With Thanksgiving over and the holiday season officially upon us, I bring you this ad for a “Toy Layaway” at the Mattoon 3-D Discount, from the Oct. 20, 1986, Journal Gazette. Please note that the top half of this ad, not pictured above, has elves crawling all over the 3-D Discount logo; a nice dose of perspective to anyone out there who thinks that Christmas Creep is a new phenomenon.
In the interest of full disclosure, of the 13 toys you see in the above advertisement, I actually owned four of them.
In the fourth and fifth boxes from the right, top row, I owned both the “Masher Metal Face Machine” and the “Destroyer Half-Tank,” vehicles that were part of the “Steel Monsters” toyline from the fine folks of Tonka. Being around 8 years old, I certainly wouldn’t have been out of my “big truck and fast car” toy phase, but I was so totally over dump trucks and construction equipment that I was very grateful that some smart executive at Tonka realized they could take some of their stock truck and farm implement models sold in the toy sections of the finest Farm and Home stores of the area, retrofit them with some additional layers of armor and spray-painted logos, snap on a few plastic guns, and boom, what was once a boring old dump truck was suddenly a rad post-apocalyptic death machine. Nice.
We move down to the second row, fourth box from the left, to find the glory of “Metroplex,” a Transformer who turned into a city. That’s right, a freaking city. I mean, how’s a poor Go-Bot who turns into a lousy scooter supposed to compete with that?
And if you can’t help but recall Tom Hanks in “Big” saying, “What’s fun about a robot that turns into a building?”, well then, let me cure you of your ignorance. Not only did Metroplex transform into a city, equipped with its own tower, gun emplacements, and radar arrays (you know...like most cities you've been to), it also was able to launch its own secondary Transformer from a hangar bay. And oh yeah, you could build a third Transformer out of all those guns and radars. Feel stupid now?
But the glory of this ad is, of course, one box over to the left, with Castle Grayskull, the headquarters playset of He-Man and Masters of the Universe. I mean, what can I say that the text in the ad doesn’t already: “Mighty Fortress”? ”Filled with parts”? No kidding. When you cracked that bad boy open you had a two-level castle equipped with hinged "Jaw-Bridge", throne room, trap door, and several nifty racks of little plastic laser guns and battle axes; the perfect setting for your next Masters of the Universe throwdown. Although why you would even still bother with the battle axe when you had a laser gun nearby was never really explained in the Master of the Universe-Universe. Or why you would ever need an "Evil Horde Slime Pit."
Only $21.96? Are you kidding me? If you can read the small print on the ad it does say it’s discounted from $29.99, but still! When you’re a kid, you don’t put much thought, if any, to the cost of your favorite toys you get this time of the year, mostly because they, of course, come from Santa, who has access to plenty of free labor. But when I think about how much time I put in with my Castle Greyskull, if you had come up to me back at that age and asked me how much that modestly sized, skull-shaped hunk of green plastic I spent so much time playing with cost, I literally couldn’t have told you; it would have been like trying to assign a dollar value to your parents.
But 20 dollars? Just for perspective’s sake, think of the humdrum everyday items you have to buy as a boring adult that total up to 20 dollars. How much fun did you get out of any of those things? I swear I just spent nine dollars on a bag of chopped pecans for a pie that I made for Thanksgiving and I can't necessarily say I had a rip-roaring time with them while they sat on my counter practically screaming "you paid almost ten dollars for us" at me.
Recently I decided to buy some assorted toys so that a friend of mine's kid would have fun things to do when visiting Castle Clint. What a sight that was; me wheeling up and down the toy aisle trying to decide what "today's kid" would find entertaining. In the end, I had the most rag-tag collection of random toys you could assemble. I almost ended up buying a squeaky dog toy on accident. I thought for sure I was going to end up seeing the most disappointed little kid in the world when the time came.
And yet when I pulled that green tub of toys out of the closet on her first visit, that little kid’s eyes lit up and she let out a squeal that suddenly made that hour of toy-buying frustration all worth it. And it’s not like what was in there was any great shakes, trust me, but we took that tub into the living room and within the hour we had pretty much the entire contents dumped out onto my living room floor. You don't know fun until you've made a floor maze full of plastic dinosaurs out of wooden blocks.
Castle Greyskull was such an amazing part of my childhood and it was only 20 dollars. Is that a lot for a toy? Maybe, maybe not. Is a $10 set of wooden blocks an extravagant purchase? Who can say? But when I think of the fun I had with my Castle Greyskull as a kid, and the fun that my little visitor (and I) had with those blocks, I can’t help but think that yeah, as annoying as those constant toy commercials are every year, and how much your kids can’t help but tell you what they want all the time as the big day gets closer and closer, life is just too short to not have some fun every once in a while. So put the money down, clear a space on the floor, and keep buildin'. And remember to make room for Metroplex.