On my 32nd birthday, my 22-year-old sister mailed me a first-generation Tamagotchi. Too young to have suffered the Tamagotchi herself, she may have sweetly assumed that I was once the kind of focused, enraptured child from the throwback commercial—one with an innate or even competent grasp of faddish handheld electronics. She would be wrong. The 1997 Tamagotchi incident was the first chapter in a lifetime of personal tech failures.
I promised to raise it and text her weekly progress reports.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Tamagotchi, this is my generation’s galling introduction to abusive consumer tech: an egg-shaped keychain in which a pixelated amoeba bounces in a digital watch-sized screen that beeps like a broken smoke alarm and has no off button. It needs food, medicine, games, and disciplining, but the ultimate goal is to prevent it from drowning in a mountain of its own turds, if only you can navigate a menu of icons with three unmarked pin-sized buttons.
Eventually, somebody or everyone in the household goes ballistic; in our family’s case, it was my dad at a restaurant table, fiddling with the buttons until he surrendered and wrapped it in a napkin. Tamagotchi beeped to death and emerged as a macabre talisman for Tamagotchi’s ghost, drifting eternally through the stars. There was the overwhelming horror, but worst—my dad, cruelly mocked in front of all of us by a toy. Tamagotchi would not bring shame upon this family again.
I didn’t bother reading the 18-page accordion pamphlet, figuring that my tech skills have advanced enough since 1997 to learn on the fly, and I sorta got the hang of it—navigate the menu to play a game, administer shots, feed it pellets, and clear the poop. I fed it and stashed the Tamagotchi in my fanny pack on my way to a protest, determined not to let this one perish in feces. The beeps resounded in the pauses between chants, but what did it want—snacks? Games? Shots? I’M DYING, it screamed, and I ran home and threw it in the sock drawer. In a few days, Tamagotchi was an angel in the sky. There will never be enough time. Suck selectively or suck at everything.
At age 31, it was time to have a dinner party. The maiden voyage (pre-pandemic) involved numerous sophisticated recipes, one of which called for endives and something called a “mandoline.” My boyfriend pulled a white track with a horizontal razor-sharp blade from the very top of the cabinet where only adults could reach it, despite the fact that we have no pets or children.
With the reluctance of a parent handing over car keys to a teen going to a high school party, he asked, “Do you know how to use this?”
“Yeah,” I lied.
“Make sure you use the guide.”
“I WILL,” I said, plunking it on the dining room table.
“Do you have the guide?”
“Yes!” I lied, again, assuming the “guide” was the side guards to prevent the vegetable from slipping off the slicer. I can slice lettuce—oh. Blood everywhere. More blood than I’d seen in real life, gushing from my thumb which, I learned after we washed it off, had split down the middle through the tip of my fingernail. I wondered whether we could salvage some of the non-bloody endives. Then I realized that I would certainly bleed to death. My boyfriend pulled out the first aid kit, bandaged together the halves of my thumb, helped me pull on socks, and I marveled at the most patient man in the world.
“Mandoline?” asked the doctor bandaging my thumb together half an hour later at CityMD.
“Fourth one this week,” he said. “They should outlaw those things.”
We live in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
In 2011, an industrial designer friend visited my first apartment, she spotted a 31-inch shelf supported by three brackets, and asked: “Is that a joke?”
My mom recently told me a story about beekeeping. I’d always thought of the bees—initially a present for my dad, purchased about twenty years ago—like most things that required maintenance around the house: a responsibility that invited itself into her already busy life.
One summer early into my mom’s beekeeping career, the queen had vacated the hive and landed on an apple tree branch, surrounded by a swarm of maybe 30,000 bees. My mom and a more experienced beekeeper set up an empty super (a wooden hive box), planning to whack the branch, which would cause the queen to lose her grip and the swarm to plummet with her. Just seconds from completing their mission—the tractor right there and everything—scout bees returned to inform the swarm to move on to their newly-selected location.
She remembered gazing at the beauty of the tornado-like swirl of tens of thousands of bees, vanishing forever up the hill and beyond the tree line. I was more in awe of her commitment. She could’ve just quit. Instead, she got more bees. At any given time, she has a five-year supply of honey.
Recently, I dug up the Tamagotchi pamphlet again, scrutinized the microscopic text, and realized my critical error. Read the instructions. Once you learn to navigate the menu, satiating and silencing Tamagotchi is actually about as difficult as setting a digital watch. Pause mode is in the clock settings.
Tamagotchi (specifically, Ginjirotchi, a character who evolves for above-average caretakers) has grown from a speck to a jelly bean to a jelly bean with feet. I am proud to announce that Ginjirotchi is now eleven years old and weighs 31 ounces. The goal is to sustain him until age 23. We should get there in two weeks.