The Toy Fair

by Lisa Hanawalt

• The Toy Fair isn’t for kids. The show’s held yearly at the Javits Center, Manhattan’s main convention facility (a.k.a. massive gray box), and it’s full of serious adults in business suits with corporate accounts. It’s not supposed to be fun. We’ll see about that!

• Toy Fair badges are only available for pros, so my boyfriend’s mom generously registered me and my friend Tim as employees of her chia seed company. My badge says “CHIA POWER/Assistant Buyer.” We’ll avoid walking by chia products for fear of having to hold our own in a chia conversation.

• I want to pretend we’re here for legitimate reasons, so Tim and I work out a cover story, “we distribute chia products, but we’re looking to branch out into toys and athletics.” That totally sounds like a thing, right?

• Tim is my quintessential New York Friend: erudite, droll, always up for hijinks.

• As soon as we get past security, Tim points to the bedazzling station and says, “I’m going to let one of those pretty girls give me a glitter tattoo.” Sure, no harm in outing ourselves as ultra-eager Toy Fair participants!

• Freshly glittered, we take a look around the main exhibition hall. “These vendors have wildly differing ideas on what makes for appropriate convention wear,” Tim says.

• A lot of businessmen are whizzing around the aisles on little scooters and things. The ones selling miniature vehicles seem to be having more fun than everyone else.

• The most uptight vendors are the German artisanal stuffed animal salesmen.

• I do a double-take at the Teddy Tanks booth, where live fish are swimming inside teddy bears. A young, bored guy gives us a spiel, “We put the animate in the inanimate. That’s our concept. We bring it to life.”

He demonstrates how to pour fish food into the stuffed bear’s mouth, then repeats, “We put the animate in the inanimate.” WHAT. Never mind that it’s a terrible slogan, doesn’t anyone realize that to a child, a teddy bear is animate? And won’t it be horrifying when encasing a live fish tank in Teddy’s plush flesh causes him to rot from the inside?

• A lot of these toys could benefit from being workshopped with actual children.

• We circumvent educational toys until I spot a faux archaeological “Digasaurs” sandbox with fake dinosaur bones and brushes. How cool! Bone brushing has to be the best part of being a paleontologist, I bet paleontologists are constantly fighting over who gets to brush bones.

• I hope the owner of Royal Bobbles got his booth space at a discounted rate.

• Ooh look, it’s a giant inflatable shark! Tim and I both covet Sharky, but who could fit him in their apartment and afford his constant diet of fresh Helium?

• Here’s an uncomfortable observation: I notice my attraction to certain toys feels kind of … sexual. A lot of these toys have voluptuous and flirtatious designs, for example the My Little Ponies have big soft rumps and perfumed hair. It makes me uneasy.

• I’m sneering at the nerdy “collectible figurines” section, when I see a limited edition Red Stay Puft and feel thunderstruck. He looks angry, yet supple and inviting. I don’t want to say he looks like a dildo, but … well.

I also like this 4D Shark Puzzle; I think he’d make a fine friend for Red Stay Puft.

I want this fashionable black and neon globe, too, but it’s not quite a toy. Maybe I could get creative and incorporate it into some playtime with the other guys?

• Here’s a toy I can’t imagine anyone wanting: a creepy blonde doll crying semen-like tears and clutching a smaller doll of her own.

I approach Dolly for a closer inspection and nod at the owner, a midwestern Mom type. “She’s lovely,” I say as I snap a picture. Those tears really look like jizz. “Isn’t she stunning?” “Just beautiful.”

There’s a lot of candy at this convention. I’m doing a lot of pretending to be interested in toys so that I can eat pieces of candy.

It’s important to remember we can make a swift exit if things get awkward. The vendors are somewhat glued to their booths and won’t pursue us very far into the aisle.

• I leave Tim’s side to go investigate a salesman wearing suggestive red shorts and playing hacky sack with a badminton birdie. During his demo, he leans in to confide, “I’m REALLY hungry.” I offer him a banana, he says, “I’m really not allowed to eat your banana,” and it’s a million times more awkward than it should be. Why can’t he just take the fruit and switch it out with the birdie for a minute? Is he a prisoner?! I walk away before Birdie Bananas can involve me in an escape plan.

• I find Tim in the Star Trek cologne booth, and bleccch! It smells cheap and repugnant. “Shirtless Kirk” is especially disappointing, not even worth it as a gag gift.

• But here’s something even less desirable: “Abundant Harvest,” a board game for teaching children and adults how to make wise life choices. Sample scenarios include “Your spouse is not putting effort into maintaining a strong marriage” and “Your friend is passing around a marijuana cigarette.” FUN! The booth is deserted, like even the salespeople couldn’t take it anymore.

• I squint at an “Americoob” banner just to make sure … no, it doesn’t say “AmeriBOOB.” The booth guy explains the toy is based on the viking game, Kubbspel, and he invites me to wear a plastic viking helmet while trying out a game of Americoob in the aisle.

I knock a block (coob?) over with a differently shaped block (or is this one the coob?), I yell “COOB!” and it feels good. It has a bare bones throw-a-thing-at-a-thing charm. Still, I wonder if the whole “ancient Norse warriors” vibe couldn’t be incorporated more into gameplay.

It’s hard to associate these game pieces…

…with my mental picture of a viking:

Then again…?

• We head upstairs, where all the heavy hitters and big brands went nuts designing elaborate booths. The already confusing trade show social dynamic changes up here; instead of being courted by desperate small business owners, we’re met with icy suits at podiums requesting vendor account numbers and appointments. I realize I’m the villain and these people are just trying to sell wholesale goods, but I still feel entitled — what’s the harm in letting me check out the newest pirate ship play set or whatever? Sure, I just sell chia products, but I’m looking to branch out.

• Reactions to my chia affiliation have been mostly neutral or “oh, cool, like the Chia Pets,” but the women guarding the Playmobil® compound are total dicks about it.

One of them says “Chia?!,” and turns to her coworker with a look of contempt. Then both of them laugh in our faces. I’m still fuming ten minutes later, who does Playmobil think they are? They’re no Lego, that’s for sure.

• Lego won’t even let us into their booth. You need an appointment, and the receptionist won’t let us peek even though there’s nobody else around. At Comic-con, they pile Legos on the floor and let you swim in them! Just sayin’.

• Thank you, Uncle Milton Industries, for letting us enjoy your “Tarantula Planet” critters. I’m a sucker for ugly animals dressed up in costumes, and hey, weird, the soccer-themed tarantula is wearing the same outfit as that Birdie Bananas guy from earlier!

Too late, Birdie, I already ate my banana!

• I spy plastic horses from across the room and get all screechy. Breyers. I corner a saleslady, “Oh my god, I’m such a Breyer fan! I sold most of my collection when I moved to New York, but still keep a bunch in the closet at my parents’ house!!” I nerd out over their displays for awhile.

• Next we check out model airplanes so Tim can take a turn geeking. I admire the planes for their beauty, particularly a woodgrain space shuttle with moving compartments, but they’re no match for acetate equines.

• I’m going to get a little nostalgic for a moment, so bear with me, but do you remember your favorite toys as a child? And maybe you wondered why adults didn’t seem as enchanted with your toys as you were? I used to swear I’d never lose interest in my figurines and dolls, I feared it would mean losing my entire sense of self. But of course I grew older and started leaving those beloved things behind.

I can pick up a Breyer horse, admire the smooth plastic and artful details, but … that’s it. I’m not going to sit on the floor with it for hours, making it talk to other toys, acting out my latest conflicts and fantasies, forming pretend relationships. I wish I could enjoy toys on that level again.

• We wander around for a few more minutes before admitting we’re worn out, we can’t play with toys all day like we used to. Outside the Javits Center, we see a man controlling a large toy car and I ask, “Hey, can you give me a ride?” He pretends not to hear me. He’s very serious.

The end.

Previously: War Horse, an Illustrated Review.

Lisa Hanawalt lives in Brooklyn and does illustrations + funnies for publications like the New York Times, McSweeney’s, Vice, and Chronicle Books. She’s best known for her comic book series I Want You.