Friday, August 19, 2011

Toy Story

A very scary thing happened to me yesterday: I legitimately used the phrase “when I was your age.” This terrifies me because I don’t think I’m that old! However, when confounded by the modern toy industry, it was entirely appropriate. All my friends are having babies now and a generation gap has officially formed twixt my own childhood and “kids these days.”

The problem was that I was searching for a classic toy. I checked the toy departments in Walmart and Target first, because I was there anyway. Then I went to Toys R Us, which was a huge mistake. The only sales associate I could find was a teenager who looked like she hated her job almost as much as she hated her life. How could you hate working at a toy store? Only way to beat that would be to work in Santa’s workshop itself!

She just gave me a blank stare when I said that I couldn’t find a paratrooper toy. “What’s a paratrooper?” I very politely described the parachuting soldier doll, trying my best not to call her an idiot. She had another blank stare, then mumbled something about them not having it and walked off. I resumed the search on my own and eventually concluded that she her lazy guess had been correct.

When we were growing up, my brothers and I had basic toys, mostly because we never had any money. I loved my Etch-A-Sketch and Polly Pockets. What I did not love was stepping on random Lego blocks all over the house. We actually played with our toys, often even outside. The only “luxury” toy I ever had was my American Girl doll, which was a Christmas gift from my grandparents. I definitely still have her.

Most of our toys were pretty low-tech. I did have a Galaxy class U.S.S. Enterprise model with detachable dish and warp engines, which even made warp and torpedo sounds. There was always great debate between me and Andrew about who had the Enterprise and who had the Klingon Bird of Prey—but we always agreed that James got the lame shuttlecraft.

It was such a big deal when the boys got their first Nintendo 64. Up until then, my Furby had been the most high-tech toy. We never did get Gameboys. As I looked around at all the new toys yesterday, I was amazed. Almost none of them lacked electronics of some sort. G.I. Joe and Barbie are now fully articulated, yet even they were largely outnumbered by action figures for the latest movies.

The lack of educational toys was heartbreaking. When I was a kid, we still had to use our heads to play. We actually learned how to build rockets! Nowadays, toys don’t leave much room for imagination. You don’t have to imagine your toys coming to life when they can already walk and talk and fight crime on their own. Give me a Thomas the Tank Engine set any day. You can keep your Orbeez Soothing Spa set.

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