STRANGE CHANGE MACHINE It occurred to me that folks might appreciate a break from my unrelenting weekly stream of idiosyncratic toy remembrance, tirade and whimsy. It also occurred to me that I might appreciate a break from slaving away creating same. So, inspiration having struck (and thereafter refusing to depart peaceably), I contacted the estimable Michael Crawford and asked if he might have any interest in "guest hosting" a John's Action Figure Column. Michael's response was swift and sure: "What's the gig pay?" Well, after I explained, he was still willing to do it. Heckuva guy, that Crawford. So, hereunder is Michael's Action Figure Column, or maybe Michael's John's Action Figure Column. Frankly, this part of things is tied up in litigation that would make the O.J. case seem like a walk in the garden for some night air. (Hmmmm....) Anyway, call it what you will. I'm sure you'll be delighted. Of course, I say that having already read it (and not just the parts where he says ridiculously nice things about me....<g>). -john FIRST - A LITTLE BACKGROUND.... Some of you may know me - my name is Michael Crawford and I'm a fairly frequent contributor to RTM, RTAF and wherever else will have me. John and I have been good buddies for some time now, all because of our shared obsession, er, hobby -- action figure collecting. John's columns are one of the best postings to RTAF or RTM, and I look forward to them like Jay Leno looks forward to Bob Dole's next speech. But it is more than the subject of John's columns that make them so terrific -- every one makes me think, ponder and always laugh. I mean, c'mon, the guy is the Erma Bombeck of 7C. So when John asked me to do a 'guest' column, well, suffice it to say I was deeply honored. I'll warn you ahead of time - I'm not nearly as good at prose as he (hell, he even gets away with poetry!) but I'm going to give it the old college try.... "WELL, YOUR HONOR, ALL HE EVER DOES IS PLAY WITH HIS TOYS!" My wife can't stand my toy collecting. It really does drive her crazy -- and I think it bugs her more that a big part of it is all her fault. You see, I've always been a collector of 'stuff.' My wife refers to this with the unflattering term 'pack rat' which is quite upsetting to me since rats call up thoughts of disgusting, filthy, furry creatures and most of the time I shave. She's part of the reason I collect as obsessively as I do because she bought me the complete set of Ren and Stimpy action figures. You see, prior to that event (around four years ago) my collecting figures was pretty much limited to fast food toys I thought were cute. Sure, I collected comics at the time, but action figures were not a major part of the picture. But then I found out they had made Ren & Stimpy figures -- a cartoon I dearly loved at the time (this was the very early days of R&S). I wanted them, but alas, I was not as adept at my toy finding skills as I am today. Comparing my toy locating skills then to now would be like comparing the kid that sweeps the floor at night over at Arbor Drugs with Jonas Salk. But my wife has always been a master shopper, and seeing my desire for these little pieces of plastic, she set her mind to obtaining them for me. She procured the entire set, which I quickly opened and displayed around my office. The sickness began. Which leads me to the topic of this column -- our vacation last week.... "SO WHERE WILL WE BE GOING ON VACATION, DEAR?" Like John, I am in no way under the delusion that I have any say in what we would actually do on a vacation. I'm not foolish enough to think I'm the boss -- my wife clearly is. My kids know it, my relatives and friends know it, the cat knows it, the dog knows it, hell, even the meter reader from the gas company knows it. I'm quite happy with this arrangement, as my vacation planning skills are not quite up to par with my toy finding skills. I plan vacations the way Custer planned his attack on Little Big Horn, often with the same results. So this vacation we (remember, I'm using this term loosely) decided to do a double quickie -- hey, get your mind out of the gutter! We would pack up the kids and drive 11 hours (one way) over to the Mall of America for the weekend, return home for a one-day respite, and then head off in the opposite direction for a couple days at Cedar Point. This is the type of vacation that requires extensive time off *after* it's over to just recover. "OH MY DEAR GOD - IT'S HUMONGOUS!" If you have never been to the Mall of America, you really should try to make it sometime. This place is like the Mecca for all shoppers -- I swear that at malls all across the nation around 10:00 a.m. each morning people bow to the north in silent prayer. There are three levels of stores and a fourth with restaurants (the highlight of which is a Planet Hollywood, of course). In the center of this huge wheel of capitalism is Snoopy's Play Land (or some such silly name -- there is a giant Snoopy-with-dog-dish at one end) which contains a roller coaster, ferris wheel, water ride, and various carnival games and rides to amuse the kids for hours. My wife and I went there last summer alone for a weekend of wild abandon -- this year we decided to take the kids along for the sheer pleasure having them in the back seat for 11 hours. For the toy shopper there are three main stores -- Kaybee, FAO Schwartz, and Snoopy's Toy Store. Don't come looking for deals -- none of these stores was cheap, although Kaybee had its usual sales on older stuff. I was the only member of the family to buy anything at the mall -- I picked up the new Galileo with Kirk, a Dale Arden and Princess Thundar, a small stuffed Dogbert to go with my large stuffed Dilbert at work, and a Dilbert tie. My wife got her fill of malling for at least a couple days, and the kids loved the rides -- definitely more fun than being poked in the eye with a sharp stick. "JEEZ, WE'VE BEEN JUST SITTING AROUND THE HOUSE NOW FOR 24 HOURS -- ISN'T IT TIME TO JUMP BACK IN THE CAR?" After a quick breeze around the stores of Ann Arbor on Tuesday, it was back on the road for a quick (only 2 hours each way) jaunt down to Cedar Point. Now if you like roller coasters and have never been to Cedar Point, you don't realize what you're missing. Yes, some parks have slightly bigger or faster coasters, but the Point boasts six major coasters (two of which are only a year old), and three smaller ones that I can think of off the top of my head. This place really is coaster heaven -- and if you go in the middle of the week (I recommend Thursday) you won't have too bad a case of line disease. Our wait for the brand new coaster (the Mantis) was only a half hour -- which ain't bad in amusement park time. But what about toys? Have no fear, for there is also some toy shopping that can be done. We usually stay right at the park, but this time, due to some bumbling on my part (remember my vacation planning skills), we ended up at the Holiday Inn on route 250. As it turns out, this was perfect for me -- the kids wanted to take a break in the late afternoon from the hot park and go swimming at the pool, so I could hit a few stores. And route 250 is a action figure collectors dream come true -- within a 3 mile distance are the following stores: Walmart, Service Merchandise, TRU, Meijers, Best, Kaybee, and K-mart. And they are all ON THE SAME SIDE OF THE ROAD! Hell, you don't even have to make a left turn -- it's like some toy god has laid out the perfect salad bar.... Ah, but did I see anything -- well, a little anyway. Turns out the K-mart, Best, and Service Merchandise suck as bad as most others, and the TRU is a little small. They didn't even have a C section (hmmmm, I could make a joke here, but I think I'll refrain for the sake of good taste), but rather the action figures were in aisle 8A. But as TRU's go, the selection was pretty good -- and Kaybee and Walmart were both very good. I saw plenty of the Blood Queen and Pilgrim repaints, the new all-clear Venom, and the new Johnny Quest figures. Lots of Psylockes, La Lunatica, Polaris, etc., so the scalping must not be *too* bad in the area. OTOH, I saw little Star Wars, and did see one guy *rushing* from store to store in an attempt to find anything remotely Star Wars-related. I didn't end up buying anything, but the shopping was still fun. Try as he might, the Raptor was unable to spit my feeble body out across Lake Erie, and the kids survived the wild turns, high-speed plunges and wild spinning (and that was on the drive down!). We returned home safe and sound, and although I probably would have found more interesting toys just sitting around here, the vacation was just what we needed. "ARE YOU SURE YOU DON'T WANT ME TO PLAN OUR NEXT VACATION, DEAR?" Upon reflecting on this vacation, I began to wonder what I would really enjoy doing for a week. Yes, this vacation was fun -- but what if I could just take off driving, stopping at every Walmart, Meijers, Target, Hills, Kaybee, K-mart (god, we have a lot of shopping alternatives here in the good old USA), TRU, Service Merchandise, etc., etc., etc. I don't know though -- that might get mighty old mighty quick. Something tells me that those shelves start looking pretty similar after about the tenth Walmart -- and I think they all have that one cashier. You know who I'm talking about -- she kinda missed out on oral hygiene as a kid, and she swears Elvis went through her lane just last week. So I guess this really was a mighty good vacation -- something for all of us, and not too much of any one thing. Adios - and thanks to John for having me guest write! Michael MWC 1:1 - that's my philosophy! [email protected]
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