I was never a raging alcoholic. In fact I would go weeks without a drink at times. I usually drank on my days off and the problem was that when I drank I drank too much. When I was younger this was all in good fun but as I reached my mid-thirties it was just kind of sad. This was in the late 1990s and there was resurgence if the 12 inch military action figures along the lines of the original GI Joes made by Hasbro in the 1960s and 70s. The company that spearheaded the revival was 21st Century Toy’s Ultimate Soldier line that featured modern uniforms from today’s military. They were a huge success which spurred Hasbro to reissue GI Joes in the 12 inch original size. This was great because Hasbro’s GI Joe is a top-quality body made to be played with. Ultimate Soldier featured cheaply made figures in first rate uniforms.
The figures ran around $20 each and I decided that if I spent money on action figures I wouldn’t have any left to waste on beer or wine. This seemed to work as my intake of alcohol dropped off to an occasional bottle here or there. The funny thing is that it wasn’t the money it was because GI Joe was filling a void in my life which made me feel better about myself.
You see, I could never win as a child. I could never get a break. This was painfully true on my birthdays when I would get some of the things that I had asked for or hinted at, but then I would be presented with an expensive game or toy that I didn’t want. I know this sounds selfish but I knew that my mother didn’t have a lot of money and it always burned me up that she would waste it on a toy or game that I would never play with. Worse still was when the new SEARS catalog came out and I would find out that for the price of that toy I could have gotten some kick-ass GI Joe command center or vehicle. I think the most GI Joes I had at one time was three, and one didn’t count because it was a talking GI Joe (“I have a tough assignment for you!”).
I had a few friends as I was growing up; it wasn’t like I lived in a cave. The problem was that most of the kids my age moved away around 1971 and the rest of my friends lived too far away to play with on a regular basis. Since I couldn’t always get permission to go down and play at the Carmel River I’d make do with our backyard which featured many locations that were GI Joe-friendly. I also suffered from asthma which often kept me at home as well and GI Joe was there to keep watch as I fought for air. I did have other toys and I loved to build plastic models but GI Joe was my go-to toy most of the time.
So when they reissued the 12 Joes I snapped them up. I didn’t save the boxes; the Joes were placed on display in my room. They made me happy and after a while I understood why this was. I was finally in control of my life; I could buy a GI Joe at will, and in the morning when I woke to see a growing army of little dudes on the top of my dresser it made me happy. I didn’t have to ask permission from anyone and I realized that now that I had control over the GI Joe thing I could also gain control over other aspects of my life. That’s when the drinking stopped.
Then one day I looked at all of the GI Joes that now dominated every flat surface in my room I realized that I had more than I would ever need. Technically I had too many. So I bought a couple of plastic storage bins and I put all but a dozen away into the closet. A few smaller Superman and Batman action figures have popped up to take their place but for the most part I have somehow moved into a happier life. It is funny how something stupid like a bunch of GI Joes can patch a hole in your life. I allowed myself to do something that made me feel good. Something that didn’t involve chemical alteration and something that was not destructive. By indulging in a childhood dream I ever so slightly righted my ship and put myself back on course.
The Joes are still packed away in my closet. Down the road I will give them away to some kids who need a friend too. Today I don’t drink and I haven’t bought a 12-inch action figure in over two years. I’m back in college working towards a degree. My life is far from perfect but it is far away from the person al disaster it could have been. Today my challenge is my weight and my crippling fear of success but now that I cannot hide behind a bottle success seems to be heading my way regardless of what I feel. I have reconnected with old friends and I am making a few news ones along the way.
I guess what I want you, dear reader; to come away with is that you don’t need to buy a ton of toys to make you feel good. However there are times when that kid deep inside of you screams out to be pleased. Maybe it means that you buy that stupid HALO action figure and put him on your desk at work. Perhaps it means just letting yourself have a banana split before you get home so you don’t have to share it. Or finally it might be as simple as jumping into a mud puddle on a rainy day or rolling on the lawn. If you can in some way undo that bad day you had as a child it could either break a chain that holds you down, or it can launch you to the next level.
Thanks for being there, G.I. Joe.