“Please hurry up and open,” I mentally pleaded with the shop assistant through the crystal-clear window. She couldn’t hear me, but I knew she could feel my angst through the glass divider. ‘Limited Stock,’ said the posters stuck to the inside of the window. ‘Once they’re gone, they’re gone!’
It was the 1980s – the decade of desire. Computers, Rubick’s Cubes, Teddy Ruxpin, Care Bears, Strawberry Shortcake, and the most anticipated arrival to my young impressionable life… Cabbage Patch dolls. What made them so necessary to have, is anyone’s guess; however, great marketing, word of mouth, and the concept that you weren’t buying the dimple-faced cuties, but adopting them with adoption papers, made them a desirable commodity for their target. Girls were told the adopted dolls were theirs and theirs alone. The exception to this rule, however, was me. You see, I’m a boy – or was - at the time, caught up in the mass hysteria that demanded ownership of at least one of those cute stuffed dolls. It was a typical reaction to the era’s ritualistic devotion to materialism. A coveting of biblical proportions. Wanting what others already possessed, spread a sickness from coast to coast and across the seas into every corner of society. It was as Saul Bellow wrote in his book, ‘Henderson, The Rain King,’ a case of ‘I want, I want, I want.’
‘Born from cabbages,’ the dolls came with birth certificates displaying the day they were born; but intriguingly, not the year. The brilliant marketing brainchild of Xavier Roberts sent every young girl into an unrestrainable frenzy. However, the doll’s design was not really his. He stole that idea from someone else - an American folk artist named, Martha Nelson Thomas. Rubbing salt into the wound, he then won the subsequent copyright lawsuit against him. A small, fractional out of court settlement freed his unapologetic venture to gross over $500 million that year. Not bad for a hijacking.
Copyright arguments were inconsequential to my young coveting eyes, as I stared puppy-eyed at the last boy doll dressed in cowboy clothes with holster, sheriff’s badge, and cowboy hat. Displayed amongst a variety of mainly female dolls - mostly depicting a diversity of backgrounds, he stood out like a god amongst mortals. The longer I gazed at him, the more I wanted him. No, I needed him. He was going to be my pal and we would share our lives as we knew it. Nobody would get between us, I foolishly thought, because being at the front of the line meant nothing. When those doors were unlocked, it was every man, woman, and child for themselves. A throng of scrambling bodies shoving, scratching, and swearing at each other, surged into the shop, causing my mother’s grip on my hand to loosen in the crush, leaving me cowering in the nook of the shop window. I tried as best I could to stand tiptoe, scanning for my mother and the doll I expected to see her clutching on to, but that never happened. I saw the doll, alright. It was in the hands of the only other boy in the crowd of crazed girls, who craftily hurried out through the shop door, gleefully carrying the doll in its box. A smug, evil smile on his face gloated at my abandoned and crestfallen stare as he huddled behind his mother. Acting as icebreaker, she ploughed through the incoming frosty mass of doll prospectors still attempting an assault on the near-empty shelves. If the look of envy could metamorphose into malice, my expression demonstrated it. Bordering on psychotic jealousy, I raged. He recognised it, but rather than be worried by my arrowed look, he seemed energised by it – almost ecstatic. No amount of sympathy or reassurances from my own mother on the way home, could dry my puffy sore eyes.
“I don’t want to wait over nine months. I want him now,” I cried through soaked red cheeks.
Some forty-five years later, I was prompted to defend myself to a group of my peers attempting to ascertain whether I was guilty by reasons of temporary insanity or just plain guilty by reasons of malice aforethought. I had long forgotten the frolic and self-obsession of youth. Supporting a family of my own, I had raised a loving and generous daughter, who in turn had become a young and devoted single mother. To say that a granddaughter’s love is a gift from above is an understatement. That little girl’s smile melted my heart every time it flashed at me. So, for her eighth birthday, I wanted to get her something special, something retro, something she could cherish long into adulthood. Searching for such a special gift, I shopped at my favourite online outlet, eBay. To my delight and surprise, I discovered a similar doll to the one I so long ago craved - still in its original box, never opened. It was described as a collector’s item. The $140 starting price was reasonable enough; however, it was a bidding item and had no Buy It Now option. Undeterred, I submitted my bid with a $190 limit and tracked it over the next several days. What had started with half a dozen bidders, ended up with me and one other person in a bidding war for this pristine investment. With only ten minutes to go, it had reached $300. Bidding on eBay can be contagious. Getting caught up in the excitement and desire to beat the other person or persons to the prize, is intoxicating. I fell into that feverish moment, upping my bids until I cut myself off at $520. My main opponent demoralizingly won the item for $521. The disappointment I felt brought back buried memories like I had suddenly been struck with PTSD. Feelings of guilt for letting my granddaughter down, brought a terrible sadness and jealous rage to my disposition. So much, that I contacted the seller to let them know that should the buyer renege on the deal, I would be willing to pay them $1000 cash. They politely responded saying that they were a reliable eBay seller but if I was interested, I could come into their store and view their other collector dolls. Searching for local items on eBay was something I always liked to do, because I could save on any postage costs, and offer cash for whatever else caught my eye. I didn’t consider it to be unethical. It was a behaviour driven by my boyhood experience that taught me to get ahead of the crowd when you want something that others also want.
Not sure whether it was curiosity or resentment feeding my need to find out who the successful bidder for the doll was; however, I managed to pry information from the seller regarding the day he expected the buyer to collect the doll from his store. I lived in the same small town that I grew up in, so it was possible that I might have known the buyer and could offer them the same amount of cash that I offered the store owner. I needed to find out; however, I didn’t want to be recognised, so I picked out a parking spot opposite the store and waited in my car, observing through my rear-view mirror. I didn’t have to wait long. As a car pulled up outside the store, I immediately recognised the driver – an old school acquaintance. Against all sensibility, I followed him into the store. Several shoppers occupied the shop staff, so no-one really noticed me enter. Dolls, cars, trains, all collector items, filled the shop’s shelves and glass display cabinets. It was the ideal space to get lost in dreaming and reminiscing of younger days. Items from many decades stirred childhood memories of happy, carefree times. I even caught a glimpse of an old ‘Robby the Robot’ from the movie, ‘Forbidden Planet,’ a 1950s Sci-Fi gem re-run countless times on the small screen. Robby appeared in many other Sci-Fi movies, eventually co-starring in the 1960s TV series, ‘Lost in Space.’ At the time, Robby was jestingly labelled, ‘The hardest working Robot in Hollywood.’ However, it wasn’t the history that intrigued me. It was the toy robot’s wind-up mechanism – surely a very popular gizmo for budding toy collectors.
Observing from a safe distance, I shuddered at the grown-up gleefully clapping his hands together when the shopkeeper presented him the child’s doll. The look of smugness on his face, brought back a sudden rush of heavy contempt seeping through my body. I remembered that arrogant grin. After all these years, it slapped me in the face once again, but this time it lit a roaring sense of wanton desire that clouded over any reasonable reasoning with determined malevolent thought. Just as he turned to leave the shop - proudly holding the doll, I pretended to be interested in something at the back of a glass cabinet, shielding my face from view. At that moment, I decided to follow him home, privately present him with an offer he’d be mad to refuse, then leave with my acquisition. I intended to offer him double his investment. How could he say no? I was sure there were other similar dolls to be found - if one was willing to wait. I couldn’t. I had an eight-year-old’s birthday present to buy, and it was going to be that doll.
The drive took exactly nine minutes and twenty-seven seconds. I pulled up at a modest distance from his house and looked on as he exited his car, walked up the few steps to his front door, then disappeared inside with the doll. Waiting five more minutes, I calmly collected myself, as I quietly approached his house. His doorbell surprisingly played the theme tune to Star Wars. This made me despise him more as only a geek would have such a gadget doorbell. It made me even more determined to pay whatever he wanted for the doll.
Answering the door, his inert sense of perspicacity immediately recognised me. While energetically shaking my hand, he discussed generalities such as, “Haven’t seen you around since high school,” and “Where are you living now?” Those were gross untruths, as eight years prior, he had ignored me at our twentieth high school reunion. Also, he knew where I lived because he had to pass my house on the way out of town to get to his. I would often see him drive past when I mowed the front lawn, and he would just sneer back, like his victorious moment at the Cabbage Patch Doll crush back in ’84. Yes, he was a shrewd customer, and I never liked him. However, to his credit, he invited me into his Lion’s Den. “How could someone so vile be so suddenly friendly,” I thought to myself. Nevertheless, I accepted his invitation to step over my adversary’s threshold and was immediately overwhelmed. The interior of his house and its collection of items put to shame the store we were in earlier. Jammed from floor to ceiling, wall to wall, was a fantastic assortment of toys, games, dolls, signed photographs, signed baseballs, and other memorabilia. It was a collector’s heaven.
“Isn’t it magnificent,” he asked without requiring an answer. “I finally have him back.”
“What do you mean by that?” my confusion detractingly asked.
“I had one briefly… when I was nine years old… but sadly lost it.”
“Lost it?” His words made no sense to my muddled state of mind.
“Enough about my childhood… tell me about you…”
Curious as to why I should show up on his doorstep, “After all these years,” I explained my predicament; however, I couldn’t take my eyes off his prized possession still in its box, sat alone on a plinth in the middle of his living room. An overhead light illuminated the star attraction among all his paraphernalia. A despairing, sinking feeling in my gut told me this was going to be a difficult negotiation.
“Oh,” he suspiciously remarked. “You want him for your granddaughter… You know, toys were never for kids. That’s what my father taught me. ‘How could anyone that outgrows a toy be deserving of one,’ he used to say… so, I’ve made it my life’s ambition to surround myself with every little thing I was denied of as a child.”
“Five thousand dollars!” I uncontrollably blurted out. “I’ll pay you five thousand dollars for him.”
“It’s not the money,” he explained. “It’s the chase… My mother taught me that one… You remember when that lesson was, don’t you…? You were quite the pathetic little creature cowering in the shop window. I remember you – all those years ago. Tears rolling down your puffy, red face as we took Barry home.”
“His given name.”
Realising why he invited me in, I started to get a little flustered. He wanted to gloat, to wallow in self-congratulation of a long-gone quest to claim ownership of a stuffed rag doll. Looking for a deal to be done, I upped the ante.
He held back his reply, studying my face for any sign of insincerity. Convinced I had found his price, I opened my banking app on my smartphone and proceeded to log in.
“Just let me know your bank details and I will deposit…”
“…No!” The short repulse incensed me.
“Why the hell not?” I yelled back at him.
“Because… I don’t like you.”
“Well, we have finally found common ground. Sell me the old one, then,” the desperate thought made me demand.
“What old one?”
“From my pathetic face day… It must be well used by now.”
“I told you, you dumbshit… I lost it… or, more accurately, I threw it out.”
Realising that the doll I coveted had been callously discarded by the same vile creature facing me, who also beat me to it twice, I couldn’t contain the rising anger building up inside of me.
“You did what!?” I spat.
“My father made me... said boys don’t play with dolls.”
“Did you ever think to find me and ask me if I wanted it?”
“You passed me on the way out of the shop, grinning like a Cheshire Cat.”
“That was very wicked of me, wasn’t it,” he smirked. “Did I stick my tongue out at you, as well?”
A rage of hate-filled anger exploded outwardly from me. Picking up the closest thing to me, I recoiled like a baseball pitcher, then hurled the signed Hank Aaron baseball at his head. The resulting sound resonated like a batter hitting a home run. The sound a wooden bat makes as it connects to the sweet spot on the baseball. A few more noises followed as the ball ricocheted around the living room. Broken glass, smashed porcelain, and the thud of a body hitting the carpeted floor.
Arriving home, a short time later, I paused in my car to catch my breath. The fresh memory of what had just happened lingered like a bad smell, as my mind replayed the aftermath of the event in my head. I had remembered to wipe the door handle clean as I exited the house. Then, shutting the front door, I kicked it open again to make it look like a robbery had gone wrong.
Looking toward the passenger seat, I smiled seeing the doll safely buckled up. I wasn’t going to leave it to be sold-on in an estate sale. No, he was mine. Labelling it a masterstroke of genius, I had replaced my doll with the Hank Aaron baseball, brightly highlighted by sixty watts of display downlighting. It looked so perfect there, that I delayed my exit for a few more seconds, just to admire it.
“Guilty in the First Degree!” Was the verdict of my peers. I never thought for a moment that my fingerprints and DNA would be found on the ball. I must have spent too much time admiring it and forgot to wipe it clean. I should have just taken that too.
The doll was never mentioned at my trial. It was assumed that I just panicked and ran away empty handed. The receipt from the store was in the box, you see. No-one knew anything about ‘Bartholomew Darrell,’ the name printed on his birth certificate. It took a year for the evidence to catch up with me. By then, Bartholomew was safely in the hands of my granddaughter to be cherished forever. Hopefully, she will pass him down to her children, because a Cabbage Patch doll is not just for Christmas and birthdays. It’s for life. Each month, she sends me a new photo of her and Bartholomew on their adventures around town. I proudly display all fifteen of them on my cell wall. I estimate that when parole time comes around, my Granddaughter may be a grandparent herself, my collection of photos will be wall to wall and floor to ceiling, or I may be fighting whatsisname from eBay over some needless possession in the afterlife…