[QUICK INTRO BY JOHN] 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 work....). Anyway, without further ado, heeeeeeeeere's Eric! EGM DOES HIS GERSTEN IMPRESSION 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. SOME OF THIS IS TRUE; SOME OF IT IS...BETTER. 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 Todd...er, 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. THE TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL...NOT! 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 pilgrimage. WELCOME TO OUR WORLD...WELCOME TO OUR WORLD...WELCOME TO.... 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 variations...." 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. EVERYTHING OLD IS NEW AGAIN.... 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). THIRD FLOOR: ACTION FIGURES, HOUSEWARES AND LADIES LINGERIE... GOING UP! 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). STRANGER IN A STRANGE TRU 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, eh? 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. MOVE ALONG, MOVE ALONG...NOTHING TO SEE HERE. 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 Hollywoods. 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? Wrong. 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 distance. 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. FLASH FORWARD 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. LOVE MAY SAVE THE DAY, BUT IT CERTAINLY DON'T SAVE YOU MONEY 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 place). 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! WORMHOLES ARE COOL, BUT BLACKHOLES SUCK...BECAUSE THAT'S WHAT THEY DO 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 entirely. 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.
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