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ON LOCATION IN WESTERN FLORIDA...

...BUT WHEN HE GOT THERE, THE CUPBOARD WAS BARE
    I had wanted to start this column with a catchy headline,
like "Toy Report From Southwestern Florida."  Short, punchy,
compelling.
    Unfortunately, there are no toys in Southwestern Florida.
    Which would render such a toy report moot.  Sigh.  Out goes
the headline.
    Now, this may have a lot to do with the demographics of my
vacation surroundings:  I was visiting dear old mom, in
retirement with dear older step-dad, and their community (Long
Boat Key, a small island off the western Florida coast sitting
peacefully -- at least last week -- in the blue waters of the
Gulf of Mexico) is not what you might call a spring chicken coop. 
More like a batty old bird cage.  The retirement condos come in
all shapes and sizes, but they have one thing in common:  they're
retirement condos, full of older people.
    Now, I have nothing against our venerable seniors.  No;
that's not true.  I do have one thing against them:  they have
little or no interest in toys.  Which means that, free market
economics being what they are, the toy sellers have no interest
in them.  And that little fact leads to one of the roots of the
problem:  no toy stores.  Well, not many.  Not enough.
   The problem's other root is an all-too-common one:  scalpers. 
You know, the kind of dealers who get their stock from other
retailers.  Self-righteous intermediaries who do us all the
dubious favor of taking hard-to-find items from the retail
shelves (where, if they had been left, they wouldn't in fact *be*
hard to find) and turning around to re-sell same at prodigious
markup (sometimes 2 or 3 times the original retail value).
    But you see, they do it for our own good.  And for the glory
of capitalist ideals.
    In other industries these fine people are called
"profiteers."  (If I bought all the diesel fuel in a particular
locale and set up to resell it on the roadside at twice my cost,
I'd find myself in the hoosegow by sundown -- if I were lucky
enough to escape hanging).  But if you listen to their rhetoric,
in the toy world they are the caretakers of the toy buying
public.  Our fairy godmothers, cherubs of the resale market.
    I guess I, for one, am just not grateful enough for the
scalpers' efforts on our collective behalf.  Fool that I am, I
take my small-minded pleasure in finding the toys I want at
retail prices on regular market shelves.  I guess I'm just too
thick to appreciate the finer points of capitalism, and the joys
of paying $15 for a five dollar item, off a table where twelve of
the one figure I want sit amidst night armies other shortpacks.
    Yes, the "original sin" of this phenomenon can be traced up
to the manufacturers themselves.  But please; there is no
shortpacking of sin.  Plenty to go around, and believe me, it
does.
    The bottom line for me is this:  regarding new toys, don't
pay scalper prices to scalping dealers.  It is blackmail, no
matter how much "free market" jargon you layer upon it.  Come to
think of it, the practice of scalping retail figures from someone
else's retail establishment pretty much takes the "free" right
out of the free market -- don'tcha think?  I sure do....
    Rise up, my brethren and sistren!  Throw off your chains of
oppression!  Submit not to scalping!  Resist blackmail!  You have
nothing to lose but your dignity!  Hold the line!  Hold the line! 
Block that punt!  Block that....
    ...Ahem.  I seem to have digressed a bit.  I believe I was
talking about my disappointment at finding no toys in
Southwestern Florida.  Let's see if I can pick up that original
thread....

FLORIDA TOY REPORT REDUX
    My problem really was this:  I had imagined Florida as some
kind of toyhunter's paradise.  We're talking inflated
expectations here.  That there would be no scalpers, few
collectors, rare toys veritably leaping off the shelves into
waiting carts.  This hypothecation was pleasantly fueled by
reports from some Floridian rtm-ers who seem to have great luck
at finding elusive items.  And so I left San Francisco last
weekend with a spring in my step, visions of X-plums dancing in
my head.
    Alas, nothing could have been farther from the truth.  With
all due respect to Scott, Zephyr, and other kind-hearted
Floridian rtm-ers, Southwestern Florida was a toy wasteland. 
T.S. Eliot would have been proud.  Except he got it wrong, 'cause
from where I was sitting February was the cruellest month.  Sure,
it was only my high hopes that really came crashing down;
Florida's toy shelves were no worse than Northern California's. 
But that didn't soften my disappointment one little bit.
    I had hoped for Cy-Gors a-plenty, AofA Magneto's cheaper by
the dozen.  Nope.  With the exception of a few overpriced POTF
figures ("paging Kay-Bee Toys, paging Kay-Bee..."), Florida
offered little of interest to the toy shopper.  And what was
worse, the one TRU that admitted to having even *seen* the new
Spawn figures also noted that they disappeared in toto on the
same day they were put out (something on the order of a week
before we got there).  And what's even worse, I expect I'll
return home to find that the same come-and-go has come and gone
thereabouts.  Oh well, at least I got the chance to re-experience
humidity....
    And a little humility as well.  I think the lesson here is
pretty clear:  while the grass may well seem greener on the other
side of the country, toy-lovers are everywhere.  And toy-scalpers
are everywhere.  Which all too often, and in all-too numerous
far-flung places, means that the toys themselves are not easily
found.  Hmmm.  Do I smell an axiom?  "Toy supply decreases so as
to increase fan frustration in direct proportion to the number of
middle management cy-goons working to maximize short-term
profits...."  Nah, too obvious....
    At least mom was looking well.

LOCAL SPAWNING GROUND
    Driving on one of Florida's spaghetti-plate highways early on
in our visit, Tracey spotted a sign that seized her attention. 
"Look, John:  Spawns!"  I looked, and sure enough, there was a
twenty-foot tall sign that read, "Spawns."  I almost got us
killed sweeping the car across the highway in a sudden 180-degree
turn, but just before I made that insane maneuver I took a second
look.  The sign actually said, "$PAWN$" -- and yes, it was just a
pawnshop with delusions of grandeur.
    Alas and alack.  Heavy sigh.  But in the desolate toy climate
of Southwestern Florida, I think I can be forgiven my wild,
momentary fantasy.  Sure, upon reflection, the idea of a "Spawn
Shop" makes no sense (they're popular, but not *that* popular),
but at the moment, deep in my craving, it seemed reasonable
enough to me.  Pity.
    Who knows?  As purple Malebolgia's become worth their weight
in gold (and I don't mean gold Spawns), perhaps we will see them
showing up in pawnshop windows as time goes by.  "Forget the
Rolex, pal; I can't move 'em.  But I'll give ya 500 bucks for
that Mal with pink panties...."
    And you thought Orwell's "1984" made the future seem
frightening....

THE TRUTH ABOUT TOYS IN SOUTHWESTERN FLORIDA
    Well, I did say there were no toys in Southwest Florida.
    Okay, so that's not quite true.  There *are* toys, just
nothing new.  I must have checked five Targets, six K-Marts, a
bunch of TRUs and a Kay-Bee, and insofar as my particular current
"wants" went, found nothing.  No Age of Apocalypse figures, no
Spawn IV (or Ultra-Spawn III, depending upon your numbering
system of choice).  No Savage Dragon She-Dragons.  And the only
POTF figures I found were $6.99 at the Kay-Bee (and were going
fast, despite the cost).
    On the other hand, I did not come home empty handed.  At
least not entirely.
    I found an old but cool-looking Batman The Animated Series
figure I'd never seen before -- a Bruce
Wayne-transforming-into-Batman figure that came with grey battle
armor.  I found a Princess What's-Her-Name, which I'd never
actually seen before.  I found what I presumed was a Kay-Bee
exclusive "mini" Spawn versus Violator 2-pack.  (I have since
seen a sickly looking, pewter-colored version of the same figures
at our local FAO Schwartz, which could give the Kay-Bees lessons
in overcharging.  Harumph!).  And I found a FF series I Mole Man,
which I'd been seeking ever since passing it up back in late
Summer the first (and only) time I'd set eyes on it.
    And, as noted, I found the three new POTF figures, though at
the extortionate price of $6.99 (Kay-Bee, what can I say?  The
name must derive from "kilo-bucks," which they'd make if they
could really sell all their toys at such prices).  So for any out
there for whom who I said I'd try to find these, mea culpa -- I
couldn't bear to pass on that kind of cost.  I did snag a Boba
Fett for myself, against the chance that I'll not see another on
a peg, but I passed up Lando and Luke II.  Sorry, fans, but Lando
looks like he's had one too many Bespin Gumbos (that, or he's
seen Wolverine's plastic surgeon), and the Luke in X-Wing garb
just looked too much the inbred hayseed for my hard-earned seven
bucks, toy drought or no toy drought.
    On the other claw, the mini-Spawn v. Violator two-pack looks
pretty cool.  It's not the pewter-colored one, thank Angela; it's
got a normal-colored Spawn with his cape flying off to the left
in a great classic-McFarlane effect.  Okay, so the Violator looks
like he's been soaked in slime -- good with the bad, and all that
(or vice versa).  I do wonder about the scale, though; is McToys
considering an onslaught on the 3.5-4" market?  If so, was this a
test salvo?  Has anyone heard anything else about these figures,
or any new ones on the way?
    In one sense, it seems like smart competition -- given
Marvel's forays into 3" die cast figures, 5" "regular" figures,
10" "giant-sized" figures, and even 12-14" demigod figures
(Galactus, Sentinnel), multi-sized offerings would seem to be of
interest.  Then again, the die-casts and the giant figs sold
unevenly (or so I conclude from the myriad markdowns thereon),
and as far as I can tell, the Youngblood "mini" figures sold not
at all.  Maybe this is just Todd's mendicant toe in the water;
time will tell.
    Of course, all he needs to do is let it slip that these are a
shortpack, and they would fly off the shelves....oh my, shut my
mouth!

LESS THAN PURELY TOY-RELATED...
    ...okay, we all know that it's a world of laughter.  Yes, I'm
talking about that mecca of childlike fun and wonder, Disney
World.  Yep, the wife and I capped off our Florida sojourn with a
visit to Frosty Uncle Walt's stately pleasure dome, decreed for
the kid in all of us.  (Well, for the dollar in the wallet of the
kid in all of us, anyway).  Due to an unexpected (and quite
undesired) headcold on my part, the result of our gracious
airline's decision to maximize profits instead of fresh air
(don't get me started...), we had to cut our Orlando leg of the
visit short.
    This amputation left us with a real quandry: with only one
day for Disney-fication, should we go to the Magic Kingdom or
EPCOT?  I had never been to either, and asked the lovely and
brilliant Tracey (who, in addition to head Target-spotter for our
party, doubles as my beloved wife) to describe each in a few
words.  As she told it, EPCOT center was a place where dozens of
nations of the world paraded their goods, their foods, and their
cultures -- street dancers cavorting amidst musicians in front of
museums and gourmet shops, the pageant and history of country
upon exotic country, displayed for our delectation.  The Magic
Kingdom, alternatively, was just a bunch of rides.
    Let me get this straight.  As I understood it, then, our
choice was between fun-land and "prancing" land?  This was a
choice?  Sounded like a no-brainer to me....
    So it was, with a song in our hearts and an expectation of
joy in our minds (as well as a couple of hundred bucks in our
wallets), that we set forth early the next morning for Disney
World's Magic Kingdom.
    Look, if you've been there, any description would be old hat. 
And if you haven't, it would be boring-unto-irritating.  So I'll
skip the Walter Cronkheit and just give the real essentials.
    No Talking Buzz Lightyear figures to be had, anywhere.  Not a
one.  Not even a raincheck.  It's also a world of tears....
    I asked in Future World, or Tomorrow Land, whatever they call
it, and they said the only place I might find one was on Main
Street (another of the park's lovely pseudo-worlds of fun fun
fun).  And at the Emporium in this generic promised land, I was
told that the only place in all of Orlando I might find
vociferous Buzz was at the MGM/UA/Disney theme park.  Well, it
wasn't worth staying another day (and shelling out another
$37.50) for the privilege of paying a good six or eight dollars
extra for our hero, so I didn't, and didn't. And judging at least
by Orlando, Herr Lightyear is still a hard one to find.
    On the other hand, if you're in the market for an overpriced
Star Trek tricorder (which item I've been seeking for a while),
Disney's Magic Kingdom would indeed hold magic for you.  I
passed, as much because the sound feature on the few they had out
were either barely working or not working at all as because of
the steep markup.  Sigh.  Back to the hotel to ogle that Spawn
two-pack again.... (and it was cool, but not *that* cool....)
    A few last words about the Magic Kingdom.  First of all, it
was smaller than I'd been led to expect.  "Ten times the size of
Disneyland," "unbelievably huge...."  These were the sorts of
hype I had heard.  Well, folks, it jest ain't so.  Oh, sure, it's
a bit bigger than Disneyland, but more in terms of space than
contents.  Divided into five or six "lands" each with
restaurants, rides, shops, etc., the total number of attractions
didn't seem to me to be tremendously greater than Southern Cal's
ancient workhorse of an amusement park.
    The highlights were the Haunted Mansion (to quote Brant, at
least loosely, how DO they do all that cool stuff?!?), the
Extra-Terror-restrial (teleportation experiment goes awry,
leaving you and a few dozen others alone in the dark with a slimy
creature that's a cross between Giger's Alien and Japan's
Mothra), and a non-ride experience, "Traveling the Ages with the
Timekeeper," or something like that.  What made this last
attraction dazzling were the 360-degree theatricals on nine
linked screens, and Robin Williams' juggernaut wit (he provides
the voice and mania for a wonderfully animated robot-scientist). 
A truly marvelous experience, and it was nice to see evidence of
His Madcapness's patching things up with the Mouse People after
the Aladdin debacle.
    P.S.  The Extra-Terror-restrial ride did have one element
that was totally captivating.  It's introduced by a malevolent
android creature, and while the special effects were generally
quite good, this robo-baddy sported super-tech eyeglasses with
LED eyes that went way beyond cool.  Imagine a souped-up pair of
Ray-bans with LED eyes that move and narrow and raise with your
every expression.  Nightmarish, and unbelievably compelling.  I
searched (in vain) throughout the park for a souvenir pair of
these puppies, but alas, none were to be had.  Maybe some day....

ALWAYS CLOSE WITH SOMETHING SENTIMENTAL
    The worst part of the whole trip (and hey -- don't get me
wrong; the trip was pretty great, all things considered) was
*not* that I had no computer, and no modem.  (I did have periodic
access to a computer, one with a 2400 BAUD MODEM!  Does anyone
out there remember these heirlooms?  Perish the thought -- is
anyone out there still *using* one?)  Anyway, I could access my
email, long distance (my provider has no local POP in Florida;
the closest one was Atlanta, but I was afraid I'd get multiple
screens-full of Olympics hype; no offense to the friendly
Atlanteans out there, but I can't stand the way the media
prostrate themselves over this competition), but at the
cybersnail's pace of 2400 bits per second, I could barely afford
to read it -- and could not really afford to respond.
    And with that in mind, reading the newsgroup was beyond my
credit limit.  Which accounts for my absence from these wonderful
shores.  And *that* was the worst part of the trip -- losing
contact with rtm.  It wasn't fun, and it wasn't easy.  I dreamed
about rtm.  Saw lists of postings stretching from drowsy to
nightmare, endless variations of sale exhortations, pleas,
threats, even a few bargains.  I conducted hypnagogic
thread-dialogues with various people, maddened my dormant self
with lists of others' toyfinds.  But most of all, I MISSED YOU
PEOPLE!  Missed the reading, and the writing, the merchandising
and the musing, all of it.
    Thus, and in short (ha!), I'm very happy to be home.
    And oh yeah, to be back in San Francisco.
    See ya in the funny papers....
Copyright (c) 1996 by John Gersten. All rights reserved.

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