It was Christmas Day, 1986. Maybe ’87. Let’s say ’87.
Thank God for my friend across the street. As mentioned before, my family celebrates on Christmas Eve and celebrates it hard. Christmas Day was never much of anything in our house, and in some ways, it was actually depressing. The “post-holiday blues” are familiar to many, but it hits so much harder when you feel it on Christmas morning.
But my best friend’s family was different. They did nothing on the Eve, and everything on the Day. Growing up, I spent many of my Christmases at his house, to the point where his aunts and uncles felt like my aunts and uncles.
The way his family celebrated was so foreign to me. For dessert, there’d always be these enormous plates of salted green apple slices. (They were better than they sound.) The atmosphere was so much quieter than my own family’s party, in part because there were less people, but also because nobody at his house was Italian.
A key part of these visits was to compare Christmas presents with my buddy. Honestly, I was there to brag. It’s not like he didn’t get good stuff, but his parents were much more practical. He played sports, so he got tons of sports equipment. Great in the long run, but not so great for showy boasts. He also wasn’t at all greedy or materialistic, even at a young age. If he even once made a Christmas list, I’d be surprised.
Not that it was a competition, but I’d grown accustomed to besting him on the fronts that mattered most to me: Toys and video games. He didn’t care enough about those things to have a lot of them, and I sure didn’t mind my role as “boy with the better toys.”
Well, in 1987, the fucker finally beat me…
He got the official M.U.S.C.L.E. Hard Knockin’ Rockin’ Wrestling Ring, a toy I desperately wanted but never owned.
I’m ashamed over how envious I was. It was such a cheap little thing, and it’s not like he was trying to spite me. It did strike me as potential payback for the time I called his house after midnight and begged his mother to wake him up, just so I could brag about how I got Voltron. But then, I was crazy.
Like most boys our age, my friend and I were way into M.U.S.C.L.E. figures. They were practically valid currency at the schoolyard. Kids collected the little pink monsters much in the same way we did baseball cards. We decided which figures were common, and which were rare and valuable. Invariably, it all boiled down to how cool the particular figure was. If it was some boring schmo, we called him “common.”
The figures weren’t really things to “play” with. They were just things to “have.” Or at least, they were…until my friend got the Hard Knockin’ Rockin’ Wrestling Ring. God damn him.
Each player controlled a M.U.S.C.L.E. wrestler with a joystick. I know I’m not explaining this very clearly, so it is fortunate that I take such nice pictures. Just look at the one above, and you’ll figure it out.
The goal was to knock your opponent’s figure out of its plastic “holder.” The game theoretically should’ve worked with any M.U.S.C.L.E. figure, but in practice, you had to find the ones that were perfectly sized for it. Some were too thick, others were way too thin.
I guess it was unseasonably warm in ’87, as I distinctly recall staging our M.U.S.C.L.E. matches from his old screen house. I loved that screen house. Despite being impossibly “outdoors,” they actually kept a television out there. It’s safe to assume that that television supplied the background noise for our wrestling bouts, just as it’s safe to assume that the both of us drank root beer out of gigantic plastic cups between rounds. (His family seemed to only drink root beer, and never out of anything but gigantic plastic cups.)
The tournament only lasted as long as it took for us to notice that the player who controlled the blue joystick always won. I guess there was a loose gear, somewhere.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but his Hard Knockin’ Rockin’ Wrestling Ring even came with the two “best” M.U.S.C.L.E. figures, Muscle Man and Terri-Bull.
I put “best” in quotations because the figures were actually far from it – they were just the ones Mattel made the biggest fuss about. The so-called “team leaders.” Even if there were much cooler figures, it always felt like such a boost when you found a new Muscle Man or Terri-Bull.
My best friend and I grew apart as we grew older. Every now and again, I wonder if he ever figured out that I pocketed his “giant monster hand” M.U.S.C.L.E. figure.
Sure took the sting out of him getting this wrestling ring before I could.