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Last Friday evening, I clocked out but didn’t go home; instead I grabbed my wallet and checkbook, ready to make a deal. And by “deal” I mean whatever juice I could squeeze out of the lone twenty dollar bill I had on me.

I’m sure anyone else who went may have noticed, but it sure looked like the same vendors as last year and the year before that. I say this not as a bad thing. In fact there’s something comforting about knowing these vendors from goodness knows where in the county and surrounding areas mark a date on their calendar twice yearly to make the trek with their goods to the Cross County Mall. Heck, many of them even seem to reserve the exact same space. If I had been thinking properly, I would have brought along my notebook to ask a few of them just why they value their particular spot by the main doors for instance…because how many good and true Mattoon-ians ever went into the mall using the center doors? We were a K-Mart entrance family.

First up in the “items of note” department: from a booth where I came this close to buying a sky blue Atari Lunchbox emblazoned with stickers for Asteroids, Centipede and Yars’ Revenge (minus the thermos), I found a jigsaw puzzle based from the ‘60s TV series “Daktari,” a show that’s before my time and was apparently not one of those old “war” shows like “Combat” or that one with Robert Conrad and the bomber squadron, but was about a friendly veterinarian living with his family in Africa. Apparently the show was popular enough to merit an appearance by two of the film’s animal stars, “Judy” and “Thoto” respectively, at the 1972 “Emmett Kelly Circus Co.” stop at Eastern Illinois University. There’s always been something kind of sad about circuses to me, and something even sadder still about circuses that come to small towns; and something even sadder beyond all sadnesses thinking about the poor animals being trekked hither and yon to do tricks for half-interested kids and their well-meaning parents. Wherever you are out there “Judy”, and “Thoto,” I hope they finally let you rest somewhere in that great veldt in the sky.

In the old, formerly known as Sam Goody, then On Cue, now not-a-thing location, I took some time to leaf though a few milk crates of old records. Given my recent column about my acquisition of a record player  you’d think I’d find plenty of oddities, and I did, including but not limited to two records by some hairy dude in a Don Johnson jacket whose name I didn’t write down and don’t remember because I was distracted by the Australian cheekbones of a Helen Reddy album tucked away in the back, which is why I bring to you this 1977 sale ad from JC Penney’s featuring a whopping nine of her records, also available on 8-track. While I know who Helen Reddy was, and her one big song, and that she had a haircut that’s not entirely dissimilar from mine (at least around the sides…the top...not so much), the idea that this woman had nine records to her name worth making an entire sale out of is a little astonishing. As a matter of perspective, that’s as many as Led Zeppelin, and just a few shy of The Who and Pink Floyd.

If only she didn’t have nine records with virtually the same album cover, I could remember which one I found, but c’mon people, we all know my money was going straight to the old video game dealer where that twenty dollar bill snagged me a “warrior with a shield and sword” game called “Trojan”, a “motorcycle with machine guns” game called “Thundercade” and then, beyond all good reasoning, the one and only “Spot: The Video Game,” brought to you by the fine folks at 7UP. Yes, not only did the mascots of a 7UP ad campaign have their own video game, but I was able to find, from the 1990 Journal Gazette, this ad featuring Cindy Davis of Charleston winning a 7UP promotion at the Walgreens in the mall featuring “Spot” as part of the grand prize, all being handed to her by a befuddled-looking store manager. Archives, you never let me down, do you?

If you’re wondering what in the world a 7UP video game would involve, you might be surprised; it’s actually a strategy game, sort of an odd mix of Othello and Checkers where you move little discs around a board, with the 7UP “Cool Spots” (that red dot after the “7” with arms, legs and “cool” sunglasses) popping out of the board and moonwalking around every time you try to move a piece. It’s not half bad a game; even if I always preferred Surge.

As for Cindy Davis I can only wonder just how much 7UP she had to drink to earn enough “spot points” or whatever they called them to win that prize, but hey, we’ve all been there; as anyone who still has a beat-up McDonalds Monopoly map in their glove compartment can attest. And if you’re still out there, please know that that Spot game is currently demanding somewhere around 10 dollars on the resale circuit; and that NES system itself currently asking a whole lot more, assuming it still works. You might want to hang on to it a bit.

There was a moment when I got back to Castle Clint and prepared to clean my new games with some Q-tips when I started to reflect on just how quickly that twenty dollar bill went from the ATM to my wallet and into the hands of someone sitting behind a folding table. Goodness knows I already have more than enough old video games by this point. But hey, that twenty bucks was less an investment in how I spent my spare time than it was in the Flea Market itself, and that’s a good thing. Plus, I talked them down one dollar, a necessity for me since my games technically came to 21 dollars. Otherwise, I’d finally be forced to have to beg someone to take a personal check. Why else did you think I bought my checkbook?

"The Throwback Machine" is a weekly feature taking a look back at items of interest found in the JG-TC online archives. For questions, suggestions, or his "Song of the Day" recommendation, contact him at cwalker@jg-tc.com.

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