Not long ago, I wrote about a child who is growing up without any purchased toys. His childhood is remarkably rich. I’ve never been all that high-minded myself. The sheer volume of Lego bricks contained in my home is proof. I also take a childlike delight in ridiculous toys. In fact, I still glow with pride at finding a bagpipe figure to give my bagpipe-playing son. It’s decked out with authentic looking kilt, sporran, and pipes but the real thrill is the button that makes it emit a better-than-whoopie-cushion sounding fart.
But when I look at it from a toy’s point of view, being a plaything probably isn’t all fun and games. First the strain of adoration in the form of grabby little hands and screams of “mine” followed, inevitably, by weeks or months of inattention. Not every toy ends up as The Velveteen Rabbit. No wonder toys have a tendency to get back at us.
You’ve experienced this. A Barbie turns up on the passenger seat in an awkward naked pose just when you offer to give your boss a ride. Lego bricks are suddenly underfoot when you have bare feet. The stuffed animal with Velcro paws that no longer hold what they’re supposed to somehow snags your one good silk shirt. Who among us hasn’t been a victim of toy retaliation?
Here are a few of my Revenge of the Toy tales and where they attacked.
I’m easily startled. That’s an understatement. I’ve been known to push a cart at the market, lost in my own reverie, only to leap up gasping in alarm when I’m surprised in the aisle by nothing more than another shopper passing by. (My reaction is pretty alarming to the other person too.) So it’s probably natural that I do everything I can to keep myself from being startled.
Anyway, one evening not long after we’d moved to our rural home, there was an extended clattering in our attached garage. It sounded distinctly like a team of burglars, maybe kidnappers, heading toward our interior door. The door with no lock on it. My sleeping husband wasn’t concerned. “Go see what made the noise if you’re worried,” he said in response to being shaken awake. A man who gets up to defend his wife against intruders is one of the basic bargains of marriage, I thought bitterly as I crept through the house, turning on lights as I always do to keep myself from being startled.
Then I stood by the garage door listening, wondering if bad guys were on the other side, also listening. No sound. It took me a few moments to work up the courage to open the door and survey the garage, phone ready to dial 911 in hand. Over the sound of my pounding heart I could see what had happened. The giant rack with hooks we’d put up to hang outdoor toys was halfway off the wall and toys had dropped onto the floor. Seconds after I opened the door, the rest of the rack gave way. The sound of plummeting toys was nothing compared to my startled shriek. I slammed the door and made my way back through the house, zigzagging to turn off lights. I tripped on a cluster of plastic dinosaurs as I passed the kitchen and suddenly our cat leaped full-bodied onto the screen with a yowl. I shrieked again. Last light finally off, I made it back to bed realizing no one had investigated my cries of alarm.
We never hung the rack back up. I was pretty sure the toys considered it a method of torture.
We had a toy called The Insultinator which, as you might imagine, spewed mild insults such as, “You’re a gross slimy weasel” at the press of a button. Yes, I bought it. I’m so easily amused that I bought another and gave it to friends as a perfectly relevant wedding anniversary gift. Their son discovered it a few years later and couldn’t be parted with it, which explains why it was in his carry-on as the family went through airport security.
When he put the bag on the conveyor, the thing went off. Suddenly the guards could hear someone saying, “You’re a giant ugly obnoxious jerk.” With stern faces they pulled the bag off the conveyor. That joggled the toy again, and it said, “You’re the ultimate big sloppy loser.” It took several explanations just to get permission to take The Insultinator out of the bag. The whole line behind them backed up as various security officials kept pushing the buttons to make each other laugh.
Sadly, this toy went out of production some time in the 90’s.
My husband and I were lying in bed one night after I’d just nursed our baby to sleep. We heard a faint and intermittent scratching sound on, or was it in, the wall under our window. Because the baby was sleeping in a bassinette right next to our bed we kept asking, “Did you hear that?” in the quietest whispers we could manage. After we confirmed that we weren’t imagining it, we couldn’t sleep. As you know, once you attune to an annoyance it becomes vastly more annoying. We eliminated possible causes like tree branches (weren’t any) and heating system (wasn’t on). My husband and I both slipped out of bed in the dark room, crawling along the floor with our ears to the wall. Whenever we did, there was no sound. Once back in bed it started up again. We decided it had to be a mouse or squirrel trapped in the wall. That made it worse.
I couldn’t help but imagine those desperate scrabbling little paws, the frantic black beads of the small creature’s eyes. “Back up,” I said to it with my sleep-addled mind, as if I could send it thought-messages. “Breathe out to make yourself small.”
The man I loved next to me clearly wasn’t on the same page. “It’s trapped,” he whispered. “It’s going to die in the wall and stink up the place. I should kill it now.” He discussed various methods of death and extraction while I, in a heightened emotional state of postpartum exhaustion, decided I’d married the wrong man. It was suddenly obvious I’d vowed to spend my life with some kind of monster. Using poor judgment, I shared that thought with him. Then we lay awake, me weeping with sorrow in the quietest way possible and he fuming.
In the morning we discovered the real source of the sound. Our son’s remote control car was under a rocking chair in our room, right next to the window. Intermittently it picked up enough random radio signal to scoot back and forth slightly, scraping the antennae against the wooden chair seat. The creature that threatened our marriage didn’t exist.
Yeah, we felt silly.
You know I want to hear your stories.