The Easter toys are in the stores now. I bought a little plastic chicken the other day. It came equipped with a bunch of little plastic eggs; when you push down on the chicken's back, it flaps its little plastic wings and lays a plastic egg. It's not good to think about how you have to get the eggs in there in the first place.
Why did I buy this plastic chicken toy? To commemorate a memory. My late grandfather was terribly fond of little plastic gewgaws, and used his grandchildren as an excuse to buy them -- and yes, he always gave them to us to keep after he'd played with them for a few minutes. The guy was vice-president of a bank; he had to hang on to some dignity.
Anyway, one Easter, he took us out and bought all sorts of Easter toys. I believe the year was 1971 or so; I would have been around seven, and my sister was around two. Her big thing that year was an inflatable Easter rabbit that was bigger than she was. My great joy was the Aurora dinosaur models. Still, I remember that silly plastic chicken...
It didn't lay plastic eggs; instead it came with some gumballs you were supposed to stick up its ass, then push down on the chicken's back to make her lay "gumball eggs". I did, and gobbled them down as fast as she laid them. Eventually, there were no gumball eggs, and I experimented with other small egg-shaped objects, including jellybeans and chocolate balls. Eventually, I lost interest and went in to assemble my Pterodactyl (with optional Battle-Damaged Wing) and made it soar menacingly across my grandparents' living room...
It was still Easter. We'd been up hunting eggs by 7 a.m., breakfast by 8, rolling in toys and candy by 9, and by late afternoon, I was bored. My pterodactyl had attacked and eaten entire tribes of imaginary cavemen by that time; I was terribly interested in seeing how he'd come out against my Allosaurus, but that model was back home; a grudge match would have to wait. What to do?
That was when I remembered the chicken. Make it lay some more eggs to eat. I began looking for the chicken, which was nowhere to be found -- until I remembered it was out on the patio. I trotted outside and discovered all the adults sitting around in lawn chairs making adult-talk; nothing to concern me. I looked around, spotted my chicken, still sitting next to my Easter basket...
(At this point, I feel obligated to point out that the geographic location was deep south Texas -- some forty miles east of the Mexican border, on the northern part of the Rio Grande Valley. They call the place the "Winter Garden" because of its short, mild winters. My point here is that although it was barely spring, it was hot by early spring standards...)
I ran over and picked up the chicken. Ahh, plenty of heft -- no need to load it. I put its little orange feet on the pavement and pushed down on its back.
Nothing happened. Instead of the brisk clickelick of the spring mechanism unloading an egg, I got silence -- and a feel of mushy resistance. I frowned, perplexed. No jellybean? I let up, let the mechanism relax, then pushed again. Nothing happened. Irritated, I pushed harder.
It seemed that I'd left the thing loaded with those little chocolate balls, not the jellybeans. Chocolate balls. In the hot sun, all afternoon. A wonder the ants hadn't found it. Anyway, the chocolate hadn't had enough time to melt, per se -- not really hot enough -- but it had softened pretty well, not enough to leak out, but soft enough to be forced out under the proper circumstances. When I pushed down, the chicken finally excreted a thin tailing that, upon reaching the pavement, coiled brownly up in a little pile, like--
I was completely blown away. Here I'd just expected that a jellybean egg was stuck in the chicken's clockwork bowels, only to discover that my plastic poultry could produce a plurality of biological functions.
"Hey, NEAT!" I cried gleefully. "My chicken just POOPED!"
All four adults sharing the patio with me abruptly looked up from their conversation. I noticed this, and mistook it for interest. I put the chicken down again and pushed; it obligingly repeated the phenomenon. "Didja see?" I cried. "Didja see?"
Looking back through my memories through a child's eye, the expressions on their faces still kind of amuse me. My grandmother's face indicated that her entire brain just kind of locked up on her from sheer shock. My father, on the other hand, had his mouth hanging open and looked kind of like he wanted to laugh, but was wondering whether or not he should swat me for appearances' sake. Mom got a firm set to her jaw and glared at my grandfather -- (did YOU buy him that thing?), and Gran'ther looked most confused of all -- partly amused, partly shocked, and partly like the captain of the Exxon Valdez preparing to meet with the press --"Well, it wasn't supposed to do that..."
I can correctly interpret these expressions only now, as an adult. As a child, at the time, I simply assumed that they were as blown away by the magic of the phenomenon as I was -- as if Pinocchio had become a real boy, or the Tin Man of Oz had suddenly needed to take a leak or something. Merrily, I proceeded to hop my little plastic chicken around the pavement, leaving little piles of confectionary crap in its wake. Just as the adults were regaining the power of speech, it occurred to my sister, who was sitting nearby, that the chicken's leavings ... were edible.
I leave it to your imagination what the reaction was by the Old People to a cute bediapered infant happily scooping up and sampling ersatz chicken turds.
I was not punished. Upon explanation, it became clear that I had not planned the event, didn't know any better, and wasn't even exactly clear on what all the foofaraw was about. My sister and I were washed (a little too vigorously; milk chocolate comes off skin fairly easily), as was the chicken; when it was dry, I got it back, along with the rest of the jellybeans. The chocolate, I was told, was no good; ants had gotten into it, and let this be a lesson about leaving your things outside.
I knew, of course, that there were no ants in the chocolate, but I kept silent; I was young, but not stupid. Chalk it up, I decided, to the weirdness that creeps in during the metamorphosis from child to grownup as the brain petrifies. No telling what their problem was. I mean, even the baby knew it wasn't real poop...
Ever since I first published this story, back around 2000, people have been sending me little plastic animals that crap. It astonishes me that there are so many of them for sale these days...