Nemo risum praebuit qui ex se coepit

Posted by jdg | Wednesday, August 06, 2008 | ,

Before the kids, we had such plans for parenting, most of them typical anti-establishment punk rock malarkey. I remember some ridiculous notion about never taking my kids into stores or malls so they would never learn to treat shopping as an activity of leisure. I have no idea what anti-materialism-crusader-dickhead Jim of 2004 planned to do with his kids when he needed to get them new shoes or, you know, groceries; all I know is that actual-parent Jim of 2008 has taken his kids on plenty of leisurely shopping excursions. He may have even used trips to the toy store as incentive for good behavior. He's not proud of it, but in certain grocery stores this has been an act of necessity. Survival, even. Anti-materialism-crusader-dickhead Jim of 2004 would almost certainly approve of our move from San Francisco to Detroit, however, because it doesn't really have any stores. Detroit has liquor stores, sure. And dollar stores. And witchcraft supply stores. But there are no big box stores. No malls. Detroit is not the kind of place where you can meander through tree-lined neighborhoods popping into tastefully-curated boutiques. We don't do a lot of window shopping. Most stores here don't have windows; those that do quickly learn to obstruct them with heavy steel bars.

The suburbs aren't much better for the leisurely sort of shopping we enjoyed in San Francisco. People in metro Detroit scratch their heads and don't know what to do if there's not a parking spot within twenty paces of any storefront; they might die of starvation with vultures picking away at their ribcages should they have to park in one of the ten-thousand parking spots beyond that twenty pace distance. I have seen people get in cars parked in front of a Target and drive fifty feet to park closer to the entrance of a Best Buy. These are the same people, I assume, who consider Applebee's their neighborhood grill and bar.

So when we do go shopping, we usually make it a full-day balls-out trip to the yuppie hellhole of Ann Arbor. Don't get me wrong: I lived there for three years. It's my kind of yuppie hellhole. But by the end of any day in Ann Arbor I am ranting about artisanal cheeses and $14.00 pastrami sandwiches and arthouse theaters and liberal bumper sticker philosophies I agree with in theory but which slowly turn me into a steaming pile of self-hatred. I can only tolerate being surrounded by pricks just like me for so long, you see. I need to stop at the Livonia Applebee's on the way home just to recover.

Whenever we arrive in Ann Arbor, though, we're always excited: "Look! A store that doesn't rely on a steady clientele of morning drunks or women who were in epic weave-pulling, nail-splitting catfights the night before!" Juniper has started to pick up on our excitement while perusing aisles of clothes that weren't donated to the Salvation Army after a compulsive hoarder died and no one wanted them at the estate sale. My daughter is now fully aware that not all clothing starts out smelling like mildew and chain-smoking pubic lice, and this vexes me. "That nice smell," I tell her. "It's all chemicals. If they didn't cover them in chemicals, new clothes would smell like the tears of work-weary Honduran widows."

Everywhere we went in Ann Arbor this past Sunday, she wanted me to buy her something. This has never really happened in Detroit, so I was inclined to oblige her. Anti-materialism-crusader-dickhead Jim of 2004 died a little more with each purchase. First it was just a zombie finger puppet and a bag full of chocolate coins, but then it was a pink vinyl Mini Munny and a new pair of girly moccasins. Then we went into a yuppie toy store, the kind with a lot of wooden toys imported from countries with universal health care and at least one recognizable brand of carbonated mineral water. This was where I discovered the display of Schleich and Papo figures.

We've had some Schleich animals before but I had no idea about the historical and mythological series of figures. This is where the story turns from Jim-the-annoying-elitist-hipster buying his kid whatever she wants so long as it's not adorned with one of those beast-loving Mexican preschoolers to the story of a 31-year-old man trying to convince his 3-year-old daughter that she wants an entire army of 4-inch plastic Roman legionnaries to wage war on those uppity bog farmers in transapline Gaul.

There are very few times that a man of Dutch heritage will pull out his debit card and say, "Have a go." This was one of them. Our friends at Schleich and Papo are not paying me to write this (although if anyone at Papo is reading: we could use another legion or three to reinforce the Thirteenth against this pesky Asterix fellow, stat). For all I know Schleich and Papo round up Cantonese street urchins and force them to paint figurines all day for 17 yuan in vast factories under the watchful eye of whip-cracking Teutonic supervisors. I don't care. These toys are awesome. They could be painted with pure lead and dipped in liquid mercury and I'd still think they were awesome. We bought some fairies, dragons, witches, girl pirates, wizards, Pegasus, Cerberus, a minotaur, a centaur, and even a griffin. I justified the expense by saying to myself that these toys require imagination and aren't part of the modern children's media clusterfuck.

Yeah. . .right.

When it reached the point in the toy store where Juniper had moved on to a display of those phlegmatic British train engines and I was still trying to get her interested some equestrian elf, I realized these toys weren't really for her. They were, of course, for me. I found myself teetering over that dangerous precipice any full-grown adult buying himself toys must face. On one side lies self-respect. On the other, a fanboy paradise of Comic-cons and men beckoning to me in adult-sized Imperial Stormtrooper costumes. The handing over of a debit card in exchange for an armful of wizards, fairies, and Knights Templar, is the first step, I think, towards Ye Olde Renaissance Faire. Might as well just get out the Singer and sew myself a doublet and a pair of breeches.

When my wife saw the bag stuffed with molded-PVC Roman soldiers, I justified it as a business expense. I figured that if I am going to stay home playing with these kids all day, we might as well reenact the Battle of Pharsalus, you know, but with fairies and dragons and saucy pirate wenches. And probably a mermaid dancing with a centurion who sometimes rides Pegasus into battle.

Shut up. It could have happened.