Thursday, December 26, 2013

Santa Doesn't Hate You After All

Well, it finally happened. After eight Hanukkah/Christmas seasons with children in our lives, we finally found ourselves having to hunt down one of the “it” toys. You know what I’m talking about—a toy so popular it flies off the store shelves quicker than a starving monkey unpeels an overripe banana.

The funny thing is that going into the hunt we didn’t even realize we were going to have a hunt on our hands. When our four-year-old son told us he wanted Zoomer the Robot Dog for Christmas, we had no way of knowing that every kid within a 340,000-mile radius would be making a similar request this season.

The truth is that our whole family is generally out of the loop when it comes to the hot new products of the season. Our television viewing is confined solely to PBS and Netflix, so our kids have zero exposure to commercials. Of course, the way that advertising permeates our society, it’s impossible to shield them from all forms of ads (short of keeping them in tightly regulated padded cells, which is an option we’re currently mulling over).

It turns out my four-year-old son found out about Zoomer from what I would have considered an unlikely source—“National Geographic KIDS” magazine. For the most part the magazine features a series of goofy yet educational articles about animals, but a recent issue had a story on cool new toys coming out this year…and Zoomer was the headliner.

We were initially casual about purchasing Zoomer, because we had no way of knowing we needed to be aggressive. We didn’t start our search until the evening of December 13th—just twelve days before D-Day. That night, well after our sons went to bed, we looked Zoomer up on the Target website to see what it was our son was pining after. We watched the demo video, determined its purchase would likely not be detrimental to our son’s physical or mental well-being, and decided this would be his big gift from Santa. At that point my wife suggested I click on the “Find in Store” link just to make sure that our local Target carried the thing. I did so and to my utter dismay found that of the 20 Targets that came up in my search, it was out of stock in 18 of them. The only two stores it was still available in were 30-minute and 40-minute drives away from us—and both were closed at that late hour. I became vaguely nervous.

“Maybe they have them at Toys-R-Us,” I opined. The Toys-R-Us closest to us happened to still be open at the time (holiday hours and all) so I gave them a jingle (holiday terminology and all).

“Toys-R-Us, how can I assist you?”

“Hi, I wanted to see if you have Zoomer the Robot Dog.”

“Zoomer the Robot Dog? Let me put you on hold while I check.”

Ten minutes (not exaggerating) of being on hold later…

“Toys-R-Us, how can I assist you?” (I can tell this is clearly the same woman I spoke to originally).

“Um…you had me on hold for a while. You were going to check to see if you have Zoomer the Robot Dog.”

“Oh yeah, the other associate was on the computer. She’s off now. Let me put you on hold while I check.”

Ten minutes (still not exaggerating) of being on hold later…

“Toys-R-Us, how can I assist you?” (This time it’s clearly a different woman).

“Somebody else had put me on hold. She was going to check to see if you have Zoomer the Robot Dog.”

(Shouting) “Hey, Mike. Can you check the endcap to see if we have any Zoomers left?”

(Three second pause.) “No, sorry. We’re all out. Those things get snatched up as soon as we put them on display.”

And so it was that the next day—a Saturday—I woke up at 7:00 a.m. so I could drive 30 minutes due north to be at one of the two Targets in the Phoenix metropolitan area that the internet claimed would have Zoomer in stock. I arrived ten minutes before its doors opened up at 8:00 a.m. While I waited another man of about my age showed up and waited too. I wondered if he was also there for Zoomer and that terrifying thought led to the more sinister thought that as the doors of Target opened it might behoove me to kick the man in the shin with every ounce of strength I could muster and then take off running down the main aisle in search of the blasted robot dog.  Luckily that thought was a fleeting one and never came to fruition, so I avoided potential assault charges. When the doors opened up I did speed walk to the toy section though, but could not locate Zoomer. I flagged down a young associate.

“Excuse me, do you know where Zoomer the Robot Dog is?”

“I’m pretty sure we’re sold out,” he said.

“But I went online last night and it said that your store still had it.”

“Well, we can check, but that information is usually about 24 hours old.”

We checked and where Zoomer should have been we found nothing but a gaping hole.

I left, dejectedly, and decided to check out the Toys-R-Us across the street from that Target, since it was not the same one I called the previous evening. There I was told that not only was it sold out at that location, but they would not be getting anymore in this year.

Suddenly it seemed like Santa might not be bringing our son what he wanted for Christmas. I found myself trying to come up with elegant ways to tell my four-year-old that Santa didn’t like him as much as his older brother (who would be getting the new bike that he asked for).

A few days later my wife and I went to the Toys-R-Us nearest to us (the one that fruitlessly put me on hold for 20 minutes) for some lower end gifts. On a whim I decided to ask the person at the customer service station if they had Zoomer.

“We only have one. It just got returned today,” she said, producing one from behind the counter to my utter amazement. The one catch was that it was purple—in other words it was a “girl” Zoomer.

It turns out that the company that makes this highly coveted robot dog has produced two versions. One is white with black spots—which is what my son had seen in the magazine—and the other is purple with no spots and a very feminine looking dog collar. My wife and I quickly assessed the situation and determined that it was better to get our son the purple Zoomer (and have him think that Santa believes him to be metro) than no Zoomer at all (and have him think that Santa had him on the naughty list). The robot dog was purchased.

A few days later my wife was out shopping with her BFF (I’m not quite sure what that means, but I’m too embarrassed to ask) and the topic of robot dogs surfaced.  As it turns out her friend had purchased the standard white and black Zoomer for her daughter a month earlier at Walmart. (Ah, Walmart! We never thought to look there since we don’t actually shop there.) When my wife told her we had to get a purple Zoomer for our son, her friend offered to trade, since she thought her daughter might prefer the purple dog anyway. Unbelievable!

So our four-year-old got exactly what he wanted for Christmas and doesn't think that Santa hates his guts— at least not this year. Who knows what he might ask for next year. Maybe it's time we cancel our subscription to "National Geographic KIDS."

Proud Owner of a Robot Dog