January 2008

Toys 'R' Toys

By David Feela

For Christmas I got a Hooey Stick, a folk toy dating back to a time before the advent of electricity. The instructions required that I rub the notches on the first stick with the un-notched second stick and a propeller mounted to the end of the first stick would spin. The toy was guaranteed to amaze my family and friends. And for a little more excitement, once it got spinning, I could holler the magic word “Hooey” and the propeller, supposedly, would reverse direction.

I tried to inspire delight in the audience that watched me fumble with the toy, but the propeller refused to spin. I rubbed more furiously, thinking earnestness was required. Still nothing. Then a 7-year-old child offered some advice: He suggested that I change the batteries. Everyone in the room burst into laughter, and the pressure to perform was lifted from my shoulders.

More than a few parents in the days, weeks, and months following the holidays will be replacing batteries at the bottom, back, or side of at least a million toys delivered on Christmas Eve. Good luck to them, I say, in keeping the magic alive. An entire industry is depending on our dutiful submission to the manufacturer’s credo: Don’t Forget the Batteries.

If the demand for fresh batteries stopped at just toys, I could be a playful man. Unfortunately, my life has turned into an assault of batteries. My watch, clock, and computer only work when I feed them volts. The smoke detector beeps when it runs out of juice, wakes me, and fabricates an emergency. Even my toothbrush, just to brush my teeth, requires another tube of electricity. Though I long for the days of simplicity when things got wound up instead of me, I know I’m to blame for being hooked on batteries.

As a society I think we’ve also got a serious alkaline addiction. I’ll admit it — I feel stimulated by the buzz, beep, flash, and click of modern techtronics. In fact, with the new digital organizer/calculator/memomaker/ calendar/ AM-FM radio/ portable weather station I got for Christmas, I’ll become dependent on lithium—you know, those thin chrome wafers that take up hardly any room in your pocket. I’d wear a patch if some corporation developed one, but I seriously doubt the CEOs at Eveready or Duracell want me empowered to remain powerless.

Or, I guess what it comes down to is the vague notion that somehow we are predisposed to embrace the disposable, that as a culture, we cultivate what’s quick and easy for the simple reason that deep in our genes is the certain knowledge that our own cells — be they double A or triple A — are irretrievably running down. There’s a kind of perverse justice in resigning the fate of the entire planet to our own personal fate, a kind of insidious revenge against the cosmos for not allowing us — as human beings — to be born rechargeable.

To encourage my good health, my wife threatens that if I die before she does, she’ll have my corpse stuffed, then install a tiny memory chip somewhere in my backside. When our friends come over to visit, she’ll tug on a hidden string and my recorded voice will begin to recite the litany of poems I have written.

What my wife doesn’t realize is that it’s not a fear of reciting my poems for eternity that scares me into taking better care of myself. No, it’s the worry that somewhere in the middle of an important image or phrase, the batteries will quit and I’ll be left standing with my mouth hanging open, our friends chuckling at my inability to say what I mean.

David Feela is a teacher at Montezuma-Cortez High School.