The Sound of Consumption

Collecting by feel, and by ear, in the toy store


The sound comes from the end of the aisle. A wall of Lego boxes faces a wall of toy trains and other vehicles designed to delight children. The holiday crush is not quite in effect, but it is a weekend and the store is less than a month old, attracting curious shoppers. There is a temporary display at the end of the aisle. The display is a rack of inexpensive novelties, even by Lego standards: blind bags of toy figurines, each in an unrevealing foil package. You will not know which one you have purchased until you have opened it. Except in front of the rack there is a twenty-something man, clean cut and in good health, who has figured out a way around the blind bags. He is taking the Lego “minifigures” packages off the shelf one at a time. In short order, maybe five seconds each, he feels them, caressing the segments to ascertain what is inside: a gingerbread man, a yeti, a mustached policeman. The package design is covered in question marks, like the Riddler’s costume, but the man can essentially see inside. On an adjacent shelf he maintains a stack of the ones he desires, slowly and steadily making his way to a complete set of 16. Except for the brief moment when he switches between bags, there is a constant ruffling of metallic paper, like tinsel yet with an urgent, mechanical anxiousness in place of the seasonal gift-giving spirit.

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