Wednesday, July 16, 2014



Stories of Childhood Toy Triumph and Tragedy




Age: 6 years
Date: 1979
Place: Star Market/CVS
Location: Waltham, Massachusetts

Our story starts when I was walking into a Star Market grocery store with my mother and older brother. Entering the store you would always pass by rows of gumball machines that lined the entrance way. On this particular day, I noticed one that I hadn't seen before. It had a Wonder Woman and Spider-man image on it. As I walked up to it, I saw superhero Flicker magnets and Iron-On fabric patches all for 25 cents each. But the premium that intrigued me the most was The Incredible Hulk (my favorite superhero of all and who I was totally obsessed with) iron-on patch. It was glorious!! The way ol' Jade Jaws was holding up his heavy concrete "HULK" letters somehow spoke to me in ways even I couldn't understand. All I knew was I had to have it! I asked my mom for a quarter and she said "Not now, I'll give you one when we are done shopping." So into the grocery store we went, I could only dream of having that patch in my hands. Where would I put it? On my shirt? On the back pocket of my Toughskin jeans? The possibilities were endless. I couldn't wait to get it.

Walking by this gumball machine took me on another delusional superhero adventure.

Maybe I was totally delusional, maybe I just had a ton of youthful enthusiasm, but for some reason I thought I was going to get that Hulk patch no matter what the odds were. So when the shopping was done, my mother gave my brother and I each a quarter to test our luck. My brother got a big gumball and I went to face the vending machine that had my dreams within it. As I placed the quarter in, I took a deep breath and turned the crank... clunk... clunk... ping! Now came the moment of truth. As I lifted the metal flap, the white plastic bubble fell into my little hands. I hastily popped it open ready to jump for joy until my excitement quickly turned to utter disdain as I noticed I got a Wonder Woman flicker magnet... ARRRGGHH! I begged my mother for another quarter but she wasn't going to budge so I left the store wracked with despair.

For a while this patch would haunt my dreams. You see, I suffer from a major case of OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), so when I became fixated on something, I couldn't stop thinking about it. And being obsessed with the Hulk at a time when he was incredibly popular due to the live-action series on television starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno made matters even worse. So I had to tough it out until my mom had to go shopping again.

About a week later I was with my mother in a CVS pharmacy. Looking around in the toy aisle I noticed a bunch of packs of Spider-man and Hulk iron-on patches hanging on a rack. They looked very similar to the Hulk and Spider-man patches I saw from the vending machine in Star Market. My heart began to race as I thought that maybe... just maybe...the Hulk patch that I wanted so badly could be here within reach. I looked through all the packages mumbling a prayer to God to throw me a bone. But despite my great divine effort, all the packages of patches were exactly the same. Defeated once again, I left the store empty-handed with my head hung low.

These were the packs that I dug through in CVS; Spider-man and Hulk Iron-on Patches by Gordy (1978). Even when I see them today they still fill my heart with dread.

Over the next few weeks I collected quarters like a madman. I panhandled, scoured the streets, searched my school hallways, looked under furniture, basically anywhere and everywhere just to increase the odds and get that Hulk iron-on. I had amassed a pretty respectable amount of quarters when I finally got to go shopping with my mother to Star Market again. Once she parked I ran to that vending machine with two pockets full of quarters (I can remember having to hold up my corduroy pants). But to my horror the superhero premiums that plagued my mind for the last month were replaced by miniature army men. How could this be?? Thoroughly drained by my self-imposed mental anguish and iron-on insomnia, I had to leave the supermarket, once again, empty-handed with my head hung low.

Somehow I put this all behind me and probably got fixated on other superhero toys but that blasted Hulk iron-on patch was always in the back of my mind... lurking...


Age: 11 years
Date: 1984
Place: Star Market/My parents house
Location: Waltham, Massachusetts

Cereal was always a BIG part of the Saturday morning cartoon ritual throughout the years of my adolescent life. Heck, it still is today (but it's even better because I get to enjoy it with my daughter). One of the cereals I loved to eat was Cookie Crisp. What kid wouldn't love the sugar rush of miniature chocolate chip cookies in milk for breakfast while watching their beloved toons on the tube? It was right up there within the hallowed halls of the Monster cereals: BooBerry, FrankenBerry, and Count Chocula as one of my perennial favorites. 

What kid wouldn't want to eat this not-so-nutritious-stuff while watching cartoons and reading comic books on a Saturday morning?

Now my mom wasn't hip due to being right off the boat from Honduras, but she was at least hip enough to know that I shouldn't have this type of (sugar-saturated-to-the-max) cereal. She would mostly get Corn Flakes, Cheerios, Rice Krispies, and if I was lucky Frosted Mini-Wheats. I guess keeping me in control was hard enough for her to handle without the added sugar rush. But on those rare occasions she gave in and let me have the super-sugary stuff (probably to stop me from constantly asking her). So it was always a bit of a challenge to get some of the cereals I liked. 

On this particular day while reading comic books, I came across an ad that was going to put that challenge (and my OCD) to the test. This ad showcased the Hulk telling the "True-Believers" to pick up a box of Cookie Crisp cereal to send away for free Marvel comic books (with proof of purchase seals). WOW! If that wasn't enough to get me to beg my mother for a box (and it was), it stated that Marvel iron-on patches were free inside every box. WOW!! That's even better. Just then I remembered my quest for the Hulk iron-on patch that eluded me 5 years ago and how I was devastated over it. BAH! Today was a new day and I was positive that a new Hulk iron-on patch would be lurking within this box of tasty goodness and I was going to get it. Almost instantly I had a major plan of attack on my mother.

The ad in my comic that fueled my instant plan of attack.

First thing I did was go into my parents cabinets and throw away all the cereal in the house. There were two big boxes of Cheerios so I had no shame in tossing out those dreadful boxes of bland awfulness (in the neighbors trash of course). Then I went up to my mother and asked her for some cereal to eat as a snack before dinner. When she looked in the cabinet and saw nothing there I could tell from the perplexed look on her face that she could've swore she bought some not too long ago (hee... hee... hee...). So I asked her if we could go get some and luckily she needed a few other things. Just like that, we were off to the Star Market up the street (you gotta admit, that was great).

In the car I asked her if I could get some Cookie Crisp because I hadn't eaten a good cereal in a while. Probably remembering that the last cereal she got were those two boxes of Cheerios she said yes (I'm on a roll now). Once we hit the Star Market I took off to the cereal aisle and saw the beautiful boxes of sugary Cookie Crisp goodness! As I took the box off the shelf, I looked closer to the Spider-man ad in the lower right corner. To my amazement I saw a picture of the same Spider-man iron-on patch that was in the gumball machine 5 years ago. Holy Moley, I was totally shocked by this! And once I turned the box around to see the back of it I almost passed out in total disbelief!!!! Not only was the Spider-man patch the same, but the Hulk iron-on patch that I so desperately wanted was available as a premium as well!! This was too good to be true! I had another chance at greatness and all I had to do was pick the right box.

It was great to see one of my favorite cereals with a toy prize inside which I loved. But when I noticed it was the Spider-man iron-on from the gumball machine years prior, I was totally shocked.

When I turned the box over to see the other iron-on patches available, I almost passed out when I saw that ever-elusive Hulk iron-on I have been dreaming about for the last 5 years was there! Nothing was going to stop me from getting it this time... NOTHING!
With only 4 iron-on patches available in this set (2 Hulks, 1 Spider-man and 1 Captain America), I liked the odds. So far everything from my plan was working perfectly, how could I lose now? I mumbled a couple of prayers, closed my eyes and picked a box. As I caught up to my mother I sat in the carriage staring at the Cookie Crisp box and feeling good about my choice.

When we finally got home the anticipation was killing me. I went into the basement bathroom because I wanted total privacy when I opened the box to get my prize and not fight over it with my brother. As I dug into the cereal box I shoved a few of those tasty cereal pieces into my mouth (Yum!). I felt the patch near the bottom of the box and yanked it out. To my shock I got the Spider-man iron-on... DAMN!!!!! I was furious! I wasn't going to be denied this Hulk iron-patch again! I had to think of something in order to get back to the Star Market as soon as possible to get another box. As long as there was cereal in the house my mother would never get me more, so I decided to dump out the entire contents of cereal into the toilet and flush it down the drain. It took a total of 3 flushes to get rid of everything and while I was doing that dirty deed I had come up with another plan.

The next day in school I thought about my plan of attack on my mother. The more preoccupied she is the more things fall in my favor. Usually when she picked me up from school, she is just getting out of work with a million things on her mind, and with the grocery store right down the street I had to time things perfectly. Moving like clockwork as soon as she picked me up I instantly said that we needed more cold cuts and soon enough we were back in the Star Market (what a move I pulled off).

Now the tricky part began on convincing her to buy me more cereal (and "bad" cereal). As she went to get the cold cuts I ran to the cereal aisle and pressed my luck by getting two boxes of Cookie Crisp. I figured I came this far, why not test my luck even further. Worst thing that could happen is she would tell me to put at least one of them back. As I boldly approached her with the two boxes in my arms I said; "I'm sick of Carlo eating all the cereal! And since these boxes are kinda small I'm getting two." Time seemed to stop for a moment as my mom looked at me perplexed (did I overstep my bounds?). Just then the butcher gave her the cold cuts and interrupted her train of thought. Then she said to me, "Let's go, I need to make dinner." And just like that I made the impossible happen (sometimes I can even freak myself out).

When we got home I did the same thing and grabbed the two boxes of cereal and went to the basement bathroom to get the privacy I needed away from my brother. I reached deep down into the first box and got...Captain America... DAMN!!! Then I tore into the other box and got... Spider-man again!!! CRAP!! That was it. I was done. It was over. The Hulk patch eluded my grasp once again and I was out of ideas. No way in hell was my mother naive enough to let me get another box of cereal, I had to accept defeat. I was mad as hell but I was too exhausted to fight fate anymore. Eventually the superhero promotion ended never to be seen again. But on a positive note, even though I was soundly defeated I did enjoy a few weeks of Cookie Crisp cereal before Cheerios creeped back into the cabinets once again.


Age: 12 years
Date: 1985
Place: My aunt's house
Location: Manchester, New Hampshire

About a year later my family went to go visit some of our relatives. Prior to going on this trip I packed a few things for the ride. I happened to bring my prized sticker book that had everything from He-man to Universal Monster stickers in it (it was pretty impressive with hundreds of stickers). It also happened to have my two Spider-man iron-on patches as well as the Captain America one that I pulled from those Cookie Crisp boxes. 

When I eventually met up with my cousin Augustine (who was also a Spider-man fan and into comic book collecting) we hung out in his room. As he was showing me his stuff I noticed he had a few random baseball cards and stickers in a pile on top of his dresser that I began to shuffle through. And wouldn't you know it, he just so happened to have that blasted Hulk iron-on patch mixed in there with everything else. I was completely flabbergasted! I asked him where he got it and he said from a box of Cookie Crisp a while back. He wanted the Spider-man iron-on patch but was never able to get it (his mom, which was my mom's sister, didn't like him eating sugary cereals either). Wouldn't you know it, I had that Spidey patch with me in the car. He was completely shocked when I got it and traded it to him for his Hulk patch. I guess we both got what we wanted after much heartache. What an incredible ending to this crazy journey and even more so because that was the last time I ever saw my cousin. 

And just to let you all know, I still have this patch in my private collection that I'm giving to my daughter. Hope she enjoys it as much as I have...

I love these gumball novelty items because they always bring back some good ol' crazy kid memories.

to be continued...

Other Tales From the Toy Chest:










John Cimino
John Cimino is a Silver and Bronze Age comic, cartoon and memorabilia expert that runs a business called "Saturday Morning Collectibles." He buys, sells, appraises and gives seminars on everything pop culture, so if you got something special, let him know about it. He contributes articles to ALTER EGO, RETROFAN, BACK ISSUE and THE JACK KIRBY COLLECTOR from TwoMorrows Publishing, runs the Roy Thomas Appreciation Board on Facebook and has appeared on the AMC reality show Comic Book Men. He also represents some of comicdoms biggest stars and brings them to a Comic Con near you. John likes to think he's the real Captain Marvel, people just don't have the heart to tell him he's just an obsessed fanboy that loves to play superheroes with his daughter Bryn. Contact him at or follow him on Instagram at megostretchhulk.