The Demon in Your Child’s Toy Box

November 15, 2011 § 6 Comments

Today I found myself in Target, wandering the children’s toys section out of a sense of curiosity mixed with masochism. Since it was almost 10 pm, the aisles were empty, which made me spectacularly aware of just how many toys have motion sensors nowadays. Apparently it’s a lot. As soon as I watched past the end of an aisle, little stuffed dogs started to bark and whine at me. When I turned down the aisle to check out the source of this noise, I prompted a whole menagerie to welcome/berate me with their various sounds, like a tiny, creepy zoo. As I walked, I set off trucks, musical toys, and dolls; it was like walking down the freezer aisle late at night, watching the lights come on in the wave of my motion, only auditory and startling.

Amongst a variety of odd and disturbing toys, however, (were toys this creepy when I was growing up? I mean, we had trolls and stuff, but Bratz dolls take it to a whole new level…) I was especially bothered by one that may seem tame compared to the dominatrix dolls and army tanks with real war sound effects.

Sock monkeys. I hate sock monkeys. I think they’re terrifying.

Just look at those soulless eyes.

I have felt this way since the first time I saw one. Their mouths look like giant gaping gashes across the front of their tiny, drugged-up faces. Their eyes are too far apart, making them look glazed over in a permanent unsettling stare. I know, I know that the eyes are just buttons and that these littles guys are meant to be funny and cuddly and squishy and I WANT TO KILL THEM ALL.

Apparently sock monkeys were originated in the 1890s as an easy way to create a homemade stuffed animal; people filled leftover socks or other fabric (shirt arms, etc.) to make inexpensive toys. Creative and cost-efficient! And ecological!

In 1932, however, the Nelson Knitting company became making their trademark red-heel socks, which became popular for sock monkeys since they provided a ready-made mouth. Still, I’m willing to say that the monkeys’ inherent terrifying nature did not necessarily begin here; it wasn’t until the ’50s that the Nelson Knitting company acquired a patent to the sock monkey pattern and began including one with every pair of socks, prompting the creation of a sock monkey army (!). Still, people were at least making these soulless creatures themselves, hopefully as a nice (if satanic) bonding experience with their kids. Conversely, in 1992, Fox River Mills bought the Nelson Knitting Company and began to produce the shit out of pre-made sock monkey products.

Now sock monkeys no longer had a droopy eye because Sally was bad at sewing buttons, or one arm longer than the other because Timmy forgot to measure before he cut the fabric. Now, all sock monkeys had standardized, uniform, coked-out eyes and conveyor belt, factory-produced mouth wounds. HELL IS EMPTY AND ALL THE DEVILS ARE HERE!!

You can't tell me this doesn't look like the hallucination of someone on mushrooms who after this vision will NEVER DO DRUGS AGAIN.

And Fox River Moloch didn’t stop at tiny stuffed animals that come out of the toy box to stare at you while you’re sleeping. They started slapping demon monkey faces on everything. There are sock monkey backpacks:

Sock monkey footy pajamas:

Sock monkey slippers (I saw these today at Target – in the women’s lingerie section! I was not prepared for the horror! At least in the toy area you know to brace yourself!):

THEY'RE EATING YOU FROM THE FEET UP!!

If you want to scare the living hell out of me, this is an easy way:

That is an adult-size sock monkey costume, which means that it creates a human size sock monkey. Excuse me while I go barricade myself in my bedroom with a hack-saw. Thank god Halloween is over for this year.

I know some people like sock monkeys. I know some people think they’re cute, and have sock monkey hats and sock monkey pencil cases. I know you think I’m overreacting because sock monkeys are at the best adorable and at the worst harmless, but THAT’S WHAT THEY WANT YOU TO THINK. While you’re giving them googly eyes, they’re sucking your soul out through your eye sockets.

In terms of demonic toys, I’d say that sock monkeys are our greatest threat, second only to Furbies. (I can’t even think about Furbies or I’ll have a nervous breakdown, so we’ll save that for another time.)

Sock monkeys: innocent stuffed toys or agents of Satan? I’ll give you a hint – which one do you think would require human sacrifices?

Oh my gods, they've eaten her head and both her hands! RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!!

On Naming, Part 2

November 12, 2011 § 2 Comments

In my first post on naming, I avoided commenting on naming trends particular to certain racial groups, specifically, the black penchant for adding “Da” or “D’ ” – and also “Ja” – to the beginning of existing names, giving us DaMarcus, Dashawn, DaWinston (I wish), etc. After talking to my dad on the phone the other night about this very issue, however, I decided I couldn’t keep my silence. He brought to my attention a name so hilarious I had to bring it to your attention as well: New York Jets offensive tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson.

If you pay more attention to football than I do – my interest is mostly limited to the Stanford Cardinal and the kind of football that is played with a round, black and white ball – you are probably already aware of our friend D’Brickashaw. It’s my understanding that the Jets are currently a successful team, and D’Brickashaw seems appropriately happy about this.

This man is adorable. I just want him to give me a giant hug. Instead, I’m going to make fun of his name.

Sorry, ‘Rick. Can I call you ‘Rick? I cannot address another human being as D’Brickashaw in all seriousness. Actually, let’s go with Brick. This man is 6’6 and 310 pounds, so I imagine he hits people like a brick wall.

Our friend Brick’s parents were quite ambitious, for they combined bad-naming strategies 1, 4, and 5 from my previous post. Strategy 4 involves naming your child with an existing English word. “Rickshaw” is an English word that was adapted from the Japanese word “jinrikisha” and that has been used since the 19th century, whereas “ricochet” comes from the French and means, “a glancing rebound (as of a projectile off a flat surface).” “Brick” is an English word meaning a “handy-sized unit of building or paving material typically being rectangular and about 2 1/4 by 3 3/8 x 8 inches (57 x 95 x 203 millimeters) and of moist clay hardened by heat” (Thanks, Merriam Webster. Note: being a massive linguistic nerd, I’d link to the Oxford English Dictionary online, but you need a paid subscription to read it, and since many people no longer pay to subscribe to newspapers, I doubt they’re lining up to shell out cash for the etymology of “teleological.”)

Strategy 1 involves spelling a normal name in a strange way, and while Brick’s parents didn’t do that, they did take normal words and spell them strangely. Of course, we could just diagnose a usage of Strategy 5, completely making up a name, and be done with it, since D’Brickashaw only retains passing likeness to any pre-existing word ever uttered.

Of course, perhaps his parents were simply prescient and knew that their son would grow up to be an NFL tackle, thus giving him an onomatopoeic name after the sound that opposing team’s players make when they bounce off his massive frame.

Perhaps, then, these psychic parents knew that their son wouldn’t have to worry about being teased for his unique name once he grew up to look like this:

Please don't hurt me.

Maybe they also knew, then, that in addition to being a fearsome giant,their son would be in good company with the other weirdly named NFL players. Frostee Rucker of the Cincinnati Bengals was obviously conceived and/or delivered in a Frostee Freeze, while C.J. Ah You of the St. Louis Rams was named after “the customary expression to use when you realize that the person walking through the shadows of your darkened home is just your spouse and not an ax wielding lunatic,” according to The Smoking Jacket.

Plaxico Burress, my favorite NFL player name, until I heard about Brick here, has done the seemingly impossible by living up to the incredible stupidity of his name. While he has yet to forge a dental cleanliness empire crusading against the dangers of plaque, he did accidentally shoot himself in the leg in a New York City nightclub, after the loaded Glock he had tucked into the waistband of his sweatpants (he should have been arrested for wearing sweatpants at a nightclub, forget the lack of a Concealed Carry permit) began to slide down his leg. Attempting to stop the gun from falling, Plaxico grabbed it and accidentally pressed the trigger, shooting himself in the leg. He was later arrested and charged with criminal possession of a handgun and reckless endangerment. His team, the New York Giants, were understandably less than thrilled and immediately tried to revoke the $1 million signing bonus Plaxico was due to receive. He was sentenced to two years in jail, serving most of that time, and after being released early this year, has returned to the NFL, playing for the New York Jets, along with our friend Brick.

Brick’s name is no longer anywhere close to the most embarrassing thing about a Jets player. This makes him happy.

Seriously, this man is adorable. Though he could kill you.

On Naming

November 9, 2011 § 4 Comments

Tellingly, this banner does not read "It's a chance to let everyone your child will ever meet know how clever her parents are!"

This is the part when I, a childless twenty-three-year-old, give you advice on how to parent – or, more accurately, how not to parent.

Specifically, I’m interested in what happens before the potty-training, before the volcano science fair project, before the eighth-grade graduation, indeed, often even before the child is born: I’m interested in naming, and where the line falls between “creative” and “child abuse.”

Celebrities have made bizarre-ass kids’ names more popular recently. Everyone has heard about Apple, Coco, and Pilot Inspektor. Hell, Nicholas Cage named his child after superman. (His son is Kal-el. Seriously.) The British chef Jamie Oliver, whom I find generally adorable, gave his four kids my favorite totally mad names: Poppy Honey Rosie Oliver, Daisy Boo Pamela Oliver, Petal Blossom Rainbow Oliver, and Buddy Bear Maurice Oliver. If you take the naming decision as a joke you get to play on your kid for the rest of his life, don’t do it halfway.

For a humorous collection of the most insane celeb baby names, check out Cracked: http://www.cracked.com/article_15765_the-20-most-bizarre-celebrity-baby-names.html

Now, the fact that a celebrity does something does not mean normal people – or, really anyone – should do it. You don’t see me running around asking for Slash’s hair stylist or Lindsay Lohan’s therapist’s number. But regardless of whether or not Sylvester Stallone chose to name his kid Sage Moonblood (note: he did), there are certain stupid naming practices that will likely persist.

I’ve identified five categories of naming impulses that can lead to appellative chaos:

1. Normal name spelled a strange way. These parents want to give their child a common name but still feel the need to leave their stamp on it somehow, in this case a stamp reading, “If found, return to Psychiatric Wing.” These names sound normal – Rachel, Jessica – but when written, their latent cray-cray is revealed: it’s not Rachel but Raychul, not Jessica but Jessikuh. Spellings with a cultural or ethnic background do not fall under this category; the Jewish “Channah” for “Hannah,” “Shaun” instead of “Sean” or “Shawn” – these are totally acceptable. I’ll even provide a little leeway if a parent wants to spell Jamie “Jaime” so that it’s spelled the same as the French for “I love.” But “Leesa” (Lisa), “Emilee,” “Jorja” (Georgia)? You have got to be joking. The bat-shit fundies on that TLC show 19 Kids and Counting (although apparently the mom’s pregnant with number 20, because 19 children is never enough – it says that right in the Bible) have given each of their kids a name beginning with the letter “j”. Rather than be restricted to names that are actually spelled with the letter “j,” however, they named kid #6 Jinger (like “Ginger”). I hope she’s a redhead. And I seriously wish her name were pronounced “Jinger” like “ringer,” though I doubt it.

2. Normal name pronounced a strange way. I’m not talking about “aw-na” versus “Anna” as in “apple,” nor do I have a problem with ethnically-informed pronunciations. If you’re Latino and say “Da-veed” instead of “David,” no sweat. My problem is the conscious choice to make reading your child’s name aloud difficult for everyone for the rest of his/her/hir life. If your daughter’s name is spelled Divine or Devine but pronounced like “Devin,” that’s too bad because “divine” is already a word. Or, vice versa, if her name is Devin but you want to pronounce it “Dee-vine,” tough tuckus.

3. Foreign word as name. Yes, Reina does sound lovely, but if you are white/Asian/not Latina and you interact with Spanish-speakers, it just becomes a bit awkward. However, if calling you “Queen” makes them uncomfortable, let them know they can always substitute “Your Majesty.”

4. Existing English words as name. Apple. Objects are particularly strange, but abstract words are also quite strange. Traditionally, some (mostly girls’) names have been words that signify positive attributes: Hope, Joy, Faith. Even some of the more ill-chosen, in my opinion, (Temperance, Chastity), still persist. Yes, historical people wanted to burden their daughters with names that were moral imperatives, but they also didn’t know about germs and thought masturbating caused blindness, so I think it’s acceptable to depart from their example. So don’t go calling your son “Brevity.” Also, nouns aren’t the only words that make bad names, though I’d caution against christening your offspring “Panoply,” “Rhapsody,” or “Garden.” “Culvert” sounds like a good idea but isn’t. Verbs (“Scurry”), adjectives (“Antipodal”), adverbs – most existing words are probably a bad idea. Even if you think it’s obscure – “Miasma,” maybe, for your lovely daughter – word nerds like me will be wondering why you wanted to name your child after an infecting vapor.

5. Completely made up name. Throw together any combination of letters and call it a name. Indeed, try out punctuation as well. I’ve heard tell of a girl named “La-a,” and her name is not pronounced “La” or “La’a”: it’s pronounced “La-dash-a.”

I understand the impulse to give your child a unique name; my name is uncommon enough that most people misspell it and many mispronounce it. My best friend has a fairly unusual first name but a downright strange middle name: von Wulfen. It means “from the wolves.” She has hated it our entire lives. I have always thought it was basically the coolest name possible (a perspective likely made possible by the fact that it is not my name). Here’s a hint, then: if you want to throw in some cray-cray along with the family “Thomas” or “Catherine,” stick it in the middle name. Then it’s at least a bit hidden, and your son doesn’t have to spend kindergarten to second grade learning to write “Velociraptor” at the top of his assignments. (Confession: I may or may not think “Velociraptor” would make an awesome name. In theory. In practice, I intend to love my kids, not send them unarmed into the world with a sign saying, “I’m a freak!” My kid will probably be enough of a freak on his/her/hir own.)

In terms of finding interesting names that won’t draw the attention of child protective services, I myself often like surnames used as first names, especially as a means of giving the child a namesake; I had a female friend in college named “Austen” after Jane Austen. I know an English Lit Ph.D. candidate at Stanford whose son is named Whitman, with the nickname “Whit”  – pushing it a bit but ultimately pretty cute, I’d say. However, the surname-as-first-name rule doesn’t always work. My neighbors recently gave their son a family surname: Thorsen, “Thor” for short. No. Dear god/dess no.

Your child is not a pet. If you call a dog “Gobsmack,” or “Fork,” or “Federal Reserve,” it may bring you embarrassment at some point, but it will not stimulate the dog’s peers to make his/her/hir life a living hell. I’m sure Apple’s classmates have never made a joke about having her in their lunchbox, and I’m sure when she gets older there will be absolutely no sexual innuendos constructed around the fact that she’s named after a fruit. I’m totally positive.

Ridicule – you want your child to get less of it, not more. Do your part to make that happen.

My mother grew up knowing three sisters, the children of hippies, who were named Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow. If you view this example as inspiration for your own name-creation endeavors, rather than as a cautionary tale, please begin this blog over from the beginning.

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