Reading at the Crossroads

Reading at the Crossroads is an archive for columns and letters which appeared in the Terre Haute Tribune Star. I also blog here when my patience is exhausted by what I feel is irritating, irrational and/or ironic in life. --gary daily

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Location: Terre Haute, Indiana, United States

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Saturday, January 21, 2006

Try getting AIBO to do this trick

[gary daily col. 44 December 8, 2002]"We would sell you everything you need, but we would prefer you to need what we have to sell."
-from The Cave by José Saramago, recipient of 1998 Nobel Prize for Literature

Rolling at anchor in the California waters off the Port of Oakland this past month was a flotilla of ships bearing riches from the sweatshops of Asia. Merchants employing these ships are the Wise Men of global commerce. This yuletide season, due to a labor dispute and the lockout of the International Longshoreman and Warehouse Union workers, there was concern about these sea-going Santa Sleighs making it to America’s shores.

What flows from the east onto the welcoming beaches of the Enchanted Land of the Consumer is nothing at all like your standard gold, frankincense and myrrh. These globetrotting Magi of Merchandising have never seen a camel unless it was made out of plastic and battery operated. They bear machine knitted treasures bound for The Gap, “hot” games for Toys R Us, Barbie in her “New,” "Active" incarnation and practically anything else one might want to purchase with the coin of the realm, that is tapped out credit cards and discount coupons.

Without this booty our Christmas and the nation’s consumption driven economy might begin to resemble the times of the ballyhooed “Greatest Generation.” Try to imagine Xmas stockings filled with popcorn balls and non-designer label mittens. You can't, can you? This kind of stuff was all very well and good for the “Greatest” of the past, but today’s hyper-acquisitive mentality and hyper-sensitive economy requires more, much more. We’re “Great,” too, only different.

But, yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, a retail disaster was averted. Christmas container ships have floated into harbor. The standard goodies will be available to fuel the Festival of Consumption. And seeing as the surface sheen of Christmas is about the children, let’s run down a few items the kids might find under the tree this year.

*A Mini Humvee, complete with hydraulic brakes, three gears, and a top speed of 18 miles per hour. This is a good choice. Cuts down on all that tiresome pedaling. Available from FAO Schwarz at $23,000 per. Ads do not indicate if a tank full of the unleaded diesel fuel it runs on is included.

*Playhouses are magic places for children. I remember with delight scavenging large cardboard boxes from behind stores in the Chicago of my youth and fashioning them into semi-secret clubhouses. Poshtots.com cuts out all of that scrounging around and construction stuff kids can waste their time on. For little Johnny homesteader, try the Tumble Outpost. It includes Plexiglas windows, screens, heat, running water and is environmentally friendly, coming fully insulated--and all for a paltry $87,510. OK, you have to change the screens and wash the windows yourself. It’s rough out there in the old Tumble Outpost, but facing just such adversity is what made America great. Right?

*Your darling daughter or son shouldn’t be alone in the Tumble Outpost so why not surprise them with an AIBO, the pet robot dog from Sony. "It's as close to an organic pet as you can get," says AIBO spokesperson John Piazza. This doggy device is programmed to recognize up to five faces and identify voices. It even does digital doggy tricks like download email. (Mr. Piazza doesn’t specify which end of your AIBO puppy does this downloading.) At $1,299, this mutt is a must.

The rich and the in-debt rich should all do their duty to their kids and their country’s flagging economy. You can be certain that the bonus bloated, pension busting, stock manipulating officials of some major corporations will be checking junior’s list twice. They will nonchalantly peel a thin layer off of their thick cash stash to make certain that Tumble Outpost is set up out back and tied with a nice big red ribbon. For the rest of us, the 90% not slated for another Bush tax cut or bloated bonus, we can dream. You know, “visions of sugar plums” dancing in our ever diminishing paycheck bowls and bank accounts.

In the meantime, I would suggest giving books as presents. And not just for the kids, but books all around and up and down among those you gift each year. Books are affordable, readily available, entertaining, educational, non-fattening, portable, and a nice fashion accessory and conversation piece at the local coffee house. Gift books compliment both the giver and the receiver, they can be loaned, they can be decorative, they are potential collectibles and they are easy to wrap.

Most importantly, when actually held between two hands at a distance of 12 to 18 inches from your eyes and carefully read, good books release a mysterious power that has been much studied but is still little understood. What seems to happen is reading sends a kind of magic electricity through the fingers and up the arms. It crosses the shoulders and then spirals up the neck. From there it leaps into the realm of the senses. You start to hear, smell and taste things never before encountered. After pausing at the lips (involuntary sounds may be emitted at this juncture), this mysterious force field ends its trip by taking a swan dive into the brain’s cortex, sending nutrient rich waves to the often dry beaches of one’s imagination.

Anything can happen after that.

Try getting that AIBO junk to do this trick.

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