It sometimes pays to listen to voices in your head. Take today, for instance. Along with many other procrastinating shoppers, I was out in search of presents for my nephew this afternoon. He’ll be turning one just after the holidays and I’m determined to make sure he has a few of the traditional childhood touchstones scattered across his early years. I also have a personal code of honor that prohibits me from buying toys that make intentional noise or music for friends and family. These two factors determined that I was going to buy classic toys for the little tyke’s first Christmas.
As I pondered what exactly those classic toys should be, a voice spoke up from my unconscious and told me, “Buy him a funny-looking stuffed frog.” Pausing, I considered these words. That voice sometimes gets me in a lot of trouble, but its success to failure ratio has been pretty good over the last two years. A stuffed frog it would be, then.
After finding a suitably comic Animal Alley batrachian at Toys R’ Us, I consulted the voice again. “What now, oh voice of wisdom? What should we get?” From the mists of my mind burbled, “Wooden blocks.” I inquired whether it meant the alphabetical kind or the colorful building variety. “Figure it out yourself, genius,” came the response. Right, I guess I would know the proper wooden blocks when I found them.
The problem is that it’s difficult to find your standard wooden blocks nowadays. Everything’s either plastic, branded, or both. When the big chains failed me, I tried a few smaller venues that might cater to the less mainstream wants of the shopping public, but with no better results. Luckily, someone vaguely remembered seeing some at the local bargain books outlet.
Normally, I avoid this place. Although it is very close to my home and offers 60% off of the normal cover price on remainder books, it’s one of those overly-helpful places of business. I was once asked if I needed help finding anything ten times in eight minutes. And while customer service seems to be a dying art, there is only so much help a man can stand. For my nephew, however, I was willing to run a gauntlet of cheery store associates.
I arrived at the store and, after a few thrown elbows and a couple of rabbit punches to the swarming sales folk, I made my way to the pile of assorted wooden toys that lay against the store’s far wall. Although there were wooden puzzles, wooden stamps, a wooden train, and even a wooden snake, there were no blocks to be found. Defeated, I made a fighting withdrawal towards the exit, dumping a shelf of Twilight hard covers on top of a smiling, tow-headed girl who wanted to tell me about the discount on cookbooks.
Then, from the corner of my eye, I saw it. Surely it couldn’t be. Not in this shopping hell.
But it was.
Standing on one of the three shelves that comprises the store’s gaming section (exclusively 3.5 books and 4th edition quick starts) was a copy of the Arduin Trilogy compilation by Emperors Choice. I was so shocked that two book sellers almost managed to coax a confession from me as to where I had heard about their great values before I snapped back to my senses. After rendering them unconscious with a pair of dual-wielded R.A. Salvatore novels, I grabbed this most unusual treasure from the shelves, dove under a trio of Santa hat-wearing employees offering free gift-wrapping, and rushed to the counter.
Although books are usually around 60% off of the cover price, the Arduin Trilogy sported a yellow label that was good for an additional 15% mark-down. When all was said and done, and the flash-bang explosions allowed me to escape, I paid $13 for a $50 book. And, oh what a book it is.
My nephew hooked up his uncle with a Christmas present of his own today. He certainly doesn’t know it, and I have no idea how this all came to be, but I’m thankful for it. The only thing I do know for certain is that somebody has a humungous set of wooden blocks coming to him from Amazon.com for Christmas this year and one grateful uncle who’s going to be building ancient temples ruins with him.