Toy Drive Moralist Seeks Mr. Potato Head
The upper shelves belong to Barbie,* mostly arrayed in pink,
the lower to Disney princesses in even deeper pinker pinks, all of whom face
shelves full of glitter eyelashes, fingernail gloss and bubblegum lipstick.
Another section showcases Transformer-Kill-A-Thon black-and-blue weaponry
that every boy seems to know judging by the rugrats' pawing at rocket launchers
and weaponized trucks and nuclear drones and warrior robots with electric sabers
and bladed fingers like daggers and fighter jets with blood-red-laser-flesh-penetrating
aerial explosives. And speaking of weaponized, what the hell happened to Legos,
now a whole subspecies of dark superhero monster-killer devices that've usurped
those little fitted plastic rectangles in primary colors?
It's so obvious the beauty goop is for girls and the killing contraptions for boys
that the good women shopping for some institution split the sprawled lists
and multiple carts heaped with plastic-wrapped toys: "Louise, will you please
concentrate on princess stuff while I do what I can to stock up on the boys' artillery?"
So we're stuck in some hyper-mechanized shrink-wrapped gender-patrolled version
of 1953, plus terrorized by everything deeply fucked up about the new century?
Never thinking I'd be forced to study sociology in the toppling aisles of Target,
I grow ever stiffer and dismissive as if I'm too good for all this shit, but really,
the little boy who still occupies most of my heart is heartbroken.
In a friendlier aisle of plush toys (though by now I'm expecting endangered
species, oil-splattered seabirds and bloodied baby seals) this big klatch of siblings
and cousins scour the shelves with a list of their own for the clan's little kids,
a few years younger than this cohort, but they can't proceed because they're laughing
at every memory of every furry animal they ever loved. "Remember that rabbit,
Joey, that you wouldn't let go? God it was so gross, old peanut butter stuck in its fur."
"Mark's too little for Wookiees, Mom's crazy. He doesn't know a thing about Kashyyk."
When they move on, I toss a wooly Wookiee in my empty basket and proceed, asking
this teenage clerk if he's ever heard of Mr. Potato Head. His partner perks up,
abandoning his stocking of Fatal Shot T-17's. "Yeah, I know just where!"
The three of us roam the no man's land east of Barbie, joined by two more clerks
who also seem to heed the siren call, that spellbinding Potato Head charisma.
The four kids form a red-polo'd cordon around me, proud, as I tremble to snatch
the last Potato Head and drop it in my cart. "What about Play-Doh? Have you ever
heard of Etch-a-Sketch?" Heck yeah, we love that old-school stuff, the quartet assents
and we've off, searching and seizing Silly Putty, Duncan yo-yos, Tonka trucks,
matchbook Chevys, 48-Crayon Crayola boxes, coloring books devoid of princesses,
inscrutable puzzles of imperial Chinese gardens, Scrabble, Bicycle playing cards,
soccer balls, softballs, nerf balls, multicolored slinkies, plastic baseball bats, and Frisbee.
My four wave me off as I wobble toward checkout, then to clutch my sack of toys
over ice and uneven flagstone to the church basement, a vast toy drive consolidator.
The ladies scold me for not following the list, "We need Transformer-Fatal Shot 17's
for our older boys!" but accept my humble goods with the tolerant reluctance
of good Christians. I smile, though, because I hope somewhere on Christmas morning,
some kid is going to unwrap Mr. Potato Head and love him, too, for the next fifty years.
*All product placement placed over objections of author.