Pokemon collectors out-trade Wall Street

July 08, 1999|By Kevin Cowherd

A WORD OR TWO about the Pokemon craze, which is even more annoying than the Beanie Baby craze and the Rugrats craze and the $15 yo-yo craze and every other toy craze since the hula hoop.

First, let me be perfectly honest here: I'm not exactly sure what the heck Pokemon is, OK?

All I know is that my 8-year-old has all these trading cards with pictures of colorful little creatures that look like . . . well, I'm staring at one now called Oddish that looks like a mutant head of lettuce -- a head of lettuce with legs, if you can imagine that.

And my kid collects these cards and keeps them in ring binders thick enough to double as the Pentagon's "Handbook on Nuclear Retaliation," and he trades these cards with his friends, which inevitably leads to a near-brawl (more on that later).

Not to mention that we can't go to the mall without me being dragged into one of these, ahem, trading card boutiques, where about 500 little kids and their parents are buying Pokemon cards from two geeky sales clerks with tie-dyed T-shirts, ponytails and Elvis Costello glasses.

Anyway, now there's a Pokemon TV show and a Pokemon video and pretty soon there'll probably be a Pokemon feature film starring Keanu Reeves and some buxom 22-year-old starlet dressed up as Pikachu, who's some kind of cat-like . . . well, never mind.

So that's the sum total of my knowledge about Pokemon.

Having said that, let me add this: These stupid Pokemon cards are driving me nuts.

At home, when I ask where the 8-year-old is, the most chilling reply I can get is: "Oh, he's downstairs with his friends. They're playing with their Pokemon cards."

To me, this is like hearing: "Oh, he's downstairs with his friends. They're playing with some nail-bombs."

Because right away I know one thing: Somebody's going to end up crying.

See, what they're really doing down there is trading their Pokemon cards. And these trades have a way of going sour in a hurry.

A typical dispute: Two kids agree on a trade. Then a third kid (who's probably headed to law school) whispers to one of the traders that he just got fleeced, that the card he got is worth way less than the card he traded away.

And the next thing you know, they're squaring off like Sean Penn and Charlie Sheen at an open-bar wedding.

But the worst is when you have an older kid trading with a younger brother or sister -- an 8-year-old, say, trading with a 4-year-old. Because basically all the 8-year-old is trying to do is rip off the 4-year-old.

He's not even being subtle about it.

He'll come right out and say: "Look, I'll give you this worn, dog-eared Charmander, which has been gathering dust under my bed for months, for that First Edition Vileplume, which is worth $75 in any collectors' guide -- not that I've looked it up or anything."

And of course the 4-year-old is thinking: "Hey, no problem."

Look, the 4-year-old doesn't even know what a trade is. She thinks it's some kind of temporary arrangement that can be undone at any time, even without attorneys present.

She's young and innocent and her whole mindset is: "Sure, I'll trade. What's the big deal? I can get that card back whenever I want."

Then as soon as she finds out that baby is gone forever, she goes Chernobyl. She starts wailing and spinning around the room and beating her head against the coffee table.

If you're a mom or dad in the middle of all this, you have just entered the parental equivalent of the Balkans conflict.

It's a classic no-win situation.

If you step in and negate the trade, the 8-year-old will go nuts and you'll probably have to tie him down with tent pegs. If you don't negate the trade, the 4-year-old will never trust anyone again for the rest of her life.

Twenty years from now, she'll end up dialing some mental health hot line at 3 in the morning and sobbing: "I've never been right since my big brother scammed me in Pokemon cards. . . ."

As a parent, I don't think you want that on your conscience. I know I don't.

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