May 27th, 1998.
I was an absolute mess!
It was my first year in college, and I was Big Time Tanking. The friends I was closest with in high school all went to different colleges, and I made exactly zero new ones at mine. The ones I had left were few and far between. My list of vices was long enough to require multiple pages. I had no idea what I was doing or where I was going. I have journals from that year that are so filled with misery that they honestly read like parodies.
Even then, I’m sugarcoating things. If I was totally honest with you about this, I could never face you again. And, who knows, tomorrow I might want to review a new Doritos flavor.
But it’s important to give you some idea of who I was and where my head was at, because it’ll help you understand why I clung so dearly to this:
My old toy room.
May 27th, 1998.
I’ve been writing about old toys since April of 2000, and even from the start, it was more with a “remembered” passion than an existing one. By 2000, I wasn’t a collector — at least not by the definition we usually mean. Enthusiast, dabbler and cherry-picker, sure, but not a collector.
Back in 1998, I was definitely a collector. I’d been a collector for years by then, but you know how it is when you’re a careless kid and everything else goes to shit. You focus on your happy hobbies and pretend it’s okay to ignore everything else. In 1998, I was in DEEP.
I didn’t recognize it as an “escape” at the time, but I sure do in retrospect. And boy, I threw myself into it. I’d just gotten my first only-for-me computer, and I spent almost all of my free time wheeling and dealing on message boards and newsgroups. There was a pretty big group of toy traders online, back before eBay made things too easy, and back before the USPS priced us out of our hobby.
I was really good at it, too. Good and lucky. I can still remember dozens of my best deals, but two stand taller than the rest:
1) A seller had an immense collection of vintage Star Wars figures and vehicles. Something like 60 complete figures in near-mint condition, and over 25 different vehicles and playsets, all with their boxes. He charged me $2 for each figure, which was way cheap, but his prices on the vehicles and playsets were even more insane. I didn’t realize until later that he’d looked at the ancient price stickers and charged me half of their original retail cost. So I was buying shit like the Imperial Shuttle, complete-in-box with the instruction manual and everything, for 14 bucks.
2) About a week after I decided to collect G1 Transformers figures, a trader got in touch with me. He said he’d obtained tons of them, but didn’t have the patience to figure out who was who and what was what. He wanted a simple “package trade” deal. I put together a box that couldn’t have had more than a hundred bucks’ worth of stuff in it, pulling from various lines that he’d expressed interest in. I agreed to send before he did, and he was happy with the contents.
And then he sent MY boxes.
I’ll never forget that day. Six or seven absolutely enormous packages arrived all at once. Boxes that once housed things like TV sets and major appliances. I was nearly in tears after opening them. It was almost the entire collection of G1 Transformers, all complete, some still in boxes, and some still in SEALED boxes. Many in doubles. Many in triples. Even in 1998, the collection had to be worth over ten grand.
Most of my scores weren’t nearly as noteworthy. One figure here, one figure there. I’d send this, they’d send that. I’d get five or six packages a day, and send out just as many. I almost never bought things, and only sold enough to cover my constant shipping expenses. 90% of what I had was through trades.
Now let’s get back to that toy room…
I could only find these two photos, which sucks, because they don’t show even a tenth of what was in there. By comparison to the rest of the room, these were the barest shelves.
The ENTIRE ROOM was covered in shelves. It’d previously been my father’s home office; I pleaded for it after he retired. The only thing in there besides my toys was a small table for my computer. If I had nothing to wake up for the next morning, I’d be online all night long, making trades. It just never ended.
I can see now that this was all just a big distraction for me, but it doesn’t change the fact that it was such a blast. That room was my sanctuary. I loved it more than anything else in the world. Anything I could add to my collection got me through another day.
And yet, it was all such a private thing. Maybe I’m not painting a picture that suggests this, but I did have friends. When they’d come over, we’d be in my bedroom. Never in the toy room. They were aware of it, and aware of my silly hobby, but it wasn’t something we discussed, and never anything they’d understand, anyway. It was just this thing I did, with maddening obsessiveness, totally on my own.
So what happened to the toy room, and my collection? I guess it boiled down to me finding new distractions. Suddenly I was less interested in getting more toys, and more interested in having money for various summer trips. I sold almost everything off in horrible firesales. I made nowhere near what I would have with time and patience, but I sure made enough to go Wildwood three weekends in a row.
I still have some of these toys. In fact, if you look closely enough, you’ll spot several figures/games/things that have turned up on X-E or Dino Drac over the years. Most of it is gone, though. All I really have left of the experience is an empty Imperial Shuttle box (no idea what I did with the vehicle) and these two blurry photos.
It’s so weird to look at my life’s trajectory. I had a room full of toys for a year or two, and that’s no big deal… except for the fact that if I didn’t, almost everything else about me would be so much different. Without that room and the passion it took to fill it, there wouldn’t have been an X-E, and if there wasn’t an X-E, I wouldn’t have found my “in” for my real world career. And since those two events had tentacles that reached into virtually every other facet I could name… yeah, fifteen years’ worth of good — and some bad — all started with this stupid room full of Autobots and Decepticons.
Basically, I loved that room to death, and I kind of love it even more now. It was me at my realest, for better and for worse.
Course, at this precise moment, all I can think about is how stupid I was to sell this stuff so haphazardly. Had I only known that I was about to spend thirteen years writing about old junk, I never would’ve been so careless.
Here’s a closer look at ten toys from those two photos. Remember, this was barely a tenth of my whole collection!
Optimus Prime, mint in box. I had two. One was sealed. God damn, how did I let TWO boxed Primes get away from me?
The vintage Star Wars Creature Cantina. I didn’t have one as a child, and it was one of the first big scores of my trading days. The Creature Cantina taught me that this hobby was only partly about rediscovering your childhood. The rest was about filling in its gaps.
Rodimus Prime, one of my all-time favorite Transformers figures. It wasn’t the best of them and I certainly had many that were worth more, but since I’d so often played with Rodimus as a child, I had a special connection to that figure. (Even though his legs didn’t move, and even though his face looked like a glob of Blu-Tack.)
A beat-up Corgi Batmobile. One of the oldest things in my collection. A few years prior, my brother brought me to a comic book show at a nearby hotel. I bought a few pieces of junk because I could only afford a few pieces of junk, and then he dropped me off back home.
A few hours later, we got a call. Turned out, my brother had won the door prize: A $100 shopping spree at the show. He was off in Jersey somewhere, but I had his ticket. I agreed to buy him fifty bucks’ worth of Star Trek junk, and I’d get the rest. My parents took me back to the hotel, and after spending an hour carefully considering what to blow my free money on, most of it went towards that beat-up Batmobile. It looked like it’d been left to rot in someone’s backyard for twenty years.
(I still have it.)
Sgt. Slaughter, one of the few G.I. Joe figures I had out on display. Most were in a long, shallow box, protected in individual baggies.
I like how he’s hanging out with a bunch of Rock Lords and a purple Barney Rubble. I want to write a story starring exactly those characters.
THE DINOBOTS! I had so many of them. The full set in doubles, and many in triples. At least one of those sets was 100% complete, down to every last gun and missile. I still have a Slag (the triceratops) around here somewhere, but sadly, no Grimlocks. I know I needed the money, but I can’t believe that I didn’t keep one lousy Grimlock.
Hah, the Robotech Master figure. This one actually survived my childhood years; it wasn’t collected during the “toy room era.”
I never knew anything about Robotech, nor did I have much interest in a character that looked like a less impressive Palpatine. But Kay Bee kept these guys at a 49-cent clearance price for almost five years. Ultimately, I couldn’t resist such a cheap action figure. Even if he looked like Lazy Grandpa.
Damn, I wish this one was more in-frame. Spidrax was the lead villain in the Sectaurs line, who rode on the battery-operated Spider-Flyer — which was basically a big, monstrous hand puppet with flapping wings. To this day, I still count Sectaurs among the most underappreciated toy lines ever.
Transformers View-Master reels, still sealed. Nowadays, I’m more prone to collect things like this. After all, most action figures are readily available to anyone with the money, but you never know when we’ll hit another five-year dry-spell on Transformers View-Master reels. I prefer going for the things I might never see again.
Naked Princess Leia. She was part of the original Star Wars 12” line. Some of those figures were affordable, but most were very expensive. Expensive enough to let a naked Princess Leia remain a prized piece.
…and when I go back to the photos, man, I could go on forever. Megatron! Blaster! That giant-sized “Angela” figure from the Spawn collection! The Star Wars Burger King glasses!
Wait, the Star Wars Burger King glasses?
I still have all of those, too. No boxed Optimus Primes, no Droid Factories and no Grimlocks, but if you ever need a damn Star Wars Burger King glass, I have the whole set.
I don’t miss the life I had in 1998, but viewed through a powerful microscope that zooms past all of the bad shit, it seems pretty okay.
I mean, it had to be at least partially okay. I had a MISB Wheeljack!