I want the new iPod. I don’t need the new iPod.

You can see the dilemma I’m in.

If they’d included a radio tuner, I would have bought one already. Kids today insist on carrying all their music around with ‘em - hah! I get my entertainment the modern way, borne on invisible rays beamed out from distant towers, which are relaying signals from outer space. My radio, however, has its problems. The battery door is located at the bottom of the unit, and springs open at the slightest provocation; if the batteries fall out you lose all your presets. On the other hand, when you want to change batteries, you flip open the bottom and they drop out, hit the floor and bounce in slo-mo like expended cartridges - if your life is running the John Woo plug-in pack, that is. Whatever coolness the device has is mitigated, if not erased entirely, by the rubber band that holds the loose battery door shut. Rubber bands banish coolness. I have a rubber band holding my sunglasses case together, too. Dork.

But if it was a black rubber band, it would be cool.

A while ago I was heading into the office, fumbling with my rubber-banded radio, switching glasses from my rubber-banded case; I had a few items in a grocery bag, since I’d left my satchel at my desk. And I suddenly thought well, why not just hitch your pants up to your collarbone and be done with it, then? Put on a fedora, start smoking White Owls, walk with a hunch and get a yappy dog. Prematurely aged. All because the rubber bands were rubber-band color.

Whatever color that is.

Sunday we went to a swingset store. When I was a small thing I had a swingset, like most kids in the neighborhood. In the summer the sound of unoiled chain screeched from every yard on the block. My folks got this swing at the hardware store - it had sharp edges and it rusted after a week. It should have come with a certificate good for one free tetanus shot. The slide was flimsy, and if you had the help of a stout friend you could tip it over. When it fell on its side it looked like some starved beast, reduced to skeletal form, unable to right itself. Years later we got rid of it. A few years after that the grass beneath the swing set grew back, but I’ll bet that if I ran my hand along the ground I could still find a small depression where our small feet felt for the earth, seeking purchase, pushing off.

Now I'm in a swingset showroom, looking at a playset that was priced a buck short of $10,000.

And this was during a sale. The most expensive number was the King Kong Castle, or some such odd mishmash name - I don’t ever recall Kong literally conforming to the King part, donning a crown and strolling the ramparts, but if he ever decided to do so, this playset would have held his weight. It had more square footage than my first dorm room. It had tubes, slides, rope ladders, swings, monkey bars, a sandbox. Ten fargin' grand. When I was a kid you could have bought a lake cottage for that much money.

Swingsets should not require financing.

I went into instant MiserMode when we entered the store. Yes, I want my daughter to have a nice playset. But I do not want the entire yard taken over by something the size of a “Waterworld” set. The clerk heard my request, and steered us towards “The Space Sav’r.” We’ve lopped off that final vowel and passed the savings on to you! It featured a tower, a slide, two swings, and did not require a bank loan. And it was on sale.

I had the suspicion that these places had sales like furniture and rug stores had sales - once a year the SALE! tags came off, all prices jumped a thousand dollars, and the clerks spent the day shooting balled-up wads of paper into the trash basket. If a customer did show up they’d shoo him away - come back tomorrow when the “sale” starts. Hell, we don’t even have power to the registers today. Half the staff’s in the back huffing paint out of a KFC takeout bag! Go away.

“The price will never be lower this season,” the guy said. No doubt. My wife asked if we could get the picnic table addition to the tower -

“Sure. No charge.”

“We don’t need that gangplank, though,” I said, pointing to a piece of lumber sporting a $350 price tag.

“I’ll toss it in. No charge.”

I pointed to the canvas roof for the structure, which also had an additional price tag.

“No charge,” he said.

Now. When someone throws in $700 worth of stuff for no charge, I am not grateful. I assume that the basic concept here is screw the customer with a big rusty augur. I’d rather pay less for the base price, add on the extras for a reasonable price that seems to reflect the price of canvas in the Western Hemisphere, and leave without that chafed-buttock sensation you get when you buy a new car.

“Fine,” I said. “Wrap it up.” Ha! Ha! We sat down to do the paperwork, and after a few lines we came to my favorite option: do we want to put this together ourselves? Visions of our child trapped under beams of lumber, screaming DADDY WHY? DADDY WHYYYYY?

“No, you assemble it. How much is that?”

“Three hundred and fifty.

But we got the gangplank free. And the canvas roof. We’re ahead of the deal. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if we made a profit.

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