Monday, December 19, 2016

Christmas Toy Shopping Disastrophy by Stuart R. West
Hola and happy holidays, everyone. 

Tensions are high, people on edge, fights and riots breaking out everywhere. Oh, and then there’s the political situation. But I was talking about Christmas shopping.

Talk about madness. Say what you will about Amazon (like politics, everyone has a highly volatile opinion of them), I’m thankful for Amazon at Christmas time. My wife and I pretty much get most of our shopping done without ever leaving the sofa.

But things weren’t always like that.

I’m thinking the infamous year of the “Water Baby.” 

I made the parental mistake of asking my then eight year old daughter what she’d like for Christmas. 

“A Water Baby.”

“A what?”

“A Water Baby. Melissa and Brianne have one.”

“Oh. Well, if Melissa and Brianne have one, they’ve gotta’ be something special.”

I had no idea what a “Water Baby” was, yet pretended to. Because dads know everything, right? After researching, I discovered Water Babies were special dolls you fill with water to give them that “realistic” feeling. Well… First, gross. Second, why are eight year old girls wanting to feel a real baby?  Stupid Melissa and Brianne.

But the hunt was on! 

Instead of eating during my work lunch-breaks, I scoured the stores and malls of the Greater Kansas City metropolitan area. I called stores, pleaded my case for the stupid, highly elusive Water Baby doll. I enlisted my parents into high-stepping action. I offered to buy the doll at twice the price, to any takers, just please don’t let my daughter down this Christmas! Alas, Water Babies were sold out everywhere. 

I came close a few times. My mom found one at a Kmart. Excited, I asked her how much I owed her for the gift. 

My mom said, “Well, I didn’t get it because the doll was black.”

“Gah! Mom! My daughter won’t care! No one cares but you! Please, please, PLEASE go back and get it! Never mind. I’ll do it!”

Off I went! I bolted through my company’s door (“Not feeling good!”), sped and zipped in and out of highway lanes like Steve McQueen on a bender. I slammed open the Kmart doors, raced down the toy aisle. 

And found an empty shelf. 

A forlorn looking mother stood next to me, equally numb. 

“Water Baby?” I asked, shorthand for every parent who’d been fighting the battle.

She nodded, dead to the world.

I dropped to my knees, raised my hands and screamed to the uncaring toy manufacturers, the greedy corporate marketing strategists, and mostly to that insidious duo of little girls, Melissa and Brianne, “Damn you, Melissa and Brianne! Curse you foul demonic Water Babies, you ugly looking, jiggly, creepy hunks of stupid plastic!”

Then a stock-boy strolled out. His name tag identified him as “Chet.” To this day, I identify Chet as the boy who saved Christmas. In all his slacker, acne-ridden glory.

“Hey,” he says, oh so nonchalantly, just teasing us, “you looking for Water Babies?”

“Yeah. Please, dear God, tell me you have some!” I nearly took Chet by his blue lapels and shook him down.

“Nah. Not here. But our store in Gladstone's got a couple.”

“Thanks, Chet! Love you!”

Out through the store I hurtled. A dead tie with the other grieving parent. I considered shoving her into the sock aisle to gain an advantage. (Hey, all’s fair during Christmas toy shopping.) But I didn’t need to. Once I slammed open the doors, I broke into a full-on, manic sprint through the parking lot. Another breathless race through the streets of KC. I screeched to a halt in the Gladstone Kmart parking lot.

The store loomed in front of me, large and foreboding. Conqueror and creator of Christmas happiness: Kmart.

This was it. My last chance to bring Christmas joy to my daughter.

I shoved past people--certain they’d understand--and scuttled down the toy aisle.

Celestial trumpets! Glory hallelujah! 

There in all their grotesquely manufactured glory, sat two of the ugliest lumps of plastic Mankind had ever created. I snatched one doll up (hoped my competitor would get the other), locked it under my arm, thrust a hand out like a running back and slammed my way to the check-out aisle. 

A true Christmas miracle.

Of course the dumb Water Baby’s novelty wore off after a couple of hours. Soon enough, my daughter discarded the grotesque mannequin to the bin of unwanted toys.

Still, it was all worth it to see my daughter light up like a Christmas tree upon opening that gift. (No way did I let Santa grab the glory for that one, either. My heroic efforts as a dad demanded to be rewarded).

That Christmas morning, I finally relaxed. Job well done. After all, I had 364 more days until I had to worry about it again. (Next year was even worse: Furbies.)

I gripe about the Toy Wars. But, to tell you the truth, I kinda’ miss it. My daughter’s long grown up, at the stage where money’s her favorite gift. As are my nieces, nephews, all the children in our family. It’s boring. There’s no challenge or joy in tossing around cash. 

Maybe I’ll go back to giving everyone toys no matter their age. 

Happy holidays, merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah, cool Kwanza, super Solstice, beautiful Boxing Day, and to those parents still in the trenches and fighting the good fight: good luck.
Click the cover for a preview.