Tuesday, September 29, 2009

TZ Spotlight: Oregon Lottery Scratch-It Tickets

You thought the Twilight Zone teddy bear was odd? Well, check this out. In 2000 the Oregon Lottery Commission unveiled a new scratch-it ticket that immediately caught my eye and quickened my pulse:

Twilight Zone lottery tickets!

I really wish I'd had the foresight to stash away a complete unscratched set. I can't even find an image of these things online (even Google Images, my go-to source, has failed me in this regard). As it stands, all I have are three scratched tickets. The astute observer will notice that all three tickets are (well, were) winners: had I cashed them in, I'd have been $4.00 richer (technically, I would've been $1.00 richer, since I paid $3.00 for them!). Instead, I apparently opted to keep the tickets as a memento. Funny, I'd probably pay more than $3.00 for them now, so I guess I made the right choice! I'd completely forgotten about them until today, when I stumbled upon them in a box in my garage (along with a complete base set of the first Rittenhouse TZ trading card series from 1999, which I have no memory of ever buying).

As I recall, there were five different TZ scratch-it tickets, each depicting a different object from the 4th/5th season opening sequence: the mannequin (seen above), Einstein's Theory of Relativity (seen above, twice), the clock, the eyeball, and the shattering window. I will also note that my memory is notoriously faulty, so I could be totally wrong here. The fact that I have two distinctly different tickets suggests that there were probably more. Anyone out there with a better memory (or better yet, a set of unmolested tickets), please feel free to chime in here. I'd love to see a complete, unscratched set.

Monday, September 28, 2009

TZ Spotlight: Rod, the Twilight Zone Bear

A blog I follow regularly is James Sawyer's A Piece of the Action, in which he spotlights a different item from his extensive Star Trek collection every day. While my Twilight Zone collection is nowhere near as grand, I thought I'd borrow (okay, steal) his concept for some spotlighting of my own. I'll probably do this every few days or so, interspersed throughout my regular entries.

First up: an unlikely item, probably something nobody ever saw coming. Brace yourselves. It's a freakin' teddy bear.

Released in 1999 by a company called Tra La La, Rod the Twilight Zone Bear was one in a series of four "Original TV Tune Bears," which were essentially Beanie Baby knockoffs. The others in the series commemorated The Brady Bunch, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Get Smart. Only 15,000 of each were made, and each was individually numbered. The only picture I could find online of all four is as follows:

...which unfortunately cuts off The Brady Bunch and Twilight Zone bears, but you get the idea (I love the Get Smart bear's necktie and Don Adams-esque hair). Each bear has a sound chip that plays each show's respective theme song when you press on its tummy. Yeah, pretty cutesy, I know. I can see the other three shows getting this treatment, since they're all harmless comedies. But the more somber (and sometimes frightening) Twilight Zone? An odd choice, to say the least, but I wanted it just the same. I got mine on eBay, probably around 2001. The sound chip still works today and, when the batteries finally die (they're still going strong as of this writing!), there's a velcro-lined slit on its back for easy replacement. I hardly ever see these bears, so maybe it's worth something. I don't know and I don't care. I'm keeping him! It's a bit kitschy but undeniably fun, plus mine has an added special significance that makes it a keeper:

Mine is number 01127 out of 15,000. 11/27 is my birthday! What are the odds? 1 in 15,000, I guess. Coincidence? Maybe. Or perhaps it's just a tiny gift from Fate, marked Special Delivery... from The Twilight Zone.

* Addendum: It seems there was a variant of the Brady Bunch bear. Ladies and gentlemen, have a look at... Alice.

... complete with apron (but no curly hair!). I'm assuming it's blue because Alice always wore a blue outfit. Hmmm... this makes me wonder if there's a variant of the Twilight Zone bear out there somewhere. Maybe a bearified version of Rod Serling himself? Hey, I can dream.

Further Consolation Prizes...

I spent most of yesterday morning (Sunday, 9/27) scouring eBay for more Twilight Zone Magazines, and was able to add several more issues to my collection for very little money. They were acquired from a couple of different sellers over multiple auctions, so I don't have a single picture handy (how would I?). I can report, however, that my total now stands at 35 out of 60 issues acquired. I'm more than halfway there! I've decided to take a break at this point. My wife's reaction was less than trusting (I believer her words were something along the lines of "Yeah, right. Uh-huh.").

My happiest Sunday acquisition was this particular issue:

February 1984. The first issue I ever bought (remembered in detail in a previous entry). I can't wait till it arrives... it'll be like going back in time.

In any case, most of the sting from my back-to-back eBay defeats (see previous entries) is gone. I think I'm sufficiently consoled at this point. Now I can get back to anxiously awaiting TZ's 50th anniversary (four days from now!)....

Saturday, September 26, 2009

A Consolation Prize of Sorts

Several beers after my humiliating (second) eBay defeat earlier this evening, (see previous entry), I bought myself a small measure of happiness:

That's right, it's the holiest of holy grails when it comes to Twilight Zone Magazine. April 1981, otherwise known as ISSUE NUMBER ONE. Heh, there's even a short story in it called "Grail." I found it on some obscure website called ecrater.com. $13.90 shipped. So suck it, eBay.

...til next time, that is. Because there will always be a next time. Even after all 60 issues of Twilight Zone Magazine are in my possession, there will be more things I will want. Or need. The OCD monkey is a lifelong resident of my head, unless I get some serious medication therapy.

The 'Vulture Swoop' Violation 2: Violate Harder

I can't believe it happened again, especially so soon after Wednesday's horrendous defeat, but... well, it's happened again. Once again, a mere three days later, I've been outbid at the last possible moment in an eBay auction.

It's basically a repeat of Wednesday. This morning, I discovered a pretty impressive stack of Twilight Zone Magazines (16 in all, 10 of which I'm missing, and all in excellent condition) on eBay, in an auction ending at 7:48 p.m. tonight. The current bid was $9.99. Here's the auction pic:

All issues looked to be in beautiful condition, with no apparent damage or pesky subscription labels. I did the only sensible thing and jumped into the fray, placing a bid for $10.51 and supplanting the original bidder. Next, attempting to ward off any potential last-minute problems with swooping vultures, I jacked up my maximum bid to $25.27. I then spent the day checking on the auction from time to time. All was well throughout the day.

Until 7:47. That's right, ONE MINUTE before the end.

But I would not be denied this time. I was at my computer, fingers on the keys, poised to respond. I raised my bid, only to be met with the dreaded "YOU HAVE BEEN OUTBID" message (with the demoralizing red X). I raised my bid over and over, only to be repeatedly slapped down by escalating numbers. Only seconds remained. I entered one final, desperate bid of $46.09....

...and then the clock struck 7:48. The auction ended.

The winning bid was $47.09. Exactly as in the Wednesday auction, I was ONE DOLLAR short.

How much more of this can my heart take?

The upside? This time I'm not stuck at work. I'm safe at home, with lots of alcohol at my disposal.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Writing Distance

All this blogging about Twilight Zone Magazine reminded me of a funny story. Okay, it's actually not funny at all.

Anyone reading these words is likely familiar, at least on some surface level, with what TZ Magazine was all about. It featured reviews of (then) current books and films, articles and episode guides pertaining to genre TV shows (the classic Outer Limits, for example, not to mention copious amounts of coverage of the 80's revival Zone series), and occasional nostalgia pieces on the classic TZ series. But the bulk of the magazine was devoted to short stories. Science fiction, fantasy, horror... and sometimes humorous variations thereof. Big names wrote for this magazine: Stephen King, Harlan Ellison, Richard Matheson (if Charles Beaumont hadn't died so young and so tragically, I imagine he would've been represented too, and not by the cadre of ghostwriters he used as his mind progressively failed him).

As I've previously mentioned, I discovered the magazine when I was about 14, right about the same time that I made the life-altering decision to become a writer (I didn't realize at the time that one doesn't "become" a writer; one either writes or... well, doesn't). And since I was reading predominantly short stories at the time (thanks to this wonderful new magazine I'd discovered), it made sense to write short stories. So I did; a few, anyway. They weren't very good. Well, maybe they weren't bad for a 14 year-old, I dunno. My favorite was a quick two-or-three-pager called, simply, "Recharge," written feverishly at a friend's house late one night (they had a computer; we didn't have one yet).

Twilight Zone Magazine, much to my surprise and delight, hosted an annual short story contest for unpublished writers. It was an easy decision: I'd submit "Recharge," win the $500.00 grand prize, and launch a long, illustrious career as a teller of tales.

Here's what I got back:

You know what? That rejection slip WAS a launching of sorts, just not the type I was dreaming of. It was the launching of a fruitless career that, twenty-five years later, finds me still unpublished, almost forty years old with lots of gray hair, stuck in a job I hate, buckling under a mortgage I can't afford, raising my kids to follow their hearts and dreams while providing them with a living example of dreams unfulfilled, of failures realized, of a life that never really went anywhere special at all.

Heh. I sound like a character in a Twilight Zone episode, at the end of his rope, just a few seconds away from some extraordinary journey. Martin Sloan. Gart Williams.

This is my life in the shadow of The Twilight Zone. I'm waiting for some supernatural opportunity to rewrite my own destiny, to fix my mistakes, to take roads less traveled.

I imagine I'll keep right on waiting.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The 'Vulture Swoop' Violation

I have a problem. It’s not a new problem, and perhaps it’s not even really a problem. More of a behavior, really. My wife would most certainly call it a problem, though, rolling her eyes and shaking her head with disdain. I am the poster child for OCD, or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I’ve never been diagnosed, but who needs diagnosing? When I want something, it consumes my every waking thought, and I cannot rest until I have it. I visualize it as a little monkey, living inside my head. The OCD monkey strikes suddenly and without warning and, when it does, all my focus and energies converge on a singular object or goal. My current goal, as outlined previously, is to re-acquire my long-lost Twilight Zone Magazine collection, all 60 issues.

On that note… the hunt continues! After scoring 13 issues on Sunday, I ordered 8 more issues from Mile High Comics yesterday. 21 down, 39 to go.

The holy grail of this endeavor (in my opinion) is the first year of the magazine’s run, 1981. Nine issues, April through December. And as it happens, I’m currently the high bidder in an eBay auction offering these exact nine issues. I’m stuck at work, so I’m monitoring the auction on my Blackberry.

8:25 a.m.

Here's the picture from the auction.What a thing of beauty....

1 hour, 5 minutes left.

9:31 a.m.

56 minutes to go. I’m still the high bidder. In fact, I’m the only bidder. The current bid is $4.99, which is impossibly low. I’m sure somebody somewhere is watching the auction like a predatory hawk, ready to outbid me the last minute (anyone who’s done much eBaying has likely fallen victim to the Vulture Swoop at one time or another). I just raised my maximum bid to $33.01, just in case. If it goes higher than that… well, I dunno. That’s a lot of money for 9 issues. But they are the coveted first 9…

The tension is almost palpable.

9:59 a.m.

27 minutes left. The high bid (mine) stands at $4.99. If I win this auction, I’ll have amassed 30 issues… exactly half of the total collection. Dare I get my hopes up?

My heart is pounding. My head is starting to hurt.

10:10 a.m.

17 minutes left. Still $4.99. I can see the throbbing of my jugular, reflected in the stainless steel of the backside of my iPod. My blood pressure must be through the roof right now. I remember years ago, probably around 1993 or so, being down on my luck and trying to donate plasma for cash, and being told that my blood pressure was obscenely high, that I was literally a “walking time bomb.” My blood pressure is more or less managed these days with medication, but I wonder if I be should avoiding eBay. If I’m going to die of a massive stroke, I’d prefer it to be over something a little more important than a stack of magazines.

10:23 a.m.

4 minutes left. Some nameless vulture swooped in, predictably enough, and outbid me. Caught up in the feverish whirlwind of the auction, I raised my bid to $41.59. I’m the high bidder again… but for how long?

10:26 a.m.

1 minute left. Outbid again. Raising my bid to $42.99. I can’t breathe.

10:27 a.m.

The auction ended with a winning bid of $43.99. I didn’t win. The holy grail, glittering in my grasp, has slipped through my fingers.

I’m literally shaking as I type these words, trembling in the aftermath of the adrenalin rush, engulfed in a heady mix of anger and loss. I need a drink. I don’t smoke, but I need a cigarette. I need to lie down. I’d go home, but I don’t have any vacation or sick time saved up.

This is the nature of the hunt, I suppose. Sometimes the hunter comes up empty. Sometimes the prey is there in plain sight, lined up perfectly in the cross-hairs, and someone else’s bullet whizzes by at the last possible second and steals the kill. I’ve been buying and selling on eBay long enough to know this. With over 400 auctions under my belt, I shouldn’t be affected by this defeat. I should simply shrug my shoulders and move on to the next opportunity.

All 60 issues will be mine eventually. I don’t doubt this. I just hate waiting. It’s not in my nature to wait. My OCD monkey is raging inside my head like a caged tiger, flinging itself against the walls of my skull, demanding satisfaction, howling furiously at being denied this latest prize.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Hunt Begins....

As I mentioned in a previous entry, I once owned all 60 issues of Twilight Zone Magazine, a collection that took me several years to complete. In a moment of either desperate poverty or rampant stupidity (likely both), I sold them off several years back, and have been haunted by their absence ever since. The only apparent solution to this haunting is obvious: I must re-collect them all. Today, the hunt began.

Wait, back up. The hunt actually almost began on Friday. I had placed bids on two different lots on eBay, 37 issues total, which would have put me more than halfway to my goal in one shot. However, I was outbid on both auctions. Unfettered, I immediately called Periodicals Paradise, and was informed that they had a couple dozen issues in stock. I was unable to go yesterday (Saturday) due to numerous family commitments, but today I set aside a couple of hours and made the journey to NE Portland (really not much of a journey, since it's only about 20 minutes away).

Periodicals Paradise had about 30 issues, some duplicates, a few of them really thrashed, but most in pretty decent shape. I bought 9 of them, all in very good condition. I skipped a few good specimens because they had those damned subscription labels on the covers (my goal is to collect all 60 issues without those; I wonder, though, if there's an effective way to remove them without damaging the actual covers, maybe Goo Gone or something. Hmmm....).

Next, I headed over to Cameron's Used Books and Magazines, downtown on SW 3rd. They had about 8 issues, 4 of which were in pretty good shape. Yes, I bought 'em.

So in my first day of hunting, I acquired 13 (out of 60) issues.

Not bad for my first day. However, the rest of hunt will likely be more difficult. TZ Magazine isn't what you might call a common item in the collectible magazine world, and I've already tapped out my local sources (the guy at Cameron's said he almost never sees them anymore). This means I'll be finishing my collection online, through eBay or other used magazine dealers, and it'll likely take me a while, since I'm not in a position to shell out lots of money for this endeavor. I paid $28.00 for 13 issues today (averaging $2.15 per issue), but I'm sure I'll be spending more online (due, if nothing else, to the inevitable shipping costs).

47 issues to go. The hunt continues....

Saturday, September 19, 2009

It Knows All. It Sees All. Oh, and It's Got a Napkin If You Need One.

The Bif Bang Pow! bobbleheads aren't supposed to be available until October, but apparently somebody got the Mystic Seer (from the episode "Nick of Time") early and posted a very detailed review:

Captain Toy: Michael's Review of the Week

I want it. I want it BAD. And truth be told, I want the real thing too, or as close to the real thing as I can get. Here's a guy who makes customized replicas, and his work is jaw-droppingly amazing. His Mystic Seers function as napkin holders/dispensers, and they do take pennies, but evidently they don't actually dispense the (mis)fortune cards. Too bad. Still, it would an awesome display item for my home office.... I'm emailing the guy to find out how much one would cost. I imagine it's out of my price range, but one never knows.

*update: It seems he's taking a break from making the custom Mystic Seers. However, when he does make them, they cost $250.00 (plus shipping and insurance). A bit too rich for my blood these days, so perhaps it's best that he's not doing them right now. We'll see what the future holds.

Here's a publicity still from the episode, featuring my man William Shatner:

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Comic Relief

Over the weekend, I stumbled across an intriguing item on eBay:

The Twilight Zone Comic Collection on DVD 92 issues!

Evidently somebody had scanned all 92 issues of The Twilight Zone comic book, which Gold Key Comics published from 1962 until 1979, cover to cover, and slapped 'em all onto a DVD-R. This was clearly not an authorized release, but given my pirate's ways, I wasn't deterred. I'd actually meant to collect these comics someday (I used to have a few issues, found at garage sales, but they've long since vanished), so this promised to be a quick (and cheap) way to get 'em all.

I did the Buy It Now! thing and, less than a week later, the disc arrived today. I eagerly loaded it up.

Holy shit, it's awesome. Don't get me wrong, these comics are cheesy and in no way measure up to the brilliance of the TV series, but they're fun in their own way. The whole thing set me back less than ten bucks, including shipping. A great addition to the TZ collection. The covers are especially alluring, and many of them can be viewed here.

Period(ical) Piece

February 1984: I was an 8th grader, getting good grades and living a relatively worry-free life. My ongoing amassing of home-videotaped Twilight Zone episodes was in full swing. I'd already purchased Marc Scott Zicree's The Twilight Zone Companion and I was becoming an emerging authority on the series.

One day, at the Lancaster Mall in Salem with my mom, I was killing time looking through magazines at the bookstore (probably B. Dalton's, which I think is out of business now), and I was greeted by a thrilling sight:

Oh my God, could it be? An entire magazine devoted to my favorite TV show of all time? I snagged it eagerly and, in the car on the drive home, read it cover to cover. It was amazing. Short stories! Articles! Full color glossy photos! It was like porn without the naked women. It also included the first of a multi-part series of articles on another vintage TV series, The Outer Limits, which would later become one of my top five favorite TV shows of all time. The magazine was a bimonthly affair, which meant an excruciating 60-day wait between issues, but I vowed to never miss an issue.

And I didn't. For the next five years, I collected every single issue up until June 1989. After that, I couldn't find it anymore. I searched desperately over the next year or so, assuming that my usual stores had simply stopped carrying it, and eventually I gave up. It was only when I replaced my worn-to-shreds copy of Zicree's Twilight Zone Companion with a new revised-and-expanded second edition did I discover that that fateful June 1989 issue was indeed the magazine's final edition.

In the early 90's (I'm guessing 1993, since my first wife and I were living in Milwaukie --- Oregon, not Wisconsin), I discovered a store in nearby SE Portland called Periodicals Paradise, where back issues of magazines could be acquired on the cheap. And, much to my delight, they had several early issues of The Twilight Zone Magazine, published before my first issue in Februrary 1984 (the magazine's debut issue came out in April 1981), and I snagged as many as I could.

In the late 90's, the rise of eBay allowed me to complete my collection. Finally, all 60 issues, in my possession. They resided in a box, they moved with me when I got divorced, and then they sat neglected in a closet. At some point several years ago (we'll say 2002, but who knows?), I ended up selling the collection on eBay. I don't remember exactly why at this late date, but I imagine it was the usual reason: I was in a cash crunch. I don't remember how much I got for the collection, but I hope it was a lot.

Here's a great site that shows 59 of the 60 covers. Here's the one that's missing:

As the show's 50th anniversary looms closer (16 days now), I find myself missing those magazines. I've maintained a small collection of TZ stuff over the years (books, mostly, along with the DVDs and a few odds 'n ends, like a beautiful Hallmark card from several years back), but it seems woefully incomplete without those magazines.

Ladies and gentlemen, I think I've found my next OCD obsession. I'm gonna have to re-collect all 60 issues. It shouldn't be too hard.... eBay's still around, and Periodicals Paradise is still in business....

Monday, September 14, 2009

50th Anniversary Musings...

October 2 is less than three weeks away, and I’m getting excited. I’ve already scheduled the day off from work, and I’ll have the house to myself. My plan is to immerse myself in All Things Zone leading up to my viewing of the pilot episode (“Where Is Everybody?”) at exactly 10:00 pm, precisely 50 years after its original broadcast. This viewing will kick off a five-year marathon in which I’ll watch all 156 episodes on their respective 50th anniversaries (see previous entry for details).
So far, my daylong anniversary celebration will include a viewing of the excellent American Masters documentary on Rod Serling (titled, appropriately enough, Submitted for Your Approval), as well as The Time Element, an episode of Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse that was originally intended to launch The Twilight Zone but ultimately didn’t (long story; I won’t recount it here). I thought about doing a countdown of my ten favorite episodes, but then I’d be watching ten of the episodes early and out of sequence. I also thought about watching 1983’s Twilight Zone: The Movie, or maybe some episodes of the 80’s revival series, but the more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that the day should focus exclusively on classic Zone. I dunno, maybe I’ll re-read one of the Serling biographies for part of the day and listen to my extensive collection of TZ music to kill some time.
I really wish (and this is gonna sound pathetic) that I had someone to share this day with. My wife couldn’t care less (and honestly, why would she?). My good friend (and fellow Zone fanatic) Bill Huelbig lives across the country, and my local friends aren’t really fans of the show. There are celebrations happening, but as far as I know, nothing in my neck of the woods. So yeah, I’ll be celebrating this anniversary solo. Damn, I need to find myself some local TZ fans to hang with.
There are several cool items being released in the next few months, all commemorating the anniversary. Already available is a TZ postage stamp, released as part of a sheet of stamps commemorating several vintage TV shows (I Love Lucy, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, etc.; I bought two sheets).
Hallmark is releasing a Christmas ornament in the form of a miniature TV set that lights up and plays the theme music. It comes out in October, and yes, it will be hanging on my tree this year (I’ll likely buy a second one to keep displayed in my office year round).
Three episode-specific bobbleheads are coming in October/November from a company called Bif Bang Pow!, which look amazing.
I saw something online about an interactive DVD game (along the lines of the Scene It? DVD games, several of which we own and quite enjoy), but I haven’t been able to verify a release date.

A few new TZ t-shirts popping up for sale online, from a company called Trevco.
Lastly, some classy clothing items are being made available by The Rod Serling Memorial Foundation (baseball cap, polo shirt, etc).
So… lots of items to be acquired. I might need to sell a kidney on eBay to stay caught up.
What DOESN’T seem to be coming in time for the anniversary, however, is a blu-ray release of the series, which really bugs me. Don’t get me wrong, the existing Definitive Edition DVD sets are absolutely stellar, but the episodes will look even more spectacular in true high definition (for example, the original Star Trek series looks staggeringly pristine on blu-ray). And this is the FIFTIETH ANNIVERSARY, for Rod’s sake. I wonder if the sluggish economy is to blame…? Oh well, maybe next year. I can wait. There’s time. Time, time, time enough at last. All the time I need, and all the time I want. *
And while I’m griping, why the hell isn’t there a Rod Serling action figure by now? Sheesh. Maybe a Serling bobblehead will show up, assuming this BifBangPow! company makes it beyond their first three. Fingers and toes are duly crossed.

*Yeah, another TZ pun, but less obscure than the last one.