Toy Stories: Guest Blogger James and the horror of Animal Prison

Toys. I could say a lot about toys, impotent but so little of interest. Growing up, I mainly stuck to He-Man and WWF figures, and it takes a certain kind of ten-year-old boy mentality to appreciate those topics. Even most of the other ten-year-old boys I knew weren’t really interested. Eventually, I learned to fake it well enough, but for whatever reason, it’s not something I ever grew out of.

This made it a bit difficult to choose a toy-themed blog topic. I know that nobody wants to read about why Modulok was the coolest of all the He-Man figures, and you don’t care why I found the late-80’s LJN “Ravishing” Rick Rude action figure so poorly designed. I got a great toy for Christmas, and recorded a video of myself playing with it, but really, I don’t have anything more to add to the description I posted: “I had this toy. Then I didn’t have it anymore. Then they remade it and I had one again.”

Is it wrong of me to find it funny and a little sad when the bowling ball does a header right into the burner?

Also, I think it says a lot about myself that my fridge is covered with drawings and I am wearing a t-shirt with a hot dog that says “I AM AWESOME.”

Anyway. On another website (which I won’t link to since I need to get all the pictures back up, due to a hosting snafu that’s way too boring to describe), I told the story of Mr. Peeps, a beanbag Marshmallow Peep that showed up on my desk one day and disappeared just as quickly. I received pictures of his travels around the world until – this is true – Mr. Peeps fell to the bottom of the ocean during a photo shoot. By this point, his adventures had become a fixture of a company newsletter that I help edit; rather than reveal the tragic ending to the world, I merely chose to say that Mr. Peeps had retired to the Bahamas. It was kind of true.

But that is old news, and the kidnapped-toy-travels-the-world thing has been done many times before. (And will be done again soon, if Mr. Peeps’ kidnapper’s drunken confession at the office Christmas party is to be believed.) Instead, I’m going to use this space to present a public service announcement about the horrors of Animal Prison.

If you have an MP3 of Sarah McLachlan playing “I Will Remember You,” this would be a good time to start it up. Maybe put it on repeat in case I ramble.

My girlfriend Mika and I discovered Animal Prison during a late-night trip to our local grocery store. You know those bins where it’s just a big metal frame, and there are bungee cords around the outside to keep everything in place? Toy stores often use them to store big bouncy balls. Anyway, this is where Superstore kept its stuffed animals. The metal frame was black, and all the bungee cords were black, so it looked an awful lot like a jail cell. Animal Prison.

If you do not live in an area that gets phone service from Telus, then you may not have seen the commercials that used the song “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas.” I am not so lucky. And now neither are you:

As we were at the grocery store only a few days after Christmas, these ads were fresh in my mind. I found a big grey hippo – I maintain he has some purple in him but nobody agrees with me – and I made him sing to Mika:

I want YOU for Christmas
Only YOU will do…

Then I made the hippo look sad. He slumped down, as if to sigh. He looked up at Mika one more time, and then back to the floor. He wasn’t going home with us. He was staying in Animal Prison. This made Mika feel so bad that she turned the hippo face-down, so that his sad beady plastic eyes wouldn’t watch us walk away. She spent the rest of the trip trying to make me feel guilty, but it wasn’t effective because she’d pick up, say, a jug of Tide and say “I love you, James, please take me home, I want to live at your house and get your clothes all nice and clean,” but man, Tide just isn’t cute. It doesn’t even have eyes.

I didn’t plan for us to walk past Animal Prison again, but we got looking for miso paste. Superstore does not, to the best of my knowledge, keep the miso paste and the toys in the same section, so that’s really not a good excuse. But there we were, and there was the hippo. And I couldn’t leave him there. Not in Animal Prison.

On the drive home, we talked to the hippo. We described the city to the hippo. We drove past the river because we thought that the hippo might find it to be more scenic. We named him Henry. We made him a bed in the laundry basket.

This wasn’t even the first hippo. We had a house hippo – I believe his official name is House Hippo – who lived atop the TV. He was named after the hippo in the commercial:

We weren’t even thinking of House Hippo when we adopted Henry, but they’ve become good friends, who snooze the day away in the laundry basket. They have their own personalities; Henry is timid and inquisitive; House Hippo is much braver. House Hippo likes rap and punk, whereas Henry, so far, has only ever danced to the Tetris song. Henry is easily confused, and House Hippo likes fire and headbutts. I am not sure which of the two wrote “hippo food” on the grocery list in the kitchen, but they don’t seem to mind that we haven’t actually bought them any. In a possibly related note, I think they’ve been eating our Crispy Minis.

I don’t know how I feel about all of this. Even among ten-year-old boys, it’s not cool to love stuffed animals. It started as a joke, I think, but I actually miss the hippos when I’m away. Sometimes I hear a song and think “I bet House Hippo would LOVE that song.” It’s kind of like what having kids must be like, if your kids were a fuzzy purple (fine, grey) and a smooth pink, respectively, and you didn’t have to feed them or change them or bathe them, and they didn’t grow, and they didn’t make any noise, and you could leave them in the laundry basket for days at a time. Exactly like that.

Maybe I’ll introduce Henry and House Hippo to Hulk Hogan and He-Man. The hippos could use some positive role models in their lives.


James pretty much always makes me laugh. I don’t think it is weird at all that they Mika started feeling bad for the animals in Animal Prison because that is exactly how I am – the Mister makes me feel guilty for not spending enough time with the Uglies – but that is another post. Anyway, you can check out James’s blog: here.

Oh, and Henry looks rather grey in colour to me.

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