Retro toys (poor kid version)
Some toys just weren't as cool as the rich kids'
My parents immigrated to the United States in the 1970's. I was born during this time and by most standards we were doing fairly well and living the American Dream. A few years later my parents determined that more money was going to have to be sent to family in the "old country", from then on my lifestyle changed. They canceled cable TV and the 6 months I had spent fawning over great Nickelodeon programs such as "You Can't Do That on Television", would be no more. I was also taken out of private school and sent to the local public school also known as the "school of hard-knocks"
For a month or two I suffered some regular beatdowns/bullying, but due to a growth spurt I eventually started to hold my own. As I started to fit in with the rest of my peers there was still one area we differed: Toys. For all you out there who spent your childhood growing up poor you know what I mean. Here is a list of some the "financially-challenged" versions of childhood toys I grew up with.
During the He-Man rage of the 1980's I begged my parents for a He-Man for months. Prince Adam is probably the most perplexing toy I received during my childhood. Granted it was probably selling for significantly cheaper than any other He-Man character, but for gods-sake the thing is wearing lavender tights! Just owning this "doll" was basically asking for an ass kicking. I kept Adam under wraps and never showed it to my friends for fear of being ostracized. Thankfully a neighbor of mine had an extensive He-Man collection including Castle Greyskull and Snake Mountain. Needless to say I spent more time at his house than mine.
GI JOE: Mainframe
GI Joe figures were very popular at my school. My mom picked one up for Christmas at the local grocery store. Back then the grocery store was the poor kid's version of places like Kay-bee toy store and Toys-r-us. The grocery store offered significant monetary savings but the toy selection was abysmal. This is where I received my first GI JOE: "Mainframe", possibly the lamest military action figure in existence. While all my friends had GI Joes with bazooka, uzi and machine gun accessories, Mainframe came with a "laptop" computer that looked more like a cash register than a military weapon of destruction.
Go-bots Armor/ Powersuit:
Transformers were yet another obligatory staple of the childhood toy collection. Transformers were just too far out of the toy price-range for my family. During school recess most of my friends played with the sweet die cast versions of Optimus Prime and Megatron. I, on the other hand, would have to kiss ass or use lunch money to "rent" a figure from some other kid. Most of the time I ended up with Laserbeak. Who is Laserbeak you ask? It's the crappy cassette tape Transformer that was packaged as an accessory for the Transformer Soundwave.
Instead of Transformers, my mother would introduce me to the inferior 2nd cousin of Transformers: Go-bots. Granted, Go-bots were already pretty much scraping the bottom of the barrel but my Mom took it one step lower. She didn't buy me an actual Go-bot action figure, she bought me the plastic toy armor that you were supposed to clip on to your Go-bots action figure. This was the equivalent of buying a Barbie doll dress for a kid that doesn't own a Barbie doll. I never opened up the toy packaging, hoping that one day I might get an actual Go-bot to equip this armor on. Unfortunately that never happened and I think this toy is still sitting unopened in my mother's basement.
Star wars B-Wing pilot
During recess the kids at my school would have mock Star Wars battles corresponding to the Star Wars action figure you owned. Being the kid with strange clothing and no action figure, I was usually relegated to a lower tier character on the "dark side". One day while visiting a JC Penny Outlet store my mom bought me the Star Wars figure shown below. For several years I had no idea who the hell this guy was and I didn't even believe he was part of the Star Wars universe. Then somewhere in my 20's I was watching the new Star Wars DVD and found out this guy was one of the random pilots of a rebel space ship.
Home Made Gotcha gun
Gotcha capitalized on the 90's trend of gross, messy, slime related toys. It was essentially a cross between a laser tag and paint ball gun. My grandmother - God bless her - made me a homemade Gotcha gun. We went to the dollar store (which for poor immigrant families is the holy Mecca of shopping) and bought the largest squirt gun I could find. My grandmother colored some water with food coloring and loaded up the gun for me. Overall this home made gun accomplished the same thing as the Gotcha gun in that it ruined a perfectly clean white t-shirt, but in the end it just wasn't the same.
As I started to get older my dad started to feel sorry for me and decided he would get me a video game system just like all the other kids my age. Back then 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was popular, but around that time a new, more innovative 16-bit next-gen system was coming out called Turbo-Graphix 16.
It was double the cost of NES but had double the "bits", and from that we expected it to have double the "awesomeness". So my dad saved up for a year and bought me a Turbographix for my birthday. This was the best and most expensive toy I had ever received. My birthday was on a school day, but I was so excited I brought the system with me to school and carried it around all day. Later I went home, connected it to the TV, and had the closest thing to what can best be described as a pre-pubescent orgasm. The thrill was short lived however as many of my classmates got the Sega Genesis for Chirstmas. While they were trading and playing cool games like Lakers vs Celtics, Madden Football and Strider, I was fiddling with the caveman baby game Bonk.
I had plenty of other cheap imitation toys like Garbage Pail Kid fakes and Madball knockoffs, but looking back I'm grateful that I even had toys and that my parents did their best to make me happy. Like many of you who grew up jealous of the rich kids and their fancy toys, I'm sure you're like me and fondly remember those toys that our parents could afford.