Thursday, April 17, 2014

I Bet G.I. Joe Played Tetris In His Down-Time

While the "old-schoolers" among us might find social media a bit intrusive or down right obnoxious, I actually enjoy it, for the most part.  I've had a Facebook profile since 2004, and while I admit I spend far too much time scrolling my News Feed, I don't waste as much as I did when Facebook was new.  In the decade since, there is an app or website devoted to virtually every type of social media interaction you could conceive.  I don't use Vine.  I've never spent any time on Instagram.  And I couldn't even begin to tell you what the hell a "Flickr" is, unless it's done by a failing light bulb.  Aside from Facebook, though, I do enjoy Twitter, and find myself checking it more often than I do Facebook, in many cases.

Twitter, on the surface, seems sort of ridiculous.  If you're not familiar with it, let me give you a synopsis.  It basically took the idea of Facebook and stripped it down so that your "status" update is limited to 120 characters.  You can still share photos and videos, but there are no albums.  There is no "like" button or the ability to start a hilarious comments section.  Instead, you can "favorite" a Tweet, or Retweet it, if you so desire.  And instead of comments sections, you simply reply to a Tweet, which will undoubtedly get lost in a string of other replies.

I don't actually Tweet all that much.  What I like most about Twitter, is the ability to get nearly up-to-the-second updates in the news and sports world.  That's what I use it for more than any other reason.  Things that appear on Facebook have, in all likelihood, been Tweeted a dozen or so times already.  I can get continuous updates on Cardinals games without listening or watching, or I can find out what Wildcats have declared for the draft as soon as it happens.  I like having that access to information.

But, there are also some gimmicky "Twitter handles" that I follow strictly for entertainment's sake.  One of which is "The 90s Life" which periodically posts things from my childhood that make me chuckle (or sob, because I realize how swiftly time has passed).  The other day, they posted a list of 15 toys from the 1990s that you miss.  While a few of them were too new for me to have ever gotten excited about, there were some that I held a religious admiration for when I was a kid, and I couldn't help but smile.  Then, last night, my sister-in-law posted on Facebook a picture of a few of her old Masters of the Universe figures that spawned an interesting conversation about the true identity of those pictured.  It took me back to my childhood, if only briefly, and made me think about all of the great toys I had growing up.  So, I decided to make a list of the 10 toys I miss most.  In no particular order...

1.  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

From the time I was 5 years old to about the age of 9, the Ninja Turtles may as well have been gods.  I LOVED them.  I watched reruns of the cartoon everyday before school.  I watched it on Saturday mornings.  I had a VHS of the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles live-action movie that I wore out.  I collected the action figures to the tune of about 40 of them.  I had vehicles, their sewer base, a Raphael costume, a kid's shave kit.  I could still probably recite the theme song from the cartoon to this day, and I'm sure my mom has a ton of these boxed away somewhere at home.  I spent much of my childhood fighting crime with the "Heroes in a Half-Shell."

2. G.I. Joes

Another of my early childhood favorites were the second generation of G.I. Joes.  They weren't like your father's G.I. Joes...These were only a couple of inches tall, but were fully pose-able, making it possible to play out all sorts of sweet fight scenes and dramatic death sequences. Much like TMNT, the G.I. Joe cartoon was on full syndication in the Edwards household.  If there were a hierarchy of toy gods to me, these guys were right there at the top with Mikey, Leo, Donnie, and Raph.  I had countless "Joes" (like the one pictured above, Snake Eyes), and weapons and vehicles to go with them.  My favorite vehicle was this huge desert aircraft carrier Memaw got me for my birthday when I was 5.  It came with a helicopter that could land on top, had buttons for sound effects, could hold about 20 Joes inside of it, and had a retractable, spring-loaded cannon that fired huge missiles.  It was awesome.  Memaw was pretty good about keeping my G.I. Joe collection healthy, because we rarely made a Wal-Mart trip without her buying me one.  My affinity for G.I. Joes was so great, one Halloween the entire family went as clowns...Except me.  I was Duke.  I was a badass. 

3. X-Men

Are you seeing a theme yet?  I was an action figure nut, what can I say?  I didn't jump on the X-Men bandwagon until a little later, probably around 8 or 9.  But when I jumped, I did with both feet.  Fox had a Saturday morning cartoon that ran from 1992-1997 and I loved it.  That's what got me hooked.  When I met DJ, he shared in my affinity for the X-Men, and we had many epic X-Men/G.I. Joe/Jurassic Park dinosaur battles.  Our favorites?  Wolverine, Archangel, and Apocalypse.  It was awesome.

4. Masters of the Universe
I'll admit...I'm a tad too young to really remember this cartoon.  And, technically, Masters of the Universe's run ended in the mid-80s.  But it's my list, and I'll include it if I want to. It was before my time, although I did watch it occasionally in syndication.  But, one of the perks of being the second-youngest cousin in a group of a 11 was all of the hand-me-down toys I got out of it.  I came across a pretty respectable collection of Masters of the Universe figures, including both Castle Gray Skull and Snake Mountain, multiple He-Man and Skeletor figures, and a wide selection of various secondary characters.  Lensey even got in on the action with She-Ra.

5. Ghostbusters Proton Pack

When the first Ghostbusters movie hit theaters in 1984, it spawned a huge merchandising monster that spread into the 90s, after Ghostbusters 2 was released in 1989.  Christmas of 1989, for me, was basically an assortment of Ghostbusters stuff, the beauty you see above included.  I loved this thing.  You could pretend to zap ghosts with it, even though it may have just been a piece of yellow Nerf foam.  I'm not really sure why I was so enthralled with Ghostbusters, but for a year or two, I was all about it.  I haven't seen this gem in ages, and am fairly certain it was either thrown away or sold at a yard sale long ago.  But, I got hours of enjoyment out of it.

6. Nintendo Entertainment System
While this was technically released in the 80s, I didn't get one until 1991, so it's a 90s toy to me.  My sister and I spent HOURS playing Duck Hunt and Super Mario Bros. on this grand old machine, but that was just the start.  Hell...Mom and Dad would stay up till 2 or 3 in the morning playing Tetris after Lensey and I went to bed.  For better or worse, the market-saturation of the over-the-top video game systems out there today really started with the NES.  Despite the graphic and gameplay advancements out there now, I'd still take Mike Tyson's Punch Out over virtually any other game to date.  If you never had the enjoyment of feverishly blowing into a cartridge, or doing the "slide and slam," or the "rapid tap" to get a game to work...My friend, you missed out.  One of the joys of spending the night at a friend's house were the epic battles to be had in an R.B.I. Baseball tournament, or trying to beat Contra in under an hour.  Screw online play.

7. Nerf Turbo Screamer

On the playground of Benton Elementary School, this beast of a Nerf football was seen (and heard) every single day.  My friends and I literally beat this thing to death playing an epic, never-ending game that went on for weeks at a time.  We'd always have the same teams.  We kept score, but it was cumulative.  And we all felt like Troy Aikman or John Elway when we let this baby fly.  After a while, the whistle stopped working, and some guys would rip it out to avoid jammed fingers, leaving a gaping hole in the center of the ball.  But, regardless, it was awesome.  With Nerf, any one could throw a perfect spiral.

8. Super Soaker
Water fights were never the same once this AK-47 of a water gun hit the market.  I personally never owned one, but many of my friends did, and I used them plenty.  There were so many different sizes and attachments available, it literally was like an H20 arsenal only limited by your budget and imagination.  Some kids would have the backpack attachment that never seemed to run dry, and they'd basically dominate.  They still make Super Soakers, but they look bulky and "futuristic."  Nothing will replace the original.

9. Gameboy
Much like the NES console, the Gameboy got hours of use, mostly in the backseat of our car as we went on a family vacation.  Despite the need for a light source to play when it was dark, the Gameboy was awesome in its simplicity. The graphics were terrible, the games were mostly stripped-down versions of their console counterparts, and it went through batteries like you wouldn't believe (it took 4 AAs just to turn the damn thing on).  But, it provided hours of entertainment on long road trips, and my mom wore her fingers to the bone playing Tetris.  Finally, ol' Boy gave out after about 15 years.  He had a good run.

10. Micro Machines

Again, Micro Machines were originally introduced in the 1980s, but hit their peak in the early 90s, just in time for a young Zach Edwards to jump on board.  I'm not exactly sure what made Micro Machines so appealing...They were really too small to "play" with.  They were easy to lose.  But, the coolest thing was the environments they could come with.  I had a few different ones, one of which had multiple levels.  I was all about them for a couple of years, but my interest waned just as quickly.

While I'm sure kids today will look back fondly on the toys they have, I refuse to believe their toys are as great as the ones we had in the 90s.  Hell, even the toys from the early 90s were way better than stuff that came along later.  I hold a special place in my heart for all of those listed here, and hope my parents did a better job of preserving them than I did.  But, I was never about keeping my toys safe...They were played with.  They were used.  Several of my G.I. Joes have been forever lost to the creek behind my parents house.  Lensey shattered my original Raphael against the side of the bathtub (some sort of retribution for a Ken doll having his head ripped off...I'm not buying it).  From the fantastic commercials, to the hours of time I spent with my imagination taking me to a different world, I will always remember the toys of my childhood fondly.


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