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John's Action Figure Column 10/10/96


     Contrary to thirty-plus weeks of examples, it's not the
easiest thing in the world to come up with the text of an action
figure column every seven days.  (I know, as if anyone _asked_ me
to do it....)  It's like whirling pizza dough into pies, or maybe
figure skating -- when those people go out there and start
strutting their stuff, they make it _look_ easy -- but my last
foray into ice skating resulted in a refund of my skate rental
fee -- and a barely polite request for me never to return to the
rink.  Geeze, you'd think rubber mats would be pretty cheap to
replace, and the EMT woman said the hot dog guy's leg would heal
in a matter of weeks.  And that pizza dough is still stuck to the
kitchen ceiling (so I forgot we had a fan in the fixture; so sue
     Anyway, that's all somewhat beside the point.  What is more
to the point is my recent feeling of, well, of no feelings, which
is just the trouble -- no feelings with regard to this week's
action figure column.  (Oh, I've got plenty of feelings -- just
ask me about work some time, or about the U.S. Senate -- but no
such fervent emotions were springing up in relation to action
figures, or their creators, manufacturers, sellers, resellers,
accessories, paint jobs, packages, costs, design, production
ratios, sales figures, developing trends, dying lines, you name
     I do have a few little techniques for getting to that
"creative place," some of which I have mentioned in the past. 
And in addition to sleeping, driving and showering, sometimes I
just wander on out to our deck and try to breathe serenely as I
stare out at the garden below, waiting for inspiration to reach
down her gentle hand and clock me one upside the head.
     So I tried that particular hopeful avenue to the muse this
very afternoon.  (Tuesday brought a very hot afternoon, yesterday
a very busy afternoon, but today was just a very afternoon.  Go,
uh, figure).  Rose up from the computer, which despite my best
efforts of concentration was just not obliging by erupting forth
with words and sentences of its own accord (gotta make a note to
upgrade some time soon), and wandered through the living room to
the back, where, throwing open the french doors ("ouvre
sesame?"), I stepped out to the late afternoon light and breeze
of our backyard arboretum.  (Hmmm, calling our little citified
enclosure an arboretum is like calling Ross Perot a statesman,
but what the heck, _he_ does).  And, leaning out on the red wood
railing, I waited for creativity to materialize in my mind.
     Well, as my dad would say, it's a good thing I wasn't
waiting for creativity to come cut me down from a hanging. 
'Cause she would appear to have fled for parts unknown.  Nope,
inspiration was not flitting around my head waiting for entree. 
That was just a hummingbird.

     Now wait a second, I thought.  A hummingbird is a pretty
darned cool creature, when you think about it.  Even compared to
most birds, a hummingbird can be considered to have a rather
sophisticated "action feature" in those high-frequency wings it
sports.  In fact, as birds go (and I know we've got a few experts
on who can set me straight if I'm flying
too far off course here), it seems to me that your backyard-city-
garden-variety hummingbird is a wondrous creature indeed, for all
its small size, a titan of avian action figures!
     Let's digress for a moment to consider the noble
Hummingbird.  (I know, that would tend to indicate that we _had_
a main subject to digress _from_, but hey, bear with me).  The
Columbia Encyclopedia describes the Hummingbird as:

     a small, colorful bird with a long, slender bill [Hey, I've
     got one of those from TRU!], of the New World family
     Trochilidae, found chiefly in the mountains of South
     America.  [Hmmm, unless they moved San Francisco while I was
     sleeping, that chief needs to find a new tribe.]  Humming-
     birds vary in size from the 2 1/4 -in. (6 -cm) fairy
     hummingbird of Cuba, the smallest of all birds [*Another*
     distinction for this fine species!], to the 8 1/2 -in. (21.6
     -cm) giant hummer of the Andes [You know, I let the fairy
     crack go, but the only "giant hummer" I ever heard of was at
     the firm Xmas party last...nah, never mind, family newsgroup
     and all that].  They are usually seen hovering or darting
     (at speeds of up to 60 mi/97 km per hr) in the air, beating
     their wings at 50 to 75 beats per sec.  Constant feeding
     supplies their enormous energy needs.  At night they lapse
     into a state of torpor similar to hibernation.

Hey, this is no average species we're talking about here!  These
are singular birds -- tiny, hyperactive, maddeningly fast (at
least insofar as my cats are concerned) -- maybe this creature
*was* a muse, flitting about with seeming effortlessness in the
air around me...
     ...except that it did not fly right up to my ear, hover, and
say, "Hey, John, go with the piece about breaking into TRU last
week."  Or, "No, do the one about Stan Lee being switched at
birth with Sara Lee."  Or even, "Go with that script for a new
action figure version of Moonstruck, with Aquaman as the Nick
Cage character and Domino as Cher...."  No such luck.
     Instead, this admirable and marvelous creature basically
ignored me with a focus of intention that I found remarkable.  To
say that in its mind I did not exist would be an understatement;
in this wee sleekit never-timorous birdie's consciousness, I
*never* had existed, and never would.
     Sigh.  So much for inspiration.
     Ah well.  An appeal to the muses having failed, I had no
recourse but to plumb my notebooks for scraps of anecdote, faint
echoes of adventures past and glories forgotten.  Or maybe "best

     So yeah, I did break into a TRU a week or so ago.
     Not alone, of course -- I had accomplices (and yes, naming
names was one of the conditions of my reduced sentence -- don't
worry, it appears below -- 50 words, down from 135; I knew you'd
all appreciate that).  But wait, let me back up a bit.
     Okay, to set the scene, it was Sunday.  A slow, languorous
weekend day, which I decided to fill up with a major toy run.  I
got on the horn to Jeff and Tim, sounded them out for shotgun
spots on the flanks, and we planned our attack for 1:00 p.m.  All
that done, I carefully got off the horn (hurt myself doing it too
abruptly last week, I did), made a quick breakfast, a quick
shower, a not-so-quick cruise through r.t.a-f and a nothing-like-
quick spate of packing and addressing last week's trades for
shipment, and it was time to go.
     "So we loaded up the truck, and we moved to Beverly...."
     Hey!  Who's that singing over my column?!?  Cut that out.
     I don't even *have* a truck, fer Todd's sake.
     Anyway, I snagged Jeff, and we in turn headed over to Tim's
for a car switch, and from there we were on the wild road to
toys, toys, and more toys.  In the space of a long afternoon, we
hit four Targets, three TRUs, a Wal-Mart and a Toy Liquidators.
     And came up empty-handed.
     Well, at least I did.  Those guys found a few figures each,
but by the time we'd hit Vacaville and closed the 'Liquidators
(simply by virtue of staying up to and a little bit past their
barely reasonable 6:00 p.m. Sunday closing time, what, do these
people have _families_ or something?!?), I was feeling the
aggravated malaise that only the fruitless toyquest can bring.  I
was cranky, tired, hungry, and filled to the brim with
disappointment.  The other guys knew it, and kept offering me
their toys as a kind of temporary remedy.  (Think of Betty Ross
plying puny Banner with tea cakes and classical music to keep
2,000 pounds of unwashed Hulk from crashing the party, and you
understand where they were coming from).
     But it availed me little.  And as we piled back into the car
for the long drive south, it was all I could do to keep a tear
from welling up in the corner of my eye as I stared distractedly
through the window at the glorious western sunset (whose sheer
beauty almost seemed to be mocking me, but hey, I know paranoia
when I see it).
     I'm sure those guys knew it, could sense my frustration and
exhaustion.  I like to think it was that sensitivity (and not
just his own version of toy mania) that led Tim to propose "one
last TRU-stop" as we hit the outskirts of Vacaville.  I knew he
wanted to exchange a lunchbox about which he'd had second
thoughts, and in my deprived state I certainly didn't mind.

     We pulled up at the TRU and immediately noticed the empty
parking lot.  But the lights were on, and we could see at least
one person inside through the windows.  "Let's go, men," someone
shouted; I figured whoever it was meant us anyway, and we were
off.  Upon reaching the ingress, however, we were stopped in our
tracks -- by the automatic door no longer being true to its name. 
In fact, it was no longer even manual.  It was locked.  But Tim
was a man with an exchange mission (something about that
particular lunchbox, don't ask), not to be stopped by a mere
locked door.  ("Oy," my Nana would say, "I can see where this is
going...."  Sharp woman, that Nana, even 22 years gone).
     We doubled back to the exit door, where it was our luck to
observe that earlier-seen last shopper making his way out.  Tim
leapt into the breach and sped off for the registers, hoping I
guess to make his lunchbox trade-in.  Why he was possessed of
such an insistent desire to do this that day I'll never know
(perhaps some rapidly spoiling luncheon meat?), but his eager,
boisterous approach to the managers and clerks closing out the
registers was quite a distraction.  In fact, it was such a
distraction that I realized it had drawn pretty much everybody
else in the store in its wake.
     Which meant the rest of the store was basically unattended.
     Heh heh heh.

     Now, before I go on, I have to make one thing clear:  I'm
not the felonious type.  When someone gives me too much change, I
give it back.  I'll run two blocks to return a dropped wallet to
someone, and I cannot bring myself to use those return-address
labels that come from charities to which I don't have the means
to contribute.
     But something about this vast, empty TRU (empty of people,
that is) called out to something primal in my soul, drawing me
inward against all rational hesitation.
     Of course, we were still in the exit hall, bordered on one
end by the registers (and all the employees), and on the other by
the Customer Service cubicle.  But as I stared at that service
desk, I realized that it had entrances on both sides, such that
it provided instant access to the retail portion of the store.  I
looked down at the little ramp that led up to the ugly charcoal
carpet of the help desk, and knew that it was only those three or
four yards of dark material that stood between me, Jeff, and "the
world's biggest toy store and a whole lot more."
     Instantly transformed into some cheap thug from any of a
dozen nameless fifties crime serials, I grabbed Jeff and silently
indicated the gaping gates to the Promised Land.  A fierce (if
silly) grin lit up his face and he nodded furiously.  I withdrew
my hand and apologized, and then, the misunderstanding resolved,
we began to traipse off towards the forbidden bounds of the
service area.
     And were through and on in to the store proper in seconds. 
No photoelectric alarms, no shrill barkings of "ho, trespassers!" 
It was all very anticlimactic.  Without even a whimper, nary a
sigh, we had crossed the line from patrons into footpads.  With
more grumbling whispers from my Nana flittering through the back
of my mind, I urged Jeff forward, realizing that it would hardly
do to have succumbed to criminal temptation and spend that time
surrounded by nothing more than cheap plastic Halloween faux
pumpkins, overpriced candy and lurid tissue-paper costumes.  It
was time to slink tall and shamble on over to the *real* toys.

"SSSH!"  "WHAT?!?"  "I SAID 'SSSSHHH'!"  "OH...OKAY..."
     Ever see "Animal House?"  Jeff and I instantly switched over
into "Bluto sneaking into the women's dorm" mode, tiptoeing like
cartoon characters around corners, and then running headlong in
awkward crouches to aisle's end, colliding as the first of us
stopped to scout the lane, and then repeating the process from
aisle to aisle until we reached a still, unpeopled Eden...
     ...Aisle 7c, that is, repository of the hallowed Action
Figure hordes.
     Well, theoretically at least.  Like the experience of old Ma
Hubbard, upon examination the proverbial cupboard was bare.  Oh,
sure, there were longpacks and dusty old figures a-plenty, but
not a whisper of a scrap of a hint of a rumor of anything
remotely interesting.
     Which made the eventual, and inevitable, "HEY!  What are
*you* guys doing in here?!?" all the more ridiculous.  I mean, it
would be one thing to be discovered "in felonious res" with arms
full of SOTEs, McShortpacks, late-shipped Aquamans and the like,
but to have someone half our age pull a flashlight and an
authoritative tone on us (the former of which made *no* sense,
because all the lights were still on) with nothing but examples
of "gee, can you believe they still have *these* in here" figures
in our hands, was just too much.

     Which meant we only had one option.  Signalling what I hoped
was an "I'm going for bravado" message to Jeff with one eyebrow
(almost burned out the circuits in the damned thing -- you try it
some time), I stood tall and dropped the Light-Up Wolverine
figure I had in my hand, motioning to Jeff for him to drop the
Conduits he'd hefted.
     "What are WE doing here?  What are we DOING here, you ask,
my GOOD man?  I'll tell you what we are DOING here -- we are
doing NOTHING!  NOTHING!  For you have NOTHING in this sorry
excuse for a TOY store worth even a MOMENT'S fragmentary IDEATION
of misappropriating!  Not a DAMNED thing!"
     I drew in another deep breath before the astonished and
befuddled clerk could interrupt.
     "Why, I wouldn't recommend this VACUOUS emporium to a SINGLE
pal in the JOINT!  Heck, I wouldn't recommend hitting it to my
worst ENEMY!  Pfagh!  This isn't a toy STORE; it's a toy CRYPT!"
     I turn to Jeff and nod my head once, emphatically.  "Come
on, Knuckles, we're LEAVING!"
     And slapping my heels against the floor with a haughty
disdain, I lead us down the aisle and up to the registers,
leaving the poor hapless clerk rubbing his jaw and scowling at
the now truly empty action figure aisle.
     We picked up Tim near the bubble gum machines, where he had
been waiting after his unavailing effort to exchange his lunchbox
for the one he wanted.  Some days nothing goes right....
     Back in the car, Tim started pulling out of the spot and
then stoped.  "Hey, did you guys go into the _store_?"
     "Us?  Nah.  They were closed."  I looked back at the sunset,
now all but gone from the sky.
     "Besides...that sort of thing is illegal, Tim."

     If happiness is the Bluebird's turf, the Hummingbird must
stake out territory more on the ambiguous side.  I can't say I
feel led astray (actually, I can't say I feel led at all, but
then, I need something to blame, doncha know), but I'm not sure
his (her?) hovering, ultra-vibrational influence did me much good
at all.
     On the other, er, wing, we've come to the end of yet another
Action Figure Column.  (And I think we can all say we're relieved
at this point).  And no worse for the wear.
     Hey, any landing you can walk away from is a good one,
     And what's more, my parole officer says that with a little
luck and a trifling amount of community service, I'll should be
allowed back in Solano County by Summer.  Talk about a silver
     And as far as Tim's quest to turn a Tasmanian Devil lunchbox
into a Winnie the Pooh lunchbox, all I can say is, a hummingbird
in the hand is still apparently worth two in the bush.
     And you heard it here first.
Copyright (c) 1996 by John Gersten. All rights reserved.

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