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John's Action Figure Column 8/1/96


     After the unparalleled success of June 20th's lyrical opus
"To His Toy Mistress" (not a single response -- zip, zero, nil,
nothing, no carrier, "in poetry no one can hear you scream,"
etc., we're talking *silence*), I've decided to throw caution to
the winds (along with all decent respect for our literary
forbears) and try another rousing bardic composition.  Well, de-
composition might be a better term; the corpse whose wrack and
oeuvre we're revivifying in this instance is William Blake, who,
if he were alive today, would no doubt drop poesy like the
adamantine balloon it has become and race for the nearest TRU to
snag a true vision in plastic.  But first...

     Psylocke, Psylocke, burning bright
     In the aisles of the night
     What lucky hand or favored eye
     Will score thy fearful symmetry?

     It was no child, I surmise
     Who did the sculpting of thy thighs
     That let you pose, with smold'ring fire
     So as to tantric play aspire

     And what designer, with what art
     Let flow your hair bereft of part?
     Unbending arms can seem effete
     Though ankle joints do make you fleet.

     What the psy-knife, glowing plain
     Fired by dry cells, 'neath your brain?
     What the mold, what plastic grasp,
     Dare your nine-point movement clasp?

     In your bubble, have no fears,
     Preserv-ed you shall be for years,
     Till someone wrest you out with glee
     And play all day, and cry "whoopie!"

     Psylocke, Psylocke, burning bright,
     In the aisles of the night
     What lucky hand or favored eye
     Will be the one which shall thee buy?

             *     *     *     *

No, no -- no applause.  Just send checks to your local asylum,
where my brethren and sistren lie awake at night, pondering the
absolute in rhyming couplets....

     I was waiting in line at the deli the other day when I
spotted two of San Francisco's finest (cops, that is, and don't
worry -- this deli *does* have donuts) as they came in for a
quick meal.  What caught my eye wasn't their spiffy uniforms, or
their easy smiles as they nodded at the host and exchanged
pleasantries with members of the wait staff.  No, what seized my
gaze was the incredible variety of weapons, tools, doodads,
thingies and gizmos clipped in a circular array around their
     I haven't really paid much attention to individual cops in
years (in my, uh, somewhat less restrained youth I must say I
spent a fair amount of time scrupulously avoiding their
attention, but that's definitely another story, one for which the
statute of limitations hasn't *quite* expired yet, so let's just
move right along) but it would appear that the technological and
criminological advances of the last decade have turned the beat
cop's girdling accessory rack into a personal armamentarium of
unparalleled crime-stopping power.  Batman, watch out -- these
guys mean _business_.
     Let's see, going clockwise from the inseam, each had a comm
unit (walkie-talkies or mobile phones, I couldn't be sure), gun,
knife, flashlight, notepad, pen, ticket-book, handcuffs, plastic
gloves, pepper spray, taser, plastic restraint ties, mace,
"Miranda rights" card, needle & thread kit, sunglasses,
tricorder, pocket fisherman, grappling-hook gun, blow dryer,
wicker lounge chair and driver's side airbag!
     Well, okay, a few of those last one's clearly aren't
standard issue, but I thought it was simply marvelous to see that
at least this part of the Batman's anti-crime arsenal had crossed
from four-color fiction into millennial fact.  It really is
amazing to think that what passed for the accoutrements for a
super-cop (if you will) in the 40s and 50s (and thenceforth) have
become de rigueur for our quotidian "protecting servants" in the
last few years of Century Twenty.
     I think the leaders of our domestic peacekeepers owe a big
"thanks" to the Bat-guy (and perhaps to Bob Kane as well).  The
Utility Belt has become a commonplace, perhaps even a necessity. 
And I for one am sleeping more soundly with the knowledge that my
local beat-walker has a batarang at the ready for any nefarious
night-skulkers who might dare to threaten fair Gotham's byways.

     I get a lot of packages.  A *lot* of packages.  How many
packages?  Well, the postman doesn't just know my name, he
remembers my mother's birthday when *I* forget -- and I know more
about his sister's lumbago than anyone would *ever* want to know. 
Ba-dum-bum.  (Hey, as an aside, does anyone ever *really* get
lumbago?  I always thought that was one of those illnesses that
only characters in 50s black-and-white television programs
get...).  How many packages?  The local postmaster recently gave
me my own zip code -- ba-dum-bum.  How many packages?  Last week,
we had a loading dock installed behind the house.  Another
     Maybe you know what I'm talking about -- this is probably
not an unusual thing for a card-carrying member of rtaf (we got
cards?  Hey, great idea....).  It's kind of like the old advice
my dad gave when as a kid I complained about not getting any mail
-- "you gotta send some, to get some."  Well, dad was right.  And
by trading action figures for the last eight or nine months, I've
probably doubled postal traffic to our building.  Which is not a
bad thing.
     Except in the case of our Super.  No, that's not some real-
life kind of action figure, nor am I referring to a personal H-
Bomb; "Super" is what we ex-New Yorkers (and only we ex-New
Yorkers, apparently) call our building managers.  Short for
"superintendent," which in the case of our modest six-unit
building seems like calling a trashperson a "waste relocation
engineer," or a TRU aisle clerk a "inner-child joy maximization
technician" (well, actually....).  But you get the idea.
     Anyway, back to our Super.  See, he's not thrilled about my
toy trading.  Well, he's not really thrilled about *anything*
anymore, but that's his problem.  His particular difficulty with
my toy trading is that he refuses to believe that's what it is.

     Here's the scenario:  it's 7:58 a.m., I'm due at work (a
good ten minutes away) at 8:00 a.m.  I come rushing out of our
front door with my tie half-tied flying out behind me (making for
an effective -- if unfortunate -- noose if it should ever catch
in the door as I slam it shut behind me), two cardboard boxes
under one arm, my shoulder-bag over the other, taking the stairs
two at a time in an effort to make it to the bus stop sometime
this century.  And just as I race across the long hall carpet
towards the succor of the front doors...
     ...Eric-da-Super opens them from outside, where he has been
sweeping invisible dirt from the street (don't ask, it makes him
happy) and starts shuffling his 75-year old self through, at a
pace that would make a snail envious.  "Hiya, John, howzitgoin?" 
He smiles -- he is after all a sweet old gentleman -- but he is
still blocking the doorway.  Think of Hell's Gates, and Cerberus,
only to get by this eternal guardian I have to stupefy him with
conversation -- and precious time -- instead of a choking grip.
     "Fine, Eric.  How are you?"  I adjust my grip on the boxes,
hoping he'll get the hint and move.
     "Fine, just fine.  Got a few packages there, I see."  No
such luck -- he doesn't budge.
     I shift into slight insistence.  "Yep, try to hit the post
office during lunch, but I'm pretty late now, so -- "
     "John, just what *are* all those packages you get?"  Oboy, I
might as well get comfortable; this is gonna be a while.  See,
he'd brought a couple boxes in for me the day before, which,
given his natural curiosity (some might call it FBI-level
nosiness -- believe me, if the Unabomber had lived in our
building, Eric would've nailed him *years* ago) -- and his
tendency to forget previous conversations -- was always a trigger
for the conversation I knew we were about to have...again.
     I stopped and let my bag rest on the arm of the lobby sofa. 
It was getting heavy -- and this was going to take a while. 
     "Toys, Eric.  I collect toys.  I buy them, I trade them,
sometimes I sell them for cost plus shipping."
     "Toys?  Toys?"  He manages to infuse the words with an
incredulity I thought only seventh-grade teachers could muster,
when you're trying to tell them about the dog, and that homework
assignment you were supposed to have in the week before.
     "Yes, toys.  Action figures, actually.  Little plastic
figures modeled on super-heros and things like that."
     "Toys."  How he is able to narrow his eyes and yet raise one
eyebrow at the same time is a trick worth of the Great Nimoy -- I
think he got it from a correspondence course.  Clearly, he does
not believe me.
     "Yes, toys.  Eric, you've seen these things before -- the
apartment is full of them.  You know, when you've house-sat the
cats, the little plastic people all over the bookshelves?"  I
know my display space is limited, but you'd have to be living in
your own private Idaho-universe not to see the several dozens
that grace our dining room and living room shelves.
     "Nope, can't recall ever seeing anything like that."  Great. 
My Super, the mashed potato.

     And he is still blocking the doorway.  The morning sunlight
is shining feebly over his shoulder, as if trying to pry its way
in as fervently as I'm trying to pry mine out.  I begin to get
the feeling he is not going to move until and unless I change my
     "Eric, would you feel better if I said the boxes were full
of stolen goods?  Or drugs?"
     "Oh, yes, we used to have a druggie in number five.  I
always called her 'the Dopette.'  Strange woman, never came out
of the apartment, always getting visitors in the middle of the
night, playing loud music, strange smells coming out of her
apartment..." and there is a gleam in his eyes and I know exactly
where he is going, but if I try to head him off I have a 50/50
chance of knocking the needle off his internal disc player and
starting the conversation off from the beginning, and it's
getting later and later...
     "...and you know, SHE used to get a lot of packages, too!"
     The term "pounce" would be an understatement for his tone. 
I sigh.
     "Look, Eric, these packages are filled with toys.  The
packages I keep *getting* are filled with toys.  Here, let me
open one of these and show you..."  I put the boxes down and
prepare to peel off the tape I spent ten minutes laying down the
night before.  No problem, anything to get through this mad
informal bureaucracy, presided over by a mad bridge troll without
either bridge or riddle...
     "No, no, I don't care what's in the packages."
     "No, look, Eric, let me show you..."
     "No, that's your personal business."  He stresses the word
"business" and I know he's thinking needles, white packets,
French connections, maybe even preparing his shocked statements
to the press..."they seemed like such a *nice* young
a lot of packages, though..."
     And before I can get the tape lifted from one corner of the
top package, he's off on his meandering way toward the staircase,
leaving the front door wide open.  And as I gather my belongings
and shoot through, I can hear him muttering as he works his way
slowly, deliberately, up the stairs, shaking his head the entire
     "...awful lot of packages, *I* don't know what's in them,
anyone asks me, all I say is, ohhhh, *I* don't know, not my place
to ask, such a nice young couple....ohhhhh..."
     You know, sometimes I catch myself wishing they *were*
     It would make Eric *so* happy....

     You know, though I spoke of them in passing above, I'm not
crazy about ID cards.  Either they trigger my "Big Brother Is
Watching" switch, or they seem just plain silly (like the two,
count 'em, *two* different cards I need to get in and out of my
office each day -- sheesh!).  And besides, I just don't
photograph well.  I won't belabor the point, but in the halcyon
days of yore when I'd get carded at bars, the age check always
was accompanied by a startled "oh!" and then a quiet, "I'm
     And "Hi, My Name Is..." badges make me nauseous (am I the
only one?).  Plus, they make the wearer look like a total jerk. 
I don't care if your badge says, "Hi, My Name Is Uta Svenska,
Chair, Nobel Prize Committee," you look jerky wearing it.
     But *buttons* -- ahhhh, a quiet, understated, enigmatic
button -- now *there's* something I can get my lapel behind.  I
used to wear a "Steal-Your-Face," a classic Grateful Dead symbol
(if you -- astonishingly enough -- have never seen one, imagine a
skull with an exaggerated cranium split by a lightning bolt) of
which I was exceedingly proud.  It served not only to proclaim my
musical loyalties (along with several other old loyalties), but
acted as a recognizable allegiance sign -- many were the times
fellow deadheads in supermarkets, movie lines, etc., would start
conversations based on my "wearing the colors," as it were.
     Alas, when Jerry Garcia shuffled off this mortal coil
("stumbled ponderously" is more like it), the band also died, and
for me it was just too sad to keep flying the flag.

     But the principle still applies -- imagine yourself in the
toy aisles, alongside several other individuals.  You always
wonder if, maybe, the woman next to you is actually "ToyGoddess"
from AOL, or if that happy guy turning over Star Wars lightsabres
is OurManFred from -- well what if they were
wearing the official rtaf *button* on their jacket?  What an
     It could be something as simple as the word "barger" in a
red circle with a line through it.  Or just "Please Don't Feed
The Scalpers" on a white background.  Or even "1:1" in bright
blue against gold.  Heck, even "RTA-F" centered white on green
would be lovely.
     And small, I'm thinking less than an inch diameter.  What
about it?  Would you proudly display your membership in rtaf on
your various toyjaunts?  Be a better button bearer, brandished
big and bold in your broad boutonniere?  *I* would!
     Think of the conversations it could start:
     "Hey, there, big boy, what's an 'rtaf'?"
     "Didja know you could spell 'fart' with those letters?"
     "Wow -- you use Usenet?"
     And finally, "Laansman!"  "Brother!"  "Sister!"
     Welcome home.
     So, does anyone out there know anything about simple button-
making?  I think we're on to something here....
Copyright (c) 1996 by John Gersten. All rights reserved.

Comments? Drop me a line....
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