This past week, I’ve gone to HomeGoods on three out of four days so far. It’s sort of embarrassing, but in my defense, there are three different HomeGoods locations in the greater Austin area – thank you, HomeGoods gods! – and I’m also trying to furnish a 4,700 square foot house that was completely empty.
We’re working with a talented designer and we’ve got a budget for most things, but when you find something at HomeGoods, it always makes you feel like you’ve won at life. Like holy god that was a $140 lamp but I got it for $60!!!! (Ahh, the power of anchoring.) Just yesterday, I carted away a metal-and-wood shelf – destined for the TV room for to hold our many video games – and was standing in line when a lady stopped me to ask if I’d seen any more of those shelves. I apologized and said no, and she sighed. “I’d been looking for something just like that,” she explained dejectedly. I expressed my sympathy and wished her luck – and then turned away, inwardly whooping with gleeful schadenfreude.
Today’s visit was equally satisfying. Not only did I find some elusive magenta sheets to match the bodacious magenta leather chair that will go in my first guest bedroom (visit me, friends!), but I also found Calico Critters on sale in the kids’ section. Oooh Calico Critters. How I love you and your little animal faces, and your cute beady eyes, and your utter collectability. There were five different sets on sale at HomeGoods, and when I first saw them there, I was suddenly seized by this overwhelming Gotta-Catch-Em-All! impulse and I almost threw all of them into my overflowing HomeGoods shopping cart right then and there. That would have been $75 of highly discounted Calico Critters – still a steal (“Compare to $150.00!” proclaimed the anchoring HomeGoods sticker) but enough to make me pause and collect myself.
(On a side note, do you think my generation is more collection-prone than previous ones for having grown up with Pokemon? Just a thought.)
It was then that I finally took a look at what each box contained. There was a nursery set – meh – and a mommy and baby rabbit shopping together. That was cute, I admitted, but it also made me uneasy because it reflected negative stereotypes about the woman’s role in the family – negative stereotypes that I was relentlessly reinforcing with every HomeGoods visit this week. Feeling hypocritical, I tucked the bunnies away. There was a starter family of kitties – thanks, but I’m more of a hedgehog person myself – and a pair of twin meerkat infants with creepy bald spotted heads.
And then I saw it. Calico Critters Motorcycle and Sidecar playset. And I knew this was The One. It was perfect – it reminded me of myself and hubby, both motorcycle enthusiasts. Whenever we’d seen a motorcycle with a sidecar on the street, we always talked about cruising the country that way – him in the bike, me in the sidecar, nothing but the road and the vast outdoors all around us. What a lovely dream, personified in this little raccoon couple and their fantastic little bike! Why, it even said “TRUE LUV” on the license plate. Sold, just like that.
(Best of all, it was only $20.00. “Compare at $40.00!!!” HomeGoods Sticker encouraged. I verified with CamelCamelCamel, and found this was indeed the lowest price, even on Amazon, the king of discount online retailing. I was content. I had won, again.)
Ahh, Calico Critters Motorcycle and Sidecar playset. You make me want to be the adventurous free spirit I used to think I was.
Driving back home, I was seized with excitement. The moment I got back, I grabbed the box and raced up to our toy room. While withdrawing the little figurines, I tried untwisting the wires that bound them to their cardboard enclosures, but quickly grew impatient and dashed downstairs for my kitchen shears, which were more than up to the task of freeing the little raccoons and their cruiser.
Meet Maggie and Marvin Mulberry, and their little red hog. The Mulberrys came with several sheets of punch outs and stickers – a guide to touring their patch of countryside (with a judicious reminder to take their litter with them), a map of Cloverleaf Corners, a motorcycle handbook, and various badges that indicated that these critters were responsibly licensed-and-approved Safe Motorcycle Drivers ™. Putting together the little books involved a series of folds and tabs clearly designed for smaller fingers; I had uncharacteristic trouble with the task. Finally I assembled the books successfully and tucked them into the sidecar; finally I stuck the safety stickers onto the bumper, and carefully slipped the safety goggles onto Maggie Mulberry’s forehead, where it clashed cheerfully with her boho chic outfit. It didn’t matter that her little raccoon paw technically couldn’t reach the clutch; she and her leather-clad mate were ready to rumble. All the while, I was grinning like a stupid idiot.
You see, in real life, I am a motorcycle failure. Once, briefly, I dreamt of being a hot biker chick clad in black leather, zooming down the Pacific Coast Highway alongside my handsome biker husband. In pursuit of this dream we dutifully signed up for the MSF Basic RiderCourse and showed up bright and early at 6am, whereupon a series of mishaps involving my trainer bike immediately put me behind the rest of the class, earned me the scorn of my rather judgmental teacher (it’s ok, I took it personally and savaged her on the written review later), and ruined my motorcycling confidence forever. It certainly didn’t help that I was a complete vehicular dunce going into the class, and didn’t even understand what gears were, much less why I had to shift them. Somehow, at the end of the 12-hour course, I still managed to pass, and with a higher score on the riding test than Roy (though this was met with disbelief again from that same teacher. B***h.)
By the way, I’m not knocking the MSF Basic RiderCourse. Anyone who wants to ride a motorcycle should take it, and some states, like Texas, require it. It teaches fundamental, life-saving skills. I just had one obnoxious instructor, that’s all.
We purchased our first bikes shortly afterward the course ended, finding them secondhand (thirdhand, actually) on Craiglist as most people suggest for a beginner bike. Roy chose this sleek, beautiful Kawasaki Ninja 250 that really resembled and sounded like a ninja – dark and quiet and a little ominous. I rode it around our apartment complex once and promptly dropped it, though very gently. Immediately I decided that I needed a shorter bike to be able to flatfoot (put both feet flat on the ground while stopped). So I opted for the humble Honda Rebel 250, a traditional cruiser, perfect for shorties like me.
At this point, Roy was taking his bike at 5:30am to work every day, giving him bountiful opportunity to practice riding it in safe-ish, car-less conditions on the street. I tried to do the same, knowing that my hard-earned skills were slipping away with each passing day. The first time I attempted a solo ride, I literally fell off the bike in the middle of a right turn, right at a busy intersection. Luckily the light was red, so I didn’t get run over, although I did get a nasty scar from the whole business. A later attempt to accompany Roy up the scenic Angeles Crest Highway resulted in two downings within thirty minutes and even more scratches and injuries to myself, my gear and the poor bike.
Needless to say, after that, my confidence was severely shaken. We took the Rebel to the shop, which did a great job fixing it up. And while I was still able to ride around occasionally on the streets alongside Roy in the early mornings for small errands (donuts), I had internalized my limitations and modified my dream of riding up PCH: now, I would happily ride behind Roy on his bike, occasionally knocking helmets but enjoying the view stress free. (This is a dream that has been realized easily.)
If our horrified parents are reading this, they will be relieved to know that currently we are bikeless, as we sold both motorcycles well before we moved to Austin. Instead, in 2012, we got our beloved BMW 335i, and cruised around Europe with it. As we sat in our heated seats in that fantastic car, driving through an alpine snowstorm on the way to see a glacier, and eating Swiss chocolate atop French baguettes, we realized that people who tour cross country on motorcycles are crazy. Why would you do that when you could do this instead – drive around in a warm, comfy car and be protected from the elements? On a motorcycle, your butt gets numb from the rumbling, and your head hurts from hours confined in a helmet. Your gear is heavy and hot, and god forbid you get an itch somewhere. But in a nice, powerful car, you are as comfortable as you want to be, and you can go to all the same places. You’re just lugging around 3500 pounds of metal and gas instead of just 350.
So our motorcycle days look like they might be over. (At least for now – Roy keeps threatening to get a Ninja 650.) But that’s okay because we’ll always have our memories, and thanks to HomeGoods, we have the Calico Critters Motorcycle and Sidecar playset too. Like me and Roy, both Maggie and Marvin Mulberry are licensed to drive. And believe me – Maggie’s ready to ride.
And as for me? Maybe next time, I’ll try a scooter.