The story arc runs something like this. Brightly colored paper gives way. Eyes bulge. Cardboard box shunted into dad’s lap to disassemble the taped, zip-tied and/or shrink wrapped parts. Through grunts of effort, mumbled swearing, the installation of batteries and a final, defeated consultation with the instructions the toy becomes functional.
The children play with it for twenty, possibly twenty-five minutes. It gets abandoned on the floor in the middle of the living room to be tripped over and then kicked into a corner. Time passes. It gets picked up, played with and redeposited in the middle of the floor five to ten more times.
It is at this point that the kids look beyond the ostensible primary purpose of the toy and begin to wonder how this once bright, shiny, new toy actually works. They begin, slowly at first, and then with increasing urgency to pull it apart.
Now it stops working. The batteries are dead anyway. Sometimes the batteries are removed and hurled behind the couch. This turns out to be a pretty eco-friendly way to keep them out of the landfill.
Now what’s left in the middle of the floor are the pieces and parts of the non-functioning toy. Mom and dad spend two or three cycles reuniting parts with original toy before giving up and simply throwing away whatever gets caught under foot.
What begins at Christmas in an orgy of paper-ripping joy winds down by March or April. The house becomes a veritable mausoleum of the used, abused and discarded.
I wonder why we do it.
But then I look at the bikes hanging in the garage and the parts in the bin and tools in their chest. Every time I go for the pedal wrench, the good one, I push aside two crappy, old ones that are rounded out and useless. Deep in the parts bin there are single pedals. Where did the other pedal go, I wonder? I almost never put my pedals in the wash. And anyway, I’ve checked the dryer vent.
I have a lovely set of dead Ultegra shifters. I keep them in a bag with a note that says, “These don’t work.”
I have an inert front derailleur from my old mountain bike. Someday I’ll look at the spring and work out what’s wrong with it. No I won’t.
I have a small collection of toothbrushes that have been used to clean cassettes and chains. I have a chain cleaner as well. It doesn’t work anymore. Too caked with grime. Don’t touch it. It’s gross.
The last two bikes I’ve rid myself of, I just gave them away. They were done. No longer functioning. Collecting dust in a corner. To solicit money for them seemed silly, verging on mean. Someone with far more love in their hearts than I’ve got will clean them, reattach their missing parts and ride them again. Maybe.
Ultimately, it’s just the toy story all grown up. Instead of batteries, lube.
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