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Sadly, Her Nurturing Spirit Wasn't Enough


When individuals reach middle age, they often search for ways to make their lives more meaningful and fulfilling. Some people change careers, or rediscover their spirituality. Or, if they happen to be named Farrah Fawcett, they pursue their dream of becoming a well-respected artist by rolling around naked, covered with paint for the July issue of Playboy.

For me, the answer has been to devote myself to caring for a small, space alien that looks somewhat like a chicken. Actually a computer-generated toy, it recently became available in the United States, thanks to Bandai, the same Japanese company that brought us Power Rangers, those highly educational playthings that introduced youngsters to such important concepts as "morphing" and "aggravated assault." This creature is called Tamagotchi (pronounced "and-you-thought-Tickle-Me-Elmo-was-annoying").

According to its instruction booklet, Tamagotchi "has traveled millions of miles from its home planet to learn what life is like on Earth." It now lives in a plastic egg hooked to a key chain for reasons having to do with reducing atmospheric pressure and / or making it easier to attach to one's backpack.

As Tamagotchi's owner, your job is to care for it constantly. If you don't, it "will grow into an unattractive alien," not unlike Sen. Phil Gramm, or undergo a physiological transformation, i.e. die. (After a reasonable mourning period, you can push the reset button and bring another potentially unattractive alien into the world.)

Tamagotchi beeps whenever it needs something. It might be hungry or tired or sick, or it might want to play. All its desires can be accommodated by pushing one of three buttons, or by turning off the sound function and simply assuming that everything's just fine.

Which it usually is, often for minutes at a time. The first few hours with my Tamagotchi were extremely relaxing. It rarely beeped, in much the same way that Larry King rarely gets married.

Fortunately, by Day 2, I'd learned how to feed, play with, clean up after and give medicine to my little digital pal. This was quite an achievement, especially because I managed to master these skills while ignoring anything that remotely resembled actual work.

This cyber critter can be purchased for about $15, and already sales have passed the 3 million mark nationwide and the 10 million mark globally. A significant portion of these sales has been to adults.

Bandai executives explain that for many grown-ups who live in crowded cities, Tamagotchi is as close as they can get to having a pet. In Taiwan, the toy has become so popular that companies have been forced to institute no-Tamagotchi policies among employees who were becoming extremely distracted and weren't spending nearly enough time making personal phone calls, staring at the clock and imagining what their co-workers look like naked.

I was becoming really fond of my Tamagotchi. So was my family. My husband, for example, came home from work and found it lying on the kitchen counter.

This discovery triggered a very logical thought process: I have no idea what this object is. It could be a device that launches nuclear missiles. Therefore, it would be an especially good idea to start pushing buttons at random.

My innocent Tamagotchi "departed" later that evening. It seems all my nurturing care wasn't enough to overcome the 88 meals and 47 injections my husband gave it over the course of about two minutes.

On average, Tamagotchis live from 15 to 20 days. Mine survived well into Day 2. This broke my heart, but perhaps was for the best. It was starting to look just a little too much like Phil Gramm.

* Carrie St. Michel's e-mail address is

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