Wednesday, December 14, 2005

American Girl Doll...$top the In$anity

I have two daughters. My wife and I don't plan to have any more kids, which means there are certain things I must accept. I will never cheer on the sidelines while my child scores a touchdown. I will never waste a weekend watching sports on TV with my child. I will never go to a Monster Truck Rally or attend a WWF Smackdown. I will never have the "what your penis is capable of" conversation. Wait, I take that back. I WILL have that conversation with every boy who wants to date my daughters.

I accept these sacrifices and I'm okay with it. Because, if I had boys, I would never tear up while watching them dance ballet in leotards. I would never attend the annual Daddy-daughter dance in the park district gym. I would never hear the sound of high pitched giggles over what, I don't know.

Yes, as the father of daughters, I get to savor the moments I have been blessed with. But each Christmas I must also put my manhood in the closet and leave it there while I visit the most hellacious, insidious store on the planet- the American Girl Doll store.


Okay, I got that off my chest. The American Girl doll is a sickening phenomenon that shows no signs of abating - kind of like karaoke. Several years ago some company started making toy dolls and somebody thought it would be cute to add two zeros to the pricetag. Whether this was done in jest is beside the point. What matters is that this idea stuck, which is why the American Girl Doll store can afford to be on (drumroll please) MICHIGAN AVENUE IN DOWNTOWN CHICAGO.

That's right. Ensconced between Bloomingdales, Nike Town, Cartier and Gucci sits a store that sells FREAKING DOLLS! There is even a doorman who, thankfully for him, is not forced to dress like a doll. He looks very happy as he opens the door in subzero weather for customers. That's probably because American Girl pays him more than I make in a decade.

Both of my daughters have American Girl dolls. The funny thing is, neither requested one for Christmas. My wife and her relatives decided that each girl should have one. My oldest received an American Girl doll at two. As I remember, she was biting the heads off most of her dolls at that age. Therefore, an Ozzy Osbourne doll, complete with lifelike bat, seemed more appropriate. Yet my wife didn't share that opinion. So, when my brother in law asked if he could make the purchase, she cheerfully agreed.

That's the first problem with these dolls - they seem more geared toward mothers than kids. I don't know if adult women are trying to relive their childhoods but that seems to be the case judging by the clientele inside the store. And WHAT A STORE! The American Girl doll store is four levels. Besides the dolls and the myriad of doll accessories (I'll get to that in a minute) the store includes a theatre showing American Girl doll movies, a hair salon for the dolls and my favorite, a restaurant where you can eat WITH THE DOLLS! That''s right, the doll sits at the table, orders food and probably gets a bill with a 17 percent gratuity tacked on. I've never been but I've heard getting a reservation is impossible. Of course it is! Not only are there people in front of you waiting to be seated but dolls too!

That's the problem with this store. Everybody seems to think these dolls are human, which can get very annoying after about 15 seconds. As I entered I heard haggard housewives asking store personnel questions like, "Where is Samantha,?" "Do you have Elizabeth,?" "I need to find Molly." I wanted to scream, "hey ladies, for God's sake watch your kids. It's a busy store." Then I realized they weren't talking about lost children. They were talking about FREAKING DOLLS!
Yes, all the dolls have names - and stories too. Some probably have anorexia and bad cocaine habits that the American Girl company is trying to keep hush hush. My eight year old owns "Samantha," who, according to the web site, "is a wealthy girl living with her grandmother in 1904." Huh? All I know is that Samantha costs 87 bucks WITHOUT the paperback biography. I have no idea what the grandmother cost.

That's right, 87 bucks and you get a doll with one outfit. But, as we all know, today's dolls cannot have one outfit. Especially if you are wealthy and living in 1904. For an extra 22 bucks I could buy "Samantha's winter outfit." Samantha's "travel outfit and parisol" would set me back 30 bucks. I guess these outfits are needed. I wouldn't want Samantha to be subjected to "American Girl peer ridicule," which would lead to "American Girl therapy." I don't even want to know what that costs. Plus, I don't have time to schlep downtown once a week for Samanth'a group counseling.

Want to hear something worse? The doll's outfits come in human sizes too! That means you can dress your daughter AND her doll in identical clothes. That was last year's Christmas card - my daughters, holding their dolls, in matching outfits. They looked like they had just stepped out of a private school in the Hamptons. If the IRS ever sees that photo, they will immediately move me into a higher tax bracket.

My eight year old never really took to her American Girl doll. Most of the time Samantha sits alone in a corner of the bedroom, surrounded by several hundred dollars in outfits. Thankfully her head is still intact. She will make a wonderful Ebay purchase someday.

But just when I thought I was finished with this gluttonous example of corporate greed, my second daughter was born and I was introduced to the term, "Bitty Baby." Yes, the owners of American Girl decided they all needed to buy vacation homes in Bora Bora so they invented a line of little baby dolls for little baby girls. My three year old received her Bitty Baby doll from my giddy relatives shortly after her umbilical cord was cut.

Bitty babies don't have names - they simply come with descriptions. Forty-two dollars gets you "light skin, blonde hair, blue-gray eyes," or "dark skin, textured black hair, light brown eyes. " Come to think of it, that's how most babies are referred to in maternity wards. "Congratulations Greg. Which one is yours?"
"It's the one with the bald head, the closed eyes and the slightly yellow skin. Third incubator on the left."
"You mean, the one with the Bitty Baby next to it?"
"That's the one."

My three year old took to her Bitty Baby like American GIs to a Hooters waitress. She sleeps with her Bitty Baby, whom she has named "Emma," changes her outfits daily and pushes her in the official Bitty Baby Stroller (34 bucks)

So it was no surprise when she announced she would be asking Santa for "a big sister for Emma." That meant I would be journeying back to the American Girl Doll store to buy the 84 dollar brand, a doll named Kirsten. According to the web, Kirsten is a Swedish immigrant who settled in Minnesota in 1854. If I have done the math correctly, that makes her 50 years older than Samantha.

"Shouldn't we be getting a younger doll?" I asked my wife. "Kirsten may die soon and we can't afford an American Girl casket."

My wife finds none of this funny. Joking with a woman about American Girl dolls is kind of like making jokes about labor. YOU DON'T DO IT!

So off I went to Michigan Avenue, through the hordes of Christmas shoppers, until I had reached the American Girl doll store and was escorted inside by the multimillionaire doorman. I immediately approached the first store worker I saw.

"Where is Kirsten?" I asked in a panic. Trust me, dads don't browse in the American Girl store. They pounce on their prey and move on.

I was lead up two flights, where I saw Kirsten, smiling from her cardboard box, decked out in a calico dress, striped apron, stockings and fancy pantalettes. Don't ask me what a "pantalette" is. That's what the description said.

I hurried down the stairs, pausing briefly to ask sheepishly if there was an American Girl tavern in the building for Dads. A nearby Dad heard me and cracked up. The store worker never cracked a smile.

I was halfway out the door when the cell phone rang. It was my wife.

"Did you get Kirsten?"
"Yes," I replied.
"Good because I was just on the Web and saw that Kirsten's fishing set is on sale for 22 dollars. See if you can find one."

My mortgage can always wait.

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