Well I had a nice birthday, or as best as I could reasonably incur at a time like this- I went to the beach, ate some curry, had some cake, and watched a movie at home. Yes, I had a candle on the cake, but no, I didn't wish for world peace. I thought about it but then my mind raced through multiple scenarios in which a technically "peaceful" world is an unpleasant scenario. So I held my mind's tongue on that. Not gonna say what I did wish for.

I got very few presents, which at this point in my life is ideal. Sakiko gave me some lions mane tincture (does not contain lion ingredients) and my mom sent me a quilt she just finished, which she started in 1972 and put away in the same year because she didn't like how it was going. Recently she got it out, cut it up, recombined the pieces, and deemed it good. It's a manic glut of late 60s calicos, so there's a strong "kid's room" feeling, but it's really fun to zoom in on.

The craziest gift I got wasn't technically a birthday present, as I got it a few days earlier and the vibe was just "here's some stuff for you"-- it was a pillowcase of M.U.S.C.L.E. figures from CF. Regular readers know that I've been collecting these for some time and have a lot of them already. I was very psyched but also a little melancholy when he told me it was a complete set-- I enjoy casually looking for these dudes at flea markets, what the hell am I gonna look for now? Luckily for me, he was mistaken, it's not complete, and some of our gaps overlap-- I'm still looking for 2 guys, and I will not pay more than $1 each, nor will I buy them online. The best dude I got was this one: SATAN CROSS! SC is widely percieved as rare, but isn't, so for the collector on a strict budget, it's one you can only get "in the wild"- at a flea market or a yard sale. On ebay it's too expensive, but IRL it's still a dollar or whatever. I felt relieved to get this as a gift from another collector.


Now I'm sitting on a big pile of duplicates. I already sent a bunch to Tumblecat, but I couldn't send him everything on his list. The rest I plan to just throw in outgoing mail for the next couple years. They're the perfect size to stick in the dirt next to a houseplant.

About Collecting

For the longest time my personal rules as a collector of M.U.S.C.L.E. figures prohibited me from looking at them online. My reasoning was that I would eventually see them all, and I wanted to see them for the first time in my hand, not on a website. Also I figured that if I never looked at pictures of them, it would be easy to spot which guys I don't have, simply because I'd have never seen them before. They would glow with an aura of specialness. Well it took some resolve but this plan worked great for many years-- the only problem was that I occasionally bought duplicates, which was no problem because of my second rule, which is that I won't pay more than a dollar each, and besides, it's good to have some duplicates for trading purposes.


After a while however I realized I need to at least find out how many there are so I know how close I am to completing the series. Also I was concerned that I was looking past guys I didn't have, because some of the figures are pretty similar. So I finally broke down and looked online, and that's when I found that the collector's community for this is incredible.

OK so before I get into why it's incredible, I should say what I expected-- I expected the scene to work like other collector's scenes. I expected that there would be some figures that are rare and expensive. I expected the collectors community to be fetishistic and obsessed with condition. And I expected that the community would maintain a rough price guide. OK and I expected that the community would tell me that my collection was valuable. I had hoped I had some really rare guys. I had expected there to be a market and I hoped that that market would favor me.

What I found is that unlike baseball cards or comic books or nearly any other thing that someone collects, there is purposefully and willfully not a price guide for these guys! The collectors recognize that with very few exceptions, no individual figure is any more rare than another, and that collections are fun but not valuable. Condition matters a little bit, but people also seem to treasure the ones with manufacturing errors. There is no jealousy or even pride, just a shared enjoyment of looking at these weird little dudes, and like, the thrill of the hunt.

And the really crazy thing is that they would've slid into market-driven depravity just like every other collector's format, but that there was a villain in the mix! I don't have the whole story but in the early days of the collector's forums this one person was like bidding on their own ebay auctions to drive the prices up artificially, and everyone got super pissed, and decided as a group This Is Not Us.

They realized that they were in control of the narrative. If they fell into the marketplace trap-- equating personal satisfaction with monetary value-- they would only cause strife for themselves. If they resisted that trap, and insisted that they were great but not worth more than a dollar each (max), they could all continue in peace. So they banned the villain from the forums, and now there's peace in the valley. Though these figures commonly get listed on eBay for more, it's widely established that any higher price is foolish, not worth it. There's always some n00b (once it was me) asking "how much are these worth?" and in each case some elder lights a magnificent torch and says "it is the way of our people that these are worth $.75 to $1 each".

This connection to the forums has changed my view greatly-- while I once kept them in a box because I thought "these might be valuable, I should sell these on eBay", now I have them on display in my kitchen, hot glued to a quilt that hangs on the wall. In the morning I drink coffee and let my eye rest on a random figure, and really look at it. I'm proud of my collection, not because it's worth any money, but because it's nice to look at, and it has been fun to acquire-- years of idly walking around the flea market, or trading with friends. I guess the closest comparison I could make is if you had a collection of small smooth rocks. Special but not rare, costing only an attentive walk along a beach.


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