I’m Building the K’NEX Ferris Wheel, Bitches

This is the story of a mid-life crisis. Like all crises, it’s fuelled by panic and perhaps the slightest bit of optimism. The origins of the crisis are rooted in fate and mysticism — as though it was always meant to happen — as though an unstoppable force came to me via birthright. I’m talking about K’NEX Ferris Wheel. And I’m building it.

K’NEX is a toy building system that came out in 1992, a collection of interlocking plastic rods, gears, and wheels. The most obvious comparison is LEGO, but you might also think of it as the Sega Genesis to the Nintendo. K’NEX came out on the scene like a sweaty, pumped-up bully trying to shove LEGO aside. LEGO was blocky and clunky — a child’s toy. K’NEX was sleek and sexy — a smooth operating machine.

I was an awkward pre-teen in coke bottle glasses longing to be cool. I wanted to be friends with bullies and beautiful people. I had asked for the Sega Genesis for Christmas over the Super Nintendo, hoping it might give me a leg up in coolness and sex appeal. I wanted the K’NEX in the same way. They were often displayed in toy stores behind plexiglass, with their sprawling, elaborate carnivals of moving, interconnecting pieces — ferris wheels, roller coasters, and working carousels that bob up and down. I wanted it. But I also knew of the one fatal flaw in my plan.

I could never build all this shit. And so a dream was deferred — a very weird dream of plastic rods and self-worth. Or maybe I was just an easy mark for advertising. I grew up and would have never thought of K’NEX again. But as I said, there’s no escaping the unstoppable force of something cursed to you by birthright.

Enter the mid-life crisis.

I turned 40 in a pandemic. Lately, I vacillate between depression and self-doubt, daydreams and desire. Death has a way of always seeming near in a pandemic. My life feels half over. Maybe I should save the complaining for when I turn 50. I swear to God I’m over it now. I feel fine. I’m totally fine. I’m mostly happy and young, I think.

Then, a few days ago, in my local Buy Nothing Group, someone posted some old toy kits they were giving away. One of the kits was a vintage mint-in-box RadioShack Super American Roadrace slot car set. As a fan of the geeky and sublime, I had to have that RadioShack set. I said I’d be willing to take it off their hands “for my kids,” but really, it was for me. The other kit they posted was a vintage 3,000 piece K’NEX set. My inner child shuddered awake, violently. Still, I didn’t ask for the K’NEX. I wanted nothing to do with 3000 cursed pieces of plastic.

The next day, the person messaged me, saying the slot cars were mine. Now, I know what it’s like to fuck around with people in the free stuff Facebook groups. You message back and forth, the person never shows, you’re just trying to clean out your garage, and you’re wasting time with strangers on Facebook. So I helpfully offered that if no one else wanted the K’NEX, I’d take them off their hands as well. “For my kids,” I explained, once more. I really did believe in that exact moment that my very young, impatient, easily-distracted children would become miniature engineers of flawless design.

“They’re both yours,” the person said.

When I picked up the K’NEX, I was alarmed at the literal and metaphysical weight of 3000 interlocking gears and rods. I had made a mistake. Of course my children would never play with this. Of course it would sit a closet until I tried to pawn it off on someone else. Of course it was my fate to live with 3000 plastic rods to measure my existence against for the rest of my stupid life.

Or maybe I could do it. I could build the K’NEX Ferris wheel. That vision I had one day at Toys ‘R Us in 1992 could be real. I could construct a three foot tall, three-dimensional, working ferris wheel that operates with a tiny motor — a feat of ingenuity, plastic, and raw virlility.

So I’m building the K’NEX Ferris Wheel. The instruction booklet assumes I’ve done this 300 times before and isn’t super instructive. It’s just a picture of the Ferris wheel that basically says, “figure this out on your own.” So I’ll watch some YouTube videos with eight-year-olds who are smarter than me. I’ll sort the 3000 pieces by size and color into plastic bags. I’ll consult with K’NEX collector sites. I’ll build the glorious ferris wheel and become young again. I’ll put it behind LED-illuminated plexiglass in my basement. Visitors will be in awe as the Ferris wheel turns.

What visitors? What awe? Ain’t nobody risking COVID to see somebody’s mid-life crisis in a basement. But a mid-life crisis is prime blog material. I am prepared for amazing things to happen. “Wanna come see my K’NEX Ferris wheel?” will be more than invitation. It will be a journey into the weight of dreams.

One thought on “I’m Building the K’NEX Ferris Wheel, Bitches

  1. sounds like fun! My dad recently got into lego sets and it makes me wish I didn’t have a dog that would chew up pieces so I can get into it too. Can’t wait to watch your progress!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s