September 15, 2006
John R. Nocero

Rubber Lovers

My wife inspired me this week. She wanted my son and I to go down to her parents house this past weekend to celebrate her nephew’s fifth birthday.

Now, being the anti-social sociopath that I am, a trip to the in-laws usually means me sitting in a adjourning room watching whatever sporting event is on TV, while she jabbers with her parents, and I hope they fall asleep early so I can tap that ass. Knowing this, I promise that because I love her and her family, I will not act like social pariah in this instance.

The weekend was better than anticipated. My son, her niece and nephew are about the same age so they spent the weekend role playing pro wrestling at the center of the rugrat universe. I took a pic of the boys dressed as DX on my wife’s cell phone. They watched Undertaker squash random foes on DVD. Her sister even got into the act when the kids and I watched SMACKDOWN! , imploring Batista to win the title and come back from his brutal beating at the hands of King Booker and his knights. Um, it's fake girlie.

Her nephew received 14 WWE action figures among various family members attending the bash. I got him a nice vest. Following my shitty gift, the boys set up the Hell in the Cell playset, and re-enacted Kane putting Matt Hardy through a gimmicked table over and over and over again.

So on the way back home, as my son fell into his sleep-deprived, sugar induced coma, my wife says “There is no way those figures are as fun as the old rubber dolls, are they?”

The oh-so-fucking cool LJN Wrestling Superstars!! No honey, they weren’t dollies and didn’t feature moveable appendages or bone crushing action. They didn’t come with props like a dented cookie tray. They boasted a cheesy hand-drawn fucking cartoon poster with no resemblance to the superstar it depicted at all. If you tore them open too quickly, you risked ripping the action card that was printed on the back of the package.

Nor were they the WWF Attitude figures made by Jakks Pacific that gave everyone that appeared on TV for a week a doppelganger (Here’s Val Venis with impressive hip swiveling and semen-shooting action!) and were indistinguishable if you looked at just the bodies. These were true-life rubber lovers. Andre The Giant and Hillbilly Jim dwarfed GI Joe, and contained the power to knock down Barbie’s dream home with one blow from their powerful vinyl hands. Ted Arcidi, top heavy with bird legs, fell on his ass constantly, making it easier for him to job to ruskie Nikolai Volkoff.

She’s right. No fucking way are the newer versions as fun as their veteran counterparts, much in the same vein that my nostalgic brain says Strat-O-Matic Baseball is far superior to Madden 2006. I remember when I received my first figure, Hulk Hogan naturally, for my birthday in the summer of ’85. I am 21 years removed from holding his likeness in my hand, but I clearly remember drooling over him at my local department store the night before, staring him longingly like he was a Red Ryder BB gun. When I opened him the next day, and squealed with delight, my aunt asked me, “What are you gonna do with that?” Duh bitch, I am gonna whip He-Man’s ass.

The memories fire as quickly as punches off the wife’s skull when you catch her cheating: staging your own nightly supercards before they became en vogue; praying to get Roddy Piper because you needed a new top contender. Hardcore matches? Shit, slamming a few superstars in your Sling ‘Em Fling ‘Em Wrestling Ring earned your fair share of casualties but butting heads on top of your bedroom’s steel heater ended careers. I remember ripping Big John Studd’s left arm during these prehistoric hardcore battles, and during my solo play by play commentary, to nobody but me, I might add, hyping that he was the toughest man alive. I even colored Hogan's kneepads back in with a red Crayola marker when the paint rubbed off, and splotted him a bit above the eye when he got rammed into the bedpost. Talk about juicing hardway.

If you guys say you didn’t do any of this, you are all fucking liars.

Go find your figures in mommy’s attic and give them to your kids. They'll get hours of delight and so will you, as your relationship with your action men come full circle. That is not to say there won't be some casualties. Junkyard Dog returned to my house in my son’s gym bag sans left leg, left arm and chewed up face, thanks to some friendly gnawing by his stepfamilies’ black lab. I didn’t give a fuck. Why? Because those figures are the outstanding piece of memorabilia from my youth, on par with my dog-earned Pro Wrestling Illustrated back issues and the original Wrestling Album.

Immature, stupid and nostalgic, but fucking fun just the same.

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