Forty years ago, a large portion of my allowance went toward plastic models: battleships, military aircraft, that sort of thing.

I built the same ones, over & over: USS Arizona, Bismarck. (What did I do with the old ones? Destroy them? Throw them away? Alas, I do not recall. It’s been too long.)

I built a race car, once. After a few months on my nightstand, it met its end in the form of a carelessly-swung aluminum baseball bat. Oops.

I built the Revell P–61 Black Widow any number of times. I never painted it, nor did I attempt any of the dioramas shown in the instruction booklet; I glued the parts together – badly – and figured that was enough.

One time – doubtless inspired by The Flight of the Phoenix, one of my favorite movies – I decided to use the P–61 kit to build my own aircraft, instead of the one Revell intended. I had an old electric motor that fit in the engine nacelle, so the propeller spun just like a real airplane. Fourteen-year-old me thought that was pretty cool.

These days, people call that sort of thing kitbashing.

Sometime in the 1977–8 school year, my sophomore English class did a speech unit: stand in front of the class, tell them something about yourself that they might not know. I elected to talk about my kitbash’d airplane.

I showed them my creation, explained how I’d built it – and they stared at me like I’d sprouted a second head. I still resent them a little for that, though after so long I’ve forgotten all their names.

Ten years later (more or less) my brother Mike (of whom, requiescat in pace) built one last Revell P–61 kit, this time giving it the full treatment: paint (inside & out), decals, everything. I believe it’s still on display, somewhere in the house in Arlington Heights.