The Value of Toys

It’s one thing for me to call my various creation toys and it’s another when someone else does. When I say it, it’s a celebration of the fun I had in taking an idea to a working thing. When someone else calls them a toy, they refer to them as insignificant temporary amusements.  Right now I was annoyed as I listened to a friend of a friend remark on all the money I wasted on my recreation, after witnessing my rather large collection of articulated devices.  ”What do you do for a hobby?” I asked.

“Lots of stuff,” he replied. “I’m into off-roading; I got a quad and a snowmobile.”

“What did you spend on your quad and snowmobile?”

“That’s not the point.” he said. He was a little whiny sounding.

“Sure it is.” I said. “You spent that money on stuff that lost the lion’s share of its value when it left the showroom floor.  But having them gives you hours of enjoyment, isn’t that right?” He mused over my statement and didn’t seem convinced. “I get the most of my pleasure out of making this stuff. It takes quite a few hours to put one of these things together and that’s the part I like. I enjoy thinking up an idea and collecting up the parts to bring them to life.” I gestured around the room. “What you see here is a lot of work, but also a lot of time I spent not thinking about my situation. That’s pretty valuable.”

“I don’t get it. What do you mean?” he asked.

“He was supposed to be dead by now.” said my friend. “He built this stuff while he was waiting to kick off.”

“Except I didn’t kick off.  Unexpected, but I’m not complaining. But the thing was, when I thought I was going to die, as I waited these things gave me something constructive to think about.”

“Instead of watching TV and thinking about how it was almost over.” he said, nodding. “I get that part. But it still seems like you must have spent a lot of money on this stuff.”

“I did, yes. But then, I had it to spend and it wasn’t like I needed to save it for later.”

A nervous laugh. “So, uh, what did you pay for all of this stuff?”

“About ten grand.”


“Yeah, but it includes 14 bipeds, three of which have six or more degrees of freedom, 23 wheeled autonomous vehicles and 8 with tracks. There’s a bunch of standalone things I’ve made from kits or my own design as well. The TV-B-Gone and the cell jammer, for instance.”

“TV what?”

“TV-B-Gone. It’s a stealth remote control that will power off about 99% of the IR remote control televisions out there. I could go into Wal-Mart and surreptitiously click and shut off all of their display TVs. Basically any TV anywhere can be shut off if you’re in remote range.”

“Heh, that’s evil. You could start a riot if you used it in a sports bar at the wrong moment. What was the cell thing?”

I answered by reaching to a shelf and pulling the device out. “Take out your phone and look at the signal bars.” I told him. He did and reported that he had 4 bars of signal. I turned the device on.

“Holy crap!” he said. “I just went to zero bars!” I turned it off and he acknowledged that his four bars had returned.

“Think of the hours of amusements now, as I assembled that thing and thought about great places to use it. You can get them assembled and as kits. I bought a few and gave them to friends. Assembled ones I mean.” He asked if I had used it and I said that I sure had. I used it in the car when on the freeway and noticed the person in front of me was chatting on a handheld. I used it in theaters when people would decide chatting was more important than the film. I had used it by mistake, cutting cell service in my own home for nearly three hours. “It’s the gift that keeps on giving.” he marveled.

I had recently been thinking of selling off my little creations on eBay. I figured I could set a reserve price on them that at least paid for the parts and probably get back a fair chunk of change. Funding for new, yet unimagined projects. But when I went to choose which ones to sell and what I should charge for them, I had a hard time. I would look at a piece and recall the building of it. I would remember what was happening at the time and relive some of how I felt. It was hard to just send my creations off to strangers and an unknown future, and made me feel like I was giving away a longtime pet.  I don’t suppose I need to mention that I never did pack up any of them for sale at auction.

I concluded that my little devices were my legacy. They represented the milestones of a dark and perilous journey, a journey that has yet to end. When I finally do pass and my mechanical children are scattered in a way only history can attest, it will no longer matter to me. My little creations will not have the meaning to anyone else that they have to me. And because of all of this, I realized that I had really spent nothing. It wasn’t at all that I had squandered ten kilobucks on a hobby. Instead, I had spent a hell of a lot more than that on treatment;  and these little things, airborne and grounded, are side effects. Like dry skin, numb and painful feet, and tinnitus, they appeared as a result of my circumstances and remain still.

“Well,” said the friend of a friend, “I still think I got the better deal with the quad and the Ski Do.”

I thought about that for a second and looked at my atrophied legs before answering. “Yeah. You did.”