I Didn’t Grow Up. I’m Still a Toys R Us Kid. I Should’ve Thought This Through.
“Careful what you wish for,” Uncle Carl warned as I snuffed the candles on my Transformers cake. Now my uncle’s dead, while I remain [sticks out chubby fingers] dis many.
The year was ’86, and b-day money was burning through my OshKosh B’Gosh. To that backwards “R” mecca I headed, hopin’ to score a My Pet Monster or maybe some board games in boxes large enough to house family-sized lasagnas. Within that brown-roofed, rainbow-sided pile of bricks, all felt normal, gendered, and right.
That is until the Teddy Ruxpin aisle. As my Velcroed shoes marched passed these faddish bears, one sprang from demo mode. “Don’t grow up,” he whispered. “Stay a kid,” he teased.
I was confused by this, but not that confused. It’s not like he was telling me the cootie shot was ineffective or anything.
Sensing my interest, Ted gave the terms: I could indeed stay a Toys “R” Us kid for, like, a bajillion years. All I gotta do is talk-sing the company jingle in two ads a year, plus some light side work of picking up giraffe turds. “Radical!” I exclaimed, befitting both the slang of the day and subversiveness of the offer.
And at first it was rad. I moved outta my family home and into a ginormous bin of stuffed animals. I spent the days tending to my Little Pony farm and nights sparring with the local Kay-Bee ruffians. Happily subsisting on Easy-Baked goods and Snoopy Snow Cones, my future was Brite, both Rainbow and Lite.
Time passed from 8-bit to Super Nintendo to N64, and sure, I was soooooo borrrrrrrred sometimes. I mean how many times can one watch the underperforming winners of the Nickelodeon Super Toy Run gingerly finger a single bottle of bubbles instead of arm-swiping whole aisles of action figures?
Still, I was mostly a happy boy. There were a million toys at Toys “R” Us that I could play with, and if those ran low, some quarter-smiling stock boy could check the back for more.
Until it all changed. When the liquidation rumors started, I yelled, “nuh-uh!” Gee whiz, this was the biggest toy store there is. Someone would surely save it. Santa? The tooth fairy? A hedge fund guy well-versed in distressed debt?
Sadly, the “nuh-uh!” was a “yes-huh!” Closing was as real as the monster under all of our beds, and even praying to the floating bike racks in the sky did no good.
So now I’m stuck in my own personal H-E-double hockey sticks. A kid, but a highly specific one. Committed to one shuttered store. To one extinct mascot. To a former life that has, to quote Peggy Noonan, “slipped the surly bonds of earth.”
“From bikes to trains to video games” was the promise. My bike, however, is a crappy Huffy with unremovable training wheels. My train’s a six-foot oval that eats up eight D batteries every hour. My video game’s an Intellivision whose intelligence has been outsmarted by smart TVs.
I roam this retail apocalypse on a Thundercats big wheel, in search of just one of those paper slips used to purchase both video games and sandboxes. I’d even take a used breast pump from a Babies R Us, just to feel. To remember. To return to a time when I had the best for so much less.
I might’ve grown into a Spencer’s Gifts tween, pretending to look at Simpsons posters while covertly peeping fuzzy handcuffs and naughty dice. I could’ve become a Gadzooks teen, shoplifting ironic ringer tees I only sorta understood. I could’ve aged into an HomeGoods adult, embracing the simple thrills of decorative farfalle housed in seafoam green canisters. Instead, I’m cursed to live in a label-scarred building that’s only seasonally used as a Spirit Halloween.
Vainly rubbing my decrepit old Magic 8-ball, I ask for deliverance from this, a ceaseless playdate where I age but my Voltron figures never do. And I pray it’s Amazon who handles this delivery, for both the swiftness and the irony.
Careful what you wish for indeed, Uncle Carl.
A longtime political activist, Jeremy played a role in the major LGBTQ fights of the 21st century’s first two decades. Parenthood shifting his focus, as parenthood is wont to do, Jeremy now focuses his writing on making people smile, with a particular emphasis on children’s literature.