AMBIENT THOUGHT – EPISODE Two Hundred Four: Friends With Joes

The following and all of the other episodes to come are snapshots of what goes on in my head, now and in the past. There are times none of this will make sense. There will be times when I might get lucky and the blog I post will be well constructed and will flow like a mountain stream to an awaiting lake below. Other times it will seem like the ramblings of a madman and you’ll ask yourself, “What the……?”
You should probably get used to the latter.

EPISODE TWO HUNDRED FOUR: FRIENDS WITH JOES

A toy is seen both as a bauble and as an intellectual machine.     
Brian Sutton-Smith

I’ve spoke about G.I. Joe in past blog posts but never in great detail.
Now… I finally do. And now you’ll know, which is half the battle.

I don’t remember when it started. Was it a commercial? Did I see them in the store?
The memory of it eludes me.
But I remember begging my mom or dad (whomever was with me at the moment) to buy me a G.I. Joe. We would go to the closest department store to our house (it was called Roses) and I would try and steer my parent toward the toy section. Then the begging would begin. In my hand I would be holding a Joe that I didn’t have at the time and pleading for it to be bought and taken home to join my growing collection.

I think it was because of G.I. Joe that I finally started getting an allowance. I started with two dollars a week and finally moved up to five dollars a week, almost enough to buy two Joe figures. I would have to scrap up some change to cover tax but I could usually bring home a couple of new figures.

It wasn’t always figures. There were comic books being bought. But I think it was when I got all of the Joes that were out there. I knew it would be months and months before new figures were released.
But I would always check the toy section for new Joes before heading to the book section when I saw I had them all.

The first one bought was Breaker. He was a radio expert and came with a headset and a pistol.
Why Breaker?
On the back of the packaging was a file card you could cut out. Written on it was the basic info about the figure, its classification and basic details. It would also say where the Joe was born. Breaker was born in Gatlinburg, TN. It was the same state I was living in and made it much more real for me.

Before I knew it, I had dozens.
And they were my friends. Well, not COBRA. They were the bad guys. But the Joes were my companions. My favorites being Snake Eyes, Breaker, Lady Jaye, Flint, and Gung-ho. I remember during summers when I was off from school where I would take up most of the den floor with large battles with every figure and vehicle I had that would last days. I would go to each figure moving them and talking for them before moving onto the next one. They would be everywhere. I know there were times that I had spread them out so far that I’d forget where they were and come upon them days later as they stood overlooking the last battle scene which had been cleared up days ago. I would smack myself in the head for forgetting and then grab the figure, take it back to where I kept them and saying sorry as I put it back among his friends as they welcomed them back (in my mind, of course but if you believed in the movie Toy Story, maybe they really DID give hugs and handshakes to the now found figure).
Then there were times I would pick a few of my favorites and go on smaller missions, more covert adventures. And if I was feeling brave, I might take them outside and play in the front yard under our big tree. That was a favorite place for me to play. And I always made sure all weapons and accessories were accounted for before heading back in. The idea of losing a gun or helmet or backback would drive me crazy. Once, I did lose Gung-ho’s gun somewhere under that tree and it took me nearly an hour to find it. By then, I was tired and frustrated and went inside to play on the floor of my bedroom. I knew that if something got misplaced, it would be easy to find.

For those times, I didn’t feel like having full-on battles or even small missions, I would bring one, two, or three of my very favorites and we would just ‘hang out’ together. I’d place them on my pillow next to me on the bed as I read a book or a comic (probably a G.I. Joe comic, at that) or write or even just take a nap. Some of them were my constant companions. They were my friends. Some of them went with me wherever I went.

You see, I didn’t have a lot of actually human friends. Maybe one or two in my neighborhood. The others were just kids older than me and more ‘mature’. I had better friends but they lived across town and would only get to see them at school or the occasional ‘play dates’ or sleep-overs. But honestly, I think I was born a loner. I relished in my own company and my own imagination. And I could always depend on these figures to be there for me.

As for the G.I. Joe comics, they were another shot in the arm of escapism. I heard that there was a comic book of my Joes and sought them out. I heard that there was some seen at a book store in a now defunct mall and begged my dad to take me so I could buy it. I was barely able to contain my excitement as we headed there. I told my dad all I knew about the comic and the G.I. Joes. I hoped he would appreciate them since he had been a soldier like them. I’m not sure if he ever did but he never hindered me from my obession. We entered the bookstore and I was still excited but now nervous that I wouldn’t find it. I found the rack that kept the magazines and comics and after a moment of terror of not seeing this heavily sought after item, there it was. But it wasn’t a normal sized comic book. It was one of the GIANT sized. It was beautiful. I grabbed the last one (yes, THE LAST ONE) and held it to me. I remember my dad laughing when I did. It believe he did because he thought about back when he was obsessed with something and did the same thing. I tried to keep from reading it on the drive home. I wanted to read it laying in my bed.

Time went on and I found myself playing with my Joes less and less. Other interests come around (girls, mainly) and your toys become less of a priority. My parents went through their divorce and I stayed with my dad. We sold the house in the country (we had moved from my childhood home with the big tree in the front yard afew years before) and moved to a smaller house. There were a few times when, if I wasn’t seeing my girlfriend, I played with my Joes. It was more escapism than anything, a familiar fantasy where I could forget my troubles and worries for a while (the divorce, a job I hated). I even made little stop-action movies with them while my dad was at work and before I had to go to mine. I still have them somewhere.

And then, one day, my Joes got boxed up and put away. I never played with them again.

I guess that’s how it goes, isn’t it?

We put away ‘childish’ things and all that. Most of us go through that stage of I’m too old or cool to play with toys anymore. I think what really think is What if somebody sees me playing with toys? They’ll make fun of me. I think that’s the real answer.

Time went on as did life and my Joes stayed in the attic of my dad’s house for a couple of decades. And my comics stayed boxed up in my old closet of his house even after I moved out. But sets of things gathering dust.

Until…

I decided I wanted to bring my Joes and my comic books home. By this time, I had been married twice, a daughter from my first marriage, a step-son from my second, and a home.
And my version of a mid-life crisis. I didn’t want the big motorcycle or the sports cars or the mistress. I wanted to be a kid again and relive some of my childhood memories that meant the most to me. The G.I. Joes were part of that in all their forms.

By this time, many of my figures had pulled apart. The famous rubber o-ring had dry rotted and most were in half. I bought some and started re-attaching torsos to legs. The comic were now safe in a closet and I started to read them again, smelling the paper and jumping back into the adventures. It made me feel like a kid again. And now, thanks to social media, I found other people with the same love for the Joes that I had and it helped make my love for the figures and comics grow even more.

One of my friends, John Armijo, is one of the biggest Joe fans I could ever know. At one time, he had more figures to choke a dinosaur. Think I’m joking? Look at these pictures and see if I am.

These are just overview photos. It’s a HUGE collection.
For this blog post, I thought I would reach out to my pal and ask him how he felt about the Joes.
“Sure, GI JOE was and still is a source of escape for me. Love the mythos and the characters. I had a stepbrother who was younger than me, and would have awesome battles well until the age of 17 or so with him.
I asked John if he still had all these G.I. Joe’s.
The collection I began selling off in 2008, as my wife and I decided to eliminate all our debt, pay off everything we owned, including properties. The collection didnt pay it all off, but it helped and NOT collecting anymore helped as well.” He also said he hadn’t collected since 2008.
But his fandom didn’t end with selling his collection. John is an actor and got to work on G.I. Joe: Retaliation.
Working on the movie was the ultimate fanboy dream come true. We were playing GIJOE for 3 months, and with a $130 million dollar budget.

John Armijo in G.I. Joe: Retailiation

G.I. JOE gave back to me with that opportunity, and they continue to pay me back for all the money I spend over my life in the form of residual checks every three months.”
Who’s John’s favorite Joes? His answer didn’t shock me. Not Joes at all.
Destro and Zartan.” Yep. Bad guys.

Then I asked John about how I consider the writer of the original Marvel G.I. Joe comics, Larry Hama, the ‘godfather’ of G.I. Joe.
When I had dinner with Hama once at his first con in Atlanta in 2007, he didnt get the fanbase. I told him he was our George Lucas, and he gave life to our childhood toys.”
I’m not sure truer words were ever spoken.

And speaking of Larry Hama, social media, in all its failings and downfalls, has its positives. One of them being able to chat with heroes. To me, Mr. Hama is one of those.

Photo by Matthew Matson
Larry Hama (right) with Ray Park


I reached out to him (we happen to be friends on Facebook) and low and behold, he answered. I asked him what he thought about how his writing of the Joes had given fans escape from the pains of the world, how he had given some of us a light in the darkness.
I was taken completely by surprise by the sheer number of fans who approach me at cons and tell me that my stories helped them through a difficult childhood.”
I didn’t want to bother his more than I needed to but I had to ask him one more question. I wasn’t sure I’d get an answer. But he did.
I asked him who his favorite Joe was or if he couldn’t say just one, who was a few of his favorites were.
My faves are Snake-Eyes, Storm Shadow, Scarlett, and Stalker.”

It’s good to know I’m not the only one that these plastic figures (the 3 3/4 figures from the eighties) and the comics were there for some of us to feel less alone. They gave us friends that was powered by our imagination.

There are moments when I think about certain days when I played with my Joes. The time I took one of the boats from my collection and went out in the snow with a few Joes (minus guns and accessories so I wouldn’t loose them) and played for hours sliding the boat with it’s smooth hull across the whiteness. Or the time my mom and dad and I went to Indiana to visit relatives and I played in the back of the van we had with my figures for nearly the entire trip. While I was there, my aunt and uncle bought me Zartan at the local K-mart. I took one or two to school in my pockets to have close to me, my favorites. I did that up to my freshmen year of high school.
And if you asked me if I had done anything different, I would say I wished I hadn’t had put them away. I wish I didn’t worry so much what people or friends would have thought of me.

And as I write this (and wearing my G.I. Joe Lady Jaye t-shirt) there is a new G.I. Joe collection I am working on. These figures are no longer the 3 3/4 inches but a whopping 6 inches. The prices are way more expensive than when I was a kid but I’m collecting regardless. And it’s bringing me some escapism in the process.
Yes. I feel much less alone now. My wife, my kids, and a few great friends that I can talk to and fell a connection. But that loneliness still resides inside and anything that helps to fill the holes that isn’t bad for us has to be a good thing. I know it.
And knowing is half the battle.
You know I had to put that in.

Thanks to John Armijo and Larry Hama for taking the time out. I can’t thank you enough.

-Loyd Elmore Jr
September 3rd, 2021

I’ve decided to keep a blog about how I’m dealing with depression. I’m going to consider this a form of therapy. It might not help anybody else but it might help me.

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