Nobody foresees the complications. The dining room has become a makeshift operating theater, complete with surgical table and anxious spectators.
Dad calls for pliers, a screwdriver, scissors and a straight razor. I leave to gather the tools as he struggles with the clamshell casing. When I return from the garage, the family – Dad, Mom and my brothers Bill and Joey – are huddling around the table. Joey, sitting with his cast-bound leg propped on a stool, squirms for a better view.
My father’s dexterity amazes me. His mammoth hands work the battery into the small yellow patient. Grinning triumphantly, he screws on the lid. Every victory over technology is a major feat for my father, and he visibly enjoys them. He presents the gift to my little brother Joey, who smiles as he powers up his new Pikachu Tamagotchi, a gift guaranteed to keep him amused and happy as his leg heals over the next three months. Joey’s smile fades as the little yellow bastard waves hello, somersaults and promptly falls over dead.
I take point. I was reading the instruction manual as my dad worked, so I already know what’s wrong. Swooping up the tiny electro-mouse and cupping him between my hands, I attempt to resuscitate him by shaking him like a maraca until my arms cramp. I hold the Tamagotchi in my fist not knowing if it is alive or dead. Schrödinger’s Pikachu.
I present the digital pet. Tension seeps out of the room and relief rushes in. The LCD shows a Pikachu sitting on his haunches, happily munching away on a Pokétreat. It is alive.
Had Mom read the packaging when she purchased the gift, she would have learned that this Pikachu needed to be “walked” to survive. Joey, barely able to crawl for the next three months, was given a pet that drew its life-force from a built in pedometer.
It started with a child’s mistake: My little brother had taken a bad spill on his bicycle while attempting the 5-year-old equivalent of off-roading. The retention ditch behind our home was a steep but safe place for the kids to bike. Though it had drained after a thunderstorm the previous week, the grass was still soggy and didn’t provide good traction. Joey’s bike skidded, skipped and tossed him on a half-buried rock. He wound up with three minor breaks and a small plate in his leg (which he may still not know about).
The Sears boys aren’t a rowdy bunch; we’re just clumsy and frequently wind up broken and bruised. Whenever one of us is hurt, Mom or Dad shows up with something to lift our spirits. We injure ourselves so frequently we’ve begun to dream about the treats before we even see the doctor.
Joey named his Tamagotchi “Tiger” after the cat from An American Tale: Fievel Goes West, and the digital pet became his constant companion. Fueling Tiger required some ingenuity, but Joey quickly outsmarted his electronic buddy. The Pikachu can’t tell the difference between being taken for a walk and tumbling in a rock polisher – any movement the pedometer registered was enough to keep it happy and healthy. Sitting there and shaking a plastic egg is boring, however, and watching it tumble isn’t much better. Clearly another solution was required.
One of my family’s dominant traits is our drive to make everything fun.
Mom initiates it, offering to take Tiger along in her purse as she runs to the library to get Joey a fresh set of books.
“Do you think Tiger would like to go on a short trip?” she asks.
Joey chokes back a giggle, comprehending the game that is about to be played and eager to use his imagination.
“Sure, I bet he’ll miss me. But maybe he’ll find a book he likes.”
Two hours later, Mom returns with Popsicles and library books, including a children’s Pokémon storybook. Joey is a bit too old for it, but it’s just right for a young Pikachu who should begin learning about his roots.
A few days later, I’m stretching and lacing up my shoes as I watch Joey enjoying the shade while swaying on our rickety porch swing. Stopping halfway down the driveway, I look over my shoulder. “Hey little man, looks like your pet there is getting a little chubby.”
Joey flicks the white, flaking paint chips from the swing off of his orange leg-cast. “Really? I don’t think so.”
“Oh yeah, he’s a real porker. I thought he was a Raichu when I saw him this morning.”
Joey’s laugh validates my extensive knowledge of Pokévolution. Before he responds, I nab the digipet from him and sprint off on my daily run, making sure to take an extra eight minutes to get home. I return doubled over and gasping for air. Crawling up the porch-steps, I hand Tiger back and collapse with a theatrical wheeze.
“Joey, thank God you let me take him. I had an asthma attack halfway and Tiger had to carry me for three blocks. He’s not a Pokémon – he’s a hero.”
Bill joins the game, too. He’s about to leave for a backyard camping trip over at Jimmy Gray’s. After he packs his gear into one of the Army-issue duffle bags our Grandfather gave each of us, he stops short of zipping it closed. He counts off the things he’ll need for the night on his hand but just can’t seem to remember some vital piece. Joey notices Bill’s frustration.
Bill, the football player of the family, denies his talent for the dramatic but is by nature a ham. “Oh nooooo. Looks like Jimmy is going to have to cancel the sleepover. Rats,” he says.
Joey, looking up from reading his Farside one-a-day calendar, asks, “Why’s that?”
“Well, I told Jimmy I’d bring some extra batteries to help run the flashlights and radio, but I forgot to buy some. If only there were some small, electrical being that could save us.” Bill droops to the ground, burying his face in hands and failing to hide his laughter.
“Tiger can help! He can run it all, if you give him some breaks before he gets tired. And it would be neat for him to meet Jimmy.”
Joey looks startled as Tiger disappears into Bill’s arms, embraced in a bear hug.
“Oh thank you so much, Tiger!” Bill says. “You are the best pet this family could ever have!”
We all take turns building Tiger into something more than a piece of plastic. He becomes the family hobby, the center of our shared effort to make new adventures, new crises only he could resolve. It’s goofy, but we do it as a family. We do it to make one of our own feel better. Even Dad chips in.
Dad loves to joke and laugh, but talking to and praising a Tamagotchi isn’t what he considers hysterical. He comes home from work and talks about it, but never gets too into it. “How’s the rat? Alive? New tricks? That’s good,” etc.
Near the end of his leg’s internment, Joey is due to have the cast removed and replaced with a splint. After five weeks of wanting nothing more than to escape his plaster prison, he is terrified at the thought having it sawed off.
Dad senses his fear. He looks at the digital pet. “Hmmm … hey Joey, Tiger doesn’t look so hot.”
Dad cups the toy in one hand and strokes his newly grown beard. “Yep. He looks kinda yellow to me. I think it may be jaundice. Well, good thing we’re headed to see Dr. Fonte anyway. We’ll have him take a look at it.”
“Is jaundice bad? As bad as getting a cast sawed off?”
Dad pauses for a moment. “You know what, I bet they’re about the same. They’re each something that isn’t fun but that you only have to do once and then it is over. Good thing you’re heading into this together, though.”
Joey wasn’t thrilled, but he never complained. He was brave – for himself and for Tiger. When he came home, he took Tiger on a walk. Joey had to start strengthening his leg, and Tiger needed some sunlight.
Brendan Sears graduated Augustana College with a degree in English and is a freelance writer, improvisational comedian and the proud operator of Cardboard Colossus in the Quad Cities. He is eager to hear from you at [email protected]. Check out his site at www.cardboardcolossus.com.