Friday, October 10, 2008

 

In Which We Begin Our Quest...


In the worst, best, and oddest moments in my life, I have often coped by imagining that my life is not really my life, but some kind of sit-com or series of movies being written and produced for the private amusement of some higher being (oh, and all of you). Which is fine, as far as it goes. But if you view your life through that kind of lens long enough, pretty soon you’ll find yourself adapting certain aspects of TV-show and movie-making as a way to live and amuse yourself.

Take, for example, the concept of the MacGuffin. In cinematic parlance, The MacGuffin is the object, the thing that drives the plot. Hitchcock was famous for using MacGuffins and more recently George Lucas has thrown the term around in association with the Indiana Jones films, all of which revolved around the seeking and finding of a MacGuffin. It’s just a gimmick, a way to move a story forward, and they’re usually highly disposable. Often by the end of the movie, the MacGuffin becomes meaningless, because it’s already served its narrative purpose of putting the show’s characters through a compelling arc of developments.

As a viewer, I have mixed feelings about the use of MacGuffins in shows and films, but I have to say that I love pursuing MacGuffins in my life. There’s something about the search, the hunt, the pursuit of something that I find especially thrilling. Hunting a MacGuffin can reliably fill an afternoon--or a weekend--for me.

I’ve done this for years, often without realizing I was doing it. In college, I was forever enlisting my roommate to go searching for something with me: one Saturday morning, it was to find a Nerf fencing set (which sadly, they do not make anymore). Another time, I got my roommate and his girlfriend to drive 6 hours to Boston (and then 6 hours back to college) in order to find a case of imported English cider to which I was especially partial.

You’d think growing up and having a family would make you more inclined to abandon such juvenile pursuits, but if anything, family life has only increased my options for MacGuffin hunting. Her Lovely Self, for example, has recently taken to acquiring and decorating her garden with old-fashioned sprinklers--the neat antique brass kinds--and now I spend lunch hours and whole afternoons hunting through junk shops and salvage warehouses looking for the things. With the kids, it’s even worse, because there are so many things out there in the world that they want.

Now let me add here that my kids have never been prone to flailing in a toy store aisle screaming “I WANT IT!” But every once in a while, Thomas or the Brownie will get all wistful and wish for a certain something and--since they ask so rarely--I’m inclined to get it for them, even though it is sometimes a hardship for me. In fact, especially because it’s a hardship. That seems to be essential to the idea of MacGuffin hunting. And so, off I go, spending what to the untrained eye must seem like an enormous amount of time and effort to locate an item that only has meaning because I’ve chosen to give it some.

My long-suffering wife just doesn’t understand this behavior, which she has labeled as being on the verge of an obsessive-compulsive disorder (and who’s to say she’s wrong?). My behavior also tends to lead her to the conclusion that I am a tad materialistic and tend to put a little too much importance on the having of certain things in my life. I dunno. I guess it’s fair to say that I do like having certain things in my life. This is not because I suffer from a congenital form of C.R.A.P. syndrome--well, not completely because of it--but because there’s a certain small satisfaction that comes from committing to a quest and actually seeing it through. It’s no different than participating in a scavenger hunt. In short, I consider MacGuffin-hunting to be good, innocent fun.

With Thomas’ 10th birthday coming up the end of the month, I once again have a chance to find a MacGuffin. My kids’ birthdays have nearly always been triggers for great MacGuffin hunts. When my son was little, the MacGuffin used to be in the form of certain wooden trains; later he had a special desire for Justice League action figures--one year, he badly desired Solomon Grundy, a figure available only by attending a comic book convention in California--or by paying an exorbitant mark-up to some nose-breathing fanboy eBay parasite who had attended in your stead (in the end, I found a PR person who was attending for business reasons, and he got me one).

These days, Thomas is still into action figures, but now he likes the Star Wars ones. He’s fond of the new animated series on TV now and uses his figures to create elaborate shows of his own (sometimes he even films these shows with our old camcorder). I can justify getting the figures for him--and I must say that right now he has quite a few--because I see that he does more than hoard them, does more than play with them. He uses them to build something creative, something that in his mind aspires to art.

Which is great--wonderful even. Unless your collection is minus a particular crucial character.

Most recently, the figure he’s requiring is the female Jedi apprentice named Ahsoka Tano. She appeared in this summer’s Clone Wars animated film and is a main character on the new TV show I mentioned. I have my own opinions about the latest direction the Star Wars universe has taken with this animated series and its new characters, but this is not the place to air them. All that matters in this context is that Thomas likes the character. More than that, he considers her a crucial member of the cast when it comes to telling his own home-video stories. The problem is, she’s been impossible to find.

When the latest batch--in the toy business, they are known as waves--of figures based on the animated film were released this summer, you could expect to find dozens of the primary characters--an assload of Anakin Skywalkers, an orgy of Obi-Wan Kenobis. You could even find the fat chick who danced in Jabba’s palace, hanging on the pegs in numbers that defied explanation (why so many of her?). But Ahsoka Tano was nowhere to be found. Thomas went online to find out what the deal was, and learned through careful monitoring of various toy-hobbyist Web sites, that Ahsoka would be included in the second wave of Clone Wars figures, which would be released some time in September or October. And the scuttlebutt was that she would be short-packed. That’s the term toy hobbyists use to describe a figure who the manufacturer deliberately issues only in small numbers--usually one or two to a case. The company apparently does this to generate buzz for a particular toy line, but all it really does is inspire certain people known as toy scalpers to go out and buy up as many of these short-packed figures as they can, hoarding them and then selling them on eBay for as much as a 200 percent mark-up.

Long-time readers may recall that I’m not fond of scalpers, having encountered one a couple of years ago on another MacGuffin hunt. It’s not that I can’t afford to pay a little more than retail for a toy, but it galls me to have to pay more just because some retail mercenary snapped them all up while I was at work doing a real job.

And so the hunt began. Every lunch hour this week, I’ve driven over to a different Target, or Wal-Mart, or Toys-R-Us, trying to find the elusive Ahsoka MacGuffin. Always, I was too late, even by a matter of minutes, as I found out one day when I rounded an aisle at a Target, and saw a store employee breaking down cardboard boxes that were clearly labeled as containing the latest wave of Star Wars figures. The display was a mess, having just been rifled by two scalpers who waited while the employee stocked the shelves, then grabbed figures by the fistful and carted them off.

As I sprinted for the checkout lanes--in the heat of the moment, I think I was hoping to intercept the scalpers and see about guilting them into handing over the figure I needed, but they were long gone by the time I got there--I realized that I was probably getting a little carried away. Because the truth was I didn’t need the figure any more than Thomas needed it. But I was perhaps getting caught up in the chase, in the quest. So I slowed to a walk, and then left the store.

By evening, I had decided that I would occasionally check out some nearby stores at lunch or maybe on the way home from work, but no more would I chase willy-nilly around the county, scouring every toy department hoping to catch a fresh shipment of toys. Fundamentally, it didn’t make me much better than the scalpers. So I would just make the occasional look between now and the end of the month, when my son turns 10. If I was meant to find it, I would. And if not, well...

That very night, as I was resigned to this course of action, the Brownie came up to me after dinner, pulled me into a hallway and, after checking to make sure her brother wasn’t eavesdropping, said, “Dad, when are we going hunting for Ahsoka Tano, the figure Thomas wants?”

“Uh, well, you know I have looked, but she’s sold out at all the places I’ve checked,” I said.

The Brownie nodded grimly. “Scalper men,” she said, setting her jaw and staring off into the middle distance, no doubt lost in a flashback sequence in the latest episode of her own life. In my previous encounter with a scalper, I was able to prevail only because I had brought the Brownie with me. Her quick thinking and highly manipulative crocodile tears were what carried the day. “Well, we can’t let scalper men get all the Ahsokas out there. We’ll just have to go looking for them together,” she said emphatically.

And so, as they say, the adventure continues.

I’ll keep you posted on the highlights of the hunt, which begins right after supper, this Friday night. Tune in and don’t miss it.

Yours,
From Somewhere on the Masthead


Comments:
Best of luck. That's one we'd like to find, too. My girls really enjoyed the movie in the theater. I liked it more than I expected to, but frankly, those expectations are pretty low. If I find them, I'll be sure to get an extra for you. After all, if you don't need it anymore, I could always sell it on eBay. ;)
 
Mmm. As a kid, my toy figures of choice were Star Trek: TNG, He-Man, and She-Ra. As I got older, it became Spawn and a lot of other macabre McFarlane figures. I worked for nearly 4 years in a toy store and processed the stock. So I definitely understand on regards to your great white search and conquer for the rarer figures. I think if I remember correctly, female action figures are always harder to find since they don't make as many of them. (Jabba's slovenly lady crooner excluded)

Good luck and I'll keep my eyes peeled when I am out and about. :)
 
Just wanted to leave some well wishes for you and the Brownie as well. You must be so proud of her. Good luck with the hunt!
 
Good luck, MM. But remember, no fistfights! :)
 
Good luck! I hope you find her!
 
I don't mean to sound ungrateful. And I do love your stories regardless of what you decide to write about. But I must say I'm DYING for an October Moment. October is 10 whole days over already! OK, I'll shut up now.
 
while i'm certain that you could, and would, find the toy on your own, i'm also willing to bet that the brownie will prove very handy to have around. go brownie!
 
MM, Yet another masterfully written post. I would say that the Ahsoka Tano is very truly a MacGuffin in the sense that you have drawn in at least a few of your readers in the search. I don't have any need for a Ahsoka Tano figure, but I read your 9/25 post while we were on a long drive across country from Oregon to Washington, D.C. My wife has an addiction to Target, so each time we stopped at one on our way across country, I found myself stopping in the Star Wars figure section to search for the illusive Ahsoka Tano figure to send you.

I figured (a) maybe I had better chances of finding it since I could check several stores across 16 states during our trip, and (b) I thought it would make for a great blog post if one of your readers found it and mailed it to you (ask and you shall receive...).

But alas... like you, I found many dozens of duplicates of lesser-known characters, but never an Ahsoka Tano figure.

Sorry. I tried.

But then, if it's really a MacGuffin, then the figure itself is not important. It's the fact that multiple people joined your search for the MacGuffin, right?
 
Count me in as being a part of that search, too. I'm hoping to find two of them, though. One for Thomas, and one for me, I mean, one for my son. Yeah, my son. That's it. Good luck to us all.
 
Cider, huh?

Strongbow?

Somerset Medium Sweet?

Not that I necessarily want to be 21 again, but I miss the pub in my hall of residence in London. The barkeeps stocked cider for me in the fridge - couldn't quite get over my American need for my drinks really cold. :)

I have to pick up a prescription at Tar-zhay tomorrow. If I find the elusive figure, I'll let ya know!
 
May the force be with you.
 
Best of luck!
 
with the power that is the Brownie on your side, you are bound to find the missing figure.

Just in case, I shall also keep my eyes open as I shop this week.
 
For long term, you need to build a store eBay. Some reasons to open an eBay Store: lower eBay fees, more exposure, more communication with buyers, more automation and more opportunities to sell in the format your buyers like best. List Easy
 
Anxiety disorder includes different subtypes such as panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), specific phobias, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), agoraphobia, social anxiety disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder. The subtypes are categorized depending upon the underlying causative factor. Even though the symptoms of the anxiety disorder subtypes differ slightly, they will certainly have a common characteristic symptom of fear and insecurity. Anxiety disorder manifests both mental as well as physical symptoms. http://www.xanax-effects.com/
 
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