This thing is about as rare as piss bottles on the side of the interstate.

December 16, 2008

GROOVY’S Pop Culture Emporium is a store on Pittsburgh’s South Side that specializes in vintage toys and games from the 60’s through the mid 90’s with the emphasis really on 70’s and 80’s stuff. My son loves the place. He has this strange, romantic notion of the superiority of toys from my youth. He is right about toy guns – an individual could (and some did) rob stores with the toy guns prior to the mid 80’s – when they started to sisify them, molding them in day glow plastics and basing the designs on fantasy instead of fact with the florescent orange muzzle tip. Oddly enough, my daughter loves the place too. She’ll go crazy over the most beat ass stuff- like little plastic gorillas.

EVERY now and then, we make our way dahn to the South Side and check out a few stores and dig the non-corprate coffee culture at the Beehive but really the main purpose of these jaunts is Grovvy’s. For him, it used to be Star Wars but somewhere along the line he transitioned to 1:72 scale army men and latched on to the larger scale G.I. Joe action figures from the early 80’s that are around three-and-a-half inches tall.

Don’t get me wrong, it is cool to go to Groovy’s and look around – but most of their toys are incomplete, missing parts, boxes and the associated ephimira that accompanies a true, New Old Stock toy. If I’m paying a premium, I expect all of that stuff. This doesn’t matter to a 7 year-old. Realistically I know he’ll end up losing and or destroying this fluff, but I’m a wheeler and dealer; a flea market musketeer from the days of the way back and I have been haggling at yard sales and the like since I was about 12 – refusing to pay full price. And missing fluff equals deep discount especially for a collectable. I’ve used every tactic from my vast bag of shylock tricks to walk away with the lowest price possible. So when the apparent owner of the store, a hipster in black shirt and black jeans with white belt, told us that the G.I. Joe Dragonfly helicopter, sans the accompanying Wild Bill figure, was forty bucks I balked. I can find it in the same ‘good’ condition for much less. I point out to him, in a somewhat loud voice that for forty bucks, he wasn’t getting the box or the pilot and so it was not a good deal. This sews seeds of doubt into the uninitiated casual buyers mind that all of their prices may be questionable. The expectation is that I get a lower price and am hustled out of the store before I jeopardize any possible sales. She shurges her shoulders and walks away. Okay. An escalation is in order.

“Soren, we’ll go to the next toy show; I’m sure we’ll find a complete one for that price.”

Almost on que this middle-aged lady rolls up to me and asks (again, this is within earshot of the owner/manager “whatever the hell she be…”).

“Where are the toy shows around here?” Beautiful, it’s like I have a shill.

I explain that they occur twice a year, usually at the Monroeville Expo Mart.

I take notice as other shoppers toward the back of the store listen in on the conversation. One couple looks at each other and walk out.

“Sir,” Sister Christian nervously called to me from behind a laptop on the counter. “Sir, please let me show you that forty is a reasonable price for the Dragonfly…”

I join her behind the counter and she proceeds to show me a list from some weird ebay query that I would never run, illustrating recent auction results with prices.

The Fruit of a Loin that works there with a scratcher tattoo on his neck chimes in with the same condesending tone that you get from Manny Thiner (a local show promoter) or the dicky record collector that you want to punch in the throat because of the snide look on his face.

“Yeah; what do you think, this stuff isn’t worth what we have it priced at, patchew, G.I. Joe is rare.”

Yes, that is the sound he made: ‘patchew’. His scraggly, porno style pony tail mane pulled back to reveal a receding hair line and the horrible tattoo on his neck is fronting on me? Seriously? About ninety percent of the people with tattoos on their necks are complete idiots. I figure he is in the top ten of the ninty percent nation. Later my wife tells me that he tried to get my kids excited about Thunder Cat t-shirts. Really dude, Thunder Cats? Star Blazers – sure, but Thunder Cats? Did you pay attention in the 70s and 80s? Shitty animation and an unquestionably uncool story line – seems he’s in the top two percent of Thunder Cunt nation.

“See, this one went for eighty, and it is the helicopter with the pilot, no box. Here is one that went for fifty, with no pilot and here is one that went for forty in much poorer condition.” I quickly note the pattern and see that they are organized from highest to lowest. “I priced it between. I base the prices on the market, I’m not just making them up…” To her credit, she was very nice and cordial, and I was a bit disarmed because she looked like the chick that played bass for Ultra Vivid Scene. I agree that she needs to make as much profit as possible, but dealing with me she is going to have a lower profit margin; it just isn’t going to be off of me. This setting is analogious to a buffet and I’m that fat bastard that is going to eat at least eighteen dollars worth of food at the nine dollar buffet.

I gets mines.

She walks away from the PC and I grab the mouse and scroll down and see that the majority of the list are under ten bucks with one or two bids and that there are a few ‘Buy Now’ ones that include the figure for under 20. There is one Dragonfly where the auction ends in one day with a starting bid of five bucks and it appears even more ‘rare’ as it is in desert tan. I act surprised in a Gomer Pyle sort of way, “We’ll golly, I didn’t know those are so rare…”

Thunder Cunt smiles and says, “Yeah, that stuff is really rare these days.” And slinks away in his quasi vintage Steeler shirt. I make sure to click on the five dollar one and blow it up to the full screen. Sister Christian rolls up to pc and looks over at me and my kids at the back of the store – my daughter is picking out a couple of five dollar, 80s Barbies with crimped hair, actual NOS for five bucks – now that’s what I’m talking about. That’s a good price.

My son makes his way back to the G.I. Joe display case and walks away with a working tank from 1982. I actually had this one, it takes two D batteries and goes based on what direction you move the tank commanders hatch; a late 80’s Cobra attack jet that looks like an A-10 and a small attack boat that looks to be from the late 80s as well. All are mostly complete and the total was thirty bucks. She tries to engage me again on the helicopter and seems to want to haggle, but the secret is out. This thing is about as rare as piss bottles on the side of the interstate. Sure, you might not see one every mile, but keep driving, you’ll come across one.

I’m glad that they reissue old toys and I wish they would reissue more. Manufacturing techniques are more precise and so stuff nowadays is more detailed; action figures are more articulated and tolerances more precise. It would also help to kill off the nostalgia vultures that miss the point of what toys are for; to be enjoyed by kids, played with and eventually broken and maybe lost. Making up a great memory of what was and not enshrined like a culturally significant artifact that exist in a vacuum so far removed from the original purpose as to render it a cliché.

I could see it as an entry in Flaubert’s Dictionary of Received Ideas: ‘Vintage Toy Broker – See douche bag’

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