I still remember what it feels like.
Usually it was a Saturday afternoon, after my four-hour block of Saturday morning cartoons and an Ellio’s frozen pizza for lunch: My mother, little brother and I would enter through the automatic sliding doors of our local Toys ‘R’ Us and a wave of excitement would come over me. Immediately, I’d burst forth and make a beeline for the action-figure aisle to see if they had any new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toys in stock. In the days before the internet — and considering how weird the line got in later years — it was always a true mystery as to what bizarre new character would be waiting for me. Of course, no matter what it was, I needed to have it.
Raphael dressed up as a magician? Need it.
A mutant elephant witch doctor who never appeared in the cartoon? Need it.
Indian Chief Leonardo that, in retrospect, was at best highly questionable? Definitely need it.
But even as a Turtles superfan (the above photo is a real picture of my basement — I know, I know), it was about more than just the Heroes in a Half Shell. Toys ‘R’ Us was a special place: It was the only store that was all for me, completely unencumbered by boring adult things like clothing, tupperware and groceries. Sure, there was also Kay Bee Toys, but that was buried deep in the mall, past Filene’s and other dull retailers. Toys ‘R’ Us was the only huge toy store there was, and because of that, it was special.
As I got older, and it was no longer age-appropriate to be so excited about toys, I continued to collect. Not everything: I grew out of many things (Power Rangers, for example), but through high school, college and now adulthood, my love for the Turtles and for Toys ‘R’ Us never waned. When I entered through those doors at an older age I’d attempt to contain my childish glee — I’d sometimes even pretend I was buying a gift for someone else — but inside, I was still giddy every time.
For a kid growing up in a single-parent household, I’m guessing there were some deep-seated psychological reasons that I never completely grew out of this stuff. My dad died when I was three, my mother had to work a lot and I had a younger brother, all of which meant I had to grow up in a real hurry. I guess some part of me remained — and remains — permanently stunted: Nostalgia, not content with old photographs and songs, has also cemented around Donatello’s disc-shooting Pizza Thrower, and all the other toys I could never seem to part with. As I grew up and more deaths, hardships and other changes occurred, the Turtles — and the store that gave them to me — always remained right where they should be, fixed in their proper, reliable place along Route 211 in Middletown, NY.
In college, I met my now-wife, who eventually learned to live with the toy thing. (Honestly, I think my perpetual willingness to still embrace the kid in me is, sometimes, a good quality to have in a husband — just as patience for my burning desire for a new Turtle Blimp at age 30 is a helpful quality in a wife.) A few years later, when we had a daughter, among the many things I was excited to share with her was the experience of going to the toy store. She loved it just as I used to — she would always ask for a balloon, and if it was anywhere near her birthday (and sometimes not), we’d get her one of those pink cardboard crowns that proudly showed she was a member of “Geoffrey’s Birthday Club.”
Obviously, a trip to the toy store always resulted in us spending more money than we planned, as we bought Sesame Street toys, Disney Princess castles, and of course, her own set of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But splurging on a bunch of toys was okay — it was all part of the fun.
But, alas, it seems my return to my Mecca is destined to be short-lived.
I noticed the dawn of the toypacolypse a few years ago, when Toys ‘R’ Us closed its flagship store in Times Square. It was a must for me whenever I found myself in New York City, mostly because there was an awesome full-size T-Rex on the second floor that would growl and roar as you walked by. Then came last year’s bankruptcy, announced just weeks before Christmas. After that, the company listed stores that they would be closing. Fortunately, my Toys ‘R’ Us was spared, and I did my best to ignore the signs while continuing to indulge my daughter (and myself) as she discovered My Little Pony, Strawberry Shortcake and whatever other show I let her watch way too much of that week.
Now, though, it seems as though the closure of every Toys ‘R’ Us — mine included — is inevitable.
There are toys on other shelves, yes, but they’re buried deep in the back of Walmart or Target, hidden by a labyrinth of kitchenware and duvet covers and other stuff that kills the joy of a store dedicated solely to childlike fun. And while there are independent toy stores out there, none are as massive as even the smallest Toys ‘R’ Us. That sense of scale — the Raiders of the Lost Ark warehouse sensation of toys going on forever in every direction — is lost.
Soon enough then, Geoffrey will be but a kitschy mascot of yesteryear, like those kids from the Burger King Kid’s Club. Much more personally, it sadly means that my daughter will never truly get to be a Toys ‘R’ Us kid like me. I, though, will be sure to impart its greatest lesson to her: There’s nothing wrong with embracing your inner-child — no matter how old you are.