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I'll Have What Neely's Having

I'd never been a big fan of dolls. No I don't mean the ones you swallow to take the edge off (I'm fine with those). I mean the ones you dress up and play with.

That all changed this weekend, when I decided to get my niece some cool clothes for Christmas. For weeks now I've been noticing shoppers traipsing about with shopping bags with something about American Girls on them. Last Friday, I asked one of my coworkers if said store had good clothes for 6-year olds. She told me it was adorable ... clothes for little girls and matching clothes for their dolls as well.

"Sounds horrible," I said. But having just spent the previous two hours in the 7th circle of hell, otherwise known as Toys R Us, I figured why not. That which does not kill us gives us more reasons to enjoy a martini.

So off to Fifth Avenue I trod, where I discoverd girlie girl mecca. I had no idea. It's a doll store where you can buy matching clothes for your little girl. My breath quickened and I got an odd tingly feeling in my stomach. I wasn't sure if I was appalled or excited, but I felt certain that I was heading towards overload.

I pulled out the mobile and called my sister, Karen, for the umpteenth time that day (we'd already had several conversations amidst the din of Geoffrey the Giraffe's gobbledygook, trying to sort out the intracies of LeapPads and Bionicles).

"This is the most surreal thing I've ever seen," I told her. I'd walked into a sea of little girls, most of them already with dolls in hand.

"Just breathe, honey, you'll be fine. I'm right here with you," my sister told me. With cell phone next to ear and a calming voice on the other end of the line, I decided to explore. First floor is the doll zoo ... lots of dolls on display and tons of kicky little outfits.

In one glass case were about 20 dolls of various gene pools, all dressed in the same outfit. "I found the Stepford Dolls."

I tried to give Karen the play-by-play, telling her everything I saw. "Oh that one is is gorgeous," I said, spying a little Asian beauty in a red velvet coat. "How much is she?"

Turns out the live girls aren't for sale and some mothers have no sense of humor.

"Okay baby, we're going upstairs." Second floor is admitting for the doll hospital. I've never liked hospitals, so I immediately went to the third floor. At the top of the escalator was a mob of moms holding daughters' hands, who were clutching their 18-inch clones.

"Aaggh," I shrieked like one of the nine year olds, "too many little girls."

"What happened?"

I told her of the mob, all trying to get into the American Girl Cafe.

"Oh yeah, that's where you can take your doll to tea," she told me.

"Are you fucking kidding me?"

"'Fraid not. And did you just say fuck in front of all those little girls? Nice."

I whisked past the cafe madness and found myself in the middle of the It's a Small World collection.

"Seems like I've left Connecticut and now I'm in the middle of the U.N. How many of these damn dolls are there?"

"Tons. Lots of them have their own history. There's this Indian one ..."

"Native American," I corrected.

"Whatever, she's beautiful."

"Oh, you mean Kaya, yeah I see her now."

"My favorite is the one with pigtails and glasses," she told me.

I found that one, who turned out to be Molly. "She's a geek, Karen."

"I know, I've got a thing for the geeks. Whaddyagonnado?"

"Okay, then. I came here for clothes for M. Should I get her a doll as well?"

"She'd love it. She's been getting all girly on us lately and they're are all the rage."

Well, if they're all the rage, then my favorite niece needs to have one. I told my sister to wish me luck, said goodbye and went back downstairs to conquer dollsville.

The only thing I knew for certain was that my little Miss M had to have this dress. And, natch, her doll did too. But which doll? There are dolls with their own story books and histories. There are more generic dolls that mix and match hair color, skin tone and eye color to those of your own little darling.

I decided to interview the professionals. I found two junior shoppers, probably 7 or 8 years old, hanging with their moms.

"Hi, do you know about these dolls?"

They looked at their moms and then looked back at me and nodded.

"Which would you rather have, a doll that looks like you or a doll with her own history and storybook?"

The little girl closest to me just stared at me like I had 17 heads.

"Come on, don't think about it, there's no wrong answer. First thing that comes into your head, which would you rather have?"

"Um, one that looks like me."

"Perfect. What about you?" I asked her friend.

"I'm not playing," she whispered and slunk behind her mom's leg.

"Mom, what about you?"

"One with its own history," says Mom #2 and Mom #1 nodded in agreement.

"Okay, thanks," I said and skittled off, thinking of course the moms would opt for the history dolls, 'cause there aren't any dolls with botoxed foreheads and gray streaks in their hair.

I guess I still looked a touch perplexed, because a lovely woman came to my rescue.

"Sweetie, you look like you need some help." I heard bells ring ... my very own Angel in American Girl. Her nametag read "Karen" and I knew I was in good hands.

She took a quick intake assesment of my doll needs (again, gifts for little girls, not for self-medication) and we opted for a fair-skinned, blonde haired beauty with gray eyes (blue eyes were sold out). I told her that we had to have the paisley dress and the swan lake ballerina outfit (to complement the Swan Lake Barbie I'd already purchased).

"I'll also need the matching dress for my niece. Can you help me with that as well?"

"Of course, that's in the other room. Come with me. There are hairbrushes in there as well, you'll need a hairbrush." We walked past several displays. One was a ski vacation set up, complete with its own wheelchair.

"Shut up," I muttered under my breath, "That's genius."

Another was a spa collection, where the doll was lying back with teeney little cucumber slices over her eyes. What queen is in product development for this company?

So we get to the dress rack. "Now let me tell you," says Angel Karen, "these dresses run a little small, so you'll want to go a little large."

"Okay, then I'll take this 8 for M. And do they come in 16?"

She goes around pulls a preteen-sized frock. "Oh no, I meant in ladies sizes, and preferably stretchy on top, I'm a little broad in the shoulders."

She looked at me, smiled and told me she was sorry to say they didn't come that big. "But we should think about that ... and you should wear whatever makes you feel good, darlin'."

How much did I love Karen?

So I left American Girl Place with a doll, 3 doll outfits, one matching little girl dress, hair accessories for both dolls and girls and a double helping of "bonus gift with purchase" from the sweet young lady who rang me up.

I told Connie all about it this weekend. Once the holdays are over, we're heading back and turning it into American Gurrrrllll Place. *snap*

I'm getting a fair-skinned, hazel-eyed light-brown haired doll and cutting its locks off into a sporty man's cut and calling it Bea. Bea Movie. Connie's getting a medium-skinned, black tressed, green-eyed honey and we're gonna tease the crap out that one's hair. Go-go boots. Mini skirts. Little sacks of bird seed stuffed inside tiny tube tops. Big hoop earrings.

Dolls can be such a drag. And, bonus, I now have the theme for a spring party.