by Meryl Neiman
My in-laws are generous. Too generous. Twice a year, we return from celebrating birthdays and Christmas with a stash of loot you wouldn't believe. I scan the street praying that no neighbors are there to witness my kids' embarassment of riches. The haul that emerges from our mini-van could entertain a day care. My kids don't need that much stuff. They don't play with most of it. And, more importantly, I don't have room for all the crap.
Actually, the stuff's not crap. It might be easier if it were. But the gifts are large. My husband's family lives on the compound out on the South Hills. His parents and two sisters, each with a family, live on adjacent properties. They have large suburban basements suitable for assimilating the bi annual toy onslaught. But we don't.
Maybe that's the point. Maybe my in-laws' strategy is to force us to move to the compound by overrunning our city home with life size Barbies and playmobile trains.
This year I had a plan.
A game system. Something expensive that could consume a lot of Christmas dollars, yet little real estate. So what that my children would be glued to the television set. So what that they would never again venture outside to play. I wouldn't have to Houdini a van load worth of toys into an already overflowing play room.
"Wii," my husband announced proudly, smiling over his laptop's screen.
"The Nintendo Wii. That's the one we want. It's less than half the price of the new PS3 system, it's family friendly, and it features this innovative wireless remote that's an extension of the kids' arms."
I nodded. "Good. Tell your parents."
It wasn't until Thanksgiving evening that I heard of the first problem with our plan. Apparently, my husband wasn't the only one to recognize the beauty of the Wii. The game system was one of the hot toys of the season and impossible to get.
"Stores open at five tomorrow and Best Buy should have some," my husband said. "My dad and I are going to get up early and get one tomorrow."
"What time are you going to get there?"
"Five." He smiled, proud of his planned industriousness.
"But if the store opens at five, won't there be a line before then?"
I was right of course. The line stretched for blocks, but it didn't matter. Best Buy didn't have any Wiis for Black Friday. My husband and his dad returned home in time for lunch. They had scored a blazer, two lap tops for my father-in-law's office, trash compactor bags, an external hard drive . . . But no Wii.
But then something happened. I who knew nothing about game systems. I who hadn't played video games much at all since my Centipede period in college. I became obsessed. The Wii was not available. Hence, I had to have one. I searched websites. I called stores. I was a woman on a mission. We would have a Wii for my in-laws to present at Chrismas.
Last Friday, on an internet forum tip, I drove over to a game store in Edgewood. Just as I arrived, the UPS truck rolled to a stop in front of the store. I knew in my heart that this was my lucky day. Inside the store, two other grown-ups were already waiting for the Wii. We were giddy with anticipation. The store owner was sure that the shipment of Wiis had arrived. But it was not to be. The boxes contained that OTHER GAME SYSTEM. I left disappointed, but my determination intact.
On Sunday morning, I awoke before 5 AM. It was freezing cold. I pulled on my layers of clothing and wasted crucial time looking for a lawn chair that I never found. I intended to stay in my car unless people were already lined up outside Target. They were. In fact, when I arrived, I was told that the word was that Target would have 20 Wiis and I was person number 22. The older couple in front of me (number 21) said they were going to stay and hope. They wanted a Wii for their grandson. He was an honor roll student they said proudly. I thought about venturing off to another Target, but it was dark, and everyone told me the store was hard to find and I have no sense of direction. So I stayed too. And the line grew behind me.
It was damn cold, but the atmosphere was collegial and one man in line was downright entertaining.
Finally, at about 7:15, a Target employee emerged from the store. "We have 24," he announced. The crowd cheered. The target man handed me a ticket. I felt like Charlie getting his entree to the chocolate factory. I gripped the paper with frozen fingers and toddled off to my car to wait until the store opened. At 8:30, I returned home proud and satisfied.
I still check the Amazon Wii forum every once in a while. A lot of people on the list have found their Wii. But now something miraculous has begun to happen. Wii hunters from around the country are now searching for Wiis for others who have not been successful. They saw the posts of military personnel whose orders were cancelled because JCPenney couldn't ship to their address, single moms who can't wait in the lines, parents of autistic children whose kids will be distraught if there is no Wii under their tree for Christmas. And they have chosen to act. They troll stores looking for Wiis, they camp out overnight. Not for themselves but for somebody else's child.
My Wii adventure has been a quintessential American experience. There was the crass commercialism. The allure of what we cannot have. But there was also the generosity of spirit. People sharing Wii-finding tips with strangers around the world. And those that went further and became Wii Santas, determined to share the Wii with others less fortunate.
For everyone out there, I wish you a wiiiwonderful holiday.