Here’s a weird thing I recently found at the flea market: a huge lot of vending-machine toys from the 1980s, still encased in the original plastic bubbles. The woman had a box that contained thousands of them. It was such an oddity that I knew I had to buy a few.
The girlfriend had accompanied me that day to the flea market, which was also an oddity, since she usually complains of itchiness after walking down the first aisle. But I liked her there, she’s good at spotting stuff, and now I had her to help me dig through this enormous box of twenty-five year old plastic bubbles, which were also coated in a layer of grime and dust. She’s so lucky!
I wanted to be sure to pick out an accurate array of not only what was represented in the box, but what also represented my childhood, my life, and in fact, 1980s America as a whole. Why was I assigning so much meaning and importance to a gigantic box of filthy vending machine toys? Oh, I don’t know. But it probably had to do with why I also bought this pack of sealed Voltron birthday party invitations:
Seriously. Why did I buy that? Well, for starters, they were only a quarter, and maybe I’ll sell them on eBay for hundreds of dollars. Or maybe I’ll just privately worship that font on the back of the card. Maybe I’ll invite eight elite and carefully-selected friends to an awesome party personally endorsed by Voltron. The possibilities are limitless.
There’s something a little sad about an unused pack of birthday party invitations. You know, hopefully it wasn’t a dead kid or something. Because that would be straight-up maudlin. I’m sure it was something like Voltron being a second-rate Transformers, and the kid straight-up flipped out when Mom brought home Voltron. I’m going to use the phrase “straight-up” at least one more time in today’s post because I’m finding it very useful.
But let’s get back to these vending toys. Vending toys are a lot different these days. For one, they cost two quarters now, which is a fact I’ll never fully accept. Another fact I’ll never fully accept: almonds are a member of the peach family. No freaking way. Also, the human stomach is capable of digesting itself. But I have no problem with that one.
Another thing I’ve noticed about today’s vending machine toys is that they’re actually a lot nicer. In the 1980s, vending toys were vaguely-defined pieces of plastic with questionable purpose. Today, they actually look like the things they’re meant to represent.
One thing that hasn’t changed when it comes to vending machine toys is that you’re not going to get the one you want. It has nothing to do with odds or how many of that particular toy are in the machine. It’s simply one of the universal laws of life. Other laws include: all Doritos taste exactly the same, the guy in line in front of you at Subway is going to take forever, and the ice cream flavor you picked will suck, and seriously, why’d you have to be all adventurous about it anyhow? Why not just go with the old standby, Cookies and Cream? Damn it.
Now, let’s remember some of the vending machine toys of the 1980s:
A) NOT VERY FUN TOYS:
Oh god, the ubiquitous spinning top. I hated getting these. You put a quarter in hoping for that awesome dinosaur eraser, and what do you get instead? A top. A brown one. It’s not even a good color.
And then there’s the gun keychain, which initially seems acceptable, because hey, you can pretend to kill things. However, when you looked back at the awesome dinosaur eraser, you’d realize this was simply not good enough.
Okay, the moon man is decent. I have no qualms here.
B) UNDEFINABLE PIECES OF PLASTIC:
Take your guesses. Mine are houseplant, monster, frog, snake.
C) YELLOW THINGS WITH QUESTIONABLE PURPOSE:
An alternate title for these is “Even Less Fun Toys.” I have no idea what the round disc and tab things are. I have no idea how they work together or even fit together. And that mouse is even more useless.
D) BOOTLEG M.U.S.C.L.E. FIGURES:
Now these are great. I wish I’d spent more time digging through the box to find more of them. I think they’re pretty collectible, too. It’s hard to tell from the picture, but the detail on them is pretty good, too.
As the girlfriend and I were digging through the box, between the two of us, we went a little crazy picking out these. We probably only needed one or two magnets, and yet we picked out five. I guess we were just enthralled by the 80s artwork. And honestly, which of these would you sacrifice to throw back in the box? That weight-lifting bear? I think not. The ninja tiger? Try again. The crown-wearing turtle? OKAY FINE I NEED THEM ALL.
Sweet. Vintage Simpsons stickers!
G) MORE STICKERS:
Even sweeter. TMNT stickers!
H) EVEN MORE STICKERS:
Okay, we went nuts with the stickers, too. The thing about stickers is they’re so exciting at first. Until you realize there’s absolutely no use for them. But I mean, these are vintage scratch-n-sniff stickers, so it’s not like you’re going to leave them in the box. The big question is, do they still smell? Yes and no. They do not smell like the intended lemonade or leather. They do however smell like somebody’s wet, moldy basement—where I now know they have been stored for the last twenty-five years. And if I could have one decision back in my life, it would be to not have stuck my nose right on that lemonade sticker and inhaled.
Overall, I think I did alright in my mission to represent the 1980s through a handful of dirty vending machine toys that came from a moldy basement. In fact, I was straight-up awesome at it, and if you don’t think so, you’re not invited to my Voltron party.
I also picked up a few other great items at the flea market that weekend as well. Hey, I’ll show you!
Spitballs! Whoa. Love how it comes with Jason and a generic victim. I also like how they’re labeled on either side for clarity. The package is pretty ratty-looking, but I think this was well worth the dollar spent. It’s just so fun and random.
Return of the Jedi lunchbox! I don’t go out of my way to collect lunchboxes, but they’re just so iconic and can look great on a shelf. Got this one for two bucks.
Vintage Sanyo boombox! Oh man, I love these things, and buy them pretty regularly. I usually end up selling them online, and since I’d sold my other three, I was hurting for a new one. I sort of leave it on the table and enjoy it for a few weeks before I sell it and hunt for a new one. This one actually has a working cassette player though, so I may just have to keep it.
Micro Machines Ship in a Bottle! I didn’t have anything Micro Machines related, and Micro Machines are pretty collectible, so I felt fine about picking this up for a buck.
Various figures! I love getting loose figures because they display better, and there’s no guilt about taking them out of their packaging. My favorite here is that robot troll. It’s Troll Bot, one of the Battle Trolls, a strange line of toys from the 1990s when trolls were so hot they tried to market them to boys. I have no idea how Battle Trolls fared. Any Battle Troll love out there?
Also here is Napoleon Bonafrog from TMNT, the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, Headbanger from Toxic Avenger, Skeletor, and a Cowboys of Moo-Mesa cow, which was like Ninja Turtles, only they were cows. I don’t know how this fared, either. Any love for The Cows love out there?
Then in the second row, there’s a robot, a moon man, Gumby, Skid the Kid, and some sort of caveman.
M.U.S.C.L.E. Figures! These are super sweet. I got the whole lot here for four bucks, which was a great deal, because online they generally go about a buck a piece.
Giant Game Boy! This is my favorite thing. I knew this was going to look awesome on my 80s video game toy shelf. It’s actually a case that holds the Game Boy and games. The woman selling it had the Game Boy and games in there, too, but some kid had went to town with a glitter pen on the Game Boy. I gotta give ’em credit; they totally made it FAB-U-LOUS, but it wasn’t for me. She had wanted $40 for the whole lot, so I asked if I could just buy the case. She gave it to me for three bucks!
And that’s all folks. Hey! Happy Fourth of July.