An American Girl in Chicago

My daughter would like an American Girl doll. This is not unusual. Lots of girls her age covet these 18-inch amalgams of cloth and plastic, topped with preternaturally coiffed “human-like” hair. And it’s no wonder. American Girl heavily markets to her demographic. They send glossy, colorful catalogs showing ponytailed dollies donning miniature soccer cleats, posing beside a wee, wee soccer ball. Gleeful tweens munch popcorn at a slumber party, each modeling different matching dolly-owner outfits, complete with identical orthodontic headgears. Own your ugly smile! You go, girl. (Does the American Academy of Orthodontists get kick-backs? Or perhaps teeny tubes of plastic toothpaste and floss?). But their biggest racket is the “Girl of the Year” project. Each year, the company introduces a new, “limited edition” doll, complete with an elaborate back-story and oodles of accessories, a special pet, precious pet accessories, cold weather gear, summer camp necessities, and miniature drug paraphernalia for her unfortunate heroin habit. This year’s hoax is a brown-haired baker. My daughter also has brown hair. My daughter also bakes cupcakes. OMG! How did they make a doll that exactly matches her? It’s like they made this doll specifically for her. How did they know? How could they know? We have to have it.

EEEEEEEEEKKKKKGGGGGGRRRR. That’s the sound of Citibank putting the brakes on my credit card. My daughter already owns an American Girl doll. And we can’t spectacularly up the ante year after dogged year. Plus, uh, “Molly,” let’s protect her real identity, is in fine shape. Sure she did a quick stint in rehab at the Doll Hospital in Chicago. But I confiscated her itsy-bitsy, hand-rolled joints last November and demanded she unfriend the ho-dolls posting bikini shots on Facebook. Holey cats, those dolls have tiny fingers.

Then I spied her in the flesh-like flesh, the coveted “Girl of the Year.” I met her hard, unblinking gaze. I was checking into a hotel, and “Grace” was giving me the stink eye from beside the counter. Heck, I could win her for free in a hotel-sponsored raffle. As I handed my credit card to the hotel clerk, I hastily filled out my one-entry-per-guest quota. There I was in Chicago, presenting my 2012 Gap’s Crown pinot noir at a trade-only pinot seminar. I’d been invited to show my wine alongside the luminaries of Sonoma County pinot. I would speak on a panel with my dearest mentors and wine heroes. I’d become a peer. My Chicago trip was a truly, significant career milestone. But Grace eclipsed my professional bravura.

An idea needled its way into my consciousness. Maybe I could swap some pinot for the doll. Who’d ever know? The silky-haired baker was already out of her signature box. She’d never recover full retail value. What was she worth now? One bottle of pinot? Two max? Furtively, I slinked up to the hotel desk.

“Hey,” I whispered in a Hollywood conspiratorial whisper. “I’m with Sonoma County Vintners. I’ll trade you some wine for Grace.”

The female clerk looked genuinely shocked. And then she laughed. She didn’t know I was serious. A few hours later, I repeated my hijinks, this time for the concierge.

“Hey, I’ll trade you wine for Grace over there.”

The concierge looked alarmed.

“Who?” she demanded. Crap! What if the front desk gal was actually named “Grace” or “Gracie” or “Grace Holy Mother of God?”

“You know.” I slid my eyes to the left without moving my head. “Grace The doll.” My voice was hoarse and low.

The concierge recomposed her features. I wasn’t a human trafficker after all. But no dice; this Grace was strictly display. Apparently, she didn’t need a real home after all, like one that isn’t some hotel. As if that’s any way to bring up a child, um, doll.

My final morning in Chicago, I plotted a final, feeble effort with a different hotel clerk. As I propped a wine bottle under each of Grace’s grubby fists, I heard Mary Poppins exclaim, “Oh the decadence! Just pose her any which way you’d like.” The cheery Brit was onto me.

“Listen, I’ll swap you these bottles for the girl. My daughter really wants this one.”

In that signature, British, sing-song way she chirped, “You wouldn’t believe how many guests say that…”

And here I thought I was so clever. How much wine is 18 inches of plastic worth anyway? Clearly, not as much as my dignity.