This last week my family and I were camping in the woods at Farragut State Park in Idaho. We had planned to go check out the shopping for house stuff in nearby Spokane and take the kids to Silverwood amusement park to give them a taste of a real roller coaster. The land is very similar to the terrain around where we live and since the water in Pend Oreille is very cold and immediately turns my three year old’s lips blue, logistically it would be simpler to just take sleeping bags outside on our lawn but… my partner and I have a modest but unquenchable streak of consumerism running through us. I like my trinkets and baubles, my partner her building supplies and house materials and in this new age hippy vegan lovefesting town we’re in people look at us like we have untreated facial gangrene.
So we decided to go, and since the shopping south is closer than the shopping east, we went south.
This was my first trip across the border for some time. I used to go across in the early ’90s for rock climbing in California and Idaho and mid ’80s for work but it’s been at least a dozen years or so since my last visit. I haven’t been to the United States since the universal spread of box stores in every urban opportunity (ditto Canada btw.) and it always astonishes me how such a slight difference in zoning laws between Canadian and American cities leads to my complete illiteracy of US urban structure. In a Canadian city, given a set of surroundings, say a residential section with schools here, and benzene emitting gas-stations there, I can generally anticipate the layout of the structure of the city to find things. I can read the signs way down the road and predict what sorts of shops likely group together there. This is no special talent: I expect everyone does this without thinking about it very much. In American cities however, I generally have no idea where the core of downtown is from the roads that surround it. I couldn’t guess where they put the schools or the parks and without a map we often spend an enjoyable hour or two crystallizing memories for our sunset years driving around baking in the sun with two fighting screaming kids while my partner and I play point-counterpoint and ‘there it is/no it’s not’ in that loving way that mature adults sometimes do.
Hours later, we did find our first shopping destination. I was to deflect our older and somewhat hyperactive son from the serious shopping by going to the craft superstore and picking up some wooden kits. Sadly, the kits of my youth are no more. The ones with the genetically modifying, almost all vowel, toluoluhexaoluene glues that came with 1,000 parts and took years to complete are all gone. The inexorable march of progress has rendered all the parts snap-together and some typical packaging brags that they come with: “more than two dozen parts!” Anyway, on my way in to the store I passed by a cart of wicked looking foam toys crammed into a discount bin.
What an awesome idea! There were several models of these things and they all consisted of formed foam platters shaped to resemble musical instruments containing little synth chips that allowed you to play along with an mp3 player plugged into them. There was a little piano keyboard version that would play piano along to the music and play it out the stereo speakers on the keyboard, or the drum kit model with the equalizer buttons (shown above) that had little sensors in them that I could use to pound out the beats over top the glorious synth of The Propellerheads’ glorious Take California.
“Man these kids toys are getting cool,” I thought as I shopped for kits and ran deflection, and while waiting in the checkout line in a desperate grab for a little something for myself I quickly checked prices and snatched one of these wonder toys up. It sat in the back of our vehicle for three days and since we don’t travel with anything that plays mp3s (one of our housing contractors forgot a cheapo one filled with death metal that we’ve been slowly converting to evangelical death metal but that sits at home) I had to get this thing upstairs after the kids wound down from another day of travel to get it working. Then I had to wait an additional two hours to charge up some batteries to get the thing to run and by then I was ready to create some madness. On the long trip home it dawned on me that the attached drumsticks might be necessary to strike the sound pads because there might be wireless transmitters in them to actuate the drums that wouldn’t work with your hands and that would suck a little.
Once I got the batteries charged this would be brilliant.
It took me five fully uninterrupted adult minutes to fully comprehend that this wondrous product of the advanced electronic age was a bit of of multicolored foam imbued with a single speaker of the shittiest quality with no interactive, electronic, or sentient quality at all. Apparently, the product concept consists of a person replacing their high fidelity stereo headphones or ear buds with a tweeter from under the dash of a ’50s nostalgia era car and having the music screech while whapping plain Styrofoam drumsticks against the plain Styrofoam drum pads in an effort to recreate the primal human electronic rhythm experience. Imagine the joy on the faces of children on Christmas morning as they stab their fingers into the high density foam of their soundless keyboard as they try to keep up with Franz Liszt in the Minute Waltz or sweetly caressing the subtle curves of the saxa-foam in utter silence along with mono Wynton Marsalis.
Mea Culpa. Find them in bargain bins this week for $US 4.99 at a store near some of you. If you can find the store.