Nowadays you see these plastic portable sandboxes that have lids. A sandbox with a lid! Heck, what's a little cat crap in your sandbox? Didn't kill me. Here I sit.
My dad built my sandbox, and it was the envy of all my friends. Every spring he would buy two or three big bags of white sand, dump them in the box, and Sis and I would go to town.
In those days there was a hot rod culture with an artist named Big Daddy Roth. He created a leering critter called Rat Fink for the speedster set. And someone got the idea to mass produce little plastic Rat Finks in all sorts of colors, lock them into round plastic pods, and shove them in gumball machines. You could buy a Rat Fink from a gumball machine for a nickel. And that was in the reach of even the poorest kid.
Sis and I had a whole village worth of Rat Finks. (Those original ones with the whiskers are now selling for fifty bucks a pop on Ebay. Even in this economy.) I had one I particularly loved that was a unique magenta color. And another that was orange and had whiskers. Both got stolen. I was in eighth grade at the time -- too cool for toys? No way. I cried.
Many and many a sunny afternoon, Sis and I (and maybe a cousin or friend or two) would build whole complex communities of buildings and roads and pools and balconies for our Rat Finks. The sandbox was a world unto itself. Each Rat Fink had a name, and a personality, and likes and dislikes. Some lived together in spacious holes with cubbies to sleep in. Some were lone wolves on high crags, staring down like the Grinch ... plotting. The Rat Finks were perfect for the sandbox because they could be hosed down at the end of the day, and all the sand came off them.
At one time when I was about nine and Sis about five, we must have had three dozen Rat Finks between us. But you know how it is. You play with something, it gets away, you don't find it, or Mom thinks you're through with it and throws it out. Of that vast treasure trove, Sis has only one original Rat Fink left. I have none. We replenished our supply about 15 years ago when Big Daddy Roth's web site issued repros. I can still see my dad's face light up when I showed him a handful of repro little plastic Rat Finks and asked him to choose his favorite color for his key chain. (He chose purple. Sis has that one now.)
If you're keen to have a repro plastic key chain Rat Fink, you can get one here. They're cheaper by the dozen. I think.
Sometimes I see the little girls next door playing in their plastic sandbox with a lid. First of all, the lid limits how much sand can be in the box. Second, the toys they use in the sandbox are shovels and pails. Sis and I didn't have either. We used our hands and arms, and the skill of our fingers as we dexterously crafted living quarters and surrounding amenities for sharp-toothed, wide-grinned Rat Finks.
In this fabulous portrait, you can just make out the necklace of Rat Finks my daughter The Heir wore to the 2007 Fairie Festival at Spoutwood Farm. The Heir loves her Finks, wearing the necklace only on the most special occasions.
As for me, my repro guys are scattered here and there. I'm afraid to gather them up as a group, because Sis is having the very devil of a time with a tricky little faerie who's inciting hers to riot. (See below.)
I think what I liked about Rat Finks was that they had no inherent identity beyond a certain likable badness. They weren't animals, they weren't people, they certainly weren't little clothes horses with big tits and accessories. Didn't seem to matter to Sis and me that the gender was uniformly male. In Rat Fink world the rules were different. No guys, no gals, just individuals who behaved in predictable ways.
Keep your gaming systems. As for me and my house, we will play with Rat Finks.