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#297 :: Spiked Flicker Ball

December 1, 2004

The madness of the “Christmas season.” drapes over sanity throughout December like a perfumed scarf on the only good lamp in the room. People behave like apes, focus like hummingbirds, drive like children. There are years when I loathe my fellow man from Dec. 1 to 20. It’s getting worse.

A bit of perspective:

Just watched A 1920s cartoon: Happy big-band soundtrack. Exterior, night. Snowy road. A cheery, bearded old potbellied man pulls up to the orphanage. The boat propeller on his handmade snowmobile churns through the powder. At the pull of a lever, the vehicle spits out an anchor and chain and slews to a stop. He hops out with a sack of junk and peers through the window to see dozens of miserable orphans, some trudging sockless across the bare floor, others howlingly hungry. The old fellow leaps through the open window, sheds his overcoat and boots, and dumps his cargo on the floor, a jumble of dented saucepans, busted chairs and household tools that have seen better days. He sets to work, flipping over a washboard, straightening the hooks on two stout wooden coat hangers and jamming them into its bottom for a frame, and slapping a pair of barrel staves onto them. He gobbles a handful of nails, and spits them into place, nailing the staves to the frame – voila – a sled. Before long, the kids are playing happily – one orphan’s riding an old rocking chair with a hobby-horse head. Three more are playing with an electric trainset made of crockery – the steam engine a coffee percolator chugging along on saucer wheels with bent-fork cowcatcher. The old man slips on a Santa costume. He shoves 10 closed umbrellas together, the tip of one into the handle of the next, and opens them all at once – instant Christmas tree, and he twirls it on its bottom handle and flings decorations onto it, then lights. Here the cartoon tree changes to photography of a real tree superimposed into a roomful of cheering cartoon orphans. The lights go out, the tree glows, the music swells. Iris to black.

Time was, Christmas was this magical 8- or 10-day period of parties and caroling and log fires and spiced cider. Time was, it was still the birthday of an important, humanitarian prophet whom many believed divine.

Time was, fun could be had just by having fun. Time was, we spent hours preparing forts and ammo for 10-minute snowball fights instead of staring into a glowing box with another box in our hands while slumped in a chair. Twitching. Alone.

Time was toys were anything you could have fun with.

Here’s a product of its times: A ball (easy enough, but wait …) A ball made of hi-bounce rubber. Hi-bounce, acid-green rubber. Translucent hi-bounce acid-green rubber. Molded around a sealed core that contains batteries, LEDs, printed circuitry and a motion-trigger. With nipples (much like this). And blue strobes that blink when you bounce it (much like this). It’s as instantly fascinating as this, and will last thousands of times longer.

I could have fun with either one. But I’ve been conditioned to enjoy twitching.

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