The Corner

Decline of Western Civ

Followers of The Straggler will recall that his gift to himself at Christmas time is a good big (2,000 pieces ideal) jigsaw puzzle.

So … time to buy a puzzle. I happened to be in midtown Manhattan when the thought occurred to me, so I hiked over to F.A.O. Schwartz, the high-end toy store on Fifth & 59th. This being the premier toy store in the Big Apple, I expected to find the mother lode of jigsaw puzzles. To my great disappointment, the selection was paltry—just a dozen or so very overpriced Ravensburger puzzles. (I suppose it’s a bit pointless to complain about their being overpriced. Schwartz is the Nieman Marcus of toy stores—I mean, the stuff being overpriced is sort of the point of the place).

Swallowing my disappointment, I recalled that when working near Rockefeller Center in the 1990s, my lunchtime mooching around the underground shopping concourse there had included many, many mooches at a wonderful games store. Would it still be there, though? I walked down to Rock Center to find out. No, gone. I think so, anyway: the underground concourse has been totally reorganized & I got lost. It’s all chain stores now—Banana Republic, Brookstones, and about seventeen instantiations of Starbucks.

Resignedly, I walked over to Toys-R-Us in Times Square. I didn’t expect their puzzles to be very interesting, but at least they’d have some at decent prices. So they did: about four different puzzles, the most challenging 500 pieces.

Plunged by now in forebodings of civilizational collapse (not helped a bit by just having read Pat Buchanan’s new book), I tried the big Wal-Mart next to Penn Station. No jigsaw puzzles at all! I did think of asking an assistant just to make sure, but was gripped by a fear that the assistant would do a Manuel on me: ¿Qué?

At last I just went home and ordered a puzzle from Buffalo Puzzles, which are well made (in the U.S.A.!) and fairly priced. My choice: Gottlieb’s Washington Crossing the Delaware.

And I note that while F.A.O. Schwartz let me down on jigsaw puzzles, they have a great selection of Kabbalah Dolls. No kidding. Next year: build-your-own-mosque Wahhabi erector sets.


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