Flea Market Finds Vol. 5

Devastation

This entry marks a day in flea market history where I am all but ready to hang up my marketing boots.

This would never happen, of course, but today – nay, this weekend – has been nothing but discouragement and frustration.

Let’s just dive right in.

Chapter 1: It’s Cold!

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So I’ve been cooped up in the mountains of Asheville for the last several weeks in an attempt to “find myself.”

Whatever.

I’m still looking, and offering a reward of 5,000 rupees to anyone who can find me.

All things considered, adjusting to a new climate has been…how should I say this?

Easy.

Real easy.

Migrating North in the dead of winter is not the best idea, but surprisingly enough I adapted quite well. Waking up at 6 AM against your better judgment, however, can be physically painful. I turned on the space heater and allowed it to warm my bones for a solid two hours. As the minute hand closed in on half past eight, I was ready to gear up and face the cold.

Chapter 2: Arrival

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I made it to a nearby flea market I had scoped out a week before. The first visit was bleak, but this time it looked more promising.

I began my journey looking for…you guessed it!

Pokémon cards!

No, video game collectibles you dolt. Come on, get with the program. We’re already on Volume 5 now, I shouldn’t have to spell it out for you.

Soon after my arrival, I encounter an N64 controller- wait, Playstation- Gameboy games?

This guy’s a video game dealer. Not always the best prospect in this day and age, but hey, gives me something to look at.

I asked the man if I could rummage through his meager offerings, to which he agreed.

I don’t remember specific numbers, but let’s just say the prices bordered on offensive. I didn’t even bother to say goodbye.

I soldiered on. Found a neat Pac-Man frame. They wanted $10 for it – a price I’d certainly mull over.

Chapter 3: The Rounds

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I finished my first pass with very little to wet my appetite. Perhaps a stray controller (for god knows what) here and there, but otherwise not a single item of interest. I proceeded to wander about through the indoor section simply to pass time; surely more vendors were on their way.

After a fair amount of dawdling, I decided to step out into the freezing cold once again. Second time around was fuller, but not much better. I did get excited when I spotted a Gamecube inside a shed full of junk. This find was not astounding by any means, but it did show potential for what could exist beyond the outer crusty surface.

I asked if any other video game equipment might lay idly ensconced in the deep innards of this storage shed. (And yes, this is exactly how I posed the question to the proud shed owner)

The short of it was…

no

So, with a day full of nothing but disappointment, I humbly purchased a pair of wool socks and some batteries. Excellent prices…but that was all.

Chapter 4: A Friendly Face – Promising Terrain Ahead

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After doing one final pass through “Storage Shed Alley,” I saw a guy with comics, VHS tapes, and other assorted goods. Naturally, my nostrils were greeted by the sweet scent of video game potential.

I asked, but “no” was the answer yet again. However, a pleasant conversation ensued where he informed me of a video game dealer who usually had a table set up. That particular day he was not present.

This good fellow (whom I will refer to as “Ted”) texted said dealer for me and even went so far as to introduce himself and welcome me to the area. He encouraged me to come back the next day, so I decided I would. Why not, right? Who knows what could come of it?

Suffering? Misery? Regret?

Oops. Spoilers.

Chapter 5: Round Two

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I woke up the next morning suffocated by the unforgiving cold. I looked at the clock and thought “nobody’s going to be out this early.” Instead, I opted for the paltry warmth offered to me by my blanket.

Finally, I dragged my ass out of bed, threw on some clothes and set out, retreading that familiar path. And when I arrived I saw a higher volume of sellers.

Beginning my rounds, I encountered a modest setup with a few games of interest. Then my eye was stolen by a- what’s that now?

The glimmer of a golden cart.

Ocarina of Time.

“$35,” he joyfully responded to my inquiry.

Not unreasonable, but not a flea market price. Or rather, what flea market prices used to be.

I looked at his other items; all priced fair, but still high in my opinion (considering the venue). Sadly that’s just the world we live in now. I noticed some Genesis games (dubbed “Genesis Crust” by me and my regular flea market cohort) and got a price from him. I decided to call and consult with my friend Frank and see if he was interested. From there, I could hopefully engage in some form of bundling – the only way to get a good price anymore in this cutthroat market that once belonged to the fleas.

No answer from Frank. Time to move on.

I resumed the rounds but found little else of interest. I finally made it to the dealer who was so highly esteemed by Ted. When I landed, I saw the table was fairly barren – not the goldmine my colorful imagination had envisioned.

I stared long and hard at the table, hoping somehow a gem would materialize in front of me. Such sorcery does not exist in this life, unfortunately, so I left without a find to speak of.

With one round under my belt, I checked in with Ted. We spoke for a bit until Frank called. It was now down to business; hard negotiations were about to begin and no prisoners were to be taken.

Chapter 6: Down to Business

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We chatted for a while. Frank was not super excited about the Genesis Crust, however, when Donkey Kong Country surfaced from my flickering memory, he demonstrated mild intrigue. I returned once again to examine the goods. When I told him the Genesis games were missing instructions he officially declined; however, I did spot Super Mario World – a game he still needed. I told the vendor I’d be back.

Far away from prying ears, we discussed numbers. He said he’d be willing to do $20 on DK Country and SMW. With his figures in place, I decided on what I wanted and a number I’d go for.

I returned once more. I asked the vendor if he’d consider a discount on bundled items and he said he would, so I grabbed the two games already mentioned and added two of my own: Super Mario Galaxy 2 and, of course, the golden gem itself – Ocarina of Time. I set these four games in front of him and asked what he was thinking.

“Make me an offer,” he boldly suggested.

-well, I mean, if you insist-

“Would you do $50?”

Yes, $50! The real deal! The big kahuna! My lucky number!

At that price, I’d get Ocarina and Galaxy 2 for $30.

I carefully observed his expression – the subtle shifting of his features – hoping I could read where his mind was going.

Slowly I saw his countenance shift from that of possibility to total rejection.

“No, the lowest I could do is $70.”

So, $50 I’d be paying for Ocarina and Galaxy 2? Drat…

I took away Galaxy 2 and asked what he’d do on the three remaining games.

$50

Now he’s speaking my number. Only it’s not as sweet as before.

Also, at this point, it hit me I was ten dollars short.

I sat on this figure for a while, then made a motion for my wallet. In light of my current situation, I found it was time to try out the old “China Town Method.”

What’s the China Town Method, you may ask?

This was the same question I had for Frank when he introduced said concept to me.

According to Frank, you take from your wallet the cash you want to spend and wave it in front of the seller. This is done to entice the purveyor to accept your offer – a sort of bait if you will. And it was named as such because his father would pull this stunt whenever they were together in China Town.

I took out all my cash and counted.

“Looks like I only have forty on me. Would you take this for the games?”

I waved it in front of him with a supple wrist. He went through the same process; some deliberation, followed by a rejection of the amount at hand.

Wow. The China Town method failed.

I told him I might take more money out of the ATM, but in all likelihood this was to be a wash.

Chapter 7: The ATM Dilemma

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I waited in line at the ATM to see how much it would cost to pull more cash. When my turn came, I noticed it would not let me take anything less than $20.

Well of course, why hadn’t I thought of that? Most ATMs probably only have twenties in them. Ahh, it’s not worth it anyway. I can’t believe I was seriously considering dropping $50 on those three games. I’m sorry, I can’t justify $30 on Ocarina…even if it is an… *gulp* …okay price.

I left the ATM.

At this point I was fairly certain that the day was a wash, so I walked over to my new friend and chatted him up a little more. He was quite a nice guy. We had a good, long conversation. The kind of conversation that tosses all caution to the wind with regards to time and the ever-diminishing supply of goods around you. I didn’t think there was much reason to keep looking, but in the back of my head I figured “Why not? Might as well do one more quick pass before I go.” But certainly it didn’t matter when. Well, the minutes flew by, accumulating into about a half hour or so. I told him I’d have one more pass and come back.

If only I knew.

Chapter 8: Game Over

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So I made my rounds, not expecting much of anything. Passed the same old, same old. Passed the guy with Ocarina. I eyed the table and didn’t see it, though it may have still been there. I shook his hand and thanked him for negotiating. While I did genuinely appreciate his willingness to work with me, I’m not above admitting I was hopeful he’d reconsider my offer, though from the looks of it, the centerpiece of the deal was gone. And from there, the rounds continued.

I stopped dead in my tracks.

What’s this I see?

Some old bastard holding a thick stack of Genesis games. By god!

He bought them all, including a console! That son of a bitch!

And is that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Hyperstone Heist??

Obviously the games were priced to sell – the kinda price I want to pay. Otherwise he wouldn’t have grabbed them all.

And to think, if I had exercised the slightest bit of discipline and broken off from the conversation five minutes early…

…they would have been mine…

Epilogue:

So there’s a lesson to this story kids: Be aggressive! Take the rounds seriously! And never never NEVER underestimate your chances, lest you miss out on a killer deal.

Do I have any regrets?

Well, of course I do. But that’s my problem. The truth is, I met a real nice fellow, had a good conversation, and got a chance to explore what Asheville had to offer. Sure, I can be a bad sport sometimes, but in all honesty, that’s just the way the game is played.  Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.

I hope that guy was buying the Genesis bundle as a gift for somebody or for himself. Because if he’s another dirty reseller…

Anyway

Until next time…

ZB

 

Flea Market Finds Vol. 4

I owe all of you something of an apology.

Or perhaps not, depending on how well this fleshes out as it’s written.

Turns out I took so much time working on Volume 3, I forgot to write the exciting conclusion that is Volume 4.  And here’s the rub: this story took place a good nine months ago.  I’m sure you can infer from the information I am laying down that the thrilling resolution of this fine tale I have woven…may be a little fuzzier in my head than previous entries.  As such, I will do the best I can to recreate events as they happened; however, a sprinkle of artistic liberty has always been taken before, and this will be no exception.  We might have a shorter entry this time around, but hey!  We’ll see where this journey takes us.

Alright, enough padding!  On with the show!

The Deal – Part 3

Chapter 1: Anticipation

So I stood there waiting impatiently while the man scurried about with a perpetual look of “I’m forgetting something” etched into his brow.

Customers arrived.

As he was knee-deep in a mess, trying to pull his store together – a result of his flippant tardiness – his attention was constantly lassoed by an onslaught of customers, a distraction beyond my own means of persuasion.  So I simply waited.

Enter Frank.

He had his faulty cart on hand, counting on the man’s ability to work some of his voodoo magic and bring it back to life.

Together, we waited.

Chapter 2: The Time is Now

Finally!

His awareness shifted in my favor.  I was so ready to lay my offerings upon the display case.

As I unloaded my wares before him, I was shrewd enough to remind him of the $50 credit we had established the previous week. He agreed (Hah!  Take that, Scalper!), and from there it was time to introduce the new players: The PlayStation and PlayStation 2 games.

Now as you may or may not recall, I had some pretty lofty expectations of what value the new trade bait might add.  Since those games were not as glorious as I had imagined, I took it upon myself to prepare a handful of auxiliary items I was willing to part with in case the situation became dire.  I was in it to win, and the way I saw it, there was no way I was going home without Lost Vikings 2 in my hands.

Chapter 3: The Showdown

We already had the previous stack at a predetermined $50 credit, taking Lost Vikings 2 down to $70. My goal was to at least bring the game back to the $60 mark where it was when Bomberman Heroes (which I had decided to keep) was still in play.  But even so, the magic number in my head was $50.  If I could pull this off, I could use the entirety of my gift card and not spend a penny out of pocket.  This is the reasoning of a real miser.  But no matter.  I had my eye on the prize.

The time came to demonstrate my PlayStation goods.  He reviewed them with a careful eye and took his usual sweet time in processing information.  After several tense moments, he rejected a few games.

“I don’t want these,” referencing the rejects.

Waving his hand over the rest from the PS1/PS2 group, he said, “I’ll give you $10 in credit for these.”

Alright, back to square one.  That’s okay, this is exactly where I needed to be.  But I can push it further.  I called in for backup and produced a few games I was iffy about handing in.

Contra: The Alien Wars for Game Boy

A recent flea market find for a cool $3.  I kind of enjoyed it and wasn’t too anxious to let it go.

Pokemon Stadium for N64

Yeah, you remember this, right?  All the way back in Flea Market Finds Vol. 1?  A random inclusion in my Super Famicom lot.  Technically it was a freebie, but I had plans for this one and was not wanting to get rid of it.

And last but not least…I don’t remember

Okay, this is where my recollection of distant events falters.  What I think I had was a Game Boy Color, which I wanted to keep through a desire to branch out into handheld collecting.  If I remember correctly, I bought it for $1, but I really can’t say for sure.  This was a while ago, and I truly don’t remember.  But for the purpose of concluding this tale, let’s just say it was, in fact, a Game Boy Color I bought for a dollar. There.

I laid down Contra, and he told me $10 was his trade-in value.

And there it was.  I was now down to the magic number: $50.  But…

Chapter 4: The Push

I still had a few items left in my grab bag, and I wanted to see just how low I could get the price.

I pushed the Pokemon cart in front of him.

“Just out of curiosity, what would you do on this?”

Another $10?  Well shucks, it’s gotta go.

And then came the Game Boy Color.  Or…actually…

Ladies and Gentlemen, as I’m revising this and doing the numbers in my head, I don’t think there was a third item.  The Game Boy Color was simply a figment of my faded imaginings.  But $40 for Lost Vikings 2, with a gift card?

Did I go for it?  Is this really a question?

Chapter 5: The Big Spender

I’m certain you can imagine my excitement.  But before I pulled the trigger, I asked to look through his assortment of manuals.  I pulled three I needed and asked if he’d throw in one of those manuals, and he said yes.  It was a deal.  I shook his hand, and thus the transaction had been cast in stone.  He then told me he’d sell the other manuals at 2/$5.  I picked those up as well, and in a show of good spirit, I decided to bite the bullet and grab an Earthworm Jim poster I had been eyeing for a while.  It was $10, which had discouraged me in the past, but this man had been a good sport throughout negotiations and I was fairly drunk with excitement.  Plus it’s an amazing poster.  Just see for yourself!

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So, that was that.  I went home with my prized Lost Vikings 2, a handful of manuals, and a fantastic Earthworm Jim poster, all for an incredibly low price.  Sure, I went a little over the gift card amount, but it was worth it.

As for Frank?

Well, Frank never did get his game to work.  He returned it to the man and moved to Vermont to pursue his dream of working for Ben and Jerry’s.  Along the way, he went back to school and became a lawyer.  Although Frank had to give up on the non-working cart, he would continue his search to find a working copy for the rest of his days.

THE END

Flea Market Finds Vol. 3

So, where were we?

Ahhh, yes.

The deal.  Part 1.

Shall we move onto…

The Deal – Part 2

When we were last with our hero, he was faced with a very difficult decision.

Here it is, the game you’ve been looking for.  Lost Vikings 2.  With box and instructions.  I mean, where else are you going to find this?  And at $60??
You don’t care about the other games…even Super Bomberman.  But the one game.  The one with the power to bring Lost Vikings 2 from $70 to $60…
Bomberman Heroes.

I had never played it before because it never worked.

But by some means of wizardry, the vendor brought it back from the dead.  Seeing it before my eyes, I was intrigued.

And $60. That’s a lot of dough to lay down, a lot of bread to slice, a lot of pizza to chew.  Can I really be so reckless with the precious coin I have saved up?

These questions rattled around in my head for quite some time.  Just as I was on the cusp of yes, my brain screamed at me:

“REALLY??  YOU’RE GONNA BLOW $60 ON ONE VIDEO GAME??”

“Sorry,” I told the man. “I’ll have to think it over this week.  I may be back next week though.”

And that was that.

Sooo, I went home and thus ended my day.

But this entry isn’t over.  A new day in flea marketing is afoot, and while some dreams must be put to bed, others won’t fall asleep.  Now, without further ado, let us begin our continued adventures with Flea Market Finds Vol. 3!

Chapter 1: Wait…I Had a Gift Card??

Yup.  I was packing heat in the form of a VISA gift card.  And you know what?  Had I remembered while I was there, you bet your ass that game would have been sold faster than a tardy Superman on his way to a date with Lois Lane.

But oh well, life goes on.  I meant it when I said I’d be back.  And since I recalled this ace up my sleeve, I had everything I needed to make this deadly purchase.

In the meantime, I’d spend the week gathering as much trade fodder as I possibly could to finesse the price a little more in my favor.

Chapter 2: The Stack

“Wait, wait, hold on a second…you mean to tell me you have a stack of PlayStation and PS2 games you’re willing to give me..?  For free?” said I.

“They’re all yours,” said he.

A co-worker had some games he wanted off his hands, and I just so happened to need more trade bait.

Hot damn!

You can only imagine the grand fantasies that played out in my head:

INT. GAME BOOTH – DAY

VENDOR

Wow!  You have 37 games here.  What may I offer you, good sir, for this ample bounty?

SAM

Hmm, well…Lost Vikings 2 is a good start.  You got Little Sampson?

VENDOR

Of course!  But surely there’s more I can give you for this fine stack of games…

Hey, a guy can dream, can’t he?

Well, my co-worker later told me there were only seven games or so.  But I still saw myself walking out of there with a clean trade for Lost Vikings 2.

Chapter 3: Devastation Begins

I anxiously awaited the day I would again work with this gentleman.  Saturday.  The day before my return to the vendor for round two of negotiations.

Saturday morning came.  But when I got there…

“So, where’s the games?” I asked.

“I forgot them.”

-Very funny-

“Seriously, where are they?” I asked again.

“Seriously I forgot.”

Wait- what???

How could this be?

There was very little room for error in my plan.  I was closing that night, and at 9 AM the next morning I was to meet a friend at the flea market.  My coworker lived not only too far from work, but also too far from me.  How do I pull this off?  Is my plan unraveling?

So the rest of the night my mind was a boiler pot of thoughts ranging from schemes to rectify the situation to attempts at letting this whole fiasco rest.  At the height of my mania I figured I’d drive to his place after work…but then I’d get home at 2 AM. I’d be wasting so much gas, and I had no clue as to how much this lot of games would be worth.  I could be driving all that way for pennies!

Finally I gave up.  I accepted the inevitable and settled on scraping the very bottom vestiges of my trade potential in order to put something of a dent in the final price – or at the very least take the place of Bomberman Heroes in this trade (not to be mistaken for the main attraction, Super Bomberman) because there was no way in hell I was willing to part with it anymore.

But then something good, something bad happened.  The next day I woke up to a text from my friend informing me she was unable to make it.

I was very disappointed, but at the same time I could flip this around and make it work.

Since I did not have to arrive early anymore, I texted my co-worker.  He brought the games to work, which wasn’t too far out of the way from the flea market.  I grabbed my bounty (Less impressive than I thought) and went on my merry way.  Called up another friend (none other than our regular guest on this show, Frank) who had a faulty game to return to the very same vendor.  Everything was back on track.  Or so I thought…

Chapter 4: Just Not My Day…

We arrived at the indoor flea market, home of the man with the Holy Grail.  Another friend joined us.

When children enter a supermarket, do you think they calmly peruse the canned foods section, followed by the cereal aisle, then the produce?  No, of course not. They run straight to the candy aisle.

The three of us went on a mad dash through the row with the game booths.  We passed the first guy – dubbed “The Scalper” by Frank (I mean, Donkey Kong Country for $50 is a tad unreasonable, don’t you think?).   Sure the selection is nice to look at, but you don’t want to touch those prices.

I saw the sign up ahead.  We were almost there.  But I had a strange feeling. Something wasn’t right.  As we drew nearer, a daunting truth became evident.

The lights aren’t on.

The case is empty.

The back room is locked.

He’s not there.

Not there?!?!?  It’s nearly noon and this is a flea market.  How could he not be there?

This was not a good sign.  Could he have packed up for good?  Is my gem halfway across the country by now?  It seemed so.

Welp, no use in crying over spilt milk (on the inside I was weeping, of course).

Let’s walk a little ways further and see- Nope!  Dammit dammit dammit!  That swine!

The other place that sold me the bad AC adapter was closed up too.  Second week in a row.  They’re probably long gone by now.  With the sole purpose of selling a broken accessory, they packed up for good and made a clean break for the border of Mexico.

What a waste.  It was all for naught.  We decided to roam around a bit, desperately clinging to the notion that perhaps the Lost Vikings 2 vendor was late.  We didn’t make it far before we circled back.

Nope, still not here.

We must have gone through this routine about seven or eight times before the hour hand was drawing upon one o’clock.  We couldn’t keep up with this charade anymore.  He wasn’t coming.  We began walking back to our cars – our footsteps heavy with disappointment.

…but wait!

Chapter 5: The Scalper’s Reprise

Our last loop around brought us to the scalper.  “Well,” says Frank, “might as well take a look at his stuff.  Maybe he can fix my game.”  To the scalper we went.

We spoke to the man.  He told us the guy we were waiting for is usually there late, but should have arrived by then.

Somehow, someway, somewhere along the line I mentioned I had stuff I was looking to trade.  He lit up.  I said I was holding it for the other guy, but he was eager to take a gander.

“Hey, I’m a collector too, I just like to look,” he said enthusiastically.

Why not?

But my friends didn’t want to stay.  Although disappointed by their early departure, I decided, what the heck.  I’ll grab my loot and oblige the man.

I returned with my bag of goods.  He looked through and scoffed.  Gave me a real lowball offer, then told me the other guy didn’t do much in trades.

This was not true.

I told him I had a deal working with him, to which he retorted “Oh yeah, he told me about your stuff.  Said you had nothing good, he really wasn’t all that interested…”

What an asshole.

I said something along the lines of “yeah, working a deal, etc. etc.”  My Lost Vikings 2 vendor had knocked off $60 with all I had shown him the week before.  Nobody was holding a gun to his head.

I finally mentioned the whole thing with the gift card.  In a last-ditch effort to win me over, he swiftly remarked: “He doesn’t do gift cards.”

“Oh really?  But my friend used one last week.”

He blew his hand.  And I wasn’t interested.  This guy was a real slick operator.  So I gathered my things and made my way to the exit.  Just before I left he had the nerve to toss in “Don’t be cheap, Lost Vikings 2 is a good game.”

Yeah.  Okay buddy.

But what he did do was buy me a little extra time.

Chapter 6: The Light at the End of the Tunnel

Now that that’s over, might as well swing by the Lost Vikings 2 booth one last time before I leave.

I had a feeling, yet again.

Wait a second – is the light on?

It is!  It is!

There he was, scurrying about in a hurry to set up.  As he wheeled his display cases out, I peeked my head around the corner.

Oh no!  I don’t see it!  He sold it, he- oh, there it is.

Glimmering in the radiant light, which beamed down from my lavish imagination, Lost Vikings 2 was waiting for me.

“Just the man I was looking for,” I said with a mile-wide smile.

He returned a friendly expression.  I let him know I was looking to make a deal, and he was ready to review my goods – after setting up, of course.

So I waited anxiously.  In the meantime, I called Frank to alert him of our vendor’s arrival.  With a grunt of futility, he decided to turn around.

Chapter 7: To be Continued??  Again??

Here’s the deal folks – this is a long post.  And to spare you from even more text, I will finish this in one more part.  Rest assured, this is not “to be continued,” it’s “to be concluded.”

Stay tuned to find out what happens next!

What Are You Afraid Of?

I sat there, engine revving.  Everything was set in motion.  I inched the hatch closer, ready to seal my fate.  Then resistance.  Hesitation.  Something stepped in the way of that car door.

Fear was its name.

And this foe I have faced before.

If one were to come to me asking, “Say Sam, how do you think fear has benefitted you?” I’d say, “Well, frankly…it hasn’t.”  Fear has thwarted me at so many turns.  It has come within inches of crushing my entire world into oblivion.  Some may claim that fear gives them a rush.  Perhaps it motivates those individuals to push themselves further, taking them into the unknown.  Whatever.  Maybe it’s a matter of semantics; their definition of fear could be different from mine.  But the point is, I have not noticed personal growth from fear.  Only hindrance.

Allow me to tell you a story now.

Once, long ago, there was an adolescent who sat stewing in his own bad mojo.  Surrounded by perceived enemies and a ticking time bomb in front of him he slowly marked his way through, armed with nothing more than a graphite-laced tool with which to disarm the situation.  Everything seemed manageable; as long as each oval was filled, he would be safe.  But something happened.  Something unexpected.  A rumble.  A disturbance.  A gastrointestinal nightmare.

The seed which was a strange noise bloomed into a panic.  “Is this coming from me?”

No, it’s not quite what you’re thinking.

Just some strange noises – much the equivalent of hunger or something of that nature.  But there was something else.  A feeling.  A notion.  The sudden sensation that something as grave as death is right around the corner.  You wait for this nightmare to end…only there is no waking up.  It’s real.  That’s the true horror of it all.  You’re living out your worst nightmare.

The fear that your stomach is going to explode.

It doesn’t.

But it’s that fear that overpowers you.

At this point it really doesn’t matter.  The enemy has won.

Before the situation gets out of hand you wave down a sympathizer and let them know something is wrong.  But you must keep it vague.

“I’m not feeling well,” said the poor boy.

(Yes, yes.  That works.  It always works.  Who can deny such a meek utterance?  The words of a victim, a scared soul, a loser.  Loser by the hands of fear.)

He was escorted out of the classroom.

He went home.  But the war wasn’t over.

Losing this battle opened up a vacancy for the very thing he swore as his enemy.  The fear took up residency and carried on for what seemed an eternity.

You think you’re rid of me now kid?  Oh, you wait.  This is only the beginning!

For the next two years the boy had to face his enemy every day on familiar turf.

School.

The homeland.  The boy had become the visiting team on his own court.  This lack of home field advantage almost brought him to his end inside the oppressive walls of an institution.  But he stood tall and continued on.  When the big moment came, he was ready for the showdown.

6 AM and the clock was ticking.

He could feel the pulse from each spasm of the clock’s second hand.  Every passing beat brought him one step closer to his end.

Do I choose the electric chair or do I face my foe in a classic standoff?  Perhaps if I wear a plate of iron I’ll have a fighting chance.

The boy sat cross-legged with a hopeless bowl of cereal in front of him, bathed in a soothing glow from the television screen.

How much longer must I endure this torture?  Like drops of water penetrating through my brow, piercing my sanity.

I knew my two options.  And believe it or not I had already chosen my fate.  But I thought, just for kicks…why don’t I take one step forward, toward the place I fear most?  Because, let’s face it, the other option…well…it was definitely the worse of two evils.  And the more difficult road in the long run.

8 o’clock has almost arrived.  Am I really doing this?  Am I really stepping into that car?

I am.

I drove all that way.  To the site that instilled the greatest terror in me – an American draftee immersed in the jungles of Vietnam.  I stepped out of the car and continued to let my feet do all the talking.  “Eye of the Tiger” greased the pistons which kept my engine running.

Touchdown.

I entered the large open area that was my school library.  The bell rang and from that moment on there was no turning back.  The anxiety melted away.  “This isn’t so bad,” I thought.  I eased into the rest of the day like a hot knife might ease into cold butter.

I returned home victorious – my first full day of school in two weeks.

I didn’t realize it back then as I was still deeply engulfed in the struggle, but the decision I made that day – to simply keep walking until I couldn’t walk no more – was the devastating blow, the nuclear war head that finished my enemy.  Each and every day my surroundings grew more familiar.  And then one day the anxiety cleared, and I was free once again to move unhindered, unencumbered.  Pinocchio danced freely, away from his strings.

Fear has since reared its ugly head from time to time.  But never in such a form as it had taken many moons ago.  Every time I see it, I say “I’ve already dealt with you before.  I won, what more do you want from me?”  But no, it still seems to have some kind of hold over me.  I may never understand that part.

So I guess I fight a new war now.  I can’t imagine my enemy will finish me.  After all, I survived the big guns.  But one thing’s for sure:

Fear is not a motivator.  It’s not a friend.  It’s no good.

But I won’t let it get the better of me.

And I continue to write.  Fighting off that little opposing soldier trying to keep me from doing what I want to do.

You have no power over me anymore.

Keep on my friends.  Don’t let the enemy get the better of you.

-SZB

Flea Market Finds! Vol. 2

There I was, knee gently settled into the soft morning ground without any regard for the filth that was tingling on my flesh.  It didn’t matter.  A bin full of dreams and possibilities was right in front of me and all I knew was I had to keep digging.

Welcome once again, boys and girls, to the indelible tales of mystery and wonder. Where every dollar matters and the only thing standing between you and the find of the century is the funk that festers around you.  Yes, it is time for Flea Market Finds.

So, what has old Sam been up to the last couple months?  Each and every weekday has been a slow trudge through the old grind.  A daily acknowledgement that the true prize awaits at the end of the week; a joyous 6 AM wakeup call followed by an hour of dawdling, then a 10 minute dash to throw myself together as best as any man could who is embarking on an adventure through America’s finest grounds.

I will admit, my last few visits to the ol’ market have yielded less-than-favorable results.  But this weekend was a bit of a romp through victory lane.

Not as exciting as oh, say, a Super Famicom.  But that kind of luck can’t happen every day, now can it?

No, it can’t.

So let us begin.

Chapter 1: The Fog

I began the morning in a foggy haze, much like the driving conditions I was soon to encounter.  Everything at home was slow-moving; a battle with my computer, a constant forgetting of essential items, and something else I can’t remember (due to sleep deprivation as I draft this entry) put me in a foul mood.  The light drizzle on my windshield spelled bad news.  Although the very heavy fog was clearly the culprit, even the tiniest drop of rain will bring any treasure hunter deep into the darkest recesses of his or her mind:

“It’s going to be rained out, I know it!”

“I drove all this way for nothing!”

“The mud will be worse than usual!”

Let me tell you something – rain is a flea market-goer’s worst enemy.  On both ends. Once the downpour comes it’s game over.

Despite all this I knew deep down it was just the fog and everything was alright.  I had a feeling.  An intuition that today was going to be pretty good.  I need to start listening to that gut feeling more often.

Chapter 2: Empty Hands

My friend whom I so lovingly dubbed “The Fool” in my previous entry arrived.  This time he was earlier than I – can you imagine that?

I’m just going to call him Frank from here on out.  For anonymity purposes, of course.  And to be fair to him as he is actually a good friend of mine.

Anyhoo, we made our way through the routine course.  The thick dewy air set the marketing scene back about a half-hour or so; more people were still in the alpha stages of their setup than usual for this time, so we covered our tracks quickly.

My mission: To find two power supplies.  One for Genesis model 1 (which doubles as a supply for Super Famicom) and one for N64.

With this in mind my primary objective was to rummage through every bundle of hopelessly-knotted wires and cables in order to find what I needed.  This is where your fingers get dirty.  And your hands.  As a matter of fact it’s just a good idea to take a shower after you get home from some serious digging at the flea market.

And digging I did.  Every time I saw a boring pile of cords my heart jumped as if I was an accountant in Staples.  I mean let’s face it, what I’m looking for is in actuality very unexciting.  But somehow this was enough to get the old pistons firing.

I dug through many bundles to no avail.  And I saw little of interest during the majority of my trek.  Until…wait for it…

Chapter 3: Buried Treasure!

It was a humble stand.  One of those nice tented booths.  And often times it is the most modest of vendors that has exactly the thing you’re looking for.

I saw an abundance of assorted electronics.  Mostly computer, but where there’s smoke there’s game accessories!  I checked a pile here, a pile there.  Nothing.  But a true explorer doesn’t stop there.  He or she goes deeper, beyond the simple surface and into the belly of the beast.  Those who put themselves deep into the heart of danger are the ones who emerge with gold.

I see a box and usually feel pessimistic.  I noticed a plastic bin under the table and reluctantly began rummaging.  As I sifted through reject plugs I noticed a black-tipped connector.  It looked like it belonged to the Genesis 1 power supply, but that particular end isn’t enough to verify.  What I needed was to see the plug itself. Regardless, this gave me premature hope.  It encouraged me to search a little longer even if this bin seemed to be a wash.

The guy asked me what I was looking for.  Then it happened.  I noticed a plug that seemed oddly similar to that hard-to-come-by Genesis 1 plug.  By god, it was that plug!

I was momentarily phased.  Did I really just find the plug I need?

It can’t be- it was!

-Oh, uh, what am I looking for?

Not wanting to appear anxious I told him N64 AC adapter.  I didn’t mention the other because I had already found it.  The explorer must always wear a stone-cold poker face before going in for the offer.  As I was playing it cool, my good friend Frank blurted out “Oh, that’s the plug you’ve been looking for.”

Dear god I hope he didn’t hear that.

“How much?” I asked in a calm, cool tone.

“A dollar.”

Well then.  That seems to be my lucky number.  Thank god he didn’t hear my good friend Dick- I mean Frank.  Or maybe he didn’t care.  Either way I was sold.  That is exactly what I would hope to spend on such an essential accessory.  And with all the game stores offering them at $10 (on top of being all sold out) that kind of a deal was pushing against the odds.

I happily handed over my dollar and went on my merry way.

That, my friends, is the very definition of a find!  Forging ahead when you feel there’s no hope.  Digging deeper and deeper until you discover the obscure item you’re looking for at the price you want to pay.  And with that I was ready to go home a happy man.

But there was more.

Chapter 4: My Lucky Day

So I paid a visit to a dealer whom I’ve known for many years.  He’s a very good man and was quite fond of my father, who would bring him and a select group of vendors a drink every weekend.  I continue this tradition today.

I had mentioned the N64 cord to him a couple weeks ago and he said he’d keep an eye out.

When I arrived at his booth I was greeted with a friendly smile.  Last week he hadn’t found it.  This time around he said he did.  But how familiar was he with these things?  Would he have the right one?  Either way, how remarkable is it that he remembered?

Well, he came out with a power supply alright.  And it was, in fact, the right one.

Both adapters on my to-purchase list?  Damn, I’m good.

Before I could even ask how much he told me it was mine for free.  I asked if I could give him anything and he insisted I take it.  I was supremely grateful and handed him a drink.  What a good man.

Chapter 5: The Deal – Part 1

With my friend once again empty-handed and myself feeling quite satisfied we decided to cut out a little early.  Besides, our second pass wasn’t looking much better than the first (I mean, how do you beat those finds?).  My friend did manage to spot something I had missed – a Commodore-64.  A really interesting discovery, and at $20 not too bad.  He was negotiable, but I said I’d be back next week.  It was a crusty system that appeared to be on its deathbed.  Something to think about though.

With that said we made our way to another flea market and picked up a third friend. My main goal was to return a bad Genesis power supply I had  purchased there several weeks prior.  We went down the only aisle with game booths and paid a visit to a friendly man with whom I had dealt with before.  Behind a protective case in the back he had a chatoyant gem waiting for me to take home: Lost Vikings 2, in the box, with the instructions.  For Super Nintendo.  This wasn’t the first time I had marveled at this glorious game of which I so coveted.  But at $120 it was out of my price range.

I had with me a couple bags of goods for trade.  Some duplicates, some I really didn’t mind parting with.  I showed him what I had and he gave me a $30 offer.  I told him I’d consider, then he asked me if I had anything I was interested in.  Well surely Lost Vikings 2 was out of the question, but a copy of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link was looking pretty in gold.

After a good amount of deliberation on his end he asked if I’d take that game for Mortal Kombat (SNES), Mortal Kombat II (Genesis), and Street Fighter 2010 (NES).  Of course I would!

I added it to my bag of treasures.  Frank made his purchase.  We left.

When we arrived at the booth that sold me that bad plug I noticed it was closed down.

A devastation.

Welp, looks like I’m out $5.  Oh well.

As we made our way back to the exit leading to our cars I stopped back at the shop where I made my trade.

“Just out of curiosity…how much would these games knock off the price of that Lost Vikings 2?”

He sat on this question for a while.  Some babies were born during this time, grew up, then left the house.  A couple Presidential terms, the rise and fall of a few empires, and then finally he came to a decision.

“I’ll knock off $50, bringing it to $70.”

Well I’ll be.  That’s actually not bad.

The real selling point in this stack was Super Bomberman.  It’s a little valuable (A recent happening – I had bought it a few years ago at a retail store for $10).  The rest of the games were throwaway NES titles.  Six of them.  All commons.  Worth about $10, maybe.  So $50 was actually a very good deal.  And mostly because I was after a valuable game that he had been unable to sell.

I showed him another game.  He then took the price down to $65.  The lowest he was willing to go was $60.  Did I go for it?  Well…

You’ll have to find out in Part 2 of this chapter!  Coming soon!..ish.

Until then, happy flea marketing!

-SZB

The Harrowed Tree

Hello.  I am a tree.

Day in and day out I sit still, patiently awaiting.  What for?  Why I’m not sure.

Hundreds of years I’ve remained here.  I’ve seen buildings rise and buildings fall.  I’ve watched people from afar, doing things I don’t know what.

Every year my roots dig deeper into this great earth, further cementing my stay here.

One look at me and you wouldn’t know it, but I’ve got many rings inside.

I’ve lost branches, leaves, limbs, and love.  But I am only a tree.

A lonely tree.

Shrubs surround me at a distance.  Too near to ignore, too far to be one.

Time has no meaning to a tree.  The days pass like wind.  For every fleeting moment is just another inch in the dirt.

It’s true I have grown as patient as I have grown tall.  There is not much for a tree to do but to watch and provide.

For I have nested many families, and I have stored many things.

I’ve provided much shade and I have held many swings.

But I hurt and I feel too.  You wouldn’t know it, looking at a tree.

A tall, strong, stoic tree.

A creature that has withstood the test of time.  Or perhaps failed that test.  I don’t remember anymore.

All I know is that my roots are growing weak now, and my branches are growing heavy.

One day I shall topple over and become one with this earth.

Until then, I remain simply a tree.

A patient tree.

-no better than you…or me.

Time to Get Animated Over Animation

The following is a college essay that I composed back in 2009.  I have been an enthusiast of animation for as long as I can remember and this piece is an apt representation of my passion for the subject.  I hope you all enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it!  Just to warn you it’s a bit on the lengthy side – not for the faint of heart.  If you’re looking for a quick read then move along.  But if you’re ready to dive into a full-blown essay, put on your reading glasses and get ready to go!

Time to Get Animated Over Animation

        “Animation should be an art … what you fellows have done with it is making it into a trade … not an art, but a trade … bad luck” (Crandol).  Spoken by one of the greatest animators of all time, a true artist and pioneer, Winsor McCay so accurately predicted what was to become of an art form that at the time was quite young and groundbreaking.  Cinema at its core is animation; the illusion of movement presented on a static screen.  Each individual frame passes so quickly before the viewer’s eye as to instill the impression of movement.  But cinema in its most basic form, recordings of real life action, does not reflect the spirit, the essence, the incredulity of animation.  While claymation, stop-motion, and other practices are all wonderful in their own right, we will be referring to the hand-drawn form specifically for the majority of this discussion. 

        Imagine being a kid again and seeing your first animated cartoon.  The experience is difficult to capture with words; witnessing a drawing move on its own, you immediately make a connection.  You have doodled before and you know that drawings cannot walk, cannot talk…yet you see it happening before your very eyes.  As a child this is an important experience – one that often defines your early years and serves as a cornerstone for nostalgia.  Unfortunately, a dark cloud looms over the traditionally animated cartoon that previous generations have grown up with and adored.  That dark cloud is the computer.  

        Ever since computers came onto the scene animators have worked increasingly at integrating new technology seamlessly into this sacred practice – a transition which has carried bleak consequences.  Computers now dominate animation, both 2D and 3D, and in the case of the former have not only ruined the original purpose and intention but indirectly promoted a decline in quality.  As such it is imperative that the integrity of traditional cel animation be preserved by reintroducing original short cartoons into the theater circuit alongside major motion pictures.

        The first question that might come to mind after such a proposal is “Why?  What is so bad about computer animation?”  First off, it should be made clear that 3D CGI (computer-generated imagery) is not the problem.  CGI is in itself a wonderful art, still new and exciting, and deserves the attention it garners.  The arena in which computers do not belong is the 2D studio.  Relinquishing control to machines takes away the magic that human hands bring to the work.  Hand-drawn frames possess a special quality that computers cannot replicate, and artists who previously worked by traditional methods will agree.  According to Jim Capobianco, one of Pixar’s animators, “It’s a beautiful artform in itself.  The fact that these drawings are moving and conveying emotion, I don’t think you want to lose that” (Kirkland 55).  Another great animator, Andreas Dejas, expresses his feelings toward this old practice by stating, “All children love to draw and there is magic when drawings move and become real” (“Hand-drawn”).  Animators still revere the time-honored practice of traditional animation, but what about the audiences?  What’s their stake in all of this?

        As a viewer, you watch an animated film and you see this strange drawing move about in a smooth, fluid way.  The on-screen action is so natural you forget that an artist not only made the character but created the motion.  When such a thought comes to mind you are astonished.  Every detail, every turn, every jump, every maneuver…all done by hand.  “A brush stroke, a paper texture, a smeared pencil mark – all are evidence of human intelligence and labor” (Griffin 261).  These seemingly three-dimensional characters that move around in a seemingly three-dimensional space – diminishing and returning to size perfectly as they walk away from and walk toward you – are all illusions made by an artist on a two-dimensional plane.  Now add a computer to the equation.  Suddenly all of that magic disappears with a simple explanation.  “Oh, it was done on a computer.”  When a program lends motion to the character, the artist is no longer the animator (Griffin 262).

        Stepping outside the realm of principle, other deficiencies emerge when using a computer for animation purposes.  The quality of cartooning has suffered significantly as a result of digital programs.  Computers make the process easier, allowing entry of non-artists into the field; even opponents of this paper will agree (Seah 13; Griffin 262).  Character movement has become stiff and uninspired, the look is unappealing, and the overall aesthetic doesn’t hold a candle to its predecessors.  Traditional artists may have succumbed to the takeover of CG, but they are no longer at the high point of their careers (Jones and Oliff 21).  The greatest evidence of a decline in quality can be found on television.  Just turn on the TV and watch a modern cartoon, then watch a classic 1930s cartoon and the difference becomes unequivocal.  

        A good example of a popular and current 2D animated cartoon is Family Guy.  Some may argue that the poor quality in this series is done intentionally for comedic purposes, but other shows from the same team, (i.e. American Dad), possess the same look, leading one to assume that the style is instead a representation of the artists’ abilities.  While watching Family Guy, several things become quite clear.  For one, the characters are poorly drawn with short, fat limbs, limiting animation potential.  Movement is fast and jarring, simply shifting from one pose to another.  Anybody who is not talking or otherwise not the main focus will hardly ever stir, not even the blink of an eyelid.  Everybody walks and stands in the same stiff and awkward manner, which the animators undoubtedly reuse whenever possible.  All movement is bland and lifeless, with only one goal: to travel from from point A to point B.

        Now watch a classic cartoon such as Popeye and compare.  The Popeye series offered smooth and rhythmic motion which carried along the tempo of the musical score.  Every frame is ripe with detail, serving a purpose beyond the simple point A to point B movement.  Popeye’s arms rotate back and forth as he walks, lending him three-dimensional life.  The characters never stay still; an idle character – even in the background – will bob up and down keeping the on-screen world alive and active.  You can feel the varying weight of characters from Bluto’s threatening lumber to Popeye’s speedy trot.  The details in this cartoon are so rich that it is dazzling to watch, a delightful visual experience that anyone can enjoy again and again with minimal dialogue to bog down the action on screen.  And before concluding that this is a comparison of an adult series to a kid series, one must be aware that cartoons were not originally intended for children.  The violence found in animated shorts such as Popeye and Looney Tunes was geared toward adult audiences.  Originally exhibited in theaters, cartoons did not have a large child demographic until hitting the television screen.

        Computers may not necessarily be the only problem.  The mindset that computers represent is what has truly brought down the quality of this art form.  In the early days of animation the goal was innovation, pushing the abilities of artists, and bringing drawn animation closer to reality (Jones and Oliff 5).  People went to see this growing medium, watching the look and technique improve with each film.  Things changed, however, as movie studios closed their animation departments and cartoons found a new home in television.  When this happened the focus shifted from making a quality, innovative, competitive film to a cheap, fast, and easy product.  From art to profit.  The drop in quality can be traced back to the 1960s with shows coming from the Hanna-Barbera studio (Crandol).  Early computer technology was used in the 70s as an aid in the production of Scooby-DooThe Flintstones, and many others, marking the beginning of a shift toward computer-assisted animation (Jones and Oliff 7-8).

        Computers definitely bring some advantages to the table, most notably that they make the process faster, easier, cheaper, and allow for international co-production (Seah 13-14).  Some of these advantages have already been mentioned but not examined.  International co-production is nothing new in the world of animation; it has been a common practice since the 1980s (Crandol).  As far as time and difficulty, if somebody wants to make fast and easy cartoons then they should not work in that industry.  They should find a different outlet for their ideas or perhaps hire someone else who has a passion for doing the work.  If an artist truly feels zealous about animation then they will want to be fully immersed in the process, working with pencil and paper and breathing life into their characters one frame at a time.  

        A more compelling counterpoint to animating traditionally is the cost of such a venture.  But again, we must not let the value of money overshadow the importance of art.  And for those who do have to make a living at it, who is to say that profit cannot be found in hand-drawn animation?  Classic, traditionally-animated Disney films to this day garner strong sales figures through DVDs, proving that a large audience still remains for this kind of work.  If done right, a new cartoon series could generate just as much of a fan following (“Hand-drawn”).  So if all that is true, where exactly lies the problem?

        Animation has changed so much over the years that audiences for the most part have forgotten about the cartoons of old.  Not the Disney classics of course, but the series that were produced before full-length animated movies existed.  Cartoons began as theatrical shorts that played before the feature presentation and soon became features themselves.  When Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs debuted, audiences were thrilled to see a work of animation with a runtime long enough to earn billing as a full-length film.  Animated features held their own for many decades, but as computers rose to prominence and 3D CGI gained a spot in the limelight, the novelty of the 2D form wore off, thus a waning audience for this category of filmmaking.  John Lasseter, Pixar founder and new head of Disney’s animation unit, theorizes that people are not turned off by a specific form of animation, but instead are turned off by lousy storytelling, which has plagued 2D cartoons in recent years (“Hand-drawn;” Kirkland 55). While this has been considered a factor in the declining interest in this medium, evidence also suggests that people have grown tired of 2D in general (Jones and Oliff 17).  The format that traditional animation works best in, that it really shines in, is the platform where it originated – the seven-minute theatrical short.  

        Any animator who truly loves working with pen and paper should continue on that path.  What is needed is organization.  All those who do indeed love their craft need to ban together and reintroduce seven-minute cartoons into the public eye.  They should be presented just as they were back in the early twentieth century: following the influence of the visual gags, reintroducing an emphasis on rhythm and timing, and securing an outlet for distribution.  Audiences need to once again experience cartoons the way they were meant to be exhibited, as it was before the 1960s.  Making these shorts specifically for theatrical release would remind viewers of the importance and beauty of this art form while keeping it alive in today’s culture.  The time has come to model our cartoons after the memorable classics and bring them back to the forum where they began.

        Animators should make beautiful, polished products and shop them around to distribution companies.  Theaters have behind-the-scenes footage, trivia, and other such media play before the feature presentation, so why not run a cartoon as well?  If a studio made a series that was exclusively theatrical and it won a place in moviegoers’ hearts then ticket sales would increase.  Audiences would receive more bang for their buck and an era of cinema history would be restored.  Now is the time to bring back a tradition long since past and hopefully in the process restore interest in a declining art form.

Works Cited

Crandol, Michael. “The History of Animation: Advantages and Disadvantages of the Studio         System in the Production of an Art Form.” Digital Media FX. Ed. Joe Tracy. 1999. Web. 20 Oct. 2009.

Griffin, George. “Concrete Animation.” Animation 2.3 (2007): 259-74. Google Scholar. Web. 29         Oct. 2009.

“Hand-drawn Animation Still Has Place in Cinema.” New Zealand Herald. 8 Mar. 2008. n. pag.         LexisNexis. Web. 30 Oct. 2009.

Jones, Angie, Jamie Oliff. “Fleas on the Shoulders of Giants.” Thinking Animation. Ed. Kevin         Harreld. Boston: Thomson Course Technology, 2007. 3-27. Print.

Kirkland, Bruce. “Back to Drawing Board; Pixar’s John Lasseter is Pumped About the         Traditional Style of Pen-and-Paper Animation Used in Your Friend the Rat.” Toronto Sun. 24 Dec. 2007: 55. LexisNexis. Web. 30 Oct. 2009.

Seah, Hock S. “Animation Factory – A Reality?”  Proceedings of the 2006 International         Conference on Game Research and Development 223 (2006): 13-14. Google Scholar. Web. 29 Oct. 2009.