What do you tell a man who won’t grow up, who’s living in a dream that happened in the past, a dream that’s over? And why should it fall to me? I barely know the guy — he’s all broke up inside: no kids, never married, no sex, she wants out. After 43 years!
Ken and I go back a ways — we were never friends. He was my sister’s. Me and Ken on a rainy day might have a date or a series of horrible car accidents or cause an explosion at our very own wedding, but that’s how it was when sisters trusted brothers to play Barbies. Someone must die, frequently and explosively until mom is gotten. This was the game as I understood it.
For forty-three years those two were like this, and with one flick of a press release, Mattel released Ken from his contract, sending him back into the workforce at the age of 59, stripped of any further association with Barbie, who is seeking an order of protection.
“I loved that woman,” he said to me privately. “The Midge thing was a rumor. It happened when Barbie went Malibu.” He stared off into space looking all his nearly 60 years. Ken is, in fact, a survivor of abuse at the hands of boys and teeth of dogs. He sees me staring. “Go ahead, stare, try to picture me when, everybody else does it; notice she still looks great, of course, she got all the new technologies, and me, well, I always said I don’t need it.” Here he breaks down. Today he learned he can no longer use his last name without a spelling change. Funny though. Through it all, the guy still looks sixteen.
“So many surgeries she had!” I can barely understand him, but I let him go on. “By the time it was over she was a completely different person.” I’ve seen what this guy can do when he gets worked up, so I put him back in the box where he couldn’t do any damage. I had a few things to tell him.
“In the first place,” I said, “Barbie Mattel is a bitch. You think Britney Spears is bad?”
Immediate argument. Ken’s all over it. Barbie’s smarter, Barbie’s easier to talk to, Barbie’s a better dancer, better singer, better lover, on and on. “Ken!” I had to shake him. “Wake up, little buddy, it’s over, man, the end of the long free ride. Ken, you’ve been released. Mattel doesn’t want you around. Nobody used the word discontinued. Nothing unusual happening on eBay — yet.” He perked up.
“Kenny Boy,” I said, “it seems to me that with Mattel putting you out to pasture and your rights worth about nothing… maybe we should snarf up those rights and work you over a bit, get rid of that accent, some new clothes, accessories like beards and bald tops and beer bellies, tattoos.” He was like putty in my hands. “Then we put the whole thing on the stage.
“Ken and Barbie, How It Was, What Happened, and Why Nothing Good Will Ever Happen Again: The Musical. Tom Hanks, Ken. Tom Hanks is Ken. And Barbie. Puh. She could be made out of plastic for all it matters, like Pamela Anderson.” I’m holding him like an Oscar, thinking: it all goes in the screenplay, the Vietnam years, the day GI Joe showed up with all his cool action gear– it broke Ken’s heart. Ken, who’d never been allowed outside, was forced to remain the ideal of a little girl who’d forgotten all about him. Barbie, that whoring bitch.
High tragedy and low comedy all mixed up in bad music and too much pink, yes, but if Ken can be had cheap, shouldn’t he be grabbed?