Revolt of the Toys

Toys 1

Toys 2

You always know when my three year old grandniece is visiting because our tiny two-room rental house begins to bear an uncanny resemblance to a toy store.  As my wife works from home, having a pile of toys around usually serves as sufficient distraction to allow my wife to take care of her job responsibilities.  Granted, Little One would rather be watching a Disney movie, kidvid on Netflix or (her preference) YouTube videos on my wife’s iPhone.  Hence, the toys.  Even at her young age, I think the kid is addicted to electronic devices.  The upcoming Generation Alpha (those now under five years of age) are more connected to the world than any previous group, including their millennial parents.

We’re not sure how we feel about that.  We’d rather that Little One take time to be a kid and not grow up so fast.  It’s not that we want to hold her back or anything, but watching her glazed eyes mesmerized by the screen is a bit unsettling.  Accordingly, we try to balance the electronic with a healthy dose of low-tech fun.  This includes playing outside with the landlord’s kids, having fun with the cats and dogs, making trips to local play venues and spending imaginative time with the huge number of toys to which she has access.

We have taken on some of the child care duties to allow my niece to go to work without worry.  She lives about 45 minutes from here, so the procedure involves a complicated relay of pick-ups and drop-offs that my wife and her sister have worked out with Little One’s mom.  I have stopped trying to keep track.  What I do know is that Little One stays over with us one or two nights each week.  Although the suitcase that she brings with her clothes usually contains a few toys, it helps to have the toy shop ready to go.

Never for a minute did I stop to ask the toys how they feel about this arrangement.  So I suppose it should come as no surprise that one of her toys decided to take matters into its own hands and speak its mind.  Pixar’s animation studios are about two hours down the road in Emeryville, but they have nothing on us here in Sacramento.

It started in the middle of night.  If a toy wanted to pick a time of day most calculated to capture our attention, this would be it.  While we may be fast asleep, you can be sure that we’re going to sit up and take notice when anything noisy develops anywhere in our tiny house.  Here at home, anyplace you are at the moment is no more than a few feet from any other place.  So it’s not as if a toy’s cri de coeur would stand a chance of being overlooked.

My best guess is that the toys took a vote.  Word is that they eschew any Electoral College type system of representation in favor of a New England town meeting style of direct democracy.  In this election cycle, the nominee was my grandniece’s Minnie Mouse telephone.  In better times, pressing the numeric buttons would result in the playing of recorded messages about visiting Minnie’s clothing emporium.  Turn them into good American consumers while they’re young, right?

Now, it’s not as if we’ve engaged in blatant abuse of the toys, at least not on a level that would warrant retaliation.  Benign neglect, maybe.  Perhaps the Minnie Mouse phone was attempting to serve as the voice of the other toys that were tired of being cast aside in favor of mere images on electronic devices.

At any rate, this is how the deal went down.  My wife and I were fast asleep when my dreams were invaded by a weird mantra that was chanted over and over again.  As I struggled to consciousness, I wondered if there was some type of emergency in the neighborhood that necessitated loud speaker warnings to evacuate immediately.  It sounded just about that ominous and urgent.  “What was that?” I asked my wife, who murmured “I dunno” and immediately returned to dreamland.

What on earth was I hearing?

“Stricky-ah! Stricky-ah! Stricky-ah!  Restricky-ah! Stricky-ah!”

Generally, I sleep so soundly that I wouldn’t wake up if a bomb went off.  But it seemed as if I had finally met my match.  This time, the sheer weirdness of this interruption to my somnolence was enough to keep me awake.  It sounded as if I had walked into an area that was off-limits and had tripped an alarm that was attempting to shout “Restricted!  Restricted!”

I climbed out of bed and headed to the bathroom, quickly realizing that the noise emanated not from outside, but from the toy pile.  The disembodied voice sounded like something out of a bad sci-fi movie.  I touched the Minnie Mouse phone and noticed that it was wet.  Immediately, the phone returned to its normal self as I heard the cheerful, chirpy voice to which I had become accustomed.  “Hello!  This is Minny Mouse!”

Now the toys were just playing mind games with me.  Was I still dreaming?  Was this all a product of my imagination?  And why was the phone wet?  Oh no, I thought, I hope the batteries aren’t leaking acid all over everything.

Padding back from the bathroom, I climbed back into bed and went back to sleep.  Less than five minutes later, it started up again.

“Stricky-ah!  Stricky-ah!  Restricky-ah!  Stricky stricky stricky stricky stricky stricky-ah!  Restricky-ah!”

As I am a lazy so-and-so, I really did not want to mess with it.  So I tossed and turned, went back to sleep and woke up again multiple times, only to find that the revenge of the toys had not let up.

“Restricky-ah!  Restricky-ah! Stri-stri-stri-stri-stricky stricky stricky stricky restricky-ahhh!”

In the morning, my wife filled me in.  Apparently, Little One had taken the Minnie Mouse phone outside to play and had gotten dirt inside it.  Then she took it in the bathtub with her to wash it.  That explained why I felt water when I touched it.  My wife said we would just have to throw it away.  And that was more than fine with me.

We had a lovely Saturday, complete with going out to lunch and attending a birthday barbecue for another three year old member of our extended family.  Little One was present and I had the opportunity to engage in one of my favorite pastimes, taking lots of iPhone pictures.  We capped off the day by watching the Olympics.

Saturday night, I was dead asleep when I bolted awake.  What was that noise?  “Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding!”  It sounded as if one of our electronic devices was attempting to send a fax or maybe connect to an old-fashioned dial-up modem.  Oh, good, it stopped.

A few minutes later:  “Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding!”  Not again!  It seemed that the nefarious Minnie Mouse phone was not about to give up without a fight.

In the morning, my wife removed Minnie’s batteries.  Later, she took it out to the trash.

Thus endeth the tale of the great 2016 revolt of the toy pile.  And tonight, I get some sleep.

 

 

My Inner Millennial

Sunday morning.

My wife got up early, got ready and headed over to IHOP to meet her cousin and the cousin’s husband along with her elderly aunt for breakfast.  It was her aunt’s 87th birthday.

Meanwhile, I slept in after having stayed up late last night playing games online.  When my wife got home a bit after noon, it was my turn to go out for breakfast.  I headed to my favorite local buffet place, where even a vegan can pig out on steamed vegetables, potatoes, salad, fruit, roasted jalapeños and spaghetti with marinara sauce.

On Saturday, my wife and I ran around doing errands in the morning, then picked up our niece and made the long drive up to Chico to spend the evening with extended family at a church event.

My wife and I have been married for nearly 17 years.  Among the many joys of our married life is the fact that we do some things together and others alone.  It’s a nice balance.  We also spend a lot of time sitting just a few feet away from each other, both of us on our laptops, she with the TV on and me listening to music over headphones, she on our landlord’s mini-couch and me at the kitchen table in our tiny rental cottage.

The logistics of maintaining this balance has become more interesting in the last few years.  Before that, we could each have separate plans and execute them simultaneously.  On a Saturday morning, for example, I might head off to synagogue while my wife went shopping or met a friend.

All that changed when we moved from the desert on the California/Arizona border to northern California two years ago.  Having been laid off, I was out of work and didn’t need a car to commute.  So we loaned one of our cars to our niece to make it easy for her to get to community college in the mornings.  She promptly wrecked it, and we’ve been a one-car family ever since.

In some respects, this has been a good thing.  In addition to having fewer car expenses (things like oil changes and other maintenance, insurance and annual registration), there is the togetherness factor.  When you live out in the country as we do, it is no surprise that having only one car makes for a tendency to go more places together.

When we each “do our own thing,” however, it is of necessity on a sequential rather than a simultaneous basis.  When you have one car between you, you have to take turns.  This might not be the case in a more urban location, but out here there is nothing in walking distance and not much in the way of transportation.  I get a kick out of watching the neighbor’s roosters pecking around, photographing the wild peacocks and visiting with our landlord’s cat.  But that only goes so far.  If you’re desperate, you can always call a taxi to take you downtown or to Wal-Mart, but that can fairly quickly run into some serious money.  So the fact of the matter is that when one of us is out and about alone, the other is stuck at home, also alone.

Then there is the little matter of getting to work.  My place of employment is about twelve miles away, meaning that either my wife has to get up early and make two round-trips downtown each day to haul me in and home, or she gets to sit at home with no car all day.

Circumstances have happily converged to make this situation work well most of the time.  My wife works from home, so it’s possible for her to be without a car.  However, I am uncomfortable knowing that she can’t get out of here if she needs to do so.  Being stuck at home also means that she can’t run any errands, which definitely puts a crimp in smooth household operation.  Plus, I would have to leave the house at oh-dark-thirty if I am to have any chance of finding a parking space near my place of employment downtown.  I am delighted that, 95% of the time, my wife takes me to work, picks me up in the evening and has the car at her disposal all day.

In its old age, our second car was given to us by my parents when they purchased a newer model some years ago.  Throughout our marriage, they have generously provided us with their old vehicles rather than trading them in.  This has been a huge advantage for us, as we’ve never been able to afford more than one car payment.  Now that we’ve been down to one car for a couple of years, we’ve started to think about buying another.  Our current vehicle has been paid off for a while now, but after struggling through a year of unemployment, I get a bit panicky at the thought of having a monthly car payment again.

There are a number of options out there.  We could pay cash to buy an old beater just to drive around town, but who knows what’s going to go wrong with it and how much money we’ll end up having to pour into it for repairs.  And even old, high mileage vehicles don’t come cheap anymore.

Speaking of old, high mileage vehicles, our current car fits that category nicely.  We have been fortunate that, so far, most of the required repairs have not broken the bank.  But it’s not going to last forever.  Pretty soon, the piece-of-crap car that I envision taking to work, to Wal-Mart or out for brunch is going to be the very vehicle we now own.  Hopefully, we’ll be able to wring another 100,000 miles out of it, but really, it’s the luck of the draw.  I would happily bite the bullet and sign for a car payment on a new vehicle for my wife to drive around while I used our current car.  However, I know that, sooner or later, our trusty is going to sputter its last and repair to that great junkyard in the sky.  At that point, we’ll be right back to square one, only with the albatross of a car payment around our necks.  You can see why it’s tempting to stick with just one vehicle for as long as possible, despite the attendant inconveniences.

I’m guessing that we’re in the minority, having attained the status of seniors and being a one-car family who has always lived in rentals and never owned a home.  I recently read an article in The Atlantic indicating that this type of consumer behavior is a lot more common than it used to be, although not so much among those who’ve attained my age.  In “The Cheaptest Generation,” Thompson and Weissmann point out that sales of new cars and homes are way down, and that this phenomenon seems to be more than just a product of the recessionary economy.  Indeed, the popularity of carless lifestyle choices has increased among millennials, the driving force behind the popularity of Zipcar, Uber and Airbnb.  Many young adults seem to prefer living closer to the urban core, where the action is.  Live music, restaurants, bars and shops within walking or biking distance have become more appealing to twentysomethings in recent years.

When describing millennials, one would be remiss in failing to mention the matter of extended adolescence.  Young adults struggling under crushing burdens of student loan debt often choose to live with their parents for a decade or more beyond their college days.  I should know.  I went that route myself, and not just because of student loans.  I liked having all that disposable income to eat out every day, see Broadway shows, spend weekends in Atlantic City and go on trips to places like California, where I eventually settled.  It really isn’t very appealing for a recent college graduate earning grunt wages to have to spend every penny on the rent and the car.  And, assuming the American dream is not dead (I know, don’t laugh), sponging off one’s parents for as long as possible makes it a lot easier to save for a down payment on a home.

I graduated from college in 1980, took one more semester of courses toward a teaching certificate that I never completed, then moved back home with my parents and worked the night shift in a chemical plant for seven years before heading off to graduate school in Massachusetts.  There, I lived off my parents’ dime for another two years before taking out student loans to pay for my last year due to circumstances too complex to get into here.  Twenty-five years later, I’m still paying on those student loans.  And that was for one year, friends.  I can’t imagine the debt facing those of us who had to borrow for their entire college educations.  The real irony is that I then spent decades working at jobs that didn’t require college.  Most of my bosses didn’t even have a degree.  I was in my late forties before I snagged a job that nominally required college.

I should mention that life was no financial picnic after graduate school.  Even with two degrees, I still ended up working for ten dollars an hour and living back with my parents for another 2½ years.  When I finally moved out, to take a similarly crappy job in a neighboring state, I rented a tiny bedroom that had been an unheated, uninsulated enclosed porch, where I froze all winter.  When it was thirty below zero out, I dressed in layers, including a parka and mittens, sleeping under piles of covers.

When I finally moved to California, I found myself earning ten dollars an hour and only working part-time.  Silicon Valley was not kind to me.  I lived with each of my sisters for several months, until my parents retired and built a house in the Central Valley.  I lived with them for nine months before getting out for good at the ripe old age of 37.

I know I will never own a home, and that’s okay.  Although my current job is far from secure, I no longer earn ten dollars an hour.  I know that my graduate degree played a part in my landing this position.  My wife and I have paid off all our debts other than my ever-present student loans, and we hope to clear even those out in another two or three years.

True, my wife and I have only one car between us and we rent a tiny mother-in-law cottage out among the goats, horses and chickens of the exurbs.  We may not attend Broadway shows or travel to Hawaii, but with both of us working, we are able to eat out when we want to, buy Christmas presents for all the nephews and nieces, and go to Reno when the urge hits.  I even get to play in expensive Scrabble tournaments several times each year.

We may not have “created wealth” by purchasing a home and living in it, but without children of our own, leaving an inheritance isn’t much of a priority.  I am aware that my parents think it is a disgrace that I haven’t done as well as they did.  Each generation is supposed to surpass the previous, or so goes traditional wisdom.  “Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations,” my mother likes to mock.

Ultimately, however, it’s all relative.  Having lived a year with my wife’s family after I was laid off, complete with the joys of standing in line at food banks when my unemployment checks ran out, I appreciate what we do have so much more than I did before.  It’s nice to be alone in our cozy little rental.  And having just one car between us doesn’t seem so bad after all.

You might say I’m channeling my inner millennial.

JFK vs. Michael Jackson

JFK Jackson

We were at the post office on Friday when I noticed that the flag was at half-staff.  I wondered why.  Suddenly, it hit me.  Of course!  Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy!

I know I am a certified old fart because I can remember the day it happened.  I was four years old, almost five, living in New York City.  And the whole thing really pissed me off.

Of course, I didn’t understand anything about what was going on.  But what annoyed the heck out of me was that none of my cartoons or kids’ shows were on TV, not even the Mickey Mouse Club.  Every channel just had people talking, talking, talking.  And it bugged me that everyone was going around crying.

Even my wife is too young to remember the day JFK was killed.  She was only an infant then.

I’ve been wondering what landmark events resonate with the younger crew.  This is kind of important because, well, they’re of the age when they’re about to take over the world.

The day Elvis died?  Nope, they weren’t even born yet.  The day John Lennon was murdered?  Ditto.

Elvis met his demise while I was in college.  I couldn’t understand why everyone was making such a big deal about it.  When I was told that John Lennon was killed, I had to ask who he was.  A political figure?  Sports world?  Music?  Bingo.  Oh yeah, I vaguely remembered the notation “Lennon & McCartney” at the top of the sheet music for “Let It Be” that we practiced in junior high chorus.  Hmph.  Whatever.

The day the space shuttle Challenger exploded?  That was in ’86; the twentysomethings still weren’t born.

9/11?  My niece just barely remembers it.  She was five years old when the Twin Towers came down.

Does this leave the Millennials without any personal historical or cultural frame of reference?  Rolling Stone recently pointed out the Gen Y crowd has never heard of Ross Perot, Gorbachev, the TV series “Dinosaurs” (“Not the Mama!”), Cybill Shepherd or Dabney Coleman, and has never taken a roll of film in to be developed (we used to mail ours to Sears with a check and they’d mail back our black-and-white prints) or used a floppy disk, a cassette-based answering machine or a dial-up modem.  Hmm, maybe they lucked out after all.

But fear not!  All is not lost on the young’uns.  I discovered this a few days ago when my 17 year old niece asked me “Where were you when Michael Jackson died?”

Where was I?  The same place I was when Challenger blew up.  The same place I was when the planes hit the towers on 9/11.  At work.

So there you have it.  The King of Pop, who in his life was such a musical influence and cultural icon for Gen X, in his death provided the chief historical frame of reference for Gen Y.

Anything earlier than that exists only on Wikipedia.

 

NaBloPoMo November 2013