One late summer afternoon in 1969 my neighbor’s older brother Jim came home from the Army with his brand new car. It was a Mustang. Yellow. It had a big old nasty engine. I don’t know how big or what kind, but Jim opened the hood and about ten of us neighborhood kids stood around the car gaping at the engine.
Jim was standing with his foot on the front bumper, smoking a Lucky Strike.
“What do you little kids think?” he asked us. I was thirteen and it bugged me that he called me a little kid, but that’s a side issue.
“It’s cool,” I said, because I didn’t really know what I was looking at, but I liked it.
Jim took a long drag on his Lucky Strike.
“It’s really cool,” he said.
He flicked his butt and closed the hood.
“I’m gonna go find Donnie and do some racing,” Jim said. Donnie had a 1965 Mercury Comet, which he claimed the cops let him drive fast because it “hurt the engine to drive slow.”
I was so jealous. This was life at its highest—a hot car that goes fast. Really, what more did you need out of life? For much of our lives, gear is what matters. Getting and having the right kind of stuff is your goal.
Many years later, I arrived at a point in my life where I had achieved that goal. I had a lot of gear: three cars, a Yamaha G2 grand piano, and some Swedish appliances in my kitchen. It was pretty great stuff, especially that bright red 1991 Saab 900 Turbo Convertible.
And then, over the course of several years and many setbacks, I lost all my stuff, was homeless, and had no gear at all. None.
And you know what I figured out then?
Gear doesn’t matter.
It breaks down. It gets old. People swipe it. You might not be able to afford it. On and on. There’s nothing but problems with gear. It’s really not worth holding on to or even trying to get. The only thing that really matters, in the end, is love. Whom you love, and who loves you.
So that’s my Christmas message. My New Year’s message is slightly different: Love is nice, but so is a new bicycle. Which I’d like to get this coming year. A really fast one with a frame made out of carbon fiber. So I guess we’re back to the cool gear after all.
While I wait for my gifts, fancy tech or not, here are my favorite movies with gear that’s even cooler than a yellow Mustang.
Of course there are all sorts of fantastic guns in this movie. But I think we all know the one device that Men in Black introduced to the world that would really come in handy, especially when you’ve done something that you regret—The Neuralyzer. Just flash it at someone and they forget everything that just happened. Sure, apologies are nice and we should all make use of them whenever possible, but gosh, sometimes a Neuralyzer sure would come in handy.
While not quite a spy, Batman has been called the World’s Greatest Detective numerous times, and has gear to rival any secret agent. The old Batman TV series starring the late Adam West had a really great Batcycle in the first season, a 1965 Harley-Davidson with a sidecar (for dweeby Robin). Unfortunately, the production company only leased the motorcycle for a year and had to return it at the end of the season. So they ended up leasing a Yamaha 250 (with another sidecar) for Season 2, but it wasn’t quite as nasty as that Harley. Nothing in the Batman universe was, in fact, until the new Batpod came along with this movie. Holy Hair Rising On the Back of My Neck In Excitement, Batman! This beast is a low-slung motorcycle that has the feel of an evil bobsled with big fat tires.
The spy supplier par excellence, Q, outdoes himself in this movie. There’s the Watch Garotte (for strangling bad guys), the Flamethrower, the Deadly Attaché Case, and the Periscope. But is there anything as remotely awesome as the Knife Flick Shoes the evil henchman was wearing when he tried kicking James Bond to death? How many times have you been walking along some shady side street on your way home, seen some guys walking towards you boasting loudly, and thought to yourself: “Man, what I wouldn’t give for a pair of sharp knives that suddenly come poking out of my shoes right now!”
This James Bond movie has the incomparable Aston Martin DB5. This magnificent car made its first appearance in Goldfinger and returned in Thunderball. It also has a Jet Pack that Bond flies around in, that frankly looks pretty silly. My favorite device in this movie, however, is the Rebreather. It was a small device that you put in your mouth that allows you to breath recycled air underwater. Completely implausible, but man, would that be sweet to have sometime. Not really sure how I would use it or what kind of occasion would require one of these beauties. Other than the obvious falling-into-the-lake-while-ice-fishing situation a lot of us deal with on a daily basis.
The Mission: Impossible movies are a festival of outlandishly great spy devices. My favorite device from among these movies is the Glue Gloves that Tom Cruise uses to climb the exterior of the 123-story Burj Khalifa skyscraper in Dubai. Cruise was actually out there, 1,700 feet off the ground, in a harness. It took eight days to shoot this sequence. The Glue Gloves, as much as we may want them to be able to hold a grown man to the side of a building, aren’t real. But it would be pretty great if they were, wouldn’t it?
David Raether is a veteran TV writer and essayist. He worked for 12 years as a television sitcom writer/producer, including a 111-episode run on the ground-breaking ABC comedy “Roseanne.” His essays have been published by Salon.com, The Times of London, and Longforms.org, and have been lauded by The Atlantic Magazine and the BBC World Service. His memoir, Homeless: A Picaresque Memoir from Our Times, is awaiting publication.