In praise of SortASaurus, and other stuff.

You know how every Christmas, there’s one gift that is clearly the Hit Gift of the Season, the toy that everyone wants to play with, that monopolizes the collective attention and steals the thunder from all the seemingly more momentous gifts (the new bike, the new bed, the new pet)?

The first time I remember this happening was when Santa delivered Chatbot to our house, feeding my already well-developed obsession with robotkind. (That was the same year Santa delivered Kabuki, our little Siamese kitten, and I cannot tell you with what holiday glee my sister and I sent Chatbot chasing the poor kitty around the house, croaking, “COME HERE KA-BU-KI. COME TO CHAT-BOT.” Chatbot’s voice—enabled by an internal tape recorder that simply taped whatever you said to it, and played it back by a touch of the remote control “play” button—was our voices doing a Robot Voice, which was a mechanical drone modeled in equal parts after Speak ‘n’ Spell and Number 5 from Short Circuit. That’s what robots sounded like in the mid-80s. Another of Chatbot’s robotic duties was to make his way to the kitchen with his attachable tray in hand and demand snacks: “FEED ME. CHAT-BOT NEED PICKLES. CHAT-BOT STAAAAARVING.”)

Well, last year’s Chatbot was again in a box delivered to me, this one containing the illustrious SortASaurus, a stegosaurus-shaped coin sorter. My mother explained his arrival thus: “I needed one more gift for Lady Z, and I was on my way into Staples, so I said to myself, I need either a coin sorter or something to do with dinosaurs. And there it was!” (This explanation was as cryptic to us then as it probably is to you now. My fascination with dinosaurs is at least as long-standing as my obsession with robots, but why my mother fixed on a coin sorter is anyone’s guess. Not that I didn’t want a coin sorter. I just didn’t know I wanted one. And don’t even think of asking why my mom was doing her last-minute Christmas shopping at Staples. This is the woman who one year raided a hobby store to fill our stockings, so that my sister got a 2-pound bag of multicolored pipe cleaners, and I got the same quantity of multicolored fuzzy acrylic balls. We tried not to sound ungrateful as we asked, “So…what are we supposed to do with them?” “I don’t know; make stuff!” mom enthused. “I just thought they were so neat. There are so many of them!” And yes, there were.)

SortASaurus has since become my mostly companion, and this morning he really came through in a way that can only be described as heroic. My financial situation is, shall we say, Less Than Desirable right now (what pessimists might call Downright Dire, seeing as how the glass that is my bank account passed the point of Half Empty some time ago, and now stands resolutely at Entirely Depleted, Nay, Overdrawn). For the past week I’ve been living off the charity of friends and the canned goods lurking in the back of the cabinet—I made a surprisingly good Pantry Scraps Pasta Salad, featuring baby corn, Spanish olives, garbanzo beans, soy sauce, and the rest of the balsamic vinegar—but this morning I awoke to The Horror! of having run out of coffee. The problem with mooching coffee is that there is absolutely no way I can be charming enough to mooch anything off of anyone before I’ve consumed my first cup of coffee. (This is a version of the perennial paradox of my not being able to function well enough to make coffee before I’ve had my coffee—a problem only recently solved by the purchase of a programmable coffee maker that I can set up the night before.) What to do? No cash, no credit, no coffee. I had woken up to find myself living in the saddest, shittiest country song ever. But then SortASausus gallantly rose to the occasion, as I realized his feet contained at least enough change for a Neverending Cup of Coffee at Arsaga’s.

And so, friends, I ask you to join me in hailing SortASaurus and his wondrous pieds d’argent, without whom I would still be curled in the fetal position in bed, cursing my wretched, uncaffeinated existence.

In other news, I recently realized that I never did my end-of-the-year tally of Books Read, mainly because I fell off the review wagon and stopped keeping track of the books I was reading. But in the interest of trying to salvage some sense of order in my life, I give you the closest approximation of Books Read in 2006 I can muster.

Books Read in 2006

61. Gene Luen Yang, American Born Chinese
60. Jane Gardam, Old Filth
59. Umberto Eco, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana
58. Alex Garland, The Coma
57. Mary McCarthy, Memories of a Catholic Girlhood
56. Lemony Snicket, The Beatrice Letters
55. Lemony Snicket, The End
54. Daniel Quinn, Ishmael
53. Mountain Man Dance Moves: The McSweeney’s Book of Lists
52. Aphra Behn, Oroonoko (reread)
51. Donna Leon, Death at La Fenice
50. Alicia Erian, Towelhead
49. Alexander McCall Smith, The Full Cupboard of Life
48. Jeffrey Eugenides, The Virgin Suicides
47. Alan Hollinghurst, The Line of Beauty
46. George Etherege, The Man of Mode (reread)
45. Muriel Spark, Robinson
44. Arthur Conan Doyle, The Sign of Four
43. Muriel Spark, The Ballad of Peckham Rye
42. Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre (reread)
42. William Hogarth, The Analysis of Beauty (reread)
41. Frank Portman, King Dork
40. Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go
39. Jonathan Coe, The Rotters Club
38. Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
37. Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry… (reread)
36. Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore
35. Daniel Handler, Adverbs
34. Ian McEwan, Enduring Love
33. Francesca Lia Block, Necklace of Kisses
32. David Mitchell, Black Swan Green
31. Muriel Spark, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
30. Bill Watterson, The Complete Calvin and Hobbes, Vol 3
29. Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha
28. Isaac Asimov, I, Robot
27. Hen-Shui Chang, Shanghai Express
26. Javier Marias, Voyage Along the Horizon
25. Carlos Ruiz Zafon, The Shadow of the Wind
24. Salman Rushdie, Shame
23. Han Ong, Fixer Chao
22. William Beckford, Vathek (reread)
21. Patricia Highsmith, The Talented Mr. Ripley
20. George W. S. Trow, Within the Context of No Context
19. Gideon Defoe, The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists
18. Le Thi Diem Thuy, The Gangster We Are All Looking For (reread)
17. Philip Kerr, Dark Matter
16. Julie Otsuka, When the Emperor Was Divine (reread)
15. Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code
14. Mary Wortley Montagu, The Turkish Embassy Letters (reread)
13. Curtis Sittenfeld, Prep
12. Jhumpa Lahiri, Interpreter of Maladies
11. Montesquieu, Persian Letters (reread)
10. Amitav Ghosh, The Calcutta Chromosome
9. Salman Rushdie, The Moor’s Last Sigh
8. Gish Jen, Typical American (reread)
7. Truman Capote, In Cold Blood
6. Maxine Hong Kingston, China Men (reread)
5. Horace Walpole, The Castle of Otranto (reread)
4. The Arabian Nights Entertainments (selections) (reread)
3. Bill Watterson, The Complete Calvin and Hobbes, Vol. 2
2. Lela Lee, Angry Little Girls
1. Gregory Maguire, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West

8 thoughts on “In praise of SortASaurus, and other stuff.

  1. Ooooheeee! I wouldn’t want your karmic debt after the Kabuki/Chatbot incident. Actually, it could explain how you ended up in Arkansas… 😉

    I’m in Staples all the time and never saw anything as cool as Sortasaurus. Your mom is definitely a kindred spirit–I’d buy up multicolored pipe cleaners in a minute (ooh! pretty! colors!) with absolutely no purpose in mind. I think of you every time I see this in the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog; is he not the coolest thing ever?

    I love your book list–aha! you must have been the one who turned me on to “Prep”. And 61 is a good, round, sane number for someone who has a life. I grind my teeth every time I see someone bragging about 150, 200+ a year.

    • Oh, the simple genius of Remote Controlled Robotic Shark! Just add three of my most favorite things in the world:

      Remote Control + Robot + Shark = Pure joy!

      I’d never seen that before. You’ve made my weekend.

  2. Ha…the Coffee Paradox is well known and often commented upon by yrs truly, and I probably spilled Guatamala’s net yearly coffee output all over the counter/floors/couches over the years, before it had a chance to hit my lips, before finally giving up and purchasing a programmable coffee-maker.

    I’ve done the Dive of Shame beneath my car seat to scrounge money for coffee before. Thusly do I applaud Sortasaurus with the applomb only a true addict can know.

    Hope the finances sort themselves out soon for you.

    • I’m actually a very easy girl to please—generally, the darker the roast, the more I like it. (I learned recently that dark roasts actually have less caffeine than lighter roasts, which I found surprising, but I don’t mind drinking multiple cups for my buzz.)

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