Saturday, January 7, 2012


Ken Levine, one of the best bloggers around, periodically posts excerpts from his book about growing up in the 1960's. 

I have decided to periodically post about growing up in the 1970's.   Generally, I really enjoyed my childhood.  It was the decade of "Star Wars," "Happy Days," "Match Game 70-whatever," "The Muppets," "The Odd Couple" and "Musicradio WABC."

But there were some bad things about the 1970's.  Some people would name Watergate at the top of the list, but to a child, that wouldn't even make the list.  Here is the first installment of what I hope will be many postings about...

The worst things about growing up in the 70's.

Number 1: G.I. Joe Feet.  

The 11-inch G.I. Joe action figure was one of the all time best toys ever created.  I had several, including an African-American member of the Adventure Team which broke the color barrier in my toy box and opened the door to an African American Big Jim (Mattel's action figure which looked a little like a muscular Ken Doll) and an African American Action Jackson (the 8-inch Mego figure).  I wish I could say that this was a grand plan on my Mom's part to teach me about equality and civil rights, but my mom usually just bought the toys that were on sale, and in our mostly Caucasian area in New Jersey, the African American Joes were overstocked.  But, the discounts at the Rockaway Sales department store brought diversity to my playtime, and my own G.I. Joe Adventure Team was a force with which to be reckoned.

Sadly, not unlike the current forces of the U.S. military from which the G.I. Joe received its name, my platoon of G.I. Joe's had to make do with less than a perfect armory of equipment and weapons.

As I hinted at earlier, my Mom's search for sale prices was paramount in her purchasing motivation as the quartermaster for my troops.  My G.I. Joe Helicopter was picked up as an open-box bargain and thus, had a couple of pieces missing (Who needs landing gear, anyway? Helicopters are for hovering, right?)  My. G.I. Joe headquarters was a very cheaply made, vinyl-covered cardboard fold-up doohickey made by a competing toy company.

My Troubleshooter vehicle was mostly intact - only the windshield was missing, but Mom managed to get a really good deal.  We would never be able to afford a Troubleshooter for my Adventure team on our 1974 household's military budget.

Trades with neighbors brought me an undersea rocket sled and a few other cool items.

Uniforms were very rare to come by. There was no way my Mom would buy me more uniforms for my G.I. Joe when I was badly in need of new Toughskins myself.  One summer, I was able to get a nice short-sleeved jumpsuit for my Joes when a local toy store donated one for the backyard carnival for Muscular Dystrophy I was holding.  (No, I didn't swipe it -- a family member won it and gave it to me as a reward for a doing a good thing for Jerry's kids.  Jerry sent me a certificate, too).

Apart from that very casual and not-very G.I. Joe-like uniform, my Joes usually had to settle for the clothing they came in.  The Eight Ropes of Danger deep-sea diving suit and the space suit were always elusive (until a few years ago when they put out special collector's editions).  

On the other hand, my Action Jacksons had quite a large wardrobe since they were always having closeouts on their clothes at the Two Guys department store.  But, I digress.

While my G.I. Joes didn't have a lot of clothes, that didn't stop me from having them change their gear.  When I was playing with my friends and their Joes, we would always swap outfits.  Unfortunately, the feet of G.I. Joes in that era were not very securely attached to the legs.  Since boots would always go missing, my mom would always purchase the cheap replacement boots in big bags made by a company other than Hasbro.  Some toy company that probably no longer exists would make a bag full of boots, guns and knives that would sell for a ridiculously low price and wait on a peg at the Two Guys for my mom to buy them.

At first it was exciting to get more weapons for the armory and shoes for my Joes, but the excitement would turn to frustration when I tried to pull this ersatz footwear off the brand name feet.  The boots would come off -- with the feet inside them.  

This is probably the first lesson I received in the consumer rule "you get what you pay for."  My personal take on this rule is to add "Usually" to the end of the statement, because thanks to the regular sidewalk sales at the local department stores (this was an era before malls and big box stores), we also got brand name stuff for low prices.  

My dad would get his pair of long nose pliers and perform a foot-ectomy with the precision and experience he gained as an Air Force medic in Germany in the 1950's.  Usually, both foot and boot were separated without damage, but on occasion the boots were sacrificed.  

The feet would be inserted back into the legs and there they would stay… until the next time I took off a boot.  

I can still see the white plastic foot stump sticking out of the boot.  It remains to this day one of the saddest sights in the world. Many of you will never understand this feeling.  Some of you will.   

So there you have it…  The worst things about growing up in the 1970's, Number 1: G.I. Joe Feet.

Tune in for future installments, including the tale of the Aquaman action figure that couldn't be put in water.  (Unfortunately, I didn't find that out until after the water destroyed the thin elastic cord that held his Mego-made body together).

1 comment:

  1. Love it! I too had the GI Joe foot/boot dilema, my dad finally gave me a pair of pliers to keep in my footlocker (that I used to store all my joes and supplies).