Sunday, May 21, 2017
An essay about rubber wrestling men
RUBBER WRESTLING MEN
The year was 1985. The first figure that got me started was Hulk Hogan. I loved wrestling and was so excited when my mom allowed me to get him even though I wasn't allowed to also get a challenger for him that day at Hills Department store. It was a while before I was able to get him any opponents for him other than GI Joes. He was dominant versus the Joes. In the interim, I kept the card he came on and stared at the other wrestlers available to get. Even the ones I hated on TV I wanted so that Hulk could beat them up. But more importantly I felt like I needed them all. A collector was born.
Toy stores were not that prevalent in North Alabama and a six year old didn't have many resources but I had a plan to get them all somehow! I learned that if I offered to do chores I could earn a quarter her or there perhaps even a dollar. This money could be used to buy more rubber wrestling men. Only a handful of stores I ever got into as a kid even had them. There was a fancy toy store in town that specialized in games, Breyer animals, Play Mobil, dolls, and magic tricks. We would occasionally go there when buying a birthday gift for a weird cousin that wanted to be a magician. No luck on the wrestlers there...I looked. I did notice there were like three wrestlers in the shut up toy section at the grocery store and drug store but I never could get mom to play ball there either. There was a Wal-Mart in town but for some reason we never really went there we always went to Hills. This store is long gone now but was an oasis for a six year old wrestling toy addict. It seemed like every time we went they had new figures. I normally had enough money for one and started accumulating slowly but surely. The chase was on.
A year or so later I got to go to a place called Toys R Us to pick out a birthday present. This store was as big as a grocery store. I'm surprised kids weren't being stretchered out from sensory overload. This was a special occasion kind of place and special occasion trip as Huntsville was about thirty miles away. Back then thirty miles was a long way. Initially I was disappointed as I really only wanted wrestlers but couldn't find any down the doubled sided action figure boy aisle. My mom asked did they have any and we were taken to the end of another aisle that inspired opera music in my little boy brain. A whole end cap of men. Must have been 200 of them and there was a display ring set up all fancy. I didn't even know a ring existed at that time. My mom told me to see if I could find 5 men I needed. Uh, I found twenty something but only got to take home five. I also learned that there were tag team sets and even a steel cage for the ring that I didn't know about five seconds earlier. I remember returning to that store a few months later with birthday, tooth fairy money, and chore money and buying twelve figures at once. This was most likely the best day of my childhood life other than meeting Spider Man when I was four.
My searching continued for a couple more years until I read in a wrestling magazine in 1989 that they were no longer making them. No worries as I had learned that I could change the identities of the wrestlers in my mind and make them whoever I wanted to be that day. SD Jones becomes Bad News Brown no sweat. Greg Valentine made a hell of a Nature Boy. The store supplies eventually dried up and there probably weren't but 10-15 men I was never able to get. Still haunting me to this day is the memory of 1990 in a Toy Liquidators store where there were clip strips after clip strips of black carded LJN's. Probably 200 of them, there was Black Strap Andre, Haku, Rick Rude, a referee, and John Studd reissued on a black card. Had I bought them all and kept them carded then today I could buy a car. But I was eleven and only got to buy 3. The vision was there for me at the time though and I knew that someday they would be worth something.
The rubber wrestling men still excite me to this day. If I ever see one at a flea market or card shop I rescue them. Lately I've even started dabbling in the carded figures. Condition is so sensitive on these carded men as a I remember many I bought back in the day already had damaged bubbles or bent up cards. The condition really doesn't bother me as long as their still on card. Ebay often gets me attention as I stare at thousand dollar on card Big Bossman or Warlord figures maybe someday. For now I will just remember fondly what got me started. Josh Willingham cards you may now thank Hulk Hogan for my nerdery. Also thanks to my Mom from whom I get the collecting gene. So I say Damn the Torpedoes. Collect what makes you happy and excited and I'll keep doing the same. Just for the record my Paul Orndorff figure was using the rack attack long before Nikki Bella and that's how he beat Billy Jack Haynes to win my Alabama State Championship in 1988....just sayin.