Money is a fascinating thing to a child - if for no other reason than you can turn it into action figures and bubblegum. (In other words, the standard monetary system as we know it.) And when you get some, the most adult thing you could do was graduate from the piggy bank (especially paper money) and keep it in your very own wallet.
I had such a wallet (as previously discussed), and like any wallet, there was a wide pocket for bills, and then a handful of arbitrary slots that had no real purpose to an 8 year old. Frankly it was too much wallet, and as happenstance would have it, it was around that age that I acquired one of the most beautiful (if not somewhat impractical) artifacts that I still have today: my Scrooge McDuck money clip.
I used this very sparingly: 1. it was a bitch to handle with my clumsy young fingers, 2. I was afraid of losing or breaking it, as it was worth way more to me than whatever money it clipped, and 3. I very rarely had money to clip it to.
But I've gone way off the rails on a crazy train here, because I soon discovered something worthy enough to fill the empty slots of my wallet: Novelty Credit Cards!
At least, that's what I think they are - I wasn't entirely sure then and I'm still not. I stumbled upon them at Walden Books, mixed in with the bookmarks. But I really don't think they're bookmarks - these things're heavy duty plastic & would put quite a strain on the binding of any book. I mean, these things literally have no other purpose other than the most logical explanation: they were made for someone just like me. Not that I had any interest in credit cards, or even the idea of credit cards - quite frankly, the concept sounded quite stupid and dangerous to me: "Get it for free now, and pay for it a little later." And I doubt I was even aware of interest rates!!
But still, these things were little masterpieces of art that I could have on my person. And I did like the clickety-clack sound of the thick plastic; it was never about fooling myself or other kids that I had disposable income -- like anything in my life ever, it was just about visual and auditory pleasure.
Here are 5 that I still have.
The Uncle Scrooge Money Card
That was a perfectly painless transition from the money clip. In fact, I think I'm even more enamored with this card. In actually think I love this card more than most things in my life. See, the biggest appeal of Uncle Scrooge (and the comic books and Duck Tales in general) was the possibility of getting a glimpse of some cartoon gold or treasure - and those were consistently pretty good odds. And to have this shiny, durable card with me at all times was both exciting and comforting.
I'm no Nabokov or Miller, and I wish I had the words to eloquently emphasize the sexiness of these precious stones and gold coins because they deserve some kinda sonnet or cinquain or something.
For now we'll just call it "fuckin' tits!"
Party Crasher Card
I'm not sure if I've ever mentioned it before, but Penguin merchandise was hard to come by upon the release of Batman Returns - everything was dedicated either to Catwoman or the Caped Crusader himself. So when I saw Penguin stuff, I nabbed it (or I begged and cried until nabbing occurred).
The jokey little disclaimers on the backs of these things never meant much to me, yet somehow I felt confident that this "Party Crasher Card" would, in fact, be my Fidelio to any gathering I was aware of. Of course, no one ever made me aware of any parties. Ever.
Dinosaurs You Will Encounter
This stuff is the best kinda stuff, and it was the best stuff to come outta Jurassic Park; McDonald's, trading cards, and posters also followed this model that speaks so loudly to me: these sorta 'statistics/name, rank, & serial number' kinda charts that let you know who's who and what's what.
I suppose this was a handy card to carry if you ran into one of the six species that were featured in the film & needed to plan accordingly. I'm also a fan of the New Wave/A Flock of Gallimimus gradient background behind each Dino head.
Pet Detective License
I'm sure this is the last of these silly things that I bought, and I'm sure it was an impulse buy; part of me knew I'd outgrown these (I was 12 by that point), and they'd already become nothing more than a point of nostalgia for me.
Not to say I wasn't a fan (I kinda was), and to the best of my knowledge, this was the only real tangible 'toy' from these movies that I ever saw in the wild.
The Joker Card
Conversely, I think this was the first one of these I bought - and it's the pièce de résistance as far as I'm concerned. I've written about my love of The Joker and why I love him probably 20 times by now, and this particular illustration of him is one of the best examples of where my infatuation derives from.
When I look deep within myself, I realize that it really is mostly about color coordination - I mean, the guy's a rainbow, and this sorta softer depiction of him adds some nice blues to the spectrum.
What exactly makes this stuff 'weird' (or any stuff, really)? Well, I don't think there's any rigid criteria - at least not on this list. They certainly don't have any notable monetary value - heck, they don't entirely have sentimental value (which is good because that would make this one boring read). What I'm getting at is that they're all weird for different, weird reasons, and instead of building it up & explaining the hell out of it, let's just take a look...
"Trivial Pursuit" Game Card
In and of itself, the card isn't particularly weird; it was pulled from the original release of the game from the early 80s that I inherited from my folks. At some point, many years ago, Jess & I were deep into a game, and she lands on brown: Arts & Leisure. I pull a card - this card - and read the question:
"What Russian novel embracing more than 500 characters was set in the Napoleonic Wars?"For a moment I thought my psychic energy had kicked on to its fullest extent; not only did I know the answer, but I knew each word of the question even before I read it aloud. It only took a few seconds to fully realize why this set of words in this particular order were already tattooed in my brain...
More than any plastic katana blade or my black 'Foot Clan' pajamas, this "Trivial Pursuit" card is the most true-to-life Ninja Turtles 'prop' I'd ever laid my hands on. So until society will allow me to wear a shimmery purple cape and a steel helmet covered in knives, I keep this card in my wallet.
The Little Kangaroo
Finding your treasure at a flea market requires a mix of patience and diligence - all while remaining cool and enjoying it for the pleasant experience that it is. Though sometimes intuition comes into play, and that special something manages to find you. Some of my most excellent discoveries were actually found peripherally, from 50 yards away, several aisles over, through crowds of people and piles of pipe fittings and paperbacks.
This ceramic "caddy valet" was one such discovery.
Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted this all-too-familiar ceramic kangaroo, and even before I consciously made the connection, I ran to it with the understanding that this item had a major relevance in my life.
Incidentally, another movie prop, yeah? And its function actually is meant for a bedside table: there's a front pouch for change or mints or other pants pocket accumulation, a slot in the back for a wallet or sunglasses etc., and a long slender tail for rings or bracelets or wristwatches.
The Official John Travolta Picture/Postcard Book
Well hell, we coulda done one of these that was just odd books & magazines. Not that there's anything so weird about pinup magazines of hot young celebrities - I mean, they're always kinda funny nonetheless, no matter who they're focused on. This particular one was too fun not to take a look at.
I pulled this from my Great Aunt's house, whose living quarters, porch, garage, and attic was a luscious organized chaos of trophies such as this (and by "such as this," I mean that no two things were similar in any way - you'd find Neil Sedaka albums and all the patrons of the Mos Eisley cantina atop an ancient sewing machine). She knew the value of her junk, but she'd let you take what you want - within reason. Clearly, I saw much more value in beefcake glossies of Vinnie Barbarino than she ever could.
It's like looking in a mirror, only not.
QUEEN Official International Fan Club card
Aside from being a part of the "WLVI Kids Club" (which basically entitled you to a quarterly newsletter from the local Boston TV station letting you know what time Tiny Toon Adventures was gonna air), I was never really aware of the existence or accessibility of "fan clubs."
If there were many (or any) to choose from, I blame the hypothetical "they" for not making their presence known well enough to me. In fact, it was only through a mountain of documentaries and albums and posters did the existence of the Queen Fan Club become evident to me -- and an obvious enterprise that I needed to be a part of. So at some point in the mid 90s I joined. (I assume it had some price tag that my mom covered.) And, wouldn't you know it, all I got out of it was a quarterly newsletter. Sure, there were fun things like quizzes and contests, and various vague updates about what the band was up to (though, if you know any history, they weren't doing a whole lot post-1991). But man, that membership card was aces.
This isn't some laminated piece of paper; it has the weight and thickness of a credit card, complete with embossed gold typography.
Let's see Paul Allen's card...
A piece of the Whalom Park Roller Coaster
Throughout my childhood, there was a full-blown, fully-functional Amusement Park on the edge of my town. I stress full-blown because it was the real deal and it had everything you think of when you think "amusement park." And I stress throughout my childhood because the park was operational for over 100 years, and was finally torn down in 2000.
Collectors and dealers managed to grab all the fancy stuff and antiques, while locals and scavengers sorta circumnavigated the kosher etiquette and picked through the dregs -- which is fair; every square inch was history in some respect.
Their standard-size "Flyer Comet" wooden roller coaster was turned into a pile of weathered sticks, and somehow a relative of mine (I can't remember who) gave me a precious piece. So yes, in this instance, there is certainly some sentimental value - but that's not what's fascinating to me.
The coaster was erected in 1940, so, for 60 years, there it stood. It survived New England winters, blizzards, and hurricanes. Think of the latter half of the 20th century, the events that took place, the changes that occurred - the Flyer Comet was just there. More than anything, it survived six decades of use - it was a giant wooden skeleton that shook loudly whether you were on it, or a mile away. Every time I took a ride, newspaper clippings of my obituary would flash in my head; as scary as roller coasters are, the Comet came with a true fear of a violent death. I loved it.
Now, today, here it is (sorta), and I can hold it in my hands. The terror, the vibrations, the history, the weather - all radiating strong with metaphysical footprints. And those're just the vague intellectual certainties that I groove on; I also love to take into account that it's an old piece of wood. It became a part of an amusement park ride 80 years ago, but before that, it was a tree - probably a full-grown tree, standing in the wilderness for hundreds of years, both absorbing and indifferent to even more events and changes on the planet.
And what of the person who chopped it down - what was their life like? Hell, what was their day like when they took it down? What time did they wake up that day? What was their morning routine? Did they come home to a family after a day of chopping down trees? Would they ever think that a photograph of the wood from this tree would appear on an electronic computer screen?
Isn't that neat? I like that kinda stuff.
I'm sorry. I couldn't help myself; I was hoping to keep this series on a more esoteric path, showcasing bizarre and obscure cards that haven't already been puzzled over and studied and followed forever. The official 30th Anniversary of the Dick Tracy movie going wide in American theaters is soon approaching (June 15), and I wasn't even able to wait for that date to arrive before my giddiness got the best of me. But that's the whole deal with this movie: it's forever gonna be marinated in anticipation, and the smell permeates the room any time I start to really think about it. So before we expertly segue into the cards, I'd like to finally address the bright yellow jacket in the room and expound on the phenomenon, the obsession that captured my heart and my mind 30 years ago: the Dick Tracy movie.
But it wasn't really about the movie, was it? I mean, there's nothing more alienating than the phrase, "if you weren't there, you don't know," but it's a tough thing to compare it to - at least in my lifetime. Batman Returns and Bram Stoker's Dracula came close, but they're all roughly the same age. What it boils down to is that there was a mania that came with the suspense of its release - so much so that the means were much more enthralling than the end. And just like my proneness to collecting, my love of clowns, and my struggles with weight, it all began at McDonald's.
The Dick Tracy Crimestopper Game was a Monopoly-esque scratch-and-win promotion that McDonald's unveiled leading up to the release of the film. The main thing folks talk about is that you got brightly-colored scratch tickets with your purchase that gave you the chance to win anything from 30 cents off a medium fry to millions of dollars.
Granted, these were beautifully illustrated panoramas depicting scenes from the movie (or variations thereof), but that wasn't what cut me the deepest and ignited my fire. At the front counter of the restaurant was a 6 ft. tall floor standee of Dick Tracy himself, accompanied by a rigid collage of mugshots of the movie's villains. (There was a second leg of the game that involved peel-off squares of the mugshots, and each bad guy was worth a different "reward.")
But it was this towering cardboard standee from which my fascination grew - solely because of the imposing criminal faces adorning the primary-colored image of our hero.
This was like The Joker x 20!
There's just something about brightly-colored suits, anatomical deformities, a badass attitude, and shiny black firearms that was immediately irresistible and comfortable to me, and it was lookin' like there was gonna be an entire movie that was gonna deliver these drugs in spades. And, as my specific childhood from my specific era would teach me, Mickey D's was the main nerve when it came to popular culture.
Obviously it didn't end with burgers and fries; the theaters were full of posters and banners for months, there were TV spots at every commercial break, and everyday merchandise became solid yellow & red. This is when they knew how to fuckin' sell a movie out of thin air. (Yeah, yeah, it was based off a 1930s comic strip, but anyone who cared about that was either old or dead, so to hell with them.) Now, generally, this kinda hype on every television station and in every retail establishment can sometimes take the piss out of the subject matter -- but not for a kid, and not for this kid, and certainly not while this gallery of gangsters was still looming large on the horizon. In other words: how could I possibly get tired of it when all I wanted was more, more, more...
It's hard to talk about the Playmates line of action figures without getting chest pains and shortness of breath - which is a goddamn tragedy because they brought me so much joy.
Over time, little by little, one by one, I obtained them all, and each one was just as important to and loved by me as the next -- except the one I wanted most and couldn't find...
Even if you weren't there for it, or you're not into Dick Tracy or even into action figures, at some point during the Information Age you must've heard of the most sought-after toy of a generation. And whether you have or haven't, I can tell you about it from a purely subjective point of view: even before I saw the movie (or rather, especially before I saw the movie) I'd already nominated The Blank as my favorite villain/character/thing about Dick Tracy, and I'd been under the assumption that every other kid in the world felt the same way - as my mother brought me to every store in the tri-city area looking for the action figure to achieve existential fulfillment, and consistently coming up empty-handed. Even Mom became overwhelmed and consumed by what had become my own personal burden of dreams - to the point that she needed to find it just as much as I, and her passion, put in place by my passion, is what drove her to call Playmates Toy Company and ask them what was up with The Blank figure. The information they gave her, and that she then relayed to me, is exactly what you'll read when you read about this toy: production was halted and U.S. distribution was entirely suspended on The Blank for the simple fact that the figure's main accessory was its removable "mask" that revealed the "mystery" character underneath, as well as the yet-to-be-released movie's climax, and so Touchstone/Disney dodged a major spoiler.
So I licked my wounds & went without, and I got much pleasure from my (otherwise) complete set of Dick Tracy action figures.
But there is also pain - real pain that transcends my own understanding of human emotion.
This is hard to talk or write about, so keep your head down and hands by your side because we're gonna do this fast:
A coupla decades later I learn that The Blank was released in Canada for a short time before it was pulled from stores, and I discover a few are floating around eBay at outrageous prices. I'm at a place in my life where I have the financial stability for such decadence, and I pull off what neither my mom nor Dick Tracy himself was able to pull off: I capture The Blank. I get a custom-made acrylic case for this 'mint-on-card' action figure, and I place it high on a shelf like a religious idol. Then the financial stability ended and I have to sell it away, along with the rest of my Tracy figures.
They say it's good to talk about trauma; that it makes you feel better.
I don't feel any better...
Fortunately I still got my Topps Dick Tracy trading cards! And I don't care that we're already, like, 1,000 words into this, because I'm not leaving my most in-depth Dick Tracy retrospective with the smell of bitterness and despair. So, if you're still there, let's bring it back to a happy place. Please.
This was one of the few times (maybe the only time) where I started buying packs of cards before I saw the movie they were pushing. Which, when you think about it, movie cards deliver the same kinda service that lobby cards did during their existence: exciting action shots and glamorous publicity stills that try n' sell you on the movie's best stuff. Of course, at that point, I already knew what the best stuff was (and I think they did too), and the smartest thing Topps did is basically adapt the McDonald's game into a collectible format by turning the 11-sticker-subset into a series of "WANTED" posters.
I mean, shit, I could just do 1,000 words on those alone. But that'd be too easy, and I wanna stick to the cards - if for no better reason that not all of the bad guys got their own sticker (and Mumbles is nowhere to be seen -- as though Dustin Hoffman had it in his contract that he'd only appear on Hook cards). But even still I'm gonna cheat and focus on the gangster cards, 1. because they're my favorite cards in the set (and that should be the criterion for this ongoing series) and 2. because it gives me the best possible excuse to go on & on about my reasons for why I love these characters. So, in order of card number, here's 5 reasons why I love Dick Tracy.
"Lips Manlis" (#7)
In the McDonald's game, Lips was the most valuable mugshot to find - worth a cool million - so there was quite a bit of mystique there. Also, the action figure came with the morbid accessory of snap-on cement shoes - so there was clearly a gruesome plot point that was ready to unfold.
Additionally, the combination of the droopy, grotesque face and the tuxedo had Godfather tones, which had the potential to give this otherwise-family-friendly film a legitimate Mob Movie vibe.
Of all the criminals they present to us, Pruneface seemed to be the veteran with the most wisdom - not just because he looked 200 years old, but his sense of style and the way he carried himself made it seem like he'd seen it all before - and he didn't give a shit. That could've also derived from how much he reminded me of one of Batman's more elegant foes, Two-Face. And why not -- it's basically the same gimmick: the scars just make him 'All-Over-Face.'
"The Brow" (#13)
On the long list of what makes these characters cool, one of the reasons is that each one is a different kinda villain, a different kinda badass, from any given different kinda Crime genre. The Brow struck me as cool, calm, and crazy. And not just from his 6 seconds of screen time, but the fact that he's perpetually furrowed above the eyes - even when he's chill - makes for a hair-trigger sensibility.
But that's subjective; it really comes down to the suit. I bring it up all the time: that sorta crimson/maroon shade of dark purple is my favorite color - a tint lighter than a California Raisin, and a hint redder than Beetlejuice's wedding tux.
Don't really think he had a line in the movie, but the one closeup he had - depicting a sigh of stress and a devoured cigarette - indicated a ne'er-do-well, down on his luck, and probably violently pissed off about it. Even though he's still buried under pounds of makeup, he's easily one of the most normal-looking ghouls of the gang, and his supposedly accentuated shoulders are never gratuitously featured (not even on his action figure). But, once again, the color of the suit is just spot-on.
"The Blank" (#18)
Who doesn't love the 'mystery flavor' of anything? But, to be totally honest, it never occurred to me that we were meant to guess who this character was -- I was perfectly thrilled with the idea that the distinguishing feature of this particular antagonist was that "he" simply had NO facial features, which was AWESOME to me! (And disappointing to me when I learned it was a mask.)
And for all my horniness about color, it was just too cool that this was the only criminal of the crop in all black - gun included - and the all-black hat & trenchcoat ensemble contrasted beautifully with the pale, nondescript face.
I tried for years to get any of my aunts or my grandmother to somehow construct an adequate Blank Halloween costume - and in all of their infinite arts & crafts wisdom, none were able to help me realize my vision.
As differently as each human being looks, each person gives off a different vibrational flow. And that is precisely why no two persons' taste in art is exactly the same. We can oversimplify by saying that "I" don't like this song, or that painting hurts "my" eyes. Dig deeper. Ignore the me and my. Reject the ego. Listen to the actual voice that is buzzing inside of you. These songs have been casting a shadow inside of me for sometime.
10. Tusk - Fleetwood Mac
Tusk, for me, is artistically a great example of human sexual emotion. With every lamb slap beat I legitimately feel my pelvis thrust.
9. This Corrosion - Sisters of Mercy
8. Message From the Country - The Move
For millennia, generations of worshippers of all religions have been desperate to achieve the so-called enlightenment. If you can disappear into the woods alone for a little while, sit on a mountain ledge, and listen to this while taking it all in, you will undoubetly get close this.
7. Ride - Lana Del Rey
For all of the women in history who have allegedly helmed 'making it cool' to be sexy, I truly believe that this woman-teen is the first. Writing songs about nothing at all and making them sound like echoes on a warm night on the beach. Truly encapsulating that feeling of nothingness and loneliness, and wanting and having, and being and knowing. You can find her on the street you're on if you're also tired of feeling fucking crazy.
6. Down in the Park - Gary Numan and The Tubeway Army
Blackest black and darkest reds. Sweet wines flowing and the spins. Born of the wrong time no matter what generation I was born to. Everything blends together melds together and is held together. And then always bleeds and falls apart. It's always the same.
5. Sunny Afternoon - The Kinks
It can all look like sweat dripping down your back and wet sinful backyard barbecues, but it's undercut with the cruelness of monotony and the ugliness of the under-cherished. It's not as beautiful as your think. And definitely not as warm.
4. Waiting for the Miracle - Leonard Cohen
'Twas the Master among many poets that wanted the world to heed his message. He used his secondary gift to alert the world of its atrocities and misgivings and crow the many blessings for the righteous. To the few of us that heard the calls, take it in deep, and to the very end. He is one of the closest any one of us has gotten to God, as evidence by his life and body of work.
3. Venus in Furs - The Velvet Underground
After years of ultra feminism and upper-handedness, and surprisingly much behind the times, I finally put my hand in my panties while watching a dirty movie. Understandably I found the vulgarity and hostility in the male to be quite brazen, so I decided to drown him out with music. In the following scene there were two girls. It was well lit, and it would appear that these two individuals were enjoying themselves. I don't know if it was the movement of their bodies flowing in a synchronized way or if it was his voice, but I came so hard that I let out an audible moan. Something I'd never done before in my many previously private moments.
2. Life On Mars - David Bowie
In the 6th grade we had to fill out one of those generic 'favorite' lists. What will little Jessica Pearl be when she grows up? I said I wanted to be David Bowie. At age 7 I probably would have said Beetlejuice. Bowie still reigns. I will never think I'm cool, sexy, fun, attractive, well-dressed, or any number of things, because I can never match my muse. I live it every day. I breathe his soul and mourn his loss like a quarter of my heart is gone. All of his songs are my favorite. This one happens to be the song of his for the day.
1. While My Guitar Gently Weeps - The Beatles
I am sent back in time immediately to a time when an old life ended and a brand new life began. It is my anthem. A poem written just for me, inexplicably before I was ever even thought of, by the most popular band in the world. And I am deeply indebted.