When Tesco Vee is on stage singing with The Meatmen, offensive lyrics about crippled children spew out of his mouth and it’s guaranteed that he will shake an inflatable penis (or two) in your face. When Tesco Vee is relaxing at home, he collects toys.
I was in a band that played a few shows with The Meatmen and when we were passing through Michigan Tesco invited us to spend the night at his house in Lansing. It was nearly two hours in the opposite direction from our next destination, but we had all heard legends of his toy collection and the curiosity was enough for us to happily sacrifice a little extra gas money.
Tesco lives in a quiet neighborhood across the street from a tranquil lake. There is one bedroom wallpapered with old blacklight posters and there are a number of classic cereal mascot statues along the top of the kitchen cabinets, but the real show begins below the house.
Normally it would be unadvisable to accept an invitation into a basement with a man nicknamed “The Dutch Hercules,” but this was the exception. We started in a small area that serves as part home office, part shrine to ABBA and Tesco paused for a moment to show off his Gay Bob doll (out of the closet but still in the box!). Just around the corner was a series of shelves dedicated to devil-related toys, dolls, and figurines. And then the main event…
Tesco’s basement probably covers more square footage than a standard two-bedroom apartment. You could live down there comfortably as long as you were okay with the idea of trading off sunlight for old Munsters figurines. (And who wouldn’t be?)
Aside from the scale of the place, the first thing that strikes you are the professional-quality glass display cases. This isn’t just a collection, it’s an exhibit. The cases by the entrance are filled with mint-condition The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Get Smart toys, with some Monkees memorabilia thrown in for good measure. Along the wall is a series of long, floating shelves, crammed with various Universal Monsters and some Ed Roth figurines. The shelves terminate at another display case, at the foot of which is a family of 1960s skateboards.
The far corner is dedicated to wind-up robots, astronauts, ray guns, and even an actual prop helmet from the 1950s show “Space Patrol”. And through a doorway the basement continues into another room with several pinball machines and a row of vintage Norwegian troll dolls eyeing you from the floor. Through another door was a closet with even more items stashed in bins that were no longer on display. I have to wonder if even Tesco knows how much he has accumulated.
Tesco proudly shared stories behind each item that caught my eye; he would make a delightful tour guide…if only the place was open to the public. The collection rivals that of any other private toy museum you could name, and it certainly stands out as one of the most interesting ways to spend a few hours in the vicinity of Lansing. I’m proud to be one of the few who have visited Tesco’s Toy Museum, but hopefully one day it will be enjoyed by the masses.
Or at least sold off in pieces to those who would appreciate it. It may seem as if Tesco is sitting on an eBay gold mine, but Tesco explained the unstable nature of the nostalgia business: as certain toys get older they reach a peak value, because the people who care about buying them start to die. Each generation shells out dearly for the chance to recapture what was precious to them at an early age, but the generation that follows always has different nostalgic priorities. So it’s hard to say if Tesco Vee’s house is filled with priceless pop culture artifacts or ultimately worthless pieces of perfectly preserved painted plastic. Either way, it’s a glorious and comforting place to visit. A sanctuary for the inner-child of the guy who wrote “Tooling For Anus.”