ORIGINALLY WRITTEN SHELLEY PLETT
“We had some in but are sold out…we might get more, but I don’t know when…and no, I can’t hold one back for you.”
-Department store customer service rep
It’s a troubling story. A horror story of sorts. It’s about a man, exchanging his time for his wage. With a steady paycheck in his hand, some might say he was living a dream. Maybe even the American dream.
This particular workday, December 18, 1996, probably began like any other. His assignment: to stack some boxes into an aesthetic arrangement, perfectly balanced, pleasing to the eye, easily accessible.
And he would do just that: for his employer, for his customers, and in honor of the peaceful season of giving.
But what’s this? What was that commotion behind him?
“There it is!” he hears someone yell. “It’s Tickle Me Elmo!”
Before he can react, he’s being trampled by frantic parents grabbing recklessly at his boxes. Parents, who on any other day might be found exchanging butterfly kisses with their toddlers as they drop them off at preschool, or tying bows on foil packages with a cup of hot cider in hand.
But there were no cinnamon sticks that day.
No, that day there were brass knuckles, kidney punches and body slams in aisle nine. On that day, it was every shopper for herself. And they weren’t leaving that store without the glorious trophy: a red monster in a cardboard box.
Watch out Wal-Mart associates: It’s 2006 and Elmo’s back. And he’s Extreme. More ticklish and spastic than before. He’s shredded the chicken suit of 2005 and he’s flying off all the shelves, including the virtual pre-order kind.
I know this because I’ve added myself to the list of hunters. And I’ll try not to kick anyone (too hard).
I don’t normally bother with the season’s “hot” item, because it’s usually the most expensive. But the 2006 Tickle Me Elmo (code named TMX) is $40. Just 10 bucks more than the 1996 version. Unless you buy one of the hundreds that are already on eBay that range from $50 to several hundred dollars.
I think I’d rather wait this one out a month or two.
Just to cover my bases, I checked on availability at a couple of stores. Actually, I checked with a few…. OK, it was 15. Every one of them had sold out and couldn’t tell me when more would arrive. A few offered estimates, but I’m not telling you who or when.
Many of the employees I talked to were obviously annoyed with my call. It was almost as if they had already been asked the same question.
The closest I came to actually finding an Elmo was after a call to a discount store in a nearby city, which again, I won’t name. As of my first call at 10:30 a.m., they had 14 Elmo’s in stock. I considered asking a friend of mine, who lives in this particular town, to pick one up for me.
As a double check, I called the store back at noon. Eight left.
I quickly called my friend and she offered to pick one up as soon as she could, which was 4 p.m.
The unfortunate call came at 4:30-despite her efforts, they had all been sold by 1 p.m.
It was then that I understood the odds I was facing. But, since there are still a few months left until Christmas, I’m not sweating it too much.
I’m sure many people don’t get the appeal of these toys. But if they had little kids with big eyes or if they watched the video sample of TMX in action (at www.fisher-price.com) they would see why I have to make some kind of attempt. It really is laugh-out-loud funny. And I could imagine the giggles if my kids could see him fall to the floor in hysterics.
All the kids whose parents trampled over each other 10 years ago will be asking for gifts like cell phones and laptops this year. Maybe their parents can relive the moment by hitting the early-bird electronic sales on the morning after Thanksgiving.
Who wouldn’t crush someone for a free DVD upgrade with purchase?
Now that their beloved Tickle Me Elmo is either buried in a box in the basement or was sold long ago in a garage sale, I wonder if the parents think their temporary insanity was worth the hand-to-hand combat.
And I wonder how many more fights broke out at convenience stores on Christmas morning, when they realized they had forgotten to buy batteries.