Dinosaur Dracula!

Awesomely Bad Bootleg Action Figures.

We went back to the Englishtown flea market this past Sunday.

Since it’s warmed up, it was much busier. There were countless vendors outside, running what could only be described as “junk tables.” It was as if hundreds of people banded together for an enormous yard sale, and as is always the case with those, the offerings were hit or miss. (I often wondered why certain sellers even bothered. Some set their prices 3-4 times more than the eBay norm, even if their wares were in terrible shape. Maybe they just like the atmosphere, or air that stinks of roasted corn.)

I couldn’t help noticing the insane amount of bootleg action figures for sale. If there were 400 vendors in all, it seemed like at least half of them were selling knockoff Power Rangers.

You know the kind. They’re cheap, shoddy figures sold in cheap, shoddy packaging, usually in sets of four or more. The figures in each set might have absolutely nothing to do with one another. (An example being a four-pack that included a Red Ranger, a White Ranger, Black Widow and Batman. Ship that, motherfucker.)

I’m not saying that it’s an “industry” deserving of support, because obviously, it’s not. The toymakers act like the properties they draw from are in the public domain, and besides, the figures are utterly bad. I don’t know much about paint and plastic, but I know enough to be wary about sending a six-year-old off to chew a Batman figure that came from one of these sets. Unless the plan was to kill him.

Still, I’d be lying if I said that these bootlegs didn’t have a certain charm. Just look at this set!

I had no plans of going home with shitty action figures of amoral origin, but how could I resist the Super Special Heroes seven-pack? It’s atrociously awesome, mixing characters from wildly different properties, with absolutely no running theme aside from “heroes kids kind of enjoy.” It’s even more bizarre than the similar set I found back in 2008!

Where else will you find Buzz Lightyear, Spider-Man and Batman teaming for the greater good? Read More…

Bloody Caesar.

I made a Bloody Caesar. For the uninitiated, that’s essentially a Bloody Mary, but with Clamato replacing tomato juice. (Don’t run.)

I’ve been inching my way towards this for years. While on a business trip in Toronto (in 2005, I think), some colleagues who became fast friends introduced me to the Caesar. At that point, I had no idea that it was such a thing in Canada. Boy, did I see the proof. Everyone at that bar seemed to be drinking them, and even if I played it safe with a Bloody Mary, I had to admit that their cocktails looked good. Maybe I’d been too hard on Clamato?

Actually, I’d been way too hard on Clamato. If you don’t know, Clamato is tomato juice with a hint of clam, but I have to stress the “hint” part. Clam broth is near the bottom of the ingredients list, and really, you’d never guess “clams” on a blind taste test. Clamato is also loaded with corn syrup, so if anything, it tastes more like a V8 Splash. It’s much sweeter, more watery and way less acidic than tomato juice, and while I wouldn’t say that I prefer it, there’s nothing at all gross about it.

And it does make for a much different cocktail than a Bloody Mary. It’s smoother, lighter, and I can see how those crazy Canucks drink it so often. (I love a good Bloody Mary, but they’re far too heavy to drink at the start of a long night out. It’s like getting to the bar and kicking things off with tomato soup.) Read More…

Survival Kit in a Sardine Can.

(NOTE: There’s a new feature up, recapping one of my favorite episodes of the classic anthology series, Amazing Stories. It’s about a scary mirror monster. Read it! Or at least, read it after you’ve read about this sardine can filled with razors and candy.)

I often daydream about extinction events, or at least something approaching them. I imagine a world where survivors live in crude bunkers and shelters, surviving on whatever they could grab before the comet hit, or before the zombies rose, or before the aliens invaded.

It sort of runs parallel to my other fantasy, where I live in dilapidated cabin in the middle of nowhere, totally cut off from society. What makes the extinction event scenario more attractive is that I wouldn’t be doing it by choice. That log cabin thing sounds fun, but after a few days, I know I’d crack and run back to society, begging for the camaraderie and conveniences I’ve grown so accustomed to. But man, if aliens poisoned the air supply, I’d have no choice! I could have fun in my little fallout shelter with no regrets!

Yes, I understand that this is weird.

A byproduct of these daydreams is my interest in survival goods. Specifically, survival kits. I just find them so alluring. I like to dream up my own survival kits, and since this is completely hypothetical and I don’t have to be at all practical about it, my imaginary survival kits rock. Coolers full of novels, notebooks, pretzels and playing cards.

When I browse through the many survival kits sold online, I always keep an eye out for the fun ones. I don’t care if they have compasses and water purification tablets. I just want them to be fun. I want them to be filled with astronaut ice cream and tiny-sized versions of Yahtzee.

Well, this one doesn’t exactly fit that bill, but it comes close. It’s definitely fun. It’s a survival kit in a goddamned sardine can.

Created by Whistle Creek, it’s a legit survival kit, in the sense that there’s stuff inside that really could save your life if, say, you found yourself impossibly lost in the woods for a few days. Still, there seems to be more of a “novelty” slant with this kit, both because of the goofier contents and because it all comes in a, you know, sardine can. Read More…

Gremlins Collectible Figures!

You know those little plastic “tables” that protect pizza cheese from cardboard boxes? They were invented in 1985.

And just as Carmela Vitale was securing the patent, I was in Atlantic City, watching Maw and Paw torch my future.

I often joke about how I grew up on the thinly-carpeted floors of Atlantic City casinos. In truth, my parents didn’t gamble that much – it’s just that the trips were so memorable for me.

The better ones would come later, when I was finally old enough to roam around unsupervised. But this was 1985. I was tiny, trusting and not to be left alone. In a rare switch from the norm, my father walked me around the boardwalk while my mother went for the jackpot.

We ended up at the boardwalk’s shopping mall, which was built to look like a huge cruise ship. Though that mall still stands, it’s since been remodeled and filled with “high class” stores. But back then? Forget it. It was a kid’s paradise. Giant arcade, food court full of everything, and of course, Kay-Bee Toys.

This was not a normal Kay-Bee. I mean, maybe it was in 1985, but by the ‘90s, holy shit. Those of you who remember Kay-Bee know that it wasn’t very good about getting “old stock” off of the racks. The toys may have been ten years old, but they’d still try to sell them, with drastic clearance prices hastily scribbled in red ink. This Kay-Bee was like that, but TO THE EXTREME. It was like an antique shop without the antique shop prices.

But that’s another story. If it was that way back in ’85, I didn’t notice.

What I did notice, was this. And since those Atlantic City trips made it so easy to bribe my parents, I got it. A few bucks for some Gremlins figures was certainly a fair trade for a kid who’d remain calm and patient in Atlantic City.

The Gremlins Collectible Figures set may have been the first “Gremlins thing” I ever owned. I still remember baking under the flashing lights of Caesar’s, totally oblivious to everything else as I fiddled with my little Mogwais.

I’ve put off this review for more than a year, believing that there wouldn’t be much to it beyond a couple of toy photos. Yesterday, I came across the set again, and started thinking about what each figure really meant to me. Turns out, they meant plenty. So let’s roll. Read More…

Book Reports.

Below are five book reports. Well, sort of.

They’re books I care about, or at least books with personal stories attached to them. If you were expecting me to write serious critiques, I should remind you that I’m poorly educated and pretty lazy.

Dracula, by Bram Stoker (1897)

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (the film, I mean) came out in November of ’92, signaling an interest boost in All Things Dracula. I was in the eighth grade at the time, and I picked this baby up from my junior high’s book fair.

I was going through my “depression phase,” phoning it in with all-black outfits and a bad haircut. It had as much to do with fashion as feelings, but it’s also true that I felt like a goofy nobody. Going “mock goth” at least made it seem intentional.

I didn’t buy this book to read it. I bought it as an accessory. Something to casually leave on my desk during class. Hey, only the deepest kid in school would carry around a Dracula book! Yes, I imagined my fellow students viewing me with great intrigue! Dracula cost $4.50 at that book fair, and it seemed like a small price to pay to be fucking interesting for once.

I can laugh about this now, because even if I never outgrew misfitdom, it’s not like I really wish I had. At the same time, those memories mean that I’ll never stop having empathy for dorks. I believe we can find the best opportunities to build ourselves when we’re at our most hopeless, but you can only appreciate that kind of silver lining in retrospect.

So, if Dino Drac has any especially young readers on the fringe: You’re reading a guy who once believed he’d become popular by pretending to read Dracula. In the end, you’ll be fine.

You’ll be almost fine. Read More…