It’s quite a sight, I imagine: three fullgrown men, wearing cowboy hats and space-helmets, talking through toyrobot vocoders, attacking each other with moonlasers and lightsabers, obsessing over cutting-edge playschool innovations, falling all over themselves and over G.I.Joe displays. In short: completely losing their composure.
Curious 8-year-olds peek around a shelf of firetrucks and wonder what drugs these bigkids might be on…. High on life, kids. The toystore rapture. Unleashing an innerchild that was never very leashed to begin with.
We simply cannot help ourselves, not in the midst of so many super-fucking-cool toys. Toystores instantly transport us back to that magic yesteryear, the glory days of spoky-dokes and Omega Supremes, a time when “realistic sound effects” could cement all of our most critical financial decisions. In third grade, no purchase was ever necessary (“We can’t always have what we want, Brandon.” “No, mom, I don’t want it— I need it”).
Hour upon unmarked hour could pass in the toystore, in the company of storebound he-men and megatrons, just pressing our noses against their cellophane packaging, admiring the monocles and rocketlaunchers of our favorite supervillains. Rubbing the hypercolor transformer symbols, reading their strengths and stats off the back of the cardboard, pleading with parents. Wonders never ceased. And the moment I step across the threshold, onto the pink carpet, just past the two barking Robodogs humping on the display rink outside, I always recover that spirit in full. And though the newfangled playstationcubeboxes might confound and confuse us sometimes— “Why am I dead? That pink thing just came up to me and now I’m dead!!”— we leave the controllers dangling and cut ourselves adrift in the collective dreamworld of our littlest citizens. A world that grows curiouser with every year.
Nowadays, the shelves flow over with Betty Spaghetty’s, Starlight Unicorns, and Battle Blaster Wolverines; the Baby-So-Softs with vacant emerald stares, and Totally Barbie Nails and Freestyle Skater Batmen and Rupert the Inflatable Robot and even the Sequin Splendour Shoe Boutique. Lego this and Duplo that, the Cabbage Patch Kids Kick N’ Splish Splash Set, a Mr. Potato Head Oh-So-Silly Suitcase, Wooden Blocks for preschool Luddites, King Coiler Foldable and Portable Pogo Sticks, Bob-the-Builder Super Fun Kits, shelves of “Squandariums,” a Sparkling Symphony Twinkling Dancer, a Little People Floaty Boat, a twirlystupid happycrapandplay. Some Friendly Felines and Performin’ Horses, a Digimon Door Jammer with superawesome motion sensors— What the fuck is this?— something called Hair Jazz. Jimmy Neutron— “un garcon genial. Tout ca, grace á la télécommandé, avec un chien Goddard”, a McFlurry dessert Play-Doh playshop, an Illuma-Glow and GlitterWriter and Lite-Brite and Twirl-A-Graph and Etch-A-Sketch and MagnaDoodle; buncha BloPens and Gembroidery (from the proud line, “It’s a Girl Thing!”), tons of tic-tac-throws and shrinkdink makers and fuzzy pumpers, Hip Hemp and Tumble Wheels, String-A-ling plush puppets, and Who-Let-the-Dogs-Out musical dancing dogs, bright-pink plastic boxes with smiling unicorns and killer carbots… an eyedazzlingly maximalist, battery-powered embodiment of the Great American Baroque.
Kinda reminds me of another possibility: that maybe-maybe-maybe America (in general, the gum-smackers of the international community) could possibly, one day, just maybe, usher the world back into the glory of a Second Childhood. If, that is, its better tendencies ever get the upperhand. Not a second innocence or simplicity or regression of any kind, but “a re-enchantment of the world,” in the Weberian sense. Back to a time when mundane facts, like trolleys, bankmachines, and snowfall, were still the miracles of a world just waking up to its own possibilities. When no one grumped that there was nothing new under the setting sun. Maybe toystores should be thought of as our redemption, our moral compass. Leading us back to the rediscovery of—what’s the word I’m looking for— “fun,” but fun in the weightiest, most philosophical sense of the term. The organic outgrowths of untrammeled freeplay (or perhaps better even, the scientifically-derived, commercially-driven product of high-pressure test-markets and desperately innovative toy manufacturers).
“Make Believe Tunnel Fun!!”
“This Friendly Elephant Plays Classical Music!!”
This time around, in the toystore, we wanted to compose a thank-you rhapsodic for the many funfilled decades we’ve spent in its aisles; noodling with nerfshapes and various nerfthings, practicing heelfips on crappy WWF skateboard decks, making magic tunnels of sound— vortex glockspiels— from forty-odd Disney Jack-and-the-Bean-Stalk Musical Scrolling Television Sets, planted throughout the aisle and switched on simultaneously to create an effect as beautiful as snowfall under lamplight. We wanted to create a composition that could adequately refract this beauty and rubberballon effusion to the rest of the public, before they became hard and dead and Grinchlike inside.
Armed solely with a minicassette recorder, we made way for Attleboro toy departments, and returned to Providence, three or four hours later, with our masterpiece secured upon playback. Man, were we ever stoked! As best as I can describe it: a rapidfire, quickguess procession of sirens, quips and quotes, and indecipherable noises, whose manic turnover replaces the need for any traditional rhythm. The Debut Masterpiece of The Flappy Action Packers (versus aisle six).
We had cut a similar album before, in Philadelphia with Matt Rademan of Newton and The Lotus fame, but failed to completely capture the true spring and locomotion of the toystore experience (still, having tons of fun though, Matt). The next day, in Boston for Harvard sleepstudy redtape, and still triumphant from the results of our hyperplastic pastiche, the Flappy Action Packers played a show on the third floor of FAO SCHWARZ, with their heads encased in neongreeen Hoberman spheres and pink Barbie sunglasses, blaring heavy metal toyguitar over an upcranked karaoke machine. Shoppers and employees certainly noticed (if you were within three city blocks you would have noticed), but no actions were taken, amazingly enough.
Theory is: we so expressed the essence of the toystore that we became invisible in its midst. Well that and the fact that Boston, on this particular day, was so wonderful and accommodating and perfect that we started to suspect that maybe we hadn’t made it— that our flesh-and-blood bodies were mangled in a ten car pileup somewhere between there and Providence. Deep azure skies and tablescores aplenty. Horseplay and breakdancing. Lovely girls and soaring visions of the future. And last but not least, our Rock Monster Attack in the middle of children’s paradise. At times, life is “2 good + 2 last = 4-ever. Also sprach Zarathustra.”