The turtles were my solace during that transitional year. They represented everything I wanted to be: tough, resilient, and despite the fact that they were total outsiders, they had a great sense of humor. Everything just bounced off their shells. I was on the cusp of adolescence, and I didn’t just want to be a "Teenager." I wanted to be a "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle." They all hand jived, man, and said shit like “Awesome!” and “Bodacious!” in their identical surfer-dude voices. In those iterations the turtles were still relatively one-dimensional, but they seemed to me, the epitome of cool. Besides, the only dimension I was familiar with was Dimension X: home of Krang, the malevolent master brain.
Don’t get me wrong, she was still capable of acts of great cruelty.
As an avid, egocentric artist I naturally carved my name into my own desk.... an act of exquisite boldness and stupidity. My teacher, to her credit, made me walk down to the janitor’s closet, borrow a piece of sandpaper, and rub it out in front of the whole class. I thought this might disqualify me from further artistic opportunities.... incredibly, when the contest to see who could decorate the class door came around, I was chosen to draw the design.
I chose ninja turtles, of course.
It should have said, “I want to be your friend."
“They’re real, aren’t they dad?”
I answered the way I do all of my son’s questions that deal with wonder.
“Of course it's real."
Raphael should have been my favorite turtle in those days when I was grappling with the relentless bully known as puberty and the shame of being an outsider, but Leonardo and Donatello were the turtles I looked up to. Leo was the one trying to make things better by coming up with a plan, or obsessively training to be the best. Deep down I wanted to be a leader, like Leo. And Donny was the smartest. Together they represented my ideal.
I spend a lot of time and money buying turtle toys and comics. Some are for my kids but, let’s be clear, most of them are for me. In the novel Telegraph Avenue, Michael Chabon writes that nostalgia is just a way to try and reclaim some part of your youth. Tragically, my neighbor and close friend Ryan committed suicide in his early twenties. I know that part of my affection for the turtles has to do with the fact that we can no longer swing nunchucks, and every time I buy an old toy we shared, I remind myself it won’t bring him back. Despite this, most of my Ebay watch list consists of retro ninja turtle gear.