Some people never grow too old to play with children’s toys

By Bob Huber: Columnist

Christmas Eve always reminds me of the old bromide, “Bizarre conditions are easier to get into than out of.” Which somehow explains why I’m too old to play with toys, but I’m just not willing to give it up and go through a painful withdrawal.

You see, foraging through toy sections in department stores on Christmas Eve has always been a great delight for me. I dress up in tie and hat so the clerks will think I’m a promising customer, a man of expansive income who tolerates the extravagant tastes of his grandkids.

So I wander through toy sections on Christmas Eve, playing with various gimcracks, games and books, and jingling change in my pockets.

Clerks’ ears perk up. The masquerade makes me chuckle.

Truth is, I just like to play with toys. I always have. I probably always will. Show me any granddad worth his salt, and I’ll show you a man who secretly wants to get his hands on his grandkids’ remote controls that power toy cars.

Over the years I’ve become an expert on electric racing cars, plastic ray guns, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and drum sets, to name just a few.

I’ve often cleaned up the galaxy with a Star Trek discompooperizer, and I have a wonderful time doing it.

I fancy competitive toys, too, like hockey games and miniature pool tables. I also relish a frontier fort or two, competing with 600 plastic models of horses, cowboys and Indians. Of course, the sound of battle sometimes gets a little loud, and clerks are prompted to ask, “Say, Wild Bill, you gonna buy that fort or what?”

A dozen years ago Erector Sets made a comeback. For years I had to be satisfied with Tinkertoy sets because some smarty jobber arbitrarily decided no one played with Erector Sets anymore. Ha! I showed him. I hope they transferred him to the mailroom.

At about the same time, children’s books took a big step forward. They became “Where the Monsters Are” and “The Hulk” and “Good Night, Little Grover.” Sesame Street books even gave way to the “Berenstain Bears.”

I discovered these new books when I unearthed the fact that my grandkids found my lap and tobacco breath bearable if I read them a story. They loved books about scheming seagulls and outer space wars. Reading them could have been better only if the stores provided plush chairs, smoking stands and a dram of Irish coffee.

Then came the Valhalla of all toydum—Nintendo games. But that didn’t last long. They were replaced by Super Nintendo. I remember the moment specifically, because I was permanently banned from a Toys “R” Us store, or until such time that I could prove, in writing from my mother, that I was more than 11 years old and would never come into that store again until I could leave without kicking and screaming as my wife dragged me away.

Each year I’m told by the powers that be that I’m over the hill and need to finally grow up. I’m supposed to savor new belts, sweaters and socks.

And I do. But don’t take away the fun I have with toys. Besides, if you never reached the zenith of your life, how can you be over the hill?
Other than a clerk or two, I don’t bother anyone. In fact, I’ll bet other customers see how much fun I’m having and buy their grandkids a hockey set or a computer game so they can play with it too.

Many are the happy hours I’ve spent playing with Santa’s toys while my wife and daughters wandered about looking for perfect gifts. Poor dears. They didn’t know a discompooperizer if they saw it.