I’ve been good this year. Really, I have. But City Room doesn’t care about me. City Room says it’s time to talk presents.
Now, City Room is not interested in presents that did what they were supposed to do. City Room doesn’t want to hear about the rocking horse that didn’t collapse when I rode it hard at age 3. It doesn’t want to hear about the camera that took perfect pictures on Christmas morning in third grade, and it definitely doesn’t want to hear about the shortwave-radio kit that didn’t electrocute my father when he finally tried assemble it.
No. City Room likes its disaster stories. City Room is interested in the time you got the really cool space commander walkie-talkie that you wanted — and your little sister threw it down the elevator shaft.
Or the time your parents got you a punching bag. But it was the kind that came with brackets that had to be screwed into the wall to hold it up, and after they screwed it into the wall and you took a few swings, the wall fell in.
So City Room had a thought: Who knows more about disasters involving gifts than toy-industry executives? City Room asked several people who make the things that make our faces light up to tell us their most unforgettable gift calamities. You can tell us about yours in the comment box below. We’ll publish our favorites later in the week.
The Bob-a-Loop was certainly the worst toy I ever received. In fact, it may have been the worst toy ever made.
It consisted on one end of a pointed stick which you could poke in your eye, and that was attached by a string to a heavy wooden barrel with a hole in it that you could smash into your head.
The idea was to flip the barrel into the air and by jerking the stick abruptly back toward your head, causing the barrel to land on the stick.
This was, of course, impossible for any child, much less me.
I did, however, try mightily, and in doing so managed to hit every part of my head.
Sometimes now, when I cannot remember something, I pause to wonder if that lack of mental capacity may have been caused by beating my head to a pulp with Bob-a-Loop.
Jerry Calabrese, chief executive, Lionel Electric Trains
Back when I was a kid, there was a special cowboy fort — Fort Apache. It was a huge hit. There were a lot of knockoffs, and one of my uncles gave me the generic Fort Apache — Fort Cheyenne. It was so disappointing because it was almost what I wanted.
Fort Apache was grooved plastic meant to look like wood. Fort Cheyenne was really lousy photo repro on tin. It had six really scruffy cowboys and six really scruffy Indians. It was really a piece of junk, and I knew it. I was just a kid, but I knew it.
You couldn’t tell your friends you got Fort Cheyenne because they’d want to come and look at it, and you didn’t want them to see it because the one kid who got the much more expensive real thing would just giggle.
This is going to sound self-serving, but I don’t mean it to be. That was when I became a brand guy, decided I’d go into brands. I started my career at Playboy, then I went to Marvel, then I went to Nascar. I think I went for the real thing because I was so bummed out as a kid.
Jeffrey Holtzman, chief executive of the Goldberger Company
I had an Uncle Max, and Uncle Max — he was a caricature of himself, a cigar-smoking guy, with a low voice from the cigars. My birthday is around the holidays, and he’d always ask, “What do you want for Christmas? For your birthday?”
What he always gave me were pajamas.
I’d always say, “Please, Uncle Max, don’t get me pajamas.”
But he did. He was in the business. I would wind up with the worst pajamas. Flannel.
Not a happy kid. Every year the same thing.
Kenji Yoshinari, product marketing manager, Techno Source
At the fourth-grade Christmas grab bag in Mr. Winnie’s class, I unluckily picked the very last number and had to watch, painfully, as my classmates went up one by one and selected one awesome toy after another.
I’m talking the hottest G.I. Joe figures and Micro Machines!
When it was finally my turn, all that was left was this little red plastic Barrel of Monkeys game, which at the time seemed equivalent to a box of pencils.
The worst was having to fake-play the game by myself afterward — didn’t want to offend my mystery gift-giver — while my buddies zoomed around the room with their cool toys.
I’ve never played that game ever again, even though now it’s a classic.
I didn’t get bad toys. I wanted a horse when I was like 5, but we lived in the city and I didn’t understand zoning.
But there were things I got that my parents probably wished Santa had never heard about, like the Wham-O Air Blaster, a futuristic gun, black plastic. You gave it one pump and it created a vacuum seal and when you pulled the trigger, it went boom.
We loved it, but my parents — well, they should have known. It was great for running up behind an adult who was sitting calmly at dinner and watching them jump.
This is one of the things Santa regrets, and he brought us two. My older brother got the other one. I still have mine. It’s in my office. My youngest brother rescued them from my parents’ house when they were moving out and presented it to me last Christmas.
Neil B. Friedman, president of Mattel Brands
The worst gift I ever got was as an adult. On the face of it, you wouldn’t think that getting a really nice pen and pencil set with your initials engraved on it would be a bad gift. I was excited. It was my first one. I was 25.
Then I go a meeting, an important meeting. I go to take my pen out. The entire left side of my shirt is covered in blue ink. It’s starting to penetrate the inside of my coat, and my hand is covered in ink.
I can’t wipe it on my pants. I can’t get up and leave. What I had to do was put my hand in my pocket and wipe it off there.
Worse, I’d gotten it from people who worked for me. I couldn’t tell them. I had to go straight home.
Frederick A. O. Schwarz Jr., lawyer and former New York City corporation counsel; great-grandson of the founder of the F. A. O. Schwarz toy store
I can’t remember getting a bad Christmas present. I really can’t. And I’m now 75.
The family didn’t get a discount — we had to pay for whatever we bought at the store unless we worked there. I worked there one summer and messed up. I had three jobs. I was a salesman on the floor. I did that well. I worked in the warehouse, which then was on 58th and the Hudson River, and that was really fun. You could slide down the chute with packages. I did well there, too. But I also worked in the bookkeeping department. I was told by the woman whose job I guess I was doing — she was away for two or three weeks — that I screwed it all up.
My aunt was born on Christmas Day. My grandfather gave her his birthday, which was in August — I imagine so that she would have a birthday that wasn’t Christmas.
Now, it’s your turn.