Just call me Johnny Astro.

When I was a kid, this was one of my favorite toys:

Basically it was a ducted fan with a throttle and a joystick that allowed you to fly a weighted balloon around in a column of air. If you're familiar with the Bernoulli effect, you know how it works. It's basically the same way an airplane gets off the ground.

I know it sounds really boring compared to the toys kids have today, but back then it was almost like magic. You could actually fly it around in circles, out to about five feet, and then by dropping the throttle speed you could bring it back in for a landing. There were two flat "planets" (sold separately) that I didn't have, but really wanted. Somewhere, I have a picture of me playing with this toy. Here's the commercial that suckered me in - hook, line and sinker.

This Christmas, I decided to get myself a little gift, and I have a vintage Johnny Astro on its way to my house as we speak. They were pretty hard to control, but I have faith that if the six-year-old me could get it to fly around, then I'll still have the knack. (I hope it works out better than the japanese flute I bought. I still can't get that thing to make a noise that doesn't sound like geese sex. I'm clearly doing it wrong.)

Thinking about this toy led me on a toy hunt of sorts, and I started googling every toy I had as a kid. The first mechanical toy I have clear memories of playing with was called "Clancy the Great." He was a roller-skating chimpanzee, and he stood almost as high as I did:

I was probably only two years old at the time, and Clancy scared the living shit out of me. There were two ways to get Clancy to do his thing -- either grab his hand and push a button on his palm, which was supposed to make him skate beside you, or put his hat in his hand and then drop a coin into it, which would close the contact between the two metal studs and start him skating on his own. He had a creepy, sliding gait and his right arm and his head moved back and forth, while his hat arm stood perfectly still.

I'd sneak up on him from behind, throw the coin in his hat and then run away screaming like the hounds of hell were chasing me. I was certain that Clancy was right on my tail. I wouldn't go near him again until he ran into a wall and stopped. It was the best and most horrible toy I had. I wanted him to be my friend so we could do things together, but I was also scared he would kill me in my sleep.

During the day, he looked friendly, but there was something about him at night:

At night, he looked like he knew something you didn't. He'd just stand in the corner of my room, silently staring at me until I made my mother throw a blanket over him. It didn't help.

More toys tomorrow. I have a feeling I'm going to go broke on e-bay.


  1. I actually think old toys are better than today's toys. They required more imagination and were better made. I've tried looking up what I considered the "best" toys I had as a kid but my mother must have bought them from the trunk of some struggling toy designer's car because none of them seem to actually exist except in my memory.

    You were brave to go near Clancy at all. I probably would have kept him in my closet - and then never opened the closet again!

  2. I think the coolest toy I had was my James Bond briefcase, it had a pistol that built up into a sniper rifle, a knife hidden in the corner, and exploded (a cap went off) if you opened it the wrong way. Man, I hadn't thought about it for years now.


  3. Mary R1:32 PM

    My kingdom to find a Barbie Karosel Kitchen!
    I can't wait to see what toys your next posts bring.

  4. I don't know. The Johnny Astro toy was ok, but the guy with the leaf blower and roll of toilet paper was really having some fun.

  5. Holy crap. as soon as I saw the picture of that Clancy, I thought - horrifying. It reminds me of one of my parents favorite stories about a friend's son who would pee his pants every time his parents activated this monkey that played the cymbals and gnashed his teeth.

    Now Sit-n-Spin...THERE was a toy!

  6. I always wanted a Johnny Astro. And the James Bond briefcase, for that matter, but had to settle for the Agent Zero M set. The Big Bruiser wrecker was probably my favorite name brand toy, if you don't count BB guns.

  7. My father managed a Kiddie City when I was about seven and he'd let me ride the demo Green Machine up and down the aisles after closing when they were counting out the registers. You wouldn't believe the 360s you could do on waxed floors.

  8. You CAN recapture your childhood, it will just cost you a frelling fortune. Forget eBay, I find bicycles, pedal cars, dolls, games, etc. every time I drop into an antique mall. The junky ones are better, nobody can be an expert on everything, and you get better deals that way. Happy Hunting!


  9. You should see if your brother has one in his closet still in pristine condition :-)

    By the way, off topic, but your book is fantastic! I can't tell you how much laughing I have done in the last week. I hope there is more to come and there will be a second book because when I finish this one, I am going to be itching to read another...:-)

    Happy New Year.

  10. Holy crap! I wish I had one of those Johnny Astro toys. The earliest "cool toys" I remember having were the Evil Kanevil action figure with the stunt car.

  11. Ha.

    I went through this phase too.

    A few years ago, I bought just about ever GI Joe from the early 80's that I had as a kid, for my sons, on eBay.

    Spent about $2000. The wife shit!

    Then, I wouldn't even let my boys play with them.

    Now, they're in a tote in the garage somewhere.

  12. Anonymous5:06 PM

    Well, thanks a lot, JV and Mary R. I was driven to Ebay to look for a Karosel Kitchen, because *I* always wanted one of those, too. Given that I was barely allowed to have Barbies, since my mother felt they were "bad role models" (she awas right), the chances of me getting one were exactly nothing. But they're on Ebay now, alright, for $30+shipping! A little too much coin to drop on nostalgia. But I really, really LOVED the KK my rotten neighbor had. If I was super-nice to her sometimes I'd be allowed to play with it, but she'd always be standing there going, "Don't run the batteries down!" That chick could suck the fun out of any situation. Then she sold hers at a yard sale for a couple bucks, without even giving me a chance to buy it. Great memories - ugh!

  13. i was recounting memories of a 'scary skating monkey toy' to a friend, which prompted a haphazard internet search leading us to your entertaining post! oh my gosh, your account of Clancy was nearly the very same as mine. i stayed at a farm for three weeks when i was a kid, and was given a room to share with good old Clancy. he was so scary at night i'd stuff him under the bed. when the host found him there she made me take him out and stand him up again. i tried turning him so he'd face the corner, but that didn't help either. it's funny now, but it sure wasn't back then!

  14. Anonymous10:08 PM

    My uncle bought me Clancy as a toddler...scared th e daylights out of me and assorted siblings. When my uncle had a kid, my cousin was next in line to inherit Clancy. No dice! Scared every single one of us! Still remember running across the floor, leaping onto the couch and climbing up on the back of the couch to prevent That #^#|>£€<~\{ monkey from getting me!