Parable of the Pillow Pet

Locked.  I tried the sliding glass door again just to make sure.  It wouldn’t budge.  I looked around the aisle for an answer, not quite sure exactly who or what I was looking for.  I was mostly just astonished that the case was locked. I was slightly confused.  I had presumed that safe sex was pretty much highly encouraged these days.  Apparently I was wrong.  I remember not being able to walk ten feet in the dorms or my college quad without condoms being handed to me whether I had a use for them or not.  Hell, the health clinic on campus gave away cases of them to students as easily as they did those little red decongestant tablets.

Yet, a little over ten years since the condom-ucopia of my college years, I found myself in the pharmacy aisle of a Baker’s grocery store two weeks before Christmas with all the condoms in Omaha locked up tighter than the cigarettes.  It was dumbfounding. Why would they lock up the rubbers? It seemed to me that even if people were stealing them from time to time, that sort of fell into the realm of the greater good, you know? I tried to understand the thought process behind the situation as I attempted to open the small sliding glass door again, this time fiddling with the round metal lock that was sticking out from the left side figuring that I might have missed something my first three tries. Nothing. 

Not sure who to ask to gain access to the lubricated latex mother-load, I looked curiously up and down the aisle again to no avail.  There was a line three deep at the pharmacy counter and no uniformed staff anywhere to be seen. After waiting a few minutes with no progress, I went back to the cabinet to try again.  Not surprisingly, it was still locked.  Even less surprisingly, my nineteen month old son was growing impatient as I tried to figure out my little prophylactic problem. I stepped back in line at the pharmacy and waited, the line now two deep, trying to convince Jack that we would be leaving soon.  I was thirty three, married, toddler son in one arm, Pillow Pet bumble bee in the other, waiting in line to ask the young woman behind the counter for permission to have protected sex with my wife. Merry Fucking Christmas.

I still hadn’t paid for the Pillow Pet, but I knew there was no way I was getting out of the store without buying it.  I came for the condoms, but I was already fucked as soon as I turned the aisle and headed toward the pharmacy.  There were two huge signs, one on a shelf to my left and another on an island display right in front of the self-checkout lanes.   The red and green marker on the white and yellow of the sign screamed about a “One Day Only!” sale.  All Pillow Pets were five bucks cheaper.  It was a Christmas miracle.  I would go against every previous thought my wife and I had on the subject and buy the little fucker his fuzzy pillow with the head on it.  Hell, it was Christmas in a week and we hadn’t even thought about buying Jack anything.  I got a bit excited at my unexpected Santa Claus opportunity as we stopped in front of the display.

I suppose I would have stopped anyways.  Once he lays his eyes on those things at the store, he’s a moth to bug zapper.  It’s easier to just stop and let him see them. Normally, a trip to the store or anywhere is no big deal for this Jack-Dad duo, but those damn Pillow Pets have warped his mind. Anything he knows about proper behavior takes a rare backseat to those two words and what they represent.  And he says them!  He was barely saying anything recognizable the first time I heard him say, “piwow peh.”  He pointed to the TV screen in our treadmill room and said it three times in a row.  He did it again the next day.  I earned a degree in broadcasting, worked in radio for a dozen years, but it was that very moment sweating on the treadmill trying to ignore that shitty Caillou show, that I completely comprehended the extent of the power of television and advertising.

Until that pillow pet commercial came along, I wasn’t even sure if Jack was paying any attention to the TV at all.  Soon after, he would stop dead in his tracks anytime it happened to come on.  The kicker was that at the most, Jack would spend an hour a day passively watching television while I was working out.  It was mostly just in the background as he pushed cars around or stacked blocks.  Nevertheless, the damn Pillow Pet commercial would always be on at least once. Jack’s eyes would glaze over and he would point and stare from beginning to end. It was basically an infomercial for toddlers, a Sham-Wow type spot for stuffed animals.  I swear it was close to three minutes long at least. From October to December, it was my son’s favorite show on television.  Then they started carrying them at the grocery store and Walgreens. It didn’t take him long to put two and two together.  Soon, no quick trip to the store for milk and bananas was complete without a brief stop at the Pillow Pet display–no matter how much I tried to avoid it.

The thing is, Jack already had a Pillow Pet.  Or, at least we tried to convince him of that fact.  The prior Christmas, his great-grandmother had bought him a small brown pillow with a bear head attached.  For all intents and purposes, it was a Pillow Pet.  A generic one sure, but the same cuddly concept.  For the first month of his obsession, he even bought into it.  He hugged it, he loved it, and he would run to his room to grab it every time the real ones made an appearance on TV.  But just like the homemade “Cabbage Patch” dolls that my Grandma Dorothy and my Mom tried to pass off on my little sister before she was old enough to know the difference, Great-Grandma Lu-Lu’s pillow with the bear head would eventually also be looked at suspiciously. And though he couldn’t voice those suspicions, it was clear that it was starting to cause significant confusion for his tiny mind: he knew that his bear pillow was half the size of the ones at the store and that it didn’t look like any of the ones he saw everyday on TV. The jig was up. Ho. Ho. Ho.

“Which one do you want, buddy?” I asked him.  I could tell he didn’t expect the question.  His eyes lit up and he stretched his arms trying to wrap them around the entire display.  Eventually he fixed his gaze on the bumble bee and commenced with his weird anxious moan and reach combo that he does when he wants something so badly he can’t stand it. I figured he’d go for that one or the ladybug.  They were the only ones with big red noses, and they were both featured heavily in the commercial.  I removed the stuffed bright yellow bumble bee pillow from the rack and handed it to him.  He hugged it like it was his mother. I probably could have left him in the store to be raised by the cashiers, baggers, and cart wranglers and he wouldn’t have cared.  He gripped his soon to be Pillow Pet like a life raft.  He didn’t even know what to do next.

I, however, was on a mission for a box of condoms.  We were leaving on our holiday road trip the next day and that night my wife and I were starting what I had begun to call the “Twelve Days of Sexmas.” I knew I had more of a chance to get a Lexus with a big red bow on top than twelve straight days of sexual interaction with my wife, but it had a nice ring to it and though I couldn’t determine her level of seriousness, the Professor seemed to be game. I had to be prepared. 

“Can I help you?” the polite looking young pharmacist behind the counter asked when we finally reached the front.  I was quick to respond with a question of my own.

“How do I go about getting something out of this cabinet?” I asked as I pointed down in front of me with my free hand, simultaneously shifting the weight of Jack in his overstuffed winter coat while holding the Pillow Pet in my other arm.

“I can help you,” the pharmacist responded as she grabbed a key from next to her computer keyboard and exited the half door to my left to open the lock on the sliding glass door to my right. She slid open the cabinet door and offered me an opportunity to browse.  Having already had twenty minutes to stare at the selection behind locked glass, I quickly grabbed a box and thanked the woman.

“Enjoy,” she said, which seemed both odd and completely apropos, though I wasn’t entirely sure if she was talking to me about the condoms or to Jack about his Pillow Pet.

“We will,” I blushingly smiled and then mumbled something about wanting to insure that this was the last Pillow Pet I would have to buy as I turned and headed for the self checkout with my curious set of goods and a renewed Christmas spirit. 

I scanned the box of condoms and set it aside before trying to talk Jack into relinquishing brief control of his bumble bee. I should have known better. He shook his head no while tightening his grip and made it known that if a scene was what I wanted, a scene was what I would get. A Pillow Pet was all he had ever wanted, and the look in his eyes told me that I would have to remove it from his cold dead hands. It was almost as good as the look on his face when I ripped the thing out of his hands and hip checked him aside as I scanned it, set it on the side, and hit the pay button.  Lucky for me my tactic had sent him directly into one of his red faced, slow building, super screamo fits where he sucks air silently for a good thirty seconds before letting loose.  It was just enough time.  I scanned my wife’s debit card and handed the Pillow Pet back to him, immediately halting the wail before he was able to release it.  He wouldn’t let go of the bumble bee pillow again for the next forty-eight hours.

After that he was pretty much done with it, casting the Pillow Pet aside before Christmas even came, replaced by an insatiable obsession with “choo-choos” that lives on to this day.  It was all he ever wanted, and now he could care less. Hell, I bet even Ralphie’s Red Rider BB gun was collecting dust in a closet before the Easter Bunny came hopping down that bunny trail a few months later. Its moment in the spotlight was minimal, but I  learned some things from that once coveted yellow and black monstrosity with the red fuzzy nose that now gets mostly ignored and routinely left in the basement. And the look of wonder on his face when I handed him that stupid bumble bee in that grocery store was worth far more than that $14.95 I reluctantly spent on it.

As far as this jolly old elf, my Twelve Days of Sexmas didn’t fare much better than the now forgotten Pillow Pet. My wife’s period arrived at my father-in law’s house just as we did. However, by the new year, three condoms did actually make an appearance.  They brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh.