TCS Daily

Toy Soldiers

By Douglas Kern - February 2, 2005 12:00 AM

19 January 2005: The Slinky betrayed us. I should have known. I never trusted him. He was an unstable character, always going back and forth, back and forth, never showing a shred of backbone. "Come, senor, I know the way to the insurgents' headquarters," he rasped. The fact that he was an Arab toy speaking with a stereotypical Spanish accent should have tipped me off. But hindsight is always 20/20. Literally. I can turn my head 360 degrees.

I only knew my men by their code names, but even in that short space of time we shared a bond that only six-inch plastic combatants can truly understand. They were my family, my brothers in petroleum-based products. One night we all melted the tips of our fingers and became plastic brothers.

And I led those brave action figures into the trap.

"My spider-sense is tingling," muttered "Peter Parker," as he flexed his fingers on his M16. We were all on edge, and our quirks were coming to the fore. "Prince Adam" kept waving his weapon in the air, hollering "By the power of Grayskull!" Damn Wiccans. "Hugh Jackman" had huddled deeply into his trenchcoat, whispering "Am I Wolverine or Van Helsing?" to anyone who made the mistake of standing next to him. And "Elmo" kept singing his goofy song. "Elmo loves his rifle/His bullets, too..."

The insurgents caught us by surprise in that deserted Iraqi backyard. BBs perforated the sullen quiet of the hot Iraqi afternoon. Firecrackers sizzled and roared around us in a symphony of extremity-disintegrating horror. Mean little kids stomped us with the hard soles of their brand-new Keds -- weapons of mass destruction. And the gentlest one of us all lost it completely. "Elmo is thinking about genocide!" he screamed, as he unleashed a hail of foam darts upon our adversaries. "Elmo is Death, destroyer of worlds!" War does awful things to toys.

I tried to remember my training. My old drill sergeant, G.I. Joe, had put me through worse than this. "Are you gonna MOR yet, maggot?" he would scream, as he tied me to the wheel of a 10-speed Schwinn. (MOR: Melted On Request.) 'Sir, no, sir!" I would scream, even as the gravel scraped the paint off my face. He pushed me and prodded me, but he made me the action figure I am today. Just before Water Survival training, he gave me a piece of advice I'll always remember: "Son, when you get right down to it, you have no nerve endings." Then he flushed me down the toilet.

A repulsive splatting sound above my head brought me back to the present. "Gas! GAS!" We scrambled in vain for our gas masks as a haze of vaporous death descended upon us. Mustard gas? Try beans and broccoli. The last thing I remember was the leering visage of our hated enemy, the puppet master of al Qaeda, peering down on us.

The CIA lied. The bombs in Bora Bora hadn't killed him after all.

Evil Bert. The legends were true.

24 January 2005: The interrogators were relentless. But I gave them only my name, rank, and UPC code.

They mocked my fear. "It better here than American prison, yes? We read all about atrocities performed on Iraqi action figure POWs."

"What happened at the Island of Misfit Toys," I hissed, "was not policy. That was just some crazy rogue reindeer, screwing around unsupervised. Santa Claus will still be confirmed by 75-80 votes in the Senate."

As I huddle in the shoebox that will soon define the four corners of my world, my thoughts turn to my wife, Barbie; my brother, Fireman Rescue Hero; and my son, Lego Luke Skywalker. I must be strong for them.

I've had to be strong all my life. It's hard to be a poor plastic kid in a video-game world, and even harder when you're an immigrant -- I was made in China. My mother was a Chinese novelty factory and my father was a petroleum by-products distributor who just played around with my mother and then disappeared. Nobody wanted a soldier toy in Clinton's nineties, so I made my way playing minimum-wage gigs like "Thug #3" in the Hudson Hawk action figure line. But after a shameful night of drinking nail polish remover and driving a Mattel remote-control car full of underage Jem sidekicks into a telephone pole, a judge gave me a choice: an Army enlistment, or a Goodwill box. I chose the former.

The elite Action Figure corps took me for my menacing glower, sculpted abs, and gift for languages. After taking several crash language courses at the Army facility in Monterrey, I could speak all the major tongues. Monchichi. Teddy Bear. Cabbage Patch. Smurf.

The rubber bands chafe my wrists, and I haven't had a decent meal from an Easy-Bake oven in days. My Eastern-European-looking guard is clear proof that the Russians are helping the insurgents. He's always shrieking "One! One captured American soldier! Ha ha ha!" Then he counts my grenades, over and over again.

I'll get you for this, Evil Bert.

31 January 2005: Today my captors took my picture outside, in front of a special banner that was deliberately repetitive and misspelled in order to honor the stuttering illiterates of Iraq.

"Is good," said Evil Bert, sounding like a cross between Andy Kaufman and Dr. Nick Riviera. "Now decadent American press will see picture on our website and report that live American soldier held captive. Momentum from election blunted. Boxer-Kennedy win in 2008!"

"No chance, you unibrowed monster," I growled. "There's no way that America's mainstream media would ever fall for such a ruse. The second you post that picture on the Internet, crack investigative teams from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and The New York Times and, above all, CBS News will be on hand to check facts, verify data, and offer uncompromising insights into the validity of your photograph, even if doing so will force them to lose a potential scoop while indirectly aiding the Bush administration."

"No, no," replied Evil Bert, "American soldier not use humor to build bond between himself and captors. You funny guy, soldier boy, but we still gonna blend you in Cuisinart."

"It doesn't matter what you do, because the validity of those elections still stands. You think all of those blue fingers are manufacturing defects? Iraq has embraced democracy, Mr. What's-Your-Thing-With-Ernie, and the fate of one action figure won't change anything."

Evil Bert grabbed his turban from his head and threw it to the ground. "Screw you, action figure! There was no real election... the TV footage is all fake! Blue ink is easy to distribute! And election invalid anyway because not enough Sunnis voted. And Supreme Court may call for recount. And New York Times still not convinced. And...and...Jews! All their fault! Everything their fault! Jews! And Ernie only Platonic friend! Backrubs and handholding not any big deal! Ooooh...stupid American!" He stormed off.

1 February 2005: I have bribed a guard to fax this document. (The guard seems to be a hairy Mediterranean fellow with big buggy eyes and a passion for cookies. Strange.) I am sending this fax to the only person I can trust: Lucy Ramirez, somewhere in Texas. If this document appears elsewhere, you'll know that the lying irresponsible blogosphere is to blame.

I've slipped a sharpened staple into my boot. Soon I'll break out of here. I'll get new, better accessories, the kind that aren't legal in the US. Maybe a plastic missile that shoots out of my butt. Yeah, that's the ticket.

I will put out the eyes of Iraqi insurgents with my unsafe features. I will carry on the fight for freedom, one poorly-balanced step at a time. And I will fight for freedom wherever there's trouble.

I am John "Cody" Adam. Soon-to-be-former hostage. American action figure. And damned proud of it.

The author is a frequent TCS contributor. He recently wrote about the Monster and the Nursery


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