Thursday, August 15, 2013

Guy With Dolls

I used to play with dolls.

At least, that's what my wife thinks. I told her a story once, and ever since she'll occasionally tease me about when I used to play with dolls. (Sometimes you have to be careful what stories from your past you tell your spouse. They can come back to haunt you.) (For example, I'm sure The Wife regrets ever telling me about that time she danced in Vegas.)

Of course, I didn't actually play with dolls.

I played with action figures.

Yes, there is a difference. Barbie is a doll. Iron Man is an action figure! Ken is a doll. The Thing (from the Fantastic Four) is an action figure! The Cabbage Patch Kids? Dolls. Big Jim and his crew? Action figures!

Iron Man, ready for action!

Yes, I was a comic book nerd as a kid, and my Iron Man doll action figure and my Thing doll action figure were two of my prized possessions. (Is it ironic or coincidental that both of those dolls action figures can be seen in the collection of the lead character in the movie The 40 Year-Old Virgin? I'll let you make that call.) (And no, I did not have a doll action figure of the Six-Million Dollar Man's boss like he did in the movie.) (But I wouldn't have been opposed to it.)

Marvel Comics dolls action figures were pretty hard to find back in the day. I was on constant lookout at all the toy stores in Pocatello for any sign of them, usually to no avail. (Of course, it didn't help that at that time Pocatello didn't really have any toy stores, just a few drug stores with toy sections.) In fact, if I remember correctly, I purchased my Thing doll action figure while on a trip out east to visit family in Virginia. (From that point on I would think of the east coast as a land where every store had a full supply of every Marvel Comics toy available.) (Of course, these days you can't walk into any store anywhere without a Marvel Comics toy falling on your head. They are everywhere!)

There was such a scarcity of Marvel Comics toys in eastern Idaho that I became so desperate I decided to order some of the toys from the ads in the comic books themselves. I believe it was before my trip out east, and I wanted to have a Thing doll action figure.

Yes, this is the "Thing" that I wanted.

So, I cut out the order form from one of my comic books, and I saved up my quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies. Literally. Yes, I literally filled the envelope with the order form from my comic book and about seven or eight dollars worth of quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies. I can still remember the "THUD!!!" it made when I dropped it into the mailbox at the post office.

Then, I patiently waited my "six to eight weeks" for delivery. And I waited, and I waited, and I waited. But my order never came. Of course it never came! The envelope I sent my order off in, full of change, probably weighed about seven pounds, and had one little stamp on it.

To this day, I'm not sure of my Mom's intentions regarding my comic book order. Did she innocently let me send off my "envelope o' change," not really thinking about whether the post office would deliver it or not? Or, did she plot to let me waste my hard-earned money ("THUD!!!"), knowing that if my order never came that I wouldn't ever want to order anything else from a comic book again? (If I got my Thing doll action figure, what would I try to buy next? The hypno-x-ray glasses? The Charles Atlas bodybuilding course? The switchblade comb? I needed to be stopped!)

If it was a ploy, it worked. After counting down my six weeks, and my eight weeks, and up to 16 weeks, I finally gave up. And I never ordered anything from a comic book again. That said, I tend to believe Mom was innocent. I just can't picture her being that mean.

But, Iron Man and Thing weren't the only dolls action figures that I had. I also had a collection of "Big Jim" dolls action figures. Big Jim looked an awful lot like a Ken doll. In fact, maybe a little too much like a Ken doll, plastic hair and all.

Big Jim: similar to a Ken doll, but much manlier!

There were three big differences between Big Jim and Ken, (other than Big Jim being marketed toward boys and Ken being marketed toward girls.)

A) Big Jim had bulging biceps. Literally. If you bent Big Jim's arm, his bicep would get bigger. Each Big Jim doll action figure came with a metal band that you could place around his arm. When you bent his arm, his bulging bicep would pop the metal band, like in the picture on the box above.

2) Big Jim had "karate chop action." If you pushed a panel in Big Jim's back, his right arm would swing down forcefully, as if engaged in a karate chop.

And, 3) Big Jim had permanent plastic shorts. Whereas a Ken doll's crotchatic region was a smooth, skin-colored area of confusion, Big Jim's "stuff" was safely ensconced in permanent plastic orange shorts.

At the time, Big Jim was much more easily available for purchase than the Marvel Comics heroes, so I owned a few of them over the years.  I even at one point had the Big Jim Kung Fu Studio, which was a play area where Big Jim could break wooden boards in half with his "karate chop action." (Maybe is was "kung fu action." I don't remember for sure.)

A two-page comic book ad for Big Jim and his Kung Fu Studio.

The thing I most remember doing with Big Jim, though, was having him race down the river! My brother and I (yes, I'm outing my brother as having played with dolls action figures, too) would take a couple of Big Jim dolls action figures down to the stream that ran through the cow pasture at my Grandma and Grandpa's ranch. 

We would throw the dolls action figures into the stream and have them race each other. The stream wound its way through the cow pasture for about a quarter of a mile, and in that stretch the Big Jims would have to navigate their way through rapids, waterfalls, and whirlpools. They couldn't have swam their way through all that danger if they were mere "dolls." No, only an action figure could have made it through that treacherous course!

Of course, there was always more than just Big Jim. He had his own crew of buddies. There was Big Jack, Big Jim's African-American friend. There was Big Josh, his mountain-man, bearded friend. And, there was Big Jeff, his blonde-haired Australian friend. (I know I had a Big Jeff doll action figure. He joined Big Jim on many a race down the river.)

A few years later, Big Jim got a whole new pack of friends, called the P.A.C.K. (Professional Agents/Crime Killers!) They included "Warpath," a native American with a bow and arrow; "Dr. Steel," a bald, tattooed tough guy with a steel hand; and "The Whip," a weapons specialist who was bearded and vaguely foreign.

A comic book ad for Big Jim's P.A.C.K.

I never owned any of Big Jim's P.A.C.K., because by the time they came out, I had started to become too old to play with dolls action figures anymore. I put Big Jim, Big Jeff, Iron Man and the Thing away and didn't think of them for quite some time. 

And then, a funny thing happened. As an adult, I started to get nostalgic thinking about my old dolls action figures. And, being single (for a long, long time) with some disposable income, I disposed of some of that income on some new dolls action figures. It helped that not only were the new dolls action figures available for sale (at stores and through eBay), but they were also way cooler looking than they had been when I was a kid. Here's a quick comparison:

1970's Iron Man
Today's Iron Man

And another:

1970's Thing
Today's Thing

That said, I didn't actually play with the new dolls action figures I was collecting. I was just collecting them for the sake of collecting. (Much the same way other people collect stamps, or coins, or baseball cards.) (Or some women collect shoes.) Besides, even as "cool" looking as the new dolls action figures are, I doubt they could hold up to a trip or two down Big Jim's river race.

Now that I'm married and have kids, disposable income is more a dream than a reality. I haven't bought a doll action figure for myself for years. But, as the kids get older, I do like to make sure that they have plenty of fun toys to play with. And, if some of those toys happen to be dolls action figures, then so be it. 

So yes, I did play with dolls action figures as a kid. And now, I'll gladly play with dolls action figures with my kids. (Sometimes actual dolls, too. I often get asked by Roni to help her change dresses on her Polly Pockets. It's not easy, because my fingers are big, and those Polly Pocket dresses are tiny. And tight.) (Polly should really invest in some looser fitting clothing!) 

It was the story of Big Jim's river races that prompted The Wife to tease me about playing with dolls. It doesn't really bother me because it's true. I did play with dolls. And I turned out okay. 

(Well, relatively okay.)

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