I’ve mentioned it in the past, but just in case anyone new is around I’ll state it again: I work at a toy store.*
I’ll pause so you can stop sniggering.
Okay, done? Good. Anyway, as anyone who works retail is aware, there are busy days and dead days in any store. It doesn’t matter how well-staffed you are, or how well the schedules are created (ours are fine), but you’re going to have some periods of mind-numbing boredom. Unfortunately, I happen to work a lot of the dead days. While, for me, there are upsides to working in retail – flexible working days,** four-day weeks, and not having as much stress come home with me every damned day, unlike the office jobs I’ve had – one of the major downsides of it is the dead days. Few customers means little to do and no distractions (like the internet, hello office jobs***), and, well, I can only organize the stuffed animals by size and animal type so many times before I want to put a bullet between my eyes. So I’ve had to find entertainment for myself for those slow-as-hell-days. Enter the game I play with myself in moments of extreme boredom, which I like to call “What If It Were Alive?”
As you may have inferred from the name, the premise is to imagine what various toys would be like if they were, in fact, alive. Lame, I understand. Maybe I watched Toy Story one too many times as a wee thing, but whatever, it passes the time. Most of the toys we have in the store are pretty cute (don’t let the creepy doll on the homepage fool you, every single North American Bear Company toy would just be like a small, fuzzy, cuddly pet if it were animate, especially the cozies) so the game can be pleasant. However, there are some toys I imagine as incredibly horrible if able to walk and talk. Exhibit A is the Groovy Girls line of dolls. Seriously, those things make me think of the early-teen bitch queens from middle school. All smiles, but they’re totally talking about you behind your back. The idea of either PlanCity people or PlayMobil people coming to life is also strangely disconcerting, because I imagine them to be a mute, unstoppable force of tiny-infrastructure-building. Kind of like army ants, only instead of eating you alive their primary objective would be to build tiny little roads that lead nowhere all over your house, and then drive little wooden cars down them at breakneck speed.**** However distasteful any of those ideas may be, they are absolutely nothing compared to the horror and revulsion I’ve experienced imagining living, moving Calico Critters toys.
If you’re not five year old or familiar with the Sylvianian Family/Calico Critters toys and cartoons from the ’80s, you may have missed these things. Be glad you did, because even without imagining them able to move on their own these things are fucking creepy. They’re a bunch of three-inch high faux-cutesy animals with the most dead, glossless black eyes I have ever seen on a toy. Take, for example, the Furbanks Squirrel Family (no, I am not making that name up):*****
Creepy, am I right? As if the fucking scary little eyes and the sensation that they’re just waiting for you to turn your back on them isn’t bad enough, the entire line has uncomfortably Republican undertones: all the Families are nuclear, every “playset” is geared towards stay-at-home-mom activities like playdates and grocery shopping (seriously), and everything looks like it came out of an era comprised of various aesthetics from white, middle-class America in the ’40s and ’50s. I mean, look at the mom squirrel. You didn’t have to wonder which one I was talking about, did you? No, because even though all of the look exactly the same, you can easily identify the mom by the frilly dress and fucking apron. Christ. The only non-Norman-Rockwell part of all of this is that they sell sets of twins and triplets on their own, but some of the creatures the multiples are based on don’t have a corresponding nuclear family playset you can purchase. Apparently they sprang from nowhere which makes me suspect there’s an argument for creationism buried in the dead eyes and frilly dresses, but I’ve admittedly spent too much time in the Bible Belt than is healthy and, in any case, I’m really getting off the rails here. The point is, most of these are horrible when inanimate. They’re terrifying when you imagine them living, like little zombie Stepford Animals. I didn’t think they could get worse, but then our store got a new line of Calico Critters: the Meerkat Spotter Triplets.
I know, I know. Meerkats automatically ratchet up the cuteness and tolerability of anything tenfold. In fact, if you were sitting in front of me right now, you’d probably say, “but MJ, meerkats are super cute!” And you know what, you’re right, they are. Fucking adorable, in fact, what with the little paws and the popping up out of holes in the ground. So now you’d be saying, “well, super cute animals are hard to fuck up,” and you are, generally speaking, correct. I’m with you so far. But then, then you would get all confident and say: “but you can’t even succeed in making a meerkat un-cute even in terrifying three-inch-tall format, correct?” And there’s where you are so, so staggeringly wrong. Hold on to your butts, people, because I have proof that the meerkat’s cuteness can be harnessed for pure unadulterated evil:
As you may have noticed, I’m a wordy person. I could write paragraphs about how terrifying these things are. Really, I could. But instead, I will present you with this scenario: imagine waking up one night at three a.m., walking into your kitchen for a glass of water, and turning on the light only to see a pack of these monsters slowly look up from the breadcrumbs they’re eating off your kitchen counter to just stare at you.
Extermination wouldn’t be enough, I’d need to fucking move.
All images from Calico Critters’ online Amazon.com store. I imagine they’re copyrighted by Calico Critters.
* Yes, my boss does know “what I’m like,” thanks.
** This is unusual in retail, but my boss does not care if we swap shifts around so it’s super flexible. Thank god, because it’s awesome.
*** How many of you read this from work? Be honest.
**** Both are German companies, so in my mind they must drive excessively fast. I know, I know, stereotyping.
***** An interesting sidenote on the Calico Critters is that they seem to be prejudiced against dogs. All the other families have wholesome, punny, or just plain cutesy little names, like the Furbanks Squirrels or the Elwood Elephants, but the dogs are all descriptive. The Beagle Dog Family. The Dalmatian Dog Family. Come on, Calico Critters, where’s the love for man’s best friend?