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Digging In The Dirt

I had intended to write about this some time ago… well, considering it’s been nearly two years since I first cleared out my storage unit (which started in earnest in September 2010, and was conceived at least as far back as April 2008), I have really dropped the ball.  (And in letting so much time pass, the Homeric epic I might have initially envisioned will now probably be a little anticlimactic.  But let’s give it a go.)

Most of that stuff sat on my living room floor for a few months while I picked through it slowly.  I threw away what was irreparably broken or otherwise ruined by time or neglect.  I cleaned what was dirty.  I kept precious few things, just a couple of office boxes in the end.  Not bad, considering I started with something like 39 boxes/buckets of all sizes.  For everything that was left, I organized it into piles, bagged it, and labelled it.  I gave some things away to friends with young family members who’d enjoy them and to teachers who could use them for their classrooms.  I donated many stacks of books and old VHS tapes.  The collectible type toys — figures and their vehicles mostly — I gave them to my aunt with the understanding that I’d organize them and tell her what they were, she’d take the time and effort to sell them on eBay, I’d have a clear conscience because they went to someone who could use them, and she’d keep the money.  When all was said and done, she built a new deck onto her house with the money she made.  Everybody wins!

The reason I’m finally getting around to writing about it is that while I got 99% of it done in the first six months or so,  I’ve let the last handful of things sit on my floor in the year or so since.  For no good reason, really.  I’m in the process now of finally wrapping it up though.  I’ve hooked up the VCR to see if there’s anything family-related or worth saving on any of the last few homemade VHS tapes.  I’m donating or trashing the last few little things.  It’s finally gonna be “done.”  Since so much time has gone by now, it’s hard to write about this and convey the same emotional weight it had when I was actually in the midst of it last year.  It was cathartic but also difficult to revisit all this stuff and to let it go.  These were the artifacts of my childhood.  There were memories attached to each one of them, and so much came flooding back each time I’d open another box and start sorting through it.  Memories of where and when I got them, where I played with them, and with what friends.  The ritual of uncovering each one, dusting it off, and carrying it to the sink.  Washing each figure as if preparing it for burial.  It was good to let it go and get it out of my life, but it was also good to have one last moment with each one and to experience each of those memories again.  I had a lot of mixed feelings dropping them off for donation or watching them disappear from eBay, one by one.  I did the modern thing: I took pictures of some of it since a digital picture can evoke the same memory and requires no physical space.  And I also kept a pretty extensive list of what I found, which I’m about to present.  As for the stuff I remember but did not find, I must have had the sense to sell it off in garage sales years ago before I left home.  I’ll warn you that this is for my own benefit.  It’s an inventory of all the noteworthy things I found when I cleared out that unit.  A list of memories for me to refer to in the future.

A big thanks to my folks for indulging me all this stuff.  I know it cost a lot of money, took up a lot of space, and came after no small amount of my whining.  But for what it’s worth, it really did mean the world to me in those days.  G.I. Joes and the like, they were my gold and silver.

Things I Found (And Only Kept A Little Of)

  1. Army Ants – I know at some point I had a ton of these and distinctly remember playing with them in the sand in the the little park by our house in San Jose.  I only found a few in storage though.
  2. Batman (from the 1989 movie, as well as some “new” DC Super Powers)
  3. Battle Beasts
  4. Battlestar Galactica
  5. Beetlejuice
  6. BraveStarr
  7. Captain Power
  8. Centurions
  9. Chuck Norris’ Karate Kommandos – Specifically just the purple ninja.
  10. C.O.P.S. – One of my all-time favorites; a bigger, more detailed, and more extreme evolution of the G.I. Joe approach to action figures.
  11. Dick Tracy
  12. Dino-Riders
  13. Flash Gordon – Specifically it was just Mandrake The Magician, from Galoob’s 1986 “Defenders Of The Earth” collection.
  14. G.I. Joe
  15. Glo Friends
  16. Guts!
  17. He-Man (a.k.a. Masters Of The Universe) – I had a ton of these, as well as Castle Grayskull and Snake Mountain, both of which I think I “traded” for with neighborhood kids.
  18. Hot Wheels / Matchbox Cars
  19. Indiana Jones (from Raiders Of The Lost Ark)
  20. Karate Kid 2 – Specifically just Cobra Kai sensei John Kreese, but who else do you really need?  No mercy.
  21. Legos – Hundreds and hundreds of them, from as far back as I can remember.  Some may have even been my sister’s.  If those things could talk… millions of configurations over the years, and no doubt covered with my tiny fingerprints.
  22. Madballs
  23. M.A.S.K.
  24. McDonald’s Happy Meal Toys – Too many to mention, but I recall Muppet Babies in cars, Fraggle Rock in vegetable cars,  transformers that went from robots into McDonald’s food items, Tiny Toons reversible cars,  Mac Tonight (on a motorcycle, boat, jeep, etc.), and Berenstain Bears.
  25. Micro Machines – We’re talking cars, motorcycles, planes, and a few pieces of the little “town” playsets.
  26. Mighty Max
  27. Monster In My Pocket
  28. M.U.S.C.L.E.S.
  29. Playmobil
  30. Power Lords
  31. Rambo
  32. Robocop
  33. Rocklords
  34. Rocky
  35. Sectaurs
  36. SilverHawks
  37. The Simpsons
  38. The Skateboard Gang
  39. Skateboard Smack-Ups – Both of these were part of my brief flirtation with skateboarding in the 80’s.  I liked the video games.  I collected the decals.  I liked the culture.  I got a nice board (which was stolen, spotted, and then returned thanks to Jonah’s family… a great story actually).  But I had little interest in actually skating myself.  Go figure.
  40. Smurfs
  41. Spiderman – This also included some other Marvel figures like Venom and Sabretooth.
  42. Spinjas
  43. Star Wars – This was mainly the figures and a few vehicles, but there was also a Play-Doh set and a giant Darth Vader doll.  I can recall dozens of stories about Star Wars toys… like how I used to turn Yoda’s house upside down to make a boat for G.I. Joes, or how I used to chew on Luke’s scarf because it looked so much like chocolate.
  44. Starcom
  45. Starting Lineup
  46. Super Naturals
  47. Super Powers – These were the subject of the famous “T, G, & Y” incident which haunts my dad to this day.
  48. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
  49. Terminator 2
  50. ThunderCats
  51. Visionaries
  52. Voltron – I had the big robot that split into five little robots and a few of the human characters.  I have a vague memory that the big robot was a big deal to get when I was young.  It was definitely the “big” present for that year.
  53. Wheeled Warriors
  54. Wrestlers – All sorts… some old hard plastic NWA guys, some WWF Thumb Wrestlers, several of the big LJN Wrestling Superstars, and a nearly complete set of the highly-detailed Hasbro wrestlers, ring and all!  Those last ones were just cartoony enough to be fun, but still so detailed.  Really unique.  I remember the magic of picking up my first one… it was Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake at the San Jose Target.

Things I Expected To Find But Did Not

  1. Fireball Island – I did find some of the pieces, but that cool volcano game board was lost.  Too bad, it would make such a fun table game at a tiki party.
  2. Gilligan’s Island Floating Island (Playskool) – I found the hut and the tree, but the island itself was gone.
  3. Inhumanoids – I had just two of those big guys, Metlar and D’Compose, the latter of which goes for about $100 on eBay.  Bummer.
  4. My Pet Monster
  5. Star Trek – I had a few figures from the original Star Trek show that I inherited from one of my cousins… don’t know if it was Michael (who also gave me a few pewter AD&D figures I was lusting over) or Steve (who gave me those early NWA wrestlers).  In any event, I don’t know where they went, but I bet they’re worth something now.
  6. Colorforms – I can’t seem to recall any specific sets I had, but I distinctly remember playing with these.  And during some camping trip with my aunt’s family, I got hooked on some Smurf-related knockoffs where you’d use a coin to scratch/transfer the characters onto a background.  Oh well.
  7. Stuffed Animals –  I didn’t necessarily expect to find many of these, but a few that I distinctly remember are a stuffed rabbit in an airplane with string attached (from Easter one year), as well as another pink bunny that was shaped like a ball.  I think that one pre-dated me.  Might have been my sister’s.  And then my old chicken feet slippers.  How I loved those!

If you’re curious, there is a favorite.  While at times I had major love for all of the things I’ve mentioned, the winner and ultimate toy of my youth was, far and away, G.I. Joe.  They were an absolute class act.  The attention to detail, every little part, every character unique and deeply developed, every weapon creative and exquisitely crafted.  The vehicles and playsets were clever.  The diversity was huge.  And maybe the best thing about them was that they lent themselves so well to acting as other characters… meaning that when I had just seen the latest action movie, it was easy for me to adapt my stable of G.I. Joes to instead be the characters from Predator or Back To The Future or Cyborg or whatever.  And the staircases and coffee tables of our house, along with bunkers and subway train cars fashioned out of odd-shaped Styrofoam packing, provided an endless array of variety for Little Ben.

I guess focused mainly on action figures up there.  There was lots of other stuff too, of course.  I mentioned the books that I donated.  There was my beloved stash of Garbage Pail Kids, as well as a vast collection of sports cards.  Baseball, football, hockey, basketball.  For a brief time in the early 90’s, I was into sports.  But not really playing them too much.  Mainly I was into the aesthetics and the idea of them.  I loved the artwork like Upper Deck‘s use of Vernon Wells paintings, or the “Visionaries” series from Fleer.  Even the colorful and stylized representations on early Skybox cards.  I liked the uniforms and team logos.  It was all about the imagined versions of sports (think NBA Jam) rather than the actual sports themselves.  I could probably write a whole separate blog about my experience with sports cards, but for now I’ll just mention how much I loved Upper Deck in those days.  Every little detail of their product.  The holograms, the multi-exposure photos.  Their foil packs and limited edition cards.  Heaven.

There were my old video game systems (Sega Genesis, CD, Saturn, and Dreamcast… I think my original Nintendo maybe too, but not the old Atari 400, which I hope Dad still has somewhere).  Some old (but still very cool) comics like The Punisher, Venom-related Spiderman, and Infinity, Inc.  There were some late 80’s issues of magazines like Mad and Cracked.  It was hilarious to flip through those, as each page jarred a memory.  Proof that so much of what you see really is all still up in your brain somewhere.  I had a dozen or so issues of WWF Magazine that I gave to Virgil.  I found my entire collection of cassettes, which I chronicled here.  There were remnants of all manner of sticks, swords, Nerf, Wiffle Ball bats, toy guns (like Entertech), throwing stars, etc.  Most of the ones I remember though disappeared long ago.  A Gremlins gumball dispenser.  My original View-Master, with tons of discs like Pete’s Dragon and Superman.  I found old metal lunchboxes… He-Man and McDonald’s, though the Thermos inside each was missing.  I found a collection of my mom’s old buttons from work in one of them.   Some little rubber ninjas and wrestlers that I remember playing with at Disneyland (which have since gone to Deanna’s classroom).  A rubber ape and a couple of rubber monkey face puppets from Cost Plus.  Some bigger toys like a red monster truck (reminiscent of The Animal).  This is all just what I noted down or remember.  There were scores of other trinkets, too many to identify or mention.  If I were to take the time to go through this list, I’m sure I’d have more to add.

I also had the experience of exploring my final backpack.  After wearing through a new backpack each year of middle school and early high school, the black Eddie Bauer I got sometime around junior year finally lasted… all the way through my entire college career, miraculously.  It still has the metal stud my older and cooler punk friend (Jeff?) put on it for me in Physics class.  Anyway, I opened it up and had to laugh.  Roughly ten years ago, after my last final, I must have come home, dropped it, and never looked at it again.  It was still filled with the textbook from my last class, tons of papers, a binder,  and my trusty TI-85 calculator, now crusty with corroded decade-old batteries.  Yes, that backpack served me well.  I haven’t been able to bring myself to dump it yet.

I’ll leave you with a little bit that I wrote as I was going through all this storage unit stuff sometime in the winter of 2010/2011.  I didn’t get around to posting it at the time because I naively thought I’d finish the whole task and write about it soon after.  It’s more than a year late, but it still captures something essential about this experience for me…

I’m going through my boxes, and I am astounded by all the college paperwork I have. All the transcripts, transfers, requirements, forms. So many hoops to jump through, places to be, papers to write, things to memorize. So complicated, so much responsibility… and no power yet. Hats off to any of you out there going through this right now.   It’s a wonder anyone survives that time in their life. I’d have a complete breakdown if I had to do all that today. There’s a reason people have nightmares of showing up to class naked well beyond their college years.  Maybe I was just less fragile then, but I’d be in tears today.

All this school paperwork.  Class schedules and those little certificates you’d get for being a good student in your middle school science class.  What is it that makes me think twice before chucking it?  Why is it hard at all?

Today I learned that my mom — bless her — saved every single report card from kindergarten on. I know this because I just found them. Along with what must be every chicken-scrawled paper I ever wrote in elementary school. Seems sad to throw it all out now.  I kept some of the early papers and the yearbooks of course.  A couple of fawning graded papers from professors telling me how successful I’ll be and a few margin doodles in class notes that were particularly good.  The rest?  Well like I said, part of me didn’t want to chuck it, but do I really need every little award and report card?  And I’m not kidding, there were hundreds.

Writing it and doing it are two different things.  In the end, I think I kept more of those early report cards than I let on here.  They don’t take up that much space after all, and someday maybe my kids will want to see this stuff.  Anyway… thanks, Mom!  :)

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