Dave Barry

Lovely parting gifts

(This classic Dave Barry column was originally published April 25, 2004.)

Every now and then, you come across a story so darned heartwarming that you need to take a prescription antacid.

This is such a story. I found out about it from alert reader David Rankin, who sent me the Jan. 3 front page of the Sevier County, Tenn., Mountain Press. On it is an article about a Danville, Va.-based textile company called ''Dan River,'' which was closing its Sevierville plant and laying off workers. Evidently, some savvy individual in management realized that the workers would be unhappy about losing their jobs. And so, to cheer them up, the company gave workers ''something extra'' in their severance packages, something that would make these layoffs truly special:

Barbie dolls.

I am not making this up. According to the Mountain Press, the ''severance package'' included a $100 Wal-Mart gift card, a ''Dan River'' cap, a calculator, a plaque and ``three red-headed Barbie dolls.''

The newspaper published a photo of one worker's Barbies, still in their boxes, smiling with radiant perkiness and ready for some layoff fun. We can only imagine the reaction:

MANAGEMENT PERSON: John, we're sorry about letting you go after 23 years at the plant, but to ''soften the blow,'' we're giving you these.

WORKER: But ... But these are ...

MANAGEMENT PERSON: Yes! Barbies! Three of them! And they're identical!

WORKER: Wow! These will be a huge hit with my four boys, ages 15 through 26! This is the best layoff EVER!

But before implementing a plan -- even a seemingly flawless and airtight plan, such as giving dolls to grownups who are losing their jobs -- management probably should have consulted with a normal, non-corporate human, or even a reasonably bright hamster. (''We have good news and bad news: The hamster liked the Wal-Mart card, but it made doots all over the Barbies.'' )

Speaking of Barbie: I assume you have heard she is no longer with Ken. She has apparently taken up with a new doll named ''Blaine,'' an Australian surfer with one of those asymmetrical surfer-dude haircuts that make him look like he was attacked by barbers with seriously incompatible views on how long hair should be. Blaine also has the kind of muscular physique that women do not find at all attractive, according to my wife whenever I ask her why she is staring at a Bowflex commercial.

I'm not sure how I feel about the Barbie-Ken split. On the one hand, I can see why Barbie would not be satisfied with Ken. I have a 4-year-old daughter, so our house has a thriving, teeming Barbie colony. This colony is serviced by one lone Ken, and frankly he is not up to the task.

I say this because Ken doesn't seem to notice that the Barbies are constantly getting naked. Often, after my daughter has been playing with her Barbies, I'll walk into her room, and there will be naked Barbies everywhere, and Ken will be displaying absolutely no interest in them. Lately, in fact, Ken has been off in a corner, sitting in Barbie's pink Jeep with Pinocchio.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

But my point is that I can see why Barbie has dumped Ken. But that doesn't mean I'm happy about Blaine. If Blaine thinks he's getting into MY daughter's room, he's stupider than he looks, which is pretty stupid. With a better haircut, he could have a career in management.

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