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The Birth of Toyguy and Collecting

Many adults still like to play with toys. Now, before I go any further, I am not talking about the strap on variety, or anything purchased at Adam & Eve. I am talking about the toys of our childhood - the Holy Grail of Christmas morning treasures. The wind-up, crank-up, batteries required, pull a string, and push a button, types of toys. The toys we dog-eared the Sears Wish Book over. These were the cherished possessions of our youth, that we fall asleep playing with, or took to bed to cuddle through the night.

As a child, any holiday or special event where gifts were received – a toy was always the expected present. If the box inside the gift-wrap didn’t have Kenner, Mattel, Marx or Hasbro stamped on it, I didn’t want it. It wasn’t that I was ungrateful, but what child wants to receive a bathrobe or pajamas as a gift? There are appropriate times of year to expect clothing – like back to school. My dad’s two sisters were very good at giving gifts I never wanted to open. I always knew by the shape of the box, and the barely perceptible rustle when the box was shaken, that it contained clothing.

Looking back, they were always nice gifts. They just weren’t the right liquid to quench my toy thirst. Both my Aunts traveled, and I sometimes received gifts from other countries. There were some unique things, but it is hard to see the worth of a pair of German Lederhosen, when I was expecting a board game. At eight years old, what Oktoberfest would I be attending? I wanted to play Mouse Trap, not sing with the Von Trapps.

Of course, my parents always thought they were great and interesting gifts. No one else on my block was receiving gifts handmade from Europe. They were used for show and tell at school, but then they were packed away. Sometimes, these gifts would come back to haunt me. Like when we were studying Switzerland and the Alps in 2nd Grade, and my mom, a PTA parent, told my teacher that I had Alpine wear – the lederhosen.

When my teacher put together a Switzerland presentation for our parents to attend, I was of course asked to wear my Tyrolean gear. Although, I was always ready to play some type of dress-up, it never involved school. I was a shy child, and I didn’t want the attention. It was okay to dress-up for the annual Halloween party at school, but not during a regular class day.

Reluctantly, I wore my outfit including a hat with a feather to our Swiss event. My mom “oohed and awed” over me, and made sure I was straightened and tucked in. She should just have pinned a note on my back, as I left the house, that said – “This will come up in adult therapy.”  Instead of feeling like Peter the Goatherd from “Heidi”, I felt like a combination Ricola commercial and Hitler Youth. “Sieg Heil and Von Cough A Lot!!”

My sister, Gail, was luckier in receiving gifts from my aunts. She would get dolls from different countries. One memorable one was a Senorita doll that came from Spain. That doll was my childhood “Chuckie.” The doll terrified me with its tuft of black hair and castanets. She came in her own box, and that is where it needed to stay. It wasn’t a rational or logical fear that I had for this doll, but it was genuine fright.

For some reason, when I was little I was afraid of certain people. My mother had a friend, Mary, who was Italian with very black hair, and distinctive features. Also, she was very short – not a midget – but quite small. I guess she was from Little Italy. I think she frightened me because of her unruly black hair, a mole, a voice that made Minnie Mouse sound like Darth Vader, and the fact that she was my size, although she was an adult. I just remember being petrified to be in the same room with her. In my imagination, I believed Gail’s Spanish doll was an even smaller version of my mom’s friend.

Whenever my sister wanted to torment her younger, bratty brother, the box with the doll would appear. She would tease me that she was taking the doll out of the box, and I would go into a panic. Just a brief glance of the doll would send me into tears, so my older sister could easily manipulate me. There was a period of servitude to my elder sibling in exchange for a senorita-free world. Perhaps you heard of my story “12 Months a Doll Slave.”

I realized that inanimate objects could have a power over me. Either, they could elicit excitement or fear, but they certainly had an impact. I worried about packing my stuffed animals away for fear they would think I was neglecting them, or they wouldn’t like the dark. All part of a child’s imagination, or was it? It had to be a vivid imagination; I was years away from thinking about recreational drugs. Pot to me was what my mom made soup in, and Mary Jane was a candy.

I took good care of my toys, and didn’t really need to share, since my sister was eight years older than me. I remember being into Matchbox Cars, G.I. Joe, Major Matt Mason, Disneykins, Pelham Puppets, and many other creative toys. I was proud of my toy box. For me, it meant hours of fun and creativity. As I get older, and approached the teen years, those toys begin to gather dust.

I turned to models, tape recorders, record players and music albums. I never lost an attraction to the toys, but I was supposed to be age appropriate. At fourteen, I couldn’t take my Matty Mattel doll to bed with me, although I might have wanted to. I wasn’t stingy, and realized that everything can’t go into storage, so at the urging of my parents, I handed my toys down to my two younger cousins. Many things were given away or discarded, and I didn’t realize that old toys could have collectible value.

This was years before the “Toy Hunter” television series, so I didn’t know the value of the things I was giving away. I passed on my G.I. Joe and his trusty footlocker. To a child it becomes an old plaything, not a possible investment opportunity. I had all the original Kenner Star Wars figures, and the packaging. At some point this collection found itself on the table at a yard sale. I was trying to make some extra cash, and what did I still need these toys for? They sold to some small boy for about fifty cents a piece. Now, when I see how much the original series of figures can sell for on the collectible market, I hang my head in shame.

Figures in the original 70’s packaging can be sold for hundreds of dollars. Luke Skywalker could have provided me with Botox injections, and Darth Vader a few nips and tucks around the eyelids. So much for the power of the “Force.” Now, all I have is the force of gravity, and the fear of becoming Jabba the Hut.

I always had a penchant for toys. I got caught up in the Cabbage Patch Kids fad, after seeing one that a friend of mine had received (she was an adult) as a Christmas present. This was when they were first on the market and impossible to find. Once I held the plastic and fabric, chubby faced, baby powder-smelling doll in my hands – I was hooked. I knew that I had to have one, and the search began. I scoured the toy stores, and checked the sales ads for any trace of these hard to get dolls.

Finally, a friend of a friend heard that a shipment of Cabbage Dolls was coming to Ames Department Store for a sale. It would be on a first come, first served basis. The fever hit me and I had to be there to try and adopt one of these kids. I talked my dad into going with me to stand in line and hope that we would be one of the lucky adoptees.

The store didn’t open until 9 AM, but I knew that we weren’t going to be the only ones waiting outside hooked on the Cabbage Patch Fad. We arrived to a dark parking lot at 6 AM, and there was already a line of a couple dozen people. Fortified with their Dunkin Coffee and comfortable shoes, these early morning shoppers were here with determination in their hearts. I was never an Ames shopper, because on the Shopping Scale they ranked below Walmart shoppers.

Yes, I was always a shopping snob, but if I wanted to see polyester pants, mullets, interbreeding, and one tooth grins, I could turn on Jerry Springer. I needed to survive the three-hour wait in this line of fashion don’ts, so I tried to blend in and hide behind my dad. I wore a baseball hat low on my face to avoid immediate recognition and a sweatshirt. My incognito status was important when venturing to Ames – I had a reputation to uphold.  I was a former Macy’s Night Assistant Manager in the Men’s Department. I had handled Lacoste and Polo merchandise, and I couldn’t be seen browsing through the aisles of Ames Discount Department Store. It would be like Coco Chanel being caught trying on the Jaclyn Smith Collection at Kmart. You get the picture.

We crept into line, grunting acknowledgement to the people already staking their claim. Directly in front of me was a woman wearing very tight double knit slacks that stretched like trampoline fabric across her very large rear. When she moved, every indent, bump and crease of her cellulite was emblazoned on the turquoise blue of her flammable pants. I felt like I was trying to read a letter written to Helen Keller on bright stationary. I have a bad habit of giving people nicknames, based on traits or peculiarities they exhibit. The lady in the bad pants became “Blue Braille.”

Braille and I actually bonded during our wait that morning for the store to open. She turned around and smiled and said  “It’s crazy what we parents will do for our kids, ain’t it?” I smiled and nodded my head. The gesture was enough to open the floodgates of a conversation all about how she had been trying to get a Cabbage Patch doll for her daughter.

It helped pass the time, while the morning sky grew lighter. I learned all about Braille, her family, her struggle with fast food, and her trailer. We exchanged laughs about standing so long in line, and although she was a big woman, she did have stamina and determination.  While her ass told one story, her personality told another.

I counted our place in line, and we were twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth in place. I kept my fingers crossed that the store would have more than a handful of dolls to sell. At 8:45 when the door opened and a salesclerk came out with some papers in her hand, a rousing cheer went up in the crowd. These weren’t just some early bird shoppers waiting for the store to open. This was an event.

The clerk began handing out pieces of paper with a number on it, and every time she stopped, I crossed my fingers that she would keep moving to the next person in line. When she got as far as Braille, and I saw she still had numbers to pass out, I could feel the excitement building. I was about to buy my first Cabbage Patch Doll. The prized possession that adults had been slugging it out over in Toys R Us during the Christmas holiday season.

The only issue was you couldn’t pick out your own doll. When the doors opened, the dolls were in cases behind the Customer Service Counter. You handed your numbered slip to a salesperson, and you received a doll. I wanted a bald headed boy, but I looked through the cellophane to see a girl with braided wool hair. Her name was Emily Ann or something like that.

I felt excitement at scoring a hard to find toy, but I was disappointed it wasn’t the one I wanted. I did notice that members of Cabbage Patch gang were huddled together looking at each other’s dolls, and they were exchanging, with each other, for one they liked better. Here was my chance to try and exchange Emily Ann for a bald boy, if someone was willing to switch. I heard a voice asking if anyone had a girl doll they would trade for a boy, and I realized it was Braille who was making the request.  

I rushed over to see the doll I wanted staring back at me from the yellow and green box. I had found my adoptive son. I thrust the box containing the doll I had received in Braille’s direction, and she smiled with a look of joy.  I was willing to give away Emily Ann, because I knew she would be going to a good home with Braille’s daughter. So what if I was sending Emily with her sweet, innocent smile saying, “take care of me” to a trailer park. Her beginnings were in a Cabbage Patch in Georgia, so anything was a step forward.

We exchanged boxes giving each other a hug, and the doll that each of us wanted. I had just adopted Jasen Aaron, and I was a proud Cabbage Patch Kid owner. I thanked Braille for coming to my rescue, and she expressed her gratitude as well.  She thanked me for helping make the early morning vigil a pleasant experience. As we parted in the parking lot, each clutching our Ames shopping bag, I swear her cellulite rear spelled out “Thanks Vince” like a blue bumper sticker.

The experience of getting my hands on a highly coveted doll had sparked my interest in collecting more toys. I knew the thrill of the purchase, and having something not everyone could get. Several months later, I made a similar trek to Best Buy in a torrential rain and wind storm to stand in a soggy line and wait to buy another Cabbage Patch Doll. I was becoming an adult toy collector.

I started hanging out in Toys R Us to see what would attract me, and I liked the feeling of playful adventure. It was the thrill of getting a new toy that brought back childhood excitement. I could have what I wanted, and didn’t have to wait to receive it as a bribe for getting my allergy shots, or being good at the doctor’s when having an exam. I could wander the aisles, and decide what I wanted without parental guidance.

In my exploration of the toy world, I discovered the aisle of Barbie. My sister had an original Barbie growing up. I remember being impressed with this fashion model doll with the number of outfits she had, and all the accessories. I thought that the current Barbie was a cheap imitation of her former self. She was relegated to cheaper clothing with Velcro. Barbie had lost her style and her sense of fashion. She had given up her lifestyle to live on the beach at Malibu.

As I revisited her world, I realized that there were special edition dolls, and a retro Barbie that looked like the original in her black and white striped bathing suit. Also, there was international Barbie that wore different country’s native costumes. Here was something else I could collect. As a child, I was always reminded it was inappropriate for boys to play with dolls. Well so much for all the sexist, stupid dogma. I was an adult now, and if I wanted to purchase a Barbie dressed like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz; I was headed straight to the check out line. Try and stop me flying monkey brains. You are dealing with Mr. Toyguy now, and I am a toy-collecting machine.

I also started buying Gene dolls made by the Ashton Drake Galleries. Mel Odom, who is a freelance illustrator, designed these dolls. Gene is a fashion doll that was created in the image of a 1940’s movie star. She has many different looks, and outfits that are made with the same care and detail the original Barbie clothes were made. I have a collection of the dolls, and there are several that I was able to have Mel Odom sign, which makes them more collectible.

Over the years, I purchased things that I liked. I am not really concerned about the resale potential or keeping them in their boxes. I like things that reflect pop culture, and that remind me of my childhood. I get my joy out of taking them out of the box and being able to display them. It is amazing once you enter the world of collecting, the number of people who are also into the same thing. There are collectors and connoisseurs of everything.

My sister and I attended a Barbie Collectors Convention, in Philly, quite a few years ago. We did it out of curiosity to see what they would have, and the price the original dolls were selling for.  What we saw was so much more than we ever expected. It was an entire hotel ballroom filled with vendors selling original to current style Barbie dolls, clothes, accessories and anything Barbie related. There were collectors and vendors from all over the country. It was an education into how passionate people could become with collecting toys, and I learned that I was merely an apprentice collector compared to this.

I think for collectors it is the thrill of the hunt, and finding that special piece to add to your collection.  I am currently collecting Funko Pop Vinyl Figures, of which there are many categories and always brand new ones being added. It is fun to search the Internet or stores to find my newest toy. For me, there is the thrill of a placing my latest catch in my playroom like the big game hunter hanging his stuffed moose over the mantle.

 I guess I will always be the proverbial child searching for new excitement and the perfect toy. In that sense, I will never grow old in spirit. There will always be something new to search out and add to my collection. I’ll never get tired of browsing through toy stores, and finding wonder in the moment when I spy the next thing I must have. If you see me drooling it isn’t the onset of old age, it is my excitement over my new toys.

(Disclaimer – I want to say that my snarky comments are just part of my sarcastic humor. I have nothing against polyester, cellulite and trailer parks, as long as I don’t have direct contact with them.)


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