Sunday, October 29, 2000

Would Dad have stood in line for PlayStation2?

        Maybe The Greatest Generation stood in lines at dawn to get the first Davy Crockett coonskin caps and Easy Bake ovens for us. But I doubt it. Santa, as they described him, was the Christmas equivalent of the KGB. He knew who was naughty and who was nice.

        My generation improvised. When Shillito's was out of the Swatch Watch my daughter wanted, I told her Santa's elves were striking for medical benefits. I said Mrs. Santa had "issues” with Underoos, and production had been temporarily halted.

Cabbage Patch Riots
               Then came the Cabbage Patch Riots of 1983, in which sharp-elbowed parents prowled the toy aisles for little dimpled Hazel Beth and Rodney Dwayne. The dolls came with adoption papers, one change of clothes and no chin whatsoever.

        Calm prevailed for several years, except for an occasional Barbie emergency. Sometimes Mattel would underestimate our lust for Gold Digger Barbie (equipped with her own elderly millionaire) or Stag Party Barbie who jumps out of a cake. (Icing and thong sold separately.)

        But nobody was hurt.

        Tickle Me Elmo came along in 1996, and things started to get nasty. Salesclerks were trampled by parents afraid to face Christmas morning without every item their children ordered. Elmo, who left the factory with a $28 price tag, was scalped for hundreds of dollars. Every radio station in North America auctioned him off for charity. The price was run up by divorced parents competing for bragging rights on Christmas morning.

        During the Furby Shop-o-Rama in 1998, the Seattle Times reported, “Historians have confirmed the first Thanksgiving was organized by Pilgrim families to discuss where to find the wildly popular Squanto action figure.” They were kidding.


        Last year it was the yellow Pokemon. And this week, people were standing in line for PlayStation2. Technically, I suppose the PlayStation2 is not a toy. Japan's Trade Ministry insisted on a special export permit, saying the game could be adapted for military use. Alarmists.

Outrageous markup
               Most of the PlayStation2 recipients are merely plotting to hole up in their rooms to play games, watch movies and listen to music CDs. A Hyde Park woman whose son purchased one of the $300 units in the wee hours of Thursday morning said, “We haven't seen him since.” She was most shocked that the boy tumbled willingly out of bed at 4 a.m.

        Normally, she says, you need to put blasting caps in both ears to get him up at 8.

        Another friend scuttled from Fields Ertel to Ridge Road, from Wal-Mart to Kmart to Best Buy to Circuit City, chasing the elusive game for her son. The closest she got was a man who offered to sell the PlayStation2 he'd just bought for $600, a 100 percent markup.

        She saw people who had been waiting in line for 12 hours or more.

        It does sound like a neat package, an eventual combo of video, sound and online entertainment. I just can't picture Dad in a lawn chair in front of Wal-Mart waiting to buy one.

        He wasn't afraid of the Germans, and he wasn't afraid of his children.



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