Slice of Life

Puppet Population Control

by Steven Engelfried

I made a rash purchase at our local Goodwill store the other day.  I bought a beaver puppet that I really have no use for, and that’s not a good sign.  When you use puppets a lot, you have to watch yourself.  It’s so tempting to just buy every cool one you see.  They seem so fun at the time, but not all puppets are practical.  Or affordable. 

When I first started telling stories with puppets, almost every new puppet I added was something I really needed.  I had to have a decent farm set, some zoo/jungle guys, a cat, a dog, a mouse…Plus a spider (for Anansi), a frog and a toad (for Frog and Toad), and an assortment of people.  But after a few years of adding new ones here and there, I had a pretty workable core collection.  Then I realized I had to be careful.  My new rule became “only buy it with plans to try it.”  Meaning I could purchase only puppets that I already planned to use in a specific story.  That got me a moose (for Morris and Boris), a snake (Crictor!), and a very cool mosquito (without which Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears would just be impossible).  At that point I was ready to slow down.  I’d still add a new one now and then, and gave fairly specific hints around birthdays, but I generally resisted temptation.  That amazing looking Llama that runs $40 or so?  No thanks, I don’t have a good llama story and it’s too big.  A fancy flamingo with a flexible neck?  Pretty, but not for me.  Things were under control. 

Then I started joining my wife on weekly runs to the local Goodwill stores.  She’s a serious bargain hunter, always on the lookout for baskets, tin containers, pants for our hard-to-fit-children, and the perfect rolltop desk for under $15.  She lives for the hunt.  I tag along sometimes and always drift over to the toys.  You’d think I’d feel a little strange picking up animal after animal and discreetly feeling for a possible hole in the bottom, but our fellow shoppers are a non-judgmental bunch:  what happens around the Goodwill bins stays around the Goodwill bins.  Usually I find no puppets at all, but when I do, they’re amazing bargains.  I got hooked when I spotted a giant frog in great condition ($45 online) for $3, and the chance of other exciting finds keeps me going back.

But now my own puppet bins, which take up a sizable portion of the laundry room, are getting a bit tight.  And I’ve been coming home with puppets I don’t really need, like that beaver, which is a fine beaver, but really no better than the beaver I already have, and don’t use that much anyway.  Or the large lion which was a terrific bargain, but exactly identical to the lion puppet I already had, and I don’t see those two ever sharing the stage together.  So I’ll probably re-donate those to the Goodwill and remind myself again that I don’t need every puppet in the world, and I especially don’t need two of every puppet.  But if someday I happen to spot just the right Ostrich puppet, with a scrunchable neck, I will not hesitate to snatch it up, knowing it will have a ready made role waiting for it as the star of How the Ostrich Got His Long Neck.

One comment

  1. angelaNS

    I have the same problem! Here in Nova Scotia, we have something called Frenchy’s, which is the best thrift store chain in the universe. (I’m not joking!). I always find myself drifting to the “Odds” bin, which often has puppets, including those sought-after Folkmanis puppets. (I have 2 snowy owls!) But here’s the biggest problem… everyone else who goes to Frenchy’s thinks of me and does the same, and I am always getting little puppet surprises on my desk. My solution? I’ve created a librarian-use -only puppet collection for our branches– and made an online gallery. Whenever someone wants to use a puppet, they e-mail me, and I send it to them via our courier.

    I’m still waiting though, to see how they use the Pickle Moose puppet.

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