Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Goodwill Hunting

Okay, so by the calendar, I missed a day. But given that I posted twice on each of the two previous days, I don't consider myself too off-course. Now, on to business...

I have a hard time driving past a thrift store. It's an especially good time to visit them now, with one-sixth action figures harder to find in stores, and their popularity with kids well past the last peak, it's easier to find GI Joes in Goodwill than Wal-Mart these days.

I've been finding lots lately. Mainly I find nude or partially dressed figures, CC Joes, some SA Joes, and other figures of interest like 21st Century guys and "Super-Action" body Max Steels.

It's rare to find a completely dressed figure, much less a completely equipped one, but this guy I found yesterday comes close.

I consider him one of my "best-ever" Goodwill finds. Not only is this a Joe that I wanted, and missed at retail, but he's all (or nearly all) there. Price (you can still see the tag on his chest), $2.99.

Now, to shop regularly at thrift stores is to be both a archeologist, and an anthropologist, studying among the ruins of late 20th, early 21st century western civilization. After a time, you start to notice things. Actually, I think it would be most instructive for toy designers to study thrift stores, searching for clues as to what children keep, and what they discard, how they play with toys, and how they break them.

What can we learn from studying this amazingly intact specimen?

1. It was almost undoubtedly played with by a child. Though he didn't love it to death, it also wasn't (as is sometimes found) an unwanted gift, taken from the box but otherwise hardly touched. I like to think it was loved enough to be taken care of well (thus its intact accessories), but possibly the child played with for a while and then lost interest.

In any case, this contradicts the idea that the high-end, more realistic GI Joes went only to adult collectors. I'll attest from the bits and pieces I find, the kids usually get them too.

2. The left arm joints were all twisted around backwards. I find this (or some variation of "twisted limb syndrome") on almost every dressed Joe I find at a thrift. The kids can't figure out how those hidden joints work beneath the clothing, and they get them twisted around. I remember this frustration with my own childhood Joes. It's a problem that goes back to the original body style.

Note that this doesn't happen with "super-action" Max Steels, as the joints are designed differently than Hasbro bodies, and are nearly kid-proof despite the double knee and elbow joints. Hasbro never quite got that right.

3. The oxygen tank was obviously removed and replaced. It seems like the shoulder straps may have come out of the buckles, and the child couldn't figure out how to replace them. So he strapped the tank on upside-down, hanging down the leg. This is almost logical, and kind of looks cool. I've since refixed the tank on his back, but having struggled with the buckles, I understand the kid's frustration.

4. Note the thing in the figure's left hand. I believe this is a projectile from a Spider-man figure, and this is strong evidence that the child actually played with the figure. It also shows that kids still mix-and-match their toys. What did it represent to the child? Was it a tool, a weapon, a torch, or a flashlight? We'll never know, but in these pre-fab-out-of-the-box times, any shred of young creativity I can find gladdens my heart.

How did Joe end up at Goodwill? Also impossible to know. Maybe the family moved. Maybe mom cleaned the kids room and threw out "extra" toys (don't you hate it when moms do that?). Maybe the child outgrew the toy, or even lost it somewhere.

We can't really know. All I can say, is Joe is safe now, and will be well cared for. Someday, when I'm not around any more, the toy will move on. And maybe someday, when that kid is 40 or 50, that kid will remember that long-lost toy with a nostalgia and longing.

And maybe, if he is very lucky, he can have it back.

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