Furby perfect hero for our times

The Cincinnati Enquirer

So I have been a little out of touch.

This is why I humiliated myself by marching up to the customer service counter at a toy store and asking where I might find the Furby display. I said I thought I'd like to have a black one with blue eyes. When the clerks stopped laughing and pounding each other on the back, one of them rolled his eyes and twirled his finger next to his ear, the universal sign for “tragically confused.”

Another clerk, one with a kind face, took pity on me and said to come back in February. “And you better call ahead.”

Chihuahua with attitude

Well, that confirms it. The world has officially gone to hell in a handbasket. It's not bad enough that our president has been impeached and Larry Flynt is investigating Congress. Now, you have to make an appointment two months in advance to buy a toy. An ugly toy. An expensive toy. A toy with attitude and a big mouth.

This thing, which looks like a Chihuahua with a beak, is not to be found in toy stores. To get one you have to enter the shadowy world of the toy scalpers.

A friend of mine in Atlanta reports that her company bought two Furbies to auction for charity. “We had to meet the guy in a parking lot,” she says. “He was in an unmarked van.” Her two back street Furbies cost $260 and later were sold for $2,200.

The Enquirerhas dozens of classified ads for Furbies, which now have their own sub-heading, right between Food Items/Produce and Games and Toys. These little mechanical creatures, which sold in stores for $30, now are being offered for seven or eight times that price. Many ads warn that inquiries are limited to “serious buyers only.”

Serious buyers?

How can anybody take this seriously? Who is paying these exorbitant prices? And why?

That old Boomer magic

Connie Ball, of Covington, had a gray and white Furby with pink ears. (Apparently this is significant.) I asked if people objected to the $200 asking price.

“Oh no,” she said, “but I had a couple of grandparents who didn't buy because they needed enough for all their grandchildren.”

Well, this is starting to make some sense. Baby Boomers are becoming grandparents. We are working our peculiar magic on the marketplace again, this time with the vengeance of nouveau grandparents.

We have Visa cards, and we are not afraid to use them. We'll buy anything but wrinkles. Just tell us that everybody else has one and we don't, then stand back.

The phone has been ringing off the hook for a nurse who lives in Hyde Park. She bought Furby futures in October from FAO Schwartz when she heard they would be the hot toy for this Christmas.

“I have a bunch of nieces and nephews, so I ordered a dozen of them,” she tells me on the condition that I don't use her name. She thinks she will be besieged. She tried one out on three of the kids — ages 5, 7 and 9.

“The noise drove them crazy,” she says. “They stuck it in a closet. So I'm selling them through the classifieds.”

Tiger Electronics, a division of Hasbro, Inc., has done little advertising of its product. Yet all over the country, people are standing in line to buy it. For no good reason.

You can't eat them, wear them or get them to clean your house. They talk a lot and make no sense. The manufacturer says they have an “artificial intelligence.”

They should fit in nicely.

Laura Pulfer's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. E-mail her at laurapulfer@enquirer.com, call 768-8393, or fax at 768-8340. She can be heard Mondays on WVXU radio and on NPR's Morning Edition. Her book, I Beg to Differ, is available at (800) 852-9332.