“To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, to draw closer, to find each other and to feel. That is the purpose of life.”– The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
As far back as I can remember, I have always loved LEGO bricks and sets of various sorts. I used to enjoy getting them as gifts on my birthday or at Christmas or as an unexpected treat when I was able to pester my mother long enough to get them from Kmart or KB Toys. Whether it was the pirate ship Black Seas Barracuda or Skulls Eye Schooner, the medieval King’s Castle, or any of the space sets, I had them all and enjoyed constructing and displaying them. It was the gift I received frequently and the one I looked most forward to getting.
Therefore, it is not surprising that when the pandemic hit, and we went into lockdown, I needed a daily outlet, besides my weekly movie chats with my brother, which I detailed in POP! Culture on Repeat, or video game adventures with my brother-in-law Kyle, discussed in A Newcomer Joins Borderlands 3. I sought out fun and unique LEGO sets to use my hands, shut off my mind, and follow instructions and build something. Again, I sought comfort in my past to help cope with current turmoil. So, I went online and bought the LEGO Volkswagen T1 Camper Van and Beetle. It didn’t take long before I felt like a kid again and was hooked on those classic LEGO bricks!
As I said, there was not a holiday or birthday that went by when I didn’t get a LEGO set of some sort. Although my Aunt Madeline would always gift me Mega Blocks, they are not the same, but I appreciated the sentiment and her heartfelt present. In the late 1980s, the LEGO commercials featuring “Zack, Zack he’s a LEGO maniac” came out, so liking LEGO was in my blood! I mean, how can you have the name Zach (mine spelled with an “h,” but I won’t hold that against LEGO) and not want to be the kid in the commercial. But as I grew older, the fun and enthusiasm I had for building LEGO started to wane. Not sure why; I just went through the growing pains, I guess. Instead of constructing LEGO sets, I played baseball or football, and instead of using my creativity to explore what I could create with these colorful bricks, I instead hung out with friends. But I had never stopped thinking about those multi-colored bricks and the possibility they offer. There is something about seeing all of them, unassembled, that speaks to me and pushes me to envision what they can create when connected and thus assembled into a structure, figure, or object. I believe that is why I recently came back to them, and probably the same reason I started this blog, to scratch a creative itch.
Things have been hard recently. With COVID, politics, the unknowns related to going back to work, these are stressful times that have induced anxiety and panic. So, as you have learned in my previous blogs, it’s the reason I started to communicate more with family. Still, instead of talking over the phone, it’s by ZOOM analyzing and discussing nostalgic films, or playing video games online, or sending text messages every day. But sometimes, I don’t want to listen to myself talk. From March to the end of May, I was on ZOOM almost everyday teaching History and Government. It was exhausting and as those of you who are teachers know, teaching like this means you need to be at a ten always to keep the momentum alive, the energy up, and reassuring your students, you support them and are there for them. After a while, I needed something that allowed me to silence my voice and calm my mind. Doing so would allow me to reset, reflect, and remember who I was.
That is when I considered purchasing a LEGO set and seeing if that might help with my stress. I went online, search the more adult/advanced LEGO sets, and examined those “exclusive” ones that might motivate me. LEGO has everything from Harry Potter Sets, Jurassic Park T-Rex and Gate, the Star Wars Imperial Star Destroyer, the House from Stranger Things, and the Disney Castle. There was a lot sold out when I started searching, but I found a few that I felt I was capable of building. I noticed a Volkswagen Van and Beetle, so I bought both. As the day drew near when I would receive them in the mail, I grew eager, excited, and dare I say, I felt like a kid again!
“Edward Bloom: Most men, they’ll tell you a story straight through. It won’t be complicated, but it won’t be interestin’ either.”– Albert Finney in Big Fish
Once my LEGO sets arrived, I was giddy. I decided to build the Volkswagen T1 Camper Van first since that was the first set that struck me as something I would enjoy building, and because as a child, our family had had a Volkswagen Van, so it was like a trip down memory lane. Also, I thought this set looked intricate and would most likely take me a reasonable amount of time. The time I had, so I wanted to spend it, little by little, building the T1 Camper Van. Going fast would defeat the purpose. My goal was to savor all aspects of the LEGO brick construction and evaluate the emotional reaction the thrill of the build produced. I wanted to enjoy it, live in the calm, and watch as I created something from nothing. So, the Camper would be first, but what about the Volkswagen Beetle? Well, I put it in the corner (set up for Dirty Dancing reference), and I would start that set once I had completed the Camper Van.
Let me say this; building with LEGO bricks is like riding a bike. It does not matter how long it’s been since you last did it, whether it be one year, or ten, or twenty, it’s like muscle memory, and you soon feel like you never stopped. That’s how I felt when I started building the Volkswagen T1 Camper Van. It was exciting to start. I must admit I messed up to start my build, and the last thing you want to do is mess up the start of your LEGO build. So, when I opened the box, there were many bags with all the LEGO bricks. I didn’t read the instructions before I started. Instead, I started emptying all the LEGO bricks into containers based on size and shape. You might be saying; well, isn’t that an excellent way to do it? Well, it wasn’t the worst, but there was an easier way to start.
You see, the bags have numbers on them. According to the instruction book, the numbers indicate which LEGO bags need to be opened first, which corresponds with the build’s order. So, by randomly dumping them all by my method, I screwed up the instructions and made it a little harder on myself to construct the Camper Van without needing to dig through a hundred pieces in search of one. Now, as far as I know, there are no LEGO police coming for me, but if I had known there was an easier way to organize my build, I would have done that rather than flying unorganized and slightly blind. It didn’t matter, but it proves you must read the instructions first, always. It was a mistake I made once, and only once!
“Wiseman: When you removed the book from the cradle, did you speak the words? / Ash: Yeah, basically. / Wiseman: Did you speak the exact words?/ Ash: Look, maybe I didn’t say every single little tiny syllable, no. But basically I said them, yeah.”Bruce Campbell & Ian Abercrombie in Army of Darkness
Once I had my method and organization, I began. My joy was instant and the calm was refreshing. I went at a nice pace. I usually built for no more than two hours every day or every other day, and sometimes would build for less time, rarely more. As I said, I wanted to take it slow and enjoy the time LEGO building and therefore ease into the calm moments and get the slow satisfaction of watching the Camper Van take shape.
Assembling the Volkswagen T1 Camper Van was a ton of fun. As someone who is color blind, I liked the simplicity of the colors and had no issues making sure I selected the correct pieces. Funny enough was the fact of how easy the directions were to follow. I know it’s literally for children, but my only understanding of building any LEGO set comes from my childhood memories, so I remember it being difficult. I remember those pirate ships being very hard to build, but that was decades ago. At nearly 40 years old, I followed smoothly, but I probably wouldn’t have admitted otherwise here!
The feeling you get when you turn the page for a new set of instructions was exciting and calming. As I said, I enjoyed the Camper Van because it had just enough pieces, but not too many. The Camper also had several excellent features to build, like the engine, camping roof, the doors, the typical Volkswagen Van front, and inside with fun accessories like couches, lava lamps, and shifting stick, which is found in all original Volkswagen Vans. I remember it well because my mother would always say, “never touch it!” So, my first LEGO set, in more than two decades, at least, was a gratifying and satisfying build, one that took me roughly two weeks at a plodding, yet planned, pace.
My second most recent build was the Volkswagen Beetle, which is a beautiful blue color, and, like the Camper Van, was delightful to put together. I think that will be a theme for all of these LEGO builds: they are freaking fun! But, with the Volkswagen Beetle, I took a different, more appropriate strategy. Instead of just dumping all the pieces of similar size and shape, I followed the bags’ numbers, which coincided with the instruction guide. So, I would empty each numbered bag, starting with One, into their separate, but specific, container and begin to build. Once I had completed the pages in the book that needed bag one, I would open the next numbered bag, in order, and follow the process until all bags were gone and the car built. While this process might seem tedious, it was beneficial, allowed me to stay on track, and let me enjoy the build without the stress of possible LEGO brick confusion.
I liked the Volkswagen Beetle features, just as much as with the Camper Van, and found the build similar yet different. It was smaller but with no less unique pieces. It was fun constructing the trunk, engine, the surfboard, and the overall LEGO design of the car was so well thought-out and a joy to put together. I finished the car in a little over a week, working on it quicker and with as much, if not more, excitement. Clearly, after the Camper Van’s completion, and now working on the Beetle, my LEGO set addiction had begun! I was working quicker to pick out a new LEGO set and get to assembling that one.
As I completed the Volkswagen Beetle, I decided to construct something more prominent, with thousands of pieces. But I wanted to build something I was excited to dive into and observe, as well as photograph, when complete. So, I quickly jumped onto Amazon, explored the LEGO website, and eventually found a build that was massive and even connected with my enthusiasm around POP! Culture entertainment. I discovered that LEGO Ideas had led to the construction of the Ghostbusters Firehouse! I immediately ordered it, received it in the mail, and began assembling my newest and most impressive LEGO build!
I don’t know about you, but I loved the original Ghostbusters film. I have watched it more times than I can remember and even, as a kid, had it on VHS. Very much a rewatchable movie and a classic from the 1980s. So, when given the fantastic opportunity to build a mammoth, over 4,000 piece LEGO set of the Ghostbusters NYC Firehouse, I was sold! Constructing the Ghostbusters Firehouse was going to be a herculean task, so I made sure I had enough containers to handle the LEGO bags, which could keep myself building in the same manner, I had built the Volkswagen Beetle. Sure enough, I was going to need every one of them! At any point, a numbered group of bags could total six bags, so I was ready. Both Volkswagen builds genuinely prepared me for this undertaking, and I was excited to start.
“Buttercup: We’ll never survive. / Westley: Nonsense. You’re only saying that because no one ever has.”– Robin Wright & Cary Elwes in The Princess Bridge
Building the Ghostbusters Firehouse took me around a month to finish. Again, I go slow with my LEGO builds; this way, I can enjoy the process and honestly use the building as a sort of stress relief. If I were ever getting stressed from work, the news, or the pandemic itself, I would break out the containers, shut my mind off, and follow the instructions and build. It always worked, and after a while, I would feel calm and at ease. The firehouse was perfect for this because of its size and scale. It required a lot of attention to detail, one wrong move, and I might have to backtrack, which did happen a couple of times because I had messed up a couple of the colors (damn you, color blindness!). All in all, the details, minifigs, and overall level of fun was impressive. At one point, I had to put on the original movie as I built, a genuinely geeky moment that I am not at all ashamed to mention. I mean, it’s a blog post about building LEGO sets; I think you get me by this point.
The entire architectural structure of the Ghostbusters Firehouse was terrific. It looked like the actual building from the movie, down to the smallest detail. Whether it was the character of the outside of the building, or the front door and office space where the characters greeted customers with “ghost issues,” or the fire pole, or the different rooms and unique fixtures and props – all added a layer of excitement and appreciation to this LEGO Ghostbusters build. All the film’s central characters, including Slimer, are included as minifigs, and as I assembled the structure, I grew more and more excited about the new movie, which will be released next year. Not sure if the firehouse will make an appearance, but I have it here in LEGO form in all its architectural glory.
“Peter Venkman: We came, we saw, we kicked it’s ASS!!”– Bill Murray in Ghosbusters
You get a strange feeling when you have completed a LEGO build like the Ghostbusters Firehouse or the Volkswagen 1960s automobiles. It’s happiness and a kind of sadness. It’s strange. You are happy you finished because you completed the build and enjoyed the peaceful moments. Once done, you think about how this build has helped you feel calm, even as you dropped or stepped on LEGO pieces, or struggled to find one brick for what seemed like an eternity, but was probably five minutes, at most. You consider the feeling you had as you built this set from scattered LEGO bricks. You remember the cup of coffee you were drinking when you found a missing piece and how the weight of the world, for a few moments, evaporated as you connected one LEGO piece to another and then another.
I know I may be overcomplicating building these three LEGO sets, but I enjoy the honesty these blog posts call forth. Those LEGO sets helped calm me down during the early months of the pandemic. In the same way that playing the video game Borderlands 3 with Kyle, my brother-in-law, or re-watching films and chatting about them with my brother Jeff, building these LEGO sets helped me be positive, even at difficult times.
“Georgia: So… my whole life, everything… All I get to keep are thoughts and memories? / Rube: That’s all we ever have, Peanut.”– Ellen Muth & Mandy Patinkin in Dead Like Me
The final LEGO build proved to be somewhat challenging, unique, and extremely fun. I bought this LEGO set back in May, almost as soon as I finished the LEGO Ghostbusters Firehouse. Still, I wanted to wait to build it until after we moved to our new home, too many bad memories in the last dwelling, and until it was getting closer to September. You might be asking, so you bought a set in May, to wait until September, but why? I had so much shit to do in June and July for moving that I didn’t want to ruin the build by rushing it. But more importantly, the LEGO build was specific, or should I say, spooky, and what better way to get excited for the Halloween season than by building a massive LEGO Haunted House. I also started this blog site in July and thought if I can wait till September, I can do a longer blog about my first couple of LEGO builds and the Haunted House. This time of year is always exciting, so let’s build on that excitement for Fall and Halloween with a spooky LEGO build.
Let me start by saying the Haunted House may have been my favorite build. I am not sure if I enjoyed it most because I built it in September as we move to October, and therefore Halloween, or because it had more wicked awesome features than any other LEGO build. No matter what, the LEGO build was enjoyable. The Haunted House, as you can see from the picture above, is a unique construct. It has a frightening tall tower, a ghostly graveyard, spooky characters, as well as remarkable architecture with the steeple, sleek black roof, and the entire structure opens and closes so you can see inside. I was interested to see how the build would unfold; would I have to build from base to top or in sections? Well, the answer came as soon as I opened the box, unpacked the bags, skimmed through the guideline book, and got organized.
The build starts with one of four base sections, and from there, you work from the ground up in these four sections, which are connected but allow you to swing them open to see the inside of the Haunted House. With each numbered bag comes the construction of a new section of the spooky house. As you can see, there were 18 bags for the LEGO Haunted House, but it was the quickest build-out of the bunch. It had more pieces than the Volkswagen Camper Van and Beatle combined, but about 1,300 pieces less than the Ghostbusters Firehouse. Not that those LEGO piece comparisons matter, but it was still a large adult build, with tons of details and thought, but moved smoothly and with pure joy. There are several different minifigs as well, and I applaud LEGO for their diversity and sensitivity. This LEGO set, which is part of their theme park series, found the Haunted House handicap accessible, with one minifig in a wheelchair. This display of acceptance was a welcome touch and made me more responsive to the LEGO build’s quality and vision.
After setting up my plastic boxes and organizing the bags for easy access, I began the build. As I said, it was my quickest build, the colors of the Haunted House were fantastic, and as someone who is colorblind, I was able to select the correct pieces and build accordingly quickly. The guidebook was easy to follow, and I enjoyed the little details it provided. For example, when constructing an “object” or something scary, the book provided a humorous origin story of how the relic got into the Haunted House owner’s possession. It was subtle, short, but very witty and appreciated. I enjoyed the parts of this build where I assembled sections that required user interaction, like the light display, tower chair drop, and front door swing.
“A laugh can be a very powerful thing. Why, sometimes in life, it’s the only weapon we have.”– Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
Many parts of this LEGO build were beautiful, like the architecture and Haunted House design, the stained glass window, the cemetery, constructing each eerie room and haunting theme, and the front door with a chandelier above it that you can move to make it look like ghosts. But I would say that my favorite part of the build was the tower/elevator/drop ride. I don’t think I have ever constructed something unique as an elevator that can be automated, but I built it as a hand crank. Like the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror attraction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the passenger seated ride elevator can be cranked up by constructing and using tiny links, similar to a bike chain, and drops to create a minifig fright. It is entertaining to play with, for both children and, of course, adults like me! It is a theme park LEGO build, so a haunted house with a spooky and falling elevator is a great touch. Constructing it LEGO brick by LEGO brick was impressive, as it required the construction of a gorgeous tower, steeple, and spire. Again, no part of this build was dull or unimpressive. It moved fast, and I loved every single funny, spooky, or architectural detail.
Those who enjoy Disney’s Magic Kingdom Haunted Mansion ride would also enjoy this LEGO set. Anyone who has been on the Tower of Terror haunted attraction at Disney World, which I often have, would enjoy building and playing with the “crank” once your construction of the Haunted House has concluded. Putting it together started from the very beginning, and the ride’s seats are the last part of the LEGO build. So, the elevator is the slowest of burns, with tons of pieces, interconnected mechanisms assembled throughout the entire build, which make it work, and beautiful colorful pieces put together as you construct the long high tower to give its scary and fun look. By far, the best part of the build, the most unique, and perfect for those that love theme parks, Halloween, and those interested in a LEGO build with working parts.
“You’ll have bad times, but it’ll always wake you up to the good stuff you weren’t paying attention to.”– Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting
Overall, a delightful build that I am sad it came to an end. Even as I constructed the Haunted House, the weather outside has started to get cold, which brings in the feeling that Fall is near, and with it, Halloween. I feel that this LEGO build was more me if that makes any sense. Don’t get me wrong, I loved building the Volkswagen automobiles and Ghostbusters Firehouse, but the Haunted House was artistically pleasing, had fun details, and was the kind of build that makes an adult feel youthful. Maybe it was the comedic charm they put into the instructions when building one of the Baron’s, mansion owner, artifacts, the diversity of the minifigs, or the random hanging skeleton, which my wife immediately stole to place on one of our Halloween decorations. As a fan of Fall, the Halloween season, this was the perfect LEGO build to usher in this time together. I should note that once I finished taking some photos of the Haunted House, my wife and I played with the elevator ride drop, and then she stole the Haunted House and put it in our front window as our first decoration of the Halloween season.
Well, there you have it. Four LEGO builds since April. By far, my favorite, the Haunted House, but each of the first three, my two automobiles and Ghostbusters Firehouse, helped in more ways than one. Battling sadness, anxiety, and fear of the world outside my walls, these “toys,” which required me to follow direction and connect bricks, allowed me to find a sense of solace. While LEGO bricks alone can not help erase the anxious feelings or fear, they offer an essential and necessary understanding of peace. I welcomed getting a new LEGO set from my parents, my aunts and uncles, anyone who knew how much I enjoyed them when I was a child. But as an adult, I have reconnected with them under different circumstances and for a vastly different reason. Sadly, it is the pandemic that has reunited me with one of my favorite hobbies as a young kid. In the end, no matter my reasoning, my age, or my expectation, the joy I get from the build, the connecting of these colorful bricks, and the calm it provides is what will keep me coming back. I may not be the “LEGO Maniac” any longer, but I will settle for LEGO builder, Ph.D.!