January 17, 2000



Hell's Bells



I have seen Hell, I have heard its evil tune. It is worse than you could ever imagine.

Hell looks like a Groovy Tunes Electronic Sing-A-Long Keyboard. That's a picture of it up there. It looks so innocent, doesn't it? A simple child's toy, an amusement, a bauble. It could never hurt anyone, right? It's just a keyboard, right? God help me, I thought so once too.

Hell sounds like a medley of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" and "Jingle Bells" and "Let It Be" and two other hellish tunes I can't identify repeated over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again, occasionally interspersed with endless salsa or disco or flamenco percussion loops, with the random dog bark or frog croak or bird tweet thrown in for good measure.

Hell is a Christmas present I take sole responsibility for buying for Zoe. I have no one to blame but myself. I saw it at KayBee toys, thought she might like it, and blithely had them ring it up, never considering what kind of torture this instrument of Satan would bring into my home. Hindsight is 20/20, they say. "If thy eye offends thee, pluck it out," the Bible says. I'm considering it.

Zoe was thrilled when she opened this monstrosity on Christmas morning. I knew she would be; I figured this would be one of her favorite presents and I was right. She fired up the "Jingle Bells" loop right away and left it going for... Well, I turned it off before I came upstairs tonight. She loves her Groovy Tunes Electronic Sing-A-Long Keyboard. Beth? Not so much. I think her exact words to me when Zoe opened it were "I'm going to kill you." Clearly an empty threat, as I still live and breathe today. But I'm watching my back.

Since Christmas, Zoe has "entertained" us with her Groovy Tunes Electronic Sing-A-Long Keyboard on a daily basis, with two matinees on weekends. Her modus operandi is to make the keyboard play each of its songs in a loop until we're pulling our hair out and swear we'd be happy if she'd only play a different song ... and then she makes it play the next song until our eyes are bulging from their sockets.

Even worse than hearing "Jingle Bells" (her favorite) or "Let It Be" or "Santa Clause is Coming to Town" or the other two songs over and over and over and over again, is hearing just part of them. The songs are triggered by hitting a button on the keyboard, and Zoe will hit the button to start the song... And then hit the button to start the song again about five seconds later... And then hit the button to start the song again about five seconds later... And then hit the button to start the song again about five seconds later... I have the first 10 strident, piercing, brain-melting notes of "Jingle Bells" seared into my memory by now, and I fear I may never forget them.

But wait, there's more. Did I mention the microphone? Look closely at the picture above and you'll see the microphone dangling on the right side of the keyboard. That's a real, working microphone. It's not high quality, of course -- it's barely functional enough to amplify sounds and distort them horribly through its 4th rate speaker. God help me, that's worse than having a quality microphone.

Zoe loves the microphone almost as much as she loves playing the songs. She'll grab it, put it to her mouth, practically put it in her mouth (because it's even louder that way), turn up the volume, and make her extremely distorted announcement: "Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the Christmas show starring Zoe Atkins!" And then she fires up "Jingle Bells" and twirls around the living room until I'm exhausted just watching her.

But what might be the very worst of it is the Daddy Participation Factor. Zoe dearly loves to fire up "Jingle Bells" and then beg me to dance with her: "Let's dance, Daddy! Hurry!" And dance we do, until I'm practically begging her to stop.

Because it's not really dancing, not in the traditional sense of the word. It's more like spinning in circles until you want to puke. We hold hands and she runs in circles around me while I pivot in place, around and around and around. Then, when the song ends, we have to raise our hands up to the sky and clap. Then the song loops and we're off for another round of spinning. Ad nauseum.

There are really only two saving graces for this infernal device. The first is, obviously, the joy Zoe gets from it. I knew she'd love it and that I'd probably hate it, but I bought it anyway. Of course I had no idea just how much I'd hate it, but it makes her so happy that it's kinda sorta almost worth it. So there's that in its favor.

But the second saving grace, the one that gives me hope, the hook on which my sanity hangs, is this: It runs on batteries.

I love batteries. Especially dead ones.