October 30, 2007 -Masterpiece Starscream Arrives at Wal-Mart!
Thus it began. A three month long obsession to obtain my most desired bot since Beast Wars lured me back into this plastic orgy lo, so many years ago. With one exception, Starscream is my favorite Decepticon. Since that one exception, Blitzwing, only has one figure to speak of (which I have), I’m on Starscream figures like Michael Jackson on a preschooler...or Michael Bay on a poorly contrived yet flashy action sequence. Not just any shoddy "transforms into a jet and is named Starscream" figure, mind you (this monstrosity comes to mind) but ones that more or less bear at least a passing resemblance to the evil, backstabbing, power-mad, coward Starscream we had circa 1984.
And so with great enthusiasm I undertook my greatest adventure. Okay, so it wasn't really an "adventure" so much as it was a 3 month long guilt-ridden, anger-fueled search that threatened to end just like Boogie Nights...with me on the couch of a semi-naked man, plotting to rob him for crack money before it all goes downhill and I find myself being chased down the street by said semi-naked man (bearing a striking resemblance to a skinny Alfred Molina) with a shotgun. Where was I? Oh, yes. Over the following months, Wal-Mart Exclusive Masterpiece Starscream would become my El Dorado, my Lost Ark, my Holy Grail...my White Whale.
I began what most
crackheads collectors call "the hunt." I refer to
it by another four letter word, but I try to keep this thing at least PG-13, so…
My office is about a mile from a Wal-Mart and I usually have time to head down
to the Happiest Place on Earth on my lunch break to see what stuff got unpacked
the previous night before scalpers, collectors, parents, children and various
other life forms with which I have no sympathy have a chance to clean out the
racks/pegs/shelves. You may think that borders on obsession, but it works. And I
readily admit to anyone that it absolutely is an obsession (hence the name of my
little corner of the intarwebs.)
So I hit Wal-Mart. Two to three times a week. Every week. For two solid months. I went so often that the greeters began to recognize me. When someone whose lone job function is basically to stare at the floor and mutter in a barely audible tone "Hello" whenever they sense human presence begins to recognize you...you might be going to that person's place of employment too much. I'm just sayin'. When that didn't work, I started going to other Wal-Marts. There are something like 2,547 Wal-Marts in the greater Baton Rouge area and I'm betting I went to each one at least once. I had my operatives in other cities checking their Wal-Marts. Nothing. Nada. Zero. Zilch. No Joy. When I say "nothing," I don't just mean that thousands of Wal-Mart Exclusive Masterpiece Starscreams appeared in Wal-Marts throughout Louisiana and I just missed them, I mean that I don't believe it ever even appeared in Louisiana, period. I never even saw shelf space or a price sticker dedicated to it.
On Wednesday, November 21, 2007 at around 2:00pm, I received a phone call from my little brother who lives in Tennessee. He was very giddy (like a little girl, he gets like that) and began his phone call by saying, "Guess what I have in my hands RIGHT NOW!" "What?="” I asked. "Masterpiece Starscream!" "Really?" "Guess what I paid for it?" "What?" I asked. "30 BUCKS! It was on clearance!" I hung up on my brother and have not spoken to him since. Smarmy little...
And yet his call filled me with a tiny bit of hope. This happened once before, back when I was searching for a GI Joe 25th Anniversary Firefly figure. At first I couldn’t find one even though reports were going out on message boards that the figure was appearing in stores everywhere. My brother called and told me that he had obtained one, and two short weeks later I finally found one. I figured the pattern would simply repeat. Except it didn't. I muddled through the rest of December, never finding a Wal-Mart Exclusive Masterpiece Starscream in stores.
It was shortly after my brother’s phone call that I hit upon the idea to check and see if Wal-Mart was offering the figure online. I checked every day. Religiously. Nothing. Not even a listing at first. Eventually the figure was posted on their website, but listed as "Out of Stock" or "In Stores Only" or some sort other euphemism that translated to "Screw you, fanboy, these are out of your reach!" They could be bought at various other websites online (including that last refuge of desperate addicts, ebay), but only if you were willing to part with your firstborn child, or at least a substantial amount of cash. So I simply bided my time, hoping that I would one day walk into Wal-Mart and walk out happier and $50 bucks poorer. Patience, as they say, is a virtue (except it isn't.)
Christmas came and went. My parents gave me a $100 check, telling me "We could never find that Mastercraft Star Cream thing you wanted but we saw that this was about how much they were selling for online and figured that you’d be better at getting a good deal, so here you go." I should have been happy and I suppose I was at least grateful, but it was the principle of the thing. Double the retail price! The very idea!
I guess the kicker, the thing that pushed me over the very edge, came on January 2, 2008. By this time I was checking Walmart.com multiple times per day to see if it was in stock and getting the same result, listed but not "in stock." I went home from work on New Year’s Eve, finally resigned to the fact that I would never own Wal-Mart Exclusive Masterpiece Starscream. I didn't even look at my computer on January 1st. My wife, unbeknownst to me, checked Walmart.com that day just to see if it was in stock so I'd quit whining about it (it was not and I did not). The next day I was counting on a slow work day, so instead of going through my normal routine (checking e-mail, voice messages, etc.) I logged on to the geek-o-sphere that is the tfans.com message boards. There it was, a thread titled "Wal-Mart Exclusive Starscream in stock at walmart.com." By this time I had the page for Starscream bookmarked, so I just called it up. "Out of Stock. DAMN! Somehow, between the time my wife checked walmart.com the night before (around 6pm) and 8am the next day, it was gone. Still, I held out hope. Maybe there’s something wrong with my cache, maybe there’s gremlins in my computer, maybe the page I'm looking at isn't refreshing for some reason, THROW ME A BONE HERE! I clicked "refresh" on that page at least 3,000 times over the next four hours. I did it one last time, right before I went to lunch.
I rubbed my eyes, stared in disbelief. I asked myself, "Is this really happening? After months of fruitless searching, restless nights, uneaten meals, heartburn, nausea, indigestion, upset stomach, diarr..." "SHUT THE HELL UP AND ORDER THE DAMN THING ALREADY!" a voice snapped in my head. I did. I'm not what you would call and optimist, so I wouldn't let myself relax until I got the order confirmation e-mail from Wal-Mart, which I did a few hours later. I went to bed that night and slept for the first time in what felt like years. And it all came unraveled the next day. In my inbox the next morning was an email from Wal-Mart informing me that my order was on backorder. After replacing the monitor and keyboard I just threw across the room, I decided that was enough. I had 100 bucks with which to purchase a Wal-Mart Exclusive Masterpiece Starscream and, by God, I was going to use it.
The best deal I could find was 77 bucks shipped, which I guess wasn't too bad. This was at Amazon Marketplace. While checking out I also got a sweet little offer where if I signed up for an Amazon credit card, I would get a $30 credit towards my purchase. $47 total for an item that has caused me such grief over the last few months? Yes, please. Order placed, order confirmed, shipping confirmed, Heavyarms happy. It was all over but the waiting. Or so I thought.
My package arrived and when I lifted it up, I could hear something rattling around inside. I tried to remain positive, maybe its just something that came loose, it CAN'T be broken. I willed it not to be broken. I ate supper figuring my patience would, somehow, cure the terrible affliction my newly arrived item was suffering. I took Starscream's box out of the package and saw the loose bit, but couldn't figure out where it could have come from. "Maybe its an extra part, like you get with a LEGO set sometimes." Desperate times, desperate thoughts. I picked up the box and immediately noticed that the factory-applied tape had been cut and the package had been re-taped with that tell-tale packing tape that says "Someone returned this to Wal-Mart, and Wal-Mart just stuck it back on the shelf because Wal-Mart don't give a damn." After taking Starscream out of the package, he was missing a part. The loose part that was in the package was the opposite part from the other side of the figure. I felt like Ralphie after he just shot his eye out with his brand new Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-Shot Range-Model Air Rifle. Near as I can figure, someone bought a Starscream, lost a part, purchased a second figure. Not being bright enough to figure out which one he/she needed, they took both parts out of that box, put back the one they didn’t need, and returned the second Starscream to Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart, not giving a crap that the box has been opened, re-taped it and stuck it back on the shelf. Another person walks into Wal-Mart, sees it sitting on the shelf and decides to sell it online and make a tidy little profit. The planets align just so and the messed up figure falls into my lap. I contacted Hasbro about the possibility of obtaining a replacement for the missing part and was told that since it is a "Store Exclusive," they couldn't help get a replacement part. I decided to return the figure to the seller and get a refund, which the seller was happy to do. I won't give you my exact feelings on the person that returned that figure to Wal-Mart sans part, but I will say I hope their future holds in store an accident involving his or her genitals and a bottle of Super Glue.
But this story is not a sad story, dear reader. You see, right after this all went down I got an e-mail from Wal-Mart telling me my order had been shipped. About 8 days later I got an e-mail telling me my order was ready to be picked up (I used Site-to-Store to save on the shipping charges) and so, dutifully reported to my local Wal-Mart to pick up my Wal-Mart Exclusive Masterpiece Starscream. The gentleman helping me retrieve my order "from the back" was very pleasant. Upon opening the box to verify its contents, he eyed it thoughtfully for a moment. I thought this was going to be another one of those "Man, I remember these! I had them all! Bumblebee, Optimus Prime, Megatron! All three of them! Instead, he raised an eyebrow and asked, "Is this for a child?" I said, "Nope, it’s for me." I was beaming like I was going to hold my newborn son for the first time. The gentleman looked at me, if only for a split second, like I had just told him I was going to eat his mother for dinner and his pet poodle for desert. Then, in a manner similar to the hushed tone I imagine someone would use to say "Hey, I’m an alcoholic, too" upon meeting a a fellow alcoholic, Mr. Helpful replies "Yeah, I collect some stuff, too. Mostly NASCAR stuff." As if walking down to the toy aisle and grabbing one of the hundreds, hell, THOUSANDS of readily available $3 die-cast cars is even comparable to the robophilia Transformers collectors like myself suffer. However, I didn’t want to hurt the guy’s feelings, so I just gave him one of those nods that say "I know where you’re comin’ from, bro."