You couldn’t have dialed up a duller morning. About 10 o’clock the other day, I found myself in the drive-thru at Tim Horton’s contemplating how Tim’s has superior doughnuts to Dunkin’ Donuts, but inferior muffins. Great thoughts as usual. Then the text alert sounded on my phone.
“Hey Kramer,” the message read. “Why don’t you get off your duff for once and come over to the State Fair Hotel, Rm. 105?”
“Who’s this?” I texted back.
“Your next column,” came the reply.
Desperation doesn’t always make for sound decision-making, so I jumped on the 690 and knocked on Room 105.
“Who goes there?” came a gruff voice from inside.
“It’s Kramer,” I said. “From the Syracuse New Times.”
The door opened seemingly by itself. I was immediately aware of the reek of marijuana. The haze was so thick, I had trouble making out the figures in the room.
“Down here,” the gruff voice said. “You unarmed?”
I looked down to see a little green army man clutching a carbine.
“No weapons,” I said.
He frisked the cuffs of my jeans anyway. As my eyes adjusted to the dim light, I saw there were four or five other miniature plastic Army men drawing down on me.
“He’s clean,” the gruff one said.
A tiny soldier bearing an uncanny resemblance to a young Tom Hanks stepped out of the gloom.
“I’m Lt. Rodney Harris, U.S. Army,” he said. “Welcome to our little pity party. Believe it or not, they sent us in here for cleanup detail, but. . . ”
He laughed darkly and took a hit from a large spliff …
“. . . turns out we’re not big on following orders anymore, not after what happened in Rochester. Again.”
I scanned the room. It was littered with empty jugs of wine, bottles of rum and vodka and multiple pipes and bongs. A pair of skimpy lady’s panties had been stretched across a lampshade. The TV remote had been left in a half-eaten carton of shrimp lo mein. Through the closed bathroom door I heard a girl weeping softly, only it sounded more like. . . neighing.
“That’s My Little Pony,” the sergeant said. “She took it the hardest.”
“It is decidedly so,” a bored voice intoned, and right then I saw him–Magic 8 Ball–propped on a pillow on the bed. Next to the orb, leaning back against the headboard, was Butch, one the original Fisher-Price Little People. Butch looked stoned as he blew bubbles, several of which drifted lazily across the room and popped on the wall.
Suddenly, I understood.
A few days earlier, Chess and Rubber Duck had been inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame at the Strong Museum, in Rochester. These other toys, the ones here at the hotel, were some of the 10 rejected nominees. They were pissed off, hung over and they needed to bathe, but they had a story to tell.
“It’s an honor to meet you guys,” I said. “Sorry things didn’t work out in Deadchester.”
The bathroom door opened, and out walked Violet, a mail-order My Little Pony, followed by a leering Pac-Man. Violet’s pink hair and mascara were a mess and her saddle askew.
“What the hell are you looking at?” she snapped, bearing unexpectedly large and unattractive teeth. She cantered over to the dresser and drained the last half-inch from a bottle of Patron.
“Frickin’ Chess?” she asked. “Really? It’s not even a toy. How many kids do you know who play chess?”
“None,” I said.
“It was a choice by adults for adults,” she continued. “If the Hall of Fame is so concerned with what adults like, maybe it should induct one of these. . . ”
She pawed the floor with a front hoof, causing a huge adult toy to roll toward me.
“You’re nasty,” Butch said from the bed.
“Bite me, dwarf,” the horse whinnied.
Gradually the tension in the room eased, and I started taking notes. The group was irritated by the selection of Rubber Duck because, in its view, he doesn’t do anything except float.
“Why not induct a sponge?” a morose Scooter opined. “At least they have a purpose.”
But it was the selection of Chess that had many of them talking about getting retrained in a non-toy profession. Several of the Little Green Army Men even hinted they were considering defecting to Canada.
Lt. Harris spoke passionately of the irony of Chess being a metaphor for war vs. the dedication of Little Green Army Men.
“Guess what we do?” he said. “We fight actual wars. We put our butts on the line every day: special ops, landings, reconnaissance, anything any 7-year-old psuedo-general can cook up in his twisted micro-brain. And we do it no questions asked because the rules say we can’t talk. Well, f&*% the rules. We’re sick of being snubbed because we’re not politically correct. Will people ever wake up and smell the Joe?”
“Very doubtful,” Magic 8 Ball answered.
When Violet started puking in the sink, I decided I’d had enough. There are limits to what I’ll endure for a good story. As I headed out, I took one last look at Room 105. Pac-Man was gnawing on one of the Scooter’s rear wheels as Scooter played online poker with a credit card I would later learn had been stolen–from me. Several soldiers were watching a rerun of Finding Bigfoot.
“Good luck to you guys,” I said. “I hope it all works out.”
“Don’t count on it,” Magic 8 Ball said.
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