When Ronald Howes, the inventor of the Easy-Bake oven, died recently, Anna (Holmes) was bitter: "I always wanted one," she said. "I've even considered buying one as an adult." We all have Forbidden Toys, Rosebuds that haunt our past:
Obviously, this was not just about mixing some powder with water and sticking it under a light bulb to morph into some inedible block of sweetened sawdust that looked nothing like the iced confections on the package and which you have to force adults to eat. These denied things will always be Magic, and they will always cost a million dollars, even if in fact they're only $20. Anna asked me if I'd ever been denied toys. My response was a mirthless "Ha." I was a first child, and the first child of earnest, politically-inclined yuppies living on Manhattan's Upper West Side. From a good toy perspective, the combination was incendiary. Anything fun was, obviously, off the table on grounds of commercialism (Strawberry Shortcake, Jem), consumerism (pricey "Ginny" dolls), anti-feminism (Barbie), plastic-ness (My Little Pony), snobbery (the Cabbage Patch trend) or arbitrary crankiness (sticker books.)
As a result, all these pastel-hued enticements became forbidden fruit, and other friends' houses became sanctuaries of vice. I was not a fool; I knew the wooden kitchen I was given in lieu of a plastic version, and the used, grubby, circa-1970 Barbie I was finally allowed to own after finding it at a thrift store, and the inefficient waxed-paper sticker book I made myself, were poor substitutes. I pretended not to care; I adopted an attitude of superiority at school and But I will say this: when my parents finally unbent and one glorious Christmas presented me with both a Peaches and Cream Barbie and a Baby Pony, it was the happiest moment of my life. I had known want, and now I knew exultation.
One friend of mine wasn't allowed to play with toy guns, ever. Whatever the reason, he's now a recreational hunter. Another, who went to one of those child-centric schools where the pupils were only allowed to play with soft-edged wooden toys and felt dolls and beeswax and not bring any plastic to school, says he spent his days feverishly modelling beeswax Ninja Turtles, and now as an adult collects the originals. On the other side of the coin, Anna now never really bakes, while the writer of Almostgotit credits her lack of Easy-Bake with her adult Aga obsession. Coincidence? Probably. But there's no doubt that these things continue to haunt one in a commercially Proustian manner. When I pass a Toys R Us, I still feel momentarily scandalized, like I'm looking at a brothel. I also feel the pull of the forbidden, and I know whole aisles of well-accessorized pink temptation lie within. By the time my brother came around, by the way, my folks had loosened up: worn down by life, his room was soon primary-colored with toys, Playmobil especially (and he's now getting a Playmobil tattoo on his arm, so.) I, by this time, was irredeemably odd, having spouted the defensive gospel of my own superiority for so long and so loudly that I genuinely did feel a cotton sunbonnet was superior to a Barbie Dreamhouse - or believed I did, anyway. But I still have that Peaches and Cream Barbie, and my parents had succeeded in doing something difficult: making something mass-produced feel really special.