Category Archives: Old Toys

Toy Soldiers Treated Strangely

Marx Toys was a pretty damn good toymaker. They produced two of my favorite toys when I was a kid: The Johnny West action figure line (a subject for a future blog perhaps) and plastic toy soldiers. Lots of toy companies offered toy soldiers, but I think Marx’s were the best.

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The amount of detail Marx put in them was very impressive. There were facial expressions. There were German soldiers and Japanese soldiers wearing what appeared to be fairly accurate uniforms. There were also officers. And Marx produced soldiers being shot, suffering from a wound, and ones that were dead. The dead ones were always the enemy, though.

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“Aaah! They got me!”

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“Well, we got him! Got him good and dead!”

I had their Guns of Navarone playset in the early 1970s. The playset had more than 200 pieces, which included military vehicles, canons, and, of course, the mountain stronghold. As a youthful pedant, I noticed the scale of the vehicles didn’t quite match that of the soldiers, but I realized that it would be difficult to make everything at a matching scale. Either the soldiers would have to be much smaller or the vehicles much larger. I would just have to use my imagination.

So, that’s what I did.

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Marx even made “goose-stepping” German soldiers.

At some point, I devised a battle that pitted my toy soldiers against my Shogun Warriors. I would spend hours deploying my troops into position. They were set on precariously balanced boxes and encyclopedias, awaiting the attack from those towering robots. The Warriors would attack and utterly laid waste to those valiant men.

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I’ll admit that pitting toy soldiers against toy robots isn’t all that strange of a way to treat toy soldiers (or toy robots, for that matter), but I’m not done.

In the mid-70s, my family would go on vacation each summer, which usually meant a drive to a cabin resort in the lake area of northwestern Wisconsin. On one occasion, there was a road trip from St. Paul, MN to sunny San Jose, CA. For most of those vacations, the family vehicle was an old station wagon, I forget which brand. And, because my younger brother and I were the youngest (and the smallest) of the four siblings, we got to sit in the “way back.”

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Something like this, but without the “wood” siding.

The “way back” was meant for cargo. There was no seat let alone seat belts. The two of us had a space way back in the “way back” between the luggage and coolers and against the gate or whatever you call it. We had a great view of the road behind us.

When it was warm enough and it wasn’t raining, Dad would lower the “way back” window and my brother and I could get the thrill of the wind in our hair and being a gate malfunction away from tumbling onto to the highway and to our deaths. Luckily, the gate never malfunctioned.

Having the window down, my brother and I hatched a brilliant idea. “Let’s take some kite string and tie a toy soldier to a length of it and drag the soldier behind us as Dad drives!” Well, we both agreed it was a brilliant idea, even if we don’t remember which of us came up with it.

So, that’s what we did.

The soldier would bounce off the road every which way. And whenever a car began to gain on us, we’d just reel in the string. When it was clear again, out would go the hapless soldier to gain even more nasty road rash. It was hours of fun.

Torturing toy soldiers might not seem that much more strange than having them slaughtered by giant robots, but I’m not done.

In about 1974 or so, the city of St. Paul decided the old Hayden Heights neighborhood library needed to be replaced and built a new, larger branch kitty-corner to the old one. The old one became a clock store, while the new one began to take shape.

Much the same way my parents weren’t all that concerned with my brother’s and my safety as we traveled in the “way back,” it seemed the city of St. Paul wasn’t all that concerned with keeping us kids out of the construction area of the new branch. As I recall, we seemed to have access to the dug out area for the foundation. We could get to the foundation walls, which were made of basic cinder block. And as such, those cinder block walls had large gaps at the top. A gap in which something could be placed…

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My ten year-old brain hit upon an interesting idea. Why not put a toy soldier in the cinder block of that foundation wall?

Yeah! Why not?!

So, that’s what I did.

In went a brave infantryman to stand guard inside that wall. To this day, when I drive by that library I think of that toy soldier and his sentry duty that’s lasted more than four decades. That part of the foundation wall, however small, has a soldier ready to protect it.

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Somewhere in the foundation wall of this building is a toy soldier that has been pulling sentry duty for more than 40 years.

That action done as a ten year-old didn’t stop with the library. Through the years, I have placed toy soldiers in secret places to be hidden for all time or until the building is razed or the sidewalk dug up. Throughout my house there are hidden toy soldiers. They are in the insulation in the space between the walls and the replacement windows. There’s a soldier inside the corner of the porch wall, put there when the old, rotted wood needed replacing. Out in the backyard, there’s one inside the retaining wall I helped my dad put in by the driveway.

And, just this past Sunday, I took a table out of the garage to put on the porch. I had to take apart the base in order to get it in the house (the tabletop had already been removed). That’s when I noticed the center column of the table was hollow.

A light went on above my head. I went upstairs and asked my son where his old toy soldiers were. We found them in his rather stuffed closet (not as stuffed as Fibber McGee’s*, however) and I selected one for this important mission. I taped him in place so that he’ll stay standing and I put the table back together.

As long as that table is intact, he’ll be standing guard.

Now, that is a little strange, isn’t it?

Packing Peanuts!

*10 points if you get this reference.

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Images used under Fair Use.

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The Tale Of An Old Favorite Toy And A Criminal Act.

This week’s blog has been pulled from the archives of my personal blog, from way back in April, 2009, at dimland.com. Actually, this is the second pulling, because it was reused on the Two Different Girls blog (with an update) in April, 2013. So, now I’m re-reusing it in April, 2018 (with a slight amount of re-writing). I’ll see if I can avoid re-re-reusing it in April, 2024. No promises, though!

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I collect old toys. Well, I should say I used to collect old toys. I no longer have the disposable income I once did. To tell the truth, I never really had that much disposable income and yet I would still collect old toys.

Not just any old toys. I collected the toys that I or a friend or relative had when I was a child. I used to say that I was buying back my childhood. One toy at a time.

There was one toy, however, foolishly given up in my youth, that had eluded my ability to buy back for many years. (Did I ever buy it back? Read on.) It’s an action figure that was put out by Matchbox Toys in the mid 1970s. It was part of their Fighting Furies pirate series and he was called the Ghost of Captain Kidd. He was sold only at Sears.

When I originally wrote this piece I had thought the year was 1973, but, with the assistance of the excellent website – WishBookWeb.com, I have found it was actually 1975. I was ten years old and I was looking through the Sears Wish Book catalog, something every kid must have done in those days, when I spotted him. There he was, the Ghost of Captain Kidd. He was pictured with two other pirate figures, but I didn’t care about them. I wanted the ghost.

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Image from WishBookWeb.com

I saved up my allowance money and, when I had enough, my mom ordered it for me. I don’t remember how long I waited, but I’m sure it felt like weeks and weeks.

When the fairly plain and unassuming package arrived, I was beside myself with excitement. It was worth the wait, because it was such a great toy. The Captain had a button on his side that you could push to move his right arm and simulate sword fighting. And though he was quite a bit smaller than my Johnny West and GI Joe, he had a feature that they didn’t: The Captain could glow in the dark!

To this day, kids dig just about anything if it glows in the dark. But the Captain didn’t just glow, Matchbox also had the brilliant idea of painting, in pale white, a skull and skeleton on the figure. So, when he glowed you could see his ghostly skeletal structure. It was a very cool and eerie effect.

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So cool!!

The Captain quickly became one of my favorite toys. I would frequently bring him over to my friend Todd’s house, along with my other action figures, and Todd and I would play with his GI Joe playset and his actions figures for hours.

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This was a pretty awesome playset.

And, now, that criminal act alluded to in the headline.

At the end of one of our adventures, I left the Captain at Todd’s house, so he could play with him some more. Todd was very good to his toys, so I wasn’t too worried about him having one of mine for a while longer. The only problem was his family then went on vacation before I could get him back. My Captain was trapped in Todd’s house! They would be gone for at least a week and I’d be damned if I would be without such a favored toy for so long.

I hatched a plan.

Todd’s house had an attached garage which led to their basement. I knew that his family never locked the overhead garage door (those were the days). My plan was simple: I would head over to his house, open the garage door just enough for me to crawl under, go in, and get my toy.

I’m certain the statute of limitations has long since passed, so I can tell you now – my plan worked like a charm. I retrieved my toy and no one was the wiser. I don’t think Todd ever knew I’d broken into his house.

And I was single-minded. There was no taking of any of his toys or comic books. No stealing money, no going through his older sister’s underwear drawer. (Come on! I was only ten!) I was there for the Captain. And he was all I took. I swear.

In time, as with so many of the other toys of my youth, the Ghost of Captain Kidd went away. No doubt sold at a garage sale. I grew to regret giving him up.

For years I was unable to get him back. I had seen him on eBay a couple of times and once came close to getting him, but, at the last moment, someone outbid me and swiped him away. Which is probably a good thing as money was (and still is) needed for more mundane things. You know, food, clothing, mortgage. Nothing so exciting as the Ghost of Captain Kidd.

I even went as far as to call Mattel, the toy company that now produces the Matchbox toy line, to ask if they’d consider reissuing the Fighting Furies, especially the Captain. Toy companies have been known to reissue toys from time to time. As far as I know, my call didn’t accomplish anything.

ghost of capt. kidd face

The Shroud of Turin?

Then in 2013, with some of the tax refund left unspent, I was chatting with a Facebook friend of mine. We got talking about old toys and the Captain came up in the conversation. Naturally, she was curious if I had tried to find the Captain recently. I hadn’t, so I took a look on eBay.

There he was! And only $75.00 at the buy it now option! I had previously seen him priced at $200 to $300. I had to buy it! I went through the necessary steps, but before pulling the trigger, I had to take the most important necessary step: I had to ask my wife if I could buy it.

“Honey? Do you remember me telling you about the Ghost of Captain Kidd toy I had when I was a boy. And that I have been wanting to get it back for a long time?”

“You mean the doll that glows in the dark?”

“Action figure! And, yes, that’s the one. It’s on eBay and I can buy it now for a mere $75.00 plus shipping. Can I buy it? Can I? Please! Please! Please!”

“Of course, darling.”

So, I bought him. When he arrived he was smaller than I remembered, but still oh so cool. That’s one more piece of my childhood back in the fold.

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And there he is.

Packing Peanuts!

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Moms – Increasing The Rarity Of Valuable Items Since…

The other day, while waiting in the check-out line at Walgreen’s, I became part of a conversation about the ways people would light their Christmas trees back when we were kids. Back in the Stone Age. Actually, one way in particular. The cashier was describing the lighted, rotating color wheel that would project colors on the tree or house or whatever you would aim it at. They still exist, but the customer ahead of me had never heard of them.

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I chimed in to say that I was pretty sure I had one at home. One from the Stone Age that used to belong to my wife’s parents and was in the basement somewhere. I should maybe see it I can dig it out and set it up for some bonus lighting on Christmas Eve.

The conversation continued as it became my turn to make my purchases. The cashier marveled at all the things we got rid of over the years. “If only we’d kept them. We’d be millionaires,” she lamented wistfully.

Um, well, unless we got rid of those Matisse originals stuffed in the back of the closet for so long, being potential millionaires would be a stretch. Perhaps she meant we’d feel like a million bucks to be able to still connect with an object from our past. Yeah, I don’t think she meant that either.

On the drive home, I got to thinking about how we lose our treasured items from our youth. Most of us simply outgrow the toys we prized so highly. We decided money would be more valuable at the moment and sold those items at garage sales. Maybe we were less monetarily motivated and gave our treasures to Goodwill. Maybe Mom got sick and damn tired of our room being such a mess…

Oh, yeah. The Great Toy Purge of 1976. (Or thereabout.)

I shared a room with my younger brother in those days. My brother was more of the unkempt sort than I was when it came to the cleanliness of our room. However, I wasn’t exactly Felix Unger. And one day, Mom had had enough. We hadn’t heeded her warnings to get that room clean or else!

“Or else what?” we shrugged to each other. “What’s she gonna do? Throw everything away? Riiiight.”

Well, that’s exactly what she did. She finally snapped and began scooping up our toys that had been so carelessly strewn about our room. Then out into the trash it all went. All of it. She really did it. Trip after trip, our collection of toys disappeared.

Then, she turned and eyed my box of comic books.

“NO!” I cried, “Not my comic books! Mom! Pleeeeaaase!

And, much like a soldier leaping onto a live grenade to save his comrades, I threw myself in harm’s way to save my precious comic books. My look of terror quickly turned into a sneer of defiance, “Do what you will with my toys, woman! But you shall not lay a finger on my comic books! Not one step closer if you value your life!”

Mom hesitated. The tension of this standoff could be cut with a knife.

She gave it some thought and finally capitulated, “No, your comic books shall not be touched. They are put away where they belong, which is what I wanted to be done with your toys. And I would suggest you bag and back them with Mylar bags and acid free backing boards, if you want to keep them in good condition.”

I’m not sure she actually said that last part.

Anyway, as the day waned with her boys still whimpering over the purge of their toys, Mom’s heart softened. “All right,” she said, “I may have overreacted a little, but I hope you boys have learned I’m serious when I say you need to put your toys away. You may go out to the trash and retrieve one toy.”

I don’t recall which item my brother rescued, but I grabbed out my Hugo: Man of a Thousand Faces.

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Oh, he was a cool toy. He came with a wig, mustaches, warts, scars, two extra noses, sideburns, fangs, eyeglasses, etc. You could make him look so many different ways. Like a thousand different ways!

I cut a window in his box and covered it with plastic wrap, so that when he was boxed up he could still see out. I used put Hugo in his box, looking out the window I made for him, and I’d zoom him around as though his box was a rocket ship. Boy, did I like that toy.

Do I still have Hugo?

Nah. I gave him away.

Packing Peanuts!

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Suppose they gave a war…

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Once again guest blogger Michael Noble has a thing or two to say…

When I was a kid, there were all sorts of shenanigans to involve myself with. Along with the neighborhood kids and friends from school, we were forever busy. Table top games such as Trouble and Battleship and Life and Pong. Outdoors we had Jarts (real, steel-tipped ones to add that element of danger) and Capture The Flag and other sports or attaching bottle rockets to toy models and going up against whose was best by whizzing them down the street after traffic would pass by. If it wasn’t games on our agenda, we were forever racing Sizzlers. (Remember those? They were rechargeable Hot Wheels cars which used the same kind of bright orange track. We used to love to put butter on the track and make them squeal and burn out.)

Around this time, role playing games really began making the rounds, things to spur the imagination. Dungeons and Dragons was taking off something fierce but I never had any real interest in them. (Even to the present day I still haven’t sat down and played D&D.) Besides, it took money to invest in a lot of the role playing games. Money, as a kid, that wasn’t readily available.

Luckily, I had a vivid imagination. On the occasions when there weren’t any friends to hang around with, you could often find me holed up in my room drawing and writing and creating secret codes or reading comic books. I was a pretty happy-go-lucky kid given paper and pencil or a stack of comics. And while I had heard about the role playing games, I never really had any interest in them. But I was soon to be introduced to a primitive form of it for the first time.

I was in grade school. Friends and school mates were all around me – nearby, up and down the block, some too far away to get to without the folks driving me to their houses. One of my friends who lived a couple blocks away, Doug Schlaufman, invited me over to play “War.” I didn’t know what “War” was and I told him so, but that didn’t daunt him. “I’ll show you. It’s fun!” he promised.

So, after school one day I asked my mother if I could head over to Doug’s house for a while. I called him up and headed over. He was bursting with anticipation when I arrived and I’ll admit his enthusiasm was infectious. I hadn’t a clue what I was getting myself into but if he was that pumped about it, it had to be worth it.

We went to his room. Opening a chest of drawers he pulled out two huge bags of army men. There had to be at least 200 men in each bag. I don’t remember what color they were but I do remember each set held a different color of figures. He tossed one to me, opened his and dumped all his pieces on the bedroom floor. I did the same.

“This is what we’re going to do: You take out all your men and see what kind of weapons they have. Some have rifles, some have bazookas, some are running and yelling, some are on their stomachs with binoculars. Those are scouts. What you do is put them around the room and then they fight each other to see who wins … okay?”

I hadn’t the faintest idea what he was talking about. How in the world were these little army men going to “fight” if we were putting them all over the room? They were stationary, immovable army men. But I went along and followed his lead. I watched Doug for clues of what to do.

He was positioning men kneeling with guns atop his shelves, putting different ones behind pillows on his bed, leaning some half hidden against the bedposts. Army men peaked out from the back of a pencil sharpner, they were in groups of two or three or more staked out in a tennis shoe, atop the doorstop in one corner, evenly spread out along one wall across the room. They were all pointed in the same general direction … at me.

I mimicked what he was doing.

A couple dozen men in, I was lost as to where to put the others. Right then and there I got the feeling I was in over my head. So I started putting a lot of men in a straight line on the floor, then more in another line right behind them. Lines of men ready to “fight” with back up reinforcements behind them. Made sense to me. And it was easier than slogging around the room hunting for places to put them. Besides, Doug was apparently getting all the good spots to put his.

What seemed like an hour later (it was probably only 15 minutes) revealed a room littered with clusters of military hiding in every nook, cranny and crevice of the room. On the floor, in corners, behind every conceivable hiding place … everywhere. And while Doug’s men weren’t readily visible in the grand scheme of things, mine were littered all about the room pretty much in plain sight.

“Wow … you’ll hafta work fast if you’re gonna beat me” Doug informed me matter of factly. I think I might have offered a shrug. “Okay, so this is what you do: You pick and man and, if he has a gun or some kind of weapon, you have him shoot at one of my guys. I’ll do the same. The first one whose men are all destroyed is the loser. Got it?”

That made sense … but I was at a complete loss on exactly what to do. But I did what I could to not look like a complete doofus. “How do I do that?” I asked with as much conviction as possible.

“Here … watch …” Doug went over to one of his men, a soldier laying on his stomach, brandishing a rifle. The guy was half peeking out from behind a sock tossed near a clothes hamper. He got down at eye level with the figure and scoped out one of my figures across the room. Then he took his finger, made the sound of a gun firing and traced the trajectory of the shot across the room, crawling all the way, until he came within striking distance of one of my guys. When he arrived at it, he flicked it with his finger and made a huge verbal explosion immediately followed by the sound of the soldier crying out in agony.

“See? You just keep doing that. You aim for my guys and kill’em and I’ll aim for your guys and kill’em …”

I was dumbfounded. This was what “playing war” was all about? It seemed stupid. But I was a guest in his house and I was bound and determined to go through the motions and give it a whirl. Maybe I’d warm to it.

Doug clambered back to his men and began the process all over again. His “firing of guns” was dramatic and continuous, his trajectories were always accurate and my men began toppling and dying in droves.

I tried to do the same. His examples of play seemed cornball and hokey; mine felt foolish and stupid. My attempts at taking down his men were feeble and half-hearted compared to his “expert” game play. It didn’t take long for me to realize “playing war” was one of the dumbest games I’d ever been involved with.

In a matter of 10 minutes his army had utterly obliterated mine. My men were strewn across the floor in heaps. I hadn’t realized some of the “kills” involved piling the deceased all in collective mounds. Additionally, I noticed such concussive devastation warranted men flying through the air and onto the bed or a desk top or next to a lamp on a nightstand. Had anyone walked into the room there would have been no doubt who the victor was.

“Yikes! That was a WIPE OUT! Wanna play again?” Doug asked.

“Nah.  My mom said I could only stay a little while. We’re supposed to go somewhere” I fibbed.

I helped him clean up the havoc we caused, said goodbye and thanks for inviting me over and left …

… never to “play war” ever again.

“War, huh, Good God, y’all
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing, say it again …”

~War, Edwin Starr

Michael Noble blogs regularly at Hotchka.com and can often be heard on the Assault of the Two-Headed Space Mules podcast.

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These are a few of my favorite toys…

Back when money was less of an object (it was never no object for me), I would spend some of it on buying back my childhood, one toy at a time. A couple decades ago, I was able to buy back my very, mostest, favoritest toys I or any of my friends or siblings ever had: the Shogun Warriors!

Such awesomeness is so awesome!

Such awesomeness is so awesome!

I’m specifically talking about those awesome, colorful, missile-firing, ax-throwing, star-shooting, fist-hurling, two foot tall robots that every smart kid in the 1970s just had to have. When I was a kid, I received Dragun as a Christmas gift and my younger brother got Mazinga. We were so jazzed about them!

Dragun in his awesome glory!

Dragun in his awesome glory!

Mazinga rockin' the missiles!

Mazinga rockin’ the missiles!

Cool, sleek, enigmatic Raydeen with fly-away fist!

Cool, sleek, enigmatic Raydeen with fly-away fist!

My best friend, Todd, got Raydeen. And, through some underhandedness with the price tag, I was able to purchase Gaiking. So, I had two awesome Shogun Robots. Ha ha! Todd and Steve!

Gaiking: Awesomeness worth breaking the law for. Uh. Kids, don't break the law.

Gaiking: Awesomeness worth breaking the law for. Uh. Kids, Nostalgia Zone does not endorse breaking the law. Be cool, stay in school.

Todd had a Baron Karza though and I never had one, so I guess that evens us out.

Baron Karza was the coolest of the Micronauts, but he wasn't a Shogun Warrior. I still wish I had one though.

Baron Karza was the coolest of the Micronauts, but he wasn’t a Shogun Warrior. I still wish I had one though.

I should explain the price tag scam with Gaiking. You see, kids, way back in the days before bar codes enabled the government to track our every move, the stores had simple price tags. If you were very careful, you could peel a price tag off a lesser priced item and use that to replace the one on a higher priced item, so you could (maybe) get that spendy thing at a cheaper price. Just be careful not to put too cheap of a price on your desired object. A TV set for $1.99 might not go unnoticed.

That’s what I did to get Gaiking. Dad wouldn’t help augment my allowance I had saved for it, so I went to the dark side before some other kid got my toy.

One thing I didn’t keep in mind: Don’t let Dad see you with the toy, dumbass! He saw I had it and pointed out that he thought I didn’t have enough money to get it. What gives?

I wasn’t quick enough to come up with, “It went on sale, Dad! They lowered the price to exactly what I had saved up! Isn’t that something?”

He would have seen through that just as he saw through whatever lie I came up with and I confessed. (It was his use of the soft cushions during the interrogation that broke me.) Dad’s solution was not to send me back to the store or to confiscate Gaiking. He decided I wouldn’t get any allowance until it had made up the difference in the price.

Hmm. Let’s think about that… I got to keep the toy and he got to not give me an allowance for a few weeks. Win-win!

Of course, my brother and I sold our warriors in a garage sale. Foolishly going for the upfront short money, no doubt. I haven’t seen Todd for years, but he might just still have Raydeen. He was the kind of kid who was good with money and smart about hanging onto stuff and waiting for the big money on the back end. He’s probably a millionaire by now.

I have since reacquired Dragun and Gaiking. I have also gotten Mazinga and Raydeen. I spent almost $100 at the old comic shop I frequented for Dragun, Mazinga, and Raydeen together. But, when I bought Gaiking from eBay, I had to shell out more than 120 bucks!

Such awesome awesomeness is worth every penny.

Oh! And, Dad, can I start getting my allowance again?

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