You can't toy with a discriminating parent

Wednesday, November 27, 1991
[My first column for the Wednesday Journal of Oak Park and River Forest, published Nov. 27, 1991; resurrected on this blog Sept. 25, 2016. I don't remember why I chose not to identify the toy in question as Batman's Batjet, but I didn't.]

Kenner's Batjet (Credit: Comic Collector Live)
My son Benjamin turned five in October.

And I couldn't be happier.

He's reached the age where his tastes are just about as sophisticated as mine. He loves Darkwing Duck; I think Darkwing Duck is great. He thinks flatulence is funny; I bought him and his two-year-old brother, Joel, whoopee cushions.

So you can imagine my glee at his presents. Action figures, equipped with lots of playfully lethal weapons; Lego; and the sleekest, most dynamic present of all: A futuristic jet. Black as night, with swept-back wings that emerged from the fuselage with the speed—and much the same intimidating effect—of a switch-blade knife.

And coolest of all: A nose-cone that separated from the plane with lightning speed, shooting across the living room in the blink of an—

Benjamin and I parted ways at that point. "This," I said, "is a dangerous toy. You could hurt yourself." Although Joel's a more likely target, I thought.

So I performed a little elective surgery on this sleekest, blackest, coolest present. I removed a few strategic screws and extracted the spring that powered it. The jet looks the same; but, where a powerful black projectile once rocketed across the room, it now drips impotently to the floor.

Benjamin cried inconsolably. For about three minutes.

Then I did one other responsible-adult thing. I dug out the jet's warranty card and sent it to the manufacturer, Kenner, with a note scrawled across the top. Something to the effect of "This thing is dangerous. It should be recalled."

And I thought that would be that. It'd wind up in File 13 and we'd see the same product next year, with a different set of decals honoring the next hot licensed character.

But just last week, I got a call from one of Kenner's "safety engineers." He explained that the company's toys are engineered to meet strict federal safety standards and designed not to do serious injury to children's eyes. I asked him if he'd be willing to fire the thing into his eye. I didn't push for his answer.

I told him it was a great-looking toy. The kids loved it. But I thought it was irresponsible to sell a product like that without at least a label warning that it could injure kids if not used properly.

He said the company's marketing department probably wouldn't go for that. And I said I understood. But I asked him to keep his eyes in mind as he tested next year's stuff.

He said he would. And then he offered to express the company's gratitude by sending us a catalog and letting us choose some other toy we'd like. "I normally just choose something and send it," he said. "But you sound like a discriminating parent, so I'll let you decide."

Benjamin's thrilled at the prospect of a free toy. I think he understands why I had to disarm the original.

But, someday, maybe when he's a father with kids of his own …

… I'm going to put the spring back.

No comments: