Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Rodents and Other Must-Have Toys

It’s been 20 years or so since I’ve looked through a Toys “R” Us circular in earnest. But grandparenthood has a way of pulling you back to earlier, more simple times.

Hold it. I’m not sure of that last thought about simpler times, how accurate it is.

The other day I saw a piece on the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric that examined the inventory shortage of the hottest toy of the year. What toy is driving kids crazy? It’s a furry hamster on wheels! A rodent! Kids want to play with rodents! Check it out, on http://www.cbs.com/cbs_evening_news/video/?pid=e9a_op7AB45s4lx7YFznBXB4m kGbEGKL

For those who couldn’t load the video clip, here’s a link to a story from Saturday’s NY Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/21/business/21toys.html?scp=1&sq=hamster&st=cse.

Now, before you go saying that Mickey Mouse is a rodent, as is Mighty Mouse, and Rocky is a squirrel, and Chip and Dale are chipmunks, let me point out that all these furry hamsters do is move in the direction you point them, or in the (curved) tracks you lay in front of them.

Sure they’re cute. But if this is what it will mean to be a grandparent, finding the must-have toy for my grandchildren, I have a lot of re-education to go through.

When our daughter Ellie was almost three years old, her favorite doll was a big, hard plastic-faced one she called Sally. Sally looked really ratty. Her blonde hair was a mess. Her clothing was Salvation Army salvage. Ellie loved Sally, but her parents had a hard time allowing her to take Sally out in public. They thought it would look more appropriate to their station in life if Ellie was seen hugging a Cabbage Patch Kid.

Trouble was, CPK’s were in short supply. You couldn’t find them anywhere. Parents were desperate, willing to pay as much as 10 times the regular price.

In October of that year Gilda and I attended a retail conference. During dinner one night we sat with Burt Adelman, the head of Lamston’s, a NY-based variety store chain, and his wife, Bunny. Bunny and Gilda, along with my boss’s wife Trudy, schemed up a plan to trick Burt into securing a Cabbage Patch Kid for Ellie’s upcoming birthday in December. To Bunny’s question of what Ellie wanted, Gilda replied a Cabbage Patch Kid, but none could be found anywhere. Burt took the bait and, sure enough, within a week’s time a box appeared on our doorstep.

But that’s not the end of the story. No sooner had we put away the doll than an invitation arrived at my office from Coleco, the licensee of the CPK franchise. For the first time ever it was sponsoring a CPK float in the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. My family and another of my choosing were invited to view the parade from the balcony of the Sheraton Manhattan Hotel. My brother’s family came with us.

It was an exciting day. The huge parade balloons were at eye level. Though it was bitter cold outside, we were toasty warm inside, eating a sumptuous brunch. As a token of their appreciation for our attendance, Coleco gave the four youngsters in our group their own CPK dolls, plus assorted CPK merchandise such as lunchboxes, earmuffs and records. For good measure we also took home two dolls that were table centerpieces. Ellie now had more CPK dolls waiting for her attention than almost any other kid alive.

You’ve probably guessed by now...Ellie couldn’t care less for any of them. All she wanted was Sally. We wound up giving away all but one CPK. Of course, several years later Ellie did develop a love of Cabbage Patch Kids and we had to go out and buy a whole new family of dolls for her.

I might be a little rusty, but I’m definitely experienced at this must-have toy mania.

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