Interlude: Topps Trading Cards

My childhood might as well have been a catalogue for Topps.

I collected them all: baseball, movie, comic, video game... If a card set came out for it, I was buying it.

It started innocently enough. My father bled navy blue pinstripes, and when he saw a buddy waving around a Reggie Jackson baseball card, he made it his mission to find out where they were sold.

Turns out, they were sold in every corner candy store in NYC, and every newsstand. A dollar bought my dad 4 packs and a wife who questioned his sanity. My dad got off by blaming me. 

The baseball cards were for me.

They were interesting and all, but I had no use for any players that were not on the New York Yankees roster. Unfortunately, scoring a member of the Bronx Bombers were few and far between. Enter: Steve, the boy next door.

My friendship with Steve started over the backyard fence, trading baseball cards. He was willing to give me his extra Yankees, and I was willing to give him any card that was not a Yankees.

We bonded over our love of baseball, 1966 Batman, Superman the movie, Star Wars, and Hulk Hogan.

One day he came to my bedroom window, which faced his side yard, knocking like a madman. He had wrestling trading cards, and he scored a Hulk Hogan. 

Holy Cheezits! They have Hulk Hogan trading cards?!

From that point on, Steve, who was 2 years older than me, and obviously well travelled in our neighborhood, and surrounding areas, became my card guru.

He announced the latest and greatest cards out. He notified me and the rest of the kids on the block which store stocked which cards, and most importantly, when they restocked. Bringing the rest of the block's kids into this collective made the trading aspect of "Trading Cards" easier.

Even so, I could never finish any set I started. I never had enough money on my own to buy packs as frequently as required, and by the time I did save enough to afford more, the stores had already moved on to the newest movie or pop culture set.

Baseball cards, on the other hand were always kept in stock, so I usually had all summer to collect even if I never got close to completing one team. That's one reason I always went back to them year after year.

That, and the fact that my dad would gladly fund my card habit if it involved baseball.

My card collecting took another interesting turn the day Steve showed up with clear card sheets ranting and raving about "The Baseball Card Store!"

The what?! Where?! Huh?

Steve's basement flooded, which meant they couldn't use their washer. So, he told, they had to go to the laundromat, past Peter's Grocery, and Ace Tapes (our go to VHS rental place.) While at the laundromat, his mom gave him money to go make change since the machine there was broken. The candy store didn't have quarters and told him to check the store on the far corner. That store, was the fabled "Baseball Card Store."

I made him promise to take me. 

The next week when they went to the laundromat, I asked my mom if I could go with them. She said sure, as long as I picked up a horror movie VHS from Ace Tapes on the way home. 

Once I walked into the store I was confused. I saw comic books everywhere. THIS was the "Baseball Card Store?!"

Steve took me to the counter where there were several binders, and he opened one. 

Holy Chips Ahoy!

They had cards in them, in those neat card sheets Steve showed me. My 10 year old mind was blown!

The guy behind the counter explained it to us. We were allowed to look through the books, but we couldn't take any card out. Each card was priced. If we wanted one, we had to ask them for it.

Simple enough.

I picked out all the Yankees I needed, most costing a dime or a quarter. Then came the big three: Dave Winfield $1.25, Ricky Henderson $1.50, and Don Mattingly $2.00.

I couldn't afford all three. But I could buy one and a pack of cards. I bought Winfield and a pack. I opened the pack immediately and got a Darryl Strawberry. He was a Mets. I didn't care how good a player he was. I hated the Mets. The guy behind the counter said he'd trade me the Strawberry for the Henderson and throw in 4 card sheets. I said yes! I should have asked for the Mattingly too, but I was scared to lose the Henderson.

We moved from New York not too long after that. In fact, on the day we left, I took my dad to this store to show him the cards. I showed him the $2.00 Mattingly I needed to complete my 1986 Yankees team.
He asked if I wanted it he'd buy it for me.

I said no. It was too much. I regretted it before I even got into the Ryder truck.

Two years later, while driving through Kissimmee, Fl, I saw a store boldly proclaiming "Baseball Cards." My dad and I went in to investigate. I had a second chance to get that Mattingly that haunted my dreams for those 2 long years.

He was $14. 

We left without him.

To this day, that 1986 Topps Mattingly, is my biggest childhood regret.



At nine years old I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that the only toy that could possibly bring me pure bliss would be a Transformer.

A real Transformer.

I had quite a few "transforming" vehicle toys, a submarine, a strange plastic alien ship of sorts, and even a ray gun that lit up and made noise. But not one of them was a Transformer. 

They came in boxes covered in Chinese characters. Some, like the ray gun had artwork that made the resemblance to a real Transformer almost impossible to see past. A few were truly heavy die-cast pieces that in hindsight I can appreciate for their craftsmanship. However, as a child I saw them as just "Not a Transformer."

They had no names, or at least none I could make out from the boxes they came in. They had no background stories, other than those I created on my front stoop. They were not on the cartoon. They were not Transformers.

My friend Steve from next door had a few of these "fakes" but HE had real ones as well. He had Optimus Prime. He had Soundwave with his mini cassettes. He had joy.

I wanted said joy.

I wasn't particular about which Robot in Disguise (TM) I wanted. I just wanted one. 

So I devised a plan so ingenuous that there was no way it could fail. I didn't ask, insinuate, or even glance at toys for a month whenever I would go shopping with my mom. I would bide my time and then strike when she least expected. 

This caught her attention, but she didn't say anything for a while.

It was a rainy autumn Saturday when she finally broke and asked if I wanted to go look at toys. I just shrugged. I thought I was acting nonchalant. My mom saw right through me.

She just sighed and called me out, "Okay, what's this toy you want that you're afraid to ask for?"

I said it was nothing really... Then I dragged her to the Transformers display.

Her reaction, "Don't you have a bunch of these?"

I tried to explain the difference between what I had and what I wanted. I plead my case. I brought up the cartoon. I brought up Steve. I brought up my need for joy!

My mom just looked at me like I was insane.

"Just pick out the one you want so we can go home."

I was stunned. I reached over and grabbed Bumblebee and shoved it in my mom's hand before she changed her mind.

When I got home I was careful in freeing Bumblebee from his cardboard prison. This was my first real Transformer and I was going to read and reread the packaging until I was satisfied that I had it memorized!  The artwork on the card mesmerized me. The grid pattern drove my tiny brain crazy. I hadn't even played with him and already I was in love with Bumblebee.

Then I set about to transform him.


That wasn't as exciting as I had imagined.

I don't know what I was expecting. Maybe sound effects like on the cartoon? Maybe the Trasformers theme song to just play from out of no where? I don't know , but whatever it was, it didn't happen.

Transforming him felt the same as my other robot vehicle guys. Sure he had a neat heat sensitive rub sign, but otherwise... Eh.

I still played with him quite a bit, and enjoyed the lunchroom status he garnered for me among my male friends, but in the end I think I loved my transforming ray gun just a little bit more.


M.U.S.C.L.E. Hustle

As far back as I can remember, I have always been a Wrestling fan. I blame my father for this, as I blame him for my life long love of the Yankees.

Many a summer night was spent watching WWF's Spanish broadcast on channel 41 along side my dad. Sometimes we'd get into mock wrestling matches which my mom would referee in, or interfere with. Which, always depended on with dinner was ready or not.

It was no surprise to either of my parents when I started requesting all manner of wrestling toys. I wanted the LJN giant rubber wrestlers like the boy next door, but as always, finances dictated I got an armful of poorly articulated He-Man looking, knock off wrestlers that kinda, sorta looked like Hulk Hogan if you squinted long enough. 

I didn't mind. I was used to accepting "good enough."

That changed when Mattel released a commercial featuring Millions of Unusual Small Creatures Lurking Everywhere. M.U.S.C.L.E as they were commonly called were tiny pink hard rubber figures. They came in 4 packs, 10 packs, and 28 packs. Not much was known about them other than they were weird looking and there was a wrestling ring accessory, so they were wrestlers.

It felt like overnight, every boy in my class has a handful of these things in their pockets. Since I never quite click with the girls, I was essentially "one of the guys." This meant I had to get some to join in the playground reindeer games.

I showed my mom a 4 pack at Woolsworth the very next time we went shopping. I explained they were wrestlers and that everyone had them. My mom took one look at the package and asked if I wanted some. I said yes.

My looked at the price of the package said no. I was confused. What a cruel thing to pull on your own child! Practically wave a toy in their face and then yank it away!\
My outrage lasted a full New York minute until I heard my mom say it was a better value to buy the 10 pack. 


I got home with a little plastic trashcan full of wrestling goodness. I open it up and the first thing I find is a hand. An ugly bumpy hand. Huh. 

I pull a few more out, and one looked like an oil drum with arms and legs, and there was one that looked like that Apple II we just got in our classroom that even our teacher was afraid to touch.

What the hell?

How are these guys wrestlers?

A few of them resembled humans, and those passed as wrestlers in my world so it wasn't a complete bust. I ended up trading the weirder figures to some of the guys in class, in exchange for their more human looking guys.

In the end I ended up getting those weird guys back, as my mom would buy me a couple more 10 packs before the novelty wore off (long before the mixed color figures came out) and I and every other child moved on to the next big thing.

Late into my teens I would still find loose M.U.S.C.L.E. guys in random places in my room, in a jewelry box, under the bed, in an old coat pocket. Every time that would happen, I'd get a stupid look on my face and just smile for hours.

I only kept one of my original guys, MY world champion, "Macho Kid" (Terry man to those Kinnikuman fans out there) and he still makes me smile.