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.
grey gardens, little edie, barbie, ken, christmas disappointment, santa you bastard, seventies toys