Tag Archives: Middle Island

Throwback Thursday: T.S.S. in Middle Island, NY

This “Throwback Thursday” post is one to which only my longtime fellow Long Islanders might relate.  And it’s really more of a bittersweet news item …  I signed onto Facebook the night before last only to see this message from a great old friend from the neighborhood:

“They tore down the old T.S.S. today.”

Yes — that’s “T.S.S.,” as in Times Squares Stores, even though nobody ever called it the latter.  And “T.S.S.” is an appellation that only the 40-and-up-ish crowd would recognize, I think.  Everyone else thinks of it as “the old K-Mart.”  But in the late 70’s and early 80’s, it was a sprawling local family discount store.

I and other Longwood High School kids have a hell of a lot of memories from there.  I remember accompanying my parents there during their shopping expeditions when I was .. maybe the age from Kindergarten through the third grade?

“Warehouse”-type club stores weren’t really a thing back then.  T.S.S.’ immense space was truly impressive to a little boy; it seemed like a world unto itself.  We all remember the toy section — that was where I browsed wistfully through the very first Star Wars figures — I’m talking the original toys released in connection with the 1978 and 1980 films.  I still remember them arrayed along the racks in their original packaging — Lord only knows how much those racks of unopened original toys would be worth today.  I’m also pretty sure that’s where my parents picked up those Micronauts figures I got for Christmas one year.  Come to think of it … I’ll bet the majority of my Christmas presents were bought there.

I also vividly remember the bedding department, for some reason.  I think it’s because I really took a liking to some Charlie Brown bedsheets I saw displayed there.

But more than anything else, I remember the weird entranceway — they sold concession-style drinks and snacks on both sides, the better to appeal to children to beseech their parents.

There’s a neat little blog entry, complete with the store’s original TV commercials,  right here at LongIsland70skid.com:

http://www.longisland70skid.com/tss/

T.S.S. was such a vivid, memorable part of my early childhood that it was pretty damned depressing for me Tuesday to discover its eventual fate.  I’m not talking about the sprawling space being razed.  I’m talking about the goddam dystopian state of disrepair into which the entire commercial property fell.

After some long intervening years during which the space became a K-Mart, the building just went to hell after that doomed chain went as defunct as T.S.S.  Tuesday’s Newsday article, below, should give you the rundown.

And the rundown isn’t pretty.  Over the past decade, it seems that the “hulking eyesore” of a building was the site of squatters, drug users, and encroaching wild plantlife.  If you have fond childhood memories of the store, then do not perform a Google image search for the location, as I did.  It’ll show you a massive, vacant monolith of a building on a vast, overgrown, dangerous looking lot.  It looks frikkin’ postapocalyptic.  And it’ll make you sad.

And if that weren’t enough, a murder victim was found this past Saturday in the woods just next to the site:

“Middle Island vacant K-Mart demolished days after body found,” by Carl MacGowan, Newsday, 4/5/16

They say you can never go home again, huh?

Throwback Thursday: Dungeons & Dragons miniatures

Maybe metal fantasy miniatures shouldn’t be the subject of a Throwback Thursday post, as I know that a lot of hobbyists still collect and paint them.  But they’re a “throwback” for me, as the last time I sat down to paint a knight, orc, or skeleton warrior was in middle school.  It was a fantastically enjoyable hobby, but time-consuming, and maybe even a little expensive for a kid.

It was also usually a solitary avocation.  I don’t know what others’ experiences may have been, but I remember this being an unusual hobby in the mid-1980’s.  Not a lot of my classmates even knew about it, and might have been puzzled by a centimeters-high, heavy, lead figurine of a dwarf or a troll.

But, MAN, did I ever love fantasy miniatures — even if I almost never got the chance to actually employ them for a game of Dungeons & Dragons (another pursuit my to which my peers were not partial).

You’d buy them unpainted, if you could find a specialty hobby shop, along with paints, brushes, and optional primer.  My father took my older brother and I to what remains one of my favorite places in all of New York — Men At Arms Hobbies in Middle Island.  The sublimely good-natured proprietor there was an obvious enthusiast himself, who knew about all things wizardly and hobbity and monstery and undead — along with the historical military miniatures that also evidently had a huge following.  And he was the coolest guy — he always addressed me chipperly as “Sir,” which I think was the first time an adult ever called me that.

Various individual adventurers and monsters didn’t cost much.  The larger, awe-inspiring dragons ran between $20 and $25, if memory serves, and were out of my price range at the age of 13 or so.  They weren’t all quite as grand as the example you see pictured below, but they were pretty frikkin’ awesome.  Seeing them crouching on their lead bases, about to take flight over their daunting hand-penned price-tags, was the first time in my life I truly found myself wishing that I was rich.

Then you painted them at home.  Cruel retrospect allows me the understanding that I SUCKED at it.  Yeesh.  Really.  It must have taken every ounce of reserve and deportment that my parents and older brother had to compliment my work with a straight face.  (It was my brother, a veteran D&D player, from whom I learned the hobby.)

My rangers and hobbits looked, at best, like something out of an impressionist painting completed by an impatient imbecile who was having a bad day.  My skeleton warriors upon their skeleton horses were probably happy they were dead.  (So, too, were their bony steeds; I’m sure of it.)  The worst, however, were my wood orcs.  (Am I remembering them correctly?  Were “wood orcs” a thing?)  I painted their armor the fairest, most cheerful, cerulean sky-blue after a creative decision that was as bad as anything during the filming the second “Highlander” movie.  As an adolescent, I had a very confused understanding of Tolkien’s mythology.  I thought, for example, that Nazguls were repelled by water, for some reason — in much the same manner that Superman is allergic to Kryptonite.  Hey … I never claimed to be the smartest kid in the class, okay?

I still treasured those damned miniatures, though.  My favorites included a squat, fat, Budda-esque devil, some beautifully crafted samurai that thankfully went unpainted, pewter conquistadores, and a wolf rider.

Like my “dungeon master” brother and his high school friends, I lovingly kept them in cardboard jewelry boxes secured from my mother and sisters, and assiduously protected their bendable swords and scythes there with cotton or tissue paper.  The entire collection was housed in something that was both damned cool and … also a bit weird, I guess.  Somehow, I’d gotten my hands on an antique ballot box.  It was a thick, heavy oak box with a slit at the top for ballots, probably once employed by people supporting Herbert Hoover.  (No, I can’t remember how on earth I acquired so strange an item.)

I will never forget the thick, dusky scent of its oak interior.  Every time I opened it, that scent hijacked my imagination entirely, and sent it off to other worlds — either Tolkien’s universe, or one of my own making.  I realize how pollyanna that sounds, young people, but this was how a kid traveled to other worlds in the days before Netflix and online multi-player games.

I think I still have that oak box in storage.  If I lay hands on my miniatures again soon, I’ll post pictures here.

New Yorkers, Men At Arms Hobbies is still in business right there on Middle Country Road.  If you want to pull your kids away from television, videogames and the Internet for a night or so, then shut all of those things off, put some brushes in your kids’ hands, and introduce them to Middle Earth at the dining room table.  It’ll be fun.  I guarantee it.

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