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John's Action Figure Column 6/27/96


     I've talked before about my pal Jeff.  Film critic,
raconteur, all-around great guy, and perhaps most important for
this forum, carrier of the action figure virus that has
devastated my life.
     Or revivified it -- all depends on your point of view.
     And my point of view this week is aimed in a different
direction than usual.  Instead of looking inward, this week we
take a look outward, at -- howdja guess -- Good Collector Jeff.
     You may remember Jeff as the poor unfortunate who had a
near-religious experience one morning when the juxtaposition of
sun, ethanol, awakening and Angela almost made him the chief
altar boy at the First Church of Todd (Shortpacked).  Jeff has
been involved lately with some experiences that cast a whole new
light on the action figure world.
     And others that are just too funny to leave out.

     So Jeff had this car.  A Volkswagen diesel Rabbit.  Yeah, he
bought it used, but he loved it none the less for its antecedent
infidelities.  And once it was his, they were inseparable.  That
car took Jeff where he needed to go to make his mark in life. 
Home.  Work.  Dates.  Movies.  But more important than any of
that -- it took him...toy shopping.
     Well, one fine day this spring, as it does to all creatures,
techno- or organic, a spirit no less august and grim than Death
herself came a-calling on Jeff's car.  (Thunder on the
soundtrack; darkening skies and a pervasive gloom fill Jeff's
world).  The poor thing had been weakening for months, and
ultimately its six-cylinder heart just gave out.  Poor, poor
Jeff.  And not only because he no longer possessed a motor
vehicle to get him to the toys he so loves.  No, no; for Jeff,
the legacy of the Rabbit's passing was worse than a mere
relegation to pedestrian status.  For you see, he still had to
dispose of the body.
     Ahhh, crashes to crashes, rust to rust -- whatever your
spiritual affiliation, whatever your relationship to the
environment, you can't really cremate your car.  It just isn't
     And burial is pretty much out of the question, too.  Forget
about finding the space -- the digging alone would kill you, and
then your heirs would need *two* holes (well, I suppose you could
be buried _in_ your car...nah, the board of health would never go
for it -- or the casketmaker's union).
     So, as far as Jeff's car went, burning was out.  Burial?  No
     As any Monty Python fan will tell you, that pretty much
left...dumping.  And given that Jeff's steel and chrome paramour
had died the real death while parked snugly on one of San
Francisco's lovely residential streets, dumping-by-abandonment
was out of the question.  If the sheer unsightliness of such an
approach weren't enough, consider the tickets:  Jeff's four-
wheeled baby was accruing standing violations faster than a
streetwalker at Fleet Week.
     Nope, the "dumping," such as it was, would have to involve a
third party.  A third party with a tow-truck.

     So Jeff made a few calls.  And given the total stagnation of
his flivver, the fact that its engine was bereft of life, pushing
up crankcase daisies (or would be soon), had up and joined the
automotive choir invisible, the offers weren't very good.
     "Thirty bucks."
     "Thirty bucks?!?"  Gulp.  "For an entire car, all I get is
thirty bucks?!?"
     "No, pal.  I won't haul that piece of junk away for *less*
than thirty bucks."
     Oh, ignoble fate!  Cruel destiny -- that all their time
together, all the miles passed and joys shared, would devolve to
this.  A man immobile, stuck with 2,000 pounds of inert metal,
vinyl, and rubber.
     Well, Jeff was not a man to take "you-pay-me-thirty-bucks"
for an answer.  Motivated by a vengeful pride (not to mention a
pointed lack of the thirty bucks), he returned to the phones, and
after considerable searching, managed to secure an offer to
actually *get* 15 bucks from a kinder, gentler form of automotive
transmogrification specialist.
     "I'm a junkman, pal."
     "Listen, I loved that car; would it be too much trouble to
ask you to call yourself an Automotive Transmogrification
Specialist, just until you resettle my baby somewhere in the
mythic gasoline west?"
     "How's ten bucks sound?"
     "Hey, once a junkman, always a junkman, I always say. 
Fifteen bucks, huh...."
     Now, before he went ahead and agreed to the offer, Jeff
started thinking.  Fifteen bucks.  Fifteen bucks.  Fifteen bucks. 
Why did that number seem so meaningful?  Jeff thought some more,
and then it hit him:  Fifteen bucks, why, he'd been saving
*seventeen* bucks to buy a couple of McFarlane figures!  This
marvelous old car, all their time together, and all it added up
to was...not enough dough to get a She-Spawn and a Badrock!
     Something snapped in Jeff at that moment.  It wasn't about
1.7 action figures, or the honor of his wheels.  It was about...
actually, it *was* about the 1.7 action figures.  Jeff told me
that for all the accumulating tickets, for all his love for that
car, for all their time together, he just couldn't let the it go
for less than the worth of *four* figures, and that was non-
negotiable.  A matter of principle.
     Well, bless him, he hit the pavement and scoured the lots
until he found someone willing to pay him $35 for the darned
thing, removal included.  Oh, happy day ("oh, happy day").  Oh,
happy day ("oh, happy day").  When Louie hauled ("when Louie
hauled").  He hauled Jeff's auto away ("he hauled --" Enough with
the gospel music already!).
     Did Jeff rush out and *buy* those four action figures with
his little windfall?  Sad to say, readers, no.  Believe it or
not, he threw the whole tidy sum away on utter luxuries like
food, and laundry.  You can lead a horse to waterworld

     But this started me thinking.  The missus and I had planned
a little vacation for this coming weekend, head up north to
Seattle for a couple of days.  And we needed a house sitter. 
Well, to be more accurate, we needed a cat sitter -- the house
isn't likely to soil itself, or shred the carpet, or starve, or
-- worst of all -- despoil any of the action figures.
     Now, Jeff had house sat for us once before.  And he did a
magnificent job, truly he did.  But something about his having to
play Seigfried to our four domestic lions (with no Roy around to
help) in combination with fielding our panicked 3:00 a.m.
telephone calls (did Napoleon eat?  Did Whitey manage to get past
Cassady without him rending her other ear?) made him
unaccountably loath to return to those duties.  And we were
growing desperate, and just couldn't find anyone else to mind the
store, uh, den.
     Unfortunately, Jeff seemed impervious to our pleas, and
what's more, to our cash.  It wasn't until I remembered his
recent automotive loss that he started to waver.  "You know,
Jeff," I said, "you could have our *car* for the weekend...."
     Well as you might expect, *that* got his interest.  He
actually seemed to be thinking about it.  But unfortunately, I
saw his head start to shake and I knew we'd lost him.  (So our
cats tend to play King of the Hill with you as hill at 4:00 a.m.
each night.  Is that really so much to ask?  Apparently it was.) 
And our hopes of being able to take the time away without a major
veterinary restructuring were rapidly fading.
     Until inspiration struck.  "Say, Jeff."
     "Well, you haven't been able to do much figure shopping
lately, right?"  He nodded sadly.  "Well, what about this.  You
get the apartment.  The car.  You can disconnect the ringer on
the phone."  I took a deep breath and crossed my fingers.  "And
I'll give you a Cy-Gor, a Cyber-Violator, and a Black She-Spawn -
-" hey, he's had no car, he can't even get the _longpack_ figures
"-- just for taking care of the beasts and homestead for the
weekend.  Whaddaya say?"
     Ding!  Ding!  Ding!
     Well, folks, this incantation proved to be magic.  Faster
than you can say, "hey, have a nice trip" (which is in fact
exactly what Jeff said), everything was arranged.
     Now, the truth is, I'd bought these figures for Jeff some
weeks back, but between buying flowers for the dear departed
Rabbit and taking buses everywhere, he'd never managed to put
together the "cost+tax" cash to complete the transaction.  But
now, cash was no longer necessary.
     And you know what the best part of all is?
     He won't know I'm throwing in a Blood Queen until he gets
there Saturday morning and sees it, resplendent in its bubble,
be-ribboned for his delectation.
     Hey, charity begins at home, right?

     Jeff works in the service department (aka the mail room) at
our office.  Along with a stalwart crew of five or six other
guys, he keeps the paper flowing in its never-ending circuit from
mail to copier to printer to package to courier to fax to file to
court to market to market to fetch a fat hen....
     And so on.  Anyway, about a month ago, we outfitted the mail
room with a souped-up computer (or what passes for same at our
low-end 486 shop) so that they could be a part of the labyrinth
of mystery and confusion that is our internal email package (I
ought to know; I'm in charge of it).  And since the email program
requires that institutionalized computer virus known as
"Windows," we had to so infect this computer as well.
     I don't know if everyone there is familiar with Windows, but
one minor feature of its graphical interface is that you can turn
pretty much any digitized image into background "wallpaper" for
the computer screen -- providing you have a paint program, a
little imagination, and a little bit of time.
     Now, Jeff is a fair-to-middlin' disease vector.  Which is to
say that while he managed to thoroughly infect me with the
collecting bug, as far as his fellow mailroom jockeys go, he's
only managed to give them the toy-collecting equivalent of a mild
sniffle.  One's got a Ninja Spawn, another a Maxx, but that's
about it.  But they know enough about various figures that I
thought it would be a nice surprise for them, and for Jeff in
particular, for me to sneak a web-photo of the upcoming "Sam &
Twitch" figures from McFarlane Toys into the machine's screen
     Good enough, and easily done.  A little download here, a
resizing there, reduce the color depth and voila!  Sam & Twitch,
front, back and sides, emblazoned on the screen for all to see.
     Well, I waited for Jeff to get in (he's on the afternoon-
evening shift these days) and see my handiwork.  And I was not
disappointed; about half an hour later I got a call from the 28th
floor.  It was Jeff, and he sounded very excited.
     "John -- it had to be you that put the Sam & Twitch up on
the computer here, right?"
     I bet he could hear me beaming.  "Yep, t'was I.  Ya like
     "Well, yeah, they're totally cool, I had no idea they had
prototype photos available already, but there appears to be a
     A problem?  What kind of problem?  Could McFarlane's lawyers
have found me so quickly -- and was displaying the photo
privately on one computer screen an actionable infringement?  It
couldn't be....
     But Jeff was still talking.  " apparently when the
Office Manager saw it, she also saw the guns in Sam and Twitch's
hands and totally freaked out!  'No guns in the workplace, no
*pictures* of guns in the workplace, no *talking* about guns in
the workplace, those pictures have to GO.'"
     And he sounded pretty annoyed.  I tried to calm him down. 
"Listen, Jeff, I agree with you, and I think she's being pretty
unreasonable, but I don't think it's worth getting into a civil
rights struggle with her about it.  Just let it go, man...."
     "Yeah, I know.  But we're *so* sick of that awful picture of
the Golden Gate Bridge on the darned computer...."
     Oh boy, did I know what he meant.  Y'see, we have this
generic photo of the Golden Gate Bridge that our Systems
Administrator puts on everyone's computer the day they get it. 
It's a beautiful shot, granted, but after about two weeks of
staring at it all the time you want nothing more than to call the
Weathermen at their retirement home and beg them to reunite for
one last bombing....

     So with a great degree of sympathy in my heart, I resolved
to try to serve the needs of both the office administration and
the variety-hungry eyes of the service dep't joes in one stroke.
     I fired up the paint program and brushed out the guns. 
Didn't even take very long.  Simple.  Even elegant.  You might
see it as a bowing to censorship, but at the same time Sam and
Twitch were still there in all their glory.  I was pretty
pleased.  I snuck downstairs, put the new, bowdlerized image on
the screen, and toddled off.
     Except what I don't realize is, Jeff thinks about the whole
thing for a few minutes and decides it *is* a big deal.  He feels
really strongly about the fact that the computer screen is about
the only place the mailroom guys can really decorate their
environment.  And these *are* cartoon figures, fer chrissake. 
And not even particularly debonair cartoon figures -- we're not
talking James Bond and Nick Fury -- this is big, sloppy *Sam* and
wiry little *Twitch* here, after all.
     So he drops the stack of documents he was working on and
stomps off to the other end of the office to find the Office
Manager.  It's a fair distance, so he has time to go over his
arguments in his head and steel himself for the confrontation.
     He finds her in her office, stamping "Approval Denied" on a
pile of vacation requests.  Asks if she's got a minute. 
Unfortunately, she says yes.
     Well, he proceeds to launch into a passionate, well-reasoned
and highly articulate argument in favor of free speech, apple
pie, motherhood, and -- cleverly worked in towards the end -- the
right of the masses to display their cherished action figure
idols regardless of whether or not they're packing toy firearms
as part of the tableau.
     She tries to interrupt him a few times, but he's on fire. 
He gets all the way to the end of his diatribe before he stops to
take a breath.  There's a moment of silence, and then, quietly,
the Office Manager says, "Jeff, no one ever talked to me about
any comic book pictures on the mailroom computer.  I don't know
what you're talking about.  And I don't have any problem with
cartoons holding cartoon guns."
     This throws Jeff for a moment, until he realizes that one of
the other guys must have been having a little fun at his expense. 
But Jeff's pretty fast on his feet, and sensing an opportunity to
turn mild embarrassment into triumph, he changes his tack. 
"Well, would you mind coming back to the mailroom with me and
taking a look at the guns and giving us a kind of formal approval
that it's okay?"
     Reluctantly, she agrees.

     So they trudge around to the other end of the building and
reach the mailroom, whereupon Jeff stands behind the computer and
rests his hand protectively on the monitor.  He's trembling a
little with enthusiasm, certain that having made his pitch and
gotten her to come all the way over here to see the little men
with their little guns, he will win the day.  And he smiles, and
says, "go ahead, to turn the screen saver off, hit the space
     And she does.  And she looks at the screen.
     And then she looks at Jeff.
     And then she looks at the screen again.
     And back to Jeff.
     At this point, Jeff realizes that something's wrong.  So he
cranes his neck forward and looks down over the top of the screen
and sees Sam & Twitch and...yup, no guns.  He rubs his eyes a
couple of times, but the view doesn't change.  No guns.
     The Office Manager reportedly looked at him with
considerable indulgence and a fair amount of kindness in her eyes
and even put a hand on his shoulder before she asked, "Jeff?  Are
you feeling alright?  Is everything okay?  Do you need some time
     When Jeff told me all of this, and after I'd managed to stop
laughing, I explained what I'd done to doctor the photos.  He was
nodding a lot the whole time, saying "yep, yep, that's what I
figured," and though I found the whole thing hugely amusing, Jeff
didn't seem to agree.
     "What's the matter, buddy?  No big deal, right?  It's not
like they want you to undergo psychological testing or anything,
is it?"
     "No, it's not that.  She actually laughed about it when I
explained what must have happened."
     "So what's the problem?"
     "She says we still have to get rid of the picture."
     "I swear to god, she says the guns would be no problem, but
nudity is not allowed."
     There isn't a word to describe the silent stupefaction I
found myself experiencing.  Jeff took the proper cue, however,
and explained.
     "I dunno, maybe it's her eyesight, but she's convinced that
Twitch is naked from the waist down.  And the picture has to go."
     Well, there's only so much that electronic airbrushing can
do.  I gave up at that point, and replaced the picture with one
of the skeletal phlebaic figure.
     Let 'em come up with an objection to _that_ one.
Copyright (c) 1996 by John Gersten. All rights reserved.

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