Mail Order Mysteries

Recently I've extended my diet of podcasts beyond the two staples: "The New York Times Book Review", and "This American Life."  I was looking for comic-book based podcasts, but so many of the so-called reviews are either blow-by-blow recaps of the latest issue of "The Ultimate Spider-man," or blatant fanboy gushing over the cool art, that I began to despair.  Then I discovered boing-boing's "Gweek" podcast.  It's an excuse for Mark Frauenfelder to discover interesting nooks and crannies of comics, pop music, movies and geek pop culture in general.

In "Mail Order Mysteries" Mark interviews Kirk Demarais, who has compiled a book of the ads found in comics in the '60s, '70s and '80s, paired with actual samples of the merchandise which he has tracked down over the years.  As Demarais writes:

"I turned to an overcrowded page of fascinating black-and-white drawings; I was captivated It was an ink-smudged window into an unfamiliar realm where gorilla masks peacefully lived among hovercrafts and ventriloquist dummies. A dozen pages later an outfit called the Fun Factory featured another full-page assortment of wonders, and elsewhere in the issue I found a hundred toy soldiers for a buck, an offer for a free million dollar bank note, and an ad for something called Grit."
In the interview Frauenfelder asks Demarais what the rarest of these sorts of toys might be.  As I heard the question I figured it would be something like the missile-firing tank, or the rocket-firing submarine.  I figured it would be something large and expensive.  My mind briefly jumped back to the episode of "Get A Life" where Chris Elliot finally gets his Neptune 2000 in the mail.  Not so! It turns out the the rarest mail-order toy is the remote control 7 Foot Life-size Ghost.

I'm alone in the car listening to the interview on the way home from work. So, I'm surprised to hear my own voice aloud in the car. "No freakin' way!"

I remember buying that ghost. I probably cut up a comic to get the coupon, and then probably put my own dollar into the envelope.  I don't remember how long it took to arrive, but when you're in fifth grade anything longer than a week seems like forever.  When it finally arrived I opened the package, which was suspiciously light even if it contained a ghost.  It turns out the "ghost" was a white balloon, a white sheet of plastic indistinguishable from a disposable picnic tablecloth, and a small spool of fishing line.  You were supposed to inflate the balloon, put it under the sheet of plastic, and use the fishing line as the remote control.  I only remember trying it out on my door for about five minutes, and spending maybe five more trying to get my sisters to walk past the ghost and be scared.  After that the balloon probably popped, and it was just so much trash.

So, here's this guy on the podcast talking about trying to buy a vintage 7 Foot Life-size Ghost.  He found one on e-Bay, but other people were bidding it up. Demarais is an associate college professor, and it happened that the auction ended during one of his lectures. At the end of the auction he had to put the class on hold while he attempted to snipe the Ghost.  Unfortunately he lost the auction, but fortunately the winning bidder allowed Demarais to take photos of it for the book.  How much was the winning bid? Over $300!

"No freakin' way!" I said again.  But, I knew it was obvious. The Ghost was such a piece of crap that any that were sold most likely ended up in the garbage before the next dawn.  That's why crazy people end up spending over $300 on a piece of utter ephemera.

Meanwhile, the interview intrigued me enough that I could be convinced to drop the $20 for the book "Mail Order Mysteries" just because of the memories it might bring.

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