I suppose I could do a post about the life-molding power of the 80s in general, but nothing had a bigger impact in my tender years quite like Topps’ Garbage Pail Kids. If you were a child of that special decade, no doubt you either loved or hated these things. They were the Pokémon of our generation, only instead of electric mice and talking cats, they focused more on farts and boogers and vomit. Hurray! They began as a parody of Cabbage Patch Kids, an even bigger 80s craze, but subjected the ridiculously cute dolls to torture, politics, and even S&M bondage. They sold these images as collectible sticker cards packed in with a stale stick of sugared pink gum that turned to powder upon dental contact no matter how “fresh” it was. I won’t spend any more time describing them, but focus instead on how they developed several of my early observations about life.
Lesson One: Rich People Suck. I had a pretty solid collection of these things back in fifth grade. Move over Oscar, I was the king of the garbage pails, my royal army consisting of nearly complete sets of the second and third editions and even a couple of the already rare and elusive first edition. Then I met another kid at school, one with parents much wealthier than mine, and we agreed to meet “out back behind the school.” I expected to humble this poor kid, show him that I was a bigger fan of boogers and farts and piss, that his meager collection wa–holy shit, you have DOUBLES of the first edition? I offered ridiculous trades… dozens of cards for one of his. No deal. He was there for one reason – to dethrone the king. With my empire fallen, I searched for a new weapon, even thought I’d found it later in Giant-Sized Garbage Pail Kids, but no, those were not even “collectible” in his eyes. I was forced to accept my lower social status way too early in life.
Lesson Two: Garbage Pail Kids Are Not Worth Jumping Off a Bridge. I don’t think mom and dad even know this story, because even back then, I realized I was a dumbass and lied about it. My brother realized my hopeless addiction for the GPKs and, being a dumbass like me, dared me to jump off a bridge and he’d give me a pack. Did I bite? Hell yes. Okay, before you judge me too harshly, it was a small bridge. A pedestrian bridge in the middle of a park, but big enough to pop open a knee. And that’s exactly what happened. I leapt off, landed hard, but mostly on my feet, got up, and prepared to demand my prize. But I was bleeding. A lot. I looked down and saw my entire kneecap laid open, a big chunk of it missing. I looked around for the chunk. Nothing. I looked for a piece of glass or rock I must have hit. Nothing. Apparently, jumping off of a bridge can create so much force that the knee just pops open. Fortunately, my joints/bones took no damage, but I did have three layers of stitches because that mother was deep. Did I get my cards? No, I don’t think I ever did.
But, being a horror kid, I did get the best gross-out trick possible. Girls were my primary target, and man did they find the jagged wound disgusting. I popped it open three times, each one in front of shrieking girls. The first came playing four-square. I returned the ball, but also sprayed the girl’s pavement red. The second came playing volleyball. I didn’t return the ball, but I seem to remember returning to the doctor for more stitches. The girl playing next to me–terrified. The final one was the best. Elementary school Olympics. Sack-hop race. A pair of kids assigned to each other. Each has one leg in the sack. I’ll let your imagination finish the story. Yes. Anyway, I have a really shiny scar covering a big stretch of my knee where no hair will grow, and the chunk still seems to be missing when I bend it just right. A constant reminder of the cost of addiction. Also — no girlfriends in elementary school… but worth it.
Lesson Three: Lame Adults Sue Cool Adults. So the makers of the Cabbage Patch Kids came forward and sued the makers of Garbage Pail Kids (or threatened them, anyway). What did that mean to me at the time? I had no idea, just that my incredibly cool series of cards now looked different. Worse. Still gross, still with the same sense of humor, but worse. It boggled my mind that somebody could actually want to change them. How did these hurt Cabbage Patch Kids? If anything, they made them more totally awesome, right? Later, becoming a horror fan in a time where censorship was about to run rampant, the trauma dealt to the GPKs seemed minor in comparison to the castration of some of my favorite movies.
Lesson Four: Garbage Pail Kids Are There For You. Just when it sounds like GPKs were a negative factor in my life, they come through and possibly keep me out of a wheelchair. I had/have back problems. Nothing too major now, but back in those days, I was growing too fast for my skeleton and it was causing my spine to bend. Hard. My parents sensed something worse than simple “bad posture” was at work and started to take me to the chiropractor. I did not want to go. Everybody in there seemed to be old and crippled. The magazines were all about womens’ makeup or hunting deer. They put me on giant torture devices that rolled giant wheels into your spine, electrified muscles, and even topped it off with a personal neck-cracking session from the good doctor himself. Before anyone realized how bad things were getting, my parents asked me if I’d keep going, but didn’t demand it. Why did I go? Because the gas station next to the chiro had GPKs. Yup. My reward for an hour of torture.
Well, in the long run, my spine went bad. Real bad. The same chiropractor put me into a harness which I would describe now as something a shoulder-holster a cop would wear but really felt more like a cupless bra at the time. That helped, but not enough. The important thing was that the doctor caught it in time. Eventually he realized that though he’d kept it under control, he couldn’t help me anymore. He sent me to a spinal surgeon, some angry fat man who didn’t speak English well and liked to parade me in my underwear in front of his (sometimes very attractive) medical students. Should I mention that was an age when hormones could cause … unexpected reactions in the body? Yeah.
The new Doc put me in a giant plastic body brace. Think of a goalie’s mask, but covering your entire torso. I tried to wear it to school, to keep it hidden under baggy shirts, but it was pretty obvious. Sometimes I had fun stabbing myself through the air-holes and leaving the pencil hanging out. Got some good gross out reactions there, too.
The Doc recommended some hideous surgery where my spine would be welded to keep it from buckling and he warned me how close I was to seriously crippling my ability to even walk in the future. He always pointed out what a good thing it was that we caught it when we did. Of course I give credit to my parents, who actually let me make the choice not to have the surgery, and I’m lucky they did, but secretly, I know that when I needed motivation the most, the GPKs had my back.
I should point out that I’m fine now. Back aches once in a while. Bad posture, sure. But otherwise, crisis averted. If my blog is still around when I’m in my 50s, I’m may have changed my mind.
I had a point to make somewhere… oh yeah, so it’s easy to look at these disgusting little cards and wonder why anyone would remember them, let alone remember them fondly. For me, though, I can’t imagine that time of my life without them.
Did you collect them too? Hopefully you weren’t a dumbass like I was and you didn’t sell them all when you moved on to comic books.
Oh, one last thing. As much as I love you, GPKs. Damn you for this abomination: