Lego my Ego

I recently recalled an event from my early childhood. One that may reveal too much about myself. But as it revolves around a very specific object, and I happen to still have this object at hand, here we go.

I was probably 4½ years old, and my mother had taken me and my baby brother on errands. I infer that she promised me a toy, as I clearly recall being in a hole-in-the-wall strip-mall toy store, and my mother impatiently goading me to go ahead and pick something out.

My brother (maybe 18 months old) got fussy. Clearly, my brother was about to melt down right there in the store. So mom handed me a dollar and told me to pick out some Lego. I felt quite grown up being given that responsibility. Not only to choose what I wanted, but also to handle the money myself. So there I was alone in the Lego aisle.

I could read numbers and quite a few words by this point, so knew that I could only afford some of the small boxes. Also I could only reach the bottom two shelves. Even with these restrictions, it was an overwhelming variety. I also had been instilled with the idea of getting as much as possible for my money. So I carefully looked at the piece counts on the boxes. Finally grabbed a box that looked like a good deal, and walked over to the counter. I reached up and placed the box and the dollar up there.

Squat Lego block
Well used six-stud
one-third height
Lego block I’ve had since 1965

The clerk (whom I remember being a young man) asked me if I was sure this was what I wanted. His tone struck me as condescending, and I didn’t like being challenged, so I confirmed.

He opened the box, and showed me the colorless, flat, odd sized pieces inside. He probably was sure that I would be happier with a box of assorted pieces that would assemble into something. He probably was right.

He said that this box only has this one kind of piece in it, was I sure?

“I know that,” I asserted. I did see the picture on the box, and the number of pieces. I wasn’t some stupid little kid, after all. Sure, I had no idea what I would use them for. But they looked like a good value, and my mother was waiting for me, and I had to finish my business.

So the clerk (who had been hoping my mother would return) went ahead and kachinged the register way up on the counter, then leaned over and counted out the change on the counter where I could see by standing on my toes. Then handed the change down to me, and then he handed me the little brown bag with my box of Lego.

I hastily made my egress (had to push hard to open the door) and found our white VW bug parked at the sidewalk with its nose toward the store. My mother was wrestling with my brother in the back seat, probably a diaper change against his will.

When I came up, she was watching for me. She asked for the change and the receipt. I handed them to her and climbed into the back seat. It was my job to keep my brother on the seat; this was before child seats or seat belts. And then (as one might surmise) she drove us home.

Back to my prize: I suspect that I realized pretty quickly that my first purchase ever was not a great choice. Who ever uses Lego with a multiple of three? Every piece I’d seen before had 1, 2, 4, or 8 studs. All were also full height. I probably secretly hoped that there was something better in the box, besides what the box claimed. But no.

So my ego was clearly very defensive already back then, when I had only a fuzzy idea of the relationship between value and price. But I still look for best value, and still am unable to admit that I had acquired something that I didn’t really want. And returning things just feels wrong.

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