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Eric's John's Action Figure Column 10/31/96

Guest Column by Eric G. Myers

          Though I'm taking this week off, I was going to write a
     little introduction for my guest writer (or is that "ghost"
     writer?  It is Halloween, after all <g>).  However, Eric
     Myers needs no introduction (who ever heard of a doing an
     introduction for a god, anyway?  "Ladeez and gennelmen, he
     created the stars, the moon and the days of the week, and
     now, Leonard's of Great Neck is proud to present for your
     delectation and delight....Jehovah!"  See, it just doesn't
          Anyway, without further ado, heeeeeeeeere's Eric!

     I am honored to have the opportunity to do a guest shot here
in John's Action Figure Column.  While perhaps not quite as
swanky as being a villain on the old Batman series, I certainly
hope I can give as stellar a performance as Liberace or Vincent
Price.  Enough of the pleasantries.  Actually, I have ole Johnny
tied up in the trunk of my car and if you ever want to read his
stuff again, you'll suffer through my drivel.  You hear that? 
And you better read fast too, because there isn't much oxygen in
those foreign sports car trunks.

     This isn't Seuss.  Or Kirby's Grill either.  But I can't
swear that this is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the
truth so help me, I mean God.  I'll leave it to you to
decide what is fact and what is fiction.  Suffice it to say that
those boundaries are about to get blurry.  Take your Dramamine
now.  You make a mess, you clean it up.

     I made a pilgrimage to Mecca recently.  Being a devout
worshiper of the Plastic Gods, I thought it only fitting that I
should visit the most holy of temples: FAO Schwarz in New York
City.  The Big Apple.  The City That Never Sleeps.  The town with
more Sbarros Pizza establishments per square mile than any place
on earth (I was somehow oddly comforted by never being more than
2 blocks away from a slice of stuffed pizza).
     With regard to toys in NYC, one's options are quite limited. 
There are only a handful of places to shop in Manhattan, so next
time a New Yorker pleads for you to pick them up some plastic
crack, take pity on the poor junkie's soul.  They are jonesin'
for something not easily found in the big city.  But before I
paint too bleak a picture of this Hell on Earth (all rights
reserved, void in Tennessee), let me tell you what I did find.
     Besides a brief excursion into a Warner Brother's store
(which you can't really count as a toy shop, well, unless you are
in New York), leave it to me to find a secondary market shop as
my first "big city" toy experience.  After a nice lunch at the
Stage Door Deli (I was expecting a traditional Jewish Deli...
imagine my surprise to find it a Greek Deli...a little baklava to
go with your pastrami on rye?  Why not!), I wandered but a few
short steps when my eye was attracted to a shop window filled to
the brim with the objects of my affection: Toys!  I knew the toy
gods had to be smiling on me, no doubt because of my pure-hearted

     The World Collectibles Center.  Undoubtedly named for its
proximity to the more famous trade center.  How ironic for a
secondary market toy shop to be placed in the heart of New York's
financial district.  Perhaps we'll see a "stock" market of our
own one day:

     "X-Men closed the day down two and a quarter while Star Wars
     rallied late on the heels of reports of three new lightsaber

I could visibly shudder at this thought, but I won't.  At least
not right now.  On the positive side, it would make price guides
obsolete...but at what price, man?  At what price!?!?!
     OK.  I'm better now.  The World Collectible Center is kind
of like White's Guide.  It tries to be all things to all
collectors.  While toys occupy a large amount of floor space, the
walls are covered with "collectible" and candid snapshots of your
favorite celebrities.  Who wouldn't want a photo of Abe Vigoda
for the paltry sum of only two dollars?
     If you want unused concert tickets, this is your place.  In
fact, concert memorabilia accounted for a significant minority of
the store's inventory.  It made me wonder just who the person was
who didn't use the Beatles concert ticket.  Were they sick?  Did
they mix up the days ("That was yesterday?!?!  I thought it was
*next* week!!!")?  Are they kicking themselves to this day for
not attending the concert or are they grateful that they still
have their hearing intact, saved from the throngs of screaming
teenage girls?  And if you thought that secondary market dealers
ask a lot for little pieces of plastic, you should see what they
want for a little slip of printed paper.  Almost makes you want
to buy a Pearl Jam ticket for the express purpose of not
attending the show.  Almost.

     To their credit, World Collectibles Center did seem to have
a nice selection of older toys.  It wasn't your typical toy show
scalper fare.  There was plenty to catch a young man's eye.  They
had every Secret Wars figure made, including the foreign
releases.  A Super Amigos Cyborg hung anonymously on the wall (a
first for my eyes).  Megos of all types and conditions lined a
display case.
     I lingered a long time, like a kid who is hoping that the
ice cream vendor will take pity on him and give out a free sample
or two.  But I knew I must leave and continue my pilgrimage
north.  I bid farewell to the many relics of our collective toy
youth and set out toward my goal (with several planned stops
along the way).

     I realize that most of us live in splendid suburban squalor: 
Tract homes, trailer parks, and a Toys R Us within a comfortable
distance.  I'm reasonably certain that your TRU is pretty much
the same as mine.  You run the impulse item gauntlet, through the
special of the month maze, around the games, rollerblades and
bikes to get to aisle 7C.  I was wholly unprepared for the set up
of this wild jungle TRU.  First of all, every TRU I have ever
been in have shared many of the same qualities.  It's kind of
like visiting a McDonald's in DeMoines or Dayton.  You don't have
to look at the menu and you know you are going to have to ask for
ketchup packets.  Imagine my disorientation as I walked into the
TRU only to be met by an escalator.  All the TRU's I have ever
been in have been a single floor, warehouse-type layout.  Here, I
had virtually no choice but to ascend (probably another sign from
the toy gods, but I chose to let it pass unnoticed).

     Where is 7C?  Will there even *be* a 7C?  Like a labyrinth
filled with 5" plastic Minotaurs, I found the correct aisle.  At
once both strange and familiar.  Perhaps it was the altitude. 
However, I was immediately calmed by the presence of a dozen
full-to-the-brim pegs of Batman Forever and G.I.  Joe Extreme
figures.  The more things change, the more they stay the same,
     I suppose I was expecting something different.  I had heard
all the horror stories about the desolation that is toy shopping
in Manhattan.  But I was surprised to find fully stocked shelves. 
Mind you, this isn't to say that I'd struck an untapped vein of
shortpacks.  Nay, this aisle had been cherry-picked clean with
discriminating taste.   All that was left were the Charlie Tunas
of the action figure community.  Even the three-eyed Toy Story
alien could not cry, "I have been chosen!"
     However, this situation in and of itself brought with it a
familiarity of its own.  The stores in my neck of the woods are
also selectively picked over by collectors, dealers and assorted
vultures.  Perhaps the only difference here was that there were
greater quantities of the peg warmers.  Nothing to write home
about.  Buy yourself a souvenir and move on.

     I saw a sign for KayBee toys, but there was no KayBee
beneath.  In fact, there was nothing beneath.  The building was
being renovated.  Probably going to be the Big Apple location of
Kirby's.  Man, those things are popping up faster than Planet
     I made my way north yet again, thinking that my TRU
experience had been nearly penultimate.  I couldn't have been
more wrong.  As I approached what I would find as the flagship
TRU, my eyes widened noticeably.  Things definitely got bigger
uptown.  This place was huge!  It was bigger than most full
department stores here in Texas...and that is no small feat
considering Texans pride themselves on the size of their
accomplishments.  Be it retail stores or Chevettes with jacked up
tires and gun racks, everything is bigger in Texas, right? 
     In fact, you couldn't be more wrong.  This was certainly the
TRU of all TRU's.  The True TRU if you will.  All others are
imposters before it's multi-level glory.  Surely this was meant
as my preparation for ascendence into Toy Heaven.  The toy gods
had seen fit to test my mettle in this high temple of toys.  I
was up to the challenge.
     I ascended.  And ascended.  And ascended yet again.  Not
merely an aisle or two of action figures, but an entire section
of the store devoted to my heart's desire.  I became transfixed
for a moment, but the spell was broken when the familiar aspects
came into focus:  Scalpers.  Or perhaps speculators would be a
better, more politically correct term (heck, even AFN&TR calls
its constituents "speculators").
     There they were, talking in animated voices about the latest
releases, rumors and news.  They bemoaned the presence of a
plethora of recent Batman villains.  Apparently, this new
embarrassment of Bat-riches devalued the booty they already had
in their possession.  But today's prey was apparently Starting
Line-up figures.  As I  have little to no interest in the fabled
SLU's, I was satisfied to observe the great white hunters from a
     I wish I could say that I learned some earth-shattering
truth about the whole speculation game through my observation. 
Sadly, I came to the conclusion that speculator/scalpers in NYC
are the same as anywhere else.  Perhaps only louder and ruder.  I
couldn't believe how they berated a stock girl for not telling
them that a case of Basketball SLU's had been put out by the
company rep in another part of the store only a half hour before. 
Of course, they were all gone by the time these two chaps went to
check.  They went ballistic.  This young woman had to finally
leave the area to escape their mounting wrath.  They eventually
left in disgust.  I  was left to ponder what had transpired.  I
most surely added this experience to my list of reasons to be
wary of the secondary market.  If this is the way that some of
those people acquire their "inventory" then count me out.  As a
general rule, treat all stock people with respect (until they
give you a reason to act otherwise).  Thank them for taking the
time to help you even if they did not find what you had your
heart set on.  The toy gods will favor you with good toy karma.

     This actually happened the next day, but it seemed to fit
better in the rising action than as an epilogue.  Ummm...let's
pretend I hit a wormhole as I exited TRU.  It could happen.  I've
seen Star Trek and read books authored by guys in wheelchairs. 
And if it's going to happen anywhere, New York City is as good a
place as any.  No one would even notice.  Whoosh!  And I'm gone.

     Ever seen "Desperately Seeking Susan?"  Some call it
Madonna's only watchable movie.  Others would certainly argue
that as an oxymoron.  But cinematic criticism aside, I was guided
by two magical spirits with great powers to a store featured in
this movie (OK, they were friends leading me around the city, but
knowing all the ins and outs of the Village is a great power
indeed).  These spirits led me to another holy grail of the New
York toy experience:  Love Saves the Day.  Apparently, this is
the store where Madonna (as Susan in the movie) picks up her
iconic jacket that is the cause of all the confusion involving
Rosanna Arquette.  Now I can't claim to remember the movie that
well, but I may have to rent the sucker just to check it out.
     Love Saves the Day is a cramped jumble of pop culture
idolatry.  You can't have been raised in America in the past 30
years and not recognize something from your youth in this store. 
Of course, reliving your youth is going to cost you.  Although,
in all fairness, being in New York and dealing in old toys
probably skews the price scale a bit.  For all I cared, they
could have just charged admission to browse.  It was like a
museum in some respects.  A little like Gersten's fabled pub, but
without the chow (or the great personalities to people such a
     I'd recommend this place to whet your appetite for things
you'll surely want.  However, you may want to purchase elsewhere. 
Whoops! There's that pesky wormhole again!

     Back on the mean streets of New York.  Actually, they
weren't all that mean.  In fact, the only hostility I experienced
was some guy calling me an asshole because  didn't have a light
for his cigarette.  Perhaps I just look like a smoker.  Perhaps I
just look like someone who can randomly generate a flame.  No
matter.  I was too close to my ultimate goal to allow such minor
indelicacies to bother me.
     As I approached the building that housed the fabled FAO, I
must admit to being underwhelmed.  I guess I was expecting
something more "in your face."  Neon.  Gigantic toy statues. 
Animatronic characters to greet you.  Nothing of the sort.  Just
an unassuming New York Building in the shadow of Central Park.  I
guess the toy gods like to keep a low profile when visiting the
Big Apple.
     Now, I have been in other FAO Schwarz outlets.  There is
even one right here in my home town.  So I was prepared for the
general experience.  I knew the theme song by heart so I could
hum along (and as a side note, I find it absolutely incredible
that there hasn't been an incident where an FAO employee snaps
and is found in the up in the toy tree with an AK-47 taking pot
shots at the customers screaming, "Welcome to our world... 
<BLAM!> Welcome to our world <BLAM!>...."  It's a testament to
the strength of the human spirit I tell you.).
     Despite my disappointment with the exterior, the inside of
the store was everything one would expect:  An excess of toy
riches.  Colors, light and sound.  A veritable three ring circus
of toys.  I hurriedly made my way to the action figure section. 
Neatly tucked away on the second floor, I found a dimly lit area
filled with ominous sounds and racks of plastic icons.  Surely
this was one of the circles of toy hell.  And it was nearly all
Marvel-ized.  What  mean to say is that the decor and theme was
set to correspond to Marvel comics characters and continuity. 
There were relics from the Marvel universe on display for all to
see:  Doom's mask, Thor's hammer, the legendary Infinity Gauntlet
(you know what they say, "Big Gloves...Big hands.").
     It gave me pause.  Where is the Kryptonite?  How about a
Batarang?  Just simple items to represent the other side of super
hero continuity.  Surely, the toy gods do not play favorites.  I
mean, there were DC Comics toys to be found, but the whole temple
just screamed Marvel.  And that is where I had my sacred
revelation.  I  realized the metaphor that had been set out
before my eyes.  This was my collecting experience.
     I have always been a Marvel fan.  A Toy Biz junkie.  But
what set me on this Marvel-ized path?  I pondered this thought as
I perused the pegs.
     There came a time in my youth when I made an unconscious
choice.  I followed the path to the Marvel Universe leaving
places like Gotham, Metropolis, Smallville, and Midway City
behind.  I suppose I liked the reality I found in Marvel Comics'
characters better than the simplicity I perceived in their DC
counterparts.  When I was very young, I read both fairly equally. 
But as I aged, my tastes turned more toward Spiderman, X-Men, the
Fantastic Four and the Avengers and away from Superman, Batman,
and the Justice League.  I had nearly forgotten them.  But not
     Here, I was confronted not by what I saw, but by what was
_missing_.  I guess my DC reawakening began slowly a number of
years ago.  I suppose that it had to happen slowly to avoid the
massive shock that would come from immediate full realization. 
Little things like Super Powers figures and Batman: The Animated
Series began to creep into my consciousness, making me slowly
aware of the possibilities that were always there.
     I found that the innocence and simplicity of the DC
characters that had caused me to abandon them was exactly what
was now pulling me back.  My concept of the DC Universe is of
course outdated.  I'm stuck in the pre-crisis days.  There is a
Batgirl and no Oracle.  Hal Jordan is Green Lantern and he is a
good guy.  The Sandman is a guy with a faceplate, a fedora and a
three-piece suit.  I know that the comics have moved on, but the
characters can be whatever I remember them to be.
     So I looked around for DC characters.  I found a few: Batman
remnants, Superman: Man of Steel peg warmers, and racks of Total
Justice.  Total Justice.  TJ.  The new hope for DC action
figures?  Perhaps.  But it's kind of like getting into your car
on a chilly autumn day.  It's cool outside, but the sun
deceptively warms the inside of your car.  It's an illusion. 
Don't look too hard and these figures can fill the void, but on
closer examination, they just miss the mark for me.  It's an
illusion of the characters.
     But that's OK.  Even these figures helped me to realize what
I'd been missing.  My pilgrimage had come to fruition.  I had
journeyed far to find that what I thought  wanted was only half
of what I really wanted.
     I bought a Batman & Robin Adventures comic and went home.
Copyright (c) 1996 by John Gersten and Eric G. Myers. All rights reserved.

Comments? Drop John or Eric G. Myers a line!
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