Sunday, March 18, 2012

Ode To Toys!

This was an article I wrote for my old MySpace blog, way back in the summer of 2007 but I’m resurrecting it now, with some edits and revisions. Just in the way of an update, , while I HAVE finally stopped buying toys after all these years, I still love them, I still stay up to date on new stuff coming out, and if I’m being completely honest, I probably would still buy a few here or there if I wasn’t in a “saving money” mode and if I had the space. Anyway, this is my “Ode to Toys”. Read it. Enjoy it. And check out the end of the article for a little idea I had. An idea involving YOU!

So I've been way too happy lately, and my writing is suffering for it. I mean, it's hard to be perpetually dissatisfied when you're in a good mood. Part of it is just that summer keeps my spirits up, even if I don't quite get to enjoy as much of it as I would like. The other part is the planning of the 80's party and the requisite reminiscing that comes with it. I have looked at so many old commercials, PSA's and movie clips that I've been walking around in a perpetual state of nostalgia lately, and despite my lasting post-Vegas funk, things have been good. The 80's party nostalgia is what sparked the idea for this column. Toys were a huge part of my childhood, adolescence, early adulthood, and even this alleged state of full adulthood I exist in today. I keep saying "this is the last toy I'm going to buy" and then awesome things like Masterpiece Megatron or the G.I. Joe 25th Anniversary figures come along, and I'm flushing disposable income down the toilet all over again. Incidentally, those Ralph McQuarrie Star Wars concept figures and the WWE Classics Demolition 2-pack are definitely on my list (2012 Joey Says: Of all those things, I only actually got Megatron… Tear). I'm a child I tell you. Anyway, I'm subtitling this column "Ode To Toys" because I'm going to share some of my favorite toy-related memories.
This first one I already shared in a shorter form in one of my 80's party bulletins. The year was 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 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 in detail, including the memory of a memory… I remember standing on the A Train platform and feeling disoriented, like the platform was moving, and I remember thinking "oh yeah, I remember this weird sensation from last year's trip to the city". Odd the way memory works. Anyway, we trekked into city, walked up 33rd Street past Macy's big competitor Gimbels, and into the department store. We walked through Santa's village, got a picture with good ol' Saint Nick and then 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 stature was Devastator, and he didn't count because he was really six Transformers 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 new going-on-one-year-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 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, and my baby brother got to play with his brand new, plastic Fisher-Price kazoo. Yup, a kazoo.

It was this kazoo in fact

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. I also had a giant battery-powered, walking, light-up Transformer, so as you can see, it was a 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 eleven months old. It would take me another eleven years to even accept him as a human being. 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 my toy chest, 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, for 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. 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 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. I got toys for some real 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, and 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. I kept that thing mad long, much to the chagrin of Stephen and his mom. 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 clothes hamper and filled it with presents.

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 and 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 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 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 and got Ghostbusters buttons – I also remember they had quotes from the movies that were 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. 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 Eve1987 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 (and I still have him)! (2012 Joey Says: Not anymore, sadly. I sold him 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 trip to Toys R Us with Nanny Grace and Grandpa Joe. They also got me Hun-Dredd the Conqueror. He was the villainous 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 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 no less so. 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. (2012 Joey Says: I’m pretty sure it was for stealing Bucky O’Hare figures. 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. We all 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, and 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. 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 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 also that my grandparents spoiled the shit out of me (2012 Joey Says: this article really only scratches the surface on both of those subjects, actually). To this day I love toys, and 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 and I’ll publish them in my Ode To Toys Part 2!


  1. Damn. Great article. I guess I have more memories around video games than actual toys. Although I did have Omega Supreme and he was excellent!

    My boy has been watching Spider-man 3 (yes I know it sucked and I still have not watched it, but that is the only one that I have for some reason) and he was really getting into the Venom character. While one of his viewings of this movie, I set that very same Venom figure that you posted, MOC might I say, behind him on the couch. I told him to sit back on the couch and he bumped into. As you could imagine, he was super surprised! His reaction was priceless! I hope he remembers that when he is older!

  2. Joe, you are such a good writer. I enjoy your stories so much, especially when they are geek related. The paragraph about you & your grandma trekking into the city and getting Mikey a Kazoo was hysterical. Keep em coming kid... CCD has been toy light lately... you gotta change that!!!!