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Column: The Private Sector – The Kenner Liberation

Hey there, folks. After a bit of a hiatus so that you wouldn’t get any more fatigued of my gibberish than you probably already are, The Private Sector is back. And this week, I’m going to come clean by getting something off my chest. Something that’s been weighing on me heavily since age eight… try not to hold it against me… all right… here goes… I stole Winston.

Whew… that felt good. Literally confessing your crime to the bajillions of good folks that read these fine Ghostbusters fansites (and most likely my mother, who will be reading this after hearing that her boy is a thief through the grapevine). I guess that a story is in order.

I was eight. And while my family lived comfortably, admittedly it was difficult for my wonderful and remarkable parents to keep up with my hungry appetite for the fine Real Ghostbusters related products that Kenner was releasing en masse. I wanted desperately the Ghostbusters’ trademark firehouse headquarters, but such a luxurious purchase just wasn’t possible at the time (for the record, I built my own firehouse out of spare house siding that was in my father’s garage, probably far more rewarding for my creativity but not for my Dad who had purchased said materials to patch holes before the winter). Even purchases of the individual action figures were very selective and planned out because my parents were able to buy the figures for me so infrequently…

Egon Spengler (the original blue jumpsuit version with Proton Pack) was first. He was my favorite character, so his priority as a purchase obviously was elevated. For the longest time, he was the only Ghostbuster (with the help of Robocop and Batman) to fend off Granny Ghost (whom I had received as a birthday present from a friend) and all of the invisible ghosts in my imagination. Egon was the lone Ghostbuster, breaking the first rule by venturing out into business on his own. Fighting ghosts in lands foreign to New York like an old Fisher Price castle my parents purchased for me several years before… or the bathroom.

Egon was soon joined by the original brown suit release Pete Venkman, and then quite a bit later the Fright Features Ray Stantz (because Ray just wasn’t Ray to me without the Ecto Goggles). A few other ghosts joined them including a Kenner Stay Puft I had fortuitously come across at a neighborhood garage sale, for the then hefty price tag to me of fifty cents.

But Winston, the heart and soul of the Ghostbusters, was always noticeably missing.

By the time another purchase was granted by the folks, the original Winston with proton pack and jumpsuit was long gone from stores – replaced by the horrid Fright Features Winston who always looked like a strange ventriloquism dummy with his unhinged jaw. And why was he in a Formula One racer outfit? Fright Features Winston felt like a fraud to me. An imposter sitting on the pegs among his Kenner brethren. When given the opportunity by my parents to finally pick up Winston, I was stubborn and always passed said Fright Feature figure up.

Until one day… at a yearly check-up at my pediatrician’s office… I was sitting waiting in a patient room for the doctor to arrive. And there he was…

Sitting, surrounded by Fraggle Rock McDonalds toys and a couple Ninja Turtles in a box of toys conveniently placed on one of the exam tables (presumably to distract the patient from the terrifying injection the nurse or doctor was preparing to stick you in the arm with) – was the original teal green suit release Winston.

Now, I was raised Catholic so things that I haven’t even done already unexplainably weigh heavily on me. So the first thought in my head wasn’t “I’m going to steal this thing”, it was actually, “No way! That’s such a rare figure that I can’t find, what’s it doing here?” That figure sitting in the Tupperware tub might as well have been the Lost Ark of the Covenant to me after the couple of years that I had pined for it.

But as much as I eyed the figure, I did nothing during that visit but marvel at its presence.

Until a year later, once again – by chance the same exam room, the same tub of toys, Winston still in there (but noticeably a lot of the Ninja Turtles toys missing). Once again, first thought was, “No way! Him again! How cool!” Nowhere near, “I’m going to deprive dozens of Ghostbuster fan kids at this doctor’s office of a moment of joy getting to play with a Winston figure by stealing it…” And besides, I was (then) eight years old. Do you know what the punishment for stealing is to an eight-year-old kid in the late 80s? No, are you kidding me, man… not a stern talking to or a time out, my God, this was the time when parents weren’t all politically correct and bashful about sprawling you over their knee and beating the snot out of you. Children actually feared and respected their parents instead of dragging them around on a leash. There was no way that this good kid would even think of such a thing let alone do it…

Until the doctor injected me with one of those aforementioned needles in the arm.

Then I wanted vengeance.

They had inflicted pain and drawn blood from me. They took something forcibly from me without my permission. It hurt emotionally and physically and, to quote an immortal movie, “Son of a bitch must pay…”

So I took him.

Teal jumpsuited Winston was smuggled away from that hellish prison where children were tortured with no reward. He wasn’t stolen. He was freed. Or so I told myself at the time… until later when Catholicism kicked back in and the guilt weighed so heavily on me that Winston taunted me. He remained on the shelf because I felt guilty to play with him. I couldn’t sleep at night in fear of the punishment to come for what I had done.

It was a long and difficult year until I had made up my mind that, on next return to the doctor’s office, I would return Winston to where he came from. Just as I had smuggled the action figure from the pediatrician’s office a year prior, I snuck him back in and despite not being in the same exam room that time around, deposited him back into a tub of toys.

And funny enough, there he stayed and remained. Each and every year that I visited my pediatrician (healthy, of course – as they had special quarantined lobbies and exam rooms for the sick kids), Winston would be spotted occasionally.

For all I know, he’s still there to this day.

Unless some new generation of young Ghostbuster fan is considering liberating Winston from his sterile confines…

Don’t hurt me, mom.

(The Private Sector is a weekly syndicated column written by Troy Benjamin presented every Wednesday on Proton Charging, GB Fans, Ghostbusters.net, and Cross the Streams as an op-ed look at the goings on in the world of the Ghostbusters franchise. Learn more about Troy at www.troybenjamin.com)

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