March 23, 2012

JoeyESQ's Ode To Toys

What's up CCD Fam, JoeyEsq here. Now most of you know me from my "Takin You Way Back" columns where I highlight various forgotten and under appreciated toys from that great decade, the 1980's. If you don't know, that's where I bring you up to speed on some of the more obscure, lesser known and less successful toylines that came out during my youth. Now when I write those columns I absolutely do some research, and Google Images and YouTube are phenomenal in the visual aide department, but in every article, at least some of (if not all) of what I write is from memory. That got me thinking, I have a lot of really fond, really vivid memories involving toys. Probably way more than a 33 year old attorney should admit to having. But whatever, thoughts of my old toys always bring a warm feeling to my heart,  so I thought I'd share some of those thoughts and warm feelings with you.


As I said, toys were a huge part of my childhood, adolescence, early adulthood, and even  remain so, in this alleged state of full adulthood I exist in today. Up until very recently, I would keep saying "this is the last toy I'm going to buy" and then awesome things like Masterpiece Transformers or the G.I. Joe 25th Anniversary figures come along, and I'm flushing disposable income down the toilet all over again. I'm a child I tell you. Anyway, even though Masterpiece Megatron was the last toy I actually bought, I still have visions of a shelf with him and Prime, along with the Seeker jets, Grimlock and Hot Rod somewhere at sometime in the future. Unfortunately, that probably won't happen since there are more important things to spend money on nowadays, but even if it never happens, I'll have my toy memories.

This first one takes us all the way back to the year 1985. My Grandma Marie and I had a long-standing (at least 3 years at that point) tradition. One Saturday before Christmas in December, she and I would hop on the A Train at the Aqueduct-North Conduit station, and trek into the city. Our destination was Macy's flagship store in Herald Square, to meet Santa Claus and to get me a toy. This was the first year I remember the trip in detail, including the memory of a memory… I remember standing on the subway platform as the train sped into the station and feeling disoriented, like the platform was moving undeneath me; and I remember thinking "oh yeah, I remember this weird sensation from last year's trip to the city". Odd the way memory works... as you're about to see. Anyway, we trekked into city, walked up 33rd Street past Macy's big competitor department store Gimbels', and into Santa's village. I got a picture with good ol' Saint Nick and then we went into Macy's toy department (back when Macy's HAD a toy department). Anyway, that year there were 2 hot toys for Christmas. One was the giant walking Transformer called Omega Supreme. Standing at like a foot and a half tall, Omega was absolutely enormous by toy standards. Up until that point, the only Transformer that even came close to his size was Devastator, and he didn't count because he was really six Constructicons combined into one. Needless to say, for a spoiled brat like me, Omega was a must have.

Look at this guy! Even now, I kinda feel like I made the right decision...

Nanny Marie was the perfect candidate for providing these "must-haves", incidentally, so things were looking up for Joey. The only snag was the other hot toy that Christmas, Teddy Ruxpin. Teddy Ruxpin was a truly awesome and revolutionary (for the time) teddy bear. He had a cassette player built into him, and when you played the special story cassettes, his eyes and mouth moved accordingly, as if he was telling you the story. Now at the ripe old age of five going on six, I was too old for Teddy (probably not really, but let’s face it, Omega was far cooler), but damned if he wouldn't be perfect for one going-on-two-years-old baby brother Mikey. So Nanny Marie faced a dilemma. Both Omega and Teddy were roughly a hundred bucks, which in 1985 was like two hundred and sixty five thousand dollars now, and despite my long-standing belief to the contrary, Nannies and Grandpas are not in fact, made of money. So, option 1; she could get me Omega, and something small and worthless for my brother. Option 2; she could get my brother Teddy Ruxpin, and something small and worthless for me. Or, Option 3; she could compromise, and get us both something in the fifty-dollar price range. For some strange reason she left the decision in my hands, and despite the fact that the word “altruism” probably was in my genius-brained vocabulary at that point, so were “selfish”, “greedy, and “venal”; and I wasn't about to set any new precedents after nearly six years of a staunch policy of self-centeredness. So that night I kept myself busy assembling a giant Autobot mobile defense base, and my baby brother got to play with his brand new, plastic Fisher-Price kazoo. Yup, a kazoo.

It was this kazoo in fact

You read that right. When Nanny Marie asked me what we should get my brother, now that I’d earmarked most of the funds for this monstrous toy, my response was a plastic version of one of the most useless and annoying musical instruments ever conceived. I took selfishness to new levels, my friends. I also had a giant battery-powered, walking, light-up Transformer, so as you can see, it was pretty much win-win. Now, you might think that makes me a spoiled little creep, but you have to keep in mind, at that point I was coming off of five years as an only child, Mike was only twenty-two months old. It would take me another eleven years to even accept him as a human being. I had to have me Omega. Besides, the joke is on me. All I have left of my Omega Supreme is his two hands (which join together to form a cool rocket ship), but that kazoo is still sitting in a toy chest in my mom's house, ready to be dusted off and used to annoy people everywhere.

WAIT... It wasn't Fisher-Price? It was a no-frills company? Ambi? Man, I AM a dick...

My next toy memory is a quickie, but a goody. This one really makes me sad actually, because it really harkens back to a more innocent time. A time when a tiny gesture could make my day. A time when mommy was my best friend. It sucks that things will never be this way again, and part of the reason I really want kids is so I can create moments like this. The moment I'm talking about, was one day after school, either kindergarten or first grade, my mom called me into the kitchen and asked if I wanted a cookie. This was strange, because it was before dinner, and she'd never done this before. I also didn't really want a cookie, so I declined. Undeterred, she then asked if I would go in the fridge and get HER a cookie. So I did, only to find she'd tricked me. She didn't want a cookie at all! It was all a ruse, and there in the fridge, on top of the bag of Chips A'hoy, was a brand spankin' new G.I. Joe figure (Tripwire to be exact). There is NOTHING in the world like the excitement of an unexpected toy as a kid. NOTHING. Every time I see the Tripwire figure; I'm reminded of this time, and if I let myself, I could get a little choked up over it.


I wish this guy was in my fridge right now. Cookies too...


Next up I'm going to do a toy speed round, where I match up the toy with the event that got me it. Being a spoiled kid, I tended to get toys for some really ridiculous reasons. Like in 1983, when my Nanny Grace and Grandpa Joe bought me the Imperial AT-AT walker for my parents wedding anniversary, or the following year when I got the Y-Wing for my brother being born (my parents gave me the Y-Wing ostensibly as a gift from the new baby… to soften the blow of the upcoming loss of "center of attention" status and I guess to endear me to the kid. (Yeah that worked well). Instead of money, I once got a bunch of Go-Bots from the Tooth Fairy (5 of them to be exact, one of which was Pathfinder... I surprisingly don't remember the rest). I got the Autobot City, Metroplex for my First Holy Communion. I later let Tommy's friend Stephen borrow Metroplex, with no accessories (including no fists) in exchange for being allowed to borrow his Superion. Superion was a giant robot made up of 5 other smaller robots, the Aerialbots, and was very cool. I kept that thing mad long, much to the chagrin of Stephen and his mom. Hah! Too bad! I remember I got Castle Grayskull and a slew of He-Man figures for Christmas 1983. This was also the year my Nanny Marie bought me this amazing giant R2-D2 toy chest/clothes hamper and filled it with presents. I Still have that R2 in fact!


Do you have any idea how many He-Man figures fit in this thing? 3-year old Joey does!

On Christmas Eve 1986, my brother finally got that Teddy Ruxpin. If there were any justice, I'd have been given a triangle, or a harmonica, but I guess there isn't because alongside his awesome gift, I got the Cobra Terrordrome, a giant headquarters for G.I. Joe's enemies, and one of the greatest toys ever made.

THIS! This AMAZING thing. Look at this prime piece of action figure real estate!

One of the first trips to Toys R Us I specifically recall was the time I got my first Go-Bots. I even remember who they were: Space-C, Jeeper-Creeper, Rest-Q and Loco. I played with them in the back seat of my mom's Chevy Cutlass while Matthew Wilder's "Break My Stride" was playing on the radio (my memory is fucking retarded).


"Last night I had the strangest dream..."

I got my Ewok Village from Santa in 1983, and I still have that as well.

Wish I also still had those pajamas!

In the summer of 1984, a day I spent at the pool in my friend Ronnie's yard. That day ended with his mom taking us to the newly-opened Toys “N” Things on Linden Boulevard. It was a great day, I got to go to my cool older friend's house across the street, Prince's "When Doves Cry" was on the radio a lot, and Ronnie's mom bought me the G.I. Joe Sky Hawk. We also went to the candy store that day and got Ghostbusters buttons – buttons that had quotes from the movie that were all wrong.


How great is the internet that I can so easily find pictures of incorrect Ghostbusters pins from 1984?

Another great G.I. Joe memory was that Hasbro offered tons of special mail away offers. All you had to do was collect "flag points' from the back of the figures and mail them in with shipping and handling and you could get all kinds of great figures and accessories. Nowadays when you get mail, 9 times outta 10 its a bill, or an invitation to something that's going to cost you money, but when you were a kid getting mail ruled. And getting a toy in the mail was like a fucking holiday! Speaking of mail away offers, Star Wars did that with figures too. I got 4-LOM, Nein Numb, Admiral Ackbar and the Emperor that way. On Christmas Eve in 1987 Nanny Marie and Grandpa Nick gave me Fortress Maximus, the largest Transformer ever. He stood two and a half feet tall, as tall as Mikey was then. I sold him for 700 bucks a few years ago. Speaking of Transformers, my very first Transformer was Megatron, the villainous leader of the Decepticons. I remember I got him on a Saturday trip to Toys R Us with Nanny Grace and Grandpa Joe. They also got me Hun-Dredd the Conqueror. He was the evil leader of whatever the group of robots that fought Maxx Steele and the Robo-Force were. These cool, although much-less-popular-than-Transformers robots had suction cup bases instead of legs. Anyway, I got home from my grandparent's with my new toys that fine Saturday evening, and my dad promptly took them away from me. I was punished at that time, for a reason I cannot recall, and my dad was being spiteful. I got them back a few weeks later. It took me about a month before I broke Megatron in my next-door neighbor Richard's backyard. The following week when I got out of the bath, waiting for me in the hallway was a brand-spanking-new Optimus Prime. Mommy felt bad that I broke one Transformer, so she got me another one. Mommy was good like that.

Another fun toy memory comes from a little later in life. Me and Rob DiPaolo were sleeping over by Tommy and Michael's house. As was our tradition, we made our Friday night walk to Ceaser's Bay and Toys R Us. We were probably 11 or 12 years old, and probably on the cusp of the age where you would think boys stopped playing with toys. In my case, I was halfway there. Anyway, at that point comic books were huge, and the Marvel Comics toys were riding that popularity. Now, having some earlier transgression against Toys R Us, which I believe was theft-related, Tommy couldn't accompany Michael, Rob and I into the store. ( I’m pretty sure it was for getting caught stealing Bucky O’Hare figures at some recent earlier time. Tommy will confirm, or correct me in the comments, I’m sure) He certainly missed out, because newly arrived at Toys R Us were the Venom and Juggernaut action figures. The three of us grabbed one of each and continued our journey up and down aisle 7-C and 7-D to look at the rest of the stuff (that's where TRU kept the boys toys before they turned the store into a stupid obstacle course). At some point Rob separated from us. Michael and I were ready to go, so we rounded a corner and there was Rob, face to face with a douche Toys R Us stock boy going "where's my figger meng?" Rob, it seems had opened the packages of the figures, and had them tucked into his right pant leg. Their accessories were in his left leg, but the guy didn't get those. For some reason I still don't understand, Rob's attempted stealing of those figures meant Michael and I couldn't buy them. So we just left instead. I believe I even got into a fight with Rob over this fact later that weekend. As you can tell I've always been passionate about my toys.


These figgers. We were left with whatever that harness thing Juggy comes with and a plastic spider full of black slime.


The common threads with all these stories is that I have tons of fond memories attached to random pieces of plastic and die-cast metal, and I huess also that my grandparents spoiled the shit out of me (this article really only scratches the surface on both of those subjects, actually). To this day I love toys, and until recently, I've spent many a dollar trying to buy up all these toys from my youth, to in some small way, recapture and immortalize those memories. It’s great to have something physical that I can look at and remember something nice my mom did for me, or spending time with my grandparents, or just a time when life was more innocent and simpler and just plain better. I miss those days… but I'll always have my toys.

Writing this got me wondering, I can’t be the only one who has memories like these right? I mean, Internet geekdom has to be teeming with people who have fond toy moments just like these, right? I can't be all alone, RIGHT?? RIGHT??? So, anyway, I'm thinking, you send in your favorite toy-related memories to joeyesq@aol.com and I’ll publish them as part of my Ode To Toys Part 2!

1 comment:

  1. This was awesome. Several times I laugh about to myself.

    Christmas of 1986, Manzo and I both got an Omega Supreme. Weird.

    Didn't that Toys R Us guy slap Rob's hat off of his head in order to see if he had any stolen goods under there?

    MANZO had actually got caught stealing the toy, and I gave myself up in order so save him (he was young, ad crying... haha... very nervous). So I'm not sure why he was allowed back in and not me. Maybe I stayed out because I had a BB gun on me and didn't wanna get caught with it?

    Anyway, our friend Joe Pupus used to steal CONSTANTLY! Michael and I would keep watch, and he'd take tons of shit. Very skilled. Anyway... The one time Manzo and I are on our own and decide to steal, we get caught! Ha. Oh well.

    I remember passing up Jabba's skiff for Modulok, which Grandpa Johnny bought for all of us. That skiff was never to be seen, before or after that! (That was late '85 or early '86, I'd say... when Star Wars stuff was on the way out.)

    My 1986 birthday (I think I turned 9... I'm too lazy to do the math) my grandma took me to Toys R Us for a shopping spree. I got some Ewok toys (from the cartoon) and Ewok accessories from the Star Wars line (battering ram, glider, and some other Star Wars figures I thought worked into the Ewok theme, like a C3PO.)

    By the way, Star Wars figures are now like 12 bucks each. Yowza!

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