Wednesday, December 13, 2006


In Which the Brownie Uses Her Powers for Good...

So I was on my lunch hour last week and, in what could only be explained as a premature moment of senility, I decided to spend that hour in a store, doing Christmas shopping. After years of being the kinds of kids who never asked for anything, Thomas and the Brownie suddenly got very specific this year and I found myself in receipt of several carefully printed lists carrying the full names of a variety of toys. To hedge their bets, these lists also composed the bulk of their long letters to Santa. But after a brief exchange with the jolly old elf himself (what, don't YOU have his email address?), we divvied up the items between us and I ended up with a fairly manageable list of likely items to put under the tree.

Or so I thought.

I struck out almost immediately when I went to the toy aisle marked "Action Figures" and saw that it had been mislabeled. The aisle clearly should have been marked as "Empty, Forlorn Pegs." Aside from a few torn Power Rangers packages and a largely untouched stack of Superman Returns figures, the row was desolate. It looked as though a storm had just swept through.

Clearly, the clerks hadn't had time to restock after the previous day's sale, so I presented myself at the customer service desk and looked at Thomas' list.

"Hi there," I said to the heavy-lidded customer service rep glowering at me from the other side of the desk. "Do you happen to have the...'DC Superheroes Justice League Unlimited Vigilante Action Figure with Lasso and Quick-Draw Six Shooter?'"

I looked up hopefully from the list, but the man--I'm using the term loosely; he couldn't have been more than 18 or 19--simply stared back, unmoving. "No," he said shortly.

I kept my smile. "Oh. Don't suppose you could check with the stockroom and see if they have a box they haven't brought out--?"

Now he shook his head. "We don't DO that," he sneered. Then he turned his back to me and muttered something that didn't sound complimentary in the least.

Well, of course, I could be wrong about these things, but in my experience, one of the reasons they have a customer service desk is to serve customers. And one of the reasons they equip store employees with those cunning handheld scanners is so they can check at a glance to see if they have an item anywhere in inventory--including, say, in the stockroom. Her Lovely Self has had much success with customer service desks across the nation in querying in-store inventory, so it wasn't clear to me why this particular stockperson had his undies in such a bunch.

"I'm sorry," I said. "I didn't hear what you just said."

The kid turned. "You know, we get, like, a hundred scalpers a day calling and asking about the toys. We don't have time to go check on every single thing for you people."

For those of you who may not be familiar with the practice, a toy scalper is someone who prowls retail stores scooping up popular or expected-to-be-popular toys, only to turn around and sell them at a 100 percent (or higher) markup on eBay. As near as I can tell, manufacturers encourage this practice by creating deliberate shortages of some toys--packing only one of a specific toy to a case, for example. Scalpers somehow figure out which of these toys are going to be short-packed and they sell for even higher. Sometimes, though, it seems to me that the scalpers simply create the shortage themselves, by buying up every available item on the shelves in a particular toy line.

Now, let me say for the record that I bear no ill will against grown men and women who buy hard-to-find toys for themselves or to trade with other collectors. Everyone has to have a hobby, I say. Our neighbor down the street is an avid action-figure collector and can often be found prowling our local department stores with a cart full of GI Joe's and Pokemon figures. He's an upstanding man and a pillar in the community and he could be doing a lot worse, believe me.

What I DO have a problem with is grown men and women who deliberately hoard popular toys in the interest of making a profit off of those collectors or, worse, unknowing parents like myself. Granted, I make a good living and can afford to pay a little extra for a toy if my kid really wants it, but there are a lot of people who can't say the same, and they love their kids just as much as I love mine. What are they supposed to do? That's right, suck it up and buy it on eBay. Or else get lucky and just happen to be in the store on the day they're restocking the shelves. Which evidently the bulk of these scalpers are able to do because they don't have jobs. Or rather, scalping is their job, much as gorging oneself with blood is the job of a tick.

Meanwhile, back at the customer service desk, I was kind of annoyed at the kid who had jumped to conclusions about me, and said as much. Luckily--for him--before he could open his mouth to offer another retort, he was interrupted by a manager nearby whose sole job was evidently to keep a watch on his horrendous people skills, and she helped me right away.

"Sorry about that," she said with a shake of her head, after the kid had gone out on the floor to restock products in the Attitude department. "I think he's just annoyed because so many of his friends are making money and he isn't."

"Is scalping really that big a problem?" I asked.

She shrugged. "Well, the store gets money either way, so I wouldn't call it a problem, although we try to limit the number of hot items people can buy so everyone gets a fair shot. But I must say I've never seen so many grown men buying so many carts of toys, or coming over here and having us pull stock from the back. Like that new PlayStation. Or the cars from that movie." She sighed. "But I guess they make a lot of money on eBay. My daughter says she paid close to a hundred dollars for that new Elmo. I sure couldn't get one for her." She shook her head again as she stared at the screen. "I'm sorry, but we're all out of Justice League figures. We get trucks in everyday, though, and our last shipment of these came in on Tuesday, so we might get another box then."

I thanked her and went off to make some other purchases.

I didn't think much about this incident until this afternoon, when I got home early from work so that I could watch the Brownie while Thomas and Her Lovely Self went off to some holiday-oriented student council party by themselves. Almost as soon as they were gone, the Brownie turned to me.

"Dad," she said in a conspiratorial whisper, even though no one but us and the dog were home. "I think I want to buy Thomas a Christmas present this year. With my own bucks."

Well, my heart swelled at this. The Brownie has never before shown such a level of kindness towards her brother, and I was about to congratulate her, when she finished her sentence.

"I figured if I get him something, maybe he'll get me the Fox and Hound 2 DVD that I want." Ah, motivated self-interest. The spirit of the season, indeed.

As she said this, the Brownie pulled out a list very similar to the one her brother had given me. I remembered the store manager saying some new stock might be in today, so we dashed off to the department store.

It was just after work and evidently a lot of people were using that time to swing by the store and make some fast purchases. The toy section was well populated and, judging from a stack of folded boxes near one aisle, there had indeed been some restocking. The Brownie shook out her list and said, "Thomas wants The Cowboy Guy from Justice League, or else Kevin 11 from Ben 10, so let's look for those," she said.

But would you believe it? When we got to the action figure aisle, the place was almost as desolate as it had been the other day. What the hell?

Sensing a pattern here, I decided to take a closer look at what was hanging on the pegs--mostly those Superman Returns figures. While I did this, the Brownie informed me that she wanted to do a personal inventory of Barbie products in the next aisle over. It's a big-girl thing for her to do, and she knows not to go any further than one aisle, because otherwise Daddy will start to imagine that some pervert is going to grab her before she has time to scream for help and then he'll need to sit on the floor and breathe in a paper bag for a while until he recovers from such awful anxiety-induced fantasies.

I know, I'm such a freak.

So you can imagine how smugly justified some small part of me felt when a few seconds later, I heard a blood-curdling scream from the next aisle and recognized it at once as belonging to my daughter.

I'm not sure I didn't just plow through the wall separating the aisle. I was convinced something heavy had fallen on her or some blind old person had wheeled a cart over her foot.

But instead, I saw something that made me stop in my tracks.

My daughter was engaged in a lively tug-of-war with a man who was approximately 40 times her size. He wore a stained gray t-shirt and a puffy down vest the size of a life-raft. He conveyed the general impression of being covered with stubble--even his arms. His roomy jeans sagged under the weight of his wallet (with the trademark tough-guy chain hooked to one of the lugs). He was breathing heavily through his nose and sweating profusely, either from his exertions or on general principle. I couldn't fairly determine his age or his line of work or his personal habits in this life, but--and I hope I will be forgiven a base assumption here--it did strike me that if there was anything he had contact with less than a girl, it was probably a grooming implement of some kind.

He was flanked on either side by two overflowing shopping carts, both jammed full of action figures, Hot Wheels cars and other toys. I didn't notice that until later. What I noticed is that he was bent over, a sweaty, snarling face just inches from my sweet little angel of light, tugging mightily on a small package that the Brownie had clutched feverishly in her little hands.

"Give it! S'mine!" the guy said in a distinctly whiny drawl.

The Brownie wasn't interested in engaging in debate. She simply screamed bloody murder. The guy reached out with his free hand, about to touch my daughter. And that's when all the emergency claxons went off. Strange sweaty guys shepherding carts full of toys do NOT get to lay hands on my kid.

"Hey!" I shouted.

The guy jumped as though prodded and let go of the toy. The Brownie almost fell backwards on her rump, but instead turned at the last minute and hurled herself at me, crying "Daddydaddydaddydaddy!!!!!"

In less time than it takes to write, we were the feature attraction, the Blue Light Special. Parents from every aisle converged, partly to watch the show, partly to make sure the screaming child wasn't their child. And the guy was standing with his back up against the racks of toys, hands up as though caught in the act of something filthy. And, hey, let's look at it from his perspective; it looked bad for him. Here's a hulking grown man hoarding toys on one side. On the other, a little girl crying in her daddy's arms, clutching a little toy like it's a life preserver.

Yeah, he was pretty much fucked.

"Uh, she took that outta my cart," the guy said, when he finally gained the power of speech.

"What?!?" I said, incredulous, looking at all the stuff in both carts.

"She did!" he insisted. "Just reached in--"

"It wuh-wuh-wuz on the fl-fl-fluh-flooor!" the Brownie sobbed, her little voice hitching in that way that makes your heart hitch too. "And huh-he has a muh-million of them and I don't huh-have any! Wahhhhhhhhhh!"

There were two big, beefy guys behind the toy scalper, and I'm pretty sure both of them were ready to hang the guy from the end of the aisle. But just then, two store employees came around the corner, although neither were the two I'd met the week before. The older employee took one look at the guy and his carts of toys, then one look at me, and said, "What is going on here?!?"

While I can't vouch for the guy's social skills, I think it's fair to say his survival skills were fairly intact. Crying little girl versus money-grubbing, stubbly scalper? Yeah, no doubt who's gonna win that one in the court of public opinion. He threw up his hands and said, "I'm outta here," abandoning his carts, even as the older employee--who I took to be a manager of some kind--followed him, shrilly reminding him that he couldn't go hogging all the toys and disrupt the shopping experience of the other customers, things of that sort.

As soon as he was gone, one of the beefy guys turned to look at me. "Awright, honey! Way to go. That guy is always in here buying up the toys. I've seen him elbow kids out of his way when they're buying Hot Wheels."

I realized then that the man wasn't calling me "honey." At least, that was my hope. Sure enough, the Brownie was no longer sobbing into my shirt, but instead looking shyly around. She smiled at the beefy man, then looked up at me.

"Are you okay?" I asked, realizing that my heart was still somewhere up above my Adam's apple.

As the beefy man and a few other parents in the aisle began fishing items out of the abandoned carts, the Brownie wiped her nose with her free hand and nodded. "That was pretty good, huh Dad?" she said. That's when I realized she wasn't crying at all. In fact, had maybe only been crying for the same reason she turns on the waterworks at home: to get her way.

I didn't know whether to be amused or scared shitless.

"Wait a sec--" I said, as something else occurred to me. "You didn't really take something from that man, did you?"

The Brownie shook her head. "It WAS on the floor, Dad. I saw it fall. Finders keepers, and I win, right?"

Then I saw what she was holding.


Brownie--1, Scalpers--0.

Geez, she must really want that Fox and Hound DVD pretty badly.

From Somewhere on the Masthead

Go, Brownie!!
Brownie Rocks! So glad the good guys triumphed!
The Brownie is a FORCE of her own! HA! That story had me hooping and hollaring. I love when the good gals/guys win :)

I know I'm slow, but now I see why I could not get my son a He-Man figure when he was small.
Wow! Talk about girl power! You go, Brownie!!!
Yikes! I'm glad my nephews are teenagers now. I had now idea toy shopping had become a contact sport. Way to go, Brownie!
I don't think that cowboy could have had a quicker draw...Talk about a vigilante! I do believe that the Justice League should welcome a new member. The Brownie is a Superhero in my book!

Best xmas story of the season thus far.

rebecca the sometimes lurker
Woo hoo Brownie!! Thomas is lucky to have such a caring little sister!
MM, if Thomas doesn't get her that DVD, I think it's fairly obvious SANTA CLAUSE SHOULD!!! Way to go Brownie! Damn the Man! Save the Empire!!
Go Brownie! It's your birthday! Go Brownie!

I had no clue about the toy scalpers!
Why don't the stores put limits on how many these scumbags can buy?
Wow. Some people really suck. I'm glad the Brownie was triumphant.

Good luck with the rest of your shopping, MM!
wow. the brownie is... kinda scary. you're doomed 'cause she's going to be hell on wheels when she gets older. did she help it fall?

in any case, the fuzzy jerk deserved it. go, brownie! (and thank the stars you're on my side)
Thumbs up for the Brownie :)
Ericka's right. You are doomed.
YAY Brownie!
Best. Christmas. Story. Evar.

Now I gotta stay up to read it to TJ when she gets home. Great girl you got there, MM.
That is pure unadulterated AWESOMENESS.

She better get that Fox and Hound 2 DVD...
Way to go Brownie!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Hi and thanks for the opportunity to post on your nice blog.

I just developed a website dedicated to cartoons and different cartoon heroes. It’s still young, but growing at a fast pace ;)

So far I have covered these cartoon series briefly, but I am planning to add more details on characters and individual episodes.

Pokemon cartoons
The Mask cartoons
PowerPuff Girls

As I said, these are just some of the recent additions to the website. Hope you like my site and I’d be interested in exchanging ideas or content with similar websites or blogs.

Best regards,

Little Miss Brownie, You are my hero today.

Way to fight for your brother. I have a feeling my own little girl is going to do the same for her big brother as she grows up.

Merry Christmas! Santa had better be good to you!
Go Brownie! You show the world that nothing can mess with a determined little girl!

Glad things worked out for the good guys this time...

I was almost certain that the scalper-dude was a dead man when you were on the scene.

Of course, I never realized just how bad it could turn out for that ass.

The Brownie is my Hero of the Day.

And yes, MM, you are SOOOOO screwed.

*hands over a paper bag*
This piece is now featured at Bah! Humbug!

Thanks for permission to post, MM!
This piece is now featured at Bah! Humbug!

Thanks for permission to post, MM!
This article is now featured at:

Thank you for your permission, MM!
you have the most adorable daughter! i have never laughed so hard in my life. so manipulative, yet so cute. hmmm, not a good combination for the rest of us, but great for her.
I love it!
Oh my god this was an excellent story... I had to tell a lot of meanie-grown-men in line at target at 5 am pre-xmas who openly admitted to me that they were buying wiis to re-sell that they were evil grinches who would only get coal in their stockings... made me feel a lil bit better.
Great story, even better ending with that pic of your daughter holding up her action figure! I was on the floor laughing!
I can not believe that people have stooped that low and turned in to toy hoarders\scalpers. Some one has to but a stop to the madness.
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