A few weeks ago I got an email from an old friend I’d wondered about for decades. Joe Czekalski used to live in a duplex two doors down from my family on Fleishauer Lane in McMinnville during our first few years of elementary school in the late 1970s. Our house was a kind of a second home for Joe, and vice-versa.
Joe was a very sweet, spirited kid, exceptionally good-natured. We’d spend hours watching Bugs Bunny cartoons, reading his older siblings’ Tiger Beat magazines, and singing along to Cheap Trick’s “I Want You to Want Me”. Both Joe’s parents were deaf, and he seemed to crave contact with the outside world with an enthusiasm my family found very endearing.
Joe got teased a lot for his funny clothes and gangly look (as upposed to my funny clothes and shortness), and was occasionally given to outbursts when pushed too far. I remember in Mrs. McCallister’s first grade class, he chased Steven Vossler all the way to the bathroom door and then, when Steven locked the door before Joe could reach it, Joe kicked open the small metal mesh window. But Steven, while a good guy, was a teaser, and he may have had it coming.
Being six or seven years old, we played with toys a lot, and I particularly remember us working on a Lego set for a space ship and space station. The ship looked just like the Galactica on Battlestar Galactica, which was the idea. (We were such big fans of that show that Joe actually insisted on being called “Starbuck”, after Dirk Benedict’s ace Viper pilot. My dad took on the new nickname enthusiastically. He still calls him Starbuck when Joe’s name comes up.)
I wasn’t so much into the building of the "LL928" Lego ship as I wanted to play with it, to use my imagination. I knew I wanted it to look exactly like on the box, though. Joe was much better than I was at actually building with Legos, so I got him to build the space ship for me.
As you can see, I've kept the ship all of these years. It's lost its pointed front end, the little man who pilots it is also long gone, and it's covered in dust. But how many Lego ships stay put together this long?
Joe already was sure as first grader what he wanted to do when he grew up: join the army and become a pilot. And when I heard from Joe recently via email after all these years, it turned out that he’d come very close to doing precisely that. He’s indeed in the army, and is currently in Iraq serving his second tour of duty and third overall in the wartime Middle East (the first one coming during the 1990 Gulf War). He didn’t end up becoming a pilot, but he’s as close as anyone to the aircraft. Joe is a mechanic on some of the Army’s premiere attack helicopters.
I don’t want to delve into war politics, but it definitely gave me pause thinking about Joe over there in harm’s way. Hopefully Starbuck will return to the Galactica without any Cylons getting in the way. In the meantime, I will keep his Lego creation safely harbored on the top of my bookshelf, where it’s un-ironically displayed as a work of art.