But apparently Barbies aren’t that easy to come by. The thrift stores I checked out all had no Barbies, none of my friends had kept their old dolls, and I wasn’t about to pay full price at Toys R Us for a photo-shoot that may not even make it into the book. As a last ditch effort, I headed to the dollar store. I had seen knockoff Barbie dolls there in the past, and although they were definitely the very poor man’s version, they should be able to get the job done.
At first I couldn’t find any dolls in the whole store. I combed the aisles twice, the toy aisle three times, until I finally discovered some dolls at the very bottom of the shelf. They were two fairy dolls with misshapen heads and thinning hair. “Alopecia Barbie, now with wings!” I picked them up, one pink and one purple, but that wasn’t enough. I wanted to be surrounded by Barbies!
Just then I noticed a Barbie head a few feet over. And it looked like a real Barbie, not a misshapen, bald head. As I got closer, I realized it was just the head and neck, and a bit of shoulders. It was like the kind you buy to practice doing hair, except a fraction of the size. “Shrunken Head Barbie, now with no body!”
Reluctantly, I chose three of those, added them to my basket of two Alopecia dolls, and purchased them. Who the hell buys Barbie heads at the dollar store? I thought, as the cashier scanned them one by one, a judgmental look on her face. I finally knew what serial killers felt like in public.
That night, my husband and I set up the photo-shoot. It would be tricky to make the Barbie heads look like actual Barbies. We decided to use an end table and place the Barbie heads in the foreground so they would look like their bodies had just been cropped out.
It wasn’t hard to look so awkward. You try being surrounded by disembodied Barbie heads.
“Hey, we should give those dolls to our neighbors!” I said to my husband one day. We have two little girls living next to us, around six and three years old. The perfect age to not know the difference between real Barbies and dollar store dolls.
“Good idea,” he said. “Why don’t you go knock on their door?”
“I can’t just knock on their door with a bag of balding fairy dolls and Barbie heads and ask if they want them,” I said. We hadn’t actually met our neighbors officially yet. So I waited.
One afternoon as we were getting out of the car, the little girls said hello to us from their yard. “Ask them about the dolls!” I hissed at him.
“Me? Why should I do it?”
“I feel weird giving them dolls when we don’t even know them!” I said.
“So you think it would be less weird for me, a grown man with a beard, to ask little girls if they’d like some dolls?” he asked.
“Hey little girls,” I mimicked a molester/Michael Jackson voice to him, “do you like to play with dolls? You can have them, but you’ll have to come get them. They’re in my pants. Tee hee!”
“And that is exactly why I’m not doing it,” he said.
One day I heard the girls playing outside, and I was so sick of looking at the dolls on my desk that I decided to bite the bullet and just ask.
I went outside and called over to them. “Hey guys…do you like to play with dolls?” Oh God, I already sounded like Michael Jackson.
“Yes,” they said in unison.
“I have some I don’t need anymore, do you want them?”
“We have to ask our mom,” the oldest one said. Of course they had to ask their mom. Stranger Danger was offering them free dolls and they had been trained to avoid Michael Jackson and his ilk. They probably said, “Mom, our neighbor has some toys for us in her house. Probably her basement. And there might even be candy involved. Can we go in and get it without you?”
They came back out and said they had gotten permission to accept the dolls, so I brought them out. “So, they’re not in the best condition…” I started, suddenly embarrassed that I was making them play with Alopecia Barbie and three floating heads. “These two are fairy dolls, but, uh, their hair is a little messy.”
“Ooh!” they squealed.
“And, well, these are just heads, unfortunately. Uh…sorry about that.”
“We love heads!” the older girl exclaimed.
“Oh, well great.” I handed them over. “Enjoy!”
Their parents knocked on our door later that night, and I froze. They were going to yell at me for interacting inappropriately with their children! They were going to ask why I thought doll heads were an acceptable gift! They were going to say “quite frankly, we don’t feel comfortable living next to you.”
Instead, they came to introduce themselves. “Thank you so much for the dolls!” the mom said.
“Oh, it was nothing,” I waved my hand dismissively. “They were just from the dollar store…”
“Well, they love them. They haven’t stopped playing with them all afternoon!”
How do you play with Barbie heads all afternoon? What is there to do with just a head? How could that possibly occupy that many hours? I wished I were a kid so I could find so much joy in a disembodied head.
And then I stopped myself from thinking those thoughts because I felt like a serial killer again.