Thursday, February 08, 2007

Come Play With Me

Mattel’s recent decision to recall their Easy-Bake Oven got me to thinking about toys. I love toys. No, I am not crazy and spending my days playing with toys in my office – Uh, for the most part. Still, toys always fascinated me.

My childhood lacked many things (e.g. a sense of security) but toys was not one of them. Those who have been with CoG since the beginning, or those who diligently read the archives (which I am sure includes all of you), know the story of my Mego Wonder Woman doll. After her, though, I became a small baron with Kenner Star Wars toys.

Tie Fighter? Oh, yeah. Millennium Falcon? Who didn’t have one? X-Wing? Small potatoes. I had Darth Vadar’s Star Destroyer (with his special meditation chamber), the Imperial Shuttle, and the Hoth Battle Set. Let me tell you, I had some serious toys.

An Easy-Bake Oven, however, didn’t make the list. Actually, I don’t really remember wanting one nor did my sisters have one (or seemingly want one either). Probably my interest in that particular toy never piqued because the friends that I knew who did have one only succeeded in making chocolate flavored rocks.

Being a greedy bitch, I was never satisfied with what I had. So, instead of talking about the many, many, many great toys that I did have, let me mention some of those fabulous seventies/early eighties toys that I never quite got, but always wanted.


    While I had an Etch-A-Sketch, I never had my own Lite-Brite. The cheerful box, lightbulb, and non-toxic colored pegs alluded me. Come to think of it, given how hot the bulb got, I am not sure there was much difference between a Lite-Brite and an Easy-Bake Oven except the lack of a door to put cakes through.

    Anyway, my second grade classroom had a Lite-Brite. Which does make me wonder, are these things educational? It seems like the teacher dragged it out whenever she got bored with us. Eh – Probably they develop hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills. At least that seems to be what we say for toys that don’t appear to have any other redeeming educational value. It’s always about the “hand-eye coordination” and “fine motor skills.”

    Sharing a Lite-Brite with my fellow students, however, just wasn’t satisfying. First off, all of the templates had been used so many times that you couldn’t tell what picture you were trying to make. Plus, the students who had not yet developed their fine motor skills simply shoved pegs wherever they wanted. They didn’t even pay attention to which color they were using. Animals. They didn’t please my budding aesthetic eye.

Barbie’s Bubbling Spa Set

    Now, let me say up-front that I have no trouble telling you that I played with dolls (and liked it!) as a little boy. Once again, I point to Mego Wonder Woman (I think I am going to be buried with that doll). Moreover, I often would sneak into my sisters’ room and play with their Charlie’s Angels dolls. We also haven't even gotten into my Sea Wee.

    So you will know that I am being fairly honest when I say that Barbie-brand dolls never quite captured my imagination. Barbie was just a lot of blonde coming at me. For whatever reason, I had an early preference for people with dark hair. Come to think of it, I am not sure that I even knew any blonde people as a child.

    Yet, Saturday morning television presented the ultimate Barbie accessory that just felt so right to my young mind: The Barbie Bubbling Spa.

    It was a SPA for a doll! Genius! My sister’s Charlie’s Angels dolls, for instance, could be deployed to reenact the episode where Kris got naked to question that suspect in the hot-tub. In retrospect, why were my parents letting me watch that show?

    Anyway, the Barbie Spa came with a little airpump that made the water “bubble.” Probably this broke instantly, but I didn’t care. It was a SPA for a DOLL!

    I imagined many, many hours of fun with the Barbie Bubbling Spa. If I only I had this toy as child, maybe bathhouses wouldn’t seem so interesting to me today.

Jiffy-Pop Popcorn

    Okay, so this wasn’t technically a toy. Still, Jiffy-Pop felt like a hell-of-a-lot more fun than my parents’ method of making popcorn. They dragged out a heavy cast-iron pan, which weighed more than I did, sloshed in some corn oil, and waited until the corn stopped popping. That wasn’t fun – That was cooking.

    Later they got one of those air-poppers that was as quiet as 757 in a wind-tunnel. Since it eliminated the oil, the popcorn had no fat – and no flavor.

    Jiffy-Pop looked more like a science experiment than a means to obtain a snack. The expanding cone of tinfoil promised unknown surprises.

    Given that I don’t have a microwave (it’s a long story (short version: Liar Ex (Who Told Many Lies) is a greedy, self-centered asshole)), I now buy the jiffy-pop as an adult. You know what? It’s still just cooking.

Mego Star Trek Bridge Gift Set

    Mego really produced the best seventies toys. Why did that company go bankrupt? Not only did they make Wonder Woman, but I had many of their other Superhero dolls as well: Captain America, Spiderman, Batman, Evel Knievel. Actually, that last one wasn’t really a superhero. Come to think of it, that doll might have been made by Ideal, not Mego. Anyway, you get my point.

    I was just a few years too young, though, to feel the full affects of Mego's Star Trek blitz. By the time I got interested in Star Trek, I only obtained a Captain Kirk Mego doll. Legends abounded, though, that just a few years earlier there had been a whole model of the entire Enterprise bridge, which came with the entire crew!

    It turns out, the Mego Bridge set was really just a plastic doll case with a couple of bar stools and some cardboard cutouts. Mego did try to make a “transporter,” but it was only a cone with a spinning geometric pattern. Huh – No wonder that company went bankrupt.

Play-Doh Fuzzy-Pumper Barber Shop

    If only my parents had indulged me maybe I could have been a hair-stylist to the stars. Or maybe that’s why they resisted the idea. Whatever the case, I never got the Play-Doh Fuzzy-Pumper Barber shop. Instead, I got the Play-Doh Fast-Food Restaurant. Hmmm – Maybe my parents just had low expectations of me.

    If you don’t remember the Play-Doh Fuzzy-Pumper Barber Shop toy, basically it involved a "chair" that shoved pumped play-doh out of the heads of some plastic people. You were then supposed to cut and style it. Come to think of it, that is a pretty queer notion for a toy clearly marketed to boys.

Big Jim and the Big Jim Camper

    The seventies were a time of war and war protest. Conscientious parents decided that they didn’t want to raise a generation of children geared toward violence. As a result, G.I. Joe fell out of favor.

    As an alternative, Mattell launched the Big Jim line. Jim, you see, didn’t carry guns or fight in unwinnable wars in former French colonies. No, no. Jim spent his days working his muscles at, I can only assume, the Y.M.C.A. and trying on different colors of short-shorts.

    Every Jim figure had a button on his back that, when pressed, allowed him to flex his arm and show off his bulging muscles to his friends, like Big Josh.

    The most coveted item in the Big-Jim line was the Big-Jim Adventure Camper. Yes, with the Camper, Big Jim and Big Josh could get out in the wild together – just the two of them.

    While in the woods, where they went together – alone, they could do all sorts of manly activities. Big Jim could go fishing, for instance. After he brought a couple of trout back to camp, Big Josh could cook a nice meal for the two of them. They could talk about nature while they ate, without their shirts on.

    Afterwards, they could go swimming together. Heck – Given that there weren’t any girls around (actually, there weren't any women in the entire Big Jim universe), Big Jim and Big Josh wouldn’t need to wear swimming trunks. It was just a couple of guys – you know, doing guy things together – alone – in the woods – and naked.

    Well, you get the general idea why I wanted the Big Jim Camper. Sigh – So young, yet so pervvy.


Jaclyn said...

I'm posting my first comment just to say that I had both a Lite Brite AND a Barbie Spa. The spa was actually pretty cool, as I recall.

But your collection was much better as a whole. My parents wouldn't buy "boy" toys for their three girls.

Dorian said...

I had a Lite Brite, you didn't miss much.

My parents were fairly indulgent on the toy front, and I had more Weebles and Little People than I knew what to do with (as well as a brand of strange animal-human hybrid toys that moved when you turned a crank on their playset), as well as copious amounts of Tonka trucks and baby dolls. I wasn't allowed "violent" toys, though an exception was made for some Lone Ranger dress-up accessories.

My sister had the Barbie Spa, as well as the three-story Barbie townhouse with real, string-operated, working elevator. I half-suspect the spa may still be in my mother's garage, as it eventually got repurposed as a scene of my He-Man vs. Transformers battles (I eventually talked them out of the no-violent-toys ban...)

Steve said...

While packing up my worthless belongings for my shirt-lived life in Key West, I found that I still had an Etch-A-Sketch! I didn't make the cut, unfortunately. And WTF is up with naming a child's toy 'Fuzzy Pumper', anyway?

MaggieMay said...

I had the bubbling spa. I LOVED the bubbling spa! That and the penthouse elevator were the best Barbie inventions ever.

My sister and I had the Weebles tree house which was also cool as hell.

Laura Elizabeth said...

Was Big Jim anatomically correct? If so, I'm gonna hunt him down on eBay. I hated Matel (still do) because Barbie came with oversized boobies and undersized waist. And Ken? Nada. Nothing. I think Matel was championing the emasculation of men long before the Woman's Rights Movement came along (oh, I'm gonna pay for that comment).

I had the Lite Bright thingy, but no Easy Bake Oven. Dad taught me to cook instead. I didn't have Tonka toys, which I really wanted ('cuz my parents felt the need to foist some stupid doll on me every birthday and Christmas) but I did have tools, supplied by my Grandfather who also taught me how to use them. I did have the Barbie townhouse which I never used. It collected dust in the corner of the room. I didn't get a lot of toys, mostly books (lots and lots of books) and clothes.

I've always been sorry I didn't have a big brother growing up. He would have gotten the cool toys!

michaelrbn said...

What exactly was Darth Varder "mediating" in that chamber? Perhaps it was a "meditation" chamber?

More importantly, being a bit older than you, gayprof, I was a tad old for Big Jim. I do recall being enlisted to put together that camper for my little brother. I couldn't resist tweaking him for playing with a doll. He assured me that it wasn't a doll, it was "Big Jim".

GayProf said...

Jaclyn: Hail, Amazon Sister! Thanks for stopping by my little Bloggie. Oh, man, I was expecting people to tell me that the spa wasn't that interesting.

Dorian: Yeah, I had Tonka too. The real Tonka that came with sharp metal edges. Good times, good times.

Steve: Fuzzy Pumper does sound dirty. I hadn't know this was its official name until I started digging around for it on the internets.

MaggieMay: Again, people are supposed to say how lame the spa was. I don't want to know that I missed out on a toy that seemed so cool as a youth.

Laura Elizabeth: Alas, no. Big Jim was yet another plastic refugee from an Ernest Hemingway novel.

MichaelBrn: It's little known, but Darth Vadar was really committed to conflict resolution. He invited all interested parties to his chamber to negotiate a resolution...

Alright -- I can't spell. I'll fix that, though.

Earl Cootie said...

We didn't have a lot of toys when I was growing up, but my rich cousins had them all. They had all that fancy erector crap. We had an incomplete set of Lincoln Logs. Hand me down cans of dried out Play-Doh, no accessories. Man, I would have loved that fuzzy pumper. I wouldn't have done any styling. I just would've pumped out armies of hairy hippies. It would have been a beautiful thing, man.

vuboq said...

I really wanted an Etch-a-Sketch as a kid. I had a Lite Brite ... at least until the bulb blew and I never replaced it. I guess we always want what we don't have.

I also had a Big Jim doll. He was issued for the '76 Olympics I think and was a gymnast? He wore really cute red, white, and blue briefs.

I had such a crush on Big Jim. *sigh*

Doug said...

My brother and I had a pretty good Star Wars collection, too. He had the Millenium Falcon and I had the Star Destroyer with masturbation chamber. If I had known that DV looked like Hayden Christiansen under his suit, it would have been a whole different world for me.

jp said...

Never heard about Big Jim, but my Luke Skywalker and my Han Solo did seem to spend an inordinate amount of time alone together in the back of that Millenium Falcon.

tornwordo said...

I got the lite brite but then it was no fun without an audience. Funny how gay the playdoh set is. I was the one who yearned for an easy bake oven and got GI Joes instead. My favorite toy was probably the Chemistry set, or maybe the Spinart where you drizzled the paint onto a spinning rectangular plate.

Bill S. said...

I admit that I was a fan of Barbie: the dolls were bigger than anything I had, and they had hair, and clothes. Whenever my poor cousins would come to visit, I would always steal their Barbie dolls and enact elaborate melodramas in private. They frequently involved gangsters and excessive drinking. This was a pattern for all my toys: I gave the Star Wars action figures all new names and stories. I never actually played "Star Wars" with my action figures; my stories seemed to have more in common with "Dallas". And the Star Wars figures would fraternize with the Super Powers figures, and whatever other action figures my brother and I would find along the way. And my mom still has a big basket of assorted figures that she hauls out when my cousins stop by.

I did always want an E-Z Bake Oven, though.

Sarah said...

I had an Easy Bake Oven (or was it E Z Bake?) Trust me, you guys weren't missing much. I begged and begged for it, and it was just a huge disappointment.

Loved my Lite Brite, though.

I never had store bought Play Doh. My mom used to make play dough for me. The store bought stuff smells weird.

My favorite toys, though, were my She-ra Princess of Power action figures. I had Barbie and Barbie accessories (the ice cream shop? Almost as disappointing as the Easy Bake), but man...She-ra was the coolest. I had the castle, and all the characters, and the horses... ::nostalgic:: She-ra was the shit.

Frank said...

"After her, though, I became a small baron with Kenner Star Wars toys." You mean Baron ADMINISTRATOR of course, GayProf.

Doug said...

You were so deprived for not having a Lite Brite. Check this out:

Rebekah said...

The Easy Bake Oven was the toy of my dreams. My mother said it was nonsense though, no matter how much I pleaded and begged.
"If you're old enough to bake, you're old enough to do it in the real oven."
"Okay. Can I make something in the oven?"
"You aren't old enough."

Then, I solved the problem. The Girl's Club had toys that could be checked out for one week at a time. They had an Easy Bake Oven! I checked it out, lugged it to the bus stop, and brought it home.

Where it sat in the garage for seven days because my mother still wouldn't let me use it.

Oh the bitterness of that memory.

GayProf said...

Earl: I would pay top dollar to see you produce an all Play-Doh version of the musical Hair.

They will ga-ga at the go-go when they see you in your toga. Your toga made of long, beautiful play-doh hair.

VUBOQ: Now that we are adults, aren't we all just looking for a Big Jim for our lives? Only, you know, with a working penis.

Doug: Nah -- Give me Obi Wan anyday.

JP: I like your Star Wars romantic story line better than the creepy incestuous one that Lucas wrote.

Torn: Oh, man, I wanted a chemistry set too. Yet another toy that I didn't get. Exactly, though, what type of chemical experiments could you do?

Bill S.: OMG! I renamed all of my Fisher-Price Little People after characters in Dallas. It's another show that I wonder why my parents let me watch.

"Hair-play" also seems to be Barbie's biggest selling point.

Sarah: Oooh - The He-Man/She-Ra era postdated me by just a little bit. I can see her appeal, though. She's no Wonder Woman, but she did still wear a tiara.

Frank: Uh -- Yeah, that's what I meant . . .

Rebekah: That's just cruel! My parents always let us use the real oven -- mostly because they didn't want to cook themselves.

Didn't you need the special cake mixes to make the Easy-Bake oven work, though?

Sarah said...

The fact the Wonder Woman predated me a little explains why I don't completely worship her.

A couple years ago I fulfilled a lifelong dream and went as She-ra for Halloween. A number of people asked me if I was Rainbow Brite. Not hearly as cool.

seekeronos said...

Having parents who were a tad less generous with the toystore money, I had a few star-wars/GI Joe toys that got excessive mileage out of them.

For some reason, I never had the main characters - where nearly all of my peers had Luke, DV, Obi-Wan or Han Solo, I had... the Jabba the Hutt playset with that Carbonited Han Solo, and the Max Rebo band.

Where my peers had major GI Joes like Duke, Lady Jane, or Cobra Commander, I had that goofy Navy guy and that ninja in white, "Snake-Eyes".

Masters of the Universe? No "He-Man" or even a Skeletor... I had "Mer-Man".

And more often than not, my folks graced me with truly bizarre set off-brand toys that didn't even have a proper Saturday Morning Cartoon on the air, like the Power Lords.

In this case, they bought a bunch of them... I mean, the whole freaking set...

And then was some set of action figures that were modeled after an UK series, possibly a ripoff of the ThunderBirds.

Of course, most of these toys wound up missing various body parts due to falling into lava pits (i.e. getting torched by one or more of my delinquent schoolmates at the time) or getting buried in avalanches (buried in one of the huge dirt mounds at a construction site which is now a 20-year old subdivision) or simply ripped to shreds.

Although I do remember using the Adam Power action figure to "knock up" the female lead action (well, they were the only two that were remotely humanoid) of that series, and duct-taping a wad of cloth to her front side to simulate her pregnancy.

A twisted childhood, had I.

seekeronos said...

And that last link lead to here for the Power Lords. Definitely worth a gander if you have never heard of them.

GayProf said...

Sarah: Both Rainbow Brite and She-Ra came after me, but I know that I could tell the difference. What type of loser friends are you hanging out with?

Seeker: I like people with twisted childhoods.

Elizabeth said...

I still have my barbie bubbling spa. Although I used it for the dolls for like .5 seconds, and then realized I could raise snails in it and sell them to people in for their aquariums. I had quite the production going! Oh and the bubbler still works (some 25 years later).

My sister was a tom boy so she had all the boy toys and I had all the girl toys. Did you ever have Adventure People? They came with all sorts of cool accessories! We had the Weebles and their tree house. And most all things for the FP Little People. My sister has them all on display at her home.