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John's Action Figure Column 6/20/96


     It's an odd one this week, folks.  Inspiration works in
mysterious ways, and when the muse of toys ("Toypsichore," of
course, as we used to call her in Da Bronx) calls collect, you
*don't* put her on hold.  So we start with a bit of slinky dog-gerel,
then move on through a modest little scheme designed to end the
shortpack scourge forever, and conclude with a modern-day ghost
     So, without further ado, we're off to the land of rhyme and
meter, that multi-billion dollar business known as...Poetry.

TO HIS TOY MISTRESS (She's Gotta Have 'Em)

Had we but gas enough, and time,
these shortpacks, Lady, would be thine.
We'd enter T-R-U each day,
And dawdle, while we made our way 
Up to the aisle where did reside
The action figures, they our pride.
Made not of metal, stone or wood
But plastic, ahhh -- I say 'tis good.
You'd scan Action Figure News,
I, the Tomart's, would peruse.
And our collection, yea, would grow
Vaster than empires and more slow;
We'd take a week each just to praise
The detail in a Cy-Gor's gaze;
Another week his mighty breast,
Heck, add two more for all the rest;
An age at least to every part,
At which point, lo! The repaints start
To ship to each and every state,
Tho' at the same confounding rate.

But at my back I always hear
A scalper's T-Bird hurrying near;
And yonder there before us lie
Bare pegs in vast eternity.
Not a single shortpack found,
In each of several Walmarts 'round;
Then Target, Kaybee, did we try,
None had escaped the gouger's eye,
And hopes of Blood Queens turn to dust,
And into ashes all our lust:
8C's a fine and private place,
But no Picards or Yars there grace.

Now, therefore, while the bubbled hue
Of each new figure shines like dew,
And while the scalper horde conspires
To cherry-pick each case entire,
Now let us purchase while we may,
Race in, like rav'nous birds of prey,
The early-morning shelves we'll scour
Rend ope new cases with our power.
Let us gather figures tall
With vehicles, into one ball,
And tear our playsets with rough strife
Through the checkout lanes of life;
Thus, though we cannot make our sun

(with much-too-belated apologies to be much good to Andrew Marvell,

                *     *     *     *     *

     This one just came to me in the shower.
     (In fact, most of my ideas come to me in the shower.  It's
something about the hot, insistent cascade of aerated water,
streaming all around me so as to create an instantaneous rushing
womb of comfort and containment, that sets my creative juices
flowing right alongside -- though thanks to the powers of memory,
instead of sluicing right on down the drain they stay with me, and
thus *you*, dear reader.  Ahem.  Assuming you *like* these columns,
well, that then is a good thing.  If you don't, well, I will further
assume the implicit syllogism will hold and that you are thus not
even reading this right now -- so we're all set.)
     (And for those who might for whatever arcane reason care, the
*rest* of my ideas tend to come to me while I'm dreaming, with
driving taking up a distant third.  Now, there's really no way to
drive *while* you shower -- I'm sure it's against the law in
northern California anyway -- and the same would hold true for
driving and dreaming (although I think there are sections of Marin
County where it might not only be permitted, but mandatory), *but*
it did occur to me that I might be able to program myself to *dream*
of showering -- or even perhaps shower while dreaming -- though one
might end up psychically or physically waterlogged to a point of
structural disintegration.  But this is all very much beside the

     Anyway, the idea.  It's so simple, it nearly floored me (but
then, I might have drowned, so I managed to stay upright -- and
     You find two or three local rtm-ers (heh heh, soon to be rta-
fers, and I hereby make my proposal that next year's awards be
called the "Taffies" dropping the "r" because it doesn't really
scan, and after all, I think we can all agree to make the "rec"
implicit) (assuming nostalgia doesn't prompt us to keep "R-T-
Emmies," which if it does is just fine with me, by the way, don't
mean to stir up any discord) (hey, where are we?  Let's start
     You find a couple of local rtm-ers, and you select a mutually
convenient TRU to be your staging ground.  Then, you go in over a
couple of days, each separately, and buy up ALL the Spawn figures
they've got, five or six at a time (you don't want to do it all at
once; that might arouse too much suspicion; if you do it this way,
they'll just think you're another manifestly insane collector).
     I'm not talking about just the HOT new figures (if you could
even find those), I mean ALL of the Spawn figures, from the $1.98
wayyyyyy old 1st series junkers through the "slashed-for-the-rapid-
sales-that-just-ain't-happening" Youngblood figures, all the way up
to the "still-unbelievably-full-priced" Wetworks and Spawn figures
from last year.  As I said, you just buy 'em all up, stuff 'em into
TRU bags, and put them aside for a couple of weeks.
     After about a week, your chosen TRU should be absolutely *bare*
of McFigs.  If the stockers have the temerity to challenge your
clearcutting by putting out additional dust-collectors from some
dingy back room, just buy all those up, too.  What you should end up
with is a TRU without a single McFigure available for sale.  Not

     Now, my understanding is that, at least to some extent, TRU toy
allotments are guided by individual store sales.  So, you sit back
for a little bit.  If things work as expected, a little signal
should work its way up the electronic information food chain from
your TRU all the way to the regional purchasing/warehousing/
allocation center, and trigger a restocking request.  It may take a
little while, but eventually, even a company as lame and even
deliberately anti-sales as TRU will stumble into the realization
that "hey, we might well be able to sell some more of this junk in
this one store."  Some time thereafter, your chosen TRU should get
in a lion's share of *new* McToys.  And if you continue and repeat
the process, buying up even the very long longpacks, you should have
"taught" the TRU allocation computer that this one particular store
is a sales gold mine.
     Ahhh, I hear a question from the back.  Just what *do* you do
with all the worthless, crappy, dusty and unwanted McRetiree Toys
you purchased to set this particular spiked ball rolling?  Why, you
take a leaf from the scalpers' book (not that most of them ever read
it, or even could) and just return those toys to the *other* TRUs in
your area.  Sure, they'll get glutted with moldy old toys no one
will ever want, but your *chosen* TRU will be on its way to glory.

     Just think, Spawn Ultra Gottahavit Six-B will come out in drips
and drabs everywhere, but at the McMonster Store you've created, two
dozen cases will come in as soon as shipping commences, affording
you the choicest pick of several sequential litters.
     Now, at this point, you can either quit with your "winnings" in
hand, or _you_can_just_repeat_the_cycle_, buying up all the less-
desired McSpawnFigs and making a vigilante redistribution to other,
lesser TRUs.  (Obviously, the wider you make your redistribution, in
terms of more and more TRUs, the better this will work).  Assuming
you are willing to reduplicate your efforts thenceforth, your work
will ensure that you'll never go toy-hungry again (call it a
"Reverse Robin Hood" effect) -- and you'll always have Tara.
     Aside from ensuring that your collection will never be pitted
and gapped by scalpers again, the secondary beauty of this is, you
haven't scalped anyone, and haven't really deprived *anyone* of any
toys (since the peg-hangers you relocated by their very presence
were obviously not moving anyway)!  Oh, sure, eventually your
"dumping ground" TRUs will have to close, since they'll be so
overstuffed with unwanted toys they'll *never* be able to move the
damned things, but hey, until that point, you'll have solved your
shortpack problems completely.
     Well, most of them; you still need to figure out a way to keep
the scalpers away from your Cornucopia TRU the whole time...
     ...guess it's back to the shower for me....

     There are many curious and compelling tales of unusual toy
collectors out there in the world.  Some must be sheer myth,
gossamer fables told and perpetuated to terrify the young around
summer campfires, or perhaps to charm others into the hobby; other
collector stories are perhaps just modern legends that, once heard,
refuse to retreat to the realms of fantasy that spawned them.  But
one such modern tale of the wondrous and bizarre came to my
attention recently, and -- my god -- I have every reason to believe
it's true.

     "I met a traveler from an antique land,
     who said, two vast and scalperless stores command,
     views of the highway if you travel north,
     cross the big water, and sally forth...."
(Hey, once you get on a poetry kick, it's pretty hard to stop).

      He was just standing there in aisle 8c at TRU, staring
intently into the racks of McToys, then moving patiently over to the
Star Wars figures, crossing slowly from there over to Chez Toybiz. 
Colorful t-shirt, shorts, sandy blond tousled hair -- pretty much
your average 20-something collector -- except for a certain strange
intensity in his eyes, like they'd seen things no toy lover should,
or perhaps had just been staring out with unrequited hope for too
      We'd been there rack-scanning and peg-checking for several
minutes; it wasn't until he patiently sidled up to the BTAS racks
that we struck up a conversation.  Hey, whatcha seen lately; nothing
new at the Buzzard's Bait Target; didja hear that the Wetworks are
out in Corte Madeira....

     He seemed like a very nice guy.  We talked a while, and then a
while grew into quite a while, and eventually he asked me what my
"normal run" looked like.  I noticed a slight increase in that
strange intensity in his tired gaze when he asked, but he'd disarmed
me with his own candor and warmth, so I didn't worry that I was
divulging any big secrets.  I told him -- my basic Target, Kaybee,
TRU trajectory, sometimes ending with a second TRU at the tail end.
      He laughed.  It was a generous laugh, at once sincere but also
kind.  Asked me if I'd ever gone north *past* the Target, over the
bridge and into the "wild east yonder."  No, I confessed; though I'd
shopped eastward a few times, I'd never approached it from that
      "Really?  Listen, if you want to hit a couple more stores
without too much trouble...."  A couple more stores?  Not too much
trouble?  Folks, he proceeded to outline his "normal run," and as
the stores grew more numerous, the distances grew vaster, my hands
grew cold and my stomach started to sink.  In a bare minute or two,
this guy described an arc of about 20 stores stretching over
something on the order of 140 miles!  Just thinking about the
distance, and the time involved in cruising through each store, my
mind boggled at the sheer effort involved.  Almost of its own
volition, my mouth spoke.  "But, but, that would take all *day*!"
      "Nah, you can cover all that by the afternoon, and still have
time for a whole run through the areas *south* of the City...."  And
again that haunted look passed over his features.  *What* had this
guy seen?
      I just didn't know what to make of it all.  I asked if he
didn't get tired of all that motion, or sick of the competition, or
just plain bored with the repetition.  But with that mysteriously
drawn smile in his eyes, he quietly said, "nope.  Can't stop, man. 
Just gotta keep going...."
      Now, I don't know what distances the more intrepid of you out
there travel on a regular basis, but I thought I was being extreme
with my modest little 80-mile round trip, made once some weeks,
twice others.  Ha.  This guy ate up twice that before lunch, and
tripled it by an early dinner (if he even ate at all; as
surreptitiously as I could, I leaned back for a second to make sure
he was casting a shadow....).
      I asked him what he was looking for, what he was really after,
and he got a very strange look in his eyes as he turned them up to
look into mine with a direct, burning stare.  "I swore once that I
would find a 1,701 Picard, and a Yar, and a Barclay when they came
out...yes, swore...a blood-oath on my mother's Barbies...."  His
voice trailed off into a quiet rasp, and then, finally, silence.  I
could hear the whirr of the TRU air conditioners as I watched his
eyes burn bright, then begin to dim, then go glassy.

     "Did you find them?"
     He was lost in reverie.
     "Uh, did you find them?  Any of them?"
     He began to laugh, a sick, weak, frightening ghost of a laugh. 
It started low, and then rose, peaked, and subsided to a tired,
quiet background susurration.
      "Hey," I put a hand out and touched his shoulder gently.  "Are
you okay?"  Oddly, his body felt somewhat insubstantial, much
lighter than I'd expected.  He broke off the laugh, his whole frame
shook once, as if involuntarily, and he started muttering, "gotta
get going, gotta keep moving.  Gotta keep going; gotta get
      Sadly, with a rush of compassion, I realized that he was,
quite simply, mad.
      I don't mean he was driven, or even obsessed; the lad was
perfectly insane.  It wasn't about fun, or the hunt, for him --
there was something otherworldly in his mania, something that a
dozen Leias, a multitude of McShortpacks, a deluge of Robin
Dragsters couldn't cure.  More than anything else, he was like a
holy acolyte on a blessed quest, the search more important than any
possible goal.  Except it didn't really seem to be of his own free
will, and "unholy" might be a better way to describe it.  It wasn't
that he *wouldn't* stop; it was that he couldn't.
      I realized as I stood there in stupefaction that he had
finally quieted his muted chant, and moved on down the aisle toward
the exit.  "Wait!"  I shouted.  "What's your name...."
      He turned from the verge of the plush toys section and
whispered an answer that reached me halfway across the store.
      "Vanderdecken.  But you can call me 'Dutch'...."
      And he vanished without another sound.
                      *   *   *   *   *
      It's almost a week later, and I know he's out there, right now
-- whenever it is that you're reading this -- the "Driving
Dutchman," as I like to think of him, cursed to ride the highways
forever for his naive hubris in defying the ill-tempered and
swift-to-anger gods of the shortpack, and the super-shortpack....
      May God have mercy on his peripatetic soul.
Copyright (c) 1996 by John Gersten. All rights reserved.

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