Friday, March 30, 2012

Regression analysis

My six-year-old Max loves Skylanders. If you don’t know, it’s a video game that uses little statures and a wireless portal to change the characters in the game. The concept didn’t impress me at first. Sounds like a money suck. The execution is so artful I am now a convert. The zealous kind, like new born-again Christians or long-distance runners. Because you can make your characters better – and their betterness is stored in the statue – the game is really, really addictive. And if you have an addictive personality . . .

I have the collector’s gene. CLT 13. It compels you to gather multiples of Hot Wheels cars, baseball cards, real cars, post modern paintings, first editions, movie posters – you know the type. When I started reading comic books, the urge to go back and find everything that came before me was tremendous. Luckily my paper-route-based income blunted my habit.

Skylanders are extraordinarily popular. Stores run out almost immediately. Max and I check whenever we visit Target or Best Buy, 99 percent of the time we gaze at empty shelves. Until last Friday. Toys R Us received a big shipment and there they were: All kinds of these 32 different characters that we didn’t have only now I’m not 11. I’ve got a Visa card. My wife is 2,300 miles away. I start grabbing every figure we don’t own. Nina, the 11-year-old, tells me I have a problem. I hand her two dragons, a ghost and what looks like a very angry tree-stump. She asks for my phone and I’m very glad, in that moment, that she doesn’t have her own. I realize this is bad for Max – much too much for no reason. So I start trying to conceal what I’ve grabbed. Holding things tucked up and folded over, using one bubble pack to hide another.

The employee behind the electronics counter looks at me. And I’m glad. A middle-aged guy, receding hairline, sweater vest and rimless glasses doesn’t fit his image of a shoplifter. Good. Maybe he won’t profile anymore. I’ll confuse him AND champion civil rights.

I tell Nina to distract her brother while I scoot up to the register, cash out and get these in two bags: Ones he’s seen and ones he hasn’t. I’ll save some for an Easter Basket or injury or, God forbid, an combination of both. I check out, make sure I didn’t actually steal anything, run to the car, hide some in the trunk and go back to escort the kids through the parking lot. I have spent more money than I’m willing to cover in this story.

In the car, I give Max is bag with four, count them, four new Skylanders. He’s very excited, then asks where Flameslinger is. He saw him in my armpit when I went to the checkout line. And Terrafin, too. Nina asks for the phone. She’s calling mom.

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