I never entirely understood the Isle of Misfit Toys in that animated Rudolph movie. I mean the basic concept was clear: A train with square wheels, a fish who flew, a gay Charlie-in-the-Box doing a mean Charles Nelson Reilly impression. These were not “normal” toys. Thus, misfits. Got it.
(Of course there is the exception of the seemingly conventional doll who has inspired four decades of debate as to the possible reason for her misfit designation. My vote: Syphilis.)
In any case, I always hated their pariah status. To me, even at a young age, they seemed less like misfits than rejected playthings of spoiled kids with no imagination. Can you not play with an elephant with polka dots? Is a cowboy riding an ostrich less fun than a cowboy on a boring old horse? And what kind of parents would let their kids toss their toys for superficial flaws anyway. Didn’t they teach their kids that what matters is not shallow surface traits like the shape of one’s wheels but kindness, thoughtfulness, inner beauty?
Okay, perhaps that’s overstating my ten year-old mindset. But I did feel bad for those toys. No toy should be without a child, as the miracle birth of Jesus Christ, and Master Card holiday commercials have taught us.
But now at last, I understand.
I get it.
There should be an Isle of Misfit Toys. Because there are some toys that don’t deserve your love.
I first noticed it a few weeks ago when I was visiting my brother. He pointed out a little electronic keyboard toy of his daughter’s that–get this– reminds you to play it. If you have stopped for a while, it admonishes, TIME TO PLAY THE PIANO!
Just like a mother calling time to wash up for dinner, or time to do your math homework, your child hears TIME TO PLAY THE PIANO. The voice is childlike and friendly, of course, but almost frighteningly upbeat. Not quite like a Stepford Wife; more like a preadolescent Tatum O’Neil after getting into her parent’s cocaine stash. She’s excited. She’s eager. She doesn’t realize how hard she’s squeezing your arm as she pulls you into the second floor music room repeating, TIME TO PLAY THE PIANO.
Annoying, but all in all, relatively harmless.
Then I realized a toy cell phone Thalia had received as a gift does essentially the same thing. She stops playing with it for a moment and it rings.
It calls you.
A toy that literally calls you, and tells you to play with it. A mechanical way of imploring, Pick me up! Playyyyy with meeeeeee. I don’t want to be alooooooone.
For a minute you might almost forget that it’s just a plastic shell inhabited by a couple of AA batteries and not the ghost of Carol Anne.
The call is coming from INSIDE THE HOUSE!
I started to think, what is with all these needy toys? Toys that ask–nay, demand–that you play with them? My brother’s keyboard toy doesn’t ask you in that polite sort of British way, “would you mind, I mean, if you’re not really doing anything else…you know, just sort of (aw shucks) take a moment and play with me? ” It implores you to play. Insists that you play. Or…or….or else. It’s not normal.
And then came the drum.
Not any old drum, but one with electronic lights and bells and music and a switch with four different settings. With every flat-palmed smack of its taut plastic skin, it recites a letter of the alphabet, a number, a note of music. For all I know it can also predict the future and feng shui your apartment, this thing is that impressive.
At first Thalia amused herself with it, happy enough to strike the drum and hear the synsthesized snare sound it played in response. But she’s just a year old. After a brief spell the drum became less interesting than, say, the cat. Or a book. Or the petrified Cheerio that’s been hiding amongst the dust bunnies under the couch for six weeks.
She tossed the drum aside.
That’s when we heard the haunting chorus for the first time.
PLAY THE DRUM, EVERYONE PLAY THE DRUM.
And then again. PLAY THE DRUM EVERYONE, PLAY THE DRUM.
Finally, just one more eerie melodic warning before knocking glasses off our shelves and mysteriously slamming our windows shut: PLAY THE DRUM EVERYONE, PLAY THE DRUM.
There are children in there, I tell you. Zombie children. Drum-playing freaky needy zombie children that want the world’s toddlers to bend to their will. They will repeat this mantra over. And over. And over. Until you have no choice but to succumb to the percussive temptation. They do not want you to learn the alphabet or how to count to ten. They don’t want you to eat or sleep, to kiss your mama or pet your dog. They just want you to hit that drum at any expense.
Children of the Drum.
And then after the third warning, like they never existed, the voices are gone.
And the house is quiet.
Too quiet if you ask me.