Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Beast Within (Or: Toys R Us Needs To Get Its Act Together)

It is a known fact among adult LEGO fans that Toys R Us marks up most of their LEGO sets by a couple of bucks. To atone for this, the company says they'll match the price of any ad. But why should I have to bring in an ad? All I want to do is give you money and get some bricks; stop trying to rob me!

Which is probably why I almost never go there.

But about a week ago, I saw a promo for a building event to be held at Toys R Us stores on September 17th and 24th. On these two weekends, customers could build and take home LEGO replicas of Cogsworth and Lumiere from Beauty and the Beast.

Naturally, as fan of both BATB and all things LEGO, I was excited. But was it only for kids? I made sure to read the fine print:

Event intended for ages 6-up. Parental supervision required at all times for minors. All giveaways and event materials available while supplies last and distributed to participants only. Limit one per customer. Quantities limited; no rain checks. While supplies last. 

Six and up! One per customer! 

So on September 17th, I went. That day, you got to build Cogsworth. The event was from 12 to 2pm. I got to the store at 12:30 and waited in line for over half an hour. The line seemed to be moving slowly because they had to have each and every person pick their individual LEGO pieces out of these little bins.

They gave you a bag for your pieces, and you also got instructions and a Cogsworth face sticker:

I quickly got my pieces, sat down at a table and began to build...

After all that waiting, it only took about 5 minutes to build the little guy....

Having made Cogsworth, I purchased an additional LEGO set and left. At home, I put a sticky note on my cupboard with a reminder so I wouldn't forget to return the following week to make Lumiere.

Today was Lumiere Day.

Hoping to avoid such a long wait this time around, I got to the store early, around 11:45. Right before noon, an employee (who I didn't see around last week) began handing out instructions to all the kids in line. He bypassed me. I didn't notice this at first because I was distracted.

In front of me in line, there was a family with a toddler. One of the adults asked the other what they were even building. The reply: "Some princess set? A candlestick? From... what's the name of that movie? Oh yeah, Beauty and the Beast." "What was the candlestick's name? I can't remember." "Me neither."

Reaching the front of the line, I asked if I could also have some instructions. A lady employee handed a sheet to me. Then the male employee said to me, "This event is for kids only."

I tried to explain to the man that I had been allowed to make Cogsworth the previous week.

"They were probably just being nice last week," he said. "But we can't allow adults to have one, because that would mean a kid might not get one and they'd be disappointed."

I pointed out that the fine print did not say there was an age limit.

He replied with something to the effect of, "The is a kids' event. But I'm not going to say no to you. Just that if you do it, a child will be disappointed." He said this in the exact tone I often tell kids in the school cafeteria that they ought to not eat the giant bag of Hot Cheetos they brought from home, but I'm not going to physically stop them if they're so determined.

Far be it from me to deny a LEGO set to a toddler whose parents don't even know the name of the darn candlestick and who, by LEGO's own standards, is too young to even have the bricks, due to potential choking hazards. (See that fine print.) 

By that point, I was feeling quite bad. I might disappoint a child, but screw my own disappointment. As an adult, I don't get to have feelings. I carved out part of my Saturday for this, drove ten miles to get there, and then I get... this.

Annoyed with the stupidity of it all, I left (with the instructions still in hand, thank you.) I briefly considered driving all the way to northish Portland to go to the other Toys R Us, but I didn't think my poor nerves could handle being rejected twice in one day. Anyway, I figured I probably had all the pieces I needed at home. And I did, mostly.

Well, I had everything except the face sticker. So I photocopied Lumiere's face from the instructions and used glue. It's a bit of an abomination, but hey.

In the end, my thoughts are these: Toys R Us? You need to get your *#@& together. You ought to make your online ads & fine print & rules consistent with what you tell your employees. If something is for kids only? TELL ME BEFOREHAND. I won't show up, and that's fine. I'll do something better with my Saturday. If something is for everyone? Tell your employees not to discriminate.

I'm done with your store, honestly. FTW.

Anyway, for those of you who missed the events or were turned away, here are the instructions:

Happy building!

Sunday, September 11, 2016


Fifteen years ago, America was brutally shaken. Living on the west coast, having never visited New York or Washington and not knowing anyone who lived in those places (save for a few internet acquaintances), I didn't feel the events as harshly as some did. I wasn't even aware of the attacks until hours after they happened, when my brother showed me the news on AOL. He said that planes had knocked down the World Trace Center towers, crashed into a field, and hit the Pentagon. I couldn't even get my mind around the information. 

I immediately went upstairs and turned on the TV. I then spent hours watching the horrifying images of the second plane hitting, the towers falling, people screaming, newscasters speculating.

I remember how little anyone knew, then. Was it terrorists? It had to be. It couldn't be an accident if it involved so many planes. Were there any survivors? People thought there might be a lot of people buried alive under the WTC rubble. There were long lines at the Red Cross, people giving blood for the living-but-injured WTC victims, who (we now know) numbered few. 

Chaos. People in New York couldn't find their loved ones. There were The Missing Posters/fliers. Have you seen my sister? Have you seen my son? He worked in the North Tower. Please call 555-XXXX! There was hope that these missing people were in a hospital somewhere, merely dazed. It's so sad to think that this was probably not the case.

Between tears, we felt anger. This was, we were sure, a deliberate attack against America. What could we do? If we didn't do something, the "terrorists would win!" Some people decided wearing red, white, and blue clothes and/or American Flag shirts was the thing to do. It was silly, but we wanted to do something. We wanted to show our pride in our country, a country that was hurting so much. We wanted to be "united."

 Things changed. Security tightened even more at airports. After the crash of TWA Flight 800 in 1996 (which people had thought was a terrorist attack for some time) it seemed like security in airports had gotten more strict. But up until 9/11, nearly anyone could go through the security checkpoints. You could go right to the gates to see someone off, or welcome someone who was arriving. After 9/11, and ever since -- nope. Not without a ticket, you don't. And now they lock the cockpits on planes. 

We were all super sensitive in that first year or two or three. Sensitive to anything to do with New York City, terrorists, bombs, airplanes, or even tall buildings. I remember a debate as to whether they should change the name of the upcoming second Lord Of The Rings Movie, The Two Towers (adapted from a book published in 1954), to something that didn't remind people of 9/11.

If you turned on the TV in the days and weeks that followed the tragedy, you'd usually be seeing some version of the news, something about 9/11. September is normally when new TV shows premiere, but a lot of those shows got pushed back a month or more. Shows that had "terrorist" or even "airplane" elements to them were edited to remove anything that might potentially upset people. I remember NBC aired Back To The Future in the weeks after 9/11, and the terrorists-in-the-parking-lot scene was so edited down, you would have thought Marty McFly went back in time just for the heck of it. 

For a long time after the attacks, we looked for heroes. We began to elevate the first responders (firefighters, police officers, etc.) who either ran into the WTC without blinking or lost their colleagues on that day. Actually, anyone on the planet who was a police officer or firefighter could have our hero worship after 9/11. 

  Even Rudy Giuliani, then-mayor of NYC, got to be a hero for a while. He helped out and boosted morale until such a time as everyone remembered he was actually pretty terrible.

Americans were still pretty raw a year later, when the 1-year-memorials aired. I remember watching one broadcast where they listed the names of everyone who had died in the attacks that day.

I remember ABC did an episode of one of their news programs that featured all the babies who had been born in the months after 9/11, whose fathers had died in the attacks. Their moms were pregnant with them on 9/11/01. Some were far along; others weren't even aware they were pregnant on that day. I have the episode on tape somewhere, and it always makes me cry. Most of those kids have now just started high school. (Here's a video from when they were all 9 or 10.)

Fifteen years. What a day. What a decade and a half.

Monday, September 5, 2016

State Of A-Fairs

The Oregon State Fair bridges the gap between those lazy, sweltering August days and the crisp, chilly September ones. Over the past decade, it has become one of the yearly events I most look forward to. (Others being pumpkin patch visits in October and holiday bazaar excursions in November-December. Yes, I lead a thrilling life.) 

Most years, I go to the Fair with a friend. Sometimes I'll go twice during the season. I've been trying to remember who I've gone with in recent years. Looking back at photos, it looks like it was: 

2015 - Esther (friend)
2014 - Miriam (cousinette)
2013 - Esther / Mom (2 visits)
2012 - Esther
2011 - Lexi (my "little sister") / Stephen (friend) (2 visits)
2010 - Lexi
2009 - GG (friend) & Family 
2008 - GG & Family
2007 - Didn't go?
2006 - Mom, Amy & + Storey Family (relatives)

This year, I went completely solo.

 Wednesday, August 31: My main reason for going that day was to see the Jeremy Camp / MercyMe concert in the evening.

Fairgoing isn't always cheap, but I managed to spend a grand total of $21. 

Amazing, right? $5 for parking, $8 admission, $3.50 for root beer, $3.50 for a pretzel, and $1.00 in petting zoo-animal food.

Man, I love those animals.

I spent about an hour in the art gallery. No photos allowed in there. I understand, but it's annoying. There was a whole section with calligraphy projects from David Douglas students. I recognized two of my former students' names & work. I had them back in Kindergarten & second grade. One, I believe, just graduated. (Excuse me while I go feel old.)

In the Creative Living building, there was a pretty good showing of LEGO creations, mostly by kids. 

This was my favorite setup...

Out on the fairgrounds, I wanted some good fair food, but I kept running into the same three options:

1. Meat
2. Fried
3. Oddly Expensive

Which is why I finally just bought a pretzel. 

I checked out the rides, but didn't go on any...

I'm not sure what I think about temporary (read: collapsible) roller coasters.

Yeah, sure it is.

At 6:00, I walked toward the concert area. One of the radio stations had a prize wheel just outside the venue. I spun it and won myself a singular piece of candy! Then I went to find a seat. Fairgoers can sit in general seating for free. If you want to sit up close, you have to buy a special ticket.

I did not buy a special ticket, but I got to sit in the 9th row anyway, thanks to a nice lady who had an extra ticket! She just walked up to me and asked if I wanted it. Sweet!

And the concert--

was amazing!!

At its conclusion (sadface) I walked around the fair a bit more...

And finally, after a great afternoon and evening, with my heart full and happy, I headed for home.

Say, who wants to go to the Fair with me next year?