Monday, March 14, 2005

Keeps on Giving

The bell tinkled over the door as I walked into the toy store, having finally found its front door down an alleyway. The woman behind the counter welcomed me, apparently thrilled with a customer. I complimented her on the store, and asked if it was new.

“We opened about two months ago.”
“How’s it been going?” I enquired.
“A little slow, but the people who have stopped by have said they will come back when they need a toy” she said brightly, only a hint of panic in her eyes.
“I’m sure they will” I agreed, and walked around a bit before taking my leave. She hadn’t even opened her printed stationery yet, and she was doomed.

Back on the sidewalk, I was torn. As part-owner of a small business (, I feel empathy for anyone displaying the courage to open a store. At the same time, the predatory, reptilian part of my brain thinks “Good…Presents for the gift drawer within 90 days”. One can choose to open a toy store on a block with no parking for customers. One can choose to open a toy store between a burned-out apartment building and a casket showroom. One can choose to open a toy store across the street from Toys R Us. But when the inevitable happens and you’re forced to close the store and sell your inventory for 50% off, I will be there. I am the Angel of Death in Lilly Pulitzer.

I am not callous. Given my druthers, I would avoid the Consumer Deathwatch at all costs but Daughter goes to ten birthday parties a month. I think some of her classmates have four birthdays a year. I have taken her to two birthday parties in a single day (I could be convinced to do a third in one day, but the venue better have a hard liquor license), and all of these rapidly aging children require presents. I have established an upper price limit on all but her closest friends, but the sad fact is nearly everything in my price range is crap. I’m talking the kind of junk that fails at the basic requirements of whatever it is supposed to do — pouring cups that leak, trains whose wheels don’t roll in the same direction, baby dolls who spit blinding venom when held close to the child’s face (okay, maybe not, but the dolls in my price range are really ugly and look as if they might). My preferred option is to buy cuter, more expensive toys at deep discount.

Once the store in the alley lets out the death rattle, I’ll be there, grabbing everything suitable for a 4-7 year old with shelf space and a short attention span. If the item is good and reasonably priced, I will grab four or five, although nothing makes a person feel as uniquely awful as swooping down on someone’s broken dreams and buying in bulk. The store owner is behind the counter, alternately dabbing at her eyes, and hissing pleas to the credit card people that keep calling, and I come bounding up chirping, “Do you have any more Fairy Woodkins in the back of the store?”

I get the presents-to-be home and turn into the Jealous Keeper of the Gift Drawer. I worry that if I were to die suddenly, Consort would have no idea how to decide who gets what. The riddles of gift-giving go something like this:

1. Does Daughter know the child well? Could I identify this child in a crowd of three? If not, why the hell are we driving to Woodland Hills?
2. Do I owe the mother a favor? How big of a favor? I have a Mafia-like list of favors done and favors owed in my head, and while the gifts never get smaller due to the owing of favors, they can certainly get larger. Hold my daughter’s head when she throws up on the schoolyard, and your kid’s gift just doubled.
3. Is the parent mounting some extraordinary event? I will resent the snot out of you for hiring Cirque De Soleil for the afternoon but I will increase the value of your kid’s gift to reflect the magnitude of the spectacle.

Once these questions have been answered I am ready to make my choice. I do attempt to choose carefully, with an eye toward what I have seen the particular child playing with in the past, but in a pinch, I will always revert to the gender truisms of toys — girls appreciate pink and shiny; boys will never turn down a gift that might puncture someone’s trachea. It is then wrapped, bowed, and sent off to live with some child who might actually play with it for up to an hour before it is broken by their little sister/eaten by their dog/declared dead and buried in their side yard.

And, as the gift drawer empties, I am off again, hoping against hope someone’s decided to open a toy store next to a freeway on-ramp.


Post a Comment

<< Home