For a brief period of time when I was younger my family owned a small local toy store. Apart from my more cosmopolitan cousins, visiting their store was one of the only ways I had to keep abreast of the developments in pop culture, or at least the segment they catered to.
Because they were set up as vendors, this got my parents invites to the annual Toy Fair in New York City every year they owned the business. On a couple of occasions I accompanied them on their business trips, and oftentimes they were my only opportunity to be exposed to a genuine world city. One one occasion I recall quite distinctly, we went to go visit the flagship store for international toy retail giant FAO Scwarz on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. Just like everything else in New York, FAO Schwarz was mostly known for very high-end, luxury things, in particular their life-sized stuffed animals, which they likely at least partially got from German toy manufacturer Steiff, whose products they also carried (and was also probably one of the reasons my parents went there, because their store carried them too).
My memories of FAO Schwarz are twofold. Firstly, I remember making a beeline for the video game and cartoon show tie-in action figures. We didn’t have anything on a remotely comparable scale back home, and this was potentially my one opportunity to get physical representations of some of my favourite characters. But secondly, I was struck by how enormous, grand and lavish it all felt: In hindsight this is at least a little understandable, considering it was the flagship store of a major brand on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, but I still remember marveling at how upscale and aristocratic it felt. FAO Schwarz seemed to be one of the most New York places we went in New York, if that makes any sense at all; it had every ounce of the archetypical gold-rimmed, art deco feeling that characterizes Manhattan, and it radiated that from every corner. It was at once exciting, but also more than a little intimidating. I guess in hindsight, my visit to that toy store in Manhattan embodied for me all the excess and decadence that capitalism naturally leads to, in spite of the nice things it can also make for us.
I think Andy Probert’s work on Star Trek: The Next Generation is criminally overlooked. His fellow designers practically worship him, deservedly and understandably so, but I’m not sure it’s as recognised outside of those small and select circles as it really ought to be. His three starship designs in particular are genuine works of art, and look like absolutely nothing else. I’ve already talked a bit about the Enterprise, though I could talk about the Enterprise basically forever, but “The Last Outpost” gives us the second of the three: The Ferengi Marauder. What strikes me the most about this ship is the thickness of that inner ring, how there are so many tiny windows, and how they all face outward towards us.…