You should be reading this sometime Saturday morning, turkey and trimmings already cooked, served and snapped away in the Tupperware, no veil left between us and the Christmas season; that economic engine powerful enough to ensure another year of survival for just about any business you can think of. Bath and Body Works…I’m looking in your direction.
Let’s be honest, the chances you’re going to get a long anti-consumerism think-piece from the guy who spends most of his columns going on and on about toys and video games he still owns to this very day are slim to none, so I might as well get to it.
Most of the gifts I buy people tend to be smaller and more personalized, although there was that one year I tried to load a mini-fridge for my father into the back of my tiny car, “Lorelei”, and trust me if there’s security camera footage of this it’s probably a real doozy to watch. So thankfully, Black Friday madness is something I’m lucky enough to not be faced with.
Well, there was that one inglorious season when I was a drone in the Waldenbooks calendar kiosk over the holiday season. That was the year the purple-haired girl who had the shift ahead of me quit with no notice, thus sticking me with a Black Friday and Saturday working double shifts in that blasted thing, thus having my brain boiled by the constant Christmas music emanating from the speaker just above my head, including but not limited to Rosemary Clooney’s absolutely atrocious version of Irving Berlin’s “Snow”, interrupted only by the electronic scale in front of the GNC asking people if they’ve “checked their weight today”. That scale, as of this writing, is still there. Go ahead, check for yourself. That was my first time experiencing Mattoon’s version of Black Friday Weekend at the mall, and this was back in the days when that side of the mall was still mostly full of stores, and yeah, it was two days of experiencing perhaps the best and worst of what one could experience from behind a counter with my feet on fire. Well…those corporate monsters at Borders who wouldn’t let me have a stool to sit on are gone now so look who won that battle!
Back to Black Friday. The only other time I ever would have been face to face with such a thing would have been in those Cooks Mills days. I know that my family would take occasional sojourns to the “big cities” of either Springfield or Champaign to go shopping, and to me as a kid it was like we were traveling to some glorious world where there were whole stores devoted to toys (Kay-Bee and Children’s Palace respectively…both again, also out of business) and this place called “Orange Julius”.
And what was big on my list back then? Masters of the Universe toys were a biggie, which is why I bring you from the Journal Gazette this 1985 movie ad from the animated He-Man Meets She-Ra film playing at the Time, an ad I chose because I already used the old 3-D Discount ad featuring Castle Greyskull and the “Hordak Slime Pit” in a previous edition of this column. Apparently ol' He-Man still has a draw today; when that Geico commercial came on with the clip from the old cartoons, a friend of mine’s soon-to-be 4-year-old said, “I want to watch that show!” Kid, I can make that happen.
While of course I lost my ever-lovin’ mind over gifts like the various Nintendos and remote controlled cars, my absolute favorite Christmas gift was something that was a total surprise, which is why I broke a rule of mine and surreptitiously snuck into our sister paper’s The Herald and Review’s archives to find this K-Mart ad from 1987 featuring, in the top right corner, the Milton Bradley “Thunder Road” board game. That painted box art of armored cards firing mounted guns at each other while speeding down an apocalyptic highway at top speed was every boy’s adolescent dream of sci-fi action in a box.
I remember when my Uncle Kevin, always that arbiter of cool in my book back then, saw that game in my Christmas haul that year, held it up, and said, “So it’s like ‘Mad Max’ but in a game? Awesome!” which was pretty much the only stamp of approval that really mattered, and is probably why that game is still on my “shelf of honor” to this day. Imagine my surprise all these years later when I realized I’ve been playing it wrong. Makes sense the small dune buggies wouldn’t have an equal chance at successfully ramming a jet-turbine powered 18-wheeler-tank. Call that the gift that keeps on giving, I guess.
Just as an aside, look below that game on the ad and you’ll also find the “Fireball Island” board game, which I think I may have already owned by that point, purchased from the aforementioned Kay-Bee Toys in Springfield, thus making it not eligible for holiday memories but certainly eligible for my proudest moments hauling that (relatively massive) box out of the store myself thus asking like king you-know-what of you-know-what mountain. Author’s note: The price tag on my copy says $19.99; it’s currently going on Ebay for around $155. Nice.
Yes, Christmas is about more than what you “get.” I’m sure you’ve had to have that “talk” with the kid in your life about how annoying it is when they’re watching the toy commercials saying they “want” everything. I was watching Cartoon Network with that same future Masters of the Universe fan I mentioned earlier and I probably let her get away with that kind of thing more than I should, mostly because she was saying “I wish I could have that…” instead of “I want that”; and c’mon…a little wishing from a kid over the holidays isn’t the worst thing in the world is it?
So for those out you out there with your newspaper forestalling another trip into the shopping breach this Saturday morning, all I can say is good luck. Something you either manage to get, or not get, is really going to stick in someone’s memory for the rest of their life. No pressure.