This past weekend, I went to the Greater York Toy Extravaganza in York, Pennsylvania, a huge toy show that has over eight hundred tables of toys from all eras. The event attracts all kinds of people, from hardcore toy collectors to homeless people. At least, they sure looked homeless.
Collector’s shows are a relic from the past. I’m convinced the word gets out on paper flyers printed with MS-DOS Print Shop Deluxe. Even in a world of eBay and Amazon, at collector’s shows you still find people hunting for their treasures the old-fashioned way, scanning the tables with eagle eyes and consulting with their price guides rolled up in their back pockets.
I’ve been to a lot of collector shows at expo centers, hotels, and fire halls. Here’s the first thing about the shows: if there’s fries available, these people are all over it. The second rule is, these people love to bend over. If there’s a box of crap on the floor, no matter what is in it, someone is bending over to dig through. Put that box on the table, and it will be ignored. I don’t know what it is about bending over, but THEY LOVE IT.
I realize I keep saying “they” and “them,” as though I’m not one of these people. And maybe one day I could be. But I’m still clinging to shreds of self-awareness. Shoot me if you ever see me in a snug-fitting flannel jacket, loafing around, blocking the aisle, and guffawing with the dealer about a wind-up elephant. Shoot me.
I also went to this toy show last year. At the time, I wrote on the blog, “the aisles were narrow and many people were fat. Everything you can imagine was here––all toys worthless and valuable, antique and new, and those which were not characterizable. It made me do some hard reckoning. I became all existential.
Why am I here? Why do I feel compelled to buy this half-full box of Ninja Turtle Band-Aids? Long after I am gone, will this half-full box of Ninja Turtle Band-Aids still be here? What does it mean?”
Last year, the girlfriend came with me, too. She also asked existential questions. “Why does it smell like urine in here? Why am I dating this person? Seriously, WHY DOES EVERYTHING AND EVERYONE SMELL LIKE URINE?”
The girlfriend didn’t accompany me this year, opting instead to stay home and watch movies. And without her unique commentary on the toy show to print here, I will instead provide you with her review of the film, Sex and the City 2.
“It’s stupid. They’re all married and boring and complaining about their marriage problems now. There’s not even any sex. None of them have sex. I couldn’t believe there was no sex. Samantha only sleeps with two guys. That’s not Sex and the City. Oh, and they go to Abu Dhabi. Like, what are they even doing there?”
There you have it, folks. Don’t see it. Apparently, it fucking sucks.
And that box of Ninja Turtle Band-Aids was still there this year, for sale. Only a dollar, too. I almost bought it. I almost succumbed, but then I told myself buying a twenty-year-old half-used box of Band-Aids would be the lowest point of my life—even if it did have Raphael on it. So again, I passed.
Maybe next year.
I turn thirty this month, which is weird. I guess that number, thirty, is supposed to make me feel old and dramatic, and maybe I ought to begin a drunken rendition of The September of my Years. But instead, I feel younger and that more of my life is ahead of me than ever before.
Sometimes I think about the old things—old houses and the rooms and where everything was in each room. I think about my guinea pigs and the dog and sometimes even the cat. I think about my bike and my toys and my neighborhood friends, and I wonder where all those things went. That’s when I notice the years have passed, and I wonder if age is just the distance we are from the things we loved.
That’s why I enjoy collecting old toys. I like to remember. Plus, I like to tell myself all this crap is going to be worth a million dollars someday. In fact, I’m banking on it, or else the kid isn’t going to college.
Now, let’s remember this lost stuff from the 1980s.
Couch Potatoes are a forgotten line of dolls made by Coleco in 1987, and they deserve some love. I had one of these guys when I was a kid. I think my mother confused it with Mr. Potato Head at the time, and I remember being amused with it. A doll that’s a potato! How clever! How cuddly!
How utterly boring.
The tag clearly states that this toy is perfect for someone who is content just to stare at blank walls. As a kid, I was happy to stare at blank walls all on my own. My potato disappeared into the black hole of childhood toys, where ever it may be that they go and end up. I hadn’t thought of it since.
The dealer at the toy show table smiled broadly when I picked it up. He was an old man who was selling a table full of 1:64 scale diecast cars. It was obvious that he decided to chuck the Couch Potato in the “sell” pile at the last minute.
“My family gave that to me. They said it reminded them of me,” he said with a laugh. “I’ve kept him on a shelf in plastic all these years,” he said, assuring me of the condition.
Right then, I knew that the Couch Potato was always meant to be more than just some toy like a diecast car—it was meant to be a gift given lovingly to the recipient, if also with some good-natured ribbing. The Couch Potato was part pillow, part novelty gift, and all it ever wanted was to be loved. To be a vegetable. To curl up on the couch with a buddy. To watch game shows, football, and made-for-TV movies.
Here’s a scene from the Couch Potato Pal commercial:
Of course, this never occurred. The Couch Potato was made for love, but was resigned to sitting alone in basements, in dark corners not lit by the warm glow of the television set. Adults simply didn’t want to share the couch with homely potato dolls, and no child wanted to play with toys that have freaky human faces. Everyone knows they’ll try to strangle you in your sleep.
I knew it was time for the Couch Potato to come home, again. So I bought him for ten bucks. And I had something that I just knew he’d love. It would utterly blow and decimate his mind. The last time he saw a television, it was probably the 1980s, and back then, the tiny set was covered in knobs, foil, and bunny ears that picked up five channels.
Mr. Potato Pal, allow me to introduce you to forty six inches of high definition.
Oh, he’s so happy. I’ve saved him from eternal depression. I’ve pretty much accomplished my single good deed for the year. Sorry, starving children, I’m tapped out.
Next, I picked up this:
SUPER RARE GOLD NINJA TURTLE. Actually, I don’t know how rare it is. This individually numbered Leo is 52,235, which means there are a shit-ton more of them. At least one seller on eBay thinks this thing is worth $300. Hey, maybe he has a low number. For mine, I paid five bucks.
I think it’s funny that they marked the fifth anniversary and made it seem like a big deal:
The copy there sounds a little too earnest. “We didn’t stop there,” it reads, bragging about the “handsome” display box and numbered figures. They added final touches with the “metallized” sewer plate and “silvery” katana blades. Those two words scream “this is crap.”
But their first mistake was advertising the figure as collectible, which basically ensures the thing will never be worth more than the clearance tags stuck all over it:
I decided to take mine out of the box. I know I’m gambling with my kid’s college education here, but I wanted to hold a fine collectible of this caliber in my hands.
I think it’s pretty cool, but it’s really crappy. It’s 100% plastic, but not even a solid plastic. It’s like the kind of plastic that cheap Christmas ornaments are made from so that they don’t weigh down the branches on the Christmas tree. Even the base has a cardboard bottom.
El Cheapo Leo and Mr. Couch Potato hold very special places in my heart. They’re like misfit collectibles.
The next two are things I bought which I deem as slightly cooler:
These two guys, a Q*bert bank and a Ninja Turtle good guy, Ray Fillet will get primetime shelf space. And that’s the toys I got. And now I remember. The 1980s. Potato dolls, gold turtles, ninja fish, and whatever the hell Q*bert is. I remember.
It was weird.