Back in my Runny-Nose Days, there was a craze that rippled through the multitudes of fifth-grade boys, one that almost seems quaint by today’s standards. Then, of course, there were no iPods, no Gamestations, no Nintendo: amusements were simpler.
At the time, most public venues had vending machines that sold useless little gewgaws and trinkets for, what? ten or twenty-five cents at the most. Real money in those days, that was. Oh, you had your Gumball and Jawbreaker machines, sure - but this craze centered about a particular kind of Stupid-Ass Dime-Store Novelty, one that must have been invented by someone who had a direct line into the Pre-Adolescent Male Brain.
What was this Novelty? You may well ask.
You would, upon finding the right kind of vending machine, insert your shiny 25¢ piece and twist the handle...and out would pop a little plastic capsule. When you opened the capsule, you would find an Icky Rubberoid Creature. And for some bizarre reason, these Rubberoid Creatures became quite the item.
They were made of some greenish-black material that had a slightly quivery texture, as though they had been molded of some sort of extremely durable gelatin. To make them even more nasty, they were coated with a thin film of a Mysterious Oily Substance – just enough to jack that Ick Factor up a notch. Spiders, centipedes, scorpions, mice...name a type of vermin, and you might be lucky enough to find one. Life-size, too!
What made these little buggers so desirable (aside from the Gross-Out Factor so dear to the hearts of Little Boys) was that some varieties were common, others rare, and others rarer still. Spiders? Pah, everybody had those. Worms? Big deal. You got a centipede or a mouse? Now you’re talking.
But the rara avis of the series, as it were, was the Scorpion. You had to buy a lot of those damn capsules to find a scorpion...if you were lucky. It was a Prepubescent Introduction to the laws of supply and demand.
Using the money I accumulated from months of shagging golf balls at the nearby Muni, I managed to assemble a full set of these little monstrosities, and I stored them on the top of my dresser, laid out in neat ranks and files. This was, as it turned out, a mistake, because the greenish-black Mysterious Oily Substance with which they were coated managed to leave indelible stains on the dresser’s pickled wood finish. To this day I can still picture those faint Permanent Outlines...especially the one of the Scorpion. It was almost worth all of the Parental Screaming that took place when those Indelible Stains were discovered.
I don’t know what possessed me to do it, but one morning when my grandparents were visiting for the weekend, I took the little Rubberoid Mouse and parked it on my grandmother’s pillow, inches from her face, and waited for her to wake up and discover it. Bad idea. Damn near gave the woman a fucking heart attack, it did, and afterward, I felt deeply ashamed. Still do, on those rare occasions when I think of it.
Anybody remember these stupid Rubberoid Critters?