Grey sky hung overcast, a damp chill radiating right through my jacket as I walked across the parking lot toward the rich blue-framed glass doors. Toys ‘R Us. My old enemy. I thought back to every Toys ‘R Us whose doors I’d ever darkened. The pattern fit. Every single damned one of these stores, one thing remained true:
They’re all depressing.
There is nothing joyful about a toy store. Not really. At least not a big giant toy store. Until I stopped and looked directly at the issue I couldn’t see it, it merely lingered in the back of my head. An abscess growing in my subconscious until it burst wetly into my stream of consciousness.
The only thing I know about, for 100% certain, about the chain of stores is that every trip there you will witness someone crying. Soft tears, loud wailing, the keening of a soul rent apart – the range is wide but you will discover it all inside the hallowed halls of this temple to the plastic gods.
You think you’re going in to look at toys, maybe some games, whatever it is. The reality of the situation is different. Even as an adult I found the old reactions still edged at me, somewhere in the very back of my skull.
As a kid you go to a toy store, and I’m speaking for myself mostly here but also for my friends I’ve discussed this with, and you want a toy.
Maybe you went there with an adult to get a toy for someone else. A birthday present or some such. In your head though, you still wanted a toy. You were, after all, in the toy store! Maybe you went there with an adult to get a toy for you. Maybe you went there as a teen, or adult, to get a toy for you or someone else, for a child with you, or a friend, it doesn’t matter. What matters, all that matters, is that on some level you expected a toy.
Even if you get a toy, you can’t get all the toys. And there are so many toys. Do you get the Lego, or the action figure, of this other action figure, or the stuffed toy, or the board game? No matter what you choose there are other choices you still want but didn’t get. That’s fine and good and normal! But it also eats at you slowly. It sets you up that every time you step in the store there will be, at some level, disappointment. It’s baked into the store itself.
After a while there is a Pavlovian response to going to the big, giant, toy stores. So much choice, so many options – you will always be sad on some level and you know it. It clings to you, like a mold. You start to walk in pre-sad, and it tinges every choice.
This last weekend I went to Toys ‘R Us. Did I go to buy a toy? Not really. I mean I’m 40 and yeah sometimes I buy toys, welcome to my life there is often a slinky in reach of my desk. I have a Weeble Wobble in front of my right now and I bop it while I think of the next thing to write. Anyway. I went to the toy store just to look around.
While I was there I saw a few toys I liked. I didn’t plan on buying them, at no point in this process did I intend to buy a toy! I picked up at least one toy I almost bought but decided against, because I didn’t really want to buy anything. I tend to find looking at toys often as much fun as buying them.
Except at big toy stores. Because it is always sad.
So to recap: Went to toy store with plans to not buy anything. Did not, in fact, buy anything. And yet, as I left the store this tiny little wave of sadness washed over me. I had no new toy. They were all back there, on shelves. I could have bought one. Why didn’t I? Didn’t they have toys? Wasn’t I there?
As I left, the sky sprinkling some more rain down, I realized I secretly hated the toy store and the way it made me feel, and have for decades. I don’t feel that way when I go into a guitar store and don’t buy anything, or a shoe store or even the bookstore (you may not believe this but the last two times I’ve gone to the bookstore I did not buy any books, it is possible to do). The toy store though, just a large concrete rectangle of sadness. Every damn time, my entire life.
Give it a few months though I’ll wander back and stroll the aisles and probably not buy anything again, and feel sad and hate it. Because that, it would seem, is the purpose of toy stores.