Over the years Andrew and I have been required to make an occasional sweeping parental decision: no underage chainsaw usage, no breakfast cereals allowed in the ears or nose, no eating toothpaste or bubble bath, no cupcakes in the bathtub, no unauthorized use of duct tape, superglue, spray paint or pick axes and no video games. Ever. I had one when I was a kid but video games have proliferated and mutated and we have decided that rather than sponsor fights over whose turn it is to play and when homework has to be done, we’d just outlaw the whole thing all-together. Moral agency is highly over-rated anyway.
But ah! The lure of the game. Like an electronic siren’s song, calling always calling. . . . I thought merely making the games contraband would be enough to stop the infiltration, but who knew that my dear husband would be the mule? (And I mean that in the nicest way of course).
Andrew is a techno-junkie, always looking for the latest electronic fix. Two years ago he got an iPaq, a handheld organizer, but not just any handheld, one with 110 cable channels, retinal scan security, satellite uplink and the capability to fly the space shuttle by remote control and, oh yes, games. Games such as Jawbreaker, specifically.
Andrew has loved his handheld with a passion with which even I couldn’t compete, no one—and I mean NO ONE—was allowed to touch it ("Be careful son that's not a toy!"—yea, right!) It was a thing of beauty to be carried at all times, to be treasured and guarded (I caught him stroking it, calling it “His Precious” when he didn’t know I was looking).
But as time went by newer, better, smaller and faster came along until suddenly he wasn’t sleeping with it under his pillow any more, but was leaving it home on Friday nights, letting the cover get smudged, not bothering to replace the stylus properly, looking at other handhelds during secret visits to CompUSA. Finally the day came when he admitted to me that if something should happen to his iPaq, he wouldn’t feel so bad, because he’d been wanting a Treo and if his iPaq was “out of the way” he’d be free to buy again, to get that trophy handheld he’d been dreaming about, the one that would understand him and make him happy.
SO, the day came when I caught him sharing his toy with the kids, teaching them how to play Jawbreaker, all the time secretly hoping they’d break his iPaq so he could run out and get that Treo thing. Kind of the techno-equivalent of taking out a contract on his handheld—and badda-BLEEP, badda-BLIP—he gets to buy the newest toy. But until that happens life with Andrew and his iPaq means life with a video game in the house.
Along with this brutal realization comes the discovery that somehow, somewhere through the miracle of genetics and natural selection Spencer has been harboring a secret, recessive Jawbreaker gene that has lain dormant until this weekend. After playing for an hour he triumphantly and rather innocently brought the iPaq to Andrew, saying, “Hey, look Dad! With one click I’m going to double your high score!” Incredulous and powerless, Andrew looked on as Spencer made a single move that decimated Andrew's reign as Jawbreaker Heavy Weight Champion of the World, finishing up with a high score which was something along the lines of five billion, give or take.
Andrew gasped. He began questioning Spencer up and down about whether that was in fact his correct score, that there wasn’t something fishy going on, that he hadn’t cheated somewhere (come on, this isn’t Chutes and Ladders, the computer doesn’t fudge these things). But when it became apparent that the score was for real and that Spencer had blown Andrew’s high score off the charts after playing it for a fraction of the time Andrew had, life changed in an instant. Release the hounds, the hunt was on. Dinner could wait—it was "just one more game."
The most frustrating thing for Andrew was that Spencer couldn’t tell him how he’d done it, it was just a case of nature meets nurture meets opportunity and genius was born. Though he questioned him about finger positions and breathing techniques and blinks-per-second Andrew came to the conclusion that the spark that took Spencer onto greatness couldn’t be duplicated for his own benefit, that thereafter he’d have to be content with Jawbreaker mediocrity.
But that didn’t stop him trying. Though Spencer had attained the highest score ever recorded in the history of Mitton microchips, he hadn’t received the elusive “Breaker Bonus” for clearing the screen. What could it be? Fame? Glory? The Secret of Life? Nirvana? Whatever it was, it was the Holy Grail that could save Andrew's self-respect in the face of a staggering defeat to an eight year-old.
So not only did I have to sit through dinner while the two of them re-lived each heart-stopping finger move (“Yea, and then I dropped the red ball and cleared out 7,890 points!”) I had to listen to grunts and other noises of concentration while Andrew played Jawbreaker well on into the night beside me while I typed.
About 9:00pm I was jolted out of my work by an exuberant husband who had at last achieved the magical Breaker Bonus—though it turns out it was a paltry extra 100 points—but was dancing around nonetheless doing a tango with his iPaq and savoring the thrill that always accompanies great personal fulfillment. Evidently the romance is still alive—and he’ll keep her around a little longer.
The dance lasted just long enough for him to remember that he now needed to go and rub Spencer’s nose in it and before I could stop him Andrew had tangoed into Spencer’s room, woken him up and shown him that even though his Old Man hadn’t quite beaten him, at least he could claim the privilege of bagging the Breaker Bonus. Take that you eight year-old boy you!
So I guess Andrew’s iPaq is safe from the threat of divorce so long as Spencer can dangle the title of Jawbreaker King in front of Andrew's nose. But if I'm desparate I could always hide their batteries.
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