As adults, many of us have fond memories of the toys we used to have as kids. Others, like myself, have been able to hold onto some of those cherished items. Every toy, book, or related article has a story: How it was acquired, the memories it invokes, and why they’re special. I’m happy to share with you some wonderful stories related to 6 toys from my youth I still own.
M.U.S.C.L.E. (Millions of Unusual Small Creatures Lurking Everywhere) was a Mattel toy line based on collectible Japanese erasers called Kinkeshi from the Kinnikuman manga that appeared in Shueisha’s Weekly Shonen Jump from 1979-1987. It also became an anime that ran from 1983-1989. Kinnikuman was an intergalactic pro wrestling/superhero parody with hundreds of collectible wild and wacky characters. The names changed for the U.S. version with MuscleMan and the good guys calling themselves Thug Busters, and the nefarious baddies led by Terri-Bull naming themselves Cosmic Crunchers.
M.U.S.C.L.E. figures were barely an inch and a half in height but brought me many hours of fun. When I moved to El Salvador in 1986, several years passed when I could not watch wrestling on TV because it was simply not available. As a child, I was unaware of M.U.S.C.L.E.’s backstory and just thought that the unique looking characters offered endless story possibilities. Many resembled real wrestlers like Kamala, Terry Funk, Jushin “Thunder” Liger, and even Abdullah The Butcher. Thus, my imagination soared, and I created incredible grudge matches between these tiny wrestlers that the WWF and NWA could only dream of. They also came in various colors and had a small wrestling ring that I even owned, but unfortunately have probably misplaced forever. When I first encountered these tiny mat men in Toys ‘R’ Us, my mom told me I could either buy one small Transformer, two GoBots, or the pack of 28 M.U.S.C.L.E. figures for roughly the same price. It was a no-brainer. None of my childhood Transformer or GoBots survived; in turn, these tiny, pink, rubber wrestlers are nearly indestructible. And, you could grab a handful, put them in your pocket, and take them almost anywhere. Collect them all!
In the early ‘80s, Remco released Mini-Monster action figures from Universal Pictures’ horror icons Dracula, The Wolfman, The Mummy, Phantom of The Opera, and Frankenstein. The play case is something I also owned, but its whereabouts is sadly a mystery. A couple of years ago, at the Santa Rosa Toy-Con in Northern California, I was happy to hear that our friend IseeRobots was gifted one by his wife. What a find!
I had them all, but my lone surviving mini-monster is The Creature From The Black Lagoon-ironically, the only movie of the monsters mentioned above I haven’t seen, but which I own a sealed VHS tape of. Since I couldn’t take my play case to school, a different mini-monster accompanied me daily, and I’d play with it under my desk, hoping neither my teacher nor classmates would take notice. If only back then, we could take pictures and post them on Instagram! Perhaps I should’ve paid more attention in math class instead? Nah. Can’t dwell on those mundane details now, can we?
In January of 1997, Star Wars returned to theaters with the now controversial Special Edition, and companies like Pepsico and Frito-Lay wanted a piece of the action. In Mexico and other Latin American countries, products like Ruffles, Lays, Doritos, and Cheetos snacks, are sold under the Sabritas brand, but often tweaked to match local tastes with different condiments and hot sauces.
In the spring of ’97, I ate an obscene amount of junk food to collect all 100 pogs featuring amazing Star Wars still shots. They were called “Sabri Galacticos” (something I only noticed now while writing this article). After graduating from high school, my obsession became collecting all the pogs instead of socializing with my junior college classmates. I also managed to collect the bulky Star Wars The Power of The Force action figures that looked like our heroes and villains from a galaxy far, far away had taken up gym memberships during their toy shelve hiatus. I don’t think anybody ever understood how proud I was to have gotten all 100 pogs, but I’m happy that I still have them for all to see, and they remain in great shape. I have a couple of doubles so that we can trade later.
As a youngster, the action-comedy series The Dukes of Hazzard was one of my favorite shows, and a smash hit for CBS that ran from 1979-1985. The good ol’ Duke boys “never meanin’ no harm” and their cousin Daisy, routinely foiled corrupt county commissioner J.D. Boss Hogg’s shady schemes and regularly left Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane and his deputies in the dust. The show’s highlight was the iconic 1969 Orange Dodge Charger called the “General Lee” evading the law and launching itself over obstacles; ramps seemed to be prevalent in Hazzard County. While airborne, the Duke boys hollered “yeehaw!” sometimes to the tune of The General Lee’s claxon belting the tune of Dixie. At least one Dodge Charger was destroyed every episode due to sometimes irreparable structural damage, with the cars often flipping over. I still get chills seeing the General Lee precariously take flight, and cringe when I see the usual rough landings. For me, few things were more exciting than the General Lee and The Dukes of Hazzard! My parents put up with my obsession but bought a tiny black and white TV for my room so that their viewing of the soap opera Dallas was undisturbed by me watching the Duke boy’s antics. Of course, watching the Dukes wasn’t as fun in black and white, which inevitably led me to turn the knob on the UHF dial, searching for anything else. Thanks to UHF channel surfing, I discovered Championship Wrestling from Florida with Gordon Solie and characters like Kevin Sullivan and his Army of Darkness. But perhaps that’s a story for another time.
One of my cherished “surviving” toys is a 1:64 scale replica of the General Lee released by ERTL in 1981. The front two wheels are missing because a kid in daycare either hated that I had an awesome General Lee, and he didn’t, or he just wanted to test if the toy was as rugged as the car seen on TV. He asked to borrow my beloved toy, but then proceeded to repeatedly throw it onto the ground at what seemed to me full force! The harrowing sound of metal hitting concrete is forever etched in my psyche and still induces plenty of nightmares. Though, as beaten up as it is, that little car is irreplaceable in the nostalgia it elicits in me. It’s still a beautiful thang. Yeehaw!
My love for pro wrestling came at an early age, but I also understood that the probability of me successfully becoming one was akin to entering an asteroid field and surviving like in The Empire Strikes Back. If you want an exact number, that would be approximately 3,720 to 1.
Instead, maybe I could become a promoter, a manager, or better yet, call the matches like heel commentator Jesse “The Body” Ventura. I liked how he always unapologetically took the bad guy’s side and somehow convinced you that his twisted perspective of events was right and that the real bad guys were the two-faced cheating babyfaces! This perspective was so refreshing and something I wanted to emulate.
The 1990 WWF Electronic Sound FX Microphone by Playtime Products was a way for me to practice my mic skills before hitting the big time, or so I thought. I’d study how Ventura called the matches and later, with the volume on mute, replay the tape on my trusty VCR recorder, trying my darndest to imitate “The Body.” Carrying the match without the help of a play-by-play commentator was daunting because Ventura usually fed off their obvious accounts of the action, and then quipped a heelish response! If you think calling a match or any sporting event is easy, turn down the volume and try it yourself. You don’t need a toy microphone as I had, and you’ll gain a renewed sense of appreciation for commentators. That microphone is still with me today, in perfect shape, and it goes for at least $45 on eBay. Mine isn’t for sale though!
That red pickup truck is a sight for sore eyes and is the embodiment of how tough Tonka trucks used to be! In 2020, there is more plastic than steel in most of their trucks, but that wasn’t the case in 1984. All this truck needed was rubber tires to boot, but other than that, it is classic toy perfection. In the unending tomfoolery that constitutes as “boys play,” my best friend and I used to take turns putting things under each other’s pillows only to predictably slam each other’s noggin on a variety of objects. It was all fun and games until my best friend hid that steel Tonka truck under my pillow (who needs enemies, right?) with disastrous results. It made a knot that usually warrants the usage of a frozen steak or two like in cartoons or The Three Stooges. I didn’t retain any permanent damage-many would question that dubious statement- but there it is. That truck has survived everything, and it will probably still be here when I’m gone. In 1975, an elephant stepping on a Tonka truck was used in their commercials to prove their toughness and with the slogan, “A toy shouldn’t break just because a child plays with it.” Tonka tough indeed.