December 19, 2002

And now, for a tale from the Ghost of Christmas Present:

On Tuesday, December 17th, I boarded an airplane bound for San Jose, CA. It's a short flight, and that means I did not bother to pack a paperback book. I opted instead to do a little drawing, fiddle with the crossword puzzle in Sky Magazine (it kicked my butt -- I'm out of practice), and absentmindedly go shopping in the SkyMall catalog.

Most of the things in this catalog are kind of sad. It makes me sad to think that there are people with enough disposable income to pay these kinds of prices for these things, while also being stupid enough to think that these things will make them somehow happier. Then I came across the robotic vacuum cleaner "Roomba," and realized that I have just enough disposable income to afford it (if I kiss my plans for a GameCube goodbye) and am just stupid enough to believe that it will make me happier.

I am NOT, however, stupid enough to impulse-buy something while on an aircraft. I instead circled the price, dog-eared the page, and slipped the catalog into my carry-on.

Much later that day, as I was wrapping up the last of my appointments in Silicon Valley (note: the place feels much shabbier since the dot-bomb crash -- either that, or the rainy weather had me down) I discussed the Roomba with some technophiles at an analyst firm. One of them actually OWNED one and said it worked as advertised. Fascinating...

I flew home uneventfully (if you don't count the part where I was psychologically bludgeoned by the airline customer service folks in my attempt to switch flight reservations over the phone on the way to the San Francisco Airport), drove home from Salt Lake International, and went to bed. Before drifting off to sleep, thoughts of the Roomba crossed my mind, and I turned to my wife to ask her what she thought about making a two-hundred-dollar hole in the budget so I could buy her something nice.

I never got around to asking the question. As I rolled over she said "your packages came today. Did you buy me something from Sharper Image?"

My first thought was "I didn't order anything from Sharper Image."

My second thought was "Woohoo!!! Packages!!!" I think I may have actually verbalized that one.

They were at the foot of the bed. I tore into them wondering who they were from and what they contained. The answer frankly terrified me.

Someone had sent me a Roomba. It arrived, according to Sandra, less than an hour from the only time during the day that I verbalized my interest in the device. The only clue that this was a coincidence, rather than a plot on the part of airline spies, meddling industry analysts, or co-workers with a penchant for expensive practical jokes was that along with the Roomba I had received a talking photo album. Oh, and the order was placed on December 10th.

The story gets less interesting from here. My father-in-law confessed, when called the next day, to sending the gift. I should have known that the man who taught me the true meaning of the word 'technophile' (as well as the phrase 'wears slacks at the beach') would already own one of these. After all, he was buying programmable refrigerators before it was fashionable to own programmable VCRs.

Is there a moral to the story? Of course there is. Even when you think it would HAVE to be Santa Claus, it's probably just your parents. If you let this detract from the joy of the season, you need to have more good will toward men. Merry Christmas!

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