Thursday, January 24, 2013


When I was a kid growing up at 816 Somerset Place in Hyattsville, MD all the kids in my neighborhood collected M.U.S.C.L.E. Men. There were hundreds of them, each a unique little plastic sculpture. I loved them. In truth, I love them still. The rich and spoiled kids had buckets of 'em, but even the poorest kids had modest collections. In that brand of economy unique to neighborhood kids and prisons they became a kind of currency. I recall that certain kinds of M.U.S.C.L.E. Men were considered especially rare and thus also valuable. Many a happy summer afternoon were spent sitting on the sidewalk in front of the house trying to improve my standing within the M.U.S.C.L.E. Man community through some shrewd trades. When I wasn't trading M.U.S.C.L.E Men I enjoyed arranging them on the window sill next to my bed or playing with them in the bathtub.

My parents were neither rich nor overly indulgent and thus my own collection was relatively modest. However, I diligently saved my dollar that I earned every week from helping with the family's paper route. This I stored in an envelope which I hid in various locations throughout my room. I changed the hiding place often, sometimes even several times a day, not because it was in any danger of being burgled but because, like all children, I loved the idea of a secret, hidden treasure.

The day eventually came when I reached my savings goal which was to buy a large box of M.U.S.C.L.E. Men which I had seen on display at a K-Mart down the road. I do not recall how much this cost, but I do recall that it took what felt like several lifetimes to amass the necessary funds. This was my long-imagined day of comeuppance. I drained the treasury, which on that particular day had been secreted away inside my pillow case, and entrusted the entire fortune to my older brother, John, who was going to K-Mart with my Mom. The M.U.S.C.L.E. Men were packaged in a flat box with a thin see-through plastic window on its front which allowed you to see just a few of the men it contained. I gave John instructions to look through the window of each box in search of certain rare and sought-after M.U.S.C.L.E. Men. The biggest prize was to find a M.U.S.C.L.E Man that nobody on the block had seen yet.

After what seemed like hours the family's station wagon finally rumbled back into the driveway and before it even came to a stop I was running alongside trying to discern from John's face how he had fared at K-Mart. He was inscrutable. When John handed me the box of M.U.S.CL.E. Men I dropped to my knees in the grass next to the car and tore it open on the spot. I marveled at my newfound riches. There were no new species of MUSCLE Man for me to name and describe to our emerging science, but there were several sought after specimens including one who was half crocodile and half man. He was one that had only recently been discovered on the block and was a hot commodity.

That night my window sill was crowded with little pink monsters and chief among them was the crocodile man. I loved him.

My school, Ridgecrest Elementary, had a strict policy against bringing toys to school. In fact, if found they were always confiscated and it was my teacher's policy not to release them unless your Mom or Dad came to get them after school. Most kids chose to forfeit their toys rather than suffer a lecture from their parents, and it was rumored that one of the drawers in her desk was a veritable Aladin's cave of abandoned toys. 

Despite the risk, I just could not bear the thought of being separated from the crocodile man for an entire school day. So before shouldering my backpack I slipped him into my pants pocket, reasoning that I would only take him out on the way to and from school and possibly also if I went to the bathroom. 

At some point during that morning my teacher gave the entire class some busy work and then stepped out into the hall to talk something over with the principal. I finished my work early and then, in a moment of weakness, decided to have a brief little moment with crocodile man. I fished him out of my pocket and was admiring him when the door unexpectedly swung open on the quietest hinges that I have never heard. My teacher's eyes swept across her charges with a trained eye and before I could return him to the safety of my pants pocket they locked onto crocodile man. My heart sank.

She couldn't have known that crocodile man was worth all those hours delivering papers, or of the special place it held in my heart, and my window sill back home. In truth, I doubt she would have cared   much even if she had known.

Without saying a word she crossed the room until she stood in front of my desk and then she held out her hand demanding that I hand over my newly acquired M.U.S.C.L.E Man, my precious. My classmates were enjoying the show. All eyes were on me, and I was blushing.

'''s an eraser,'' I lied.

''Show me,'' she said, beckoning toward a piece of paper.

I took crocodile man in hand and with a lump in my throat began rubbing his head against the busy work I had just completed. To my teacher's surprise, and also my own, the M.U.S.C.L.E. Man erased beautifully.

''Oh,'' my teacher said, apparently believing my lie. Then she turned and went back to her desk without confiscating my toy. Crocodile man went back in my pocket.

The kid who sat next to me said, ''That's sick! I didn't know they made M.U.S.C.L.E. Man erasers! Where'd you get that?''

''K-Mart,'' I said.


Anonymous said...

One of the most stolen toys of our 80's childhood!

You could gauge "the true friendships" from "the users" by the M.U.S.C.L.E.s envy/trading/stealing culture that surrounded it.

I had these in the 4th and 5th grades, but my mom made me give it away to my younger cousins at the end of 5th grade because it was an unfortunate source of ADD/dream-escape-WWF-superhero-good vs. evil fantasy for me in place of a father who spent a significant amount of time drunk and lying about asleep than actually play with his son who became a TV-addict at least since kindergarten than a father who never played sports with his son, model building, fishing and all of those greatly missed opportunities.

TV -- the substitute parent of the 1980's and Disney, Atari, Nintendo, Hasbro, Mattel, Kenner, Galoob, WWF, Kellog's, Hostess, McDonald's, Burger King, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, MLB, Sony, etc. sure exploited us didn't they!

Turn-off the TV.

Our brains and the quality of our relationships are the most important.

Anonymous said...

P.S. ~ My 2 cousins' Dad did "unfortunately" use a few of them as erasers with pencil-burns remaining around the edges after I gave them away. They (Muscle Man, Teri-Bull, Niku, etc.) represented a lot of boyhood hours of emotional investment, while to the grownups they were just a bunch of erasers lying around to choose from the bucket. Ouch! :(

Turn-off the TV.


Anonymous said...

Television IS NOT REALITY.