excerpt > David LeGault > One Million Maniacs
There are 4664 beans inside of Millennium, a Beanie Baby bear of identical size and shape to Princess, though Millennium boasts violet fur with a golden necklace, a globe embossed directly on her chest, the rays of the sun eclipsed behind it, the number 2000 printed in yellow below it all.
I know the number of beans because I’ve counted them individually, taken the three hours needed to sort them into a glass mason jar as I separated translucent spheres from cotton stuffing, making check marks for every hundred beans for fear of losing count.
I am not sure where this impulse comes from: my need to quantify, to know something’s value based on the sum of its parts.
Assuming all Beanie Baby bears are created equal, we can calculate that a Princess Diana Bear costs roughly seventy-five dollars per plastic bean.
A coworker of mine claims to have paid for his daughter’s college education entirely through the buying and selling of Beanie Babies.
The same man I’ve witnessed pull an incredibly rare thousand-dollar book out of a recycling Dumpster, a man who claims to know the age and condition of a book based entirely on touch.
A man who dedicated his life to collection of rare and precious things.
The trick is to see the value before anyone else, to give them what they want before they come to their senses.
Punchers, a bright red lobster with a misprinted name tag, sells for $3800; a wingless version of Quackers the duck is listed for $1200.
“Tabasco” the bull saw an extremely limited release due to a copyright infringement case, though “Snort,” an identical version with a different name tag, continued to sell at inflated costs due the strong resemblance to the Chicago Bulls mascot in the midst of the team’s second three-peat. Standing in a Hallmark store in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, I overhear a man who is buying out the store before making the seven-hour drive to Chicago, where he plans to sell his collection of Snorts at thirty times his purchasing cost.
I am standing in the Delta Plaza Mall, the mall of my childhood and the only major retail outlet for miles. Here, my mother would drive me to the monthly trading card and Beanie Baby expo: entire businesses devoted to the buying, selling, and trading of collectibles, the main thoroughfare of our mall transformed into a bazaar where our favorite players and rare dolls could be found.
Where I would spend entire paper route checks on boxes of unopened basketball cards, on copies of Beckett magazines with the values of different players and print series listed.
Where I once witnessed an adult man intimidate and pressure a young child into a Beanie Baby trade, the lack of morals flagrant in his pursuit of a complete collection, of unimaginable wealth.
A man from St. Louis Park, Minnesota, was sentenced to one and a half years in prison for smuggling counterfeit Beanie Babies into the United States with the intent of selling them online.
He was also fined 150,000 thousand dollars, or the equivalent of 39 Punchers, or 2005 beans from a Princess Diana Bear.
In 1996, McDonald’s began selling Teenie Beanies with their Happy Meals, miniatures of miniatures, and the promotion was so wildly successful that the dolls sold out almost immediately.
It became increasingly difficult to get your hands on Patti the Platypus, Chops the Lamb, or even Pinky the Flamingo.
A 52-year-old woman from Green Bay, Wisconsin, is cited for disorderly conduct after punching another woman in the back of the head, a fight breaking out in the line for the newest shipment of Teenie Beanies.
Because of this fight, as well as the many other instances of civil unrest resulting from the high demand, McDonald’s limits purchases to two Beanies per family, and perhaps when McDonald’s began telling us that enough is enough, that we needed to slow down, consume less, perhaps we should have taken stock of the severity of our problems.
And yet, there we were, sending our children into separate lines, pretending we did not know each other before meeting back at our cars to eat our way through so many meals, through the mountains of nuggets and fries all limp, glowing with paper bag sheen.
St. Louis Park is also the location of my current job, a used book store that also deals heavily in collectibles: in autographs and first editions and leather-bound editions as early as the 1600’s. In order to find these treasures, I must first sift through an obscene amount of junk.
I find myself measuring my work in terms of the sheer amounts of trash.
In the tons of books I have poured into Dumpsters for recycling, for the mountains of CD’s and DVD’s I have smashed against the walls of our unfinished basement.
Bronty, the Brontosaurus, first edition, is given to me one Christmas at my grandmother’s house in a time before inflated values, before the idea of collecting these toys has entered anyone’s mind.
And Bronty is a toy, but I am eleven years old—too old to have any use or entertainment from a small stuffed dinosaur—and so Bronty is buried in a storage bin at my parent’s house until many years later, when I notice the values listed in Mary Beth’s Bean Bag World Magazine and attempt to excavate Bronty from these archaeological layers of tchotchkes and, shit, Bronty’s original cardboard tag, the TY logo, shaped like a heart—opening up like a valentine to tell me his name, his birthday, his relevant biographical information—has somehow gotten ripped from the red plastic barb protruding from his leg.
The red barb itself a rarity, replaced in later editions by a semi-translucent white, yet without his tag Bronty is without value; he goes back into the storage bin for another hundred years.
It is something we must explain—far too often—to our customers: the importance of condition to the collectible market. A dust jacket free of cracks or chips, a tightly held binding, illustrations so well-preserved that the ink still transfers to your hands upon touch.
There is something to do with newness, with purity, that gives inherent pleasure on a biological level.
My infant daughter has many toys, yet all she wants is tags.
My daughter seeks them out, works her way around her toys until finding a label or set of washing instructions, taking the waxy material into her mouth—it is a special kind of fabric that is not soft and somehow resistant to moisture, more plastic than cloth, yet clearly woven. What is it about the tag that sticks out in a child’s mind: Is it the texture? The contrast?
What is it about the tag that sticks with us as adults: Is it the idea of keeping something intact, unblemished; of being the first to encounter something, to claim it as our own?
From spending so much time in the collectible world, I can tell you that condition and scarcity matter so much that the more valuable an item becomes, the less likely it is to ever be used.
The line between “rare and valuable” and “I’m throwing this in a Dumpster the moment you leave the store” is nearly imperceptible.
I believe the most necessary trait of a collector is a healthy respect for impracticality.
I find myself pulled to the power of the tag, to the power of marking something new.To the pull that creates a paparazzi that ends in a hideous car wreck.
The same pull that takes that accident and turns it into the largest-selling single in the history of music. Into a three-hundred fifty thousand dollar Beanie Baby. The same impulse, that—years later, after the market completely crashes, after the thousands we spent on plush dolls and trading cards are now completely worthless, after the expos and magazines and even the mall itself has become a dying, forgotten thing—will have us wondering what collective madness went through us.
And we likely will never find answers to questions such as these.
Perhaps it has to do with external value: with finding our worth outside of ourselves, inside a beautiful thing, hidden under glass.
Perhaps it has to do with my latest walk through the corridors of the Delta Plaza Mall in a state of loneliness, of incalculable loss.
Every chain barricade dropped over a vacant storefront; every wall glowing bright and new under the absence of a long-posted sign; every darkened reminder of what used to be an arcade or a food court or merely the place where my friends and I could actually be ourselves; nearly every reminder gone, replaced with empty space.
Only the sounds of a construction-themed gumball machine echo through these halls; the candy inside as old as my memories of this place.
What choice do I have? I will buy one of these ancient gumballs and I will chew it til it’s gone. It will taste like nostalgia, chalky & sweet. Like a fabric tag soaked with spit, smooth inside my mouth.
It will taste of the hundreds of basketball cards I can never throw away because I understand both their lack of value and also how much I spent to possess them, their worth only mattering to me.
It will taste of the death of the trading card, of the death of physical mediums.
Of the death of Mary Beth’s Bean Bag World, selling over 400,000 copies every month until the day its publisher filed for bankruptcy.
Of the death of the magazine, of the novel, of all things collectible.
Of the death of my co-worker, who left this job abruptly, who no one knew was sick until after he was gone, who’s secrecy and privacy left us without a proper chance to grieve—to know what it is to say goodbye. To tell him thanks.
And I will walk through this mall like the valley of the shadow of death, and I will fear no evil for thou art with me. A candle in the goddamn wind.
And a mint-condition Bronty now sells for less than ten dollars.
And the amount something costs is not always equal to what anyone is willing to spend.
And why is it that now that they are worthless, my impulse is to seek out these Beanie Babies, to buy them all? Regardless of the reason I will keep looking for the unwanted, the unloved. Here I will find a joy in the prizes most easily sought, a wonder for that which I can, finally, count among my own. come up with something.
David LeGault's work appears in Passages North, The Sonora Review, The Seneca Review, DIAGRAM, Fourth Genre, Ninth Letter, and Black Warrior Review, among others. He lived and wrote in Minneapolis, where he destroyed books professionally. He currently lives with his family in Prague. Learn more about One Million Maniacs.
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