It was 1978, I believe – the last Christmas where Santa Claus had the time to wrap all of my presents, and probably the last one where my parents had to wake me up. I was young. I got God confused with Godzilla, and had no idea what the reasons were behind Christmas, other than “there are new toys” and “there are new toys”. My parents led me, groggy and eye-rubbing, down the hall to the living room. Under the tree, various rev-up cars and noisemakers competed for my attention, but my tiny little mind was blown when I opened up the first of two large packages.
I was, at the age of 3 and a half, the proud owner of Stretch Armstrong, metamorphic defender of…well, of all that was nice, apparently. Things were simpler then, and a lot of toys came without half-hour advertisements to explain every character trait and plot point. There were TV commercials and for many toys, but really, the toy itself had to do most of the advertising. His name was enough to tell you that Stretch Armstrong…stretched his strong arms. His rubbery limbs could be pulled out a good foot and a half from his body, if you really worked at it. You could tie him in a knot, and he’d slowly free himself, staring out into space, ready for more punishment.
But what punishment could come? What were the stakes? Without a hideous villain to fight, Stretch Armstrong was just a rubbery Ric Flair lookalike. Thank God(-zilla, or thank Santa, or thank my parents) that the second large box contained…
…good heavens, could it be?
Stretch Monster: as tall, heavy, and inner-tube-scented as his heroic rival. But green. And scaly. His eerie yellow eyes peeked out of a reptilian face, with white tusks hinting of a sharp mouthful of teeth ready to puncture Armstrong’s flesh and suck out his blood. He could also fly and swim underwater, as those were skills which particularly scared me as a child. And he may have even known the most terrifying villain of them all – The Car.
The two Stretch-beings fought constantly, each stretching their limbs around their foe in an attempt to force their ideology on an unsuspecting world. They tied each other in knots. They tied knots around each other. They…tied themselves in knots. This may sound monotonous, but the comic book ad for Stretch Armstrong clearly indicates that there are three different ways in which he can be tied up.
Sooner or later this constant fighting wore our hero down – rubber human skin may not have been as strong as rubber lizard skin, or maybe he just recognized that his was a losing battle, that sooner or later all boys age and side with the villains. One day, while his limbs were tied to a radiator and that fiendish monster was poking him with a sharpened pencil, Stretch Armstrong developed a seeping red wound just above his nonexistent navel.
Most toys don’t bleed. A slightly older child, confronted with a bleeding wound in one of their favorite toys, would run screaming. I stood my ground, looked over my shoulder, and licked the rubbery toy. I had discovered the Magic Secret of Stretch Armstrong:
HE WAS FILLED WITH RED SYRUP!
My parents were not the strictest of them all, but refined junk-food sugar wasn’t something I got all that often. Yet here I was, with a man-sized (or man-shaped) portion of pure corn syrup that my parents didn’t even know existed! It took a few days to get most of the syrup out of the torso and limbs, but that was long enough for me to go into a total sugar-frenzy and develop the addiction to sweets which has plagued me ever since. Some people look with remorse to that first shot of whiskey, that first spoon of heroin. As I sip from a two-liter bottle of flat cola, I can only look back to that first time I sucked Karo syrup out of a rubber doll.
One of my parents eventually found the deflated Stretch Armstrong and, somehow not recognizing their preschooler’s newfound worldliness, assumed that the corn syrup had simply drained out of the toy. Eventually, I got a replacement hero, and my allegiances shifted – now it was the monster’s turn to be bled in the name of juvenile diabetes. I was too young then to tell you now if there was a noticeable difference in flavor between the syrupy innards of Stretch Armstrong and Stretch Monster, but considering that one was a mammal and the other a reptile, it’s safe to say that a wine which worked with Armstrong would have tasted wrong when washing down Monster goop. After three mysterious deflations, my parents decided to put two and two together, and I was left with neither Stretch Armstrong nor Stretch Monster – I had killed the goose, hoping to get golden eggs.
A year later, there was another Stretch-being (this one a bizarre-looking Superman version) under the Christmas tree, but it was left uneaten. I had left toy-eating behind, along with my belief in vampires and my admiration of KISS. I was ready for the button-down world of Kindergarten.
A word of warning: no matter how tempting it is to follow in my Dr. Denton-clad footsteps, please don’t assume that your taste buds can handle the intensity of corn syrup steeped in latex. Around 1990, for my 16th birthday, my best friend gave me a corn-syrup-filled “Desktop Stress Reliever,” an X-Acto knife, and two spoons.
The taste was unique – imagine throwing a garbage bag of corn silk and brown sugar into a trash can filled with burning tires, making sure to breathe through your mouth the whole time. But then, bathtub gin probably doesn’t taste as good as that pansy-ass stuff you can buy in stores, either. Sometimes, when your options are limited, you have to find your highs where you can.
While talking about this article to my female friends (which, in hindsight, was a risky proposition), they all made a point of telling me “I used to chew the feet of my Barbie dolls!” The first time I heard of this, I was amazed; the tenth time, I was repulsed. Search engines turned up dozens of pages wherein adult women casually mention chewing Barbie feet. Collector sites mention it as an unfortunate but common defect in vintage Barbies. There are actually health warnings online, stating that the degrading PVC in old Barbie dolls poses a health hazard to girls, as they are likely to chew on their Barbies. I don’t think I will ever again feel gross around a woman – at least the Stretch Monsters I ate were filled with sugar.
I’ve focused on eating them, but there are a ton of stories I’ve heard about kids finding other uses for their toys. Did you blow up G.I.Joes? Have sexual experiences on your Hoppity Hop? Check out the retroCRUSH FORUM and let us know!
Check out Stoph’s music at www.mp3.com/oldscratch -- Karo syrup helps build hip hop 12 ways.
MORE GREAT STRETCHY PIX
Here's a the amazing see through "Stretch X-Ray" from 1978. He was a see through hideous monstrosity that was a sight to behold!
As you can see here, they even made a Stretch Octopus, which looked like some creepy Mugwump Udder!