|Photo Courtesy of Mary Lutz Alexander|
I stood motionless before the window of the Atlas Five and Ten on Main Street in Fort Lee. Exhausts of steam were puffed out from between the space of my chapped, shivering lips. My heart was pining. Sitting high upon a glass shelf of the display case sat Biff Bear. My eyeballs almost climbed out of their sockets so far above the reach of my eyes did he sit. I looked up until my corneas felt like they would disappear into my brain and the bottoms of my lids stretched further down my cheeks as my eyes tried to reach his.
I came to know Biff as we all came to know our toys in 1968—through the power of television. Seeing him before me, I felt like Dorothy when she stepped out of her black-and-white Kansas farmhouse and onto the Technicolor streets of Oz. You see, we had a black-and-white 19” portable television set that sat on a slightly dented stand with wobbly wheels against the only wall without windows in our colonial cape on Fifth Street. But here he was before me as I stood on the broken sidewalk of Main Street -- real and colorful. His yellow shirt with red and blue stripes, his tan pantless legs (the white circular pull-ring that would make him talk protruding from his right hip), his milk chocolate rubber face, his small triangular black bear nose, his mitten-shaped hands.
Trapped inside the web of the mob I used my adrenaline to push my way through bodies back to my parents who were standing somewhere behind me on Main Street. They had to see Biff. They had to know how much he meant to me. They had to get him for me now. I couldn’t possibly leave him in the window! What if some other little girl took him home? After all, there was only one Biff Bear! I pushed my way through the corduroy, polyester, and wool of coats, my mittens getting snagged on zippers, toggles, and the garters with the sharp silver clips that the over-mothered kids’ mothers had clipped to the sleeves of their jackets so they wouldn’t lose their gloves.
Standing across the street leaning against the wall of Schweitzer’s Department Store was my father talking to a group of other fathers who would much rather have been leaning against the bar inside a smoky tavern raising glasses than children, but here they stood guarding the night while their wives stood on the layaway lines inside the Five and Ten.
Pulling on the sharp crease of my father’s serge pants I abruptly interrupted, “Daddy, Daddy! Biff Bear’s in the window! I want him! I want him!”
My father released a laugh that was meant more as a contemplative pause than a release of mirth before saying, “I don’t like stuffed animals. They’ll suffocate you when you’re sleeping.” All the men agreed and “Pete the Greek” threw in, “Yeah and they is a magnet for germs.”
“Son of a bitch…” I thought. I ran back across the street to look for my mother who was buried somewhere inside the Five and Ten. I walked through dozens of pairs of well-heeled nyloned-stockinged legs looking for the two that belonged to my mother. It wasn’t easy because during the holiday season Mr. Feiler added an extra cash register to handle the overflow of shoppers. After searching and searching I finally found her in the make-up aisle.
“Mommy! Mommy!” I cried excitedly, “I found Biff Bear. I want him!”
“Ask Santa,” she casually replied as her fingers grazed over the lipsticks, eyeliners, and powders that sat in ordered rows inside the wooden display cases.
“Santa?” I cried in desperation. “Where’s he?”
“We’re going to the Garden State Plaza to see him next week,” she responded.
Sunk by the thought that Biff wasn’t coming home with me that night I resigned myself to the fact that I had to wait to tell the Big Man that I needed Biff Bear.
As I walked outside something wet fell upon my nose. I bent my neck back and looked up into the sky and watched as the snow swirled in a chain dance of confusion beneath the yellow glow of the street light. As snowflakes fell upon my face they were melted by the warmth of my desperate tears.
Next Week Conclusion…