Toyland, Toyland

When I was a kid, the harbinger of the Christmas season was the arrival of the J.C. Penney Christmas catalogue, with its pages and pages of toys. My brothers and I would leaf through it, looking at all of the things we wanted. We didn't always get everything on our lists, but we usually had a pretty good haul.

The other day when I was on jury duty, CNN was on in the waiting room, and they had a story about nostalgic middle-aged Baby Boomers seeking out the toys of their youth. They showed Mr. Potato Head (and some of his other vegetable friends), Gumby and Pokey, G.I. Joe and Barbie, etc. They were all very familiar, but then again, I'm one of those middle-aged Baby Boomers myself. It got me to thinking about some of the cool toys I had many years ago.

The world has changed, of course. I don't imagine that they sell toys like Mattel's Thingmaker any more, which cooked "Plastigoop" into rubbery toys (my favorites were the Mini-Dragons, which was made in several parts and then put together with arrows through loopholes, and the original Creepy Crawlers set, with molds for bugs, spiders, rats, snakes, etc.). Can you imagine the lawsuits from children burning themselves if they put out something like that today? I had a chemistry set, too. I don't know if they'd let kids have them these days, especially without adult supervision. Too dangerous. (I also rode a bicycle without ever wearing a helmet, and for that matter, I don't think we even had seat belts in the cars we had back in the 1960s. Amazingly enough, I survived to adulthood.)

A lot of things are still around. Hot Wheels cars, for instance. I got them back in the late 1960s when they first came out. We also had the orange plastic strips of track so we could race the cars. The kid who had a Supercharger to propel the cars around an oval loop of track was an object of envy. My favorite cars included the Red Baron (with its silver German helmet) and the Evil Weevil, a modified VW Bug, but I had dozens of them over the years.

We also had a lot of Lego blocks. Lego wasn't the only kind of plastic construction blocks we had, though. There was TOG'L, colorful plastic cubes about an inch square, with holes in some of the faces, pegs sticking out of others and some of the faces were hinged and would open. My brothers and I would make robots out of the TOG'L blocks and have boxing matches with them, moving the shoulders to throw punches at the other robot's head to try to knock his block off.

I had the Major Matt Mason ("Mattel's Man in Space!") action figure, as well as G.I. Joes at a time when they were still the same size as Barbie dolls and still military men, complete with toy weapons and uniforms, rather than some sort of sci-fi ninja figure. And we had Gumby and Pokey, as well as Mr. Potato Head. Also lots and lots of plastic toy soldiers, plastic cowboys and Indians, plastic Roman soldiers and Crusaders, and Lincoln Logs to build forts for them to garrison.

We also had a square wooden game table, with a netted pocket in each corner. It came with miniature wooden pins like bowling pins, and colored plastic rings in red and green and white and black. I'm not sure what they were actually supposed to be used for, but we made up our own games with them.

Finally, we had some early electronic games. We had a game system (Atari?) that attached to the television and allowed us to play Pong and Hockey. And we had a hand-held electronic football game that was actually just three rows of red LEDs, and the arrows would allow the runner to move up and down and forward trying to avoid the bright red tacklers. A kid today would roll his eyes, laugh at it and put it back on the shelf, but we didn't have XBoxes or Playstations or computers back then. Pong was high tech thirty-odd years ago. We're far more jaded now.