Cement Cuddlers

harvested from the Internet by Philip Greenspun (who wishes that he knew who wrote it)

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    An "Anti-shopping" Trip with the Los Angeles Cacophony Society
                           by Rev. Al

I had been thinking for a long time about making cement-filled teddy
bears.  I wasn't exactly sure why. At first it was just a perceptual
curiosity I wanted to experience, and I wanted others to experience:
the idea of being handed what appeared to be a fluffy stuffed animal,
only to have it go tearing through your relaxed fingers like a lead

The Christmas shopping season seemed an ideal time to get them on the
shelves of Los Angeles toy stores, so late in November, members of the
Los Angeles Cacophony Society gathered in my backyard to gut several
dozen plush toys and replace their innards with Portland's finest.

We called them, "Cement Cuddlers".

Each bear wore a full-color laminated label identifying it as such
complete with bar code from another toy. Inside the folded tag was the

    Unfortunate Child, do not   mistake me for a living  thing,
    nor seek in  me the warmth denied you  by your parents. For
    beneath my plush surface lies  a hardness as impervious and
    unforgiving as this World's own indifference to your mortal
    struggle. Hold on to me when you are sad,  and I will weigh
    you down, but  bear this weight  throughout your years, and
    it will strengthen your limbs and  harden your will so that
    one day no man dare oppose you.

The target was easy to select. Not far away was a large
not-to-be-named toystore, the biggest and newest of the chain in
Southern California, a massive thing like the newly christened Titanic
just begging for its iceberg.

By 10:30, around a dozen Cacophonists had slipped in managing to place
several bears on the shelves without arousing suspicion. Not content
to just leave them there we appointed Cacophonist Todd to help direct
the management's attention to our prank. At 10:35 Todd entered,
located a Cuddler, and brought it to the register, informing the
cashier he couldn't find the price.

Predictably, as he placed the innocent looking toy in those unwary
hands, it went crashing to the floor like a particularly heavy bowling
ball. After this, it just got worse. Todd began to demand a speedier
price check, insisting that he had only minutes to complete this
transaction before it would be too late to bring the bear to his
nephew who was, as he repeated many times for our benefit, "in the
hospital with a skin rash." This element of his story, however, did
not appear to provoke the suspicion of the clerk, who apparently had
no difficulty in imagining her customer entering the children's ward
not long before 11 PM to dump a lump of fur-covered construction
material in the lap of an ailing youngster.

However, as Todd's volume increased, backups arrived.  One of the more
astute clerks commented that she had never seen this toy before and
wished to know what shelf it had come from.  Indignantly Todd led them
to the appropriate place. A half dozen clerks, and several customers
gathered round in bewilderment, passing the four bears amongst
themselves and shaking their heads.

I eventually moved into earshot, and heard one woman reading the tag
aloud.  "That's really deep!" she exclaimed. I could no longer resist.
I moved in to express curiosity about this toy.

"Oh! That's a cute bear," I remarked as I reached for a
Cuddler. Without warning, it was placed in my hands, which naturally
were prepared to be unprepared for its weight. Another thunderous

Now I was outraged! "Look here!" I said. "The labels say, for ages
2-10!  How could "Nameless Toystore Chain" sell such a dangerous toy
to 2-year-olds!"

Eventually I was calmed and began contemplating buying one for an
older nephew. Cacophonist Frank became interested in buying one
too. We all went to the register.

Thanks to the fully functional bar code, the farce continued. However,
the bar code used was from another toy, and so the computer identified
the toy as: Alien Face Hugger $1.99. More panic and confusion. The
manager was called. In the chaos, the bears are handed back and forth
a few times more giving Todd one more opportunity to let one fall,
this time "on his foot" (about 4 inches from his toes). He begins to
wail and pulls off his shoe and sock. The clerks are incredulous.

"Would you say he dropped that on his foot?" one says to me.

"I don't want to get involved," I say, secretly gesturing that Todd
seems crazy.

The manager arrives, and he is young and sour-looking.  Easily a
control freak. We feel he is our divinely ordained victim.

They explain the difficulty with the scans, but he seems to pay little
attention to the computer. Instead his eyes keep darting to Todd as he
leaps around on one foot howling about the lethal bears to other

"Come with me, sir. We'll see what we can do for you," he snaps,
dragging Todd off to his little manager pen.

Frank and I continue as good cops to Todd's bad cop routine, but
continue to hover at the register insisting on the purchase. We
discuss with the clerks how troubled Todd seems and reread the label.

"This is weird," one clerk finally realizes, "a Teddy Bear literally
filled with cement."

I suggest it might be a doorstop for children's bedrooms.

Then a ray of light descends on Nameless Toystore. "It's like a joke
someone's playing or something," says one of our blue-vested

"You mean," asks Frank, with wonderfully stylized naivete, "like
someone made them themselves? Maybe just this weekend? Took out the
stuffing and replaced it with cement?"

"Or maybe that crazy guy did," says the clerk.

"No, no. Can't be," I say. "Why would he insist on buying from you
something he made himself. That's illogical!"

Suddenly we hear Todd's voice booming again from the front of the store.

They have emerged from the manager pen.

This will mean so much to Bobby. God Bless you!" And he leaves with
the bear in bag. $1.99! Lucky bastard!

Manager-man hurries to the counter with his panicky stick-up-the-ass
gait, one ear pressed to a cellular, doubtlessly consulting the
Nameless Toystore overlords. We mob him, insisting to know the price
arrived at.

"They're not for sale."

We are incredulous, indignant. "This item is discontinued." He bites
off the word and rushes to the shelves to haul the Cuddlers away. We
continue to needle him as he gathers the bears. Suddenly, he swings
around holding the furry blocks of cement as if he might do some
harm. Perspiration has appeared on his forehead.

"Look!" he sputters, "I don't know how these things got on the
shelves!  They DON'T track correctly on the computer.  I've never seen
them before.  I have NO explanation.  It's like someone's playing a
joke on MY STORE!"

It's in that word "my". You can tell. He's gotten that look like he's
just seen the first crack in the brand new ceiling. We understand that
if that crack widens by even a hairline, he's going to see through
it. He already suspects Todd. He is probably 90 seconds from realizing
that we're all part of it.

And so we decide to take advantage of our time.

"Could you at least tell us the manufacturer so maybe we could order
the toy?"

He whips the label over, and reads, Brutal Truth Toys.

This is a good time to leave.  There's still a half hour before
midnight, so we take advantage of the energy we've gathered to make a
few prank phone calls. I call a rival Nameless Toystore asking for
Cement Cuddlers.

I'm put on hold and another clerk picks up the phone and claims to
have actually pulled up the info on my Cement Cuddlers on the
computer. He tells me I can get a raincheck. Sadly, when I ask for the
stock number, he suddenly loses the record that he "just had, just a
minute ago".

After going through three or four baffled and fairly easy to baffle
clerks, I finally get to the manager. I am slightly indignant at the
delays and feigned ignorance of a product I JUST PURCHASED THAT VERY
NIGHT at their rival, the new Burbank store, we'd just invaded. The
manager explains that this new store carries certain promotional items
not available to the other stores because it is the newest and
largest. I detect a note of envy in his voice, and soften my approach.
I become confidential and ask if the new store hired away a lot of
good workers.

"You know," I tell him, "I know it's big and everything, but it's so
new...  I mean, they didn't quite seem to have it all together yet."
He agrees. He's heard rumors to this effect. "All the employees
seemed, I don't know...  nervous somehow. It's like the store's too
big for them to handle. I get a nervous feeling when I go in there."

He knows what I mean.

"I think it's that manager, maybe. He seemed so tense and kinda angry
somehow. He doesn't give me a good feeling. He seems a little
odd. Have you heard anything like this?"

He's heard some funny things about this upstart.

"Yeah. Odd manager. Odd store. Come to think of it this whole cement
teddy bear thing is pretty odd. Maybe this was just a special thing he
wanted to order. Maybe they were his idea." He agrees, but he won't
call the other store to see if they still have them in stock there. So
I tell him I'll check back later.

And I will. It was a good night, and we still have 18 more bears to