Vintage Vending #3: Button-Button!

I know you were expecting a full tour of Iguana’s house, but I haven’t had a chance to complete it yet. My printer isn’t being cooperative, and without going into detail on why I need a printer to build a house for a paper lizard, I assure you that I absolutely do.

So that will have to wait.

For the moment, let’s knock out another edition of Vintage Vending. It seems just brainless enough for me to pull off on four hours sleep and with enough crud in my eyes to be 80% blind.

Button – Button, or so they called it. Likely released in 1990, this collection represents nearly everything I was obsessed with at the time. Honestly, if you replaced one of the Batman buttons with something from Gremlins 2, I’d have no choice but to marry this vending machine teaser card.

Of the dozen buttons featured, only one would’ve been a disaster for me – and no, it isn’t Madonna. It’s that “Born to Shop” deal. Aside from being a generic fool in a sea of licensed glories, a predisposition for shopping was not something I’d have been comfortable advertising.

Before I dive into the others, let’s not-literally talk about the title of this display.

“Button – Button.  Who’s got the buttons?”

I feel like that must be a play on a line from some song, but it’s not coming to me. The closest I can get is Jeepers Creepers.

“Jeepers, Creepers. Where’d you get them peepers?”

“Button – Button. Who’s got the buttons?”

It only works if you really, really want it to.

Actually, no, it doesn’t work at all. So all I’ve really established is that the umbrella title for these buttons was in no way a nod to Louis Armstrong. Sorry, Satchmo.

Even though there was a Ninja Turtles button right there, I think I would’ve preferred the Simpsons one.

I’m sure I’ve told this story before, but back in elementary school, I was the very first kid to wear a Simpsons t-shirt. It wasn’t even an official one – just some bootleg my brother picked up in the city, which went from white to salmon pink the first time I washed it. I’ll never forget the day I debuted that baby in school. The sad truth is that I’ve never been that popular again.

Of course, since my first Simpsons shirt was such a hit, I saw no choice but to keep getting more of them. Eventually, there was a school-wide ban on Simpsons clothes (some had light cussing on ‘em), but I’m sure I could’ve gotten away with a button. Had I encountered this vending machine back in 1990, I damn well would’ve tried.

Love-love-love this Ghostbusters 2 button. It’s licensed, but it looks more like a promotional pin than something I would’ve been able to buy anytime, anyplace. I envision it on the thin vests of video store worker bees, who, at the insistence of Columbia Pictures, had no choice but to alert customers that Ghostbusters 2 was available to rent. Maybe they hated wearing “Slime Time” buttons, but I sure wouldn’t have.

I guess now would be the time to apologize for the photo quality in this review. The entire teaser card was laminated, and through the years, a lot of dust has gotten trapped in there. Dust always becomes so much more prominent in photos, to the point where the one above looks like it’s been tweaked with the one-two punch of a sepia overlay and Gaussian blur.

It hasn’t. It’s just really old and dusty.

It’s strange that I haven’t written about Dick Tracy more often, because I was obsessed with that movie. And the toys. And the trading cards. And pretty much everything else that came in canary yellow.

I couldn’t have cared less about Dick Tracy, mind you. For me, the movie was all about its villains.

I was especially infatuated with “Itchy,” the low-level mobster who talked funny and constantly scratched himself. I didn’t want to be Itchy, but I sure wanted to look like him.

Cursed God for giving me good eyes, because my biggest dream was to wear glasses. Cursed Macy’s for sticking with blacks and grays, because once I met Itchy, I desperately wanted his royal blue trenchcoat.

Years later, the guy who played Itchy would resurface as the guy who played Ruth’s Russian boyfriend on Six Feet Under. STILL BLOWS MY MIND.

I eventually settled on a Dick Tracy Halloween costume, primarily for its cheap yellow trenchcoat, which was more like a backwards apron. I have the distinct recollection of embarrassing my family by wearing it out to dinner one night. In my defense, it was just a Sizzler.

I loved that movie wholly and truly, so even the Madonna-as-Breathless button would’ve been okay with me. I wouldn’t wear it in public, but as any kid who had a bulletin board knew, these buttons doubled nicely as corky décor. Breathless would’ve had her purpose. Like Mewtwo, that was all she really wanted.

Gonna need a little help with this one. It’s too distinct to be generic, but I can’t place it. Originally thought that it might’ve been something from the world of My Pet Monster, but that doesn’t seem quite right.

In what’s probably a hint, the button has the word “Biface” on it. “Biface” sounds like an accurate description of a part-boy, part-monster, but all I’m getting from Google are pictures of stone tools that look like fossilized shark teeth.

Mystery aside, I dig the button. It’s hard to dislike the idea of a child who spends portions of his days as a drooling bulldog.

Now, let’s go back to that photo of the whole spread. Which button would you pick? If you say the California Raisin, you’re just trying to be different.

PS I usually italicize movie titles and brand names. This time, I didn’t. It was an artistic choice, and I stand by it.

PPS: My God. The “Who’s got the buttons?” stuff comes from a children’s game referenced by no less than Willy Goddamned Wonka. Thanks for the tip, Cesar. I feel dumb, but not dumb enough to ninja edit, because when else will I have the chance to pull out a Louis Armstrong reference?

64 Responses to Vintage Vending #3: Button-Button!

  1. My eyes went right to slime time, that would be the button for me.

  2. “Button, Button, Who’s got the button?” is from the end of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Not the new lame one, the older awesome lsd-laced one. Gene Wilder says it to Charlie and Grandpa Joe when they get in the Great Glass Wonkavator.

  3. Also, I would have gone with the Batwing-shaped Batman logo. Batman was instand cred in my school in the late 80s/90s.

  4. I definitely had that Ninja Turtles button and I used to wear it on my hat. Last time I saw it is was on the collar of my denim jacket next to a pin of Twisted Sister from the Stay Hungry era. I hadn’t fit into that jacket since I was about 13 so chances are pretty good there was some Good Will store with a sweet denim jacket covered with my nostalgic buttons because, unlike me me, my mom had no concept of hoarding pop cultural ephemera.

    Also “button, button, who’s got the button” is a quote from Willy Wonka, I believe.

  5. I’d have to go with the Bartman or the TMNT one. As a kid, I thought Bartman was the coolest fucking dude on the planet, and what kid didn’t love TMNT? So those are the 2 I probably would have gravitated towards. Had those been absent, Ghostbusters 2 would have been the clear winner.

  6. I like Batman, but those pins seem like they’d be easy to come by. I’d probably default to the turtles pin, or one of the two Dick Tracy pins up top.

  7. “Button, Button” was a very old game, with lots of kids in a circle and a single button. That’s pretty much it.

    It was also a great episode of Twilight Zone and a mediocre film (The Box).

  8. I would probably go for non-rounded Batman logo. Or Madonna. My Madonna craze ended right around this time, though, so probably Batman.

  9. Holy shit! There’s another Nate on here! And he has an NES site! And He picks TMNT, too!!!! He is officially my new best friend!

  10. On the subject of the “Biface” button – I have a button with similar art of a character called “Pigface.” Perhaps it’s part of a series? They were also on pogs. I know I had these faces on pogs that I bought from a Russian bootleg pog dealer in an empty indoor flea market next to an antique mall.

  11. Back in the day, I’d have went with the Bartman button. Turtles were on the way out, Bart was too rad!

    When The Simpsons appeared, I made an all-in obsession transfer – the toys, constantly drawing them, only eating endorsed foodstuffs – from TMNT to Bart Simpson (I think the Konami Arcade games very much aided this transition). I didn’t even SEE an episode of The Simpsons until much later but I was a little fixated on Bartman, even with zero context.

    My mother had a zero-tolerance attitude to The Simpsons, based largely on the ‘Underachiever and proud of it’ slogan. I desperately wanted a ‘Who the hell are you?’ Tee, which was never going to happen.

    After some Kofi-Annan-style negotiations, I was allowed a ‘heck’ variant. It was more than a shirt to me: it was a trophy of my childhood diplomacy skills.

  12. Many allowances would’ve gone to this baby. The TMNT Movie button would be a first choice, but Bartman or Ghostbusters 2 would’ve been a close runner up-depending if I had seen Ghostbusters 2 yet, even as a kid I knew that movie sucked!

    They could make a killing on these now days, but they’d have to make them condoms instead of buttons!

  13. I know which one I would have picked, because I *did* pick it–I’m sure that it didn’t come from the vending machine, because the chances of getting what you actually want from one of those are probably about the same as winning the lottery–but my likely store bought button is the Batman button on the right.

    Though it’s a bit rusty, I’ve still got it, which I’m kind of proud of. There aren’t many items that completely survived both my childhood and my angsty teenage years, when I was trying to destroy/get rid of all the neat things from my childhood.

  14. Ed O’Ross made a lot of seemingly random appearances over the years, like in Lethal Weapon and Schwarzenegger/Belushi (!?) buddy cop flick Red Heat.

    Always happy to see him myself.

  15. Back then, I probably would’ve wanted the Madonna button, because I really dug her. Maybe the Simpsons one at the bottom. But these days, I’d totally go for that Batman logo on the left.

    I like how the close up of Madonna says “ASS” on the right. Ha!

  16. Adult me desires the Dick Tracy silhouette. Child me desires Bartman. I too had a Mom with a zero Simpsons tolerance. I would of taken that button and hid it so deeply in my room you’d of thought it was some kind of shameful pornography.

  17. I had all of the Dick Tracy action figures, except for The Blank. That always made me incredibly sad. I never had the vehicles either, but The Blank is the thing I’m most upset about. Also I once took an extra Dick Tracy figure, cut the brim of his hat off, painted him black, and used him as Repo Man. Yep.

  18. You know, I don’t think anyone ever stops to think that there’s actually a guy whose job is to fill these machines and empty the coin box.

    However, the other day, I was a t a pizza place, and I saw this dude not only filling them and taking the money, but also putting in the new, making sure he had the right merchandise, and testing out the units. I would’ve thought he would just carelessly dump the shit in there and pocket some of the money, but the guy was VERY thorough and committed to his job. I wonder how much that job pays…

  19. @Technicolor Yawn: I love the phrase “Russian bootleg pog dealer.” That is a career path that has certainly never occurred to me.

  20. I like this series. My favorite pin is the Ghostbusters one.

  21. 7-year-old me woulda picked the TMNT one. Wasn’t allowed to watch The Simpsons, didn’t care about Batman, didn’t yet appreciate Ghostbusters, had only a passing familiarity with Madonna because my mother couldn’t stand her, still haven’t seen Dick Tracy.

    29-year-old me? Torn between the Ghostbusters 2 one and the TMNT one. I guess I haven’t changed much.

  22. I forgot to italicize one of my movie titles there. Clearly it was a deliberate artistic choice.

  23. I actually had the Bartman one, the rounded Batman logo one, and the TMNT movie one. I was obsessed with buttons as a kid. Had ‘em all over my sweet jean jacket. Oh yeah.

    I would’ve totally went for the GB2 one as a kid, the Madonna one too, (though I probably wouldn’t have had the guts to wear it I would secretly obsess over it when I was alone), but I digress.

    Gawd, Madonna used to be so HOT.

  24. Oh man, I was obsessed with Dick Tracy crap back in the day- had the figures, had the cards, saw the movie everything. If you asked me which one, I would have told you the I wanted the Dick Tracy pin. Secretly however I would have desired the Breathless instead. I was in love with Madonna/ Breathless Mahoney as a kid and although I would have pretended not to want it, I wouldn’t have traded it for anything save a new kidney.

  25. I had both Batmen buttons, along with the main Dick Tracey one, along with the TMNT and Simpsons ones. But the thing is I got them well past their prime, when comic book retailors would just toss them into your bag as a freebie just to get rid of them.

  26. I really like almost all those pins. I think at that time I would have gone with Bartman or Ninja Turtles. I really did enjoy Batman too, but The Simpsons were so good back then.

  27. “Button-button” is a chant from an old children’s game, where you have to guess which of your friends is holdng a button, or some other small object. Similar to what some Plains Tribes would call “Hand Game”.

  28. One time, I bought six of the cutest bunny stickers at a vending machine at a bowling alley. I spend the only three dollars I had. I got home only to find out they were playboy bunnies and my mom promptly threw them out.

    Love how much you are posting, and when I get a spare hour, I’m gonna catch up on all the posts :)

    And tomorrow is September.

  29. What was with that “Born to Shop” nonsense in the 90′s? I guess it went hand in hand with the valley girl phenomenon.

  30. Awesome assortment of buttons. Batman? Ghostbusters? TMNT? Simpsons? Love each and every one of those now as much as I did as a kid. The California Raisins one deserves acknowledgement though. Loved them when I was like 7 or 8, whatever year it was when they were at their peak and you could get the little figurines of them at Hardee’s. I had the whole collection of those.

  31. At the time I would have wanted Bartman. Today, I would probably want the Ghostbusters 2 button. Not that my love for pre 2002 Simpsons has faded, just that the Ghostbusters one will be a permanent answer to any questions regarding just what time it is so I no longer have to say, “Time to get a watch.” I feel like a twat every time.

  32. The Ninja Turtles button would have been the one I would want most. Almost all the buttons on that card are pretty awesome though. I would have been bummed with the Dick Tracy wrist one and of course “Born to Shop.”

  33. when does the countdown start!?

  34. I’d have probably went for the TMNT button but I like the Dick Tracy wrist communicator one. For some reason my brother and I were obsessed with the Dick Tracy toys. Also, having worked for several video stores and movie theaters, I’ve had to adorn all sorts of promotional pins, shirts, etc. one of the ones that stands out is when Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle released our standard name tags were replaced with White Castle name tags temporarily.

  35. I think my dad still has one of those Hardee’s California Raisins figures. I wanna say they were selling those in 1988 or 1989…not sure. I had a lot of random Hardee’s crap because my mom worked there for a couple years. I kinda miss them; Carl’s Jr. sucks and I’m 98% certain they don’t make the biscuits from scratch anymore.

  36. I have a different version of that Ghostbusters 2 button that reads “We be fast and they be slow!” that I bought at a little pop culture shop in Austin. I had no idea they tried to make that into a marketable catchphrase.

  37. I’ve still got a complete set of the California Raisins from Hardees, love those guys! I love the circular bat symbol button, my fav!

  38. The Batman pin on the LHS is more inspired by the logo used for the 1966 series. If I was a kid that would definately be the one I’d go for.

  39. In 1990, it would have been a toss-up between the Dick Tracy button and the Turtles button. Nowadays, those would still be my choices, along with the Ghostbusters pin.

  40. It’s slime time is just so simple but awesome. If it were neon green it would be perfect.

  41. I remember liking the movie Dick Tracy well enough when I was a kid, but I guess I was too young to really “appreciate” appreciate it. I had the trading cards, but I don’t remember being obsessed with anything to do with the movie… and for the record, I probably would’ve went for either Simpsons button as a kid, Ghostbusters now. Or “Born to Shop” solely for the unfitting font.

  42. TMNT all day, everyday. Add in a Jason Voorhees and WWF/WCW button and you’ve got my favorite moments from childhood in button form.

  43. Enjoying my last weekend for being able to bend my knee for a few months. Watching Carwash on Netflix. Wow…never saw this before…oh and are you jealous that I had about all but one of those buttons? And I had a Bartman shirt. Summer ’90 was a BLAST! I even had a Dick Tracy sleeping bag and a Breathless Mahoney doll

  44. On one hand, I’m stoked at the prospect of some new seasonal featured articles headed our way with the arrival of September, but on the other, I know that means that the “Friday the 13th Box Rankings” graphic up in the features banner is going to get bumped off eventually, and I’m honestly going to hate to see it go, as it just looks so damn good up there, especially with it being dead-center below DinoDrac himself.

  45. I loved the Dick Tracy movie..

    And one of my best friends, unable to get a limo for her wedding, got an old fashioned car to ride in… and it was featured in the movie! AND I GOT TO RIDE IN IT!

  46. i totally had that california raisins pin

  47. I would totally 100% have picked Bartman. I had a Bart Simpson shirt which I wore proudly back in 1990, so it would have been a no-brainer. Ninja Turtles might have come a close second – and I, too, was among the first kids my age (5 in 1990) to wear Ninja Turtles shirts. They were also bootleg, and sold by street vendors. My mum got me a couple, including one in a hideous shade of green and another with Donatello on it (even though I was a Mikey mark, I didn’t complain).

    Another fun fact is that back then (1989-1991), the town we spent a part of our summers at had a button shop, and I would go in there and just pick the coolest designs. As a result, I had Whitesnake, AC/DC, Skid Row and Helloween pins before I even know who those bands were! A few years ago, I lent my AC/DC to my sister to put on her backpack (yes, it’s still done) and she lost it. I was livid – not only are AC/DC my favourite band, but how am I supposed to replace a vintage AC/DC button from 1989?! Oh well, my bad for being a trusting moron…

  48. Definitely tough choices. It’s a toss up between the Batman button on the right, ghostbusters, and TMNT. I was very big into those back then. If I was forced to make a choice, it would have to be ghostbusters. Huge ghostbusters fan here.

  49. “Button Button, who’s got the button?” is also said by Tweedledee and Tweedledum in the Disney Alice In Wonderland thing…

    Bi-Face looks similar to the designs on a series of pogs called Chupa Caps – but they were a whole five years after these badges were out!

  50. Matt – - Your latest article has inspired me to add both the TMNT movies and soundtracks to my Amazon wish list. Yes, I admit it, back in the day I enjoyed the ‘Turle Power’ rap song from the origional film.

  51. Oh I remember sporting Simpson apparel. I also remember wanting a California Raisen shirt and my dad refusing to buy it only to find out later they were raisens and not turds in shoes. He got another on his way home from work one day. Pretty awesome dad.

  52. I agree with Matt. 1990 was ALL about The Simpsons. I also had a bootleg Simpsons shirt. Mine was of Maggie and it said, “Watch it man, Bart’s my brother.” Instead of her usual blue baby gown, she was in a hideous neon pink one but I loved the shirt just the same.

  53. I still own my “Don’t Have a Cow, Man” t-shirt.

    I’ll give it to a deserving kid, but only if they write me a personal statement as to why they deserve such a wonderful gift

  54. V Langs Your post just placed an image in my head of a scruffy little scamp sitting down at an old desk with an ink pot and quill, pouring his heart in a solemn, verbose plea for a Simpsons Tee. So thank you.

  55. RE Button Button Who’s Got the Button- I always think of GO ASK ALICE that God-awful fake “diary” of a girl in the 70′s.

    From Wikipedia: In Go Ask Alice, the kids at the party play Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button, where the “button” is an LSD spiked can of soda. The diarist gets the spiked can of soda, which leads to her subsequent drug binge.

  56. Simpsons, then TMNT, then Ghostbusters. For sure.

  57. If I had seen these in 1990 I definitely would have gone for the Turtles movie pin,as Batman was cool, but not rad(this was ’90 after all)!

    The runner-up would have been Bartman, since I had a similar poster on my wall and the Bartman action figure from the first line of Simpsons figures(still do actually).

    Third place goes to the Dick Tracy silhouette, since I really dug the movie, had the trading cards and few figures (but could never get The Blank, dang it!).

  58. WOW those buttons bring back memories. I would have for sure wanted the bottom Simpsons one (no Bartman, thanks) and maybe the TMNT one, although I preferred the poster for TMNT II: The Secret of the Ooze more.

  59. As kid I always stood out, so I would have to go for the Raisin Badge as 1 of my picks – however it would be followed by the Turtles, Ghostbusters, The 60′s looking Bat Symbol and either of the Simpson Buttons – Although I think Bartman would have won out on those two.

    As for the ones I would hate Born to Shop has got to be number 1 unless your a girl (J/K), the others would be Dick Tracy.

  60. “Button, button. Who’s got the button (no “s”)?” is a quote from the original (well, only imo) Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

    Just found the new site today. I love it, keep up the great work.

  61. I’ve got Bartman, The Simpsons, & TMNT. I even know exactly where they are. Amazing.

  62. Almost all of those would have earned my some street cred at school 1989-91.

    Here in the UK I don’t every remember actual California Raisins being sold, but one of my friends had one of the figures, & Channel 4 seemed to show the TV special at least twice a year well into the 1990s.

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