The Thing About Barbie
By Thomas M. Malafarina
“Brenda, this obsession of yours has gotten way out of control.” Herbert Weinstock said to his wife. He was standing in his living room with his briefcase, ready to head out to work. He looked about the room with a combination of disgust and frustration.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Herb,” she replied.
“Jesus, Brenda. You’ve gotta be kidding me! It’s this obsession you have with collecting all this Barbie crap! For God’s sake! You’re fifty-seven years old. Why the hell are you still collecting these ridiculous dolls?”
Herbert pointed to the hundreds of boxed Barbie dolls that lined the shelves on almost every wall. He had known his wife collected everything Barbie-related when he married her thirty-five years earlier, but back then, her collection had been relegated to a small extra bedroom in a seldom-used area of the house. Now, Barbie paraphernalia was found in abundance in every room.
Brenda replied, “You just don’t understand Herb. You never understood. The world of Barbie isn’t simply about collecting dolls; it’s so much more than that. The thing about Barbie is it’s a… well, I suppose it’s a lifestyle.”
“Lifestyle?” Herb shouted, “More like a cult of mindless idol-worshiping minions. That’s it! It’s idolatry; that’s what it is. Brenda, you’ve become an idol-worshipping pagan!”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Herb. You just don’t get it. Barbie is so much more. Did you know that Barbie’s full name is Barbara Millicent Roberts, and she was brought to us in 1959. Her creator was a wonderful woman named Ruth Handler. Barbie grew up in the fictional town of Willows, Wisconsin, and she was named after Ruth Handler’s daughter, Barbara. And did you know Ken was named after Ruth’s son, Kenneth? But in Barbie’s world, he is actually called Kenneth Sean Carson, or Ken for short? Did you know he was introduced to the world in 1961, just two years after Barbie came into our lives?”
“Did I know? Of course, I knew. After all, I’ve been hearing you spew this ridiculous Barbie history nonsense for more than three decades.”
“Well then, Mr. Smarty Farty, did you know there were 176 different Barbie dolls produced with 9 body types, 35 different skin colors, and 94 different hairstyles?”
“No, Brenda, I didn’t know that, and guess what? My life has gone on just fine without knowing that.”
“Well, Herb, allow me to improve your knowledge. The Mattel company recently released a separate line of gender-neutral dolls called Creatable World?”
“Gender-neutral? All those stupid Barbie World dolls are gender-neutral. Ken’s got no equipment, neither does Barbie, and neither of them have nipples. If that ain’t gender-neutral, I don’t know what is.”
Ignoring his comment, Brenda added, “And for your information, that new Barbie movie had made around 1.5 billion dollars, Herb; not million but billion.”
“And I hate to think how much money came from you and your weirdo friends. I’ll bet you saw that movie like ten times.”
“Oh, I saw it way more times than that, Herb!”
“Like it’s not bad enough, you’re blowing all of our money on this doll garbage, but now the movie?”
“Think about it, Herb, Barbie’s popularity is rising again. It’s a rebirth of interest in Barbie’s world. My collection will be worth even more now.”
“First of all, your collection is worth nothing if you don’t sell it, and if you did ever decide to sell it, the junk is only worth whatever some other idiots are willing to pay for it.”
“Oh, Herb. You’ll never understand. Barbie is for everyone. Barbie now covers every aspect of society. There are hearing-impaired Barbies, heavier curvy Barbies, Muslim Barbies, Mexican Barbies, even a Barbie with Down Syndrome.”
“Wonderful! A retarded Barbie? I suppose that was made in honor of all you lifetime collectors.”
“That’s a horrible thing to say, Herb! It was a very kind thing for the Barbie folks to do. Now, truly everyone can find a place in Barbie world.”
“Really, Brenda? What about crazy 57-year-old overweight women who insist on living a fantasy life vicariously by collecting and hoarding stupid dolls? Where do those women fit in, Brenda?”
Brenda was taken aback for a moment, then regained her calm and said, “I’ll have you know, Herbert Weinstock, we Barbie enthusiasts are much more than collectors. We are the caretakers of the Barbie universe. That responsibility is a great and noble task. As you have so eloquently demonstrated by your juvenile comments, it can be a challenging duty, fraught with criticism and ridicule from those who are simply too ignorant to understand.”
“Ignorant? Ignorant? Look, Brenda. I’ve had it! I’m going to work, and when I get home, these dolls better be gone, or I’m going to pile them up in the backyard and burn them.”
Brenda screamed, “You… you wouldn’t! You couldn’t do something so horrible. You wouldn’t dare!”
“I most certainly would and most definitely will! Mark my words, Brenda!”
With that final declaration, Herbert left for the office, slamming the front door behind him. The impact caused several boxed Barbie toys to fall from their shelves. When one of the boxes fell, it revealed a small opening that had been cut into the wall and which was hidden by one of the boxes. Brenda reached into the void and retrieved a very special Barbie character. She had created it by modifying a damaged Ken doll she had picked up at a flea market. It was one Herbert had never seen.
She looked around the room at her prize collection and said, “Well, girls, I suppose we always knew it would come down to this someday.”
Herb sat at his office desk, still fuming over the morning’s confrontation with his wife. He realized he shouldn’t have lost his temper and given her the ultimatum. It wasn’t that he didn’t feel justified in doing so; it was just that now he was committed to act. If he did nothing, any of his future threats would become impotent. If he did what he threatened to do, his wife would never forgive him. There would likely be no need for future threats, as she would probably divorce him and take half of everything they owned, if not more.
As he sat at his desk, staring at his clasped, sweaty hands, he suddenly felt a sharp pain at the back of his neck. The agony was incredible, worse than anything he had ever experienced before. It felt like his flesh had been flayed. He reflexively tried to reach his hand back to the painful spot, only to discover he couldn’t move. Whatever malady had suddenly hit him, it had completely paralyzed him. He wondered if perhaps he was experiencing a stroke.
Herb believed he might be having a panic attack because he couldn’t breathe. It was as if something was cutting off his airways. Then the pain shifted to the front of his neck, and as he dropped face-first onto his desk, a steady stream of blood-tinged drool leaked from the corner of his now-dead mouth.
“Well, that should take care of things. Don’t you agree, ladies?” Brenda asked the silent Barbie figurines staring out from the clear plastic display windows of their coffin-like boxes.
She was looking down at the customized Barbie character he had made herself. It might have once been a Ken doll, but it no longer looked anything like one. Brenda had meticulously sanded off most of its hair, leaving only a semicircular fringe of hair around its head. What remained was hand-painted gray. She had also given the figure a gray mustache.
Brenda had hand-made a pair of plaid boxer shorts and a white wife-beater undershirt, complete with beer and pizza stains. She had made a round foam pot belly that filled out the shirt. It was no coincidence that the doll looked exactly like Herb. Nor was it surprising that the doll’s clothing had been made from Herb’s unwashed underwear or that the doll’s belt had been made from a string woven from strands of Herb’s hair Brenda had taken from his hairbrush over time. In fact, most people would probably say the doll could be Herb’s doppelganger if it weren’t for the fact that its head had just been sawed from its body.