Hi, I’m That Toy You Bought for 97 Cents

By Gregory D. Luce on August 6, 2014 — 7 mins read

Hi, I know you took me home about two years ago and I’m in a much different state now than I was back then, but since you were looking for me the other day (and couldn’t find me), I thought I’d give you a quick update on my whereabouts and what I’ve been up to.

Actually, I’ll start from the beginning, before you decided to care for me, at least for a little bit. That way there’s more context to where I am now.

My father was zinc, my mother plastic. My personality came from a tampo machine and electrostatic enamel.

The metal in me is a tad complicated. My father, from whom I get most of my upper self, hails from a zinc mine in China. At least that’s what I can figure out. My uncles and aunts—the aluminums in the family—were dug up from a bauxite strip mine in Brazil. I’m told we also have some copper in our family, originating from an open pit mine in Papua, Indonesia. We’re not quite sure, however, about the copper part. Collectively, though, my dad’s side of the family are all the ZAMACs—96 percent zinc, with aluminum usually making up the rest, sometimes magnesium and copper in the mix. We are proud of our global potmetal heritage.

I got my chassis, wheels, and interior bits from my mom. She’s acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, ABS. Basically, plastic—like Lego plastic— but we prefer to use her long petrochemical name. It’s nice to have something seemingly exotic in our background.

I was born in a facility the size of five football fields. About 3,000 people worked there, creating up to 10 million of us each month. I’m told they lived in dormitories nearby, ate in an on-site cafeteria, and were paid the equivalent of $1.00 to $2.00 per hour, plus overtime. On a good day they produced 250 of us every minute. One night while you were sleeping, about 150,000 of us were born, including me.

To make me, they melted down zinc alloy ingots and injected them into die-cast molds, which would form my body. They also melted down plastic resin and fed it into huge plastic-injection molding machines. After formation and cooling, everything came out as parts: windows, seats, bodies, steering wheels, engines, plastic tires, some of which are then trimmed, smoothed, and dipped into various chemical baths, then painted and decorated using vacuum-metalizers, tampo printing machines, and electrostatic paint coatings, depending on who’s getting born that day, or even that hour.

Once all the parts are ready, my handlers—country folk, young women, some recruited from Indonesia—put them all together, snapping the plastic axles and wheels (called “barbells”) into place and sealing the whole assembly so it was shipshape and tight.

Thus, I became toy model V0023, lot D29, made in Malaysia.

I was a die-cast car, a Mini-Cooper S. I had a dark blue shiny body, white racing stripes and a number, a blue metal spoiler, black interior, tinted windows, plastic silver chassis, a painted gas cap, and chrome-like plastic wheels. It took about seven minutes to make me, at a cost of less than 25 cents.

I was then sealed up into a blister pack, boxed up with all the others, and shipped to the United States.

It took 13 days to get to America, and we stopped at various other ports along the way. I did not have to pay for shipping. If I did, it would have cost about three cents, probably less, as 300,000 other die-cast cars like me were traveling together on the ship, all sharing and spreading the costs and rolling back and forth in our clear blister pack casings.

Upon our arrival in Los Angeles, we were offloaded and moved to a toy distribution center nearby. Depending on where we were wanted, we fanned out across the country by truck, almost half of us to various Wal-Mart, Toys “R” Us, or Target, the rest of us scattered around to smaller places. We were all brothers, sisters, cousins, excited to be in America, to end up on display, to be taken into homes where there would be kids like you.

That’s when you saw me, at Target, for 97 cents.

I didn’t know then that your choice involved both reward and desire. That your dad said you could get something small if you went to Target with him. He would buy toilet paper, kitty litter, some lightbulbs, maybe milk and a few groceries. You asked if you could get a “race car,” and that was the deal—come with him on the errand, don’t make a fuss about buying something, and in return you would get a die-cast car like me, nothing more. Something less than a dollar, the price of mutual content.

I was the first thing you placed in the shopping cart, and you held me in the car on the way home, your dad throwing away the cardboard and plastic packaging before we left the store.

I know I should be thankful that you took me home and played with me—and believe me I am—but I was surprised that I wasn’t that special, to you at least. I was special for a little bit, sure, but you already had at least 100 other cars like me, some from your older brother. Not exactly like me, I could see that, but we all shared the same heritage, mostly ZAMAC and plastic and enamel, all born in Malaysia. How you owned so many was at first puzzling to me, but then I realized that 97 cents wasn’t a whole lot of money in America. That was my first realization.

My next realization took a bit longer. You played with me pretty intensely for a couple of days, but after that you were on to something else and I often sat in a bin with all the others. We would sit for a while, then we’d get dumped out and you would roll us across the room or down the orange track from the front porch to the sidewalk. You would play with me and the others and and I’d get chipped up, dirty, and sometimes left out in the sandbox or the rain. After two years, I wasn’t looking so great. Used and played with, which I guess is a good thing for a toy.

But then I got stepped on. It was your mom, or dad, or older brother—I don’t really know. Whoever it was also kicked me across the room and under the radiator. I stayed there for a few months, until you pulled me out one day while you were playing with a flashlight. My front wheels were bent and one didn’t roll anymore. When you pushed me, I skidded, mostly sideways, and rolled over. Your brother said I “drifted,” but he laughed when he said it. You looked neither disappointed nor sad, and you left me there on the floor. After a few days, your dad picked me up while you were at school, saw that my wheels were bent and broken, and threw me in the trash. I was one of a hundred, and he told your mom we needed to cull some of your toys anyway. You didn’t know I ended up in the trash.

At your house, trash gets picked up on Fridays. I sat in the trash with chicken bones, sandwich crusts, coffee grounds, and a few other culled toys: a plastic coin from a birthday party, a broken ring-toss game, two plasticized lizards that lost an original stickiness. The garbage truck came, collected us, and took us downtown to the incinerator. I got dumped out of the truck and on to the tipping floor, then pushed by a front loader into the waste pit. A crane picked us up and fed us to the boiler.

I’m mostly non-recyclable plastic and non-ferrous metal—i.e., not much to recycle. So I got incinerated with about two million other pounds of garbage that Friday. Our smoke rose up the flue as we burned, and I’m told there was a scrubber and baghouse in the smokestack, apparently to eliminate mercury, metals, and dioxins. I imagine part of me ended up in the baghouse, part of me drifted out over your city, and the rest of me was reduced to ash on the floor. That part of me, the ash, was removed from the boiler, placed back on a truck, and hauled to a landfill a few miles outside of the city. What’s left of me is now in that landfill.

Much less than an ounce remains, but in whatever ways you can imagine it—and however long it may take—I have started to return to the earth. As I said, my father was zinc, my mother was petrochemical. I was born in Malaysia and ended my short life in an incinerator in Minneapolis. I will now sit for hundreds of years in a landfill, though I offer thanks for playing with me, at least for the short time we were together.

Originally published on Medium. Photo from more-cowbell on Flickr.

Finding Me

I'm probably at home. If not, I'm temporarily away from my desk and will return shortly. If you need to get in touch with me right away, try sending me a letter, by post or by bits.