Hey Skinny! Send Away for Stuff…

We’ve all been there. We mowed the lawn. We took out the garbage. We cleaned out the garage. We did our homework every night. We walked the dog.

Hey Skinny! Send Away For Stuff...

But let’s be real here. We did all these things not out of the goodness of our little pre-teen hearts but because we wanted the cash that came with those chores. And we held that cash in our warm little hands and we hot-footed it over to the corner store where we bought a comic book.

Batman, Superman, Archie, Richie Rich – that part didn’t matter. What mattered were the lurid adverts at the back of the comic books which promised us a secret life of untold excitement. In short, we lusted after all the crap we¬†would get in the mail. And oh, what crap it was!

Joy Buzzer

Joy Buzzer AdvertThis was neither a sexual device (although I’m sure one must exist out there somewhere) nor a drag queen (although I’m definitely sure one must exist out there somewhere) but rather a small device about one’s person which delivered a mild electric shock upon contact with another human being.

There are a number of flaws here.

For starters, the average pre-teen, especially an overly excited pre-teen who is about to do something obnoxious, is bound to have ridiculously sweaty hands. If you want to go ahead and place a small electrical device in all that human dew then on your head (or hands) be it.

I’m not driving you to the hospital.

Also, a handshake is a universal gesture of friendship, camaraderie. Don’t be surprised (or indeed shocked, ho ho) if someone punches you for spoiling that gesture. Again, I’m not driving you to the hospital.

Onion Gum

Onion Gum AdvertBack in the late 70s/early 80s a TV advert featured two bright young things on board a Greyhound bus who bonded over a shared strip of Wrigley’s gum.

All of this was set against a musical backdrop of Free’s excellent All Right Now of which I heartily approve.

Rather like the handshake¬†above, gum serves a similar function. It can be a conversation starter, an ice breaker, a small way to make a new friend or offer solace in an equally small crisis. It’s a friendly gesture.

But once again we have the overly excited pre-teen about to do something obnoxious. Have some gum. No really have some gum. Be my friend. I have no ulterior motive. Seriously. Just take the freaking gum, Dave!

For the second time today (but probably not the last), I’m not taking you to the damn hospital.

Spy Camera

Spy Camera AdvertNow we enter the realm of my own personal lust pile. From a very early age, no doubt fostered by the likes of James Bond, Derek Flint, and Matt Helm, I wanted nothing more than to be an agent for MI5. I had no particular loyalty to any one country – I was born in England but grew up in Canada – nor did I aspire to serve any particular Government or Monarch.

I just wanted the groovy gadgets that went with the job.

I bought copious books on the subject of spying – history books about Kim Philby and Mata Hari, detailed manuals about codes and cyphers, how-to guides for disguises. I also used to balance the weighty tome that was the Vancouver telephone directory on my fingertips every morning to toughen myself up for future torture and interrogation. I was nothing if not prepared for my life jet-setting backwards and forwards between Canada and the hinterland behind the Iron Curtain.

All I needed was a miniature camera complete with a miniature film that no photo processing store in any mall throughout the greater British Columbia area would ever even consider developing. Not to mention the fact that I’ve worn glasses since the age of seven and probably couldn’t even find the lens let alone peer through it and take a damn picture. What mattered to me then (and it still matters to me now if I’m honest) is that it was a miniature freaking camera. Move over Kim Philby – there’s a new spy in town.

Spy Scope

Spy Scope AdvertThis never featured in my lusted-after spy arsenal.

The scenario itself requires an enormous leap of faith and imagination.

Picture this if you will. You find yourself in a darkened street somewhere deep in East Berlin circa 1966, alone and friendless while the Cold War rages on around your very trenchcoated shoulders.

You sport an impressive pair of black Ray Bans and you carry an equally impressive black leather attache case filled, perhaps, with the deeply important microfilm which contains industrial secrets that could cause nations to crumble. You spot a dangerous and unhinged enemy agent over by the Berlin Wall. You light a Chesterfield, lean back against a convenient U-Bahn doorway and pull out what appears to be a slim pen but turns out to be an obvious and somewhat weird telescope which you then jam in your eye and point at the enemy agent.

He whispers into the microphone sewn into his shirt cuff:

It’s that freak with the telescope again. Should I shoot her now or garotte her later? Your call, comrade.

Throw Your Voice

Throw Your Voice AdvertI confess. I bought this.

To this very day, I don’t know why I bought it, however. I have a deep-seated terror of anything to do with ventriloquism, from the dummies themselves to the weirdoes who sit there with cult-like smiles on their faces and their hands shoved up a doll’s arse.

Ventriloquism occupies a special place in Hell alongside clowns. If I ever find out that there’s a ventriloquist not only dressed like a clown but holding a clown dummy I’m never leaving the house again.

I think I just talked so much as a child (with every single report card from 1970 to about 1978 stating “perhaps she should listen more and talk less“) that I needed an extra way to speak without getting blamed for it. The pamphlet instructions are deceptively simple. You sit in front of a mirror and you start with the alphabet and you train your tongue to do the parts that your lips normally do.

Like I said, my forte is talking. I can tell you right now that ventriloquism is not only flat out weird it’s also impossible. Your tongue cannot mimic your lips. All you end up doing is convincing your mum that you’re having some sort of childhood stroke and you end up actually being driven to the hospital where someone shines lights in your eyes for five hours.

I still bear the emotional scars.

Trick Black Soap

Trick Black Soap AdvertI hesitated to include this.

The concept of any kind of blackface involuntary or otherwise is abhorrent in this day and age. I decided to include the soap as a relic of a time when we should have known better. I refer you to the word harmless in the advert. That’s about as far from the actual truth as you can get.

Now we live in an age where women spend a small fortune on expensive soaps which contain mud and charcoal, designed to lift impurities and other such beauty things but who end up however briefly back in unenlightened times.

Blue mud exists. You can also get white charcoal. You can probably also refine the ingredients until they have no colour whatsoever and that’s no doubt better for your skin anyway. Let’s put this back on the history shelf where it belongs and move on.

Whoopee Cushion

Whoopee Cushion AdvertWe will never live in a time where fart jokes cease to amuse. Flatulence is funny.

As a vegan, I have no actual need for a whoopee cushion as I possess a very reliable if somewhat obnoxious natural one. Eat lentils on a daily basis and then attempt to judge me.

Again the premise is deceptively simple. You take a small and somewhat rigid rubber balloon with a weird funnel on the end of it, stick it on someone’s chair, and when they sit down hilarity ensues.

As with all of these gimmicks and gizmos, there are several inherent flaws.

All whoopee cushions are the colour of vaguely diseased internal organs and you’d have to be legally blind not to spot them on your chair. I say this with the full knowledge that I possess one of two fractures in my coccyx because I didn’t look before I sat down on a chair that some school wag had pulled out so I may be placing too much faith in that statement.

Also, whoopee cushions are either made of such thin rubber that they just break under the weight of buttocks, or so rigid that they emit a strange whistle rather than an out and out explosive fart. On an interesting side note comedienne, Whoopi Goldberg is so named because she displayed tremendous personal flatulence during her days as an acting student. Fun fact.

X-Ray Specs

X-Ray Specs AdvertI saved the two best known ones until last because I’m good to you that way. Send me cake by way of a thank you.

Rather than the legendary UK punk band fronted by the late and sadly missed Poly Styrene, X-Ray Specs epitomise the crap that we all wanted to send away for from the back of the comic books of our youth.

Every advert for X-Ray Specs featured a picture of some pervert ogling a woman in her underwear, and although as pre-teens we were never particularly interested in seeing anyone naked either male or female, the idea that we could see through walls like Superman was definitely enticing.

Sadly, and perhaps inevitably, they just don’t work. 3D glasses work. They give you a headache but they do what they say on the tin. X-Ray Specs just make you look like an idiot and don’t afford you any kind of superpowers but then, be honest with yourself: did you ever think that superpowers would cost a mere dollar?


Sea Monkeys AdvertOh sea-monkeys how we dreamed of you and thought about you and saved our pennies to buy you.

Look at that picture of the little sea-monkey family with their smiling faces and pot bellies and crowns. Not just any common or garden sea-monkeys but actual royal sea-monkeys. This is genuinely the stuff of which dreams are made. When I was a child I actually cut the advert out of my Richie Rich comic book and placed it on the wall above my bookshelf.

Every morning for the best part of a year I would look at those little smiling faces and save my pennies and think about the royal family who would be my friends in a tank in the corner of my bedroom. They could live under my Snoopy poster and we would have splendid times together albeit under water.

A $1.25 takes a lot of chores to achieve.

I never made it to the miniature spy camera – comics and sweets and ventriloquism manuals don’t leave much over for a goal that totals nearly $4.00 – and I almost made it to the $1.25 for the sea-monkeys. Almost but not quite. My friend made it. She mailed off the funds and stalked the mailbox on a daily basis and one day the sea-monkeys arrived… and there really are moments in life when dreams turn to nightmares.

I’ll leave you with this image while I practice saying bollcks without moving my lips. Sweet dreams, kids!

Actual Sea Monkeys


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