12-21-2003 Shop About

George Bush is deliberately setting up public schools to fail so he can say there is no choice but to take money away from public schools. There's only one way to fix No Child Left Behind, and that is to leave George Bush behind.-- Dick Gephardt

Does anyone take this boob seriously? The President of the United States is deliberately setting up public schools to fail? How could he possibly have enough time to destroy the public school system when he's purported to be so busy trying to starve senior citizens, kill innocent terrorists for oil, single-handedly destroying the environment, and doing his best to antagonize all of our long time allies into attacking us??? Dick, that's DICK, is giving George Bush way too much credit. No one man can destroy everything in his path in four short years, that is, unless his name begins with "McG."

I just bought Gage Andrew a $1 dart gun at that East End Liquidation joint and he has been having a blast shooting at Santa Claus on the boob tube. One freaking dollar. That's all that it took to occupy the little guys attention for well over an hour, until I finally got tired of loading the darts for him every 18-25 seconds. And while we were wasting the hours in an off-hand way with our $1 dart gun, tens of thousands of people, all over NEPA, were simultaneously trying to stay composed while fighting the crowds in their attempts to purchase the latest high-tech gadgetry. I love it.

I still maintain that the old toys, the low-tech toys, will occupy a kids mind much longer than any over-priced gizmo currently on the shelves of our local stores. Give us a sling-shot and a couple dozen starlings, and Gage will be busy all afternoon. Give us a Crossman 760 air rifle and a few piles of empty beer cans up on the mountain, and we'll pretend that our forward fire base is being overrun by the Vietcong all day long. Gage won't be sitting at a computer any time soon, while we pretend that some $10 piece of software is actually teaching him anything. His childhood will be a simple childhood, much like the one we remember having. He'll waste his hours away with a Slinky, Matchboxes, Silly Puddy, a Spirograph and some G.I. Joes. I'll see to that. There's no need to drive him hard to be some child prodigy, or the next Barry Bonds. He doesn't need to grow up fast as so many of our kids do these days. What he needs is to be a little boy as long as possible, while we see to it that he ends up being well rounded.

The best toys aren't the most expensive ones. The best toys are the ones that generate memories that will last forever. The tin friction cars that got mashed with bricks. The pocket knife that always accompanied us, but was never needed when we went searching the creek's bottom for crayfish. The model of the battleship, U.S.S. Pennsylvania, that we so meticulously detailed with our Testors paints, and then sprayed with lighter fluid and set ablaze in Aunt Annette's bathtub until that gray lady finally sank. The Girders & Panels sets that had us building skyscrapers up to our bedroom's ceiling when the rain just refused to stop falling. The Erector Set robots we built when all that the television offered us was four channels. The electronic kits that had us building our own AM radios and learning how to use a soldering iron in the process. The Estes Industries model rocket kits. The AFX slot cars. Electric football. Hula hoops. Metal roller skates with the key. And, of course, the most exulted of all of my childhood toys: The Wiffleball. That leaves only the best friend that any boy ever had. His tireless bicycle.

You won't find Gage camped-out with some expensive software anytime soon. You won't see him on a Go-Ped and you won't see him sauntering along with a Walkman in tow. This little guy is going to be led on adventures that will challenge his imagination. And he'll be stimulated by toys that demand that he learn more than which button pauses the murderous game. Improved eye/hand coordination won't expand his mind, and it won't have him begging for more. He'll be playing with those forgotten relics that will force him to use his imagination. And as the old adage goes, the only limit to your ability is your imagination. We'll see just how much he learned when G.I. Joe finally meets Barbie.

Whatever. I spent a fair share of my day today looking at toys and for the most part, what I saw was uninspiring landfill fodder. They were "interactive," they glowed, they flashed, and they had tons of bells and whistles. And not one of them demanded that the user use his or her imagination. Some folks might feel that the best choice for their little ones is some overpriced, high-tech babysitter, but me, I'd prefer to see Gage doing a makeover of Mr. Potato Head. He'd have to think it up all on his own, rather than pointing his mouse to the "Help" icon.

If only the "Rock 'Em, Sock 'Em Robots" were still available for some mindless, overly-aggressive, boyhood type fun, just as a diversion from all of his fascinating learning.

Here's my final tally for Christmas 2003. I spent well over one thousand dollars to make this the perfect Christmas and all but $73.00 of it was spent at businesses that call Wilkes-Barre their home. Sprawl-Mart made nary a penny from me. Target made even less. Michaels'? Not! Bath & Body? (or whatever the muck it's called) LOFL! The Wyoming Valley Mall? Forget about it! I picked up this and that here and there, but the majority of my Christmas dollars were spent at Boscov's, The Gallery of Sound and Musical Energi. In other words, the great majority of what I spent on this Christmas was spent in downtown Wilkes-Barre. Who could have thunk it?

I made my way past the phone books frozen to the sidewalk directly to the very last of the last businesses standing in downtown Wilkes-Barre. While I was over-joyed at the prospect of shopping virtually alone only four days before Christmas, I found it totally depressing at the same time. Our downtown has been hurting for some time now, but it's current condition is barely registering anything above a flatline. It's awful. It's dis-spiriting. It can't get any worse. Can it? To walk past those buildings that at one time housed such bustling businesses such as Pomeroys, Kresge's, Woolworths, Blum Bros., Lazurus, and J.S. Raub makes me wonder just what the hell our past elected officials were doing when they weren't drinking.

Whatever. Whomever. I did the right thing and supported what little that remains of my once vibrant downtown.

They'll need a scraper for these

And there it is. I didn't wait for the right moment to take this pic. I merely wandered around the Square, raised my over-worked camera and fired away. Is this downtown Wilkes-Barre, or downtown Chernobyl?

Not exactly standing room only

Whoopee! "Free parking for everyone," said the anti-business, soon to be ex-mayor. I wonder how much money he spent in downtown Wilkes-Barre on Christmas gifts? "Zero" would be a good guesstimate.

Free parking

Hey, Boscov's was busy. Well, busy for Boscov's. For the life of me, I still don't understand why Al Boscov has not given the order to close this long-suffering store. The interior of the store was dominated by "50% off" and "60% off" signs on most merchandise. I bought some nifty jewelry for Peace and Ebon, and while conversing with the friendly lady behind the counter, I wondered how much longer she would be gainfully employed by her present employer. Despite the temporary influx of holiday shoppers, this place smells like retail death to me.

Much busier than usual

Yes, I frequently visit Musical Energi and I'm not worried about what Joe Nardone might think about that. Joe Nardone owns 11 stores and without my frequent involvement in his stores, he'd probably own 3, or 4. I'm a helpless junkie and he's my pusher. And his seemingly limitless inventory has brought me nothing but great joy for thirty years now. Run on up to Sprawl-Mart and grab a "loss-leader" for $11.88. I'll be buying my music on South Main Street. Just like I always have.

They do it right

Jeez! Was there any point involved with this post? I'm not sure about that. All that I know is that I went shopping today. And while I enjoyed not being middle-fingered by the soccer mom's side-swiping each other's Windstars to get near the trendy, sexy retail outlets; I visited my trusty retail mainstays and I somehow felt as if I was saying goodbye to them.

I really do hope that I'm being overly pessimistic.


Bah, McHumbug!