In Her Words
Looking for the Winged Dragon of Ra
A mother’s quest for the mystical and magical…
“The Winged Dragon of Ra can defeat his enemies in one try,” my son, then 6, told me, his grey-green eyes wide with desire. He was deep into the Yu-Gi-Oh phase, collecting trading cards emblazoned with images of supernatural beasts with myth-clever names and powers described and ranked in impossibly small text. “It’s the strongest of all the god cards,” my son went on, “even two god cards combined can’t defeat it.”
It was a rare card, but Mark, his friend from the playground, had it. Mark also had an alphabet soup of issues like OCD and ADHD. My easygoing son would forgive Mark’s temper, bullying and abrupt departures because Mark knew everything about Yu-Gi-Oh and was happy to share his knowledge with a willing pupil. Thankful for the random gift of normalcy, I vowed to find the rare Winged Dragon of Ra card for my son.
How hard could it be? We lived in New York City, where you can find everything. My first stop was a vertical mall in Herald Square. The toy store had a special section devoted to Yu-Gi-Oh cards, with starter packs, collector’s glassine wrappers and commemorative tins. But no Winged Dragon of Ra. Next I braved the crush of tourists at Toys R Us in Times Square. I jumped at the roar of the giant dinosaur and scooted past the families on their way to the indoor carousel, the children awed by the seemingly endless section of toys, marveling to their parents that this store had everything. Almost. No Winged Dragon of Ra.
I did get a tip from a sympathetic clerk. “Try Forbidden Planet,” he told me. I walked 25 blocks down to the store in Union Square. The window looked like a set from Star Wars. I was sent upstairs to what seemed to be a picnic for the gamer set; a glimpse of what my son would be, tween-aged boys engaged in serious card duels. The clerk behind the counter barely looked up from his book on wizardry when I told him I needed to find the Winged Dragon of Ra. My voice was now slightly desperate. This had gone from shopping expedition to mission, and I was failing. The clerk was unmoved.
A gamer with spiky hair and chains across one knee of his black pants came up to me. With a politeness I hadn’t expected, he apologized for overhearing and suggested a shop on Catherine Street. A collector’s store. The Winged Dragon of Ra was indeed rare, he told me. It had been included with that season’s Xbox game, but had yet to be widely released. And if they didn’t have it, I could probably find a counterfeit at one of the stalls in Chinatown.
The next day I took my son down to Chinatown, telling him of my previous days’ adventure, saying that we’d find the card together. My son was charmed by the hustle and smells of Chinatown, and especially by the open food shops with crabs crawling around in barrels, big fish on ice and unfamiliar vegetables. We bought glass noodles and a six-pack of crumbly-good almond cookies.
We found stalls filled with perfumes, umbrellas and toys. In one, the Yu-Gi-Oh cards were hanging on clothespins across the back of the store. My son looked at each one, telling me about its awesome powers, but no match for the mighty Winged Dragon of Ra, which was not hanging from the clothesline.
We headed for Catherine Street where Chinatown has given way to upscale boutiques and lofts. There was no sign for the shop, only an arrow under a cover of a magna comic book. As we headed up the narrow stairs I caught a glimpse of a woman in pink pajamas. The storekeeper looked us over before he buzzed us in. He stood behind his cases of collectibles – finely crafted characters from series we did not know, comic books carefully wrapped in protective covers and lots of cards. But no Winged Dragon of Ra.
“Let’s try one more place, then we’ll stop for ice cream.” I’d spotted a couple of vendors on Mulberry Street. Expectantly, I led him to the stand. “Maybe it’s in one of the packs.” My son bent down to examine the thin silver foil packets containing small sets of the cards. I sucked in my breath and hoped. The groupings were based on some phantasmagorical version of library science he’d not yet deciphered, and the Chinese characters yielded no clue as to what was inside. He studied the pictures. The street vendor grew impatient. I asked if he knew which cards were inside. He shrugged. Finally my son selected three packs.
As he opened the packs, he exclaimed at the power and the points of each card. I marveled at the names – there was Blue Eyes White Dragon, Black Luster Soldier and Magician of Faith. Good cards, he said. Some were even rendered in metallic ink. There was even a god card. He opened the last pack. As he fanned them out I read the names. My heart ached. There was no Winged Dragon of Ra. I’d failed.
Then we sat on a bench, eating ice cream, strawberry drips threatening to mar the new cards. My son looked at me and said, “This was the best day ever.”