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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

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Santa, You Bastard



The year I was nine, I wrote to Santa Claus asking if he would bring me a Ken doll for Christmas. Sun Lovin' Malibu Ken, Hawaiian Ken, Superstar Ken--I didn't care. Just a Ken, to go with my Barbie dolls. All two of them.

As you might deduce by the photograph above, my parents did not swim in the cultural mainstream. I had Free to Be You and Me. I had Shel Silverstein. I had a crocheted poncho and a fringed suede vest. I had some Star Wars action figures. And I had two Barbies. Three, if you counted the Bionic Woman, a big-boned and flat-footed gal who towered awkwardly over Ballerina and Superstar by a full inch. They shunned her, and she lived out her days as a recluse under the bed.

The girls had nothing to wear but the clothes they had on their backs the day they arrived, probably as birthday presents from party guests. They had no Corvette, no Camper, no Horse, no exciting jobs like Stewardess to suit up for each day. I thought a man around the place would brighten things up. They could at least go dancing and have threesomes.

I suspect that the reason that little girls today are awash in a tide of pink feathered boas and rhinestones tiaras has to do largely with female marketing executives who grew up in homes like mine. When my friends with daughters wring their hands about Barbie, I tell them to give in to it. It's an archetypal attraction and it will only bite them in the ass later if not given an outlet. Barbie is the modern-day Venus of Willendorf: stylized, exaggerated, and unable to stand. She must be held, literally and symbolically. You think paleolithic moms worried that their little girls would grow up feeling something was wrong with them because they had facial features? You bet they did. But Santa came through anyway.

Which is more than I could say he did for me on December 25th, 1978.

Behold my valiant attempt to disguise my disappointment and rage, as my father holds up "Chuck" and his 4 Outfits. That's not red eye; those are actual flames in my eyes. Chuck was a squat and swarthy fellow with an olive complexion. He was made of thin hollow plastic, not the beefy solid vinyl of a real Mattel man. His outfits, as I recall, were the uniforms of manual labor. I seem to remember a lumberjack's red flannel jacket. That's an actual blue collar shirt visible through the cellophane (Chuck didn't even have the class to come in a proper box). He did not have an Olympic medal, or a bitchin' sailboard, or even a pair of sunglasses and swim trunks. Chuck's the kind of guy who'd wear cutoffs to the pool, you know? I'm suprised he didn't come with a six-pack.

I loved my girls too much to let Chuck anywhere near them. I don't know what happened to him. Probably he went under the bed to live in a tarpaper shack with the Bionic Woman. In their isolation and deprivation, Superstar and Ballerina gradually became more eccentric and unstable, rather like the Edies of Grey Gardens. They lay around disheveled and half-naked most of day, emotionally crippled by the broken promise of their own youthful beauty. Their prince had never come.

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12 Comments:

Blogger Jule Ann said...

Thanks for the CD! Getting proper mail is such a day-brightener.

I never was allowed a Barbie. I had a Skipper doll, who was apparently acceptable because she had yet to develop gravity-defying boobs. And then my parents noticed that all I ever wanted was hair to brush and braid (which I did until poor Skipper's head popped off), and they bought me a styling head, which allowed me to play with fake plastic hair without having to be confronted by a fake plastic body. I guess I was as much of an atypical child as my parents were atypical parents.

3:38 PM  
Blogger Erika said...

I was never into Barbie, or Ken for that matter. Ken always seemed effiminate. GI Joe was my sister's Barbie's bootie call. The one with the red beard. Much more manly than Ken. As for me the Barbie horses held much more appeal.

But I do remember the disappointment at getting the cheaper doll, the knock-off Barbie, Cindy, who was probably your Chuck's soulmate with her disproportionately large head (almost hydrocephalic) and anime style eyes. Poor Cindy, she too was shunned by the Barbies.

7:24 PM  
Blogger marileeit said...

poor baby, such a deprived child. but look at the values we gave you.........
mom

8:08 PM  
Blogger littlepurplecow said...

I just laughed so hard, I cried. I can't even come up with a clever comment because I have to go read it again.

11:51 PM  
Blogger Heidi Renee said...

Oh my goodness, this one made me laugh out load.

Took me back to the 70's too - except i didn't have a poncho - but a granny square vest. my cousings all hated me because grandma made mine pink and purple (looked ravishing with my red hair) while they all got red/white & blue or orange and brown! HA!

I won that Christmas! :)

12:24 PM  
Blogger Heidi Renee said...

loud...

ha - load! ha!

that's making me laugh out "load" too!

12:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are so hilarious! I almost fell out of my chair laughing at this post!
I loved Free to Be You and Me when I was a kid! (Actually I still do.) I knew all of the words and probably still know half of them.
I was also fond of my crocheted poncho, which I believe was orange, pink, brown & green!

9:58 AM  
Blogger patsyrose said...

Absolutely beautiful! Just a note, though...my worst memory of Santa's wrath was back in 1943 when I was just 3 years old. He brought me a cute little doll wearing a pretty pink dress. My grandmother told me that if I removed the dress Santa would take the doll back. Being 3 and needing to know what my doll looked like with no clothes, I removed the dress. After my Xmas dinner the doll was gone, never to appear again, and I've blamed Santa all these years. You're right, he can be a real bastard!

4:11 PM  
Blogger katie said...

Now you just have to find out who the real Santa was that Christmas...so you'll know where the blame really lies. Watch out Marilee, I see revenge here.

Meanwhile, I am the proud owner of a brown, orange and forest green Phentex (read plastic yarn) afgan that my elderly mother made me promise never to give away as she had worked so hard to make it.

At least you are not still stuck with Chuck 20 years later while I will undoubtedly be dragging this god-awful afgan with me forever.

7:28 AM  
Blogger Kyran said...

Aunties, you made me laugh out loud with those stories. Maybe we could turn Santa, You Bastard into an anthology :) I bet it becomes a seasonal classic.

7:40 AM  
Blogger jen lemen said...

this is where i confess, i had barbie, ken, AND the little outdoor pool that held real water. we always let our barbies be naked except for those rabbit skins that we bought the caverns that made excellent floor length mink coats once you cut holes for the arms. savage, i know.

since my childhood was a dead ringer for all things NOT progressive, egalitarian or feminist, i denied my dear daughter the barbie until she started reciting verbatim all my speeches about body image, empowerment, blah blah blah.

i'm sure she's destined to be a housewife in the country just to spite me.

1:34 PM  
Blogger peefer said...

This is so sad.

I didn't have Ken or G.I. Joe. I had Tonto. And my brother threw him high into the air with a home-made parachute. And the parachute didn't open. And Tonto didn't tough it out too well.

So, you know, I empathize.

1:10 PM  

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