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When Toys Were For Playing With

 I am about to share an opinion that I believe may be highly unpopular. I feel that the 80's are highly over-mythologized, romanticized, even fetishized. Let's face it, music was better in the 70's, movies were better in the 90's, and television was better in the 2010's. One area where the 80's did excel however, was toys. My family didn't have much money, so I didn't have an overabundance of toys, but they still managed to factor into a few memories.

The first toys I remember really being crazy about were these sets with a cardboard background that would be printed to look like New York or Metropolis, and they had these vinyl cutout figures that you could stick on it. I would spend hours just creating little scenes. I would make an entire story around the one action scene I had created. I loved toys that allowed you to be creative. I remember I wanted a Lite Brite so badly for years. For Christmas when I was 9 I finally got one. I made so many pictures and patterns with that thing. 

Before the Lite Brite I got my first action figures, although they were about the size of a Barbie so they might more accurately be called dolls. These particular dolls were Bo and Luke Duke from The Dukes of Hazzard. I even go a General Lee that was big enough for them to fit inside. At that time there were two cars in pop culture that were the ultimate in cool, Kitt from Knight Rider and the General Lee. (As a kid in the south no one was talking about the negative connotations of the Confederate flag, so it never occurred to me that it was a problem for it to be on top of the car featured in a major network show.) I always wanted and never got a toy of Kitt, but I had the big plastic General Lee that my Bo and Luke dolls could ride inside, and the smaller Hot Wheels version.

Which of course brings me to Hot Wheels. I loved my Hot Wheels. I used to race them. I would smash them together and do a demolition derby. They were very cheap, so this was the toy I had the most of. I remember I had one orange race car that was my favorite. I lost it at one point and I was super bummed out. I told my mom about it and she suggested I pray that God help me find it. Soon after the car reappeared in my toy box. I was ecstatic that my prayer had been answered. Then a few days later I found it under the couch. Only it was also still in my toy box. I expressed my confusion to my mom about how I now had two of the same car, and her response was that God works in mysterious ways. Of course I realize now that she had replaced the car, not expecting me to find the original again.

There were four big toylines when I was a kid that were kind of the holy grails of toys. The first was He-Man. I had a few figures, and even had a Wind Raider and Battle Cat, other than my General Lee the only vehicles I ever got for my toys. The best thing about He-Man were the little comic books that came with them. They showed you the character of the figure you just got. I also remember being super excited to get the figures that had the battle damage armor. The front piece would spin to show increasing damage. It was great, because now the battles had real, viewable consequences. 

Some battles had consequences even without "battle damage". When I would go to one friend's house we would play G.I. Joes. I had a few, and he had a shit ton, including vehicles. We would stage enormous battles with them and play out all the scenes. At the end of each skirmish we would dig tiny little graves and bury every figure who succumbed to his wounds in battle. He had so many figures and was always getting more, he didn't notice the loss of a few each week. I only had a few, and getting one was a big occasion. So unbeknownst to him, I would sneak out to the field of battle occasionally and dig my figures back up, and pick up a few of his while I was at it. That's how I managed to grow my G.I. Joe army. I'm willing to bet there are a few little plastic soldiers still buries out there to this day though.

Of course Star Wars was maybe the biggest toy line. I had a few figures that I'd love to get my hands on now, as they have skyrocketed in value. I had a Luke Skywalker from the first run, and a Darth Vader with the telescoping lightsaber. I actually got 3 of those, because for some reason his head kept popping off. My parents felt sorry for me, so they replaced him when it happened. He had the vinyl cape with the holes you had to put his arms through, so it was really more of a vest than a cape. I had the Leia bounty hunter and a couple of Gamorrean guards from Return of the Jedi. I had one Ewok. My friend had a Death Star play set. The trash compacter monster was green and looked like the Loch Ness monster. The trash compacter itself was filled with water and pieces of foam. He also had a ton of Ewoks. His mom built an Ewok village for him that was really cool.

The best toy line, in my opinion, was inarguably The Transformers. I first became aware of them when I bought a book at the book fair at school. There were only a few characters in the book, Cybertron wasn't mentioned, and Optimus Prime had a mouth. There was r race that the Autobots were taking part in, and the only part I really remember is Rumble making an earthquake to disrupt the race. Then the cartoon came out, and I was hooked. I wanted Transformers like a fish wants water. I begged to get them for my birthday and for Christmas. One time my dad got a bonus and decided to take me to K-Mart to get a Transformer. We got to the store and I was vibrating with excitement. Then we were told that they were out of Transformers, but they had plenty of GoBots. So I ended up going home with Cykill. I did get a few Transformers later on, but never any of the really cool ones I wanted. I got a Bumblebee, and later on the redesigned Goldbug. I had Wheelie. My cousin had Skyfire, and he didn't like Tansformers so he let me have it. 

When I turned 13 I decided I was too grown up for toys, so I gave them to my little nephew, along with my comic books. It's a decision I grew to regret and have ever since. Of course all of the toys were lost or destroyed within a few weeks. Now I can't but think about how a few of those toys could have paid for college for my kids. As an adult I did start to collect some toys again. When they started releasing Star Wars toys in the late 90's I bought a lot. By then I had a job and my own money, so I was able to collect away. Then I had kids and they got old enough to play with them. So I opened the packages and let my kids play with all of them, including my X-Wing, Millenium Falcon and Naboo starfighter. My fellow collector friends were horrified, but remembering how much fun they had, I am certain I made the right choice.


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