the robot’s lone working arm, which is so old and loose he can make it spin by flicking it with his finger. Before I can answer, he’s on to the next question: “Were the robots the good guys or the bad guys?”
“The robots were the good guys, because humans drove them. So maybe they weren’t technically robots. Well, some of them were. But I think in one of the movies, the good robots first had to fight bad robots before they fought the Not-Godzillas. The Notzillas.”
“They were called Notzillas?”
“No, that’s just something I ... forget it.”
“Was the movie good?”
“I don’t really remember. My dad took me. He was a film critic, and he’d already seen it for work, but then he took me opening weekend and fell asleep while I watched it. He did that a lot. But I think he liked it. I guess he wouldn’t have gone to see it again if he didn’t. What kind of idiot does that?”
“And you say you had it on ... what was that you called it? BVD?”
“DVD. They were like little round things people watched movies on. You could buy them from the store.”
“Do you remember anything else about the movie?”
I rack my brain, trying to recall something, anything. I remember John Boyega, and that his character had to live up to his father’s legacy — or was that another movie? Could have been. I recall another father-son thing. Wait, was Clint Eastwood in it, starring alongside one of his real kids? That can’t be right. No, it was that Eastwood’s son seemed to be doing a Clint Eastwood impersonation, so it was like he was there in spirit. Dad the Clint fan got a kick out of that and mentioned it a few times. That was the Eastwood kid who gave up acting and became a politician. Steve? Stan?
Cough. My son interrupts my reverie. “I remember …” I say, hesitating. “I remember it was a fast movie. Too fast. I remember being confused by the plot, but I didn’t really care — so long as the robots fought.”
“You must have liked it if you owned the DVD and you bought the toys.”
“We bought the DVD because it was in a bargain bin at the drugstore. Dad always got frantic about having to fight his way into press screenings of these movies, and he would call and cajole the publicists to invite him. But then just a few months later, the movies would be on racks everywhere in the world selling for just a few dollars, and then totally forgotten not long after.”
“Did you at least play with the toys?”
“I must have, if the arm broke off.” I wish I could remember what those damn robots were called. Some German name. “But I probably didn’t play for long or I would have a better memory of it. I’m sure pretty soon I was just on to the next thing.” I look around the room. “I mean...” I wave at the boxes, sheepishly.
The boy seems to understand. He tosses the robot back into the pile, where it lands face down in a sea of frozen, yearning little arms. He takes one last look at it.
“Dad, one more question.”
“Why does the robot have muscles?”