I was originally going to compile all of this into one big article, but then I remembered that I work during the week and tend to dissolve into slush on the weekends. Rather than fuck myself again, let’s split it into parts and strike while I’m still excited. It’s time for PART ONE of my great, big, huge, gigantic, enormous $100 Toys “R” Us shopping spree report!
As you’ll recall, Toys “R” Us received the popular vote in this thread, where I challenged you to tell me where to blow my $100 American Express gift card. Truth be told, I had no doubt that TRU would take the prize, and I probably would’ve rigged the poll with fake comments from “George223” and “PlanetAwesome” had it been necessary. I’ve always wanted to do a Toys “R” Us shopping spree.
In fact, I can’t imagine that anyone who grew up when I did would feel any differently. I can’t count the number of sweepstakes I entered and lost for such an opportunity. It seemed like the chance to win a thousand dollar TRU shopping spree sprung up at least once every six months throughout the ’80s, and though I was only afforded one-tenth the budget for this project, the joy was still enough to make good on the trillion childhood dreams I had — dreams of combing the aisles with a shopping cart full of everything, tossing in video game after action figure after candy bar with all the gleeful abandon of a pig in shit.
No two Toys “R” Us stores are exactly alike, even if they seem to be on the surface. For this expedition, I had to pick my local store, which had stood in the same spot since before I was even born, and was ground zero for virtually every toy-related hunt of my life. It wouldn’t be even a slight exaggeration to say that I could fill a book with memories of this single Toys “R” Us store. From meeting Darth Vader there in ’84 to begging workers to “check the back” for an elusive Mondo Gecko all throughout ’89, this has been one of my very few chosen places where all is right with the world.
I can’t say for sure if I became a collector in adulthood out of mere appreciation for toys, or simply because I refused to let go of that sense of euphoria during my youth. Even today, where my toy store runs are limited to finding kids’ birthday presents or something new to write about on the site, I still muster the same sense of tranquility that I assume other people feel when they step foot into their local sports team’s arena, or, I dunno, Grandma’s house.
The $100 shopping spree commenced this past Sunday afternoon, and the photo above does little to convey the absolute pandemonium I endured. Clumsily navigating a worn-out wagon around aloof parents and at least a dozen kids who had those ridiculous wheels built into their sneakers (I’m just jealous), my mission wasn’t easy. I didn’t want to limit myself to the two or three aisles of “major” brands. My goal was to comb through every last crevice of the store, questing to dig up all of the weird-but-amazing crap that isn’t popular enough to be stocked where anyone incapable of crouching can find it.
With bruised knees and calloused fingers, I return to you now, the proud owner of $100.17 worth of brilliant garbage. It would’ve been $99.17, but the lady at the register had a really good hook for her “donate a dollar to autistic kids” speech. As much as I wanted to come in on budget, it’s tough to respond indifferently to such phrases as, “hey, since you saved so much money on our clearance sales, would you mind donating a dollar to save an autistic child’s life?” And even if I was considering saying no, she asked it loud enough for five other people to turn our way in wait of my inevitable response: “Sure, you bet!”
I digress. It’s time to talk toys. Tonight’s entry covers 33.3333% of the goods; I’ll cover the remaining throughout the week. Oh, and should anyone doubt the validity of my wild stories about the prices I paid, keep in mind that I will scan and provide the full receipt when we wrap this up in Part 3.
TMNT “Michelangelo” Figure – $7.99: During my journey, I tried to steer clear of the big brands. But this guy just called to me. I can’t remember if I’ve ever told this story — probably have — but I fell into the original Ninja Turtles toy collection by pure incidence. My brother gave me a few of the figures for Christmas in ’88, which was technically a misfire for him since I’d only seen the cartoon a few times and hadn’t at all been bit by the still-burgeoning wave of Turlemania.
And yet, something about those figures touched me immediately. They were brightly colored, being turtles and all, but they such an innate simplicity that one could’ve very well pictured Santa’s elves crafting them with bits of plastic and small tubes of paint. As the toy industry headed into the ’90s, most of the action figure lines became detailed to the point of being overdetailed. You couldn’t run your finger down a four-inch dude’s leg without trying to figure out if he had grenades sculpted over his calves or was merely happy to see you.
Many of the newer TMNT figures continue on with this intangible charm, but none to the level of the bug-eyed Michelangelo shown above, with skin three shades lighter than his brothers, and an expression shared only by Kevin McCallister when he stumbled upon the in-room mini-bar during Home Alone 2. Though an eight dollar price tag seemed a bit steep, I take solace in knowing that Michelangelo is exactly the type of turtle who’d get a real kick out of costing more than a dollar per inch.
Edu Science Authentic Fossils Collection – $4.99: Hidden near the back of the store, even beyond the lesser-visited Play-Doh and Crayola aisles, Toys “R” Us has a rather impressive section of “real learning” toys, ranging from virtual frog dissection kits to Sea-Monkeys, with a couple of foam great white shark dolls thrown in for good measure. I could’ve easily blown the entire hundred bucks on that stuff, but since I didn’t want to bore anyone, I limited myself to this five dollar collection of totally legitimate fossils.
While I’ll concede that the glory is lost once you open the package and have nothing but a handful of oddly shaped coral to show for it, the bubbly, term-filled window display makes that an easy folly to avoid. I mean, why bother opening the package if you’re going to lose the ability to tell the difference between your trilobite and ammonite? The shark’s tooth seems like the odd man out of the bunch, but I think we can all agree that no fossil collection is worth buying if it doesn’t include at least one shark’s tooth. It’s kind of an unspoken law.
Hungry Hungry Hippos “Fun on the Run” Game – 5.99: I’m not entirely pleased with this purchase, and I think I’ve finally figured out why. I set my sights on the full-sized version, but since TRU was charging almost twenty dollars for it, the travel-sized edition seemed like a fair consolation prize. Only it isn’t. And it’s not because it isn’t big enough, or even because there are only two technicolor hippopotamuses as opposed to the typical four.
It’s the marbles. The shitty, lightweight plastic marbles cannot compete with the deliciously loud and clangy sounds made by the larger marbles in the full-sized edition. When I play this one, I never have the sense that I’m actively satiating my chosen hippo. I can’t imagine that even a hungry hippo one-third the size of the ones I’m used to feeding would be satisfied with marbles so inconsequentially quiet and non-clangy.
I guess it was silly to expect that all of my purchases would be home runs, but this one stings harder since I passed on a far cooler travel-sized edition of Connect-4 for it. Yeah, there are less clingy clangs going on with that one too, but at least I wouldn’t feel like I’m disappointing hippopotamuses with it.
Nerfoop – 4.99: My shopping spree was spiked with as much nostalgia as a romp through an old Sears Wishbook, so there was no way I could pass up this lost glory of youth: The Nerfoop! A small, harmless basketball hoop with a small, harmless foam basketball might not seem like the makings of the party of the century, but it really comes together to form exactly that.
The best part is, I’ve matured enough to where I’m not going to make the same mistakes I did as a kid; namely, the idea that I can slam dunk the little basketball without smashing the Nerfoop into thirty pieces. It’s times like these that I wish we still used typewriters, for what scribe wouldn’t cream at the opportunity to write a page of crap, tear it out, crunch it up and nail a swish through a Nerfoop that was strategically placed over a garbage pail? As things stand now, the best I can do is challenge the woman to a little one-on-one to decide which of us has to make the next pot of coffee.
The best tribute I can afford the Nerfoop is this: I don’t know where most of the junk I bought will be in a month’s time, but the Nerfoop? It’ll still be in my living room. Definitely.
Star Wars “Character Wheel” – TEN CENTS!!! Before I tell you what a Star Wars “Character Wheel” is, I must reflect upon a visit to Toys “R” Us long, long ago. Back when they still had the giant bicycle section. It was probably 1987 or so. I couldn’t believe my eyes as I passed by a rack full of Wheeled Warriors accessory packs, not just because Wheeled Warriors toys hadn’t been made for years by then, but also because of their ridiculously insane price of eight cents a pack.
Needless to say, I bought each and every one of them, the total amount nearing twenty, and my mother couldn’t debate the decision since even twenty Wheeled Warriors accessory packs still cost less than a single action figure from any other line. The accessory packs consisted of random guns and add-ons for Wheeled Warriors vehicles, and even though I owned not a single of those by that point, a bargain was a bargain.
I got these “Character Wheels” for the same reason, and this is proven by the fact that I bought not one of them, but ten. They’re just little spinny wheel checklists of Star Wars action figures and LEGO sets, pointless for every endeavor outside of makeshift frisbee competitions, but at ten cents a pop, my only regret is that I didn’t buy the remaining fifty. I’m seriously thinking about going back to collect the rest. I’m seriously thinking about being the least popular house on the block come next Halloween. Helllllllo fairy princess child…I do so like your faux wings…I do so hope you enjoy this STAR WARS CHARACTER WHEEL! Tricked and treated at the same time, biiiiitch.
That’ll do it for Part 1. Let it be known that the ten-cent Star Wars frisbee wasn’t even the cheapest thing I bought. If you yearn to learn what could possibly be cheaper than that, stay tuned for Part 2, coming sometime this year, or maybe the next.
I still can’t believe it. TEN CENTS!