Points of Articulation: My Life With Toys
This series of columns will feature stories about toy collecting, from reviews of the toys themselves, to analyses of the media that inspire them, to stories from the thrill of the hunt. You’ll be riding shotgun on a look back at a lifetime of toy hunting — and, fortunately for you, I’m not asking anyone to pitch in for gas.
Part 2: I Got Your Back – My Love Letter to Thrift Stores
My parents never had that yard sale. Oh, you know THAT yard sale — the one that wiped out your toy box. When I tell fellow collectors that a significant part of my toy collection is the stuff I had as a kid, they always lament THAT yard sale. Sometimes, the parents aren’t to blame — sometimes, the enticement of cash lures teenagers to volunteer their toys to the inventory, because G.I. Joes are for babies! A whole childhood of adventure, gone, for what? An afternoon at the arcade? Adolescents know little of the concepts of collectibility and nostalgia.
I may have TRIED to keep everything, but years of moving between houses and apartments are sure to leave behind a small trail of lost plastic weapons and playset parts. I remember the first part I ever lost: the right arm of King Hiss’s civilian disguise. King Hiss was a Masters of the Universe villain, essentially a living pile of snakes, but his “action feature” was a snap-on “regular person” disguise. Unfortunately, if you lose one of those pieces, the disguise is pretty moot. It isn’t easy to sneak past the good guys when you have a snake for an arm.
Eventually, a small but significant portion of my toy collection was classified as incomplete. I still display the action figures proudly, missing limbs and all, veterans in the war against time. An incomplete toy is like a pending love story, and I’m the Nick Carraway to dozens of great, longing little bits of plastic.
Last year, two of my stories experienced happy endings. Maybe the settings aren’t as romantic as the beach or Ryan Gosling’s porch, but each instance represents two matching pieces finding each other at last . . .
The first story takes place in a Goodwill, the mecca of miscellanea.
My girlfriend, her sons, and I were browsing through Halloween costumes. I began skimming the shelves above the clothes racks, usually reserved for trick-or-treat buckets at that time of year. Among the faux pumpkins, I found it — the wand. I’m not talking about a Harry Potter wand. I’m talking about the “blaster” from the Ghostbusters’ proton packs.
In 1986, kids had a chance to become Ghostbusters, with Kenner’s Proton Pack, and I loved putting mine on before a red-skied monsoon. I’d stand in the wind and the dust and shout, “This is it! This is definitely it!” You know, the kind of fun a growing boy has pretending it’s the apocalypse.
Anyway, I had lost the styrofoam “proton stream” (a glorified pool noodle, anyway), the blaster, and the yellow tube that connects it to the backpack. The blaster I found still had its tube and some its decals, to boot, so I bought it for a whopping $3.99 without a second thought. Reconnecting it to my original backpack was as close as I’ll ever come to building a proton pack in Egon’s lab. Of course, I’m way too big to wear the pack now, not without destroying its original straps, but that’s okay. I’m no longer haunted by its missing piece.
The second “toy connection” I made last year was even more random. I popped into one of those ambiguously religious thrift stores and discovered a big bin of Beanie Babies. I don’t know what made me dig through them — I’m not a plushy kind of guy — but I found a few loose Happy Meal toys at the bottom of the box. Among the infant bric-a-brac, I found it — a Masters of the Universe Horde Trooper.
The Horde Trooper was a robot solider, not unlike a stormtrooper from Star Wars. One of the more rare figures, its action feature was bursting apart when struck on its chest emblem. After years of play, the only part of my original Horde Trooper that I had left was its back piece. The figure itself was completely lost, but I had kept that back piece with other miscellaneous weapons, clearly just in case.
When I pulled the Trooper from the Beanie Babies box, in near-disbelief, I turned it over in my hand. In a moment of strange serendipity, its back piece was missing. Seriously, what are the odds of that?!
These two discoveries happened so close together, they confirmed that my years of hoarding (pun intended) mere parts and pieces weren’t for naught. It makes me believe in a cosmic balance. At some point, someone looked at their Ghostbusters blaster, lamented the loss the of the backpack, and gave in to giving it away. Someone else just couldn’t stand the idea of a backless Horde Trooper, and it became a needle in a haystack of Beanie Babies. They were just waiting for me to find them, for 25 years. The lesson betrays the sweetness of a classic romance, and the fanaticism of the average modern fanboy: “incomplete” doesn’t have to last forever.