Robots from Retropolis landed every Saturday morning on cartoon shows with Space Commanders with decoder rings and garish clowns in bizarre regalia regaled us with a saturnalia of commercial blatherings competing headlong with Howdy’s Doody for the attention and cash of the Hula Hoop generation who were hopped up like junkies on smack cooked up by Mattel and Ideal. Hula hoops as large as flying saucers making an orbit around the non-hula white WASP waist while yo yo’s ran up and down on a string like a dead body floating in the water. It was the age of mechanical toys and space age plastic dolls that did everything but fuck.
Before Gameboys, boys were game for Robots from outerspace with armies of rock ’em sock ’em robots invading toy train earth and fighting off the legions of Amazon Barbie women with Commander Cody Decoder Rings. Led into battle by General Mattel…”they’re swell!” great bastions were made from Erector sets to keep out little rubber cowboys and indians while GI Joe went into battle with a Buck Rogers battery powered ray gun from Ronald Ray-Gun to storm Fort Apache and and Rin Tin Tin. Cap pistols exploded and Lionel trains crashed into lincoln log buildings…long ago in a toy retro galaxy far, far away…a time before Atari…a time before the internet…when imaginations ran wild and Betsy was wetsy and Cathy was chatty and Barbie and Ken were an item before Ken got gay…and Barbie jumped under the covers with Skipper….action figures with rubber legs and arms that could be twisted sister by your mean little brother who was more Eddie Haskell then Wally Cleaver….train sets and turntables….mechanical robots and talking dolls…Cowboys and Indians and Good guys and Bad guys all tossed into the toybox cabaret at night to see the stripping Barbie in a Peep Show Betty Boop Booth playing with her own erector set….it was the age of Retropolis…yo yo’s, Pee Wee Herman bicycles with the emphasis on bi- as it goes in cycles…flashlight tag and dodgeball…Barbie and Barbie…doll on doll action …action figure on action figure action…Gi Joe and GI Jane….ah…Retropolis..wind me up Sparky –-my batteries are full and I’m on cruise control!
Oh the Hijinks Kids Got up to Back in the Day’s when Retro-Chic Used to be Called Modernism
There were cowboy costumes with plastic guns, and for those who wanted to live confined to a reservation without hesitation, there were Indian costumes complete with flamboyant Liberace style headdress with feathers, (no boa though-a) but did come with menacing rubber tomahawks to scalp the white settler and eventually rubber tipped arrows for bows were introduced that would deliver a decisive blow as cowboys and indians fought in the Little Big Horn backyards of 1950’s America. The politically correct police hadn’t been formed yet as a sub-branch of the Hitler youth, so on the childhood battlefield of “play” it was ok to scalp a white woman, kill an indian or waste a soldier.
Lincoln logs made us all Frank Lloyd Wrights with creations so creative, they all looked like the same damn log cabin every time with flat slat green roofs. Tinker toys had us tinkering with sticks and holes…something we would take to physical carnal extreme when we became teenagers in the backseats of cars. Today there are inflatables for adults that serve the same purpose with the warning…”Kids do not try this at home…dad doesn’t like you playing with HIS toys..so go play with your little sisters Bikini Barbie” It wasn’t always the ones who would wear training bras soon that played with dolls. Some boys did too…of course we didn’t associate with them very much as they always wanted to play “tea party” with Chatty Kathy rather than blow up Fort Apache with slingshots! Manly stuff…to get us in shape for drinking, puking, hunting and fishing later on in life instead of shopping and cooking and attending ballet and opera.
We had our own MACHO world of dolls to entertain us. ….GI Joe!!! Not to mention bags and bags of plastic toy soldiers and rubber tanks and jeeps to set WWIII in motion in our own bedrooms, we had ray guns and cap guns and six guns and machine guns and air rifles and bb guns, you’ll shoot your eye out kid! Take if from Ralphie…it could happen. Girls had pink things.. boys hated pink things..until we grew up and today we are always after her “pink thing” and a beaver is no longer merely a mammal described in an Encyclopedia. Beavers and pink things just go “hand in hand” so to speak.
We also had chemistry sets where we would Jekyll and Hyde ourselves in basements making concoctions we were sure would change us into killer beasts in search of prostitutes to kill, or would give us super human strength to lift buildings or the power to fly…never once in our childhood ditherings did we use our chemistry sets as we set out to cure cancer or aids or end world hunger…no..we merely wanted what Superman had…x-ray vision to peer through catholic school girls plaid skirts. I played with guns as a kid…but never owned one…I listened to Ozzy Osbourbe but never bit the head off of a bat, but then there are the Ted Kacynski’s of the world…they must have had one hell of a chemistry set and got all A’s in physics class when not engaged in his favourite game…Post Office! See what living alone in Montana will do you!
There were of course breakfast cereal box tops to send in for valuable kid booty….baking soda powered submarines, decoder rings and collector cards of Clarabelle the Clown. You could also save Wonder Bread end wrappers for whatever reason that I forgot but did and admit I did, but also admit I forgot.
We were all character impersonators. Some took impersonations seriously and when they grew up they dress in drag and do Liza in North Beach…but as kids we could be anyone or anything we wanted. Daring lawmen of the old west, gunslinger bad guys or General Patton if we so desired. Few kids wanted to be Adolph Hitler or Joseph Stalin, nor did we want to be Albert Einstein or Dr. Schweitzer, instead we wanted to be Doc Holiday or Wyatt Earp. At one time I wanted to be Annie Oakley but that is another story altogether.
The Funny thing about all things Retro, Is that back then a lot of things were Vibrant and actually new!
Model airplanes and cars were also popular…probably because it let us play with glue and inhale while we stuck the pieces of our classic plastic Russion MiG’s together or our 1953 Karman Ghia’s. The glue would overdose from the nozzle and would act as a sticky spider web stuck to our fingers and get all over the models tires as they were the trickiest part.
But Slinky and Silly Putty were the rock stars of Toy Retropolis. Slinky would slither down steps undulating as sexy as a naked pole or lap dancer at that gentlemen’s club out near the airport (Look, don’t lie, I saw your car there the other day!) Silly Putty was pliable and besides, smack it flat down on the Sunday edition of colour comics like Brenda Starr or Terry and the Pirates and you had a perfect image recreated in …goo…it was like seeing a vision of the Virgin Mary appear on a used Tampon!
Retroplis…a place of imagination…toys…creativity where robots and dolls were all the False Maria but to us a very real reality, really. So today I search for retro toys and collectibles..not for their intrinsic value on the market..but rather to recapture my lost youth..of mechanical robots from outer space and sexy Slinkies!