One of my fondest memories as a child is winning a shopping spree at a toy store. One of the local cable stations (and yes, I know how odd that sounds...'local' and 'cable station' usually don't go together, but I don't know how else to describe it) was having a contest. Every afternoon this station would show cartoons. As I recall, Popeye was a popular choice. Anyway, viewers were encouraged to send in a photograph. If you saw your photograph on television during a commercial break, you had ten minutes to call in and you could win a prize. Well, this was right up my alley. I watched this show every afternoon, without fail. Even as a child my obsession with TV was unhealthy. So I bugged my mom to send my picture in, and she did.
Now, I didn't think I would win. Years of disappointment in other contests had taught me that winning prizes is what other kids did. I tried to submit a drawing of a super-villain to the Post's Create-A-Villain contest as a child, but I only got some stickers for my effort. I never won the contests featured on cereal boxes. And don't get me started on the McDonald's Monopoly game (a more biased, twisted “contest” does not exist, and it’s only gotten worse over the years). Still, I think in my subconscious, I was cautiously optimistic because this was a local contest as opposed to a national one. I didn’t have to beat every kid in the USA, just every kid in West Virginia (and the famous “tri-state area” made up of Ohio and Kentucky).
Well, I watched the program religiously, even more so than I had done before. I world delay trips to the swimming pool (a big deal in my childhood) so that I could watch the show. I remember getting frustrated when the picture of some random smiling child would be displayed where mine should have been. I always thought the kids looked undeserving and ugly. I was probably tough to live with during this period. I was starting to become convinced that my mother had never sent in my picture, and was just humoring me. I almost gave up hope.
And then, one magical day, it happened. And it was total mass confusion.
I was watching the show, and the picture was shown. At first I thought, "That kid looks like me." And then it hit me. That kid is me! Well, I completely spazzed out. I was in full panic mode! I distinctly remember not being able to dial the number, and then deciding that one of my parents should call. So I called my Dad into the room, explained the importance of the phone call, and insisted that he call. There was also some controversy as to whose picture had been shown. My twin brother had also entered this contest, and he was convinced that the picture shown was his, not mine. We eventually decided that it had to be me because of the shirt I was wearing. So after a quick scramble to find the phone number, Dad called and I WON.
When I found out what my prize was, I couldn't believe my luck! I had won a shopping spree at Children's Palace! I recall being fixated on the phrase 'shopping spree.' You see, I had seen kids on shopping sprees before on television. It usually involved kids running full tilt through the aisles of a store and throwing in item after item, with no sign of slowing down. This was what I thought was in store for me. Thus, I began formulating a strategy. All other previous shopping sprees I had seen had been timed, which was the impetus for the kids running helter skelter through the store before time ran out. I noticed that these kids would grab some really stupid things, such as multiples of the same stuffed animals and board games. Board games. I vowed not to make the same mistake.
My strategy was simple: run to the video game section and start grabbing every Nintendo cartridge I didn't own. I was a huge fan of the Nintendo Entertainment System, and the thought of expanding my library by a factor of 10 greatly appealed to me. This seemed to be the obvious solution to the time dilemma, and the best way to get the most bang for my buck.
Well, when I learned that my shopping spree wasn't timed, but instead limited to a set dollar amount ($50), I was disappointed. Still, I thought a lot of great toy swag was coming my way. Granted, my concept of money was not as well developed as it is today.
One complicating factor in the prize was that it was at a Children's Palace. For those that don’t remember, Children’s Palace was a store very similar to Toys “R” Us, but instead of Geoffrey the Giraffe, they had Peter Panda as a mascot.
I always thought their exterior motif of a castle, including tall spires and a brick wall along the top, helped the store to give off a sense of awe and majesty. America disagreed, though, and there are no more Children’s Palace stores. The problem was that we didn’t have any Children’s Palace stores nearby. We didn’t have any Toys “R” Us stores nearby, either. Where I grew up, we didn’t have anything nearby. However, this was easily solved, because we were going on a vacation to visit some relatives in Indiana soon, and a Children’s Palace store was near their house. I couldn’t wait to get my toys!
After what seemed like an eternity of waiting, the big day finally arrived. My mom and my aunt brought me and my brother to the toy store. I stepped in and marveled at the aisles and aisles of toys, all within my grasp. The great shopping spree was about to commence!
I ran to the Nintendo aisle with my shopping spree check in hand and started looking at the Nintendo cartridges, sizing up which ones would soon be mine. It was then that the price of the cartridges caught my eye. $40.00. I couldn’t believe it. $40 for one cartridge? Now, I’m sure that my parents had had this same thought every time they had purchased a Nintendo cartridge for me or my brother in the past, but it was just hitting home to me how expensive these things were.
I’m not going to lie. I was pretty disappointed at that point. My dreams of grabbing scads of toys and cartridges disappeared in a flash of cold-hard reality. Dejected, I wandered away from the cartridges in search of something that would be worthy of my $50 prize. I guess my thinking was that if I couldn’t get a bunch of good toys, I instead had to get one AMAZING toy.
I found myself in the skateboard aisle. Now, I didn’t know how to skateboard. I wasn’t even interested in skateboarding. There wasn’t even anywhere I could really use this skateboard around my house. Still, the skateboards were calling to me, and I actually seriously considered purchasing one. I look back on this today, and I can’t imagine what I was thinking. I can only assume that my aunt was suggesting that I buy it since that was the cool thing with the kids she knew (or thought she knew). Eventually, I put the skateboard back, and I would have to say that, even now, that is one of the best moves I ever made.
I don’t know how long I looked around the store. I remember my mother sitting down in the middle of an aisle at one point, totally exhausted and frustrated with how long this process was taking.
I eventually ended up in the action figure aisle, and the He-Man display caught my eye. I had always been a big fan of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, and although I was starting to lose interest in the line, I thought that maybe I would be able to find a cool figure. I had been looking for King Randor for months with no luck, and I was hoping to finally find him. But alas, there was no King Randor waiting for me. In fact, most of the figures were Gwildor and Blade, without a doubt two of the worst He-Man figures ever created.
I half-heartedly pawed through the cards on the pegs in a vain search for the man who was both the king of Eternia and Prince Adam / He-Man’s father. And then, I saw a cool looking action figure! I didn’t know who it was at the time. I just knew it was a neat looking skeleton with a purple cape and a neon green scythe. It was Scare Glow!
I instantly snatched the figure, knowing that the day had been saved! This was the reason I had won the $50 prize. And he was cheap, too. Only $5.
Triumphant in my toy victory, I proceeded back to the Nintendo section. I guess I thought that even if I couldn’t have a bunch of Nintendo cartridges, I’d be happy to have at least one new game to play. This would be the perfect ending to my shopping spree. I saw one game that had Mario on the box. I was a huge fan of Super Mario Brothers and that series of games, so I picked up the box. I read the title. Wrecking Crew. How bad could it be, I thought? The game would let you design your own levels, for endless fun, so I bought it.
Heading towards the register, another item caught my brother’s eye. It was some kind of electronic gadget that resembled a megaphone. Basically, it was some kind of audio amplifier that allowed the user to point it in a direction, and it would amplify the sound coming from that direction. Kind of like binoculars for your ears, or the world’s most obnoxious hearing aid. It was touted as having the ability to pick up distant conversations and things like that. Well, my brother really wanted this item, but it was over the $5.00 left. Well, my mother, showing more patience in this situation than I probably would were I in her shoes, chipped in the difference so that my brother could purchase the item. She might have done it to make my brother feel better (you must understand that we were twins, and me winning something without him winning something was a big deal). Or maybe she did it because she was a great Mom.
I think I might have bought some candy to top the spree
off, but I’m not really sure. The years have made the whole event
kind of hazy. Still, I pull out Wrecking Crew from time to time and
remember that fateful day when I bought it. (It turned out that Wrecking
Crew was not quite as amazing a game as I had hoped it would be. Still,
in my effort to make lemonade out of lemons, I played the heck out of
it, and even designed several of my own levels. Based on this, I’d
have to say it is one of my favorite Nintendo games, although I realize
that my rose-colored glasses and nostalgia are covering up what most
people see as a game with few redeeming qualities.) The audio amplifier
was not all it was cracked up to be. It turned out that what you usually
heard when you used it was high pitched screeches and snatches of conversation,
but it was still somewhat fun. I remember playing with that at my aunt
and uncle’s house for hours. And Scare Glow is forever fixed in
my mind as one of the coolest He-Man figures ever made, and I am sure
that the shopping spree helped to propel him to that iconic status.
I will remember that shopping spree for the rest of my life.