I popped the USB card out of the camera when the cellphone shrilled. I muted the radio with the remote while Terry scurried from the microwave to catch the call before the answering machine did.
I tapped the calculator to figure how many songs to upload onto the mp3 player for my run when Terry interrupted my thoughts: "That was Santa. He wants to know what you want for Christmas."
Without consulting my OneNote program, I answered, "A box of rocks. A bag of dirt. And a bundle of sticks."
Terry frowned. "Um, let me fetch the digital thermometer "
"I'm fine," I said. "It's all these gadgets. Gadgets everywhere, gadgeting everything for us. This year, everyone on my Christmas list gets a box of rocks, a bag of dirt and a bundle of sticks.''
''I think the kids would prefer those alarm clocks with iPhone docks.''
''Phones sliding into alarm clocks? Phones already play games, shoot video, find the nearest Red Lobster - restaurant or crustacean - and sometimes even handle calls. They make Kirk's Star Trek communicators look like the ancient civilization. No more gadgets.''
''Even your dad wants a GPS directional finder for his car.''
''Dad hates backseat drivers. Why would he want something that zips right past the front seat and onto his windshield to nag him while flashing maps to prove he's going the wrong way?''
Terry shrugged. ''Perhaps because he's sane.''
I dug my fists into my temples. ''Our friends have TVs hanging on their walls like paintings, only with sharper images. The home theater systems surround them with every sound in nature and a bunch that aren't.
''Even artificial Christmas trees are preloaded with lights now. Some play music. Self-lighting firs that sing 'O Christmas Tree' to themselves! Why?''
Terry eyed the wireless router. ''But a box of rocks?''
''Hey, we spent hours playing with just the box. A box morphed into a space rocket, a race car, a pirate ship ... anything. The rocks, dirt and sticks - armies, forts, football teams, anything we wanted.''
''Erma has some self-help books loaded onto her Kindle. Let me send her a text ...''
I threw up my hands. ''Our kids stand in front of a screen with controllers strapped to their arms and legs so they can simulate running and jumping and throwing. My gang - Tommy Jefferson, Georgie Washington and Benny Franklin and I - ran, jumped and threw all by ourselves. Rocks developed our throwing arms. And reflexes.''
''Didn't you have, you know, toys?''
''Spring coils that walked down stairs.''
Terry felt my forehead. ''Pass me the laptop so I can consult the cyber doctor.''
I threw a handful of dirt to distract her and bolted out the door. I remembered this place. It was called ''Outside.'' Mom always sent us here to ''play.'' I inhaled deeply. Picked up a rock. Threw it at a stick planted in a mound of dirt. Smiled.
My electronic watch beeped. I had just enough time to watch a DVD episode of ''Get Smart'' before I had to go work on the computer. I wish we'd get a DVR. I bet they come in a really cool box.
----- Write ''Inspector Gadget'' at firstname.lastname@example.org, or find him on the Burton W. Cole page on Facebook.