American Consequences - December 2017

a child growing bored. Thus the kid could be left alone to play with one little thing after another without bothering the distracted parent (or, more recently, the nannies and daycare workers staring at their phones). Boredom, by this way of thinking, was to be avoided at all costs – the cost of a house with endless clutter and scarred insteps. This ignores the timeless fact that boredom is an indispensable goad to human creativity; it has been the source of most of civilization’s greatest advances. The Romans didn’t conquer the known world because they were busy with the ancient equivalent of toobers. They divided Gaul into three parts because they got bored. Second, an open-ended toy with a hundred pieces can always use another hundred pieces. There will never be a shortage of add-ons for mom and dad to buy. It’s like crafty moviemakers dreaming up sequels to popular movies, so that Cars leads inevitably to Cars 5 . That Death Star could use another corps of Imperial Guards. Suddenly the old prospector needs a wife and kids and a group of sinister banditos threatening his stash of gold. Once glimpsed on a pop-up ad or during a stroll down the Toys R Us aisle, these new additions will be irresistible. And on Christmas Day the clutter quotient will grow at the speed of light. Forgive me one grumpy note of nostalgia. It was not always thus. For a sense of what the toy scene was like in my youth, consider Toy Story . It was not only a great movie but also curiously retrograde. Woody and Buzz, Rex the dinosaur and Slinky Dog, Hamm the oinker and Little Bo Peep – these are unitary toys, holdable in the hand, that evoke a simpler, more

straightforward world of play. One reason the Toy Story movies worked for audiences of all ages was that they tapped the sentimental attachment that parents have for their long- lost toys. I don’t know for sure, but I get sentimental remembering my old collection of Matchbox cars, complete with their delicious lead paint, in ways that I think my son, now married and moving into his late 20s, does not, cannot, feel about “Toobers & Zots.” Which brings me back to where we began, with the disappearing zot. Weeks passed and it never showed up – until one morning at breakfast. Surveying his bowl of Cap’n Crunch, my son let loose with a roaring sneeze. And suddenly, there on his tray, was the zot. Some zots, it turned out, matched precisely the size of a toddler’s nostril. Noticing this as we built our swooping structure, my son inserted the zot, inadvertently sniffed, and there it had stayed until a great sneeze could unloose it. So here’s one last reason to regret the Cosmic Toy Expansion and recall fondly the toys of long ago. In all of history, no child ever tried to put a Matchbox Mustang up his nose.

Andrew Ferguson is the author of several books, including Crazy U: One Dad’s Crash Course on Getting His

Kid Into College. He is a former speechwriter for President George H. W. Bush and a current senior editor at The Weekly Standard.

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