Fad-tastic Ripoffs

All I ever wanted at age eight.

The music is a funky hip-hop beat. Lebron James, the best basketball player in the world (sorry Kobe), is sitting on the bench in black and white, a study in breathless musculature and passive energy. He opens a small tab that reveals a red square, the only color to be seen. I’m not certain, but I think this is what Xtacy looks like before teenagers ingest it at a rave. Looking directly into the camera he places the red square on his tongue and gives a hard, serious glare. There’s a tag-line, something like “There’s a New Way To Get Your Energy.”


Pretty soon, every kid between the ages of 8 and 18 will be popping these illegal-looking pieces of garbage in their mouths and thinking if they combine this magic energy square with the right sneakers and the correct under armor, they will be able to pull off a windmill dunk. They won’t. But they’ll spend a lot of their parents’ money trying!


Fads seem to come and go with the direction of the wind these days. Back in my day, I remember not being able to live without this hand-held football game by Coleco called “Electronic Quarterback”. It was basically a bunch of red dashes, three on one side and five on the other, that faced off against each other in a battle for the end zone. It was, in retrospect, a piece of crap. But it was the one thing in my childhood that I HAD to have. I remember my First Communion was coming up and I begged my parents to get it for me. On the big day I wore a sky blue leisure suit (it was the 70’s) that encased my fat body like a tent. It was an awful, rainy day, but people would think there was a break on the clouds when I walked by in that suit. Imagine their disappointment when they realized it was just a rotund eight-year old bedecked in azure. When I got back from the ceremony (that was done by candlelight because the storm knocked out the power), I couldn’t wait to get my hands on my prize. Frank Laviano would let me use his on the bus, but I could never complete a full game. Now I could use it whenever I wanted for as long as I wanted!


My parent couldn’t find one. At first I thought they were joking. One Christmas they put pairs of socks and underwear under the tree and had all our Christmas gifts in another room. Me and my brother Joe opened up the clothes trying to look excited and pleased. Then my Mom told us to look in the other room because she thought she saw something in there and our cool presents were waiting for us. So I thought it was another annoying but well-intentioned mind-f*** like that again. Nope. I wasn’t getting it. I pitched my one and only childhood hissy fit that day. I went out in my sky blue pants and white dress shirt and played in the mud with my brother in the woods behind our back-yard. I was being willfully disobedient for the first time in my young life. It was a heady experience. I endured my parent’s wrath as the little light left disappeared and we were all left in the darkness of a blackout. I was as miserable as the weather. And all for this piece of fad plastic and dashes.


Last year they came out with these pieces of shaped rubber called “Silly Bands”. They were basically rubber bands that were cut in different shapes (cat, sailboat, baseball player, etc) that you wore on your wrists. When you were wearing them they stretched out to a circle and when you took them off they’d go back to their original shape. Whoever thought this up and was quick enough to get it patented is probably enjoying a swim on his private beach island while his better-looking-by-far girlfriend waits on shore with a bottle of Chardonnay and some coke for lunch. For about half a year these things were everywhere, and every kid in Middle School had to have every shape in triplicate. Conor fell for them hard. He still has a coffee can filled without hundreds of these buggers that he hasn’t looked at in months. The fad became passe, as they all do. The only fad that ever made it past the six month mark was rock n’ roll, and many think that died sometime in the late seventies with sky blue leisure suits.


Remember Pokeman cards? James was a big collector, and not just because he was husky. He knew all the mythical creatures by heart, their powers, their drawbacks, their ability in battle, their blood types, their sexual preferences, everything. But that wasn’t enough. There was this red, hand-held calculator-like thingy called a Pokedex with which he could look up any and all of the assorted Pokeman facts he already knew by heart.. When James was about ten, he HAD to have one for Christmas. They retailed for about $11, which was a rip-off of the first magnitude to begin with. But the stores literally could not keep the pieces of junk on the shelves. I called around to every place I could, checked out Ebay every day, but it was too late, We hadn’t acted fast enough and now they were scarce.


I was working in the city at the time and I used to walk past this Card/Toy store in South Manhattan every day. After Thanksgiving I see a sign in the window that says, “Make Your Kid Happy–Pokedex Only $70.00”. I scoffed. How dare they use the word “only”! No matter what I’ll never get THAT desperate to buy a child’s love. December came and I walked by every day, and the sign was still there. Of course! What moron is going to pay nearly seven times the retail price and about a thousand times what this junk is worth. Not this moron. It was December 23rd. We had searched every toy store we could find. James was adamant that this was all he ever wanted. Mary Ellen warned me not to do it.


I bought the freakin’ thing for seventy freakin’ dollars. The guy at the register was saying something like, “You’ll make a kid happy this Christmas” while he was putting it in the bag. I wanted to knife him and watch him die. Just take the money and shut up, you opportunistic profiteer. The only kids I’ll be making happy are yours ’cause now you’ll have my money to spend this year. Jerk.


Christmas Eve came. I got a big hug from Mary El, which is really why I bought the damn thing. I had the bright idea to wrap the Pokedex and put it in the back of the Christmas tree as a surprise extra gift. To this day I’m not sure if I suggested that in the spirit of the season or as revenge for when it was done to me. I’m sure a few months with a therapist could sort it all out. On Christmas morning James ravaged his presents like a Viking, literally throwing them over his shoulder if they weren’t the one fad gift he was looking for. He got to the end, surrounded in crumbled wrapping paper and tons of toys and pronounced, “Well, this Christmas sucked.” In that moment I was supremely happy that since James was my stepson I could not be blamed directly for having raised him. I reached behind the the tree and grabbed (snatched) the last present and kindly (reluctantly) handed it (threw it) to (at) my darling (expletive) stepson. He was overjoyed, of course. I found the Pokedex at the bottom of the toy chest three months later. He already knew everything in it.


Next month I’m sure there will be something else we’ll have to throw money at that will end up covered in dust or stuck in the back of a closet. And we’ll do it, ’cause we love the little brats. And someone will say, “At least you’ll be making a kid happy” and we’ll have to squelch the urge to slap them, and someone else will do a line of blow and thank God above that we are such soft touches. And the fad wheels will spin round and round.

    • Kae
    • May 27th, 2011

    “It was an awful, rainy day, but people would think there was a break on the clouds when I walked by in that suit. Imagine their disappointment when they realized it was just a rotund eight-year old bedecked in azure.”

    Magnificent comic imagery.

    As for fads, I remember getting one of those rare as gold Cabbage Patch dolls for Laura. I could never understand the allure.

    • Joel Flowers
    • May 27th, 2011

    Hula Hoops and Slinkies; Flavo-straws; Winky Dink (I’ll bet no one remembers that one!); The Visible Man; Sea Monkeys (ordered from the back of comic books); special glasses that enabled you to see people naked (also from comic books)!

  1. Kae–Cabbage Patch Kids started that whole “lets figure out something everyone will have to have for Christmas” thing we’ve been living with since. Now it’s Laura’s turn to carry the torch!

    Joel–Please describe “Winky Dink” in detail.

    • Laura Cassetta
    • May 31st, 2011

    I agree with Kae, I thought those lines were hilarious. My son too was a Pokemon fanatic. We spent many a beautiful Sunday afternoon indoors attending a Pokemon tournament. He’s twenty three and completely into World of Warcraft now. The difference is he’s managed to hook me this time!

  2. Laura–I watch my sons play “Left For Dead” or “Modern Warfare” on XBox and I have NO idea what is going on. It’s like they’re able to see 180 degrees around. Must be the way my parents felt when we played “Space Invaders”. At least you have some idea how to play what your son is into!

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