Page not found | Raving Toy Maniac

Page not found

The requested page could not be found.

John's Action Figure Column 11/14/96


     I've been talking a lot lately in the aisles.  Oh, it's okay
-- not the theatre aisles, not concert halls, not even airplane
aisles.  I mean the toy store aisles.  When you spend so much
time in a certain place -- or places -- that they start to feel
like your living room, I guess it's inevitable that conversation
would start to predominate over sullen, stressed silence.
     Anyway, it's usually quite pleasant and even rewarding to
chat with fellow toy hounds in those long, stocked spaces that
are the sometimes-cornucopiae of our collective obsession.  Oh,
sure, occasionally you end up dialoguing with folks who are
cursing and tearing their clothes because they can't find their
dozenth "Luke Skywalker in boxer shorts" variation ("I'm not a
hoarder, god, no, it's just an _investment_..."), or whose
greatest goal in life is to run from TRU to the local flea market
and turn their $5.99 on a particular figure into $20.00 (oh, what
a feeling!), but more often you find sympatico fellow sufferers,
co-travelers down this strange and wonderful road we've made our
group hobby, people with a common interest and frequently common
approaches, strategies, attitudes, et cetera.
     Usually, after a few minutes comparing notes -- you know,
timing, helpful employees, best days, sale outlets, and the
myriad other arcana of our shared passion -- I turn the
conversation to the Internet, and most specifically,  What's been interesting lately is how
many of the computer-literate (and even computer-expert) folks I
meet in the aisles actually *do* know about rta-f... but don't
like reading it.
     Yep, you read that right.  I realize I'm probably preaching
to the choir here, and it cannot be news that I feel about rta-f
the way most people feel about their morning newspaper (or,
unfortunately and perhaps more accurately, their morning squib
from McNews on that telly-bizhion contraption) (or maybe even the
way most folks feel about their relationship partners -- but
that's another story and please don't worry, I *am* seeing a
trained professional about this.  Plus, look for my wife's first
column, coming soon, "I Was An RTAF Widow...."), but my first
reaction to these nice, wired people who don't like rta-f is
typically incomprehension.  I listen patiently to their reasons,
but inside I'm thinking, "what is it you don't like, the advance
info on new lines, as well as up-to-the-second "what's out now"
lists?  Hilarious wits matched and mismatched over matters great
and small?  Figures at-cost or even less?  Give-aways?  What!?!"
     Of course, there's more to it than that.  And I guess I've
been listening a bit more lately, or perhaps listening as much as
usual but without a previous defensiveness (hey, what can I say,
I feel very protective about us), but I'm starting to understand
why other intelligent, funny, anti-hoarder, anti-profiteer-minded
individuals might _not_ be leaping into the nourishing waters of
rta-f without a backward glance.
     And with that understanding firmly in mind, I present
herewith my "Primer for Newcomers: A Guide to Maximizing The Joys
and Benefits of RTA-F."  Yes, this is presented most prominently
for tentative newbies, those who (perhaps unaccountably) might
have stumbled onto this column in a temporary, fleeting pass
through the newsgroup this fine November day, but even the
settled regulars out there may find it interesting.  Or maybe
even more importantly, may disagree, or add refinements to the
argument -- I always say (at least in terms of rta-f) "the more
the merrier," and indeed I feel a constant influx of new
thoughts, new ideas, and most important, new toys, is the single
best recipe for the group's continued flourishing, and anything
we can all do to welcome the new, make them understand just what
is so darned terrific about this "place," is to our collective
and continuing advantage.
     (By the way, I have to mention, I have always hated the term
"newbie."  It sounds to my ears instantly derogatory, condescen-
ding on its very face, contemptuous and superior.  I actually
believe it is _supposed_ to sound like that, but I won't get into
my reasons here.  Suffice it to say, I get do lazy and use the
term sometimes, but I much prefer the appellation "newcomer" --
it just sounds more welcoming, and accepting.  Your mileage, as
numerous oldbies say, may vary.)

     The most frequent gripe I hear about rta-f concerns the
perceived "noise" part of the familiar "signal-to-noise" ratio.
     "Oh, yeah, there may be good stuff on that newsgroup, but
who can find it?  Who has the time to wade through all those
arguments about prices, or annoying auctions?"  Alternatively, I
hear people say, "well, I like the stuff about Toy Biz, but I
hate McToys and SLUs and the posts I like just get lost in the
roar of the crowd...."  Or similar complaints of the same ilk.

     Well, friends and sinners alike, I have one word for you
all:  See-lectivity.  Yes, the good lord created selectivity as
one of Adam's greatest gifts, and even though the first man may
not have had much room to exercise that ability in terms of
choosing mates, places to live, vocations, etc., it was hard
wired into the system from the start.  (Some say that's the whole
point of the design module, but a theological discussion is
thankfully beyond the scope of this writing).
     Said another way:  Read the posts you like!
     It's that simple.  Newsreaders (and heck, newsfeeds) vary
enormously, but all of them give you the option of reading some
posts and skipping others.  In an open, free community there will
always be some discussion you find boring, or even offensive, but
your power as a reader is to blow right past anything that dulls
your fancy.  Check the headers for buzzwords that intersect your
specific interests, check the author column for names you
recognize or have found informative or diverting in the past, and
stick to what you like.
     On the other hand, I've talked to a bunch of people who,
ironically, avoid getting into the group because they're afraid
there'll be _too_ _much_ they'll want to read, that they won't
have the time to read everything and so would rather not be
tormented by the spectre of what they may be skipping over and
thus missing.  How silly!  How sad!  As the bard said, it is
better to have scanned and read, and missed some useful posts,
than never to have read at all....

     The second most frequent gripe is "well, when I call up the
newsgroup, there are 3,000 messages and who the heck could have
the time to read all of them?"
     Excellent point.  Which is why I suggest that if you
encounter this situation, your best bet is to "start from
scratch."  Mark ALL the messages in ALL the threads read, and
turn off your newsreader.  Heck, turn the computer off and take a
break.  Call a pal, play some handball or something, maybe even
pick up a book and read.  (I'm on a Philip Roth kick myself
lately, but I suppose that's beside the point).
     Then, the *next* day, fire up your newsreader, tune to rta-f
and you should see something on the order of 150-200 messages,
eminently manageable, certainly enough to graze your way through,
particularly if you apply the selectivity scheme noted above. 
Oh, sure, in taking this approach you may have missed a few
messages you'd have benefitted from reading, but heck, you can't
read _everything_ (Francis Bacon said that, though it took him
twelve pages and nearly 6,000 words, exacerbating the whole
problem if you ask me), and trust me, new, amusing, worthwhile
stuff appears on rta-f like magic, every day!

     The last common complaint I hear about the newsgroup is "I
don't know *how* to read it."
     This complaint takes various forms, but it boils down to the
accurate observation that reading a newsgroup is not really like
any other kind of reading, and can be a very unfamiliar activity. 
Oh, sure, that uniqueness is a great part of Usenet's strength,
but it is pretty different and can be rather disconcerting. 
Where else do the topics vary so dynamically?  Where else can you
react instantly?  Most media strike a tense balance between
immediacy and substantiveness, but on the newsgroups you lose
neither.  It's happening *now* (or pretty close thereto), and (of
course, depending on the author) you can find substance from the
featherweight to the ultra-heavyweight.
     There are probably as many ways to read rtaf as there are
rta-f readers, but here's my suggestion for those who have yet to
form their own personalized and snug approach:  You wait until
about mid-morning (and if a newcomer, having marked the whole
group read about twelve-to-twenty hours before), get yourself a
nice hot cup of coffee, a big sweet danish, a comfortable chair,
and settle in before your screen and newsreader.  Maybe have a
couple of things in mind that you're hoping to learn -- perhaps
advance word on a line or two you pursue, a for-trade or for-sale
post on some hard-to-find item you've been seeking in vain, or
maybe even comparative reviews of a figure you're deciding
whether to buy -- and with these foci of interest in mind, START
READING!  Check out those headers, and cull the messages that
seem resonant.  Sip that coffee (no big gulps until it cools!),
nibble on that pastry, and feast your eyes and mind on the best
source of action figure information, fun and debate a gal could
hope for.
     I'll admit that when all else flags, when I'm feeling
overfull of toy information, when I've read all the debate I can
read about Target's new stocking policies, when one more
profiteer bash will turn me green, one more auction set my
peristalsis in auto-reverse, I still cruise the group looking for
two things:  the humor of my compatriots, and perhaps best of
all, irresistable trades.
     Now, I know from experience and several close local toy-
lover friendships that trading is not for everyone.  Particularly
net-trading, which more often than not involves the extra cost of
shipping.  And if you're someone who has terrific luck at the toy
stores, or terrific connections, or a real phobia about post
offices, then I can understand where half the great appeal of
rtaf might be lacking for you.  I am saddened a little on your
behalf, but heck, (a) I've got plenty to be sad about on my own,
thank you; (b) it's probably far from being a tragedy in your own
life; and (c) if you're one of these people, chances that you're
reading this are slim-to-none (in which case, hey, your muthah
wears Space Cable boots!).
     Anyway, rta-f -- it's the cat's whole evening wardrobe, the
greatest electronic show on Earth, more fun than multiple barrels
of assorted primates -- but it's not for everyone.  It's
different every day, and yet, in the most reassuring ways, it's
the same, too.  My "one-year" anniversary of reading rtaf just
passed, and in its wake Tracey commented that she didn't think
there was any single thing she could read 365 days in a row. 
Well, not me -- those 365 seem like a drop in the bucket, and I'm
ready to keep swimming the vast ocean.  Oh, I could stop, really
I could, any time I wanted.  Just like that.
     But you'll have to pry the keyboard out of my hands to get
me to do so.  I love this place.  I love these people.  And I
wouldn't trade either for all the figures in China.  (Which,
basically, *is* all the figures, at least until they ship, and
does set up an interesting paradox if you think about it, but
actually I think this is as good a spot as any from which to move

     So.  The wise, friendly voices are here, the info is here,
the toys are here.  You've got my thoughts on easing in to the
stream of traffic, and there are only a few last thoughts I can
add.  First, lurking (reading and waiting a few weeks before
posting) is good.  Lurking is your friend.  It takes a bit of
patience, but seeing who's who and what's what (who's dependable
and who's a buffoon, getting a feel for the way posts propogate
in terms of time, seeing how the dialectic generally moves, etc.)
will serve you invaluably in the long run.
     Second, once you do start to join in, be sensitive to others
-- and at the same time, cultivate somewhat of a thickened skin. 
If someone snaps at you the first time you venture an opinion,
assuming of course you're fair and non-threatening, and non-
abusive, well, the heck with them.  Just keep on truckin' and
don't let it get you down.  Heck, there'll _always_ be at least
one person to disagree with you -- if nothing else, it keeps
things interesting.
     Lastly, try to keep in mind that most of us are really only
here to share our passion, and to have fun.  Sure, we get
excited, and tempers sometimes flare, but we wouldn't even be
here if we didn't all have an abiding affection for those silly
lumps of fabricated polymer that are...the figures themselves.
     By the way, a broad tip of the helmet to Eric Myers, whose
weekly "Welcome to Rec.Toys.Action-Figures" post says most of
this and more, and better -- only in different words and what is
probably a slight Texas accent <grin>.

     Nah, I'm not talking about masochists who enjoy suffering
the mortification of their own flesh, or them what works to feed
the starving, heal the sick, franchise the disenfranchised
(though they all probably deserve praise...just not necessarily
here); I'm talking about the _toy_ saints, the innumerable Janes
and Joes of rtaf who over the past year have gone out of their
ways to battle the scourge of toy profiteering and get the toys,
man, the toys, to their fellow collectors and fans who adore them
for their intrinsic wonders.
     As noted above, one of the greatest things for me in rta-f
is the presence of these great toymanitarians, people who offer
up toys at cost, or in even trades, sure, sometimes to get other
figures they want, but perhaps more importantly to give something
back to the community, to help out their fellow toy lovers and to
beat back the scrofulous inflationary-reselling hordes whose
perfidious practices cast a depressing pall over the new toy
landscape.  Heck, I'm not kidding when I say that there are days
when I do better in terms of getting new figures by staying at
home and waiting for the mail than I can possibly do at the
stores around here!  And as satisfying as it is to find that
longed-for figure on the retail shelf, there's a different joy
entirely in waiting cozy and comfy on the couch for that doorbell
to ring, running downstairs to find the postman with an armful of
toys, just for you!  No waiting, no worrying, it's wonderful!
     Well, of course, if you're trading, eventually you *do* have
to hit the aisles...unless you happen to be fortunate enough to
come across bootleg or reasonably priced older figures at a
specialty shop.  Ahhh, there are as many approaches as there are
collectors, when you get right down to it.
     Anyway, in terms of my thanks, there's no point in naming
individual names.  (Heck, I'd probably fill my five pages all too
quickly).  What is the point is that great traders, kind people
who look out for one another and help out when asked are what
makes this newsgroup more than just an excellent information
pool, more than just the best source of humor and sanity in the
wide toy world.  And while the trades and kindnesses are indeed
their own satisfactions, it can't hurt to stop once in a while
and shout out one's feelings of appreciation, of thankfulness, of
deep satisfaction.
     So to all of you out there helping one another, helping to
balance the addled packing assortments of most manufacturers,
helping to correct regional misallocations of toys, and helping
to fight the disinformation of profiteers and sleazeballs
everywhere, thanks.  You're what it's about, and you all deserve
every smidgeon of the enormous joy I'm sure this hobby brings
you.  It may be different in less collector-heavy areas of the
country, but I know for sure that if it weren't for all you kind,
generous netizens out there all over, finding and trading and
providing at-cost, I wouldn't have half the wonderful figures I
do, figures which color my life and bring a daily grin to my
beleagured face.
     Thanks.  Thanks truly, thanks madly, and thanks deeply.
     You're the best!
Copyright (c) 1996 by John Gersten. All rights reserved.

Comments? Drop me a line....
Return to John Gersten's Action Figure Column Home Page