Infinte Jest and Most Excellent Fancy: Saying Goodbye To Geoffrey and Toys ‘R Us

“Let’s go to Toys ‘R Us, Dad!” my just-turned eight year old daughter Willow suggests for probably the thousandth time, as I head for the bathroom for a shave and a shower before embarking on the grocery shopping.

“With what money?”

“I’ve got money!” she calls from the living room.

Oh right, the birthday last Saturday.

“I’m going for groceries. Not today.” And then, I don’t know why, as an afterthought, I mention, “You know, it’s closing.”

“What?” says my daughter.

“What’s closing?” asks my wife.

“Toys ‘R Us. All of ‘em. Here in America anyway. Probably everywhere.”

A quick shower later, I come out dressed to find Willow with her arms crossed over the back of the couch, head down….crying as if her kitten just died.

My wife’s furiously researched my claim on Google and confirmed it.

And in that moment I realize what a momentous thing is happening, and how much this toy chain has meant to me and to my children.

How many times have I found my errands hijacked by my son or my daughter because I’ve relented, letting them squander their hoarded birthday and holiday dollars on blind bags of Shopkins or Nerf blasters or some other inscrutable plastic doodad. It’s not the most responsible thing, but every time, I’ve thought back to my own childhood and the instances in which I harassed my Aunt Vicky or my mom and dad to make an unscheduled (or in my case, carefully plotted) detour to Toys ‘R Us, just to look, just to look, promise, so I know what to ask Santa for, so I know what to put on my birthday list and then maybe McDonald’s (for hamburgers with no pickles, onions), knowing full well that I could maybe make a convincing case for a single GI Joe or Star Wars figure if I make them understand it’s the last one on the shelf and it might not be around come September or December.

It’s very likely why I’m no good with money to this day.

So, I relent again, because I realize it’s probably the last time. The stores could be closing in a couple weeks.

“Here,” says my wife, pushing a couple of coupons into my hand.

Willow’s already got her coat on.

Every year since their birth the kids have gotten little postcards from Geoffrey the Giraffe congratulating them on another year alive and exhorting them to come celebrate at the REAL happiest place on Earth.

Sorry Disneyland, I’ve never had to contend with the beating sun or a two hour line pressed by sweaty bodies or overpriced and underwhelming food during an afternoon at TRU. It’s just a fact. I’d take the white air conditioned action figure aisles over the line to get on Star Tours or Pirates of The Caribbean any day of the week.

Maybe growing up in the Midwest far from Disneyland or Disneyworld has something to do with it. Disney is an event, like going to a cousin’s wedding or a water park. It’s a strange place, full of strange people, a rush to do everything, see everything, you can’t completely relax. Toys ‘R Us is a familiar staple, close as a trip to the park.

A rainy day in the Valley becomes the last day for two die hard Toys ‘R Us fans to visit the undisputed mecca of childhood avarice. Child’s World, KB Toys, just flashes in the pan. The sun could never set on Toys ‘R Us, I thought. But here we are.

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We present my daughter’s birthday coupons at the service counter, where a pleasant kid blows up a mylar birthday balloon weighted with an orange plastic Geoffrey token, a paper pink birthday girl crown, a little sealed Lego package with a tiny buildable birthday cake I’ll probably skewer my foot on later, and a squishy dog-toy style birthday cake with Geoffrey’s face on it.

In the time it takes to outfit my daughter with all this, three adults come to the counter and ask if it’s true, that Toys ‘R Us is really closing.

“Corporate tells us tomorrow,” the kid helping me says.

“Just wanted to know,” says one guy.

“That’s been happening all day, hasn’t it?” I say.

“All day.”

My daughter goes skipping off, balloon bobbing, to nab items from the shelves and meticulously run them back and forth to the price scanners until she’s figured out how to get the most for her twenty one bucks (and a couple dollars over no doubt), leaving me alone to wander the aisles and hazy childhood memories.

Something else you just can’t do at Disneyland.

Vince Guaraldi’s Linus and Lucy is playing jauntily over the speakers and I’m thinking of how my grandkids may never know the simplicity of the Peanuts, and now, they will definitely never know the fun of turning the corner and ogling an end cap of Castle Greyskull playsets, or trying the action on a boxed Nerf gun, or straddling a display bike, or sitting in one of those electric pedal cars.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESWe live in an apartment and it’s the closest any of them have ever come to owning one. My grandfather bought me a green jeep with an orange seat and a white plastic pedal I could mash and send myself burring up and down the driveway of our suburban home till the juice ran out and I had to plug it into the outlet on the outside of the garage. The big goggle eyes moved when you turned the wheel. It matched his own green Jeep, a vehicle he’d always wanted since he’d driven one in World War II, which the family pitched in and bought him one birthday.

I always preferred the blue manual pedal car with the red fenders and the yellow steering wheel my Dad got me though, as I could kick furiously at that thing and send it flying up and down the concrete. A quick jerk to the right and I’d go spilling into the grass like The Fall Guy.

Both got from Toys ‘R Us.

I never had this birthday club thing my kids were enrolled in, but I remember going on a Saturday morning to see the characters in the aisles. These were special events announced in the sale papers (which, like my kids, I would pore over every week, especially before Christmas, circling what I wanted with a black marker, sometimes adding an amount of stars commensurate to the intensity of my desire for that particular toy). He-Man and Skeletor, Princess Leia and Luke, Hawk and Destro from GI Joe, Papa Smurf. I remember I brought a pad of paper to get their autographs but He-Man, in his head to toe latex muscle and mask, didn’t have the fine manipulation ability to use a pen.

Normally shopping trips to Sears or Montgomery Wards or something with my parents, I’d go in the single toy aisle and hang out till they were done. Toys ‘R Us, I was there for me. It was the only time the role was reversed.

I remember walking through corridors of GI Joe and Star Wars toys. I remember the 1983 going to the end cap to rifle through the pegs for a brand new Luke Skywalker in his black Return of the Jedi costume. Found a buddy from school already there, Tommy O’Connor – literally the first or second kid I’d met in Kindergarten. We were both there for the same thing, and while our parents stood nearby with their hands in their pockets, muttering to each other, Tommy and I meticulously combed those pegs for what felt like a solid half hour….till he found it. The only one they had.

And he handed it to me.

I keep wondering if his dad was really pissed.

I lost touch with Tom through high school but ran into him again at a community college and reconnected. Kenner I think, had just started remaking Star Wars figures. I went to Toys ‘R Us and got him a Jedi Luke for his birthday.

I decide I’m going to get one last TRU gift for each of my kids who aren’t there, and I decide it has to be the ‘last one’ of whatever it is. The inevitable liquidation sales haven’t begun yet, so the bargain hunters and the mercenary second hand dealers haven’t descended on the store to pick the shelves clean yet. That’ll happen some cold morning at five AM, like crows alighting from the trees on fresh roadkill. I don’t like to think about it.

I quickly find something for my son Auggie. Playmobil has been a standard toy line in our household. The girls have a castle on their bureau packed with characters with from every genre you can think of. Cowboys and samurai and African shamans cavorting with princesses, vampires, robots, fairies, and veterinarians. My son has a new Ghostbusters firehouse, the first license the German toy manufacturer has ever pursued (which now has me worried – why have they felt the need to pursue a license, and did they choose Ghostbusters because they thought the female version was going to blow up? Have they taken a hit? If I lose Playmobil so close to Toys ‘R Us and Prince, I’m through). I find a single Egon Spengler in his Ghostbusters 2 regalia. The only one I’ve ever seen, the only one on the shelf. So that goes in hand.

For my thirteen year old, who’s moved past the halcyon days of Toys ‘R Us touring and now wants nothing more than iTunes cards to buy more Babymetal tracks for her i-whatever, anime and comics, I find a single Kamala Khan/Miss Marvel action figure. We’ve been getting the tradepaperbacks from the library and she loves the character. Easy pick.

By this time Willow has found me half a dozen times via Daddy-Daughter echolocation (“Dad?” “Yep!” “Dad?” “Yep!” “Dad?”), appearing each time with her arms full of pink and purple boxes. At one point she has the brilliant idea to exploit a buy one get one free brand offer, buying a five dollar toy to get a twenty five dollar playset for nothing, until I explain to her that’s not how the deal works, and she slinks back to her machinations, slightly dejected but unbowed in her determination to wheel and deal.

And then I think, maybe I’ll just get something for myself.

Nothing big.

I head over to the Schleich section.

Oh you know what is, you’ve just forgotten, or you haven’t been to a Toys ‘R Us in a while.

It’s the little section situated between the toddler toys and the books (in the Burbank store anyway) where they keep the shelves of detailed rubber animals. Right next to the Animal Planet dinosaurs and the oversized dragons and yetis.

Schleich is mostly known, I guess for horses. My eldest daughter had a brief thing for them after she saw Spirit, that Dreamworks movie about the palomino in the old west with Matt Damon’s voice. You haven’t seen it? Go watch it now. It’s way better than I’ve made it sound.

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Schleich, another German toy company – they’re just the best – also makes beautifully detailed little rubber statues of practically every animal you can think of. I quickly find my favorites, tigers, wolves, orangutans, but there are plenty of them. They’re having a buy one get one at 40% off sale, so I could conceivably get two…and then I spy the peg of boxed Geoffrey the Giraffe figures by Schleich.

Geoffrey’s changed from the way he used to look when I was a kid. He was more childlike. They’ve smoothed him out, made him more cartoony.

The world of awesome began with a sky filled with stars and a very special giraffe. Geoffrey ™ learned his destiny was to bring fun to kids everywhere – and so, by following some magical stars – he found a new home, and new friends, at Toys R Us ™ Lean more about his journey at Toysrus.com/Geoffrey.

So says the legend on the back of the box, and it’s repeated in German, Spanish, Polish, French, and three other languages I can’t identify. One of them possibly Portuguese.

So that goes in hand.

I narrow my 40% off figure to a grinning, spotted hyena and a cool orange octopus. I go with the octopus.

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My daughter (“Dad?” “Yep!”) finds me. She has what she’s sure is twenty one dollars of toys ready for the checkout and is ready to go.

It turns out it’s twenty five dollars.

“Oh yeah. Taxes.”

I used that one too when I was a kid.

I snap one more pic of her outside the store. Can’t fit the whole sign.

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She giggles when she sees it.

“Toys.” Then, a little somberly as we cross the parking lot hand in hand for the minivan, which will soon be brimming with bags of groceries. “Where will the toys go to rest in peace now?”

“Huh?” I say.

“You know, they can rest in the packages. Nobody plays with them there.”

Ever since Toy Story she thinks of the secret lives of toys.

Who doesn’t?

I never thought I’d lament the passing of any international corporation, but here I am in the parking lot, squeezing my daughter’s hand, weighed down by nostalgia, looking over my shoulder at those rainbow letters and that backwards R like I’m leaving home, or an old friend.

I hear later that the demise of Toys ‘R Us might be the result of some slimy, walking clichésof hedge fund managers/venture capitalists playing the economic laws, saddling the company with insurmountable debt so as to make a killing off the bankruptcy in some way far beyond my ken (and my daughter’s Barbies). The usual creeps, out to make a buck off the backs of employees and patrons no matter what. It’s almost comforting to believe in some cabal of 80’s slicko Gordon Gecko villain bringing about the downfall of Toys ‘R Us, rather than admit to competition from the evil but undeniably convenient Amazon being to blame.  It’s likely both.

But if the hedge fund thing’s true….well, if ever there were Grown Ups, in the grayest, most detestable sense of the word, it’s gotta be these guys (Edit: https://boingboing.net/2017/11/30/merry-christmas-2.html) and (http://fortune.com/2018/03/09/toys-r-us-bankruptcy-why/)

As for me,

“I don’t wanna grow up,

I’m a Toys ‘R Us kid,

They’ve got a million toys at Toys ‘R Us that I can play with

From bikes to trains to video games, it’s the biggest toy store there is,

I don’t wanna grow up, ‘cause maybe if I did,

I couldn’t be a Toys ‘R Us kid

More-games-more-toys-O boy!

I wouldn’t be a Toys ‘R Us kid.”

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  1. […] Ed’s final pilgrimage […]


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