Monday, December 14, 2009

Be Careful What You Wishbook For

My folks were not unwise. I recall many-a-conversation when they would ask "are you sure this is what you want?"

1 and 2) Dingbot and Verbot

You may remember the line of Robot toys from Tomy that hit stores in the mid-80's.

The four main toys were Dingbot, Verbot, OmniBot and OmniBot 2000.

Based on the commercials, I had high hopes for what these robots would do. I had visions of a robot buddy, a sort of Robot Friday that was going to be a bit of robot butler, side-kick and confidante. Seriously, look at this thing:

My folks, privy to my high-minded visions of how I believed the robots would work, talked me down to the lowest tier robot, DingBot. DingBot had no programmable features, but it sounded okay.

Here's a video of DingBot in action.

As you can imagine, the whole Butler/ Buddy thing didn't work out quite as I'd envisioned. It doesn't mean I didn't enjoy turning that thing on and watching it whack into walls, but I knew I'd just picked the wrong robot. My NEXT attempt would go better.

After all, the commercial for Verbot made it clear THIS was a robot that was going to listen to me:

Verbot never really worked correctly from Day 1. And, hey, funny thing. Every time you turned Verbot off and back on again, you had to reprogram the @#$%ing thing. Also, it didn't seem to particularly like my voice, so I spent a lot of time cursing at Verbot.

By 8th grade, I remember getting curious about what was actually inside Verbot, and taking him apart and putting him back together, at which point, ol' Verbot quit working at all. Wouldn't even turn on.

3) In 4th Grade, I got a Cabbage Patch Kid.

His name is Rhett Delbert, and I have no idea if he's in a box somewhere in my parent's house, or if he's been gifted via Salvation Army to some much-more worthy kid.

The Cabbage Patch craze sort of peaked when I was in 3rd grade, and in that way kids and readers of "Us" magazine do, I had to have an object because everyone else had that object. It was almost a check mark at the time more than any desire to have one. And, as a family we were often late to the party on this hip stuff, we sort of waited until the dust and tramplings cleared until I was a little too old for... dolls.

My grandparents had apparently secured the doll, and my folks made sure I knew they'd put themselves out to get this thing (and keep in mind, this is when people were literally getting killed wrestling for these dolls). So I knew I had to be extra appreciative.

So, yeah, there are some goofy pictures of me in these awful tan pajamas on Christmas,morning circa 1984 with this doll. The pictures themselves are doubly creepy to me because (a) I was really a big kid for my age. I was frequently mistaken for someone 2-3 years older than my age (these days, everyone assumes I'm in my 40's). So it looks like this pudgy 7th grader who is way, way too happy to have just received a doll. (b) I also was just getting to the point where I didn't really play with toys, per se, anymore. And I think I knew it when I opened that package, but the look of fulfilled avarice on that kid's face... anyway. I sort of hate that kid.

But I'd asked for this thing for two years, my grandparents had bought it, and I felt that I sort of needed to get my money out of the thing.

Nothing about the awkwardness of the situation was helped by having an older brother who made sure to point out I had a doll, or by the fact that a new kid who'd moved to town who I played with was really into his Cabbage Patch Kid. Which, in the end, was sort of helpful.

When I look at the thing, I remember with stunning clarity having the realization by sort of watching my friend that I really, really was past this particular part of my childhood. Because my folks have that "we built all this from nothing" work ethic, giving gifts was happily done, but we understood that we weren't one of the families that was getting new bikes every Christmas. Even then, I couldn't tell anyone that I had no idea what to do with a Cabbage Patch Kid once I had it. And I sure as @#$ couldn't ever let Jason know I, too, in my more lucid moments, thought this was a pretty dumb thing for a ten year old kid who didn't want to get his ass kicked to have in his possession.

The odd thing is, I am sure I found some way to play with that damn doll, but I have no idea what I did with it.

And so, after a while, poor 'ol Rhett Delbert, who never did nothing to nobody, got stuck in the back of my closet, right along with a whole lot of embarrassment.

#4) Laser Tag

It did not occur to me until AFTER Christmas morning that it was a very good thing that my friends had also asked for a system that you need at least two people to play. Sure, there were games that you could play by yourself, but they all were about as interesting as seeing if you could hit a spot on the wall with a flashlight.

Once again, the commercials looked totally awesome:

I had never been to "Photon" in Dallas, but I'd heard about how cool it was. That same Christmas that we all got Laser Tag, the Photon franchise released their own home-game version of their equipment which had the added bonus of noting that the only target on a person is rarely a red disc about the size of a coaster, and because it came witha helmet that registered shots from any direction, it also suggested (unlike Lazer Tag) that one could be shot from any direction.

Because we all had the same Lazer Tag equipment, in theory it was a level playing field. However, being 12 or so, the first thing we all set out to do was cheat, either by turning off our receptors immediately after the game started, or covering them or by changing the width of our beams (yeah, the guns were oddly sophisticated).

In the end, gameplay turned into all of us eying one another with suspicion and nobody trusting one another enough to NOT cheat the minute they were out of site.

In addition, to make Laser Tag half as cool as Photon, you had to start buying the multitude of accessories, and if everyone didn't have the same accessories, it immediately changed the playing field. And, while our folks could afford the starter kit, nobody's folks were going to shell out an extra lump of cash for the helmet, rifle, etc...

Photon, by the way, just looked cool.

Looked cool, that is, unless you were a kid in a helmet designed for adults. When all the rest of us got Laser Tag, this kid Dave got Photon, and he looked sort of like a crazy person with all the wires and gear hanging off of him. Especially when he was playing with his 7 year old sister.

That not too specific language in the Photon commercial was their way of saying "dummy, if you buy Lazer Tag, you have to buy all the peripheral crap, and none of it is synched like our system". Nonetheless, both more or less failed.

But we atill have a place called "Blazer Tag" very near Jamie's dialysis clinic that I always threaten to take her to.


The Rebel Transport toy from Kenner
? Was totally awesome.

yes, it was usually used in scenes of role-played cowardice as I evacuated Rebel bases, but it was fun.

Also fun?

My blue Team Murray BMX bike I got in, I think, 2nd grade.

I was officially too old for Teddy Ruxpin when the talking bear debuted, but that didn't mean I didn't want to see how one worked. I was sad to see that Teddy Ruxpin's moving animatronic parts took the cues from electronic tones on the audio tapes. However, a more cheaply made competitor, the Cricket doll, simply responded to whatever sounds were on the tape. Once my friend Todd and I discovered this, we spent hours finding ways to make Cricket insist to Todd's sister that she was possessed by Satan, and that one dark night, she would choke the life out of her and turn her into a doll.

Ah, good times.


NTT said...

Photon was awesome in Dallas. We had a group in junior high that tried to go all the time. It was expensive, for junior high kids, and we had to cajole our parents to drive us. But it was the best live multiplayer experience ever. The arena was dark and industrial with a lot of red lights. Your gear was heavy and you had to wear the skanky helmet worn by the previous team so everyone had to wear a skullcap hairnet to prevent the picking up any unsavory things from a previous user. There were tons of angles and sniper positions. You really worked up a huge sweat in the 15 minute battles. Smart teams learned to use real urban cover tactics. It was straight out of great sci-fi shooter movie. Nothing has come close to it since, not even paintball leagues.

The League said...

When I was 15 they had an-off brand Photon in a strip mall near my folk's house. My friend and I were the first to show up for the day, just as they were realizing they had left the fog machine going all night. Because you could only see about four feet ahead of you and because it was hard to breathe, we played about four or five free games until the fog evaporated.

It was neat, but it was nowhere near as interesting as what I'd heard about the Photon in Dallas. And once we had to start paying full price, I think we could only afford two games.

Anyway, it was kind of fun. I bring it up every once in a while as something to do, because Blazer Tag is nearby, but even I'm not that enthusiastic about it.

Nathan said...

They had Photon in Houston on some place near Chimney Rock. I went about 4 or 5 times, but was ultimately disappointed and disillusioned.

If you remember, they allowed about six or seven players per team, and there would always be some guy there that was so badass that you'd get "killed" or blasted into negative points within minutes.

Paul Toohey said...

I've always sort of wanted to, but never have for fear of being chastised, checked out Blazer Tag...that and I'm probably 10-20 years older then most people there. But Barney on How I Met Your Mother plays Lasertag, so I think I could too someday.

One Christmas I was gifted a BigTrak which was kind of neat, until the battery cover got lost and it became a paperweight. Luckily I received it out of the blue, so there was no built up expectations of taking over the world with it...but I think I got close.

The League said...

I had never before seen the Big Trak. Now I sort of want one.

J.S. said...

As someone who grew up with The League, I have to point out that his vision of how these toys would work almost always far surpassed the functionality of the actual items. At one point in his childhood he got an Easy Bake Oven. I'm pretty sure he had plans for how he was going to prepare delicious foods and deserts for all of his friends and family. In the end, the Easy Bake was a plastic box with a hundred watt bulb in it that would turn little brown cake-like things into brittle, barely digestible chocolate hockey pucks. I remember eating that first hockey puck and feeling a bit sad that Ryan's cullinary vision would go unfulfilled. Of course, nowadays, watching The League create pillars of flame on his barbecue grill, I'm filled with an entirely different kind of worry...

The League said...

I don't think I ever really knew I had such a definitive pattern with my Santa list until Jason mentioned it to Jamie in my presence. So I was into adulthood before I began to take a second look at products before assuming they were as good as advertised.

Anonymous said...

Please tell me I mocked you for the Cabbage Patch kid. I mean, knowing how I was back then, I'm sure I did, but I have no real recollection of it. But I can only hope that I gave you your due taunting.

I can just see the look on the Admiral's face. How he managed to appear happy for you and yet hide the shame simultaneously was probably one of his tougher parenting assignments. It was no doubt a huge sigh of relief for him 4 years later when you came home with your first girlfriend that he realized that little doll didn't permanently damage your manhood.

And yes, I'm mocking you some 26 years later, because I fear I may have not fully enjoyed the opportunity to do so in 1983.


Anonymous said...

Oh, and we had an office half day were we took our whole office to Blazer Lazer. It was a good time, and they have a nice multi level set up.

Right before we played I announced that the employee with the lowest score on the day would get fired. I ended up renegging, but I still think that would be a cool and fair way for a company to downsize.


The League said...

Peabo, I was no idiot and knew from whom to hide that damn doll. I really didn't want to get my ass kicked.

Alas, its a tale of an awkward age when you're exiting one stage of childhood and entering another in which dolls are not going to fit into the picture. Mix that with the weird dynamic of fads, gift giving, showing proper appreciation for gifts... and you wind up with a doll that's shoved in the back of a closet.

The League said...

I just remembered that it was Peabo that went to the off-brand Photon with me in Spring, TX. And, yes, I agree that if you go Jack Welch on your organization and need to trim the bottom 10% every year, then using Blazer Tag to sort the wheat from the chaff seems as good a method as any.

Simon MacDonald said...

Ug! Lazer Tag was such a disappointment. Only three of us ended up getting it for Christmas so it never reached critical mass with my friends. Also, I discovered by turning sideways the sensor was near impossible to hit.

Don't mention those evil Cabbage Patch kids in my presence. I still have a scar from where one of my friends hit me with hers.

The League said...

You got hit... with a Cabbage Patch Kid...? I am afraid to ask.

Simon MacDonald said...

I commented to my friend what a dumb toy it was. So she grabbed the Patch by the two legs and gave it a round house swing catching me upside the head with the hard plastic head of the doll.


Looking back I realize I totally deserve it. I probably would have done the same thing if she crapped on my GI Joe's or Transformers.

The League said...

I'm not sure what sort of mark Soundwave would have left, but it wouldn't have been pretty. Also, I think for most effective "thwacking" with a Joe toy, I'd have used the Dragonfly Helicopter (which I had. And it was sweeeeeeet).

Unknown said...

I'm glad to know I wasn't the only child who thought a verbot might make an awesome butler.