Decades of Toys is less a trip down memory lane than an index of the grotesqueries of American childhoods, one of which might have been yours. The store is housed in a storefront that would generously be termed unassuming, but the general dilapidation only enhances the sense of rummaging through a collective attic. There are no boutique displays of "collectibles," just stacks of Monster Magnets, hanging sides of Alf and heaps of jumbled Darth Vader action figures.
You'll find plenty here that you grew up with but, even better, a lot more that you can't imagine lodged fondly in anyone's memory. Indoors, where the neighbors can't see, whose parents tried to convince them that "it's fun to make FIFI the Bottle Poodle," a box of yarn and some mimeographed instructions for crocheting a hideous pink-poodle-thing that hugs discarded soda bottles? Or maybe Mom and Dad were the types who liked to salt(peter) playtime with some "educational" content, in which case the cardboard box of ViewMaster reels should bring it all back. What child of any age could fail to be enchanted by a seven-frame tour of the magical kingdom of Long Island, N.Y.?
But if you believe that a childhood without one's life and limbs constantly imperiled hardly constitutes a childhood at all, there are three sets of Star Brand Klik Klaks (junior nunchakus that existed to be confiscated by teachers); a pair of Jump Shoes that are "like walking in space," only with gravity; or, for more lasting harm, a rack of children's "toy" pipes, because you're never too young to start dying. Was any child lucky enough to own them all? Do his or her parents still blame themselves?
Dangerous is dangerous -- in fact, dangerous is fun -- but nothing molds a young mind like the inexplicable, the bizarre. For instance, there's the battery- powered Skating Monkey, poised to pursue terrified youngsters down the corridors of sleep, or the battery-powered (perhaps it's the batteries that should be kept away from children) Dancing Dan, an upgrade of Tod Clifton's Dancing Sambo ("The political equivalent of such entertainment is death"). And it's not too late for you to feel the effects; I will carry FIFI the Bottle Poodle with me to the grave.
All in all, the place is more than a little unsettling. Although you might be seized with resentment at your parents for tossing your Major Matt Mason Space Station while you were away at college, you'll also appreciate them a little more for not littering your subconscious with maleficent wheeled monkeys and li'l smoking aids. There's no surety that anything mentioned will still be there tomorrow. But we can guarantee that there will be oddity piled upon oddity, rickety shrines to the detritus of an adolescent culture's adolescents.
-- John Hodge
© 2021 Riverfront Times