For most of America, Tickle Me Elmo is the must-have toy of Christmas 1996, its street value bid ever upward by frenzied parents who can't find it in the stores but absolutely must have it under that tree by Wednesday morning.
But for the Diggs family of Pikesville, Tickle Me Elmo is something else altogether -- a furry red toy that holds the promise of a new independence for 12-year-old Rodney, stricken since birth by a devastating soft-bone disease.
While millions of Americans are scheming to get their hands on a scarce Elmo, the Diggses are hoping to sell theirs. The hysteria that has led some people to offer more than $1,000 for an Elmo has presented a one-time opportunity to Rodney and his family: the chance to sell their Elmo for enough money to build a wheelchair ramp so that he will no longer have to rely on his 64-year-old grandparents to help him in and out of his house.
It's an old American story -- the impulse to make something good happen out of the most unpromising of circumstances. The Elmo frenzy, reminiscent of the Cabbage Patch Doll hysteria of 1983, seemed to be about nothing but greed, guilt and a herd instinct driven by infuriatingly sophisticated marketing. But now charities are leaping in and auctioning off Elmos. At Towson Town Center a drawing is scheduled today in an Elmo raffle that attracted about 2,500 entries, with the proceeds going to the Grant-a-Wish Foundation to help the families of seriously ill children.
And in Pikesville, little Rodney is looking forward to the freedom that could be his this Christmas.
His grandfather, Roland Diggs, obtained the sought-after Elmo through a nephew who works for Wal-Mart. His first idea was to give it to Rodney. It's cute and it laughs when you squeeze it and then it starts vibrating.
But then he had another idea. Roland and his wife, Isabelle, go to Rodney's house every morning to help him get off to school at Southwest Academy, because his father, Larry, a single parent, must leave at 6 a.m. for his job as a delivery driver for the Red Cross.
'A good idea'
"The other day, when it was raining, we were over there and Rodney's getting heavy, you know, and I said, 'Darn, we gotta get a ramp,' " the elder Diggs said yesterday. "Once I saw all this advertising, I thought this would be a good idea to sell it [Elmo] and get some money for the ramp."
When Rodney was born, his breastbone was fractured its entire length. The doctors diagnosed osteogenesis imperfecta and said he wouldn't live more than six months. His father had to feed him through a tube.
But he struggled on. Having suffered between 200 and 500 fractures, he is used to pain, and he has grown stronger and healthier. Maybe it's something that runs in his family: his great-great-grandfather died two years before Rodney was born at the age of 103.
"And God gave him a good mind," said his grandmother Isabelle. "He's a smart little boy."
Rodney, who has a year-old Rottweiler named Bear, hopes to be a dog trainer. "I've already trained my dog to sit down and shake hands," he said.
If he had a ramp, he said, he could get in and out of the house on his own in his battery-powered wheelchair -- to take Bear for walks, to visit a friend down the street, to save his grandparents the risky chore of lugging him up and down the front steps.
Roland Diggs, a retired building manager for the Baltimore public schools, said a ramp would cost $1,200 to $1,500. He knows that he won't get that much for Elmo. He ran an ad in The Sun yesterday and the best offer he'd received by midafternoon was $250.
Even that will help. (Roland Diggs' phone number is 602-8744.)
The offer might have been higher -- but 91 other people also advertised Elmos in yesterday's paper. It was practically a glut.
Dale Campbell of Dundalk was typical. She bought an Elmo for $22 back in August for her grandson, she said, "but he's only 10 months old, so he's too young to know he has to have one."
She's gotten offers of $80 to $100. "If I sell it, I sell it," she said.
Jim Finecey of Pasadena picked up three Elmos at a toy store early this month and figured he'd try to sell one. So far his best offer is $325.
"The way I feel about it, if somebody's stupid enough to buy something for 325 bucks, I'm going to sell it," he said.
At Towson Town Center yesterday, where Kay-Bee Toys had donated the Elmo for the raffle, Paula Bracey was buying seven tickets for the package price of $5. She'd love to get an Elmo for her son, Ronald Crowell, 6.
'Full of joy'
"The toy is just full of joy," she said. "If you're having a bad day, maybe it'll make you laugh."
"Could they make one for adults?" asked Coard Simpler, who was selling raffle chances for the Grant-a-Wish Foundation.
The foundation will use the money to support the Children's House at Johns Hopkins Hospital, where families can stay while their children are hospitalized.
But Bracey said there was no way she would pay hundreds of dollars for an Elmo. Taking a chance is one thing; getting carried away is something else again.
One last note: What Rodney really wants for Christmas is a new Nintendo 64, but that's another story. Twenty-two people took ,, out classified ads in The Sun yesterday to sell the newest Nintendo.
It's nearly as scarce as Elmo.
Pub Date: 12/23/96