It's Black Friday again, so I guess everyone, especially parents, will be running around like a bunch of assholes looking for the Hot Shit Holiday Toy of 2011/12. Normally I would have slept right through this day without so much as a raised smirk in its honor, so oblivious to the hassle I was. See, it's a multi-part hate. It sounds like it would be a really cool day, like, a low-key, turn inward, black on the outside ‘cause black is how I feel on the inside kinda thing. Only it's the opposite of that.
First, there's the unapologetic, unquestioned, rampant consumerism. There's the literal trampling. There's the enormous effort, what with all the planning and conspiring and strategizing and caring that has to go on. Jesus, where does everyone get all this caring about stuff from? And there's the fact that it all goes on at the butt-crack of dawn all just to save a few bucks on a Wii? I'd seriously rather learn fracking.
Although I've certainly never received a handbook of any kind, I know with an almost eerie certainty what I am supposed to do this season now that I'm a MOM. If I am following all the subtle cues correctly, I believe I am supposed to turn into some kind of mompetition-driven freak-bot who has to go all Martha Stewart on my pine-cone place settings, steamroll an orphan while shopping as I muscle my way over to whatever the new Elmo is (Pillow Pets?), all the while reserving the right to elbow-punch a nun in the face, or anyone who tries to get between me and my daughter's first Barbie (or Sing-A-Ma-Jig?).
Moreover, I believe I am also expected to have a perfectly considered Christmas list typed out on holiday-themed paper, which I am to execute with beaming efficiency while wearing a sexy yet family-friendly red sweater with lightly frosted, well-coiffed hair. My moisturizer will blind onlookers with its illuminating sparkles, which, FYI, are there just to highlight my seasonal enthusiasm. Even if I don't go anywhere or buy anything, I know I'm still supposed to care. And that, my friends, is where I desire suddenly to find a secret escape door.
At least right now my kid still doesn't know the difference between Christmas and her own poop, so I've probably got another year, maybe two, before this reaches critical mass. But I know The Reckoning is coming. As such, I consider these early years both brief respite and an observer's trial run, and I've been psyching myself up for this inevitable horrorfest, careful to remind myself whenever I get remotely complacent about parenting, that, faster than you can say head-lice scare, I'm going to have to join the anesthetized hordes of plastic-swiping zombies all in the name of showing love through culturally approved purchasing power. And how.
I was pondering all this snow-capped mayhem with levels of existential dread that would make Sartre jealous when something happened. I was staring off listlessly at work when something caught the corner of my eye.
It was a shark, swimming through the air, with a fin that was flapping…like a shark. It was sailing and diving around like some kind of terrifying zeppelin with a comical grin and an impressively determined effort to recreate the water-like aerobics of its natural habitat.
Normally my most deeply held, principled oppositions don't melt away as if with the flick of a remote-control switch, but here was a huge, inflatable shark. A remote-controlled shark.
And it had this companion clownfish trailing just behind it. It was completely ridiculous, and yet, it was the sort of thing that makes you nostalgic for childhoods you never even heard about, much less merely missed out on. The sort of thing you'd see in some movie about a snot-nosed little tyrannical tyke who got everything he ever wanted. Like a live-action aquarium featuring people instead of fish.
I looked around at my co-workers to see if this was some kind of practical joke. Pretty much any time something even remotely weird happens I immediately assume it's a practical joke where people are trying to capture proof that I'm an idiot on film, which they intend to turn into an animated gif.
I was sure this had happened that time I just had to go to Walmart to buy the mascara that curls your lashes. Remember when that shit came out? Normally I'm a stone-cold biotch when it comes to commercials - they never work on me, mainly because I'm too busy judging how convincingly related or hot for each other the actors seem. But this mascara was insidious, and by the time the commercial was done with me, I was seriously beginning to think that the lack of a marginally pronounced curl in my eyelashes was somehow keeping me from next-level shenanigans in my life.
That week, I ended up at a Walmart prepared to take my future into my own hands. I wandered over to the makeup section, browsed around for a bit and came up empty handed, when a sales person approached me and asked if I needed any help.
"Yes!" I said. "I'm looking for this mascara, it's the one that"-
-"The one that curls your lashes automatically?" she interrupted, clearly impatient.
"It's sold out ma'am."
I could hear the keep-it-moving, asshole-level disdain in her voice, and rightly so. For, like everyone else, I, too, had grunted my way up to the trough of beauty products for my turn on So You Think You're Immune to Advertising? (TV pilot pending).
It would be the last time that ever happened, I vowed as I left. I would never find myself rushing to the store to purchase anything that had so mercilessly preyed on my lashes, emotional or otherwise.
But here I was again, looking around at my coworkers like I was some kind of Oliver Twist, with my wide-eyed wonder and astonishment. They may as well have been extras in a Truffaut film for how cool they played it, as if they'd seen a million large inflatable sharks steered through the air by magic every day of their lives, and this was just yet another scheming inflatable shark with its no-good clownfish friend sailing across the office, meeting up for their usual hijinx. Clownfish? What the hell kind of fish is a clownfish anyway.
I quickly spotted and approached the co-worker controlling it.
"So, what the hell IS that thing?" I asked breathlessly.
"That? Oh. It's just a big remote-control fish," he said nonchalantly, his Australian accent thick.
"But, but," I stuttered, still unable to wrap my head around it. "Where did it come from? How much is it? Is it like a gazillion dollars or something?"
He laughed like I was some kind of mutant. Clearly, there were people who had seen inflatable radio-controlled sharks and people who had not. "No, it's like 25 or 30 bucks," he said, laughing as he walked away. "I got it online."
Furious Google-dee-doo. Air Swimmers. They're called Air Swimmers. They came out early this year (I think?) and debuted at Comic Con, and they are, quite objectively, the greatest thing that has ever happened to me or my life, or anyone's life that I know about. I keep watching this YouTube video, and I can't decide what's greater: the cheesy guitar part, the lovably low-budget setup, the fact that it clearly brings all kinds of people together in total startled harmony, the way it kinda freaks out that cat in that one part, or maybe just the fact that it took a shark to get me back into the spirit. Maybe I could get into this whole Christmas grabby materialism thing after all.
Because really, this is next-level shit. Can somebody call mascara? Because it's 2007 again. And I'll love it, and my baby will love it, and she'll want it to escort her to daycare, and lull her to sleep at night, and it'll be just like the Cabbage Patch Kid I never had or really even wanted but definitely knew I was suppose to want and should have gotten regardless, because, duh, America!
Oh wait, shit. The Air Swimmer uses helium. You have to like, go get like 4.1 cubic feet of helium from like, a florist or something every time you want to blow the thing up? And I'll have to drive across L.A. with that thing in my car? Or like, carry around some kind of helium tank everywhere like the asthmatic of children's toys? OK, sorry. Deal's off. Way too much commitment.
Image from Anton Brand, Andriy Zholudyev, fractalgr/Shutterstock