Ages 8 and Up Andy
Mulder prepares to graduate,
By Shawn Weston
West Lafayette Herald
An assembly of plastic robot toys
stands armed in Andy Mulder’s third floor
single room as he returns from his 1:30 p.m.
class on Thursday.
A FedEx package sits unopened on
his perfectly made, wrinkle-free bed. He
removes the sandals from his feet, rests his
backpack in his slightly torn black leather
chair and grasps the box in his hands.
He begins to rip the tape on the
corner of the package, and continues to pull
it along the edge. He folds open the flap,
reaches into the box of Styrofoam packing
peanuts and removes a smaller brightly
colored box. The box reads, “Gundam H-
Arms Custom,” and exhibits a drawing of an
apocalyptic war machine complete with gun
turrets and missile launchers. The box
recommends, “Ages 8 and up.”
Andy carefully opens the box so it
doesn’t tear and lays the lid on his bed
blanket. Inside the box are small pieces of
thin fragile plastic attached to a several
rectangular molds, and an eight-page
He collects his materials exact-o-
knife and cutting board and unfolds the
instructions like a comic book ready to be
read. The instructions are written in
Japanese, but that doesn’t stop him from
understanding the “How to” illustrations
drawn on each page. He jumps onto his bed,
saves space on his blanket for finished
pieces and separates a pile of the scrap
plastic from a collection of the actual bits
He patiently cuts his first piece from
the generic, simple factory mold and sets it
aside. Legs crossed and eyes still, Andy
begins to assemble his next model, but not
Each of the already 13 assembly
required models of his collection are
handmade. A few have missing decals or a
faulty appendage, but only one particular
model is perfect. They’re like imaginary
friends with their own stories.
“I like that one,” Andy says as he
points to the model at the far end of his
desk. “But, not that one,” he says referring
to the one next to it. “But, I do like that one
because it was the first of the series. It had
to be the best model I ever made,” he says of
an aqua blue Heavy Arms Custom. “I like
that one because it looks cool,” he says
looking at a tall, tentacled attack Gundam,
“but, the one with the wings I like the best.”
His favorite is the Dethscythe Hell
Custom, a robotic war machine from his
favorite television program, Gundam Wing,
a Japanese animated space opera he watches
every day at 3:30 p.m. on Cartoon Network.
Rerun or not, he still tunes in regularly.
The toys, however, are soon going
be moving back to Andy’s childhood room.
He’s graduating in a week from Purdue
University with a degree in Computer
Unfortunately, Andy doesn’t have
cable back home in Martinsville, md., a
small town about an hour’s drive south of
Indianapolis, so he might have to search for
a new favorite cartoon series. But for now,
he’s going to enjoy it while he has it.
He checks the clock. It’s 3:21 p.m.
Andy grabs his remote and flips to channel
36. Commercials revert him back to his
“I like building things, whether it be
models or databases,” Andy says. “That’s a
big reason I chose the major that I did.”
Soon to be living at home and
driving every morning to work in
Indianapolis at Eli Lilly as a data analyst,
Andy isn’t ready to grow up quite yet.
His dorm room walls meticulously littered
with vintage Porsche posters and a
cardboard standee of Marilyn Monroe is —
like a teen-ager’s room of the 1950s.
Marilyn’s dress, flying as she tries gleefully
to land it, is the same she wore in her classic
comedy, “The Seven Year Itch,” a film
Andy remembers as a moment he shared
with an incredibly beautiful woman.
“Things were simpler then, I assume,” Andy
says as he snaps together a shield to his
model’s mostly complete leg fragment. “All
guys cared about were cars and women, and
they happily worked at blue-collar jobs. I
think things are more complicated today.”
Suddenly, the words “Gundam Wing” flash
on the tube and Andy abruptly rotates his
head 90 degrees.
“I’ve seen this one,” he says seconds before
he accidentally cuts his thumb. “I hate it
when I do that.”
He hops from his bed, goes to his desk and
opens his drawer while an invincible
instrument of war flies through space like a
hero on the television. The sound of loud
gunfire and rockets drowns the room. Andy
removes a napkin from the drawer and
wraps it around his slightly nicked thumb.
The bleeding stops seconds after, but not
before he reminds himself to set out his pill
bottles for tonight’s pharmacopoeia.
An hour before bedtime usually 9:30 p.m.
on weeknights and 10:30 p.m. on weekends
— Andy fills two of his three empty Evian
bottles from the hall fountain and returns to
his room to drink a few gulps with his
nightly medication, a small red caplet for his
blood pressure. But, that pill is only one
from a long laundry list of pills. Every night,
he prepares his morning medication, a
candy-colored assortment of drugs and
vitamins his doctor recommends
he swallow. Each capsule or pill is a
different size, shape and color.
Andy is diagnosed with renal failure, a
genetic condition he’s had since birth. His
kidneys have small tears in the filters that
fail to clean the blood. He says monthly
blood tests and check-ups with a physician
within the last year have not been too
promising. He’s expecting to be put on the
waiting list for a transplant very soon.
He takes a faded orange Vitamin B
supplement, a crimson red iron supplement,
a white Vitamin C supplement, a dark blue
blood pressure pill for his migraine
headaches and a large pink and gray blood
pressure pill for his kidneys. His doctor has
already told him several times that alcohol is
a no-no, but Andy does have a beer every
once in a while.
As he continues to explain his condition, his
face begins to spoil with a frown; it certainly
wasn’t a subject he wanted to talk about as
he began to peel a shiny decal from a sheet
of many to be stuck to the facets of his
nearly assembled robot.
“I think his health problems play a big role
in how he views life,” said Andy’s friend
and neighbor, Jason Hickey, a student in
School of Agriculture from Newark, Del.
He eats lunch and dinner with him
practically every day in the dining hall of
Cary Quad, Andy’s home for the past four
“He’s not childish, but the things that he
does are just comforting for him,” Hickey
said. “To build a model is about the next
step, and that’s definitely Andy.”
Jeff Semko, Andy’s floor counselor and
friend, says he’s very quiet, but fun to be
“He’s the youngest guy in a 22-year old
body I’ve met,” Semko said.
But, that’s not how Andy feels.
“I feel that my childhood was
robbed,” Andy says as he snaps the last
piece into place. “I’ve been preparing for
life so much, it’s hard to say if I’ve had any
He interrupts with a rare smile.
“Look, it’s done, what do you
Approximately 17 centimeters tall
and loaded with machine gun turrets,
homing missiles and a Gatling cannon,
Andy’s new model is ready to stand
indestructible with the others.
What would make this story better?
Some photos of Andy working on his model,
and taking his medication would be
essential. Photos of his models would also
be effective because I see this guy as
vulnerable, but consuming himself with
these imaginary indestructible machines.